Edinburgh Comedy Festival: Disneyworld for Comedy.  

I had dreamed of performing at this festival for years. It's like the Disney World for comedy festivals. World class one man shows for miles and miles. Sketch comedy, straight standup, comedians from over 75 countries, hundreds of shows every day. It is in fact, the largest performing arts festival in the entire world. You see the craziest street performers. I saw a transgender woman with a typewriter in a chair and you could request erotic fiction to be typed up on the spot. She definitely gets a A plus for originality. There were magicians, skateboarders, people sitting on needles and of course bag pipers. It is an absolute sensory overload of laughter and visuals. Oh, did I mention the whole city is just one giant castle and looks like Hogwarts? 

I went to the festival with one goal: to be inspired. I can say very confidently that my expectations were far exceeded. I went to do shows to see if my comedy would translate to the wonderful people of the UK, and surprisingly it went well, very well. I was quickly able to get lots of gigs and really sharpen my craft. Doing up to 6 shows a day, you start to really feel yourself grow as an artist. Constantly performing for crowds with people from 5-10 different countries you either learn how to shit in a universal way or get off the pot. You can't do American material or get away with dumb physical act outs. They want and appreciate wit in Europe. So that was a fun journey to challenge myself from being such a Los Angeles theatrical performance based comedian to growing as a better writer. 

I was very pleased with my growth as a comedian. However, it wasn't enough. I was hungry for more. Growing was nice and all, but I wanted inspiration. The kind of inspiration that makes you cry. The kind of inspiration that changes you. The kind that makes you see things differently and make big changes. The kind of change that allows you to be truly and authentically yourself as an artist. I'm talking about real vulnerability here! I decided that I would go watch lots of shows. I mean lots of shows. For every penny I made performing I went and spent it on a show later that day. I was student immersing himself in comedy. I watched show after show, thinking, hell I could do this. I went to scores of 5 star reviewed shows. Day after day, looking for someone with an act that I've never seen before. The festival was almost over and I was very disappointed. I though this festival was full of groundbreaking comedy. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this was just another festival and was overhyped. 

Feeling uninspired with only a few days to go, I came across a poster that said "Hot Donkey". It was an intriguing looking comedian sitting in a chair in his underwear in deep thought. I thought, what the hell, I'll go to this. I bought my ticket and went to the show thinking it would be an hour of stand up comedy. Boy was I wrong. The show starts out with the incredibly energetic Northern Irishman in his underwear(already sweating) yelling at the audience telling them it was "about to get really fucking silly". I believed him. He had that look in his eyes that few performers do, that crazy look or fearlessness. He was our chosen leader and he was going to take us on a journey. He turned the lights down and disappeared. He came in from the back entrance and made everyone sitting in the isle seats put their legs out in the isles as he had a mining helmet on with a light on top of it. He crawled through everyones legs like a miner and struggled his way back to the stage while yelling and laughing the whole way. We were all hooked. I realized quickly that this wasn't going to be a stand up show. More of an absurdist that probably had some kind of clown school training. As the night went on, he sang songs with panda puppets, had audience volunteers come on stage and be propped on all fours so he could play their backs like keyboards. He even brought me on stage to blow up balloons and proceed to blow the air out in each others faces  while the song "Take my breath Away' by Berlin was playing. I never get nervous on stage, but I was then. 

As the show went on it got crazier and crazier. He had man on stage and made him wear a poncho that he had cut out a whole around the bellybutton. He pretended to be a spaceship commander and treated the hole on the poncho with the guys belly button as the window of the spaceship. He poured milk in the guys belly button as fuel for the ship. We went on one hell of an adventure to another planet at this guys stomach was violated. It was just one absurd bit after another. You never knew what he was going to do next. I have never in my life seen someone sweat that hard on stage. This man worked for his laughs. He was soaked head to toe. I was so inspired by how hard he worked up there. It inspired me to step my game up theatrically.  After about an hour of this madness he got into a serious speech. A speech that would change my life. A speech that justified this entire trip and the thousands of dollars I spent to  get there. 

He was a puppeteer by trade. Finally, now we knew what the hell he was! He told us one of his dreams was to work for the Jim Henson company as a puppeteer. One day he got hired to work with the Henson team in Belfast, Northern Ireland, his hometown. He was so excited to work that he couldn't handle his excitement. As he was standing around with his friends laughing a veteran puppeteer from Jim Henson studios came up and told them and said, " I miss what you guys have. Anarchy. You are true individuals. Living free under no rule. You guys are living your dream." Then he cried. It was at that moment that Paul(Hot Donkey) realized something powerful. He wasn't being himself. He wasn't chasing his own dream. He was chasing Jim Hensons dream. He said "when Jim Henson died, so did his dream." He was chasing a dead persons dream instead of his own. There would never be another Jim Henson, so trying too chase Jims vision was a waste of time. He realized, he should be chasing his own dream. He realized he shouldn't try to be like someone else. Thats what made Jim so special, Jim chased his own dream and didn't try to be anything else but himself. It was at that moment that Paul stopped trying to chase Jims dream and to take on his own life. To be bold and to be truly original. Originality was Pauls new dream. We can't live in the past and live someone elses dream. We can only follow our dream and truly commit to being original. 

From that day forward Paul was committed to creating an act that no one had ever seen before. An act that was different, original and honestly groundbreaking. He told us to go forward in life and be original and to never live in the past and to never try to live anyone else's dream but ours. So inspired by this speech on originality I teared up and cried. This was the inspiration I honestly had been searching for my whole life. I now had this newfound knowledge on exactly what I needed to do as an artist. This speech made me realize that I wasn't being myself on stage. Only imitating others. It clicked so quickly in my brain. I knew who I was and what I needed to do. With this newfound knowledge I raced out of the show as it closed to go catch my final show of the night that I was booked on. I barely made my slot. I felt energized and excited in a way I had never felt before. I got on stage and remember feeling invincible. I was finally me. A true and authentic version of me. What I was that night on stage was pure originality. I could feel a different energy coming from the audience as any show before. They could feel an energy coming from me they hadn't seen either. It was real, it was beautiful. I'm not here to say I was the funniest person that had ever stepped foot on that stage, but by god was it original. I was having a rebirth in those ten minutes I was up there. 

I knew this was a huge breakthrough for me. After I got off stage I was immediately approached by a talent agent from Australia. They said they had to have me on a tour. This would be my first professional tour. Something I had been chasing ever since I started doing comedy. My life was finally turning into the dream I had imagined it to be. Isn't it amazing how one little spark of inspiration can change everything? I knew objectively that I had grown that night and was more fired up about my comedy than I had ever been. For the next 3 nights I went on stage and couldn't have given less of a fuck about what the audience thought of me. I wasn't there to impress them anymore. I wasn't there to be someone I wasn't to make strangers like me. I was there to do one thing: be original. 

I came to the festival to be inspired and left with more than I could've ever wished for. I came to the festival as an imposter, and left as an authentic version of myself. The journey to be myself didn't stop on stage. I realized to be truly authentic on stage I would have to be that way off stage. Just like how I was done trying to impress people on stage, I was done doing it off stage. I am so honest and carefree about others opinions one might call me crazy. I had truly become a crazy person and I couldn't be happier about it.

Mexico City Part 2: Near Death Happiness  

I was invited back to perform in Mexico City. Its March of 2016 and tensions among Mexico and U.S. are at their highest due to Donald J. Trump support and his minions exposing how racist America really is. I'm a white guy from tyne south and I just look racist for some reason. Perfect timing. I came back to do the same stage as last time. When I went on, I cracked a few jokes about trump, cross fit and did a lot of crowd work. Had a great time. After the show the owner handed me an envelope of cash of the show. Little did I know that cash would soon be donated to a nice gentleman with a gun.

After the show I left with a friend and fellow friend Pablo who is a big comedian in Mexico. We went out to a few bars and drank lots of Mezcal. Its like tequila but stronger and more raw. We have a great time drinking and failing with women. I got turned down by probably 100 women in Spanish and English. So we leave the bars and head home. We are walking on a sidewalk in what is considered a nice area of Mexico City. Not 10 seconds into walking on the side a guy jumps out of the dark in a hoodie and puts a gun to my head. I don't know what to do. This is frightening. I've never been trained for this. Its not stop drop and roll or get in a doorway. I have no idea what to do with my hands, so I awkwardly throw them in this position I can only describe as the warrior one position in yoga. His finger was on the trigger shaking. All the time people get scared and accidentally pull the trigger. People die like this every single day. One wrong move and one wrong word and he gets scared and pulls the trigger. All he had to do was move his index finger one inch and I'm not here to tell this story.

He takes my phone, cash, wallet, keys and passport. Really? My passport too? What a dick move. What are you going to do with that?? No one inn mexico looks like me. As he left, he threw my keys on the ground. He thought, "I mean, the guy has to get home and sleep at some point. We can't take his keys, thats just mean". I thought, was a sweet guy. What a considerate criminal. I almost wanted to thank him as he ran off, "Thank you!!! Buenas Noches!!". They ran off and we went home. I woke up next day and felt with a nightmare sandwich at the U.S. embassy where is took half the day and some fake crying to get emergency passport. Later that same day, my taxi got not one, but to flat tires. Next day I got food poisoning. I managed to survive all of this and not lose my mind by keeping my sense of humor throughout the whole thing. Never lose your sense of humor or you'll lose your mind. Its seriously a great survival mechanism. 

When I arrived back home to LA, I thought, "I'm so unbelievably lucky to be alive. I'm thankful for every second, every minute, every day, week and year I'm alive. I've never been this happy to be alive in my life. This guy didn't rob me. He robbed me of my old shitty ungrateful perspective on life. He gave me happiness. Its like I payed him my cash to make me happy. Forget Tony Robbins or Scientology or any of these self improvement seminars. Go get robbed!! It will make you so happy!! I wanna find this guy and thank him of helping me out! 

Life is all about perspective. Its events like these that have built character and molded me into a person that has a very positive attitude in terrible situations and tough times . Life can throw just about anything my way and Ill keep a positive attitude. I don't know much, but if theres one thing I know for sure, its to always keep a sense of humor, because it can be one of your most powerful weapons in life. 

Romania: Where the hell am I? 

Sometimes I have to ask myself, where the hell am I? Comedy can take you to some very interesting places. Romania being one of them. Many comedians would want to be doing theaters and TV shows 5 years into comedy, but me, I wanted to travel and do comedy, and the result was doing a comedy tour in Romania. I get to the train station in Belgium headed for Germany before I go to Romania and I am immediately approached by a family of Syrian refugees. The mother kindly asks me if I can help her and her family get to Germany where Syrian refugees were taken care of by Germanys humanitarian programs including a home and weekly allowance. I don't know all the details of the Syrian civil war that was going on, but I knew enough to know that being  a refugee must fucking suck. I had a very strict budget for this trip so helping pay for a family to go to germany wasn't part of it. I thought to myself, I didnt budget for this, but helping  a family get to a safe haven and to know I just improved the lives of a family was more important to me than getting silly souveneers and getting drunk. So I got the tickets and sent them, on to Germany. It felt good and it felt right.

I leave and head to Romania where I'm the first Amercian to do a comedy tour in there and had no clue what to expect of this foreign land I knew nothing about, outside of the fact that the infamous Draculas Castle was there. When I arrive in Bucharest, the capitol, I am greeted by 4 other comedians that  I will be touring with. One from the UK, Bosnia, New York and Romania. I am quickly fascinated by the scenery in Bucharest. Don't get me wrong there are nice buildings dispersed throughout the city, but there is this ubiquitous post communistic architecture all around you. It's depressing and charming at the same time. A real paradox, I know. I am just riding in along throughout the city in our sponsored "Allied Forces Comedy Tour" van thinking, wow I thought communism was over. It was. However, the architectural mess it left and the mindset of hopelessness and depression is still very prevalent in 2015. It may take 5, 6, 10 generations before it recovered from this wreckage that communism left.  I may seem to be painting the picture of hell or post WW2 Germany. It wasn't that bad, but still a bit of a culture shock for a North American. To add to the landscape there is an interesting group of people that are every where you go in Romania, Gypsies, also known as the Roma people. They are very poor and blend into the population as a sad and disliked people. They beg on street corners or stand in the middle of streets in small towns asking for money or selling home made wine. Something I have never seen before. We leave the capitol and head off to meet countless numbers of gypsies. 

On the  second day we leave the capitol and are headed for a small town known as Constanta. Our tour is a mix of shows for American soldiers and local Romanians who desperately need a laugh. There is absolutely nothing to do in this town. Myself and the other comedians wait for the show to start in our hotel rooms. Finally, the show starts and we perform for a packed house of American soldiers. They are rowdy and drunk, just like I like my crowds. I understood the notion that many lower ranking soldiers would love to talk shit to the higher rankings but couldn't, so I was the mouth piece for the majority of the soldiers and ripped a few master sergeants assholes. The crowd just looses it. Massive applause breaks. My plan worked. We all have a great night there, then head back to the hotel where boredom awaits us. We decided to get drunk and play a modified version of soccer called "Gypsy Soccer" where there is no objective but to kick the ball as hard as you can while holding a beer. 

Hungover the next morning, we leave and head to out next town where we are booked to perform for an ex communist theater that seats 800. We get to the venue and apparently the tour manager somehow "forgot" to promote this show. Thirteen people show up. The crowd was so stiff the host, Steve Hili, a Maltese/British comedian takes off his shirt and does his set shitless. I get on stage and am blinded by the horribly placed light right in front of the stage. So I can't see the audience, and my set is very crowd work heavy. So I walk over to the  right side of the stage to see the audience but now the audience can't see me. To say the least, tyhre performance was awkward. I was promised $500 for the show, but the tour  manager had to pay for a sound guy and due to low ticket sales, I made zero dollars. So. I'm in this tiny, very poor, post communistic small town in Romania, that I flew across half the planet to perform in, I don't get paid a penny, my set was really weird, the theater theater still smells like communism(you had to be there), almost no one showed up and my hangover isn't going away. Despite all of this, we still had a blast and made the most of it.Ill never forget Caracal, Romania. 

We head off for our final show, but I pester our driver, Romanian comedian, Radu Isac to make a stop at Draculas Castle, because you can't go to Paris and not see the Eiffel Tower. The castle was absolutely beautiful and timeless. Everything from the torture chambers to the strategic military lookouts, it was awesome and creepy. We leave and Im still blown away that we just got to see Draculas Castle and about 5 minutes of driving I start to see these very interesting houses. I ask Radu, "what the hell are those?!" He tells me they are rich gypsy houses and not to take pictures because we might get hurt. The architecture is fascinating with what I can only describe as shiny silver Chinese style rooftops with unfinished exterior due to lack of funding. I was honestly more impressed with the houses in the gypsy village than Daraculas Castle. After all, culture shock is what I love most about traveling.

We head to our final destination, Campia Turzii. We are told that we will be performing in a banquet hall for over 400 soldiers that night. We show up to the venue and there are 4 soldiers. Apparently our tour manager "forgot" to promote this show as well. The Romanian tour manager is chain smoking out of stress at this point. He, along with Radu, agree we should cancel the show and go home. I come from Los Angeles where performing for 4 people is pretty normal early on. I tell them, "lets have a show guys. We can sit down at the table  with them and get to know each one of them individually. Sit down comedy. It'll be fun. Come on lets turn this shitty night into a fun one." They both smile and agree. Why not. Each one of the comedians including myself sit at the table one at a time and entertain them and the show is absolutely amazing. I told the guys, "See, you wanted to just give up and we turned that around into an amazing show." They both smile and the tour manager hugs me and says, "You really changed the way I think man. Romanians are very negative and you are very positive and don't give up. This changes everything and from now on Im going to think this way". What was the most memorable part of the night was after the show a soldier came up and said, " I really want to thank you guys for what you did. I have a lot of tough things going on in my life and back at home with my family right now and you guys helped me forget about all of that for one night. I really appreciate that". This is exactly why I do comedy. I took a shitty night and turned it into a night we will all remember and helped to change the way a person thinks, helped make someones night better and had a blast doing it. Not the biggest crowd Ive every done, but definitely one of the most memorable nights of my life. 

In conclusion, as a cliched 8th grader would write on his half assed mid term paper, this trip was another excursion that made me grow as a person and reminds me that I get to live a crazy cool life. I quit a secured business job and lucrative future to roll the dice at being  comedian years ago. I may not have had sold out theater shows in Romania but these kinds of experiences are absolutely priceless and I would never trade them for a minute a financial safety and mediocrity. Adventure is what i wake up for in the  morning. It may not always be pretty, but its a life worth writing about. As the cliched 8th grader would write in his crappy movie report, until next time. 

Mexico City: Offensive Comedy With a Cause 

Here I am in Mexico City half drunk at the Pinche Gringo(Fucking American in Spanish) getting ready to go on stage. I'm looking at the crowd in the back. Very diverse, people from all parts of Mexico, all classes, ages. I was headlining and told to do a half hour. I watched the previous comics and their material was all provincial and had nothing to do with America, expect the occasional insult. I knew that Mexico was a catholic country with the religion effecting every aspect of life here, so that would play into my act. Anti abortion, anti masterbation, anti gay type of dogma came with the strict catholic mindset. I had told a few offensive jokes to the Mexican comics in the back and they laughed but said the Mexican people would be too sensitive to that material. 

I believe in truly engaging an audience when I'm on stage and going into the "no go zone" was the perfect way to do that. I talked about religion, abortion, masterbating and everything in between. In a way that the Mexican people could agree with. I let them know that these strict rules they are told to follow from a young age are not exactly the norm in the rest of the world. As a matter of fact, something to laugh at. I didn't go on stage slandering the catholic church or tell anyone they were wrong for living their life the way they did, but simply asked them to question their manner of living. I did this through laughter. I didn't want to just go on stage and be a clown up there. I didn't want to just get a few smiles then leave. I wanted to make them think. I wanted to effect them emotionally. Subconsciously make them questions their values. All the while, laughing and taking life less seriously, one offensive comment after the other. When I would say something offensive, there would be slight pause expecting me to say sorry or feel bad, but when I didn't, they absolutely loved it. They really wanted someone to challenge their system. To challenge their way of life and to hear someone speak out against the ubiquitous invisible law enforcement in the sky telling them they have sinned.

The Mexican people are very hard working people and live under a lot of stress. Whether it be in the Jaurez region with kidnappings or the traffic and corruption in Mexico City, these people have it tough. Religion is a safe haven and outlet to them, but is it a long term solution? Is it a key to improving infrastructure and ending crime? These were questions I asked on stage. Not to question religion per se, but to question how they were living their lives. These were good hard working people that really needed a laugh, badly. That is what made my set so much fun. As well as the fact that I told a few jokes in Spanglish(english and Spanish combined). 

During the daytime while I waited on my shows, I got explore the city and take in what made it unique. Mexico City is a city rich in culture, food and traffic. We ate street tacos, grasshoppers and sat in traffic. For hours on end. Traffic takes so long in Mexico City that people drink in there cars on the way to work. The traffic there makes the traffic in Los Angeles look like a small town in Wyoming. This traffic gives a person from Mexico City true character though. Between the traffic, crime and poverty, it was a tough scene to take in. Nonetheless, an amazing city full of great and truly kind people, beautiful buildings and fascinating history. This is a city with a devil on one of its shoulders and an angel on the other. A constant duality that makes the people who they are. That makes the comedy scene what it is. The paradoxical melting pot of catholic priests and criminals all mixed in throughout the streets everywhere. Thats the identity I saw, but there are many other identities to this beautiful place. I look forward to my next trip there where I can have a few drinks, a nice chat with the people on stage and the hope that maybe I can help the people there to improve the way they live for themselves and their people. Buenas Noches Mexico. 

Comedy in South Africa: A Dangerous and Life Changing Excursion 

I was warned that I will probably get stabbed when I asked the hostel front desk clerk how to get to my show in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was very aware that there were some dangerous places in South Africa, but apparently the show I had that night was in one of the roughest neighborhoods in all of Johannesurg, called Braamfontein. The clerk at the desk told me if I walked around the streets at night I would be stabbed or robbed for sure and maybe killed. He told me I would be a fool to go. An Australian staying there told me he was stabbed and robbed there. In broad daylight! So after the clerk repeatedly warned me not to go, I just called a cab and headed over to the show anyway, because I love performing. When I got to the show the crowd was nice and hip. A nice mixture of white and black africans. All the comics were talking about very provincial material, african lingo, speaking in other languages and giving me the occasional side eye, confused as to what the hell I was doing there. I went on stage a little nervous not sure how the crowd would react, but the show went well. When I finished I was ready to leave and head to bed as it was very late. I reached into my pocket to grab cash for the cab and realized I was all out. I asked the one eyed door man where an ATM was and he said it was about 5 blocks away. I was officially scared. I've been to rough neighborhoods in the U.S., but this was different. There weren't cops patrolling the streets, I was on my own. I started walking and after a few blocks I was being followed. I started to walk faster and so did they. I sprinted to the ATM. It was out of service. I noticed another one across the street, and ran over to it. The guys a few blocks behind me were now about a block away walking very fast. I was scared and excited at the same time. I live for this kind of stuff. The ATM worked. I pulled out the money and one of the guys walking towards me started to grab something out of his jacket and I ran to a taxi and jumped in and yelled at him to drive. I was sweating. Happy to be alive. I literally just risked my life to perform. This made me realiz how much I truly loved my work.

With this new sense of pride and meaning in life, I was ready to take on my upcoming shows I had in Johannesburg. I performed at Parkers Comedy Club in the Monte Casino had the greatest performance of my life there. As I was grabbing a shot of brandy that was bought for me by a gracious audience member a friend and fellow comedian Dumiso Lindi grabbed me and told me we had to go immediately. I was to headline a show 30 minutes away in a township area. A township (in South Africa) is a suburb or city of predominantly black occupation, formerly officially designated for black occupation by apartheid legislation. Visually speaking, this is a very poor area where many people live in very small homes made of tin roofs and wood. They make trailer parks look fancy. As we arrived at the show, I walked into the main room and heard a comic on stage telling jokes in another language. I suddenly got very nervous and thought, "what the hell am I going to say to these people? I can't relate to them. My material is going to bomb here. Bomb hard." I've traveled to a number of different countries adapting well to the local culture and customizing my performances to the people there. But I was mentally blocked here. No idea how I was going to pull this one out of my ass. I was getting paid and booked to headline this show. I thought, "Ok, I'm just going to do a short set then get the hell out of here." I was going to grab a drink to calm my nerves when the host called my name. Oh shit. I ran over to the stage, shook his hand and stared at a sea of confused, yet intent africans. I had no clue what I was going to say. I knew none of my material would work here. I started to talk and do some crowd work. Silence. I told a few jokes I wrote about their president. Silence. Fuck. I was panicking. I looked over at the comics to my left. They were zoned in, intently listening, expecting something exciting to happen, as if i was about to juggle. Well, I wasn't.

After about 6 minutes of brutal silence, something in my brain clicked. I realized what I was doing wrong. I realized what I had been doing wrong in comedy all along. I wasn't bombing because my material, not because my voice, or my crowd work. I realized, I was only doing comedy for me. It was always about me. Me, me, me. I thought about how I've always been very selfish in life. Everything from dating to friendships to comedy. I always put myself first. The audience knew I was only up there for me. I had never felt that before. I got away with this for years in the U.S. As this ran through my brain, time kind of stopped. I realized for the first time, I wanted to do comedy for them, not me. Comedy wasn't about me anymore. It wasn't about pride, or self worth or feeling loved and appreciated. It was about giving back to them. You could see these people had struggled their whole lives. Some struggle to get water and electricity. Many of them don't eat enough and have never heard of an iphone. I looked into their curious eyes and smiled. I knew my comedy could actually make a difference in their day. I knew I could make them forget about the bullshit they had to go through every day. I knew I could make them happy for 30 minutes. That really meant something to me. It was the first time comedy really had a tangible worth to me. I felt alive. 

I started talking again and the next few minutes flew by as we were all laughing. It was applause breaks, groans, laughs and hollers. I was doing something I never thought I would do. Putting others first. This show was about them now, not me. This performance was a huge turning point in my career. It was the landmark set that defined my comedy and style. It was the set that made me who I am on stage. When I go onstage now, I go onstage for the audience, not me. I have since carried this on to other areas of my life and have become a much more rounded and happy person. I'm far from perfect, but will continue to perform for audiences and people trying my best to make their day less shitty.