comedy

My Friend Bryson

“Living in Brooklyn was great. We don't regret moving.

Maybe I'll be creative again.

Or maybe, I've been putting creativity into my life for this past half-decade. Maybe, I don't need to hold my breath until the next time I'm given a microphone and a full room's attention.

Maybe being a better person is a form of creation. Much more creative than a tight five.”

—Bryson Turner, May 4 2019

I think about Bryson and his blog every time I think about writing a post. Is my blog like his? Am I like him? God, I hate the word blog. It’s not a cooler thing to call it than weblog. From here on, Bryson’s weblog will be referred to by the name Bryson gave to it and has stuck with all these years: The Comedy Hajj. “Hajj” like the Islamic pilgrimage (I just looked that up). Calling your online journal The Comedy Hajj is just so Bryson. He is not Muslim. Or maybe he is by now.

The Comedy Hajj is a very different weblog from mine, from any that I’ve read. Most of the time, a person starts one of these things in an attempt to communicate clearly with an intended audience. The Comedy Hajj, to me, reads as a diary that is not meant to be read or understood by anyone but Bryson. I don’t know if I should even be telling you about it. Might be a huge betrayal of Bryson’s trust. Often, his posts read as cryptic poems. Information on his life is scant. One typical sentence reads, “Meeting on Tuesday with the owner.” The owner of what? And what is the purpose of this meeting? In Bryson’s world, you fill in the blanks.

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Bryson was my friend, and a comedian, and maybe still is a practicing comedian. There are passing references to comedy in TCH, beyond the name. He clearly still thinks about comedy a fair amount. But although I am an avid reader of his posts, I know very little about Bryson’s current life. What does he do for a living? Unclear, though he does say his job provides “meaning and challenge.” I know he loves his wife and their two kids. For the life of me I can’t find any posts about their births. They just showed up. 

I became aware of Bryson when I was just starting out in comedy. I’d been obsessively reading websites like “The Comic’s Comic.” Bryson was featured on that site for winning Funniest Person in Austin. Soon after that I saw him at an open mic in Michigan, where he was visiting for a festival. I thought he came off dickish onstage, and that he was being blatantly rude to my friend Adam Sokol (he wasn’t, Adam insists). 

A few years later I’d moved to New York, and so had Bryson. I got to know him, and he was nothing like the arrogant asshole I’d pegged him as. He was kind, open-hearted, and as insecure as anyone else. He had big questions on his mind, and always came up with weird answers to them. 

The first time I booked him on the weekly show I had with Adam and Nate, he didn’t show up or reply to my messages inquiring where he was. When I saw him next in person, he said he had just been laying in bed, sad. I almost respected it. I knew what it was like to feel too down to go out and do comedy, and, rude as it was to do a no-call-no-show, it made me like Bryson more. 

He came to visit me at my Starbucks job once. He knew how that job made me feel. We sat at a table and talked through my lunch break. He said, “I know you probably feel like you’ll never get out of this job. But you will.” It meant a lot to me, hearing that. He also said Eytan Kurland was the next Bill Burr. If you know who Eytan Kurland is, well, he did not become the next Bill Burr (all due respect to Eytan). With Bryson, it was always a cup of wisdom with a spoonful of what the fuck is this guy talking about? 

Over the next couple of years, Bryson’s ideas about What Comedy Is became further and further out, and the younger comics who followed him into the Madness were off-putting to me. One in particular did not smell great. Bryson posted something on Facebook about his new personal rules for comedy. “A conversation counts as a set” was one. I at first thought he meant a conversation from the stage. Like, if he wanted to spend his couple of minutes onstage at the creek talking to another comic who was waiting to get up, he could count that as a set. Made sense! But he meant a regular everyday conversation, with anyone. If he spoke to a person for a couple minutes during his day, that was a set, and he would not need to do any stage time.

Soon enough, he started to drift away, doing fewer sets (not sure how many conversations he had during this period). I heard a rumor that he was pursuing a professional basketball career, that he was sincerely trying to get into the NBA. One of the last times I saw him do comedy in New York was at a large cafe in Park Slope, where he hosted a show with two other guys. One of the bartenders there became his wife. I think she had a kid. Now they have another kid. In his blog she is often referred to as “Butterfly Starfish.” They now live in Virginia Beach. 

I never stopped looking up to Bryson. Even as I questioned everything he posited about comedy and life, I listened intently to what he had to say. He was an example for me of how to get through depressions, how to cope with failure, how to be more open. I do wish he’d be more open on The Comedy Hajj, be a little clearer about what’s going on in his life, how he feels about it, about stepping away from comedy and immersing himself in domesticity. I need the example. I look up to him still.

And often, he does provide clarity, like in the quote at the top of this post. Does he believe what he said there? Will Bryson come back to comedy? So many comics just stop. Much of the time, it makes sense for them to stop. But Bryson is way too weird, too unique, to just hang it up and work at a desk the rest of his life, isn’t he? Aren’t I? Or maybe a stable, predictable, “normal” life really is the most creative thing for him to do now. God, that’s so Bryson to stop being creative, and claim that he’s more creative than ever. And it’s so me to say, “You’re on to something there, Bryson.”

That said, I’d still like to see him do a tight five, which, knowing Bryson, would quickly turn into a very loose twenty or thirty.

The Strip

I think brick-laying is in my future. My mother-in-law knows a lady who knows a guy who needs some brick layers, or something. I like working outdoors. I have never laid brick before, but I assume it’s pretty easy to smooth out the mortar, like smoothing out ice cream with a spoon. It’s not a great sign that I had to look up “what is the stuff that goes between the bricks” to find the word mortar. I knew it was mortar. I am ashamed. 

I don’t know if there are jobs here in Melbourne that all the comics do, like in New York. Over there, the jobs were dog-walker, temp, and mover. I was all of those things, often at the same times. The one comedian job I never got to do as a comedian in New York was comedy. Very hard to get paid for that in New York. I remember being at the Comic Strip, on the upper east side. I was waiting to audition to get passed there for late night spots. If passed, I would get to come back to the Strip on certain nights at 11pm or some crazy hour and get on stage for about three minutes. It was an insane system that seemed designed to dissuade young comics from trying to work there. 

I got there early and a comedian I recognized came out of the showroom and stood before the bartender. I expected him to get a drink, but no. The bartender gave him money. And the comedian put the money in his pocket! Like it was no big deal, like he’d been paid before. For comedy! Then he walked out, and as he did I gave him my classic half-nod, which he did not see. But that’s the beauty of the half-nod. If you don’t see it, did I even nod at you? You could argue that I didn’t, and therefore I am not embarrassed. 

I thought, wow, I am gonna be just like that comic. Someday soon I’m gonna amble into this dump at a way more reasonable hour than 11, do ten minutes of pure gold, and leave with money. I could even do pure shit and leave with money. 

I did get passed. The person in charge of passing comics was probably younger than I was, and I think his dad had worked there or something. He said I was okay, but that he wanted me to come back for a second audition. I did so and it went well and he passed me. It was a great feeling, and I was excited to start doing those spots. But then that guy was let go from the club almost instantaneously, I don’t know why. When I showed up to do a late night spot, a woman asked who I was. I told her and she couldn’t find my name anywhere in the club’s records of who passed or whatever, so she wouldn’t let me on. I didn’t have the balls to push back at her, or maybe I was too tired to argue because it was 11pm, a full hour past my preferred bedtime. I never did get used to being up late for comedy, and it made me wonder if I could ever be a comic, really. I still wonder. 

I never went back to the Strip, but I did pass it a few times while riding shotgun in a moving truck. If I choose to be a mover in Melbourne, there won’t be a lot of stairs. There aren’t anywhere near as many walkup apartments here. And even better, nothing is open late. Showing up for a spot at 11pm? That’s not gonna happen here. And if I’m “passed” at some club? and the person who passed me gets fired? and when I show up, the lady doesn’t know me? It’s Australia, so she’ll probably be a lot nicer, and just write me down as “passed.” Honestly, fuck that lady.

Go to hell, The Comic Strip

Go to hell, The Comic Strip