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 @#$% ?”

# # #

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?”

# # #

Gun Nuts and Love Guns

Gun Nuts and Love Guns

Although I’m a meat eater, I’m neither a gun owner nor a hunter. I’m not against killing defenseless animals; I’m against getting up at 5:00 am to do it:

 “Hey, Jeff—how about we get up at the crack of dawn, freeze our butts off and shoot at some deer?”

 “I’ve got a better idea: How about you leave me an assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine and I’ll sleep till noon, brew some coffee, scarf some Crunch Berries and then get all “Scarface” on the neighbor’s poodle that’ll be yapping its damn head off all morning?”

And although I love my country, I’m embarrassed by our incessant, ridiculous quarreling over gun laws and same-sex unions.  America is so behind the times. There isn’t one licensed dentist in all of Great Britain and yet their Parliament is progressive enough to make gun ownership difficult (Wanna kill somebody? Start a soccer riot!) and gay marriage legal. (God save the queens!)

Two of the most polarizing issues in American politics are gun rights and gay rights. Gun nuts won’t let you have their gun until you “pry it from their cold dead fingers,” and I’m pretty sure gay men feel the same way about something else.

I feel about gay rights the same way I feel about gun rights: Do what you want; just don’t point that thing at me. I have no desire to own a gun and I have no desire to have sex with a man. I would, however, buy a gun if that’s what it takes to keep me from having sex with a man.

I just wish that flag-waving fans of the Second Amendment would show a little more concern for the Constitutional rights of all Americans:

 “America is the land of freedom! Except for Muslims and butt pirates! Nobody’s gonna tell me how to live my life—hey, fella, don’t you dare marry that fella! Nobody’s going to tell me what god to pray to—hey, Akbar, don’t  you dare build that mosque next to my church! Nobody’s gonna tell my woman how she can dress—hey, babe, lose the burka so I can see some boobies!”

 “Congratulations, Skeeter, you just put the ‘dumb’ in ‘free-dumb’.”

 “But, Jeff, the Bible says Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

 “Yeah, well, the Second Amendment says muskets, not Uzis.”

 “But the Second Amendment gives me the right to bear arms!”

 “Then wear a tank top, you homophobic hick! (Bare arms—get it? Hee-haw!)”

If you’re a gun-toting patriot who wants to fight for your rights, then stand up and fight. But then, when you’re done, sit down and shut up while glitter-throwing Americans fight for their rights. You can’t be both for gun rights and against gay rights. The Second Amendment or Proposition 8—pick one and stick the other up your butt. (Don’t worry, that won’t make you gay.)

 But, Jeff, the thought of two men having sex is disgusting.

 Then stop thinking about it! Just because you find gay sex disgusting doesn’t mean you have the right to stop same-sex couples from getting married. Hell, my fiancée finds straight sex with me disgusting and yet we’re still allowed to marry.

Just because I’m for gay marriage doesn’t mean I enjoy the company of gay people. In fact, I find most homosexuals rather annoying. Gay men annoy me because I sound gayer than they do, and gay women annoy me because I look gayer than they do.

And just because I don’t have the right to discriminate against or harass my fellow Americans based on their sexual preferences doesn’t mean I can’t exercise my First Amendment rights to joke about how much flamboyantly gay people irritate the hell out of me. I can say what I want just as long as I don’t use homophobic slurs, such as “homo,” “queer” or “Clay Aiken.”

For example, the other day, a gay colleague of mine, whom I both like and respect, comes sliding down the banister of a crew area staircase, lands at my feet, and then proceeds to swish around, snap his fingers, do little showgirl kicks and sing:

It’s raining men / It’s raining men / Hallelujah / It’s raining men 

I hate it when my gay friends act like that around me. Because, for the rest of the day, I found myself swishing around, snapping my fingers, doing little showgirl kicks, and singing:

It’s raining men / It’s raining men / Hallelujah / It’s raining men 

Hey—gay or straight, a catchy number is a catchy number.

America is a great country. But I think we could be even greater. The thing that’s supposed to be so great about America is we’re supposed to be able to criticize our country without the fear of being punished for our opinions. Yet, the more a patriotic a person claims to be, the angrier he becomes when you exercise your freedom of speech as an American. Of course, the less somebody respects your opinions, the more pointless it is to argue with him:

 “America’s the greatest country in the world! Yee haw!”

 “Actually, we lag behind in many areas, such as education, healthcare and treatment of our war veterans. In fact, Canada is ahead of us in all three.”

 “Well, if you don’t like it here, then why don’t you move to Canada?”

 “Because I’m a homophobic, gun-toting American – they don’t want me!”

 I hate to sound like a broken record but if gun nuts think that freedom is what makes America so great and so different, then why don’t they think it’s great when their fellow Americans exercise their freedom to be different? I would love to see that, wouldn’t you?

 “Hey, Timmy. Whaddya say we get liquored up and go on down to that Gay Pride parade with our shotguns?”

 “Hell yeah, Bobby. We can blast the hell out of anyone who threatens those glitter-throwing Nancy boys with physical harm while they’re marching up and down Main Street in defense of their civil liberties as tax-paying Americans.”

 “True dat, Timmy. This is America; we have to be tolerant of one another or else we’re no better than Russia. Vladimir Putin banned homosexuals from the Winter Olympics and he’s a socialist, right?”

Damn right, Bobby. And if everyone on the right in this country is so against socialism, and Vladimir Putin is a homophobic socialist, that means anyone who’s against civil rights for gay people is not only a homophobe but also a dog-gone socialist. So if socialism is wrong, then so is homophobia in the so-called ‘Land of the Free’.”

 “Know what, Timmy? I get turned on when you start talking all logical and stuff and, you know, showing love and respect for your fellow human beings just like it says in the Bible even if their values and lifestyle choices differ from your own. Hell, Timmy, maybe you and I should try being homosexuals sometime.”

 “Aw, shucks, Bobby, I ain’t no butt ranger. But if it’ll help win the war against socialism, hell, I guess I can polish a knob or two for America—yee-haw!”

Why do opponents of gay marriage always seem so obsessed with gay behavior? It’s a little homoerotic, if you ask me. For example, the other, day a straight man wearing a leather vest with both an American flag and an NRA patch on it told me that he was against same-sex marriage because it’s a sin against nature (much like the grey, over-60 pony tail he was sporting). He then started playing one of those hypothetical question games with me:

“Tell me, Fun Dude,” he said. “If a gay millionaire offered you a million dollars—in cash, tax free—to sleep with him, would you do it?”

“No way,” I replied. “I’m not falling for that again.”

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!”

# # #

 

 

Leader of the Pack(ing)

packing-a-suitcase

It’s great to be back home in Cleveland. This is the first time I’ve seen snow in seven years. Unless you count the time I picked up the wrong suitcase in Mexico.

I’d have preferred to remain in the Caribbean for the winter, but I was arrested for throwing eggs at the ship next door and drag racing on a Rascal Scooter (the Lamborghini of mobility scooters). They were going to deport me to Canada, but they found out Cleveland was colder due to the “lake effect,” which is meteorological jargon for “freezing my nads off.”

Although six months is a relatively short contract for me, I couldn’t wait to pack my bags because the only thing more fun than living on a cruise ship for six months is figuring out how to get all my accumulated crap into one checked bag and one carry-on. It’d be easier to get Chris Christie into a Speedo.

After spending half my life traveling for a living, I have packing down to a science. Unfortunately, science was always my worst subject. But, according to Wikipedia, the first law of luggage-ology is: “Objects at rest will weigh precisely one pound over the airline’s fifty pound limit once you get to the airport.” It doesn’t matter if the only things you pack are a jock strap and a duck call, once you get to the airport your suitcase will weigh exactly fifty-one pounds, in which case you’ll be expected to pay a $100 overweight luggage fee. (Unless the airline associate feels sorry for you, in which case she’ll only charge you $125.)

Actually, it’s not that hard to pack a suitcase correctly after half a year at sea. All you have to do is follow five simple steps:

1.  Create a packing list: Make a list of everything you need to pack into the suitcase.  Leave nonessential items at the bottom of the list. That way, if you run out of space you can throw those items away, give them to your cabin mate or leave them in the charity box down in the Crew Internet Lounge. (Central American orphans can never get enough extension cords or Tom Clancy novels.) Thanks to OCD and my predilection to hoarding, my packing list was a breeze to make:

Nonessential Items:

  1. The ship.

Essential Items:

  1.  Everything else.

 2.  Separate large and small items: To pack a suitcase properly you must first make room for large items like suits, sweaters or your cabin steward (making your own bed at home sucks!). Once all large items are situated small items (like a shorter cabin steward) can be fitted into the empty corners or crevices between large items and around the edge of the suitcase.  Instead of folding the big items try rolling them up. Although this won’t save any space, it’ll leave you prepared should you decide to spend part of your vacation in either Colorado or Washington state.

3.  Make your suitcase bottom heavy: (Insert your own Kim Kardashian joke here!)

4.  Pack socks and underwear last: Don’t pack socks and underwear with the rest of your clothes because they’ll take up too much space. And don’t wash them either. Instead, once you’ve packed your suitcase, slip your smelly socks and crusty underwear into the flap of the suitcase so they’ll fall out easily and put an abrupt end to any Customs or TSA inspections.

5.  Ship home non-clothing items: It’s easy for crew members to accumulate lots of books, DVDs and souvenirs such as that wooden figure of Justin Bieber riding a donkey you bought in Cozumel after one too many Coronas—stuff you won’t need as soon as you get home but don’t want to leave on the ship because where else are you going to find a wooden figure of a donkey being ridden by a jackass? Shipping this stuff home is usually less expensive than paying for an extra or overweight suitcase. (If you ship your cabin steward make sure to leave a snack in the box.)

Well, that’s all the time I have for now. I’ve been home for a whole week now and I should probably get unpacked.

Acid Trip

Nexium

When I lost my voice for three months last year, I was forced to host 20 comedy shows per cruise sounding like Kathleen Turner. This confused the hell out of our guests because I look like Ellen DeGeneres.

Some nights my voice was so hoarse I had to rely on hand gestures to communicate. Fortunately, the gestures required for dealing with drunken hecklers at a midnight comedy show are the same gestures required for merging into rush-hour traffic, so they were already second nature.

Although I knew something was wrong, it was my fiancée, Željka, who finally convinced me to seek medical attention after listening to me croak and rasp like an 80-year-old  nine-pack-a-day smoker. She was afraid of what would happen to our relationship if I lost the ability to talk completely: If I lost the ability to talk, she’d lose the ability to get mad at every single stupid thing I say, thus robbing her of life’s greatest joy.

So, in order to give Željka hope that I would soon be spewing my “idiotic bull crap” at full volume again, I went down to the infirmary to get checked out. After poking a flashlight the size of a pop bottle down my throat, the ship’s physician told me I had strained my vocal chords and suggested I refrain from all unnecessary talking.  Vocal rest, the good doctor assured me, would be the key to my recovery. Unfortunately, as anyone who knows me will testify, I’m incapable of telling the difference between necessary and unnecessary talking. My mouth has four gears: “Lecture,” “Rant,” “Jeremiad” and “Filibuster.” There is no “Rest.” Even with laryngitis, I make David Lee Roth look Like Marlee Matlin.

After a month of taking enough antibiotics to make my tongue look like a slice of moldy Wonder Bread, gargling enough warm salt water to grow gills, sipping enough hot tea and honey to stop raising eyebrows whenever I waddled into the staff mess wearing my “Winnie the Pooh” feety pajamas, and writing down everything I needed to say offstage into a notebook like Max von Sydow’s character in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, there was no improvement whatsoever with my voice. So, although the doctor wasn’t thrilled with the idea of my being able to babble on and on and on about nothing again, he offered me two choices:

1)    Talk out of my ass. (“Hey, you’ve made a career of it—why stop now?!”)

2)   See a specialist.

Since I didn’t want to compete with old pros such as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, I selected Option Two.  The following Tuesday, the port agent escorted me to an Ear, Nose and Throat clinic in St. Thomas, where I took a battery of tests which culminated in the pleasant experience of having the specialist— his “specialty” being advanced interrogation techniques at Guantanamo—snaking a fiber-optic camera up the size of  a Twizzler up through my nose, on through my nasal cavity and down into my throat to take a peek at my vocal chords.

Mistaking my gasps for air for curiosity, he kindly allowed me to watch the camera’s journey on a high-def video screen. Ordinarily, I would have been too squeamish to explore my own throat via Nostril Cam but I recently started watching reruns of “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo,” so I can handle anything.

Sure enough, my vocal chords were bright red. What was left of them, that is. Turns out, I had undetected Acid Reflux Disease and my stomach had spent the previous few months shooting acid up through my esophagus, splashing it all over my beleaguered vocal chords and, basically, incinerating them. (The official medical term for this condition is “twerking.”)

After my exam, the specialist wrote me a prescription for Prevacid and gave me a long list of food and beverages I have to stay away from: “OK, Jeffrey: no beer, no wine; no Coke, no Pepsi; no orange juice, no grapefruit; no chicken wings, no hot sauce; no chocolate, no mint…”

“Doc,” I said, “I might as well kill myself.”

“OK, it’s your life. But no arsenic, no chlorine, no strychnine….”

A year and four visits to the clinic later, I finally have my Acid Reflux Disease under control and my voice is as loud and clear and strident and grating and annoying as ever. After going in for a checkup this past Tuesday, turns out the only things I’ve been doing wrong are lying down after I eat, eating right before going to bed, and eating anything cooked on the ship since our Indian chefs can’t seem to serve so much as a bowl of sliced peaches in syrup without adding enough curry to power a nuclear sub.

Fortunately, I have enough Prevacid to last me while on vacation for the next two months. Of course, if I run out, I can always borrow some of my Dad’s Nexium like I did the last time I was home. We never went hunting or fishing when I was a kid; but, now that I’m in my late 40’s, we’re making up for lost time in the bonding department by sharing prescription medication.

That’s how much my parents love me. They’re willing to help me control my Acid Reflux Disease when it’s the only thing in the past 48 years that’s been able to shut me up.

‘Twas the SEAson

SEA-sons Greetings

It’s hard to believe the holidays are over already. Perhaps if I were to take the Christmas decorations down in my cabin, it would feel more like the twelfth day of 2014. But seeing how my New Year’s resolution was to be a lazy as possible, I don’t want to quit while I’m on a roll.

Besides, I’ve gotten used to having a life-sized snowman on my wall. Sometimes, when life at sea gets particularly stressful, “Frosty” will come to life and cheer me up. Why, just the other day, I said, “Frosty, last night, a guest walked straight to the front of the long line of guests waiting to get into the comedy club, stood just to the left of the line and informed me that she was ready to be seated. When I told her that she was going to have the join the back of the line, she said, ‘How was I supposed to know this long line winding all the way down Promenade Deck from the casino to the comedy club was the line for the comedy club? Nobody told me that that line was the line for the comedy club. If I had known that that line was the line for the comedy club and not just some random line that just so happened to start at the entrance of the comedy club, I would have joined it.  But since nobody told me that that was the line for the comedy club, I decided to start a line of my own right here—so you should make those other four hundred people standing in a single file line starting at the entrance of the comedy club for no apparent good reason get in line behind me!’”

“Frosty,” I said. “How does somebody that stupid make it to her 40’s without sticking her tongue in a light socket, let alone afford to go on a cruise?!”

Doing his best Johnny Cochran impersonation, Frosty smiled at me said, “Fun Dude, when you’re talking to a decoration, it’s time for a vacation!”

Since joining my cruise line in 2007, I’ve spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s at sea. Fortunately, our ship attracts so many difficult and demanding guests during the holidays that it feels as if I’m back home with my family.

It’s not hard to get into the Christmas spirit on our ship. Wherever you turn you’ll see beautiful decorations, hear your favorite carols and observe diminutive Indonesian housekeepers in over-sized Santa hats cleaning up after sloppy Americans like so many disgruntled elves, singing:

Why am I such a misfit?

These rednecks are all such nitwits!

Why can’t they clean up their own s**t?

I should have become a dentist!

Staff members are encouraged to participate in the cabin door decorating contest every Christmas. It’s hard to pick a winner since we all put so much time and effort into lovingly and enthusiastically decorating our doors as uniquely and distinctively as possible, using the exact same decorations as everyone else since we all take the same exact shuttle bus to the same exact Wal-Mart and browse the same exact Christmas department in the same exact door decorations aisle. The winner gets a $25 gift certificate to Target, which is a $30 cab ride from Wal-Mart.

My Croatian fiancée Željka loves Christmas so much that I decorate our entire cabin for her. This year I spent around $100 on “Frosty the Snowman” wall art, “Santa” and penguin mirror clings, fake snow spray, a wreath, a manger, a “Nutcracker” nutcracker, “Merry Christmas” bath towels and throw rugs, garland, ornaments, Christmas stockings, a poinsettia, loads of Christmas candy and a tiny stuffed “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” who, by peeking his cute little face over the rim of a giant red and white ceramic coffee mug bearing his name, caused Željka to emit squeals of Yuletide delight. The only thing I didn’t buy was mistletoe. Instead, I just hung my “chestnuts,” which—if you haven’t guessed—Željka removed from me years ago.

Our annual Christmas show in the main theater is so much fun I always volunteer as an usher. I love watching proud and loving parents tear up as they watch their small children, who rehearse all week up in our youth camp, sing their hearts out like cute little angels. Cute little tone-deaf angels accompanied by a backing track of the Vienna Boys Choir that masks their angelic, off-key ululations so convincingly that proud and loving parents don’t have to drop their expensive video cameras in order to stuff their proud and loving fingers into their ears so as to prevent their proud and loving brains from turning into figgie pudding. At the end of the show, team members representing over 50 countries where Christmas obviously isn’t celebrated walk down the aisles holding battery operated candles, singing “Silent Night” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” And, by singing, I mean standing there with confused looks on their faces, not knowing where to stand or which direction to face since the team members who volunteered for the show aren’t the same team members who volunteered for rehearsal.

Just because our cruise line makes a big deal out of Christmas doesn’t mean we forget our Jewish guests. We celebrate all eight days of Hanukkah with a ceremony at sundown usually hosted by Yours Truly due to the fact that I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. Although I was raised Catholic, I was allowed to go to my friends’ houses for Hanukkah because each of my parents had a very open mind about religion and an even more open mind about getting the kids out of the house for a couple of hours.

Our Jewish guests really love our Hanukkah ceremonies because it allows them to do what they do best: gather around the menorah—in this case a fifteen-foot-high electric version with light bulbs that last about as long as snowflakes in a heated garage—and complain about the recipe our Indian chef used for the latkes. We even leave the Menorah lit through Christmas and New Year’s so our Jewish guests can take part in the holiday season by going down to Guests Services and complaining that the menorah is not supposed to stay lit past the last day of Hanukkah.

If there’s one thing to really look forward to during the holidays it’s the incredible holiday feasts waiting for us in the staff mess. We get turkey, stuffing, gravy, grilled shrimp, frozen shrimp and various cakes, pies and ice creams for dessert. To top it off, they serve us free beer, wine and soda pop. All we have to do is be one of the first twenty people in line because all the good stuff is gone in five minutes.

Our New Year’s cruise is always a blast. I can’t think of a better way of ringing in the new year than by reveling among more than 4,000 cheering guests and crew members under the stars on Lido Deck, listening to the show band break into “Auld Lang Syne” as Željka throws a full glass of champagne in my face because I had the audacity to let some “cross-eyed Russian whore” kiss me on the cheek at midnight.

Would I have I rather been home for the holidays? Brother, I was home. And I can hardly wait till next year.