What I Took Away: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I used to sporadically keep a blog called “What I Took Away” where I’d write down my thoughts on a book I just read or a movie I’d just seen so I could revisit them later. I’ve decided to simplify things and just write about that stuff here now. So here ya go.


I just finished reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I’d heard good things about Diaz and the book, so when I found it for $3 at a used book store, I bought it. It’s the first book I’ve read in a long time that I didn’t want to put down. Diaz’s voice is totally unique and engaging. He’s writing in a style that is completely his own. Oscar Wao is a nerd, a bookworm, a hopeless and tragically misguided romantic, a Dominican-American, and a lot of other things. I suspect Diaz is a lot of those things himself, and he unapologetically incorporates every bit of it into his writing. He writes in English and a little bit of Spanish, he mixes language you might here walking down a block in the Bronx with Oscar’s extensive vocabulary and references to Battlestar Galactica. He describes his characters and their reality in such a unique and vivid way they can’t help but take shape in your mind. For instance, he describes a neighbor lady a prepubescent Oscar was infatuated with as “a thirty-something postal employee who wore red on her lips and walked like she had a bell for an ass.” He sprinkles in real Dominican history with some good ol’ fashioned mysticism. 

It’s a good, interesting read. It’s engaging because it is so unique. My takeaway from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is to strive to bring my own originality to my creative endeavors. I have a tendency to worry about what other people will think about my work as I’m working. I think a lot of people do that, especially if they’re being paid to create something. I’ve written sketches and taken on projects because I thought they’d appeal to the general public or because a boss thought it might go viral or at least get some clicks. That stuff fades away and gets forgotten almost instantly. I think if you want to make something that people enjoy or at least find interesting, you should strive to make things that capture what is unique, honest and interesting to you. 

The Clubhouse didn’t build itself. Beck Drysdale did a lot of work a year and a half ago to get that off the ground. A bunch of improvisers literally built the stage. Before that, other bunches of improvisers were renting out theater spaces all across the city and inviting improv teams to perform for free*. It started with Harrison Brown and Jonathan Smith in 2007, then TAB started Crashbar, then Shakedown started Room 101 and pretty soon there were indie improv shows all across the city every night of the week. Those shows did not always exist. They did not build themselves.

I moved to Los Angeles in early 2007. When I first got here, I mostly did stand up. I did mostly open mics and a couple bringer shows. For those unfamiliar, a bringer show is a show where you pressure your friends into paying an admission price and a drink minimum to watch you perform for 5 minutes and a bunch of strangers perform for an hour and a half. It’s a lot to ask, and it really sucks. I did a bringer show where no one showed up, and I payed $20 to do 5 minutes. I stopped doing bringer shows altogether after that, and as I really started falling in love with improv, I stopped doing stand up altogether too.

I remember going to Tuesday Night Thunder’s first show. It was fucking exciting. It was stage time, and my friends Harrison and Jonathan created it. I remember asking them how much their rent was, and if they made it back. They told me some nights they did fine and sometimes they didn’t make rent. It was a new idea (at least to me) and these guys had faith that their friends and the teams they booked for the show would have their backs and throw money in a bucket to pay for it. I didn’t donate out of guilt, I donated because I really appreciated what these guys were doing and I believed in the idea. They also ended every show with an improv jam that I did every week. It was my only regular stage time for about a year. I went every week and I got better because of it. It was absolutely invaluable to me.

The improv community in Los Angeles is growing exponentially at the moment. It seems like there’s a new show popping up every week. I can’t believe that The Clubhouse has only been open for a year and a half. I’ve had so much fucking fun in that building in that short amount of time. Haven’t you? I’ve had a lot of fun at the LA Indie Improv Festival these last 3 years. Haven’t you? Don’t take that fun for granted. Don’t take the shows for granted. Don’t take the people that run them for granted. Don’t take the stage time for granted. Don’t take any of it for granted. It did not happen on accident. It happened on purpose.

So what I’m saying is, support this idea. Give a few bucks at every indie show whether you’re headlining or performing for the first time. Give a couple more for every free* beer you drink. Don’t think of it as an obligation, think of it as a vote of confidence in your friends and this idea. This idea that we can put on our own shows, make our own stage time, and anyone who is curious can check it out for free. The UCB Theater was born out of a similar idea. They (the UCB 4) didn’t start the theater to make a profit, they did it to create the kind of stage time they wished they’d had coming up. The Clubhouse is that place for a lot of people right now. It’s a fucking great idea. The new location is going to be awesome. It’s bigger, it’s got two stages, it’s got a freaking parking lot, and it’s in a much safer neighborhood in Los Feliz.

Right now is a rare time when The Clubhouse, and more specifically Beck Drysdale, are actually asking you for money. So give some. The New Clubhouse made its Kickstarter goal, but it’s not going to be enough to cover the cost of getting this thing off the ground. Whatever you can afford, whatever you think is fair. Get behind this idea, and don’t take it for granted. None of it happened by accident, and The New Clubhouse isn’t going to build itself. Go gettum!

*somebody is paying for it, believe me.

The new Clipping album comes out tomorrow. Here’s a taste for those of you who like hip hop.

Tags | Clipping | CLPPNG | hip hop |
Overcome Your Programming And Be A Better Man


When I was a freshman in high school, I made a series of battle plans along with my older brother and his friends that detailed how we’d take out our entire school once we obtained guns and bombs.

This happened while huddled over my dining room table, and it was funny. We drew blueprints. We made maps. We organized lists of ammunition and inventory and all the different things we’d need to make our military raiding of our own school a success. We figured we’d all have cyanide pills to take ourselves out before we got arrested. We knew we had to take over the nurse’s office first – it’s where all the medical supplies were and it also had no windows, which made it a perfect place for our final showdown when we were inevitably backed in by police as we burned out in a blaze of glory in our bold last stand.

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Chris Gethard, nailing it again.


I found out that Nathan was an artist the day I caught him stocking one of the piles of mysterious Diamon Lion postcards that had appeared in some theaters around LA. Diamond Lion is my improv group - none of us had any idea where these postacards had come from. I grabbed one and said “Did you make these??” He just sort of nodded and smiled. 

He ended up making a bunch of posters for Diamond Lion. He hand made each of those Rankin and Bass christmas characters (and if you don’t know what we look like,  trust me - he nailed it.) Later he made weekly posters for my stand up show, Big Money. My co-host, DC, and I particularly liked the “weird” one he made us for April Fools Day last year. He also drew me that “ferociously cute” dinosaur - which is one of my favorite things, and is the background to my twitter page.

I wanted to post some of the art that he made for me, and the posters, and some stuff he made I just liked, because I want people to see them. But I don’t feel comfortable showing them to you by linking to his blog, because his suicide note is at the top of it, and I guess now it always will be. Even writing the words “suicide note” feels so personal and dramatic, like taping someone’s underwear to the blackboard. Sorry, Nathan. 

I don’t have any wise words to finish this with, besides life is short, no matter how it ends. So do everything, dream big, hold tight and when someone tells you your work is remarkable, try to believe them.

The first of three spots I did for Paddy’s Irish Whiskey and CollegeHumor. Basically, being 30 sucks.

A peek behind the curtain. @joehartzler #trophycase

A peek behind the curtain. @joehartzler #trophycase

Tags | trophycase |

This is weirdly mesmerizing. 


Are we masters of our future, or are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over? At TEDxTerrebonneCounty, former Louisiana police detective Rustin Cohle explains that time is something Death invented to grow the things it would kill. Time is not linear but circular, argues Cohle, preordaining “individuals” to relive the same experience of human consciousness, again and again, for eternity. If we get the opportunity, he advises, we should kill ourselves.


Are we masters of our future, or are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over? At TEDxTerrebonneCounty, former Louisiana police detective Rustin Cohle explains that time is something Death invented to grow the things it would kill. Time is not linear but circular, argues Cohle, preordaining “individuals” to relive the same experience of human consciousness, again and again, for eternity. If we get the opportunity, he advises, we should kill ourselves.
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