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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

PATTON OSWALT: TO GEEK OR NOT TO GEEK



    













 This was supposed to be a simple short post about my girlfriend Paige and My experience meeting Patton Oswalt leading into introducing another Chicago comedian named Kyle Kinane, then finally settling into a short more joyous memory about Screeching Weasels' last show at McGregors, but the whole endeavor ended up longer and harder to write than I had planned.  This part is less about the band and more about pondering the concept of semi-fame; a topic I seem to revisit quite often.  Part II should be done in a weeks time.

PART I
(The Eve of June 14th 2012)
     REMINDER: Paige is a huge fan of the comedian/actor/writer Patton Oswalt.  Patton was headlining at the Vic in Chicago for the Just For Laughs Festival.  It was over forty bucks a ticket.  Her and I have very little money these days.  Luckily I have a friend, Pam, in LA, who works for the largest talent agency in the world.  She, out of the kindness of her heart, purchased us two tickets to Patton's show.  Even better news for me was that she was going to be there for the festival and was planning on joining us.  A friend of Pam’s, Kyle Kinane, was opening for Patton.  Kyle is a huge weasel fan and I am a huge fan of his comedy.  That was also a perk.  We met a couple times before.  Keep track of this Kyle Kinane; Punk kid makes good in stand-up comedy. (This will come into play a little later in Part II.)  At the end of the show Pam walked quickly ushering us out of the building and into the alley.  The security guard asked us where we were going.  Pam with full confidence said, "They're with me."  Even though this answer had nothing to do with his question, the security guard let us pass.  He said, “My name is Randal. Let me know if you need anything."  Pam did not have to mention who she was, where she worked, or why it should matter that we were with her.  During her time in LA Pam has gotten very good at commanding authority over doormen, security guards, personal servants, and ticket box managers.  Besides confidence she manages to finagle her way into places with politeness and a big toothy smile, which are not very common authoritative attributes.  Yet it works for her.  She is able to get into places whether she belongs there or not.  She actually DID belong where she was this night, but that is not my point.  I am very bad at looking confident in these type of situations.  I often feel I don't belong at a place, even when I do belong there.  
Paige and I did not belong there.  
Friends over the years have confessed to using my name to get themselves into concerts and clubs, "Hey I know Jughead from Screeching Weasel."  My friend Matt Nelson would tell me he did this at least every couple months.  I have never used my nom de plume in that way.  I am almost jealous when I here these stories.  Why can't I get myself into places by using my name?  
  This was a big night for Paige so I dealt with my uncomfortable semi-famous anxieties.  I wondered if I could push it a little farther and engage Patton in any kind of small talk to make the night that much better for her.  Hopefully Patton would get some enjoyment out of it too.   We arrived at his dressing room before he did.  When Patton walked in, fresh and sweaty from off stage, after his encore, which we missed in order to be standing back there waiting, he politely said hello.  A couple other people walked in with him.  We hadn’t even realized that Pam had placed us into his dressing area.  Paige and I backed out of his private room.   We wanted to give the man his space.  Pam, who stayed in place, peaked around the corner of his door and waved us back in.  At that exact moment a very incredibly tall man was heading in also.  I let him pass.  Once in, we stood there no more than three feet away from Paige’s number one hero.  Patton shook hands with the tall man, who had blonde hair and glasses.  He had a British accent.  His face looked familiar but his notoriety was temporarily unplaceable.  Once he began talking I immediately recognized him.  He was the guy who writes hit sitcoms with Ricky Gervais.  I don’t have enough storage in my brain for facts like famous persons’ names and linear-alical history. (Linear-alical is not a word but it is a fitting description of the things my brain cannot comprehend.)  I didn’t recall the tall british man’s name till later when I said to Paige, “He’s the guy who writes that office show and the show about the guy who is also famous who had that funny segment with Elmo.”  Once I said “Elmo.”  Paige knew I meant Ricky Gervais, And once we got that name we could quickly look up the tall guy’s name on her phone via google.  While looking up this tall guys name she admitted to not even noticing he was in the room.  Her eyes were on the two short wide men; Her boyfriend, me, and her hero, Patton.  She has a thing for short stocky men.  “Steve Merchant!”  The tall thin british man’s name was Steve Merchant.  
The two admirable men chatted their casual, we-are-both-famous chat with sophisticated wit.  They were both subtly and craftily in awe of standing next to each other.  It was cute watching two famous individuals muddle their ways through a conversation without gushing forth with praises and asking each other for autographs.  There might be a utilitarian way of measuring who in the world is more famous and more important, but the truth is, if you are impressed with what someone has done, they will always be that much better than you are, even if you can’t admit it.
Patton talked extensively about places to get food in Chicago.  His backstage banter was as insightful and humorous as his material on stage. (Shit, I wish I could think of something critical to say about him, but I honestly can’t.)  He talked passionately about an eccentric chef who ran a restaurant called Schwa.  The restaurant only had 24 tables.  “He’s a chef who designs his clientele as much as he does the gourmet food he serves.  Everyday items become a delicacy.”  
Patton asked Steve if he was on twitter, but then probably realized that he was an equal and could actually ask for a phone number or at least an email. (Since overseas phone calls are still fairly difficult to make.)  They shared emails, openly but privately, by handing each other one another’s cell phones to punch in their letters and numbers in silence.  I felt we should have left at that point, but Pam held us back.  Paige was on the verge of tears.  She does this when confronting her heroes.  
BACKSTORY: About a year ago, Patton came to Chicago and read from his book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.  Paige wanted to go, but felt she would embarrass herself by crying, which she did.  She wasn’t going to go.  I told her she was.  A few days before the reading one of my best friends died, the aforementioned Matt Nelson.  Matt was the guy who took over booking punk bands in Chicago after Ben Weasel and I got too busy to pursue it any longer.  He helped to make bands like Green Day, Operation Ivy, Alkaline Trio and The Smoking Popes famous.  He gave them a place to play, and people arrived, selling out most shows just by the power of his promotion abilities.  Whether you loved him or hated him, you always had something humorous or praiseworthy to say about him.  
     Paige went with me to the funeral.  That night she had decided she definitely wasn’t going to go to the reading the next day.  Once again I told her she was.  She wouldn’t forgive herself if she didn’t.  When I awoke at 8 a.m. she was no longer in bed with me.  She arrived five hours early to the reading.  (Paige did not OK this part of the story before I posted it on the blog.  She would probably disagree with me putting this on the blog, but you must realize that her passion for things is genuine, geeky, real.  She is the real deal.)
Later she told me that eventually, after she bought her second copy of the book and stood around for 4 and a half hours, Patton entered and accidentally brushed up against her.  She cried a few tears and then tried her hardest to keep it together through his performance.
Afterwards he signed books.  She waited in line, shaking, telling herself at every moment that she should leave.  When she reached Patton she handed him the book and said her name.  He signed the book.  She began to walk away but turned back.  “Patton.”
“Yes.”
“I know you are a big supporter of up and coming comedians.”
“Yes I am.”
“Can you give me a list of comedians to watch out for?”
“Sure.  Do you have a pen and piece of paper.”
She began crying harder.  She pulled out the first piece of paper she could grab on to, without knowing what it was.  She says that Patton took the piece of paper and gave her a concerned look.  He then wrote out a few names.  She began to cry even more.  He handed her the list.  As she began to walk away Patton grabbed her hand and said, “Hey.  Take care of yourself.”
After a few blocks of being in shock, she took the piece of paper out of her pocket.  “John,” she told me later. “I can’t believe what I did.  I had him write a list of comedians on Matt’s funeral program.”
Patton was being very generous with his time backstage even though we were all stuffed into a very small, sterile, hot, dressing room.  Luckily there were not too many people there; Me, Paige, Pam, Mr. Oswalt, Mr. Merchant, the festival producer, and one other agent.  I was very surprised no one else was back there.  I am used to walking into the backstage area of a venue and seeing all walks of life, people who know somebody who knows somebody, or who is related to somebody, or has fucked somebody.  These are the cases of many of the people who get back stage to touch the talent, or just stand around drinking the talents mountain dew and eating the rice crispy treats and M&Ms they have left behind.  There are also pleasant people who hang out in backstage areas too, I am just being critical, for affect.  I should be more sympathetic to these people, because in regards to the situation being described, I was one of them.
I have been friends with Pam for 25 years and that is what got us backstage.  I still don't know why no one else was there.  We could tell that Patton wanted to leave, he had another show on the other side of town at the Hideout, a tiny nightclub tucked in a culd-a-sac of old warehouses.  A festival chauffeur was outside waiting to take him there.  Patton had also been coughing through his performance on stage.  He was obviously getting sick.   Yet, he was committing to the socializing that he expects of himself, because he’s a genuinely nice guy being overly generous with his time.  Being nice is taxing!  I wanted to leave him alone but felt there should have been a bit more to this encounter than just having stood back there watching him talking about food, of which he is a genuine expert.  He is Remy from Ratatouille after all.  Paige was dealing with her starstruck silence.  I began to introduce myself when we were interrupted by the man who was in charge of the Just For Laughs festival.  This always happens to me.  I don't start conversations self-assuredly.  When I am on a stage, especially in a theatrical performance, I can feel the larger than life charisma I exude.  I have no problem expertly feeding my wares to an audience.  When I am off stage often I can feel myself shrinking with every word I feebly utter.  
They spoke for a few minutes before the show promoter left. Patton turned back to me and apologized for the interruption.  
I said, “I just wanted you to know that my girlfriend Page introduced your comedy to me.”  He turned and shook her hand.  She stayed silent.
I continued, “You signed my friends funeral program for her, then she cried.”
“I did what?”
“You signed his funeral program.”  Paige looked at me with daggers for eyes.  “I mean, she wasn’t crying because you signed the death thing, she was happy to see you.”
My explanation was mostly incoherent.
“Oh, I see what you mean.”
I changed the topic.  “She introduced me to the documentary you made called The Comedians of Comedy Tour, and I just want to say that I admire you for having played all those small punk clubs across the country.”  
The tour with Patton, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn, and Maria Bramford visited alternative venues, performing for much less money than comedians of their stature should have to endure.  
“I recognized most of the clubs from having played in them years ago in my punk band.”  
You must picture me having said these things quietly while mumbling.  I was only looking for something to keep him there a little longer so that this could be the most special night for Paige.  
He asked, “Oh really, what band were you in?
And I said “Screeching Weasel.”
His face lit up. (Paige later said that he completely geeked-out once he heard the name Screeching Weasel.  I thought he was just being kind.) "Dude, I used to spin your records in college all the time.  Mad at the paper boy. (He started singing one of our songs.)  What was that record called?"  
“Boogada Boogada Boogada,” 
He didn’t recognize that title.  
He said, “The green cover with the house, and the boy...
And I said, “No the pink one with the cartoon drawing of a weasel.”
The conversation paused.  It paused.  Well maybe it didn’t pause.  Yes... It did pause.  I failed to relate to another human being once again. Yet I might have failed in the grand scheme but with later reflection I must admit it felt good to have someone I admired know who I was.  It made me feel less like I was a creepy fan standing there with no purpose other than to gawk at fame.  He had given me a small hand full of validation.  Sadly, it does not penetrate my shield of humility, which I used to admire in myself, but recently wish would just go away.  
I thought it strange, and midly ironic, that this famous man new my semi-famous band, but he only knew the material that came out when we were an unknown bunch of punk kids self releasing our overnight recordings.  He geeked out on our prior fame.  He had know conception of the world that followed, the fame that increased tenfold once we signed to the young independent label called Lookout Records.  I had much preferred he would have known the extent of our influence.  How ridiculous of me, yet, I felt it, and it was real.
He said he would have liked to stay longer and talk but he had to get to his next show.  I would have thought that that was an excuse but  Pam had said it was true.  He had three shows in one night.  There was a benefit at the Hideout.  A hand full of the comedians in town for the festival were going to perform unannounced.  Pam whispered that Patton  was definitely one of the “unannounced.”
We left the building before he did, allowing him to change out of his sweaty clothes.  Pam was on her way to the benefit.  It was 40 bucks a person.  “We can’t do that Pam.  Thanks for everything.  You are the hero for the night.”
Paige and I hugged Pam goodbye.  She hopped in a cab and We hopped on our bikes.  
We got about 6 blocks before I stopped and said, “That was a great night.”
“Yeah, it was pretty great.”
“We don’t really want it to end do we?”
“No.”  Paige paused.  Her eyes lit up.  “John, let’s go to the Hideout.  I want to be in the same room as Patton one more time.”  
This is the part that Paige originally thought might make her look too creepy.  And yes, some of you might think such a thing.  I think any fan would have to admit to feeling such things at least once in their lives.  Also Paige is pretty likable and is quite an attractive woman.  I can’t fathom a famous geek like Patton not being honored to have such a dedicated, sexy, and respectful fan.  
I, on the other hand, am less optimistic about my own circumstances.
“He was just being kind about knowing the band, right?”
“No John, he completely geeked out about you being there.”
“Yeah... Maybe.  We don’t have any money to go to this Hideout thing.”  These are the words I spoke.  I spoke them knowing we were going to do it anyway.  It didn’t seem to matter that we had no cash.  The night had begun, and we wanted it to continue.  It’s so rarely we go out.  We both took money out of our savings accounts reserved for rents that were do within the week.  We promised ourselves we’d make the money back somehow.  We’d sell some of our clothes on ebay.
We called Pam to make sure we could still get in.  She texted back and said, “Come on over.  If you have any trouble just text me.”
Paige Jumped on her bike.  We rode a few blocks.  Then I stopped.  “Oh Damn!”
Paige realized that I was no longer peddling.  She turned around and pulled up next to me.
“What’s wrong John?”
I didn’t speak, I just bent over my handlebars and looked at my feet.
“John!  We gotta go!”
“Oh No."
“No?”
“I mean, yes we’re going, but ‘oh no’ I just figured out what Patton was talking about.”
“What do you mean?”
“Green with a house and a boy?”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Patton had the English Import of Boogada Boogada Boogada.  I forgot about that version.  We were talking about the same record.  Shit!  I can’t even talk about my own band properly.”
END OF PART I.  (Link to PART II)

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