Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Sharp & Pointed: You grew up in Phoenix, but I can’t imagine you as a shitkicker. What kind of music were you listening to back then?

Al Perry: I don’t know about that. I have some definite shitkicker elements. I’m an intellectual redneck! (Someone else called me that). So it was country around the house, like Marty Robbins and Eddy Arnold. Spent a lot of time in my room with a little transistor radio listening to the AM top 40 of the Sixties, and what was considered oldies back then.

Sharp & Pointed: Who were some of your favorite bands and solo artists then?

Al Perry: I started out with the Beatles, like many of us that age. Then went to Cream, Airplane, Hendrix, and such.

Sharp & Pointed: Has your opinion of them changed over time? If so, how and why?

Al Perry: I don’t like hippie or psychedelic stuff so much any more. Hendrix is still good though I didn’t listen to him for many years. Some of the Cream stuff is too self indulgent for me now. Still like the Beatles, though now I don’t pay as much attention to them as I did. You could not escape them then. They were on the radio all the time. Same with the Beach Boys, who I’ve loved for a long, long time. I don’t even listen to hardly any rock anymore. Bores me. I got through the Seventies on jazz and blues. Parker, Coltrane, Dolphy, Muddy, Clifton, and the like.

Sharp & Pointed: When did you start playing music? What instrument(s)? What styles were you playing?

Al Perry: Had piano lessons for a short time, then guitar. Like this was in third grade. Glad I had them though, they really helped out later. But really, it was well after high school before I became interested enough in playing to take it up. By that time I was sick of rock and was starting to explore blues and jazz. Seventies Rock got REALLY stale. ‘Til the Pistols shook everything up and got me interested again.

Sharp & Pointed: When did you start playing in bands?

Al Perry: In college.

Sharp & Pointed: What kind of music?

Al Perry: My first band was the Subterranean Blues Band here in Tucson. We did OK for the short time we were together. Played parties then later got some great opening slots: Roy Buchanan, John Cougar, Blasters, Fabulous Thunderbirds, maybe more. Don’t remember. Then I was in the Hecklers, a sort of “roots punk band” that was very loud and pretty fun, we were reviewed in Maximum Rock n’ Roll, and Jello Biafra was a fan. I’ve known him for decades now. The Hecklers morphed into the Cattle.

Sharp & Pointed: Who were some of the bands and musicians you were playing with then?

Al Perry: George Howard was vocals and drums in the Subs. Also the late Pat McAndrews on guitar. My buddy Lee Poole. We are still in touch a lot. Same with George.

Sharp & Pointed: Did you do vocals when you started playing in bands, or did that come later? If so, when?

Al Perry: After the Subs I played bass for a couple months in a Southern Rock Band. We actually did an album. Whoa! My first record. Highly prized collectable now. Not. I was only meant to be temporary and left. Lack of interest in that stuff. Then it was the Hecklers. I sang a little in that and wrote all the songs. That morphed into Al Perry and the Cattle.

Sharp & Pointed: You moved from Phoenix to Tucson ages ago. When and why?

Al Perry: I moved away at the first available opportunity, which was school. Had to get out. Hated it in Phoenix.

Sharp & Pointed: Why didn’t you ever move back to Phoenix? Why not?

Al Perry: Haven’t you ever been there? It’s HORRIBLE. Even when I go up I come back as soon as I can. I still have many great friends there though. It’s gotten better there, but I would not want to actually live there. 

Sharp & Pointed: When did you start playing cowpunk (alt-country? whatever)? Why?

Al Perry: I guess that was the Hecklers and then Cattle. Both bands explored roots type music, doing that stuff but with a modern energy. Punk was happening and that injected some fresh whatever into rock. I did not really think that mixing stuff up inappropriately was unusual. It was just what you did. I didn’t try to do anything, it just sort of happened. I guess I was an early inventor of “cowpunk” or at least it’s fun to frame it that way. HAW!

Sharp & Pointed: What’s the best experience you’ve ever had playing music?

Al Perry: Too many to mention, my friend.

Sharp & Pointed: What’s the worst experience you’ve ever had playing music?

Al Perry: WAY too many to mention! HA!

Sharp & Pointed: You play both in bands and as a solo performer. Which do you prefer, and why?

Al Perry: I like bands of course. It is fun to hear your songs fleshed out. It’s also like a gang. I only do solo because I am so lazy anymore.

Sharp & Pointed: What do you like about playing in bands?

Al Perry: Fuckin’ rockin’ out LOUD dude.

Sharp & Pointed: What do you dislike about playing in bands?

Al Perry: Guys messing up my vision. Idiots who don’t have musicianship. It is important to play for the song, not for yourself. Some clowns don’t get that.

Sharp & Pointed: What do you like about solo performing?

Al Perry: The only thing I like about it is that it’s ME and me only that is responsible for the success or failure of any given performance.

Sharp & Pointed: You’re a prolific songwriter. What’s your songwriting process? Or is there more than one?

Al Perry: I am absolutely not prolific, unless you count these instrumentals and stuff, that I just consider thrown together. To me, songwriting is really a vocal, lyrics, verse chorus kind of thing.

Sharp & Pointed: How has the music biz changed over the years?

Al Perry: No one is interested anymore and there are way way way too many people in bands.

Sharp & Pointed: Is it harder or easier to make a living playing music now than it was 20 or 30 years ago? Why?

Al Perry: Much harder. People are not interested.

Sharp & Pointed: Has American pop music (everything from jazz to rock to country) been getting better or worse during your lifetime? Why?

Al Perry: Worse, of course. But I am interested in so many things, there is always something new to discover.

Sharp & Pointed: Are there any aspects of current American pop that you particularly hate?

Al Perry: I actually like some current pop stuff. That comes as a surprise to a lot of people. Kelly Clarkson, Meghan Trainor. Super cheese factor stuff.

Sharp & Pointed: Among relatively recent American bands and musicians, are there any that you particularly like? Why?

Al Perry: I mostly like the groups of my friends. As I said I’m not so interested in rock anymore.

Sharp & Pointed: You have a Youtube channel. What’s its name and what kind of stuff are you putting up on it?

Al Perry: It is alperryism. I put up these dumb little videos I make on imovie. I do some instrumental soundtracks, those are fun.

Sharp & Pointed: What are your musical plans over the next year or two?

Al Perry: I’m officially old now. I find my interest is declining.

Sharp & Pointed: Do you have any advice for young musicians? If so, what?

Al Perry: Buy some drywall tools and learn how to use them, because you are never going to make a living with music. Go into real estate. You are in for a lot of heartbreak and frustration otherwise. Unless you have a trust fund.

Sharp & Pointed: You also do artwork in addition to music. When did you start doing that?

Al Perry: I have always dabbled in it. But in the last few years I started doing these watercolors. It’s actually gone pretty well, and I have even sold some. I was part of a group show at the Fleicher/Ollman gallery in Philadelphia, an established gallery, and it was quite an honor.

Sharp & Pointed: Where can people see some of your artwork?

Al Perry: I think you can look around online. Or get hold of me. I’ll mail you a postcard.

Sharp & Pointed: Other than music and art, what are your other interests?

Al Perry: Drugs, alcohol, contempt, boredom. What kind of question is that? Music and art? Hello! What else is there?

We just put up our 1,000th post —  this  is number 1,003 — a few days ago. We’re now looking through everything we’ve posted, and are putting up “best of” lists in our most popular categories.

This is the third of our first-1,000 “best of” lists. We’ve already posted the Science Fiction “best of” and the Addictions “best of” lists, and will shortly be putting up other “best ofs” in several other categories, including Anarchism, Atheism, Economics, Humor, Music, Politics, Religion, Science, and Skepticism.

Best Interviews

Sleep State Interrupt, by T.C. Weber cover

Our brand new sci-fi title, the cyberpunk thriller Sleep State Interrupt, by T.C. Weber, is back from the printer.  It’s also available as an e-book from all of the usual outlets.

The following interview should be of interest not only to sci-fi fans, but to writers of all genres, as T.C. has a lot to say about the craft of writing, generating plots, and creating believable characters.

If you’d like to check out Sleep State Interrupt, we’ve put up the first four chapters in pdf form,  and the author has put up a site for the book, which has a lot of additional information.

Q: What was the genesis of Sleep State Interrupt?

A: I’ve always been worried about the concentration of media and the decline of journalism, and the threats those trends pose to independent, critical thought and democracy. Then it was just a matter of inventing characters who would also be concerned about it and adding details of a near-future world. I lived in Baltimore and have been involved in music scenes and community organizing, so it was easy to include those as background elements. I have some experience with IT and video/news production. I consulted with experts to fill in the details, especially the tech-related ones.

Q: What advance preparation do you do prior to beginning a novel? Write mini-bios of the characters? Research the locale? Research any scientific matters essential to the book? Anything else?
A: All of the above. The basic story comes first. Then the plot and main characters. I create detailed character sheets, psychological profiles, and even put play lists together for the POV characters. The world also has to be developed. For Sleep State Interrupt, I didn’t need to research the locales since they’re in my backyard. But I did explore predicted technology for 2020-30 and interviewed experts. I’ve written other books, though, that required much more up-front world building. The Drift Horizon (which I’ve been editing off and on for quite a while) is set in a completely different version of Earth and I wrote a sort of Rough Guide/Lonely Planet for the country most of the action is set in.

Q: Are your characters based on people you’ve known, are they amalgams, or are they pure invention?

A: I invent my characters to fill roles in a story. They aren’t based on specific people, though of course real people and events inspire or influence them. I create profiles for my major characters, fleshing out their goals, personalities, backgrounds, appearances, etc. These may change while drafting the story, but usually not a whole lot. I try to make them interesting, since I’ll be spending a lot of time in their heads, I don’t want to be bored. Nor do I want readers to get bored.

Q: How do you generate your plots? Do you work the plot out first and then write? Start out with a general idea of where you want to go and then start writing? Or just sit down in front of a blank screen and start writing?

A: It’s a complicated process. I follow Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method ( and Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering (, more or less. The first step is to brainstorm story ideas and pick one worth writing about. I turn this into a “what if” question (like “What if nearly all information was controlled by a powerful elite? Could ordinary people overturn such a system?”) and a one-sentence novel summary (e.g., “An unemployed journalist and her friends try to stop a power-mad CEO from controlling the world.”) The next step is to expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major plot points, and ending of the novel. Then I develop the main characters and their goals, motivations, back story, etc. I weave the character arcs into the plot and write a short synopsis followed by a long synopsis. I convert this to a scene list in Scrivener, with a virtual index card for each scene (ideally with the scene arc outlined). Then finally I start writing, starting with the opening scene and filling out each scene in order. As I write, the story changes, sometimes quite a bit, but at least I have a roadmap to follow.

Q: You write both fiction and nonfiction. What would you say are the similarities and differences between writing nonfiction and writing fiction?

A: There are a lot of similarities. In both cases, you need to think creatively, organize your thoughts, be disciplined, and write clearly. Fiction is much more fun because you can write whatever you want and create your own worlds and people.

Q: How do you get inspired to write?

A: It’s more a question of habit than inspiration. You just have to sit down and get to work.

Q: What’s your writing routine? Do you write every day, and if so do you write at the same time every day? Do you set a goal, in terms of writing time or number of words?

A: I try to write something every morning before going to work, even if it’s just random thoughts or a few paragraphs. If it’s relevant to a current project, I pick it up again after dinner. When working on a novel, my goal is to write one scene each day, schedule permitting. Long scenes may take several days. My time goal is 10 hours/week of writing new material (not including editing or marketing chores). I don’t write nearly as fast as some of my colleagues who can churn out 5000+ words/day, but maybe someday.….

Q: Writing, by its very nature, is an isolating activity and, if you spend much time on it, probably has a negative impact on social life. Do you just live with that or do you do anything specific to deal with it?

A: That would be true if I wrote 12 hours/day, but it’s more like 1-2. It would be a lot easier to write first drafts sequestered in a remote mountain cabin (with bad weather so I didn’t spend all day hiking), but that’s not possible.

Q: When did you start reading science fiction, and what authors and books were you reading then?
A: I read a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, and have from an early age. This question stumped me so I called my mom and asked. She couldn’t remember either and thought I was mostly interested in history as a child. After further brainstorming, we came up with Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. My mom also said I liked Star Trek, and I remember loving monster and kung-fu movies.

Q: Have your opinions of those changed over time? If so, how?
A: I still have a high regard for Asimov and Clarke. I can’t stomach Heinlein’s quasi-fascist diatribes. He also had libertarian leanings, though, which I’m more amenable to, as long as the power of the rich and corporations are held in check.

Q: Do you have any current favorite sci-fi subgenres? If so, what and why?
A: I don’t have a favorite genre of fiction even in the broader sense. I’m mostly interested in reading a story that has something to say, and says it well. It could fall under any genre. I admit to being impatient though; if a book starts to really meander or plod, I’ll lose patience and pick up something else.

Q: Who are some of your current favorite sci-fi writers, and why?
A: Based on her ideas, Ursula K. LeGuin. Based on his cleverness and characters, Kurt Vonnegut. Scope: Isaac Asimov. World building: Frank Herbert. I also like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson a lot. Neuromancer and Diamond Age are unforgettable . I could go on and on. I’d also like to mention Baltimore’s own Sarah Pinsker — her prose flows perfectly.

Q: Sleep State Interrupt has a satisfying conclusion, but it’s open ended. You’re now writing the sequel. How is that coming along?

A: I was making steady progress until halfway through, then had to focus on editing an unrelated book, and now am picking it up again. As of this writing, the characters’ obstacles appear insurmountable and I’m not sure how they’ll get to the ending. It’ll take a lot of brainstorming. Lesson: don’t stop in the middle of writing a first draft!

Q: How do you deal with writer’s block?

A: I only get “writer’s block” when my characters get in a situation that seems impossible to escape. Then I have the characters talk it through until they come up with a solution. Only a small part of the conversation may make it onto the page, but it’s just like real life — some problems require a lot of brainstorming and hypothesis testing.

Q: What are your other current writing projects, and would you briefly describe them?

A: I’m working on five projects at the moment. I’m writing a sequel to Sleep State Interrupt titled The Wrath of Leviathan, in which the protagonists are on the run and fighting a government and media backlash. I’m also writing a farce about local politics titled The Council, but it’s temporarily on hold until I finish Wrath of Leviathan (The challenging part is being more absurd than reality!) I am editing an alternate history novel titled Born in Salt, set fifty years after a fascist coup overthrew President Roosevelt. Ben Adamson, a 19-year-old Illinois farm boy, tries to free the woman he loves from the ruthless Internal Security Service without betraying his friends, and seeks to bring down the government in the process. I am rewriting another alternate history novel titled The Drift Horizon, in which humanity has been shaped since the dawn of agriculture by mysterious entities called the Guardians. These entities have since disappeared, and a catastrophic disaster has pitched the world into a war that may end civilization forever. Finally, I am working on a shared horror novel with three other writers, set in Baltimore in the 1920’s. Think Lovecraft meets Fitzgerald meets H. L. Mencken.

Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?

A: Writing is hard work and involves a lot of drudgery (particularly editing). But it’s rewarding to see characters and worlds come alive. My favorite moments are when a character veers from the outline and does something unexpected, especially if it’s something a lot smarter and more inventive than the outline called for. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I throw away the outline and go with it.

Q: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

A: Make lists of ideas. Write something every day, even if it’s only a paragraph or short poem. Expand your best ideas into story synopses. Take the best synopses and write complete stories. Have fun.

Our friends at Crónicas Negras have been running a series of interviews with their fellow Venezuelan anarchists. Here’s the latest.



“The Venezuelan state is approving the biggest eco-suicide known in our entire history and the Boliarvian government is complicit”

Interview with Juan Pablo Núñez from Maracaibo.


Interviewer Rodolfo Montes de Oca (


Translation by Pietro Casati Kuyath (


Black Chronicles are a series of interviews conducted to different anarchists currently living in Venezuela, narrating the struggles the face living in one of the few socialist regimes. These interviews deal with the everyday lives of men and women and highlight the precarious situations in which they are forced to live in.

In this edition we interview Juan Pablo Núñez, member of the band Doña Maldad, soloist in Cadáveres podrido, activist, colleague of El Libertario and anarcho-punk from the region of Zulia.


-How is it being a young anarchist in Venezuela? Is it challenging?

I have been fighting for this cause for more than 15 years. I am an adult, but I am still young at heart so I can answer the question: I don’t think that it is different from any other country. The matter which makes the situation complicated is the strong polarization that is dividing people. We must establish opinions that aren’t seen as crazy or even despised. Socialist Venezuela is a huge farce because it is merely the continuation of what the system supposedly criticizes to gain the same power, resources and people’s autonomy.


First Manuel Rosales, then Eveling Trejo to culminate with Francisco Arias Cardenas… haven’t the people from Zulia learnt their lesson?

Neither the people from Zulia or Venezuelans from other states have learnt that regardless of who rules it is only a tool for their own interests. Manuel Rosales was governor and Dimartino was the mayor. When this happened there was a strange competitiveness between both groups of power. Meanwhile Arías Cárdenas is the governor and Trejo is the mayor. In their continuous battle to sink their political adversaries they have left the city destroyed: full of garbage, black water… In essence, their businesses and personal interests rule over the interests of the people.


Arias is a very strategic militant, he wants to transform Zulia into a powerful state, just like his advertisements suggest. His mission is to expand the territory with neoliberal projects of development and other interests from Colombia which include infrastructure, coal mining, ports for exportation, militarization, etc. The consequences of his policies could leave Zulia without any water resources, along with contributing to a high level of deforestation and increase in Colombian contraband. Zulia has become another business for the military.


-How do you see the lack of criticism from NGO’s towards the role of Francisco Arias Cárdenas, knowing that he is destroying the Sierra de Perija?

Political matters are based on blackmail. Chavism knows a lot about this because I think that it has always been their main pressure tool. I am not surprised that many organizations and NGO’s obtain mutual support from people like Francisco Arias in exchange for turning a blind eye to certain problems. They have already destroyed our lake a long time ago and nothing was done to solve this from any NGO’s.


The death of Sabino Romero… What is your opinion on his death?

Sabino Romero was an important figure for his speeches and the actions he undertook to obtain land for ethnic groups like the Yukpas. He was a threat to the government because he was a firm believer in Chávez’s speech. He also altered the power relations between farmers, the military and the government. Sabino was also serving as an inspirational example for other indigenous communities in the country. This is why Sabino was killed by the farmers with the complicity of the government.


How do you see the issue of the Arco Minero del Orinoco and the current focus on extractivism by the Venezuelan state?

The Arco Minero issue is something very worrying and we have to take action right now. The majority of the Venezuelan terrain in situated in the river Orinoco. They have already installed an oil-bearing station in Faja and they are about to start mining in the south. The mere action of inviting 135 transnational businesses and accepting their partnership is something incredibly nefarious for our territory and our people. We are talking about a mining program that is occurring over important reserves of water, fauna, flora and indigenous communities. The Arco Minero marks the beginning of the end of all of our natural treasures. If this doesn’t stop then death, wars and sickness will soon come. Full destruction. The Venezuelan state is approving the biggest eco-suicide known in our entire history and the Bolivian government is complicit.


After so many defeats… How do you currently see the resistance of indigenous communities?

The example and reference that I have are the battles of Zulia. We are currently living the consequences of subsidized activism. Chavism gave and took away the same blackmail that we talked about. The Yukpas, after so much hardship, are now surviving because they have been abandoned to their own luck. The Wayuu of Socuy social movement have managed to start projects that keep indigenous communities optimistic. But I think that the autonomy would be the flag that should be risen and demonstrated through examples to prove that that they don’t need the state to solve their problems. Instead they must build strong alliances with the movements of the city to establish relations where people are involved and feel a sense of belonging.


You play in music bands like Doña maldad and now started the band Cadáveres podridos… Is it challenging to produce independent music in Venezuela?

No, I don’t think that it is that hard, especially now when you can record with anything.


Do you queue to buy regulated food or do you engage in bachaqueo?

I don’t queue, the feeling of impotence and rage that I feel don’t allow me to do so. I don’t engage in bachaqueo either because it is an extortionist practise. If you thought that only the population could save themselves from this mess take a look at this phenomena and the collective desperate desire for survival. I imagine that you must ask yourself if I buy any contraband. Our alimentation at home has been severely affected by the current situation. We eat lots of fruits and grains from a standard vegetarian diet but now we can’t even pay for grains, fruits or anything for that matter. Everything is too expensive. We should start planting seeds, everyone should do that.


Have you been a victim of the increasing crime rate? Have they lynched anybody where you live?

Yes, I have been mugged several times, even by pointing a gun at my face. I am aware of thieves being killed by the police on a regular basis.


How is electricity rationing where you live?

Two daily hours, sometimes this timetable is maintained and sometimes it’s not. In fact whilst I am writing this right now I know that the light will go off soon.


How have people reacted to the price increase of public transport?

There have already been protests across the universities. People seem visibly miserable. I tend to use my bicycle, it’s the best option.


Do you have any problems with your internet?

It is very slow. I don’t have any Internet connection at home because it broke and nobody has fixed it yet.


Do you think people are starting to get fed up not only with the government but also with the opposition? Where are we heading towards?

I hope that we are heading for a revolt.


Have you ever thought of running away, crossing the border? Or do you have to stay to build and fight?

Yes, I have thought about leaving on numerous occasions, but I want the current government to leave even more. All of them. In these moments we have to fight because the plans of the government are nefarious for all Venezuelans.


Did you know that we all have to be inscribed to obligatory military service? How do you see the militarization of society?

Yes… I knew, but I didn’t inscribe myself. The country has ended up like this because we are in the hands of the military. What we have lived and what will soon come isn’t going to be easy, especially with CAMIMPEG, a military-mining corporation.


What activities are you performing in Zulia? Do anarchist organizations exist?

There is a little bit of everything in Zulia, the movements I involve myself with are related to the defence of water, against the mining of coal… Here there are a lot of things for everybody, but we must expand our capacity in the city. Cyclers, musicians, poets, everyone in the world should establish objectives and plans of action to save this city from political unconsciousness.


What should be libertarian attitudes in these moments?

In this moment we must continue organizing lots of demonstrations to highlight the inefficiency of the state.


Would you like to add anything to end the interview? What would you recommend for fellow anarchists?

Assist popular markets, support fights, demonstrate your discontent and turn off your phones.


Rodolfo Montes de Oca

Bitácora personal:

Twitter: @romontesdeoca

The Bassist's Bible by Tim Boomer front coverTim Boomer is the author of The Bassist’s Bible: How to Play Every Bass Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco, and has played in many bands since the 1960s. He’s also a computer expert and web designer, whose sites include the Bassist’s Bible site, jazz/funk bassist Paul Jackson’s site, and Tim’s band’s site, Offbeats. Tim has a Bassist’s Bible Youtube channel on which he’s posted numerous instructional videos showing how to play a variety of musical styles on bass.

* * *

S&P: How long have you been playing bass?

TB: I have been playing bass since 1969. That makes me an official old guy.

I had been playing flute with my electric guitarist friend and noticed that every time he turned up I could not hear my flute. My dad would have killed me if I had it drilled for an electric pickup (I knew some musicians who did this), so I was in a quandary. We were sitting on the rooftop of his mom’s house one evening and he said “Hey, did you know that the lower four strings of a guitar are exactly the same as the ones on a bass?” He then showed me how to play the Who’s “Boris the Spider” and within about 20 minutes I became a bassist.

S&P: What was your first instrument?

TB: I had a job in a music store, and when I had enough money to get a bass I had a choice: Phil Lesh had recently traded in one of his Fender P-basses in and it really looked cool. I think I might have had to pay about two hundred dollars for it. On the other hand, they had a new Hagstrom 8-string bass (which doubled the bass strings with guitar-like strings an octave up) for only $150 and I had seen Noel Redding posed in an ad for one, so I bought it thinking I would be so damn cool playing such a unique instrument (and maybe Jimi Hendrix would find out and want me as his bassist). It was a nice axe — very straight neck, easy to play — though I took the annoying extra strings off right away. In retrospect I should have gotten Phil’s bass. I doubt seriously if Noel ever played one of the Hagstroms. He played a P-Bass (or a Jazz bass) just like Phil did at the time. I could have had a piece of history worth umpteen gajillion jealous stares.

S&P: Why bass? Why do you love it?

I love the way bass makes people move. My 18-month-old grandson saw me play for the first time recently; as I was working through some grooves he looked from me to my amp and realized that I was the one making those sounds coming from across the room, and he immediately starting jumping up and down, raising his arms and moving rhythmically in circles. It’s in his DNA, even if he is my step-grandson.

I also love the sheer power of electric bass. When I saw Phil Lesh back in the early 70’s play full chords through a huge amp stack, I could feel that power in my gut from 60 feet away in Winterland.. John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, and Jack Cassidy had a different, more cerebral affect, playing counterpoint to the ecstatic guitar lines their band mates were coming up with. There is just so much energy there for me.

S&P: Have you ever played other instruments? If so, which ones? What did
you enjoy about them? And why do you like playing bass better?

TB: I have. Though my dad introduced me to guitar, that lasted about 2 minutes as I couldn’t wrap my head around that 5th string which is so WRONG. I played flute as a child in a classical setting and picked up bass when I realized that I knew a zillion guitarists and drummers and exactly zero bassists. I saw it as an opportunity to have people to play with.

I play guitar, keys, drums, percussion, flute, samples and loops, musical spoons, cereal boxes — pretty much anything that comes my way. I use other instruments primarily in composition, though occasionally I get to jam with friends on less familiar instruments. Joe Zawinul — the genius keyboard player for Weather Report — reportedly had two Arp 2600 synthesizers and wired them as mirror images of each other. The unfamiliar setup helped him break out of established patterns and muscle memory. By playing drums or guitar I change my bass style. It also works when I sing, as it is amazingly hard to sing while playing syncopated lines, and it’s also really hard to sing harmony lines while you’re playing roots; that can really twist you melodically.

S&P: Is it helpful to a bassist to be able to read music? How so?

TB: Reading saves time. I literally spent 4 hours a day for a month preparing for an audition for my Who band, Who Too. Three of the songs were easy and I could rattle them off without thinking. The fourth, “The Real Me,” was agony. I had to play the first 24 bars then the first 32 bars then the first 64 bars, each day getting a little farther into the tune. I had hoped for even a TAB version of that song. None existed that was accurate. A month later, at the audition they told me I’d played perhaps 80% of the song note for note. At the end of 7 years with that band, I could play it in my sleep (and sometimes do). It would have been so much better to read through the parts I was having trouble with. I could have done that in two days.

It also makes things much more accurate. I know many musicians who say “We are doing this in our arrangement.” What they mean is that they have no idea how to play the original song. I think you miss a lot of the subtlety that way. If you learn it as the band originally played it, you can make more intelligent choices when you re-arrange a track. Being literate, able to read music, helps tremendously.

S&P: What kind of gear would you advise someone taking up bass to buy?

TB: I would say spend your money on a decent bass rather than on a loud amp. You will make progress quicker, stick with it, and see the rewards of your efforts if you are not playing on an instrument that sounds bad, messes up your hands, and is impossible to play. You can always get a better amp later. (And listening to yourself play badly very very loudly is not good for either your own ego or for your neighbors.)

S&P: Is it a good idea to take lessons?

TB: You can learn a lot faster if you take lessons. That said, it depends on the player. It does not take a lot of effort to play rudimentary bass (is that the definition of a punk bassist?), but you may develop bad habits in the way you hold your instrument, and it is easy to get stuck just playing roots and fifths–you begin to fall asleep while playing, or start dreaming of the future because you are bored. If you just want to play casually, this could be enough for you. It’s still fun and you get to look cool.

On the other hand, if you are serious, a teacher can show you how to expand your knowledge. It is like going to an ice cream store to find all these notes that you were afraid of above the 5th fret — wow! — and new efficient shapes you can put your hands in that make playing so much faster and easier.

You can learn a lot from Youtube and from books, but ultimately a good teacher can cut down on the ten thousand hours it takes to really get good.

S&P: What mistakes did you make while learning to play bass? What would you do differently now if you were taking it up?

TB: I rejected all the classical knowledge I had. Not a good thing. I did not learn how to read in bass clef until much later in life. I did not understand more than basic rhythmic notation. It would have been far easier to learn material had I utilized the knowledge that I already had, but in the 60’s many folks shunned traditional methods. I feel differently now.

Though I could play using advanced techniques shortly after I started — such as anticipation or syncopation — I could not analyze WHY they worked and could not duplicate them except by “hacking” them and playing for hours and hours to commit them to muscle memory. I might find a great groove and because I couldn’t figure out how to write it down (or record it) it was lost forever the next time I tried to play it.

I also did not pay attention to my hands. For example, I still seem to let my left pinky finger point up to the sky instead of keeping it ready to play hovering above the neck.

A good teacher would have helped me with both of those mistakes.

S&P: You’ve played in a lot of bands. What are the most important things you can do to get a band together? And what are the most important things you can do to keep one together once it’s up and running

TB: Why would you want to be in a band?

You can sound great in your bedroom by yourself, but out here on the highway ….Bands are where the rubber meets the road.

To get a band together quickly and keep it together you need to be prepared. You need to put the work in, by yourself, on all the parts of the material that you suck at, until you no longer suck. Wanking away for hours soloing with Clapton playing Spoonful at the Fillmore will only get you so far. You need to learn how to play the tunes in your sleep and then when the rehearsal happens focus on the dynamics, and listening, and improvising through material that you know like the back of your hand. You don’t want to play the same old mistakes in public while you are drinking beer.

You need to be really civil and nice to your bandmates. Do not cause fights. Do not be the high maintenance “talent” that people hate to play with. Be the guy who is a bit humble, even though you can burn through the material, and help your bandmates learn it. Show up to gigs and to rehearsals on time, prepared, sober, and with big ears. Love your bandmates and love to play with them. Act like it is the most fun you can ever have on a job, that you really want to keep this job, and be promoted to lead bass player. Support your bandmates. A good sense of humor is also really helpful.

If they’re decent human beings, hang with your bandmates and socialize with them. If not, at least treat them professionally and don’t cause problems.

Never assume you are irreplaceable, even if you own the PA, get the gigs, and are the sexy front person. If your mates do not like you, the moment the band becomes successful they will fire you or force you out even if it means the band self-destructs in the process.

S&P: What are some of the things you learned while writing “The Bassist’s Bible”?

TB: I really had to up my game and become the best musician I could be in order to to write the book. I had to learn bass clef again. I had to humble myself again and again, and not just fake a style but openly admit that I really had no idea of how to play it, what the history or tradition was, or what tone to use. I had to learn to love styles that I previously hated and learn to respect other musicians’ judgment about why these “horrible” styles are so cool. Cool is how you play anything. I also had to learn HOW to play some styles authentically — not, say, Country with a Punk twist, but pure Country.

Lastly, I thought I was a disciplined, patient person, but nine years –which is how long it took me to write the book–is a long time doing anything. Spending that long on a project teaches you how to keep going, line after line, groove after groove, never giving up. As Mick Berry [co-author of The Drummer’s Bible] told me, ” the reason to write a book is to complete it.”

S&P: What are your current music projects?

TB: Good question. I have been woodshedding with my band Offbeats — another long term, almost three decade project. We are tightening up vocals and learning covers to add to the sets, which will help folks understand what influenced our originals.

I finally got a drum kit and am learning how to separate my hands and feet independently, after decades of counting time with one foot. The subtleties of drumming are really helping me to understand how to phrase within a rhythm section. When my dad first asked me what I wanted to play and I said “drums,” he said “no”. Trumpet? “no”. Flute “Yes.” So I am finally learning the first instrument I took an interest in.

I am playing a lot more jazz now, working through standards and trying to incorporate fretless electric into the process. I am also just about to get my first ever standup bass.

I have also been doing a lot of music promo — working the business side of things, converting the four music web sites I have to later tech, sifting through this huge amount of content — over 25 years of video from performances, studio sessions, and rehearsals to sort through and find gems to put online. Blogging, working with SEO and marketing to make it easier for folks to find our band, my book, and see my own skills so I can find more music projects.

All of this is setting me up to go out into the world again. After my recent cloistered life of writing, teaching, and promoting, I have better tools and skills, so I want to share them on stage and get into some new projects that will stretch me.

S&P: What are some tips you’d have for people taking up bass?

TB: Bass is an awesome way to get into music, as you can really get to be a decent bassist quickly if you do it right. You can play one string at a time. One note at a time. Look cool and watch girls simultaneously. Of course you can also shoe-gaze, play pyrotechnically and use most of the techniques guitarists are famous for, but you can also just groove and be happy knowing it is YOU that makes them move and groove.

Find people to play with who are just starting out, like you are. There is nothing like knowing that you are getting together on a Saturday to make a bunch of big noise in a garage to inspire you to practice. Playing badly at volume with your friends giving you the stink eye really makes you want to play better and put in the time during the week.

And once you know how to play, keep on learning. Learn something new about the vast musical world we inhabit. My own basic rock/funk/jazz/ska sensibilities have now been expanded incredibly, allowing me to play the same music with new influences that enrich my playing and keep it interesting for me, my bandmates, and our fans.

S&P: Bassists and drummers often talk about being “in the pocket.” Can you explain what this means?

TB: No. If you can explain that, you probably don’t know. I saw a lot of things in the 60’s too and I have no idea what happened there.

The real answer is a bit etherial. By listening carefully to each other, the bassist and drummer allow each other to compliment the groove, rather than just playing ‘parts’ and you really begin to feel the music playing you. That is not an exaggeration. You can tell if a note is not necessary or if you need to add something. You and your drummer are playing as if you are one person, in the same way that people dance together well or sing impeccable harmony as if in one voice. The groove itself is more important than any individual and your ego and differences dissolve in the process. It is so compelling that you have no choice but to simplify down to the essentials. So much has been written about this, and though I could break it down, it really is a lot more than just technique as you really live in the moment and keep that alive bar after bar, chorus after chorus, groove after groove.

Comedian Eric WongEric Wong is responsible for the very popular humor blog, Notes from a Narcissist, which not incidentally is our favorite humor blog. Eric appears regularly on San Francisco comedy stages, and you can find a link to one of his stand-up routines here.

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S&P: Why did you decide to start doing standup, and how long have you been doing it?

EW: I always wanted to do stand-up, but always had excuses not to try it. My father was a huge comedy fan, so I was exposed to a lot of it at a young age. When I was in middle school I used to fall asleep to Jerry Seinfeld’s “I’m Telling You For The Last Time.” The decision to start came after quitting a terrible job and being unemployed for a few months trying to figure out what to do with an English degree. I have been doing stand-up for a little over two years, which isn’t very long at all, but I grew up doing theater, improv and music so performance has been in my life for a while.

S&P: How did you start? Open mikes?

EW: I wrote an experimental novella during the aforementioned bout of unemployment called “The Book of Dave.” In it, one of the characters writes out a stand-up bit for a shy friend to try. I wanted to make sure that the material would actually work as a piece of stand-up, so I went to an open mic and tried it. The bit went over really well, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

S&P: What do you like and what do you dislike about doing open mikes?

EW: It’s one of those things where the things you dislike are the things that you really should appreciate and value the most. It is easy to complain about an inattentive audience in a bar on a Tuesday, but really that is just a perfect situation to test how capitaving you can be as a performer. When you first start out, you play the hardest rooms imaginable. If you can thrive in an environment where all the odds are stacked against you, then by the time you do a real show, you’ll know how to handle yourself better.

S&P: What do you like best about doing standup?

EW: Making people laugh. The joke writing process in general is very rewarding, but there’s nothing quite like changing the way people think about a certain subject and having them be happy about it.

S&P: What else?

Being around other comics. It’s weird finally finding your “tribe” after a quarter century of feeling isolated. Also, I feel very comfortable on stage. It gives me a feeling of being at home.

S&P: What do you like least about it?

When a bombing comic lashes out at an audience for not laughing at their material.

S&P: What else do you dislike?

EW: This is just my personality, but I wish there was more of a structure to the stand-up landscape. Everyone is kind of out on their own, doing their own thing and at the end of the day there is no right or wrong way. It can be very chaotic, confusing and discouraging for a career path that is entirely self-driven. It’s also very free and liberating, which is good,
but being able to see, understand and appreciate that every day isn’t always easy.

S&P: How do you handle it when you bomb?

EW: I will wallow in self-pity for a few days, overthink every aspect of the performance, freak out about my entire existence, and then learn something. You have to be a Saiyan. Get stronger everytime you almost die.

S&P: How do you handle hecklers?

EW: Most of the time I just ignore it, or talk over them. If it gets really bad, I have a specific joke that works, but in general I don’t like being confrontational with the audience. You want to be on their side. Unless everyone hates a particular heckler, and the feeling is palpable throughout the room, you don’t want to risk derailing yourself to try to teach some
stranger an arbitrary lesson. Also, San Francisco has a lot of really smart, funny people. I’ve been at shows where crowd members outsmart the comics. You don’t want to be that guy.

S&P: What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever witnessed doing standup?

EW: There’s a comedian named Joe Bates in Chicago, who is a great stand-up in his own right, but from time to time does a set dressed as a robot.

S&P: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen doing standup?

EW: There’s this comedian named Joe Bates…

S&P: What advice would you have for anyone thinking about doing standup?

EW: Do it. The thing I hear most often is “What if I bomb?” You’re going to. It’s not the end of the world. No one cares. No one will remember a lackluster set from a first-timer. No one will be sitting around their office seven years from now saying, “Oh my gosh, I saw this terrible open mic comedian nearly a decade ago. Let me pull up the video I secretly took of him on YouTube and laugh at him with all of my friends! Hey Marsha, look at this guy! Isn’t he an asshole?? I’m so glad I can remember their first and last name after all these years!” That person doesn’t exist. Even if they do and that’s how they spend their time, they’re way more pathetic than you, and their opinion shouldn’t affect you. You’re chasing your dreams. You’re trying new things. You clearly have more going on for you than that imaginary mean Quizno’s employee.

EW: Also, don’t take stand-up classes. Just go do it. If you need to take a class to be funny, you’re probably not cut out for it. I think the idea of the “comedy college degree” in a higher education institution is ridiculous. Open mics are free. Beer is a cheaper, quicker, and more effective confidence booster than a graduate degree. Getting a degree in comedy will disappoint your parents. If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford college in this day and age *and *that serious about pursuing stand-up, take the tens of thousands of dollars you would be spending on tuitition, and use that to travel to different cities to actually do comedy.

S&P: Who are some of your favorite comics, and why?

EW: My favorite comedian is Emo Philips, just for his writing. But as far as today’s rising unknowns, one of my favorite comedians is a guy named Elvis Muljic. He travels around the country in a van, goes into bars, coffee shops, yoga studios, Hooters, really anywhere and just does these little spontaneous pop-up shows. Right now, I think he is in a waffle house in Atlanta.

S&P: You write for both “Notes from a Narcissist” and your standup act. What’s different about writing comedy that’s meant to be read versus writing comedy that’s meant to be performed in front of an audience?

EW: Very little. There are tweaks you make here and there. I’d say that with live performance, I probably add one or two lines in the set-up, just to establish the premise and cleanse the mental pallate from the last joke. Maybe during a show, I’ll do a little act-out to solidify everything. But when you write, you’re trying to develop a concept. If the
idea is good enough, it shouldn’t matter what form you put it in.

S&P: Do you just write when inspiration strikes, or do you have some sort of writing routine? If so, what is it?

I write everyday, but I don’t hold myself to any strict regimen. There are just guiding principles. Just “show up” and put in a few hours. I give myself permission to write terribly. My thinking is if you want to produce great writing, there has to be a large volume of awful writing to define that greatness. One thing I’ll do before trying to write a joke is write a
page or two of “I” sentences. This produces a bunch of whiny, self-absorbed nonsense and I can get it out of my system.

S&P: All of your recent posts have been short, essentially jokes. You used to write longer pieces for your blog? Is there any reason you stopped doing that?

EW: At the start, the blog was just supposed to be a diary. I posted very infrequently, and mostly did it because a self-help book I read suggested positive affirmations. This was around the same time I started doing stand-up. Then one day I took my dog to the vet and had a really weird, kinda bad experience. I got all riled up and planned out an insane Yelp
review. By the time I wrote it out and had fun with writing some jokes in it, I cooled off and realized that this wasn’t worth damaging the reputation of a local business. Instead of posting it on Yelp, I put it up on my blog. It got a good response from people and I realized that it was a good place to test out new material. I just never bothered to reformat
everything, or delete the old posts because the self-help book was trying to get me to accept all aspects of myself, and I’m very lazy. This I accept.

The overall shortening of length was also informed by a weird documentary about stand-up. It said the “industry standard” suggests that a headlining comedian should be getting laughs every 6-12 seconds, or twenty-five words. There are computer programs that will analyze a comedian’s set and tell you what percentage of time has laughter present. Headliners are supposed to score above thirty percent. I’m pretty sure all these measures were made during the 80’s comedy boom while consuming lots and lots of cocaine.
Regardless, I wanted to practice writing by those metrics, and became enamoured with the challenge of word economy. Really puts that minor in poetry to use.

In addition to that, I find the process of writing a joke more fun than writing a long personal story. It’s more of a logic game, and for me, it’s a great form of escapism. With a story, you have to convince people to care about who you are, which means you have to believe that you are someone worth caring about. I know “narcissist” is in the title of my blog, but I just don’t take myself that seriously. You don’t need to allocate brain space for my life story. I’d rather you memorize facts about science instead.

S&P: What advice would you have for new bloggers?

EW: Don’t take advice from people. Just be yourself and do exactly what you want. Don’t rob yourself of the learning opportunities inherent in errors. Embrace mistakes and grow from them.

Mick Berry head shotMulti-talented, San Francisco-based Mick Berry was a professional standup comic for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. He’s also been a professional drummer for over four decades, and has written and performed three critically acclaimed one-man shows. His new one-man show, Keith Moon: The Real Me, will go into second-stage production in 2016, and he’ll be performing another of his one-man shows, Dad Fought Hitler, at the national World War II Museum in New Orleans this coming Spring.

He has co-authored two books, (with Jason Gianni) The Drummer’s Bible: How to Play Every Drum Style from Afro-Cuban to Zydeco (very probably the best-selling drum book of the last decade, with over 20,000 sold), and (with Michael Edelstein) Stage Fright: How You Can Beat America’s #1 Fear.

He’s currently working on a new standup act, and will be appearing on Bay Area comedy stages later this Fall.

S&P:  You did standup professionally for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s, and are just getting back into it now. What’s changed in the standup scene between then and now?

MB: Back in the ’80s, the roof was blowing off with opportunities. In the mid-90s they started going away. It’s not as explosive in terms of novelty now. But I see just as many people going after it. I think the biggest change that I can put my finger on is that a Tonight Show set under Johnny Carson used to guarantee a career. That was the one showcase that could put you head and shoulders above everyone. Now, one TV appearance on The Tonight Show helps a great deal. But up to the end of the 1980s, it was a guarantee. Comics are no longer gunning for that one slot like they used to.

S&P: What was a typical road trip like when you were doing standup, traveling from town to town?

MB: After I did it a few times, I realized that it mattered a great deal with whom I worked. If I was performing with a comic I didn’t particularly like, the show itself wasn’t as much fun, and traveling was quite lonely. I quickly started partnering up with comics that were close friends. It made the traveling so much easier. You only work an hour and a half, and split between the two acts. If you don’t like the act you’re with, and you don’t like the personality you’re with, it’s a major drag. The one nighters are spread out from town to town, without (hopefully) too much distance in between. You pull into town and check out the bar/restaurant where you’re performing. If the sight lines aren’t good (pillars in the way if it’s a restaurant or bar and not designed as a place for performing) and the sound system is lousy, you could immediately tell it would be a challenging night. Likewise, when the place set it up so there was a stage (even a portable one) with adequate lighting and sound, it was much easier to pull off. You never knew until you got there what you were in for, although, word would spread among comics about what the best rooms were. I remember hearing about a comedy club in Wichita (Slapsticks) that everyone said had one of the best audiences in the country. I made sure to get booked there. Sure enough, the laughter was deafening. I also remember working in a place in the deep south (I won’t mention the name) where the bartender asked me if I knew a certain comic (name withheld), and how great his act was. I won’t say his name, but the stage name alone that he used made me realize this was a “hell-room.” The name of the comic the bartender mentioned was something like “General Smut Mouth.” Not a good sign.

S&P: How did you get started doing standup?

MB: It looked like loads of fun. Plus, you’re in charge of the whole show. As a drummer, how often to you get to say that? Never.

S&P: What do you like best about doing standup?

MB: I remember the first really big laugh I got. It hooked me. This is the same as every stand-up I’ve ever heard interviewed. When you get that huge laugh, not a little chuckle, or even a decent size laugh, but a HUGE laugh, there’s nothing like it. And when you string together laughs so you find out what it’s like to be on a roll, it’s a massive charge. Great great fun. The energy between you and the audience just bounces off the charts.
S&P:What else do you like?

MB: When I can surprise myself and make myself laugh along with the audience, that’s when it’s extra special. When’s the last time you laughed so much you had to beg for mercy? Who doesn’t want that?

S&P:What do you like least about doing standup?

MB: The traveling is terrible when you’re alone. And if you have to resort to dick jokes to go over, because you’re playing to a crowd that doesn’t really care to be there anyway, or the venue has  super low standards of acceptable behavior, such as fighting in bars, is when it’s terrible. You go through much of that, and you see start seeing it as just not worth doing.

S&P:What else do you dislike?

MB: I remember driving to Cheyenne, Wyoming from San Francisco. Just after I left SF, I learned that Donner Pass was snowed in, so I wasn’t going to make it by showtime the next night. (I’d given myself enough travel time to sleep at a rest stop on the drive to the gig.) So, since I was so desperate for any work I could get and wanted to impress the booking agent, I made a U-turn south at Vallejo (about an hour northeast of SF) and headed down I-5 to Bakersfield, and essentially drove around the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I slept one hour at a gas station parking lot in Las Vegas, went up through Utah, and got to the gig at 6 PM for an 8 PM show. I put in a 7 PM wake up call at the hotel desk, slept for an hour, took a shower, and did my show. But none of that was the bummer (if you can believe it). The biggest downer was I was working with some comic in his mid-sixties who obviously had no life outstide of the dumpy town-to-town routine. I realized I could never resign myself to playing seedy or lackluster one-nighters across the western United States for the next 30 years. Finding something more rewarding was imperative, and I started thinking about other ways to make a living. [Editor’s note: Prior to working full time as a comic, Mick had spent years as a drummer touring the U.S. and Canada with second- and third-tier musical acts.]

S&P: How do you handle it when you bomb?

MB: Sometimes you don’t handle it. In fact, I’d say that’s the most common reaction. Comics blame the crowd, get depressed, think their life is horrible. And until they have another good set, they are quite down. Now, that’s the worst reaction. The best reaction is to remember one set (especially in a minor venue) doesn’t make much difference. And if you can learn from it, then you’re moving forward, because the crowd can often be right. So you need to ask yourself, even if you can’t find the answer, “What can I do differently?” Once in a while you have a bad set where you can’t learn anything. When that happens, you have to remember that the sun is still going to rise, and if you don’t over-react, you’ll be OK. If you remember that stand-up is a choice, it lightens the load considerably when you bomb.

S&P: How do you deal with hecklers?

MB: Ignoring them often works really well. If they persist, there are some stock put down lines, such as “I don’t show up where you work and knock the dicks out of your mouth.”  [Editor’s note: A few years ago I heard Kathy Griffin use that one live on CNN during the lead-up to the New Year’s Eve dropping of the ball in Times Square.] But the best way is if you can come back with a topper on their comment. I remember one time in Reno, somebody was talking loudly in the back and disrupting the show. So I said something like, “You want me to give you the mike to share your conversation?” The heckler shouted “He’s talking about your dick.” I responded, “He’s talking about it and you’re thinking about it.” That was the end of the heckling.

S&P: How do you deal with near-empty venues?

MB: If the people are into the show, it can be great fun. I remember a club in Corpus Christie Texas, where there were about six people. But they were really into the show. It was as much fun as having a full house. The risk is, with only six people, you might get the wrong six, and it can be deadly.
S&P: Why did you stop doing standup?

MB: I did a one-man show that was so personal, and meant so much more to be that, I enjoyed it much more than I  do on a stand-up stage. The laughs had so much meaning for me. And the whole experience made me feel so close to the audience, it was so much more rewarding than stand-up. So I just stuck with the one man shows.

S&P: So, why are you going back to it now?

MB: The thing about stand-up that makes it different than any other type of performing is that the audience knows immediately if it’s working or not. They’re laughing or they’re not. It’s hands down the most immediate form of performing art. With music, or dance, or theater, you can dig into the material and make that work even if the audience isn’t with you. But the immediacy of stand-up makes it the fastest way to succeed or fail. Stand-up comics stand out, literally. They know what it’s like to bomb, and to risk bombing every time they get up. If the audience isn’t with you, everyone knows it. All you can do is keep trying. When you can gracefully weather bombing, and even work with it, you can handle whatever’s thrown at you (not literally). I once saw Will Durst take the stage, after everyone before him had gone down in flames. And he was the headliner, so he had to do 45 minutes. Just like everyone else that night, he bombed horribly (for the first 30 minutes of his set). By then, all the comics were thinking, “This is a night to write off. Nothing worth keeping. The only thing left is to have Will do 15 more minutes, and then we all go home.” And then Will Durst, somehow, brought the crowd around for the last 15 minutes of the night. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen a comic make that transformation from a lousy first 30 minutes to killing. It was the last 15 minutes of a two hour show, and Will pulled it off. There’s a reason he’s been around forever. So, to encapsulate an answer: Why am I going back to it now? Stand-up comedy is immediate!

S&P: What will you be changing about your approach to it, and why?

MB: I’ve gotta make this personal now. I had an act that worked really well, but it meant nothing to me. The jokes got laughs almost all of the time, but nothing was rewarding about it. No one in the audience was getting to know me. I wasn’t sharing anything about myself that mattered to me. I was quite lonely as a performer. I remember killing in Milwaukee, getting back to my hotel room, and pounding the bed shouting “I hate my life! I hate my life!” When I did my first one man show, about attempting to attain spiritual enlightenment along with attempting to levitate, through 14 years of Transcendental Meditation, and graduating from Maharishi International University, that loneliness of performing disappeared; there was no possibility of it existing with that material. Embarrassment, yes; lonliness–only from people not being into the show, but not from a void of substance on my part. So, I want to have much more guts now to do what I want on a stand-up stage. It’s going to be outrageous in many ways, because I’ve got some ideas that scare me. [Editor’s note:  I’ve heard parts of the new act–it’s hilarious and shocking.]

S&P: What’s the funniest thing you ever witnessed while doing standup?

MB: Sometimes the audience is funnier than the performer. I remember Mark Curry (Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper star) doing an open mike in Oakland. He was warming up the crowd and talking to an audience member who was complaining about his job. Mark asked, “Is your boss white?” The guy shot back, “Everybody’s boss is white!” Every comic in the place split a gut. Another time I was doing a show in Tahoe. And the guy who followed me (Paul Lyons–great comic) got on stage doing some stupid looking dance move. Some woman in the audience started doing it, too. He invited her on stage, they went behind the curtain, and started throwing out their articles of clothing. All impromptu. Best opening I’ve seen, and that was 20 years ago. I met Paul that night, and he’s now one of my closest friends.

S&P: What’s the strangest thing you ever witnessed while doing standup?

MB: Two people, at a table, having full on sex during the middle of a show. (I’m kidding, but I’m sorry it didn’t happen.) I can tell you the dumbest thing I ever did. I was hired by a movie theater to do stand-up for their employees (all teenage high school students) before their Saturday morning meeting. I should have turned down the gig, because it screamed of failure. But I had only been doing stand-up about two years, and I figured I should take every gig that came my way. Some kid heckled me, and I should have said “I don’t show up where you work and knock the popcorn out of your hand.” It would have been the perfect comeback, because it was literally true, and right in front of me to use. But instead I used the standard comeback about knocking dicks out of his mouth. The management couldn’t believe I said that in front of teenagers. They never mentioned anything, but I didn’t get rehired there.

S&P: Who are some of your favorite comics, and why?

MB: Woody Allen, George Carlin, Mitch Hedberg, Wendy Liebman. With these people, you come to really feel you know them, with the possible exception of Mitch Hedberg. But he was so out there that I didn’t care if I knew him or not. His jokes were so fall-on-the-floor outstanding. I’m still mad at the guy for having such lousy personal habits that he killed himself accidentally with drugs. He was headed for one of the biggest careers in the history of the genre, and there was no one else even remotely like him. I just saw Wendy a little over a week ago. And she was personable, hysterical, warm, inviting, charming, and several other adjectives I could dream up.  I was swept into her world, absolutely thrilled to be there. That’s when it’s brilliant. It doesn’t happen often enough, but when it does, the audience and the performer know they’ve experienced something unique. It makes life worth living. I haven’t experienced that on a stand-up stage yet; with one man shows yes, but with stand-up, not yet.

S&P: Other than “Don’t,” what advice would you have for people who want to get into standup?

MB: It’s such a sacrifice that the only reason to do it is to have the time of your life. Remember what it is about stand-up comedy that makes you want to do it. Ask yourself what is it that will make it the most fun for you? That’s what you need to hold onto, and strive to return to when it’s elusive. And it is going to be elusive, whether it’s one night of bombing, or two years of trying to find your voice. We mess up our lives in remarkably similar ways (drug/alcohol abuse, depression, fear of attempting to achieve our most cherished goals, etc.) But the ways in which we can enjoy ourselves are infinitely varied: mountain climbing (I’d never want to do that) parachuting (not for me, I throw-up at the thought) horseback riding, swimming, writing, playing music, or whatever the hell it is that turns you on. What is it that would make stand-up thrilling for you? That’s what you need to go after. And don’t sell yourself short by doing what you’re supposed to do. You’ve got the microphone; you can say or do anything on the stage you want short of physically harming yourself or anyone else). So do it! Say and do whatever you really want. If it doesn’t go the way you’d like (and it probably won’t), listen to the audience’s reaction, and learn from it, and try again. Use your head, and eventually you’ll figure it out. In everyday living, impulses are often best kept in check. On stage, they should be unleashed.