February 18, 2014

Poetry, Comedy, ‘Heart-Charging Sass’: Eugene Mirman and Derrick Brown at the Haunt

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“What time is it?”


“YOU’RE WRONG. IT’S ROMANCE TIME … sorry about yelling at you.”

Poet and Write Bloody Press founder Derrick Brown opened for comedian Eugene Mirman at the Haunt this Saturday to a standing-room-only crowd that was one part drunk and confused bar-goers, one part hipster-looking poetry lovers, one part pretty rowdy Bob’s Burgers fans and two parts Daily Sun writers with Sharpie-marked hands and a distinct aura of “WE ARE CHILDREN.” Probably if I had purchased a ticket for a stand-up comedy show and discovered that the opener was a performance poet I would have been a little wary. But Derrick Brown’s poetry is equal parts humor and “romance time,” equal parts metaphor and creative cursing. And the delivery is as much about physical comedy and brunt force as it is about cadence. Without prior warning, it would not be readily apparent that the opening poem titled “Cotton in the Air” was not going to be a mushy and intolerable Valentine’s weekend exploitation but more like a vocal-sound-effect-riddled soft core, complete with the question, “Darling, may I be the image you turn to / when you are heaving alone, / burning like Halloween in Detroit?”

Brown segued into a couple of shorter poems about masturbation and coughing nurses before announcing his last two poems, “Hey Kid” and “Sour Mash”  with the statement, “the neat thing about going to a poetry show is sometimes shit is not funny at all.” “Hey Kid” is somewhat of an epic poem about an airplane conversation with a young boy which circles mostly around the idea of a “miracle” and what constitutes one, as well as rapid-fire exchanges of advice and sage wisdom culminating in, “Hey kid. John Wilkes Booth caught his spur on the American flag and broke his leg after temporarily murdering a mountain. Exit the absence of poetry. Exit non-magic. Exit non-miracle stuff.”  “Sour Mash” is an unpublished work dealing mostly with a poet’s origin and on-the-road story and borrowing a line from one of Brown’s interviews (with Paper Darts): “A line of poetry can be a bullet and the novel is a slow strangle.”

Brown’s stage presence isn’t so much “presence” as it is possession — willingly or not, every person in the room is dragged onto his roller coaster of emotion and exactly when you feel like you’d like to bust a gut you get hit by a line like, “I look out the window and remember a teacher saying / Never write about explicit beauty and never say the word love outright. Find a synonym. And never / ever ruin a compliment by tacking on the word finally. / Looking out the oval, descending like something, I see the light of the countryside. I love you. Easy. / You’re beautiful. / Finally.” Sometimes shit is not funny at all. It also feels emotionally kind of like one of those sinus-cleaning teapots — ridiculous, gif-able maybe?, steamy, kind of uncomfortable, involving a lot of cursing but also: refreshing and invigorating.

Brown’s type of rock n’ roll poetry transitioned easily into Eugene Mirman’s early bits about the Provincetown accent (“60 percent Boston, 40 percent gay) and bizarre things he would yell at his girlfriend in the grocery store to make her seem crazy (“You know what? I AM going to get toilet paper. I don’t care if you think it’s a waste.”) Stand-up comedian and voice of Gene Belcher on Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, Mirman churned out the usual topics of conversation for stand-up — religion, Nicholas Cage and unfair parking citations — but somehow managed to make it seem as if he was literally the first person to point out how horrible-funny these things are.

The highlight was a long story about Mirman receiving a parking ticket after backing into a parking spot and then taking out a full page ad with the Chamber of Commerce to complain about it. When Mirman came across the ticket in a Provincetown parking garage he said he initially thought maybe the ticket was because he paid for two hours and only used three, prompting him to ask, “How did you know that I would be back early? Do you have a team of pre-cogs? And more importantly, why are your pre-cog working on parking tickets? Shouldn’t they be out preventing street performers before they happen?”

There was also a great story about Mirman wandering around Mexico with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and being more-or-less assaulted by two Mexican cops who, “pinned Michael Stipe’s arms behind his back like a criminal, not like he wrote ‘Everybody Hurts,’ but like a CRIMINAL.”

Mirman brought several cardstock placards of questions he had asked a real pastor on the Ask the Pastor website and then had printed (by a presumably uncomfortable human being) at a Kinkos, which asked how to get out of a marriage with a person he met at “a bus stop or casino” and if it was okay to have sex with men “as long as they can keep a secret,” as well as one reading, “I know God says it’s okay to judge people because of their race. Just a fun fact, okay BYE.” He also had print-outs of several direct messages that he had sent celebrities on Facebook, including one to Justin Bieber which promised “I have put a dollar bill in my butt and it is going to stay there until you and I have a serious conversation about religion.”

The evening wrapped up with Mirman officially/unofficially/dubiously-officially marrying a couple on stage and presenting them with a Valentine co-written by Brown and containing the line “your ass is 75,000 rosewater tornadoes.” As Brown has commented in Paper Darts, a good show is “less cocaine brooding, more heart-charging sass,” and that is exactly what the evening was. You did not have to be one of the happily confused drunk people to be dazed by what happened in the Haunt on Saturday — it was the best combination of sincerity and humor that I have witnessed in recent memory.  Sun Arts Editor Sean Doolittle ’16 took off his gloves so that Eugene Mirman could shake his weirdly-soft baby hand and everyone rolled out of the Haunt high on poetry and Jesus jokes and a new life motto courtesy of Derrick Brown:

“Kid, things are worse off everywhere else except Switzerland, and they are bored and they want graffiti and M-80s.”

Check out a performance of  “Cotton in the Air” by Derrick Brown at NYU in 2009: