The Unfunny Comedian


“I love to eat. Who here loves to eat?” Barry Becker said to open his show in Waukee, Iowa. “You’re applauding politely. Most people do. Very few people applaud that line wildly. We all eat, and we all enjoy it, but we’re not going to hoot and holler a joke about it. Especially, if we’re on a first date. Nobody lets their lover see them naked with a line like, “You like what you see? Enjoy it while you can, because it’s all going to end soon. It’s only a matter of time before this becomes a big mess of Frito’s and Skittles. I love to eat babe.

“I’ll tell you who does hoot and holler. Skinny people. Yeah, they don’t mind sharing it with the world. “I love to eat!” Really, well, you obviously don’t love it as much as I do. I’m here today to take it back for we, the people. “I love to eat!” Shout it loud. Shout it proud. I like to sleep, and I like to sit and do nothing for hours at a time, but nothing compares to eating. 

“Have you ever had a friend say, “Let’s go get something to eat.” Their presentation is so mundane and routine. They act like eating a meal is just something that we should do, so we can get it over with and do something else. Hey, hey, hold on there little doggie. I don’t know what you plan to do after the meal, but the meal is the event to me. I’m getting old, and keeping these beautiful curves ain’t as easy as it used to be, so I’m not into ‘Let’s just get something to eat’. If I’m only going to be able to eat one meal a day, and you’re going to tell me to cut back on snacks, then you better get your A-game out if you’re going to ask me to have a meal with you. Use your words. Dadgumit! Seduce me.

“I ate a big, beautiful ribeye the other day. It was an event for me when the waiter placed that big old thing before me. This is what I planned for all day. It was just gorgeous. I could hardly see any plate. I wish I would’ve enjoyed it more, but I had to get down to eating. Then it was over. The event I looked forward to all day was gone. It was so hot and so good that I ate it too fast. I didn’t chit chat, and I didn’t look around the room too much. I even forgot I had someone sitting across the table. I hate reaching the end of a meal and having to force down the last few lukewarm bites. So, I eat those big, beautiful looking ribeyes so fast that I can’t remember how good they are.

“It’s my dad’s fault that I eat this way. The man taught me how to eat. He did not allow for chit-chat at the dinner table. We were there to eat, and like a huskie on a dog sled, if we didn’t have our utensils locked and loaded in a timely manner, our musher would start making those kissing sounds. Barry! Barry! Mmh mmh mmh!”

“My dad didn’t actually make kissing sounds, but what if he did? What if the Iditarod was so popular in our country that its tradition of making kissing sounds to get huskies to go faster influenced our parents to make kissy sounds at the table when we wouldn’t eat?  

“When we think about all of the quirky and odd traditions, is it really such an insane notion? My mom used to read to me every night, she’d tuck me in, and give me a kiss. Then, right before she’d close the door she’d say, “Good night. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

“She did not intend to introduce horrific thoughts into my already creative mind of course. It was a tradition that she passed that line down to me, because her mom passed it down to her, and I passed it down to my kid, and we do this without really thinking about what we’re saying to them. We think it conveys sentiment. I love you, and have a good night’s sleep. Oh, and don’t let the bedbugs bite. She did it so often that by the time I started thinking about what it was she was saying, it was already an accepted part of our parting ritual at the end of a night. I also think she just liked the phrase, because it rhymes, “Good night, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” If we take a step back and think about what we’re saying before we close the door, immersing our kids in total darkness, where their unusually creative minds spin just about everything we say into some horror that causes them insomnia and nightmares, we might want to give some thought to ending that tradition.

“I heard another tradition that we’ve passed down for generations when I picked up my kid from school. Some kids, somewhere on the playground, began singing the borderline horrific rhyme Ring around the Rosies. I smiled when I heard it. “Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posies, ashes ashes, we all fall down,” they sang. Apparently, there are numerous versions of this song, and some of you might know a different one, but that’s the one I know. That’s the one we know right? For as many versions as there are, there are almost as many interpretations of its lyrics. Most of us sang it just to sing something while we did something else, but some folklorists suggest the lyrics ‘ring around the rosie’ might have developed as a result of kids teasing other kids anytime they had a red owie on their arm. The theme of their teasing was that owie probably means that you have the plague that was killing over 100,000 Londoners in 1665. The ‘pocket full of posies’ lyrics, some suggest, were to mock those who thought that carrying flowers in their pocket was a homeopathic remedy to prevent the onset of the plague. “Even though you had a pocket full of posies, you still caught the plague, sucker!” The conclusion of the song might be the most horrific, as the “Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down” lyrics suggest that the tormentors relented that we’re all probably going to get the plague anyway, and we’re all going to die en mass. One would think that in the age of COVID, we might want to give some thought to ending that tradition too. 

“I’ve heard that that folklore that arose around these interpretations of the lyrics might not be true, but even the most obnoxious fact-checking, internet sleuths will have to admit that there’s enough speculation among folklorists who’ve examined the lyrics of the song that we should probably stop teaching it as a sweet, pleasant “sing-along” rhyming song our kids can sing on a playground. I mean, how can anyone spin “Ashes ashes we all fall down?” as anything other than a relatively disturbing image? A creative young mind might even spin the lyrics as a warning for all participants to prepare for a nuclear winter?

“In that spirit of the odd, decidedly less violent traditions we pass on, let’s say we meet our friend and his kids out at a restaurant, and he starts mushing his kids with the kissy sounds that can often be heard in an Iditarod. “Aiden, Aiden, mmh mmmh!”

“Why are you doing that Cliff?”

“The kid won’t eat,” Cliff says. “He gets distracted by every little thing, and if I don’t continually mush him, we’ll be here till eight o’clock waiting for him to finish.”

“So, you accomplish that by making kissy noises at him?”

“I guess I never put much thought into it before,” Cliff laughs. “My dad did it to me, and I kind of do it now without thinking when the boys here get to playing with their food and junk. My grandfather raced in the Iditarod, and I think he took that mushing sound home with him. My dad did it to me, and I guess the practice just made its way down to me.” 

“Okay, but you might want to reconsider doing it in the middle of the Olive Garden,” we say. “People don’t know your story, and I don’t think the Child Protective Agency will understand your family tradition.”

Scat Mask Replica X


Money: “Show me the money,” Cameron Crowe once wrote in a screenplay to summarize his thoughts on negotiations. Winston Groom’s negotiations to sell the rights of his novel Forrest Gump to Paramount probably didn’t influence Crowe to write the line, but if you’re ever involved in negotiations keep this quote in mind.

For some reason, some of us have philosophical problems with “too much” money. We don’t want to appear too greedy, and we’ve all heard people say things like, “It’s not all about the money for me, money isn’t everything, and money is the root of all evil.” Most people who say such things already have so much money that it’s no longer a concern for them. If you’re ever at a negotiation table, and the other party wants something you have, wipe all of that nonsense about money from your mind. This might be the only chance you have to make real money.

If you hire someone to negotiate for you, and most people should, send them in with the instructions that you want them to bleed every last dime out of the other party. Once your team determines the other team of negotiators is not going to pay another cent, take it, take as much front-end money as possible, and run away as fast and as far as you can. Don’t think about the back end, the asides they offer in lieu of money, the otherwise symbolic, prestigious titles they offer, or anything but the money. The job of the other team’s negotiators is to pay you the least amount of money possible, and they will use several creative measures to accomplish that. Ignore all of that and the voices in your head screaming about the prospect of making money on another end, and remove those cartoon dollar signs from your eyes. As the negotiations between Winston Groom and Paramount suggest, “Show me the money,” should be the first and last things you say in any negotiations.

Winston Groom is a writer, and though he probably experienced some level of negotiations selling Forrest Gump and his other books to book publishers, he probably knew negotiating the rights of his book with a Hollywood production studio was a different league. This was probably the most advantageous position Groom had ever been in in life, and he didn’t know anything about such negotiations. He probably hired a team of lawyers and other specialists to handle the negotiations for him. We can guess that negotiators on Paramount’s side were so eager for the project that they showed their hand at various points. Groom’s negotiators probably knew, at some point, how much Paramount wanted his book. We can guess that numerous advisers probably guesstimated how much money this story could make for both sides, especially if they knew Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis signed onto the project at the time of negotiations, and Groom’s team probably walked away from that table with several proposals from Paramount. Groom ended up selecting the proposal that gave him $350,000 on the front end, and while this is a sizable amount, sources report that it was less than the top proposal of front-end money. Groom chose the proposal with less on the front end because his negotiators worked out a clause that would give Groom 3% percent on the backend, movie’s net profits. Who wouldn’t take less on the front-end if they knew they could make 3% of $661 million on the backend that, by my math, equals over $19 million?  

When Groom informed Paramount that he didn’t receive a single royalty check, Paramount informed him that this fourth highest grossing film of all time (at that time), that grossed $661 million didn’t make a net profit. Their accountants suggested that the movie ended up actually ended up $62 million in the red.

Groom sued Paramount and won, and as one part of the settlement, Paramount agreed to purchase his second novel Gump and Co. We have to imagine that the star and director of Forrest Gump didn’t have to sue to receive their royalty checks, because Paramount didn’t want to upset them. They didn’t extend the same courtesies to Winston Groom, however, because they probably figured they wouldn’t have any future dealings with him. Groom declared that the other parts of his lawsuit against Paramount left him as “happy as a pig in sunshine,” but these deals don’t always end up this way. Thus, if we’re ever lucky enough to be at a negotiations table, and they want something we have, we should walk in saying “show me the money” and leave screaming it.

Crazy: While involved in yet another discussion of crazy people, my friend displayed some acknowledgement that he had some vulnerabilities on the issue. The acknowledgement was a subtle reddening of the skin that suggested he no longer thought everyone was talking about everybody else when they talked about crazy people. He thought everyone was talking about him now. My friend has always been a little off base, but that never stopped him before. He’s always enjoyed conversations about crazy people, and he enjoys them as a spectator might a sporting event. I knew he was off base on many subjects, but I managed to disassociate him from his peculiarities while in the midst of our conversations. Something happened. Someone who meant something to him said something substantial that flipped him.

As a middle-aged man, my friend spent most of his life insulated by what he considered the truth. His belief in this truth was so entrenched that he couldn’t understand how anyone could believe anything different. He viewed his truth as the truth. We don’t know who flipped him, or if it was a number of people. We don’t know if there was an incident, or an accumulation of moments that led to his epiphany, but we have to believe that he had to have it repeated often enough by numerous people he respected that he had his thoughts altered. Whatever it was they said, they said it to a less malleable, middle-aged man. When we’re young and insecure, we’re more adaptable to the idea that we could be wrong, but this middle-aged man seemed to be backtracking on what he considered fundamental principles sacred to his personal constitution one year prior. His reddened skin also suggested his path to recognizing he had some vulnerabilities on the issue were not kind or easy.

Eating: “Eating is one of the only joys I have left in life,” my uncle wrote in a legal document to his caretakers, “and if you that away I will take legal action.” A muscular degenerative disease deprived him of 98% of his motor skills, and he couldn’t manage anything more than a soft whisper in the waning years of his life. Then the institute he loved as much as they loved him stated that his coughing fits proved so troubling that they decided oral feedings were no longer feasible, and they provided a list of alternatives from which my uncle could choose. At this point in his life, my uncle was no longer objective. He wouldn’t view this ordeal from the institute’s perspective, as he said he’d rather die than not eat. When we tried to encourage him to view this matter from objective perspective, however, we forgot to do view the matter from his perspective. The threat of a lawsuit, coupled with my uncle’s legal statement that the institute should have no legal consequences if something should happen, had my uncle eating until the day he died.

New Year’s Resolution: My New Year’s resolution is to put more effort into avoid reading any stories about the personal lives of known figures. I am as susceptible to click bait as anyone else is, and I fell for one. I accidentally clicked on a story about an athlete’s personal life. In my defense, the article contained a deceptive headline that suggested the article might be about his athletic exploits on the field. The minute I read the words wife, cheating, and divorce, I clicked out of it, but the damage was done. I accidentally rewarded the writer of a salacious article by clicking on his entry. My New Year’s resolution is to be more diligent to avoid this in the future.   

Christmas: Christmas is my favorite holiday by a long shot, but some people say that the commercialization of Christmas is ruining the holiday. First, that ship has sailed, and there’s no calling it back now. Second, can’t we walk and chew gum at the same time. I view Christmas as a multi-tiered holiday. It is a symbolic celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and I write symbolic because some suggest he was born in September, and that he was not born on 12/25. I have no problem with that finding, but I also don’t mind an arbitrary, symbolic celebration of His birth. I think we can celebrate His birth, let children enjoy Santa Claus, and spend some time with family. If, however, you feel that commercial enterprises are ruining Christmas for you, I suggest that you do everything you can to avoid their advertisements. Throw the ads away when you receive them in the mail and fast-forward through them on your DVR. I don’t understand why that is complicated. Those of us who don’t want anyone else to ruin Christmas for us don’t let them.   

Subjective Interpretations: Facts are facts and truth is truth, but how many truths are subjective interpretations of an event that boil down to perspective? A friend and I had what he called a wild weekend. He did not inform me how much fun he was having when we were out, but when he returned to work on Monday, he reported this to our co-workers. It was a forgettable weekend for me, bordering on a complete bust that I considered embarrassing. We flirted with some women, we followed them to a bar, we danced, and we followed them to a third bar. En route to the third bar, I knew the women were going to ditch us. All the markers were there. “Should we even go?” I asked my friend. He said, “Yes!” followed by a, “Hell yes!” I reiterated my guess that the women seemed bent on ditching us. “Well, we’ll never know if we don’t find out.” I considered taking a step in that third bar a punctuation mark on their ruse. I pictured them laughing at us. They probably weren’t laughing, but that was my mindset at the time. Even though they ditched us, our friend returned to work on Monday to tell anyone who would listen about our wild weekend chasing chicks. I considered his version of our weekend such an exaggeration that I thought he was lying. In hindsight, he didn’t say one falsehood. It was just a matter of perspective. He left out the part where the women ditched us, but who wouldn’t? He considered that weekend a lot of fun. He enjoyed hanging out with a friend and flirting with some women. That wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to forget about the weekend. I thought it was embarrassing. My friend didn’t care. He had a blast. It was a matter of perspective.

Friendship: Having friends is important. To balance our mental well-being, it’s important to have fun in life. It is also important have someone outside the home, and outside the office, with whom we can confide. We should spend time accruing friends and strengthening the infrastructure of those friendships, and to accomplish the latter it is important to develop a respectful and sympathetic way to say no to them every once in a while. Saying no to a friend can be one the hardest things to do, especially when they plan an outing that doesn’t sound very appealing. We might have substantial conflicts in some instances, but some of the times we just don’t want to do what they plan. Why is it so hard to say no to friends? We don’t want to hurt their feelings, so we sort through various ways of letting them down easy, but they all sound contrived and lacking in sympathy. When we don’t have conflicting plans, or a reasonable answer other than we just don’t want to do what they’re planning, some of us just ghost the friend and hope that the whole situation goes away. We might later apologize, suggest we had a conflict, and hope everything sorts out on that basis. How is that the best, most respectful way to say no to a friend? Shouldn’t we just say no thank you? We’ve probably all ghosted a friend once or twice, but when someone displays a level of friendship and respect that suggests they want to spend time with us, we should feel compelled to return that display of respect with a level of respect greater than or equal to that which they displayed. We all know that saying no thank you can be one of the easiest and hardest things to do, but it’s far more acceptable than ghosting someone.

Portion Control


“Excuse me,” a customer calls out to a server. “I ordered a roast beef sandwich, and I believe my slices are insufficient.” Has this ever happened? Has a customer ever called a server back, with bread pealed back, to inform a restaurant employee that they need more slices? I know it has. I know if I interviewed a number of servers on this topic, they would tell me to sit down before they began their tales, but I’ve never witnessed it firsthand. The more common complaint occurs in whispers long after the server walks away, as most of us avoid confrontation and situations that could draw attention to us. Most of us quietly cede portion control to the restaurants we choose for our dining experiences.

“MORE? You want more?” a Dickensian character might say in a manner that drops a proverbial spotlight on us. When we go to an established franchise we’ve learned to accept their nationally accepted portion control, but do we accept the same norms from an upstart mom and pop’s deli at the end of the block? Anyone who has worked at a restaurant has heard a wide array of complaints from customers, but how many hear that the portion of meat on a sandwich is too small, or that there aren’t enough fries? Would we deem that so bold as to be obnoxious? It might seem like such a violation of sorts of our conditioning that we might view the complainant as gluttonous?

Franchise websites suggest that portion control is vital to establish a level of consistency in a national chain, and they discuss the health benefits of lesser portions for the consumer and the profit potential for franchise owners. “Customers don’t complain about more portions,” they write, “but they will certainly complain about less.” I realize that writers of such columns have franchise owners in mind when they write such things, but I’ve never heard customers openly complain about less.

How many ounces of roast beef should we expect when we purchase a roast beef sandwich? Is there a generally accepted or preferred amount? How much does it vary with each restaurant? We could look this amount up, but the actual number is relatively unimportant when compared to our expectations. It’s a ‘we know it when we see it’ amount that varies, and if the restauranteur violates that principle most of us simply go to a restaurant that meats (sic) that expectation.

If the restaurateur notices our absence and finds a way to ask us why we left, they might say, “Well, why didn’t you say anything? We could’ve provided you a couple more ounces of roast beef to make you happy.” The problem for most restaurateurs is that most of us are members of the silent majority who don’t complain. We don’t fill out suggestion cards or comment cards, then we tell the cashier that everything was fine when they ask how our meal was, and we never go back. We also whisper things to our friends that close restaurants down.

If it benefits all parties concerned to speak up, why don’t we? As with just about every adult predilection, it goes back to high school. We see the hungry patrons in line behind us at the deli, and we remember the groans, fidgeting, and ridicule we heard when we asked one too many questions in our Algebra II Trig class. Even if we still didn’t understand the teacher’s explanations, we learned to shut up and stop asking so many questions. Our peers’ audible fatigue conditioned us to stop asking questions, don’t appear difficult in any way, and avoid complaining. Thus, when we feel the hungry patrons behind us, who just want us to move along so they can get their sandwich, we do. Even though we’re not satisfied, we shut up and move along to avoid causing a scene, and some of us do this so often that we start ceding portion control to the restaurant.  

How many customers prevent a waiter from leaving their table with the complaint, “I only have four broccoli florets on my plate, I’m accustomed to having five?” How many people would say, “I’m accustomed to a half a cup of mashed potatoes. Does that look like a half cup to you?” The more likely complaint would be, “I ordered the eight ounce steak, but this looks like six ounces to me.” I’m sure there are some who complain about this portion control restaurants have on us, but I have to guess that that percentage of the population is so small that it’s hardly representative. The rest of us know that they’re in charge, and we’ve learned to accept this facet of life. 

Most complaints lead to a manager visiting our table, and that manager brings a proverbial spotlight with him. When that manager kneels before our table that we’re being difficult, and we experience the same anxiety we did in Algebra II Trig. “It’s not a big deal,” we say to attempt to soften the blow, “I just thought I should get a couple more slices of beef for my roast beef sandwich.” I’ve witnessed some go bold in the face of a one-on-one with a restaurant manager, but most people shrink from the magnitude. We don’t want to appear difficult. The manager might consult a franchise advisor, as I’m guessing that a person complaining about portions happens so infrequently that they don’t have a standard operating procedure, but my guess is that the manager does whatever he has to do, under the “customer is always right” imprimatur to make us go away.

The inclination most restaurants might have to avoid such stated and unstated complaints is to go “bigee” on the portions. I witnessed this as a deli employee at an upstart, now defunct bagel shop franchise. The national chain decided to allow an owner to open a franchise in our area, and they apparently believed that their key to success was bigger portions. They never said that they wanted to compete with the portions Arby’s provided, but that was my takeaway. They provided over-abundant roast beef portions on a bagel sandwich. I was a dumb kid who didn’t know anything about market testing, or any of the particulars franchises uses to establish themselves in a given area, but when I took my first bite of their roast beef sandwich, all of my fixins fell out the other side. The sandwich was excellent. The roast beef was so tender, and I thought all of the other fixins were fresh and tasty, but their portions were so large, on a comparatively weak bagel, that everything fell out the other side. I told the owner of this particular franchise that I thought it gave the sandwich a sloppy presentation.

The manager lifted an eyebrow on me, but he said nothing further. I thought he totally dismissed my observation, until the franchise advisor walked in the bagel shop, days later, to see how things were going. My manager encouraged me to ask my question. I repeated my question, and I added, “We’re a bagel shop. My motto would be if you want more meat go to Arby’s.” I said that the bagel shop didn’t have to say such things openly, but that it should be our M.O., and I said that I thought bagel shop patrons would understand that, even expect it, before they set foot in our restaurant.

We all enjoy eating out at restaurants, but how much of our enjoyment of the food centers around presentation? How many of us would be turned off by a sloppy sandwich at an otherwise clean bagel shop? I told the franchise adviser that I thought portion control, and the art of presentation were everything. I said that a patron of Arby’s might find a sandwich overflowing with meat more attractive, whereas a bagel shop patron is more likely to prefer a clean presentation that appears more structured, regardless of the portions. To me, it was all about demographics. 

I’m sure that their insider information told the owners of the franchise that if they wanted to open a location in the Midwest market, they had to increase their portions, but my gut instinct told me that if you’re going to increase portions, make a larger, stronger bagel. The bagel they sold did not adhere to the illusory notion of portion control, and when the bagel shop went out of business in our area, I felt vindicated.