Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice

I chatted with Vonnegut once in the early 90s when I was performing stand up at the New York Comedy Club. It was like a Thursday night at 6 pm. He poked his head in the club and asked, “What’s going on in here?”

“Comedy. Women’s night. Starts in an hour.” I told him. “Come to it.”

kurt-vonnegut“Sounds great,” he said or something like that. I was totally impressed and told the couple of jaded comedians at the bar, “That was Kurt Vonnegut.” They nodded casually. Stand up comics do not swoon. But he didn’t come back.

Then a couple of years later I was having a party with Dan Wakefield at my house and Wakefield had invited Vonnegut. Vonnegut called to say he was sorry but he couldn’t make the party. I think he had a cold. “That’s okay,” I told him. “Feel better.” So basically, I had a few near misses with the great man.

But I feel I got to spend time with him when I read this new collection of commencement addresses, edited by Wakefield, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Advice for the Young.

In the forward, Wakefield points out that Vonnegut took part in his communities. Like, he was in the Volunteer Fire Department and taught a Great Books course with his wife. Vonnegut extolled compassion and neighborliness.

Each talk is unique. There are several themes, one of which is how Jesus slammed down the Code of Hammurabi (an eye for an eye).

“When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.’ What kind of man was that? … Bye-bye, Code of Hammurabi. And for those words alone, he deserves to be called ‘the Prince of Peace.'”

And Vonnegut, a humanist, hands us funny twists on Christianity. “‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed…’ Not exactly planks in a Republican platform.”

And here’s Vonnegut’s son’s advice: “‘Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’ So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.”

riverside park coudal

I know there’s a winter wonderland outside my New York City apartment today. I took this pic of Riverside Park last night with my iphone. I have no idea why I’m writing about Vonnegut now. Except I started this post a while ago and I’m cleaning out my blog’s dashboard. It just seemed like today was a perfect day to read Vonnegut and Wakefield.

Since we’re all trapped inside on this snow day, I recommend that you got out of your own head and be inspired by If this isn’t nice, what is? advice for the young too.

Related:

The worst addiction of them all by Vonnegut for the Nation

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Wrote and Directed a Short Comedy Film

We shot our short comedy film last Wednesday night for the February 2, Iron Mule Festival. The title, Spork Wars, was shouted from the audience. A spork, of course, is a spoon and fork.

Spork Wars is a silly story of a spork salesman, played by Michael Martin, who tries to sell sporks and connect with diner owner, Jay Fortunato, only to discover a familial bond from the old country.

While I had hoped the shoot would take an hour, it took three.

The secrets of my recent filmmaking productivity?

1. a deadline.. there is nothing better than having to finish something by a drop-dead date. A deadline is a line in the sand and I’m pretty good about not crossing.

2. a crew… one of my seven secrets to success is to “Pile on the People.” In filmmaking, you get to work with awesome, funny, creative people. It’s been superfun to make new friends, like Ryan Decker, Ali Mao, Michael Martin, as well as work with old friends, like Pat Bishow and Jay Fortunato!

Don't you love a good diner? Gee Whiz Diner!
Don’t you love a good diner? Gee Whiz Diner!

3. a location… The peeps at the Gee Whiz Diner were super-nice. And in exchange for free use of their lovely diner space, I promised to promote them! They are located on 295 Greenwich Street, right near the Chambers Street subway. Try the Greek salad.

4. a sense of humor (and flexibility)… Of course I wanted my actors to speak the lines exactly as I wrote them. But Jay and Michael are improv geniuses. Naturally, they strayed. It was cool. In fact, I was laughing so hard, especially at their improved bit about gyros, that I feared my convulsive laughter would ruin the sound track.

5. a letting go… I really don’t know what the credits should look like or how the background music should sound. I forget to call, “Action!” I don’t know all the filmmaking nomenclature, but I did my best. And done is always better than perfect. And very good is a nice place to start.

Alison sent me the RC (rough cut!) last night. And I have to admit, I found it pretty funny. I showed it to my 15-year old who chuckled, which is a pretty good response from a 15-year old.

Let me know what you think. Come to The Iron Mule Short Comedy Film Festival, 8 pm on Saturday night, February 2.

I won’t be there. I’ll be in in Charlotte, NC, co-leading a memoir writing workshop with Ms. Cynthia Sloan. If you’re nearby, please join us. When she and I get together, there’s always laughter (and tears)! There’s still room for a few more at the story of your life, memoir.

I Am That Person on the Street

About a month ago, my friend Lou emailed me with the message that I was on a YouTube video. I thought it was one of those chain emails. I was sort of surprised that Lou sent me a chain email, because he’s so tech savvy. But then anyone could forward Spam inadvertently so I deleted it and moved on.

Then yesterday, I was bored in a work meeting. I checked my phone for emails. I received a similar email from my friend, Crissy, who is also tech savvy.  “Guess who’s on a YouTube Video? unbelievable!” So rather than deleting, I clicked on the link.

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/watch?v=AxEsJF4H0Ns

Person on the street interview. (“SEX” ON THE STREET! BILLY EICHNER: SUMMER MOVIES 2010!)

Looks funny. Also, looks familiar. Yes, I remembered.

I was waiting for my brother at a bank on the corner of 23rd and 7th in a reverie inspired by my old beloved Chelsea neighborhood.

And then, this guy runs at me. I thought he was going to rob me. He totally invaded my personal space. I don’t think it’s clear from the video just how much Billy gets in your face — Except maybe for all the women who cower, cover their jewelry, and scream at him.

Now besides the shock of recognizing myself on a YouTube video that has more than 83,000 viewers, I wonder what to do about the Comments section. Should I read them? What if someone disses me? People do that when posting anonymously. And I am sensitive to the reviews of others. I read them.

But thank God, no one says anything except for the one person, who said, “‘You look just like her.’ That was quick.” I think, though, that could be my friend Lou’s comment.