Public Offender

You-find-it-offensive

As both a stand-up comedian and comedy club manager, I often get complaints from audience members who are “offended” by something I or one of our Punchliner headliners have said onstage. But if you ask me, getting offended by stand-up comedy is like getting burned by the sun: both are easily avoidable. All it takes is a little sunscreen and maturity. Before you go to the beach, lather up; before you go to an R-rated comedy show, grow up. (Or at least do a little research about the comedian you’re about to see.) Whether you walk into one of our adults-only comedy shows beet-red from the sun or leave it beet-red from indignation, my response will be the same: “Well, what did you think was going to happen, you freckled @#$% ?” (See? I purposely censored myself so as not to offend you.)

Although I don’t enjoy offending people, I have little empathy for people who claim to be offended by the words, ideas or opinions of others. In my opinion, being offended is not a real thing. It’s an irrational state of mind that people lacking in emotional intelligence create for themselves by interpreting the words and intentions of others through mental filters based on their personal issues, prejudices, fears and, more often than not in comedy clubs, copious shots of Jägermeister. I believe this because I find myself being offended by things people do and say all the time. Fortunately, most of the time I can catch myself immediately and calm myself down by talking myself through my upset until  realizing that I alone own my feelings. So instead of going off on the person whom I’ve allowed to push my buttons, I’ll quietly walk outside and key his car.

Part of being an adult is being able to react maturely and reasonably to ideas and opinions that differ from one’s own.  In my humble—and 100% correct—opinion, comedy club patrons who express their displeasure with a comedian’s routine by  making a big deal about how “offensive” it is are exhibiting a lack of both reason and maturity and should stop going to comedy clubs and join the presidential race instead.

To clarify, I’ve got no problem with guests who express their opinions politely. For these folks, I’ll go out of my away to be a good listener and say whatever I can to make them feel better. I’ll apologize profusely, suggest another show which may be up their alley, and reserve them front-row seats for that show. What I won’t do, however, is throw the comedian in question under the bus by agreeing with the guest’s assessment of his act should I feel otherwise. If I feel a guest’s criticisms are spot-on, I’ll incorporate those comments into the comedian’s end-of-cruise performance evaluation. If I feel the guest is off base, however, I’ll listen politely for as long as he can keep his critique civil. “I don’t find this comedian funny!” is an opinion I can accept and work with. But as soon as some touchy hothead starts drifting over into “This comedian sucks—he’s not funny at all!” territory, it takes all the willpower I can muster not to pull the pin on a snarky-comment grenade and shout,  “What’s that?! You’ll have to speak up! I can’t hear you on account of our being surrounded by five hundred other people laughing their asses of at that hilarious comedian onstage right now!”

So you see, I’ve got no problem with paying (ahem!) customers expressing their honest opinions about any sub-par comedians I have a hand in recruiting and reviewing. In fact, even when the rest of the room is rolling in the aisles, there may be one lone wolf in the crowd who isn’t buying the crap the comedian is selling and who may very well win my respect by identifying that comedian as a headliner wannabe or, as I call such acts, “The Emperor’s Closer.”

No, my beef is with folks who get on their high horse and demand to either have a comic fired or at the very least be forced to drop the “offensive” bit in question. The problem with these folks is not the feelings of anger, disgust, frustration or indignation they experience when hearing a joke or premise they disagree with; the problem is their thinking that those feelings are more valid or important than either the feelings of release and purposefulness experienced by the comedian expressing himself onstage or the feelings of joy and happiness experienced by the other three hundred or so people in the audience who are guffawing their heads off. In other words, when an irate audience member claims to be offended by a joke she is basically saying that, in her opinion, the joke, which is the comedian’s opinion, is invalid, as is the laughter response of the other audience members, which is their opinion, and so in her opinion, the only opinion that matters in this case is her opinion. Well, in my opinion, people who share that opinion should be playing in a sandbox with a bunch of three-year-olds and not taking up seats in a comedy club.

The most ridiculous aspect of such complaints is the offended customer almost always thinks the comedian offended him on purpose. Few comedians derive any joy out of offending people. Stand-ups are by nature very paranoid people and are worried constantly about not being liked and not getting booked. Besides, although a stand-up’s job is to reinterpret everyday experience from an angle the average person would never consider, his ultimate goal is to make people laugh and feel good. And so, because of that and the fact that most comedians are extremely self-centered, we almost always assume that everyone in the audience is going to agree with our point of view. So if we think something is funny, we assume everyone will find it funny. However, every journeyman comedian knows that the audience is the final arbiter of what’s funny and what’s not, so if we try a bit a few times and the majority of the audience rejects it, we’re not going to keep it in the act. Meaning, every time one or two members of an audience are offended by a bit or find it terribly unfunny, hundreds if not thousands of people all around the country—or around the globe, even—have already laughed at it as opposed to being offended by it. (Of course, hate speech is something else altogether. But that’s where the audience comes in. What these “I was so offended” people don’t understand is if a comedian is truly out of line and a joke really is in bad taste, the whole audience will, more often than not, turn on him and let him know immediately. If you don’t believe me, just ask Michael “12 Years an Outcast” Richards.)

In my opinion (the three most important words in this essay), too many cruise-ship passengers, when watching stand-up comedy shows they neither paid for nor were forced to attend, have the mistaken belief that their opinion is more important than that of the artist onstage or the other cruisers in the audience. And, in some cases, some of them may actually come to a comedy show looking for something to be offended by because the feelings of self-righteousness and outrage they experience get the endorphins pumping more than a bucketful of free ice-cream on Lido Deck. Fortunately, these folks are in the minority. Unfortunately, they can multiply like Gremlins whenever the cruise line coddles them like children instead of treating them like the adults they’re supposed to be.

In a perfect world, our ship’s Guests Services associates would be empowered to answer all complaints regarding the content of our clearly advertised “eighteen-and-over, uncensored, anything-goes, adults-only” late-night comedy shows that are “not for the easily offended” with: “Let’s see here: You know you’re someone who is easily offended yet you still opted to see an adults-only, uncensored comedy show which was advertised as not being for the easily offended, and now not only have  you been easily offended, but you also have third-degree burns all over your body from lying out by the pool all day with no sunscreen?

“Well, what did you think was going to happen, you freckled @#$% ?”

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A Fun Dude Looks at Fifty

50

Sunday was my fiftieth birthday. I spent it trying out my new over-fifty pickup lines:

  • “Hey, cupcake, would you like a drink? I’ll trade you for some Advil.”
  • “Hey, hot stuff, come here often? I need to know where the bathroom is—quick!”
  • “Hey, sweet thing, do you live around here? I was hoping you could recommend a podiatrist.”

Needless to say, they didn’t work. Then again, I only tried them on my fiancée and she never listens to me anyway. But, in her defense, she turns fifty in January so maybe I should just get her a hearing aid for her birthday.

The great thing about turning fifty is I can finally read AARP magazine legally. No more hiding under the covers with a flashlight, hoping my parents don’t catch me:

“Young man, is that our latest copy of AARP Magazine you’re reading?!”

“I’m not reading it—I’m just looking at the advertisements! With a magnifying glass this big I could burn ants on a cloudy day!”

“OK, just as long as you aren’t reading that in-depth cover piece about counteracting the long-term effects of Nexium with daily calcium supplements. At forty-nine, you’re way too young to be reading such salacious nonsense.”

A scary thing about turning fifty is that both my mom and dad—still together after fifty years of marriage—are in their seventies. If all three of us live another twenty years or so—likely for them thanks to their good health and unlikely for me thanks to my smart mouth—I’ll be in my seventies while they’re in their nineties. This means I could, conceivably, wind up living in the same assisted living facility as my parents. At seventy, that would be great for me, because it’s hard to feel old when your parents keep asking you when you’re finally going to grow up and get a place of your own.

A weird thing about being fifty is how your doctor can tell you that you’re in perfect health for your age and then write you a prescription for a bunch of medications:

“Here’s a script for Celebrex, Nexium, Myrbetriq, and Linzess.”

“But, Doc, I thought you said I’m perfectly healthy.”

“You are perfectly healthy. But you’re also perfectly fifty. Which means it’s perfectly natural to have arthritis, Acid Reflux Disease, Overactive Bladder Syndrome, and occasional irregularity. So buy a pill dispenser and a heating pad, avoid fatty foods, tie a rubber band around your pee-pee, take a painful poop, and welcome to fifty, Fun Geezer!”

Of all my various welcome-to-fifty ailments the most difficult one to deal with has been my chronic acid reflux problem. This past summer, my cruise line sent me home on three months’ medical leave—or as the chefs in the crew galley called it, “Mission accomplished!”

When you’re diagnosed with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, also known by the onomatopoetic acronym GERD, the doctor gives you a long list of food and beverages to avoid:

“Sorry, Jeffrey, but no orange juice, no soda, no beer, no wine, no coffee, no tea, no pizza, no lasagna, no hot wings, no gumbo, no hamburgers, no French fries, no onion rings, no tacos, no burritos, no pineapple, no grapefruit, no strawberries, no kiwis, no milk chocolate, no chocolate milk, no chocolate sauce, no mint gum, no mint candy—no mint anything, no yogurt, no ice cream, no milkshakes….”

“Doc, are you serious? I might as well just kill myself.”

“OK, if you want. But no arsenic, no chlorine, no rat poison….”

If you want more proof that I’m fifty, look no further than the following exchange between me and my gastroenterologist:

“Well, Jeffrey, seeing how your recent bought of constipation is happening during your current course of medication for GERD, I’m going to order a colonoscopy as part of your treatment.”

“Yippee! Free butt check at fifty! Free butt check at fifty! Free butt check at fifty! Yippee!”

I can’t think of a better fiftieth birthday present than learning that my first ever colonoscopy, that coveted and fun-filled rite of passage for all newly minted fifty year olds, would be covered by my cruise line’s insurance, instead of being a preventative measure that would come out of my own pocket. Sorry to sound like a cheapskate, but why pay two grand to have a camera shoved up my butt when I can get it done for free and save my cash for all the Preparation H, Ben Gay, Metamucil, Miralax, Dr. Scholl’s inserts, bifocals, Ensure, Depends and checkerboards I’m going to need over the next ten years?

When I told my fiancée I was going to have a camera stuck up my butt, she said, “Why don’t you ask them to look for your head while they’re up there?”

I said, “Hey, I’m fifty. I made it this far without it.”

Next Stop Danger Island!

Danger Island

You can read all the online articles you want about the crime and violence in popular ports of call such as St. Thomas and Jamaica, but I’m here to remind you that St. Thomas for one is actually part of America. That means it’s no more dangerous than, say, Camden, New Jersey.

But just because some ports have dangerous areas doesn’t mean anything’s going to happen to you. Sure, you might get shot or stabbed at an ATM but at least you’ll have pretty coconut trees to look up at while you’re lying on the ground bleeding to death.

Jamaica, coincidentally, is where Angela Basset filmed the movie “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” I can’t remember exactly how Stella got her groove back, but I can tell you how she lost it: Stella left her groove in the trunk of a rental car in Montego Bay and that groove got jacked, Jack.

I wasn’t prepared for how filthy Jamaica is, either. Litter everywhere.  Then again, with as much pot that’s smoked in that country, I guess it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to see thousands of candy wrappers blowing in the wind. If you ask me, we should give our ship’s entire Housekeeping Department the morning off in Montego Bay. They’d have that whole city spic and span in three hours and still be back in time to clean up after you messy bastards before lunch.

All jokes aside, if you go exploring in Caribbean ports make sure you travel with a large group of other tourists. You ‘ll fell a lot less frightened and intimidated if you’re not the only person being robbed at gunpoint.

Most islanders will bristle at American travel advisories. They’ll ask how we can call their port cities dangerous when America has Cleveland and Detroit. I’ll keep that in mind the next time I drop two grand on a seven-day cruise on Lake Erie.

The other problem with crime in the Caribbean is that criminals are rarely caught. It’s easier to catch Ebola than a purse snatcher. There was more justice in 1964 Selma than in modern day Honduras, for example. Of the last 50 Americans killed in Honduras, the local police have solved just 2 cases. Their top detectives determined that one victim was killed by a murderer and the other was murdered by a killer.

Because a forewarned traveler is a safe traveler, here’s…

The Fun Dude’s Top Ten List of Ports to Watch Your Ass In:

  1. St. Lucia: Armed robberies are so common on this island that a local tour company offers a shore excursion where you can  ride around the city in a double-decker bus and watch actual crimes in progress, giving new meaning to the phrase, “mugging for the camera.”
  2. El Salvador: El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world. But then again, you can get a kick-ass mango daiquiri for dirt cheap. So don’t let anybody scare you out of getting your drink on.
  3.  United States Virgin Islands (USVI):The U.S. Virgin islands are filled with so many guns, drugs, robberies, that most Americans should feel right at home.
  4. Antigua: Although Antigua may seem like a tropical paradise, it’s seen more than its share of tragedies. For example, Justin Bieber vacationed there once and nothing happened to him.
  5. St. Kitts: James Bond refuses to go there anymore ever since he walked outside his hotel and found his Aston Martin up on blocks.
  6. Mexico: Kidnappings and be-headings don’t usually happen in the tourist areas, which makes seeing one at the Hard Rock Café in Acapulco that much more special.
  7. Guatemala: Guatemala is not a place where you should think of going for a leisurely stroll through the back streets. You’d be better off rollerblading through South Central Los Angeles.
  8. Venezuela: Venezuela also has one of the highest murder rates. One American cruise passenger was killed simply for wearing a fanny pack. (So at least this guy had it coming.)
  9. Honduras: Like many other Caribbean islands, the police are either corrupt or incompetent. So this is where big city police departments from the States come down every spring to scout new recruits.
  10. Bahamas: The U.S. State Department has issued numerous crime warnings for the Bahamas. The second you step off the cruise ship you’re likely to be offered drugs. Fortunately, those drugs will most likely be Lipitor and Viagra so at least Bahamian drug dealers know their market.

Minimizing Your Risks

 Here are some safety measures you can take to reduce the risk of becoming a victim while on vacation:

  • Travel in groups of two or more. Never get into a taxi with a passenger already inside, even when offered a chance to split the fare. The driver and the “passenger” may be in cahoots.  (Guys, “cahoots” is a variety of Capri pants.)
  • Keep a low profile. You can achieve this by either dressing inconspicuously or by signing up for a My Space account.
  • Do not wear a fanny pack (especially in Venezuela). If you don’t wind up being robbed of your money, you’ll be robbed of your dignity.
  • Never put valuable items in a backpack, unless you’re a man and it’s a Hello Kitty backpack, in which case your assailants will be too busy laughing to actually rob you.
  • Moreover, men, never carry your billfold in your back pocket. Samuel L. Jackson isn’t the only person who wants to know what’s in your wallet. I recommend a trick novelty wallet that shoots out a fake rubber serpent. That way, if Samuel L. Jackson himself ever asks you what’s in your wallet you can open it in his face and shout, “Mother-@#$-ing snakes–that’s what, beeotch!”
  • If you’re a woman, don’t carry your purse over your shoulder; carry it across your chest. This will cause your would-be purse snatcher to focus on your breasts instead of your purse.
  • Money belts are for amateurs. Nothing says “easy mark” to a pickpocket like watching somebody take their shirt off to buy a Snickers bar at a newsstand.
  • Take just one or two credit cards and a modicum of cash ashore with you in order to minimize your losses in case a thief takes a fancy to you. Better yet, max them all out at home, before you leave on your cruise.
  • Unless absolutely unavoidable, never go ashore with your actual passport; bring a photocopy of the data pages. If Guest Services won’t let you use the photo copier on the ship, you can use one at the local police station in port when you go there to report your stolen wallet.
  • Which reminds me: Carry a “mugger’s wallet.” This is a cheap wallet with a small amount of cash that you’ll find in your pocket after realizing that you gave the mugger your actual wallet by mistake.
  • Leave your cell phone in your cabin. Expensive smartphones, such as an I-Phone or Galaxy, are the most common items stolen from cruise-ship passengers. If you need to make a call, you can always steal a phone from a fellow tourist.
  • Most important—try to stay sober. The drunker you are, the more likely ransom-hungry kidnappers are to mistake you for Lindsay Lohan.

Although I do want you to think a little before gallivanting around a Third-World country with a fancy  camera around your neck, I don’t mean to scare you into canceling your cruise. As I made clear at the start of this essay, traveling to the Caribbean isn’t any more dangerous than biking through Baltimore.

So if you exercise caution, stay aware of your surroundings, and don’t venture too far off the beaten path, you’ll be able to party your ass off without losing it or getting it kicked.

Stay safe and have fun, dude!

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Book It, Danno!

Book Em Danno

Regardless of how much money you have in the bank or how big your yearly vacation budget is, getting the lowest possible fare on a cruise is always a plus. That way you’ll have some money left over for plastic surgery so that you can shake those IRS investigators off your tail before boarding a luxurious ocean liner bound for the Cayman Islands. Unfortunately, finding good deals can be tough sometimes because a luxury cruise to a popular destination can be a little pricey, so here are six tips to help you prevent your next cruise vacation from costing you an arm and a nose job:

  1. Book through a travel agent. If you’re worried that going through a third party will make your cruise more expensive, stop worrying. Travel agents make their money from commissions from cruise lines, wholesalers and hotels—and from all the marijuana they sell on the side, which is nothing compared to the amount they smoke. Yes, it shouldn’t surprise you that all travel agents are high all the time. That’s why they’re always telling you not to worry: “But what if one of my relatives has to cancel the cruise for any reason, such as being arrested for flying their gyrocopter into White House airspace, will I get the deposit for their fare back?” Don’t worry, dude. Just mellow out and everything’s gonna be OK, dude. “One half of my party has the 6:00pm dinner seating, one half has the 8:00pm dinner seating, and the third half is brown-bagging it. Are you sure the Maître D’ will be able to change our dining times around so we can all eat together?” All this talk of dinner is making me hungry, dude. Stay on the line while I skateboard down to Sam’s Club and snag a ten-pound bag of M & M’s, dude. Because travel agents always have access to righteous weed, they’re able to trade for special cruise deals not available to the general public, and therefore they can end up saving you big bucks on your cruise. And you don’t pay them a dime for hooking you up. Just bring them back a suitcase full of rum cake from the Bahamas and they’ll call it even, dude.
  2. Book at the last minute. If your travel plans are flexible, you should seriously consider holding off until the last minute to book a cruise. The closer they get to the departure date, the more desperate cruise lines become to offload unsold cabins at bargain-basement rates meant to entice you into quitting your job and selling your children (try Craig’s List!) so you can just pick up and go. Since the ship is going to sail regardless of whether it’s completely full or half empty, they figure that they can’t sell nine-dollar cocktails and twenty-dollar Bingo cards to empty cabins. If you play your cards right, you can net huge savings with this strategy. However, keep in mind that some ships with popular itineraries are always going to be jam packed at certain times of the year, so be sure to read my companion piece to this essay: “Hey, Jackass—Don’t Wait till the Last Minute to Book Your Cruise!”
  3. Cruise at the right time of the year. The best time to cruise is definitely during Spring Break. Especially if you’re older, cruising alone to just get away from it all or simply looking for a romantic vacation with that special someone. The great thing about cruising during Spring Break is that the ship will be booked to capacity either with grade-schoolers running around screaming, shouting and peeing on everything or with college kids running around screaming, shouting and peeing on everything. Either way all that screaming, shouting and peeing will make your cruise seem much more adventurous and exciting. You might even pee a little yourself.
  4. Look into added-value promotions. Many cruise lines offer special deals that might include hotel rooms, discounted or complimentary shore excursions and perhaps even included or discounted airfare. Only problem is you’ll have to book these cruises a little in advance, say, a decade or two. You may be able to find even more added-value promotions through a travel agent, such as free Skittles and rolling papers. (If you haven’t caught on yet, all travel agents are high all the time.)
  5. Check out cruise consolidators. If you choose to bypass a travel agent, consider checking out cruise consolidators or “bulk buyers” who buy blocks of cabins at incredible discounts. Cruise consolidators can net you considerable savings on cabins, excursions and such. Just keep in mind that all cruise consolidators work for the Mafia so if you cancel your cruise for any reason you might end up as a sightseeing stop for future divers and snorkelers.
  6. Create a budget and stick to it. Ha-ha-ha! I’m killing me!

So there you have it. Six tips for saving money on your next cruise. As good as money in the bank. Or maybe an offshore account in the Cayman Islands.

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Draw the Line

Long Line

If there’s one thing cruise ship guests hate it’s waiting in line to see a free comedy show. It fact, some guests get so mad they look like they want to hit me. Only reason they don’t is the line for beating me up is usually longer than the line for the show.

In all fairness, I can see why people on vacation wouldn’t want to wait ten minutes to see a forty-minute comedy show. These are the same people who’ll wait in a three-hour line at Six Flags for a two-minute roller coaster ride. The same people who’ll camp out on Canal Street in New Orleans at nine in the morning for a Mardi Gras parade that doesn’t start till noon and won’t reach them until four in the afternoon. The same people who’ll sleep outside an Apple Store all weekend just to buy the new iPhone even though they still haven’t figured out how to use their previous iPhone. The same people who’ll, on the first night of the cruise, spend forty-five minutes in a Free Liquor Tasting line that circles the lobby of the ship just so they can down a thimble-sized sample of Baily’s Irish Cream. So, yes, I can see why waiting ten minutes for a professional comedy show would be too much suffering for their fallen arches to endure.

There’s something about lines (or “queues,” if you’re British) that brings out the worst in people. On a nightly basis I observe grown adults cut the line, save spots for friends, nit-pick about who was standing where, push and shove, scream and shout, and then become verbally abusive (or “get all Parliamentary,” if you’re British) with me or my assistants when confronted about their behavior. Other guests will refuse to join the line altogether and try to start their own line at the exit of the comedy club, refusing to move as they’re trampled by a stampede of 600 departing guests in search of free pizza and ice cream. It’s nights like that that make me wish there were more icebergs in the Caribbean.

Some of my superiors believe that turning a blind eye to such childish behavior falls under the heading of Good Customer Service. I do not. I believe that when passengers pay for a cruise they are paying to travel on the ship, paying to sleep on the ship, paying to eat on the ship, and paying to enjoy the free live entertainment offered on the ship. They are not paying for the right to interfere with our operation, supplant our policies with their own, defy or disrespect our team members or infringe upon the fun of their fellow guests through rude, selfish or discourteous behavior. For that we charge extra.

In my opinion, passengers are called “guests” for a reason: the ship is our home and they are just visiting. In my cruise line’s opinion, however, passengers should be considered “part of the family.” Fine. But if you ask me, that’s even more of a reason for us to call guests on their crap. I’d love to see our more problematic passengers try to pull the same shenanigans in the home of a close relative and see what happens. Try telling their Aunt Clara and Uncle Eugene how to run their household, spill food on their furniture, leave dirty dishes on their stairs, make noise at all hours of the night outside their bedroom door and speak rudely or disrespectfully to them or their cousins and they’ll find themselves at a Motel 6 faster than they can say, “It may be your house but it’s my vacation.”

I love my job and I love my ship. I also love the vast majority of guests who cruise with us week after week. So, please come sail with us soon. I’ll do my part to make sure you have the best cruise ever. But, to echo something we’ve all heard our fathers say a million times while growing up: If you cruise under my roof, you cruise under my rules.

Got a problem with that? Get in line.

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My Two Sense

IMG_9675

My least favorite part of being our ship’s comedy club manager is turning over the showroom between shows. A hard partying crowd of 600 people can leave enough empty beer bottles and cocktail glasses in their wake to make the Punchliner look like Motley Crϋe’s tour bus. So in order to clean the room in ten minutes or less—and to ensure that guests waiting in line for the next show can get good seats without having to shove a fellow guest overboard—we ask the audience to exit after every performance. Not surprisingly, guests are less than thrilled by this policy, because it forces them to do two activities cruise ship passengers are notoriously reluctant to engage in: following instructions and leaving the sitting position. But I find that if I attach a free drink coupon to some fishing line I can usually coax them all out eventually.

I’ve been told I should look at it at from a guest’s point of view. And I have. Their point of view is that they have the right to ignore the rules because they “paid good money to be here.” They paid good money to fill up their gas tank—does that mean they can run a red light? They paid good money to finish their basement—does that mean they can use it as a meth lab? They paid good money for their cellphone—does that mean they can take a photo of their “junk,” email it to unsuspecting women, lose their spot in Congress and then run for mayor of a major metropolitan city? (OK, bad example.)

Not every guest gives me a hard time about our policy, but those who do make my job way harder than it needs to be. These people have been on the ship less than 24 hours and yet suddenly they’re experts in running a comedy club: “I have to leave now that the show is over and people are already lining up outside for the next one and your staff needs to clean up and reset the showroom in less than ten minutes? That makes no sense!”

“Of course that makes no sense to you,” I feel like screaming back, “You’ve never set foot in our club before! But maybe if you were an experienced crowd control expert who possessed firsthand knowledge of the type of traffic flow problems our carefully considered and thoroughly tested policies and procedures have been designed to prevent, instead of a vacationer seeing live stand-up for the first time, perhaps you wouldn’t be so befuddled. You may have paid to be here but I get paid to be here, so whaddya say you keep drinking yourself blind and I’ll keep doing my job?”

I’ve never understood “that makes no sense” as a guest’s go-to objection to our shipboard policies. Of course it makes no sense: you haven’t received the same training that we have nor are you privy to the same information we are. If you were to take a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods, I’m sure that the machine that drills holes in the bowling balls would baffle the bejesus out of you. But to the guy who has been trained to drill the holes in bowling balls, the ball hole drilling machine makes perfect sense. And maybe if he were to drill a couple of holes into your skull, it would drain enough “stupid juice” out of your noggin so that from now on you’ll no longer demand that things make sense to you immediately and instead learn how to ask intelligent questions that might lead to you having a wider frame of reference, which will lead to better understanding of our polices, which will lead to you realizing that we have your and your fellow guests’ best interests at heart and have no intention of inconveniencing you or ruining your vacation, so please stop thinking that paying for a cruise makes you a senior vice president of the cruise line.

Similarly, when I board an airplane, none of the dials or levers in the cockpit makes sense to me. Difference is, the fact that those dials and levers make no sense to me makes perfect sense to me–because I’m not a pilot! But I’m pretty sure that if I took flying lessons for a number of years, spent thousands of hours in the air before finally obtaining my commercial pilot’s license, all that technology in the cockpit would one day make perfect sense to me. I’m also pretty sure I’d be even less tolerant of idiots that I am now:

“I can’t believe we have to wait an extra twenty minutes before takeoff just because one of the engines fell off the plane—that makes no sense!”

“Yeah, well, go Greyhound next time, jackass!”

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Obamacare for the Soul

The last time I told a Wal-Mart cashier to “have a nice day,” she responded with “God bless you.” Although I’m not religious, I smiled and said thank-you. My debit card wasn’t declined, so I figured her blessing had worked.

Some might say it’s bad manners for a Christian to say “God bless you” to a nonbeliever. Personally, I think it’s worse manners to say “Have a nice day” to a cashier at Wal-Mart. That’s like saying, “Enjoy the Caribbean” to a detainee at Guantanamo Bay.

I have one friend who gets all worked up whenever I say “God bless you” after he sneezes:

“Achoo!”

“God bless you.”

“Dude, how many times do I have to tell you that ‘God bless you’ drives me nuts? Please use gesundheit instead.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m not a Christian, that’s why.”

“You’re not German either, yet you want me to say gesundheit?”

“Yeah, well, I’m against organized religion, not Germany.

“OK then, I won’t say ‘God bless you.’”

“Achoo!”

Hitler bless you.”

But why should a Christian consider my religious beliefs before saying “God bless you,” anyway? Do I consider a Wal-Mart cashier’s secular beliefs before saying “Have a nice day”? What if she’s a pessimist? Telling her to have a nice day could come off as arrogant or controlling. (And she gets enough of that already from “Skippy,” her 19-year-old, GED-toting supervisor.) Or what if she’s clinically depressed? Telling a depressed person to have a nice day when she’s emotionally incapable of having a nice day will not only ruin her day; it might also deepen her depression. So maybe I should say something neutral instead, such as “Thank-you for your service” or “I hope you get hired at Target.”

Although I’m no fan of organized religion, I’ve never understood why atheists get so bent out of shape when a good Christian says, “God bless you.” As a disillusioned Catholic, I don’t go to mass, I don’t pray much, and I certainly don’t read the Bible, so, please, bless me all you want. If you’re not going to bless an emotionally stunted sinner who tells dookie jokes for a living, who are you going to bless?

It doesn’t even have to be a blessing from “God” God. You can say “Allah bless you,” “Vishnu bless you,” or “Ron L. Hubbard bless you,” for all I care. I may not be a practicing Christian, but I am a practicing liberal, so I’ll take all the entitlements I can get, including blessings from your or anyone’s God, whether He exists or not. Being healthy doesn’t stop me from needing health insurance so why should being skeptical keep me from needing faith insurance? The way I look at it, every time a religious person of any faith says “God bless you” to me, it’s Obamacare for the soul.

Besides, the fact that I’m not a practicing Christian is precisely why I don’t mind “God bless you” as a greeting. Perhaps if I were a practicing Christian, maybe then I would mind:

FELLOW CHRISTIAN:

God bless you, brother.

ME:

What? You don’t think I have a good enough relationship with God myself that I need your help to attain His blessing? Me and the Lord are like are like this, pal—so go to Hell. And while you’re down there, be sure to say gesundheit when Hitler sneezes. “God bless you” drives him nuts.

So instead of getting angry when Christians say “God bless you,” I take it as the kind gesture is was meant to be and move on. Believe me, with a personality like mine, I get told “Screw you” so often that “God bless you” is a nice change of pace.

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Deride the Lightning

Homer

Capital punishment is one of the most hotly debated and polarizing issues in America. For example, when Tennessee decided to bring back the electric chair earlier this year, liberal Tennesseans argued this might increase the number of innocent people on death row, whereas conservative Tennesseans argued this might increase their electric bills.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma wants to abolish lethal injection because it’s not covered by Obamacare.

Oklahoma botched an execution by lethal injection several months ago. They used the wrong chemicals so it took about an hour to kill the guy.  (In fact, while he waited, he had a new pair of glasses made at Lens Crafters.) But, although the media made a big deal out of it, I don’t think the guy they were executing really minded all that much:

“No, really, take all the time you need. I’ve got nothing planned for the rest of the day. If you want, we can break for lunch and try this again in a couple of decades….”

The kicker is that the guy never got his last meal. Apparently, he requested steak with A-1 Sauce, shrimp salad, a baked potato and dessert. But since that meal would have cost more than $15, his request was denied. Call me a bleeding heart, but if we, as a society, are going to end the life of a fellow member of society, the least we can do is send an intern over to Applebee’s for some takeout. How better to help a convicted murderer learn the error of his ways than by showing him how wonderful life can be for $8.99 on Tuesdays and Thursdays? One basket of all-you-can-eat riblets before dying and even the most cold-blooded psychopath will realize that killing is a no-no.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s totally useless to debate the death penalty with friends who support capital punishment. No matter what you say, they always have a knee-jerk response locked and loaded:

“You know, the death penalty, both in the U.S. and around the world, is discriminatory and is used disproportionately against the poor, minorities and members of racial, ethnic and religious communities. Since humans are fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.”

“It’s right there in the Bible: ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out!”

“Furthermore, the astronomical costs associated with putting a person on death row – including criminal investigations, lengthy trials and appeals – are leading many states to re-evaluate and re-consider having this flawed and unjust system on the books.”

“If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime!”

“Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row.”

“Yeah, well, I just saved a ton of money on my car insurance!”

When it comes to the death penalty, I consider myself both a conservative and a liberal: I’m for the electric chair but only if it’s solar powered.

I’m kidding. Truth be told, I’m no fan of the death penalty; because, the longer I live and work on a cruise ship, the more I want to kill somebody.

They say that the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. But if anything should be a deterrent to murder it’s plain ol’ prison. In prison, you’re forced to go “number two” in the middle of a tiny cell, on that metal prison toilet, with no privacy whatsoever. I don’t care how badly you want somebody dead; all it should take to stop you from pulling the trigger is to picture yourself dropping a deuce with a big, bald Aryan ape with a dragon tattooed to his head staring you down as you nervously try to wipe. Anytime you find yourself compelled to act-out some ultra-violent adolescent, woe-is-me revenge fantasy, just dial up that bowel-tightening scenario in your noggin and you’ll immediately switch to envisioning a better tomorrow, wherein you buy the whole world a Coke and teach it to sing in perfect harmony.

Okay, let’s say the death penalty can deter premeditated murder. But then what about crimes of passion? Who’s thinking of the death penalty in the heat of the moment?:

“Yo, play-a! You stole my cocaine, you burned down my drug lab, and you blew up my Escalade!” I should kill you, but I don’t want Al Sharpton to be disappointed in me when they fry me like a catfish at the church social!””

For those of you that think the preceding joke is racist because I made the criminal’s dialogue read like some clichéd African-American stereotype, allow me to rewrite the passage, this time making him sound like some clichéd white-trash stereotype:

“Hey, boy! You stole my moonshine, you burned down my still, and you blew up my El Camino! I should kill you, but I don’t want Nancy Grace to say mean stuff about me after they fry me like a funnel cake at the state fair!”

While we’re at it, let’s piss off some Hispanic-Americans:

“Yo, Holmes! You stole my Chiclets, you burned down my taco stand and you blew up my donkey! I should kill you, but I don’t want George Lopez to make bad jokes about me after they fry me like a churro at a flea market!”

And let’s not forget Gay-Americans:

”You bad boy! You stole my Lady Ga-Ga CD’s, you burned down my walk-in-closet shrine to Neil Patrick Harris, and you blew up my powder-blue Prius. I should kill you but I don’t want to end up on death row with a bunch of sweaty, horny men. On second thought, maybe I WILL kill you—BANG-BANG!”

The reason why I think capital punishment doesn’t deter murder is that murder doesn’t seem to deter crappy human behavior. The world is filled with hair-triggered psychopaths who could kill us in a blink of an eye, yet we continue to flip off others in traffic, steal parking spots at the mall, cut in line at the supermarket, talk and text in movie theaters, stiff waiters, cheat on lovers, and angrily tell panhandlers to “get a job!”

“Excuse me, brother, can you spare some change for something to eat?”

“Get a job, you lazy bum.”

“Careful—I could have a gun.”

“Yeah, well, if you can afford a gun, then you can afford a sandwich.”

Can you imagine how cool it would be if people stopped treating others like crap just because they were afraid to be murdered?

“Harold, I can’t believe you just tipped our waiter twenty percent for a change.”

“Beats getting stabbed in the neck with a fork, sweetheart.”

“Oh, come now, Harold. That nice young man would never do something like that. Who wants to spend the rest of his life pooping on a prison toilet?”

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Fun as Ship

Dream

Most cruise ships offer lots of fun-filled activities such as Bingo, shuffleboard and trivia. Granted, these are things you can do at your local senior center for free. But on a cruise you can win prizes. And nothing says “I’m a better person than the rest of you old farts” like going home with a suitcase full of plastic “ship-on-a-stick” trophies valued at twenty cents apiece.

But if you’re too busy establishing your intellectual superiority over your fellow passengers by taking first place in “TV Theme Song Trivia,” you might miss out on some more satisfying cruising experiences (such as “Movie Theme Song Trivia”). So here are some tips for getting the most out of your next cruise:

  1. Attend the shopping talk.

The Shopping Talk is a brief (six to eight hours) seminar given by your shipboard shopping specialist “Chet,” who will provide you with valuable pointers for shopping in your ports of call. Pointers such as:

  • Only shop in an “approved” store so you’ll get the best deal possible—and Chet will get a commission, a bonus, and a hot oil massage with a happy ending.
  • Never shop in an “unapproved” store because you’ll be kidnapped by Somali pirates and/or ISIS.
  1. Choose the buffet over the dining room.

You can’t go wrong eating in one of your ship’s fancy dining rooms, where you can feast on steak, lobster, fine wine and exotic deserts; however, the high-quality food and superior service may cause you to relax and enjoy yourself (even though you’ll be expected to wear shoes). And since finding things to complain about makes cruising much more enjoyable, you’ll be better off heading up to Lido Deck where you can fight your way through the gluttonous throng in your bare feet. Besides, later on, when you’re down at the front desk complaining about the long lines and limited selection in the buffet restaurant, not to mention the fact that you paid good money for this cruise yet nobody from the Miami offices ever called and advised you to pack footwear for formal night, the Guest Services associate on the business end of your vitriol will be more likely to offer you financial compensation if you have chili-dog breath.

  1. Camp out in the casino.

Screw Las Vegas; spend as much time and money in the ship’s casino as possible. Cruise-ship slot machines are looser than a biker chick with a meth habit. Especially on my cruise line. In fact, you’re going to need a duffle bag to haul all those shiny silver dollars back to your cabin. And I’m not just saying that because the more money my cruise line makes off of delusional chain-smoking gambling addicts like you, the better chance I have of getting a raise.

  1. Luxuriate in the all-ages hot tubs.

What better way to relax on a luxury cruise liner overrun by unsupervised eight-year-olds than with a nice hot urine bath?!

  1. Book an interior stateroom.

Sure, you can spend the extra money for a balcony or at least a porthole if you want, but cruising is so much more adventurous and exciting when you cram your entire family into a tiny windowless cabin the size of your kitchen pantry at home.  You’ll never know what time of day it is when you wake up, and the lack of fresh air with five people in the room will keep things interesting. And, better yet,  you’ll be that much more excited about reaching the Bahamas.

  1. Rent a mobility scooter.

Why should old folks with bad knees have all the fun?  Rent a scooter for your cruise and skip to the front of every line.  Crew members will take pity on you and wave you past the long parade of upright losers waiting to be seated for dinner or a production show, without so much as a second glance. Thankfully, it will never occur to them that the last person who needs to be advanced to the front of a line is someone who is—wait for it… SITTING ON A MOVING CHAIR!

What does it matter if Grandma has to wait a few extra minutes to sit down for dinner or a show if she’s already sitting down?! Allowing someone to cut in front of you because they have a scooter is like trading your seats behind home plate with somebody in the bleachers because he has binoculars hanging around his neck (or something like that only funnier).

So rent a scooter. You’ll get special treatment and you can zip around the ship drunk, running into stuff and knocking over people with actual mobility problems.

  1. Use your cell phone as much as possible.

If there’s someone in your family whom you couldn’t afford to bring along on your cruise, be sure to call them every day that you’re at sea. The amount you’ll rack up in roaming charges will make it seem like you paid their way.

  1. Book a cruise with one or more “tender ports.”

When a port lacks a pier big enough to accommodate cruise ships, it’s what we call a tender port. A tender is a boat that takes you from the ship to the island in the time it would take you to swim. Tendering is lots of fun because you get to wake up early, report to one of the ship’s lounges with hundreds of other tired and impatient guests, and wait for hours on end watching CNN on the big screen with the sound off (so you can hear all the screeching babies and screaming toddlers sprawled out around you) until you decide to jump overboard and swim ashore.

Once on the island, you’ll be free to slouch around in the scorching heat for ten minutes trying to find a discount T-shirt shop with functioning air conditioning until you finally realize that you’re in a third-world country that doesn’t really have all that much to see or do so you might as well get in line for a tender back to the ship, where you can be laughed at by all the experienced cruisers who stayed on board.

  1. Purchase a shore excursion from a local vendor not in any way associated or affiliated with your cruise line so that you can either miss your non-refundable tour due to the ship arriving late or miss the ship after your tour ends because the bus carrying you back to the pier is ambushed by guerrilla fighters.

Fun times!

         10. Complain. Complain. Complain.

If you really want to have fun on your cruise, don’t spend your days laying out by the pool or relaxing at the bar. Instead, make frequent trips down to Guest Services and complain about anything that comes to mind. If your complaints are inventive enough, the ship’s Guest Services associates will often offer you financial compensation just to shut you up. If you’re unlucky enough to cruise on an awesome ship like mine, however,  you’ll be hard-pressed to find many legitimate issues to complain about. In that case, here are a half dozen doozies to get you started:

  • “The sound of the ocean keeps me up at night. Can you turn it off?”
  • “My cabin doesn’t look the same as the photo on your website. That cabin had blue carpet; mine has red. Can you please make the switch while I’m upstairs in the ship’s gift shop complaining about merchandise I bought on land?”
  • “It’s too hot on the open decks. Can you ask the Captain to turn on the air conditioning outside?”
  • “It’s too long of a walk between decks. Can you shorten your stairs?”
  • “The midnight buffet is too late at night. Can you reschedule it for noon?”
  • “I hate discos and disco music. Yet every time I go into the disco all I hear is disco music. Can I have a free cruise?”

So there you go. Use my tips and your next cruise is guaranteed to be your best vacation ever.

If not, you can always walk the plank. Make a big enough splash and you just might win a prize.

Heckler Skelter

hecklers

Repeat after me: Heckling does not help a stand-up comedy show!

To get an idea of how unhelpful hecklers are, imagine if you were forced to read the above sentence while trying to read something else for pleasure. Let’s say, a Dan Brown novel:

“That’s it,” thought Langdon. “The answer was right in front of me the whole time. If one translates Beowulf from the old English into Portuguese using a code key hidden in the original handwritten lyrics of Francis Scott Keyes’ ‘Star Spangled Banner’, then the name ‘Grendel’ changes to ‘Dick Cheney’, which means the murderer has to be…” –Repeat after me: Heckling does not help a comedy show!

See how frustrating that was? Just before you could confirm your hunch that George W. Bush is the scion of Jesus of Nazareth, hell bent on destroying the Catholic Church so that he can paint over Michelangelo’s  work on the Sistine Chapel with a giant portrait of himself dodging a flying shoe thrown at him by a rogue Iraqi assassin as revenge for the time he tried stealing the original Declaration of Independence as an initiation prank for the Skull and Bones Society in an attempt to uncover the conspiracy to murder General Patton, who was actually a high-ranking secret member of the Free Masons, the Druids and the Illuminati—I had to go and ruin it by thinking that what I have to say is more important or entertaining than the carefully written and edited prose of the bestselling author you paid good money to read during your valuable free time.

Why? Because I’m disrespectful and self-centered. And a member of the Illuminati.

Although the average headliner can make crushing a drunken redneck under an avalanche of well-rehearsed stock lines look easy and fun, as well as therapeutic, comedians don’t need hecklers to help them get laughs.

That’s what jokes are for. Jokes: you know, those things comedians write and perform every day for a minimum of five years before becoming a paid professional?

Hecklers always think they’re helping the show. Sometimes, they even feel as if they are the show. Unfortunately, hecklers want to be part of the show without putting in any of the hard work required to prepare, produce or promote the show. Most hecklers are so egotistical they actually think that the interplay between themselves and the comedian is somehow superior to the material the comedian has spent the past decade or so honing.

I don’t spend hours at the computer perfecting a piece of material just so an audience member who shows up five minutes late to a show can interrupt me and force me to make fun of the lime-green tank top he’s wearing on Formal Night just so he can feel like a superstar for the rest of the cruise every time somebody yells, “Hey, look it’s ‘Lime-Green Tank Top Boy’!”

We comics don’t slam hecklers in order to get laughs; we slam hecklers in order to embarrass them into silence so we can get on with our acts. Problem is most hecklers have a simplistic sense of humor. So, when a comedian whips up a witty comeback right off the top of his head, what most comics would consider a run-of-the-mill heckler slam comes across as pure comedy gold to the heckler. Therefore, the heckler reasons that in order for a comedian to drop the boring crap and start with the real jokes you have to heckle—or help—him. This reasoning is illogical because it totally ignores the opinions and preferences of the other three hundred people who paid to see the show. Without having any affiliation with the comedy club other than clipping a free coupon out of the newspaper, the average heckler decides that he knows what’s best for both the comedian onstage and the rest of the audience. The product of a perfect blend of narcissism and Long Island Iced Tea.

If heckling is so integral to an act’s success, then why don’t comedy clubs audition hecklers and book them six months in advance just like comedians? When was the last time you walked into an Improv or a Funny Bone and saw a poster that advertised: “Tonight: Marc Maron! With special guest: ‘Some drunken redneck in a Nickelback T-shirt’ ”?

Once a heckler opens his mouth, the show’s focus transfers from the performer onstage to a member of the audience who may or may not have paid to be there. Most people who pay to see a comedy show do so because they’re either a fan of stand-up comedy in general or a fan of a specific comedian:

“Jim Gaffigan is coming to the Civic Theater next month. I love that guy—let’s go online and buy tickets… (so we can sit in the front row and shout, ‘Hot Pockets’ every five seconds until Jim throws the microphone at us before running offstage to put his head in a microwave oven).”

Nobody who buys a ticket to a comedy show is paying to see the audience:

“Gee, I hope that same drunken redneck in the Nickelback T-shirt who heckled Brian Regan at the Hard Rock Casino last month shows up at the Jim Gaffigan show tonight. His non-sequiturs about Bud Light and bass fishing were way funnier than anything two of the best joke writers in North America who make millions in ticket sales every year have to say. Better yet, I hope there’s a loudmouthed bachelorette party sitting front row center. I pray that, as soon as Jim launches into a hilarious bit about how much money he spends on groceries every month feeding a family of six, some barely coherent bachelorette does one too many shots of tequila and tells Jim straight up how unfunny he his. That way he can abandon the material he’s spent the past year perfecting in order to make some hysterical, off-the-cuff comparisons between plantains and the giant penis hat that demure flower  is wearing.

“Now that’s comedy, cousin!”

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