TV on Stage

13 July, 2010 at 9:54 pm (performance)

Klang! Collage Numero UnoThe-Man-who-isn’t-my-Father (that would all be one word in German) once saw Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson perform Shakespeare live. Considering that I’ve pretty much wanted to be Alan Rickman since I saw Robin Hood: Prince of Theives — not the film’s desired intent, I know, but there you are — and subsequently sought out and fell in love with Truly, Madly, Deeply, his experience is, in my eyes, perhaps the highest heights that one could aspire to have had. Since then, I have acquired a list of celebrity live performances that have vainly attempted to equal his. I probably would have, too, if I’d managed to see Kevin Kline in Cyrano de Bergerac on Broadway, but I will instead have to content myself by having attended live performances and readings by John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Neil Innes, Mia Kirschner, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murphy, Elliott Gould, Suzanne Cryer, Joss Whedon, Patton Oswalt, Matt Groening, David Silverman, James L. Brooks, Anthony Daniels, and Jack Fucking Bristow, aka Victor Garber. </klang> (PS: This list to potentially include Christopher Lloyd in the near future.)

Yes, yes… I am celebrity-fawning scum (and that list doesn’t even include any literary Klangs). Or, at least, I previously have been. There’s been an arc to this process of acquisition of names worth dropping: I’ve gone from feverish and nervous of what to say, jittery and apprehensive, to vaguely dissatisfied and even irritable at the possibility of meeting someone well-known. It should come as no surprise to anyone that professional famous people don’t really give much of themselves to the people they meet at such events, particularly if they are well-heeled celebrities that have dealt with the peculiar imbalance of strangers feeling and believing that they know you because of how you’ve presented yourself on camera. At signings and receptions, they have greeted me and others with genuine, polite happiness for our appreciation of their works, undercut with equally sincere wariness. Any dissatisfaction I have felt after these events has always stemmed from a mild sourness at feeling I haven’t seen these people at their most honest; and it has absolutely been intertwined with a petty grumpiness that I wasn’t somehow special enough, intriguing enough to cut through the adverse circumstances and make an individual connection. (EDIT: For an alternate take, check out Glenn Kenny’s musings on celebrities and the clash of their private and public personae.)

Many, manymany people want their fifteen minutes of fame, and crave time in the spotlight. Whereas I find myself instead more partial to the fantasy espoused by Rob (and his mates in the film version) in High Fidelity:

“All my life I have wanted to go to bed with — no, have a relationship with — a musician: I’d want her to write songs at home, and ask me what I thought of them, and maybe include one of our private jokes in the lyrics, and thank me in the sleeve notes, maybe even include a picture of me on the inside cover, in the background somewhere…”

And not encountering that spark that would allow me to find that intimacy (the relationship part, not the first bit) whilst encountering famous people has caused me to take a step back and reevaluate why I was chasing celebrities in the first place. Thus I complete my story arc and resolve down to the more realistic expectation that I can simply be glad of whatever joy the moment or the person has brought me — from dissatisfied to at peace. And perhaps, one day, to finally one-up my not-my-father by seeing someone really impressive.

It’s not much, but it keeps me from stalking people on Twitter.

Recent Live Boston ComedyI have an unfinished post saved somewhere about my ambivalence toward stand-up comedy. I love the raw, public expression of set-up and subversion as well as the fascinating internal contrast of being part of a mass audience while simultaneously weighing my laugh responses to those of the people around me. I love that people are able to achieve a degree of recognition and livelihood simply by making people laugh, but I worry that comics too quickly become their own Best Of albums, and that audiences are too pleased to hear jokes live that they already have memorized. That said, it feels to me like a number of comedians are trading more and more on an advertized contrast between their silver screen personae and the raw, uncut versions of themselves that they can get away with live onstage. But this selling point — the ability to see a a glimpse of Given Comedian: Raw — only serves to reinforce is that we are still only seeing a performance. I don’t believe I have seen the true face of Jon Stewart. His stand-up may seem like a more real version of him, but it is still a seeming, just one that has the earmarks of a greater intimacy.

And while this is obviously the case with actors and celebrities as well, it’s less easy to immediately recognize. We know that actors aren’t the roles they play, but we fall in love with the surety and vulnerability of their characters anyway, and then want to see the echo of that, the potential for that in the real people. And still more bizarrely, when we encounter the real people, we want this impossible gestalt of charisma and fiction, and we want still more: we want to meet the Real Person beyond all that. So any guardedness, any flaw at all on display therefore comes as an inevitable disappointment. It surprises me that I have fallen victim to this mirror-show morass. Intellectually, I should know better, and I clearly don’t have the same expectations of comedians, and allow them continued artifice.

Makes no sense, really. I blame Andrew Dice Clay and Andy Kaufman.

Aaaannnnyway, here are some excerpts from the last two famous people I paid to see in person. I suppose this is kind of like live-blogging the events, except that it’s getting posted much, much later. And that, out of respect for the other patrons, I decided not to have a glowing screen distracting them from the event, and I merely scribbled anything down on a pocket notepad. I do this often, and not just at live shows, although I find that my creative juices for songs, poems, and stories often spark off while listening to creative people. And then they dry up like bleached insect exoskeletons on the windowsill once written down. But that’s another blog post… here, then, are the my thoughts and impressions, and the excerpted bits I deemed worthy of record:

Conan O’Brien

  • As the lights go down, the Soundtrack For Your Listening Idleness is playing “Wonderwall.” It’s bizarre how much I enjoy this song.
  • Conan dragged out a cardboard standee that had been in the lobby. People had been taking photos standing next to it, something Conan found appalling… he hadn’t seen anything like this at any previous venues, he claimed, and the idea that people were getting pictures with something that looked as far from him as it did was fearsome: “This is a giant blow-up of my head on Regis Philbin’s body.”
  • “You’re going to leave tonight thinking, ‘That was kinda worth it.'”
  • “Embrace the ivory spider!”
  • After an audience member cheered something weirdly inappropriate: “This whole tour has been an elaborate sting operation.”
  • “Now I get to say my favorite line of the night: ‘DEFLATE THE BAT!'”
  • One of the back-up singers, called the Coquettes, laughed and clapped frequently at the jokes. I don’t know how long she’d been with the tour, but it was fascinating how much she enjoyed the whole thing. She didn’t remotely try to hide it, which was charming and slightly novel.
  • On Walker: Texas Ranger: “He has no peripheral vision; it’s a downside of his Lawman Hyper-Focus.”
  • “When you play a song in a minor key, ladies fall in love with you.”

Craig Ferguson

  • “‘To be, or not to be… fucked if I know.’ I’m paraphrasing a little bit.”
  • “I’m an attack dog for the FCC.”
  • “It’ll be like Bill Cosby’s ‘Kids Are Funny Little Motherfuckers’…”
  • About a bit he did prior to meeting Kevin Costner: “I punned on his titles. I think I did Lapdances with WolvesField of Creams… ‘People will come, Ray. People will come.'”
  • “It’s like trying to do a Rubik’s cube in a burning building.”
  • “Death by Fabio!”
  • “Whatever tumbleweed of crazy has wandered across the prairie of his madness.”
  • On an internal mental filter: “Ask yourself three questions: Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? And, does this need to be said, by me, now?
  • “You would never walk the way you drive.”
  • Bizarrely enough, I found myself, in Boston, listening to jokes about New Hampshire by a Scot from Hollywood: “If you were a real Yankee, you wouldn’t have made noise. You would have just nodded and said, ‘Uh-huh.’ ‘Uh-huh’ or ‘Ears’. Yankees don’t say ‘yehsss,’ they say ‘yrs’.”
  • Phrases I scribbled down that I can no longer associate with any sort of context, but which amuse me simply as wordplay: “Badger with red hair” and “Shame branch”.
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