I gave a much shorter, infinitely less coherent version of this spiel as a toast at Shoney’s on December 17th, mostly out of respect for my fellow Mayors and Citizens. Also, I was in sugar shock from the high-fructose buffet.
If you’re reading this, you probably know a good deal about me. You’ve probably known me for a while in one capacity for another. If you don’t know me and want to learn a lot about me, head on down to the Pilot Light any given Monday at 7:30pm for Friendlytown. Everything you see on that stage, even if I’m not performing (hell, even if I’m out of town and not in the room) is an apotheosis of what I consider “good” about comedy.
I’ve described Friendlytown as the Calvinball of comedy shows – we make up the rules and build the world as we go along. It’s a veritable gauntlet of “hey wouldn’t that be a hilarious idea for a comedy show?” ideas for comedy shows. It’s an iterative and heartfelt collaborative process. My friend and co-producer Bartending Mayor™ Todd Lewis put it best when he referred to Friendlytown as a community, more than simply a comedy show. Our friend Rowan Young (more on her shortly) reflected that it’s a rare event that we have the luxury of simply looking forward to. The world can be a cruel, shitty place, and for about 90 minutes every Monday night, we get to build (and exist within) an alternate reality that is not only supportive and weirdly Utopian, but also genuinely entertaining and a lot of the time, fucking funny.
The goal I’ve had in every show I’ve ever run has been to make the audience grateful that they came. It’s been a real honor to spend two and a half years working with talented and creative people who genuinely share that ideal. It has more to do with the environment than anyone’s individual glory (as much as there have been plenty of that to go around), and it’s the most fun I’ve had and the most accomplished I’ve felt in anything I’ve been part of over the however many years I’ve been embroiled in live comedy.
Anyway, I’ll cut to the chase: It’s time for me to step down as Mayor.
Unless you’ve ignored literally everything I’ve written so far and started reading here, it’s obvious that this has nothing to do with me being unhappy with the progress of the show. In fact, if there’s any reason directly related to the show that I’m stepping down, it’s because I’m incredibly proud of the progress of the show. Friendlytown hasn’t been perfect every week, but that’s not the point; I’m racking my brain to remember the last time we had a bad or even mediocre episode. In order to survive, though, any institution needs to hit the refresh button from time to time – bringing in new blood and cycling out elements that may be holding it back, which was what I felt I was beginning to do.
My reasons for “retiring” from producing Friendlytown are exclusively personal and professional. To put it simply, all the disparate elements of my life have teamed up to make things too overwhelming to devote the amount of time I wanted to the show (and these disparate elements show no signs of slowing down). Many of you probably know me well enough to know I’m not the best at putting myself out there. To spell out some screed about how busy and stressed-out I am would be pointless, because everyone’s busy and my time is no more valuable than anyone else’s. If I were to write some spiel whining about how overwhelming everything has been feeling, I couldn’t look at it without saying this at myself and immediately deleting it. But, it would still be the honest truth. As this Fall went on, every mundane task has seemed like it’s taken me forever, and I spend an increasing amount of my time wondering whether I’m even doing anything right. It may be depression, it may just be the seasons changing, it may just be the process of trying to land a new job in a field with like, 8 left. Who knows?
But, to paraphrase Jawbreaker: everyone’s depressed and broke, so let’s get high off some sick jokes.
Sometime last September, my good friend and comedy confidant Shane Rhyne (who’s appeared numerous times in Friendlytown as a Judge, an Auditor, an HR person, and a spelling bee director, so you know he’s got his shit together and you should buy your tickets for his 1/5 album recording immediately) made the decision to pull the plug on our First Friday shows. We had a many reasons for ending a massively successful show (some juicier than others), but he put it best when he said that “it’s time to do something else.” That’s just how he felt, and I immediately realized that I did, too. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. However, the Pilot Light is not going anywhere, and Friendlytown is so, so much bigger than me.
I was one of a group of five Mayor/producers who began Friendlytown out of the “ashes” of QED: Comedy Laboratory in August 2016. Within six months or so, Saint Thomas LeDoux started coming out to shows, shortly thereafter joining myself, Todd, and John Hurst as the core production team. It bears mentioning that these three are as good a group as I’ve ever had the privilege of collaborating with. Todd has described the four of us like the Beatles, given our disparate yet complimentary personalities, approaches, and comic styles. I think of us more like the four horsemen of King of the Hill (or, the apocalypse). I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to who’s who in either analogy. The point is, John, St. Thomas, and Todd have been fantastic mayors and are going to continue being fantastic mayors, each bringing something unique to the table and inspiring others to do the same. Moving forward, Rowan Young and Joshua Arnold will be stepping up, continuing to do the same – kicking ass and taking names (creatively!)
It bears mentioning, though, that my “retirement” or whatever is really not that big of a deal. I’ll still be around most weeks so long as I’m in town and/or not completely burnt out. I’ll occasionally be stepping back in to produce individual episodes on occasion (however rarely the ideas come to me). Regardless, I’m not going to pass on this opportunity to reflect and list some of my favorite shows/moments (in no order whatsoever):
My 5 Favorite Friendlytown Episodes, 2016-2018
- FT40: Friendlytown Goes to Court (05/22/17) — LISTEN HERE
This wasn’t our first great episode by any means, but it was the first time I remember standing onstage, looking out over the packed-out crowd as they all stood in unison as the theme song from ‘The People’s Court’ played and Judge Shane walked onstage in his Billy Squier fan club wig and graduation robe to dispense some justice, and thinking “holy shit this thing has really come together, hasn’t it?”
- FT48: Friendlytown Needs to Win Diane Back (07/24/17) — LISTEN HERE
A lot of Friendlytown shows/episodes are like Jim Steinman songs: they begin as silly titles and then will themselves into existence. This was one of the first great case studies of that. Every now and again, Todd, John, St. Thomas and I would start a cascading waterfall of brainstorming show ideas, and this one belonged to Todd. Who was Diane? Why did she leave us? Every comic spent their set hinting at the answers and imploring our lost love Diane to rejoin us in Friendlytown. I’ve said numerous times that every episode of Friendlytown is pretty representative of our grander scheme, but this one probably comes the closest to pure microcosm: world-building and silly but with lots of heart. I still tend to use it as the first example of a show title whenever explaining FT to people unfamiliar with the show.
- FT70: Friendlytown Enters the Goblin Cave (01/08/18) — LISTEN HERE
I’ve gone on record calling Sean Simoneau a madman, and this episode is proof positive of his unironic and undying love for the capitalism zoo-exhibit that is Shark Tank. He built an elaborate set of backstories for his character Harnåld Grävssund (world-famous cartographer, explorer, and builder of fine ships) as well as those of Ethel Mord (Alyssa Miller) and Jank Plowgood (Saint Thomas LeDoux) whose backstories you’ll just have to listen to this jam in order to hear. As far as I remember, this is the longest episode of Friendlytown we’ve ever done, it was crazy , and against all odds it still worked! It helped that Josh Arnold ended the show by pitching what were essentially cocaine and re-purposed shakeweights to the Goblins, ending the show on a chaotic-good high point. Josh was pretty new to the show at the time, and this was his real coming-out as a madman in his own right. Six months later, this would manifest itself in the form of…
- FT96: Friendlytown Tries to Remember Howie! (7/9/18) — LISTEN HERE
Not to be too much of a spoiler, but the show ended with Keith Orlowski and Josh Arnold (both given the keys for the first time? second time?) disinterring our town’s dead friend Howie (in a body bag) and carrying him out of the Pilot Light as we all sang “Howie, Howie” repeatedly to the tune of “Amazing Grace” for a solid two minutes. Keep in mind that for most of this show, Keith was in character as Friendlytown’s oldest resident, Henrietta, who struggled to remember Howie despite having had “relations” with him for much of the 60’s (or something, the timeline kept changing). At more than one point, Sean fed “Henrietta” prunes, and Clinton Ricks tore into the unseen Howie in the funniest way imaginable. (S)he also greeted Lucas McCrary with “What’s going on, Tube Socks?” and it was the hardest I laughed that month, probably.
- FT97.5: Friendlytown Charity Telethon! (7/22/18) — LISTEN HERE
This one holds a special place in my heart because it was the first time Friendlytown, as a collective, ventured outside of our comfort zone/normal time slot and did a set on Sunday night during a benefit show for WOZO Radio. The crowd there was completely uninitiated and no idea what the hell was going on, but they were laughing. Beth Tompkins, Jared Pearce, and I sat onstage and took calls from people behind the board (in the style of Friendlytown: 911 and other popular episodes) with intermittent solo sketches by Sean, Lucas, and John. I clearly remember getting off the stage, walking back to the bar where the other FT mayors and council members stood, and we all just sorta looked at each other like “we seriously just pulled that off, didn’t we?” and hadn’t sacrificed one ounce of our normal weirdness. It also hit me how well we gelled as a team of performers and improvisers. That meant a lot.
My 5 Favorite Friendlytown Sets/Moments, 2016-2018
- Alyssa Freaks Out (FT61: Friendlytown Needs to Check Out This Cool Dog!)
Jaxx Fox’ friend brought her dog Winnie to Friendlytown, and all of our sets were just us hanging out with an adorable pup onstage. The highlight of the show, for me, came when Alyssa Miller got onstage, freaked out at how cute this dog was, and just said “I love you!” to Winnie over and over again and lied down on the stage while the dog licked her face.
- Brad’s 9-1-1 Call (FT25: Friendlytown 911!)
Don’t touch it! DON’T TOUCH IIIIIIT. We had a lot of fun in the show’s 2016 growing-pains era, but I’ve forgotten so much of it. This has 100% to do with me aging and nothing to do with it not being memorable in its own right. My favorite memory of this scene was me and Jeff Blank losing our shit by the bar (you can hear us in the background). There was something symbolic about the co-founders of Friendlytown (in its original 2014 iteration as a live talk show) keeling over in laughter watching two other people expand upon this weird, reinvented mythology. Also, I translated “Don’t Touch It” into Latin for the Friendlytown Crest.
- St. Thomas and the Chair (FT107: Friendlytown Home Improvement Special!)
I know something was fishy when St. Thomas showed up before the show in relatively short shorts on a relatively cold night. Also, he’d been asking about whether any of us had an expendable chair. When his set started, he walked onstage wearing aviators and carrying a simple wooden chair, mentioned that there was something wrong with it, and to the thumping beat of LMFAO’s “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” he stripped down to the short-jorts and danced for a solid minute before taking a hammer and smashing the chair to hell. Not since Will Sasso’s Bathtub Michael McDonald vine had I witnessed art so pure and so true.
- Todd’s Letter to Diane (FT48: Friendlytown Needs to Win Diane Back)
Bartending Mayor™ Todd Lewis (I’m proud to say I gave him that title and it’s actually kinda stuck) has always been the king of letters-to-whatever shows. In this case, he produced a letter to Friendlytown’s apocryphal ex-lover Diane that was basically an episode of The Adventures of Pete & Pete in 4 minutes – laugh-out-loud funny and sentimental and bittersweet all at once. Feast your ears on it here.
- The Ending of FT113: Friendlytown Writes a Novella
Blythely Q. Scribington (Sean) decided to, after taking a novella’s worth of suggestions from the rest of Friendlytown, bust through that wall of writer’s block and write the concluding chapter himself. He started to verbalize the words as he typed them, with much trepidation. I asked him if it would help for the whole crowd to read along as he typed, and the entire crowd at the Pilot Light read along as he typed an entire page. It was mind-numbing.
I have countless other “favorite” moments from my time as a producer on the show (the induction of Table Mayor, Rowan Young’s children’s poem on our 2nd Anniversary show, the unveiling of Carson Barnes’ rule on ‘Friendlytown Has Too Many Hot Dogs!, Josh Arnold’s unhinged Bob Vila Army ending to the Home Improvement Special, et cetera forever), but if I don’t cap it at five I’m never going to finish this post. Hell, these ten shows/moments omit some of the greatest and funniest contributors in the show’s history (Emaleigh Gwin, Josh Lampley, Clinton Ricks, Savannah Wolfgram, Boston McCown, Andrew McNicholas, Drew Harper, Monika Miller, Liz Brooks, Pamela Langston/Regina the Nail Stylist, Collin Riggs, Casey Clapp, Aaron Chasteen, Michael Sayne, Drew Morgan, Jake James, Tre Pack, and several others I’m forgetting because I suck). Hell, the show has even lent itself well to outside hosts bringing their ideas with them (Kelly Morgan bringing the Home Grown Pun Battle for Episode 89, Donnie March investigating alien sightings in FT57, Alex Stypula hosting our entire Friendlytown Access Public Television premiere episode in character, et cetera for a while). It’s also been a privilege for FT to host touring comics like Yedoye Travis, Dave Ross, Laura Sanders, and a gaggle of others. Oh, and we also put out three issues of a zine, with the strong possibility of a fourth coming early in 2019.
Not that I won’t have a hand in some FT productions in the future (see the bottom paragraph), but it’s really sinking in now, after writing all of this, that I’m stepping down without a single FT or FT-branded show (Monday or off-night) in two and a half years that I’m not proud of. I know I’m wading into redundant territory, but that is INSANE. I owe that to everyone whose name you’ve seen here so far as well as everyone who’s been coming out to support the show since the last time we decided to begin this venture. Of course it hasn’t always been great, but most of us agree that one of most beautiful things about Friendlytown is that every show gives every one of us an opportunity to fail gloriously. You never know what you can get out of comedy unless you take those plunges.
Repeating: If you’re reading this, you probably know a good deal about me. If you’re still reading this, you probably now know a better deal about me. Forgive me for being so sentimental; this usually happens around the Holidays. It’s a sentimental time for me, and so much of my life has been in transition over 2018, and my contributions to the show have felt like a growing question mark. What’s most important to me is whatever is best for this community, and I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve built. I guess that’s what this boils down to, if anything.
Anyway, I’ve still got a few weeks of shows before I’m officially out as Mayor, and I hope you can come to one or several or all of the great shows we’ve got coming up at Pilot Light this next month. First, take tonight off and have a Merry Christmas. Come join us a week from tonight for our “Friendlytown Burns Down 2018” New Year’s Eve special, a week and a half from tonight for Shane Rhyne’s album recording (1/5) two weeks from tonight for TOD Talks (like TED Talks, but… by and for Todd on his birthday week, 1/7), two and a half weeks from tonight for An Evening with Eric and Sarah (1/10) and three weeks from tonight as I get deposed/roasted as Mayor (1/14). And then pretty much every Monday after that as my friends take this project to heights I could not have imagined. To be honest, I’m almost worried about the craziness we’re going to witness in the near future…and that’s pretty great.