Thank you :)

Thanks to everyone who came out to the show last Thursday. I know it was a rough night with the traffic and news from the Aurora bridge but I’m grateful to everyone who turned up and supported all the storytellers.

We had a lot of heavy stories at this show and I was touched by the kindness and patience that over a hundred audience members gave each of the tellers. Anyone who has been following us for a while knows that my goal with Fresh Ground Stories is not just to give people a night of free entertainment. My goal is to give people a place to share stories they can’t share anywhere else. Sometimes it’s safer to share stories with strangers than it is with our own family. I guess that’s why so many tellers ask me for a recording so they can send it to their parents or siblings.

One of our newest members told a story about her husband dying that took a lot of faith and courage to share. It was amazing to see her coming to terms with her new life as she pushed further and further into the story. Those last two minutes are something I’ll remember for a long time.

One of our regulars, Cavan, told a story that I know he’s been keeping inside for months. I remember earlier this year when he told me how his father died. I knew back then that part of his healing would be to get onstage at Roy Street and talk about it. Thanks for letting him do that.

As always, I gotta give special thanks to our first-timers, Kat, Amy, Amelia and Lynn. You guys did great! Kat and I discovered we read the same book of love letters between Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz. We found out that Amy has a soft spot in her heart for arthritic greyhounds with explosive intestinal issues. Lynn, we now know, is very proud of her arrest record. Amelia has a heart for adventure I can only dream of. And Aimee has an unpronounceable compulsive disorder that makes me feel a lot less alone because I have one kinda like it. Go Team OCD!

I’m going to pull rank for a moment and mention my son Taran who told a sweet story about asking out the girl he was head over heels for in high school. They ended up going to Homecoming together and I remember that night as one of the special moments of his young life. I had never heard the whole story before and I was so happy to see him explain all the fear and uncertainty that led up to asking Katie to the dance.

Here is something my son doesn’t know. I kept one of the flowers Katie gave him that night. It’s been hidden in a little plastic container in the freezer for almost six years. I remember the look on Taran’s face when he told me the girl he was sweet on said she would go to the dance with him. Every time I see that little rose peeking out from behind the frozen blueberries it reminds me of the time a young woman told my son that she liked him and would love to go to the dance with him.

Ok, that’s enough of that. I’ll finish up by apologizing to two tellers I didn’t have time to put up, Deborah and Arden. Every other show it seems like I have to bump one or two people. Last time I had to bump my own kid. I hope you both keep coming out and throwing your name in Mr. Coffee. Sooner or later everyone who wants to tell a story will get up there.

Lastly, I want to remind you that there are still tickets available for the latest Words ‘N’ Music show at the Jewelbox, Oct 14 and 17. Words ‘N’ Music features some of our favorite stories from FGS regulars and live music between each one. It’s a lot of fun and a good way to stay connected. All we want to do is break even on expenses and if we sell about 50 more tickets we can do that and book another show with new stories.

The next Fresh Ground Stories is October 22. The theme is “Anything For Love.” I’ll write up the official invite in a few days so look for that in your inbox.

Last week’s recording came out fine so I can give the storytellers a copy of their performance if they want it. I only give out the audio to the people who told a story and it’s only the audio of their own story. Most performers don’t want their personal stories online so that’s why I only give copies to the people who told them.

See you on the 22nd!


Fresh Ground Stories: Comfort Zone: Stories of making yourself uncomfortable

Sometimes people ask me why I quit doing standup. I tell them the truth but they never believe me. I got tired of trying to be something I wasn’t. There were other drawbacks, of course. Performing in bars, driving hundreds of miles between gigs, the loneliness of being on the road. The worst part for me, though, was driving around the country talking about things I didn’t care about.

Most jokes are based on the premise, “Don’t you hate it when this happens.” Then the comic goes on to complain about whatever he’s upset about it. So when I sat down to write material I would hunker down in the corner of a coffee shop and think, “What do I hate today?” My job was to create the opposite of a gratitude list.

This was not a good way for me to start my day. Not only was it depressing but it also made me realize that I didn’t hate nearly enough things to be a great comic. Plus, what I do hate nobody else cares about. I hate it when people say, “I could care less.” No, you couldn’t care less. Or when someone says they’re going to flush out an idea. You don’t flush out an idea you flesh out an idea. Flushing is for toilets. Ok, some ideas need to be flushed out. Bottomless french fries could probably be flushed out to the Sea-of-Things-That-Are-Destroying-The-World and we would all be better off.

But you know what? Most of America loves the idea of an endless river of fries flowing into their mouths. So it’s not ok for me to stand onstage and be upset that the waitress at the Cooter Patch in Kansas City is trying to kill me.

This went on for years. I’d try to think of something to complain about (The buttons on the remote control are too small! Damn you Sony!) and then find out America couldn’t care less (America would say that they could care less but I maintain that they could not care less.) In the end I would end up writing about what I saw other comics writing about. So my act ended up being about the two subjects I could always count on to get laughs: sex and poop.

Trust me. Nothing is funnier than sex and poop. Those are the humor chakras of human existence. At least in the rooms I played.

Every night was emotionally and metaphorically a crap shoot. Some audiences bought it and some didn’t. Comics liked me but they’re generally a pretty sick bunch so you can’t really count them. My last night onstage as a comedian was in 2007. I was booked to do a show in a strip mall casino somewhere in Mountlake Terrace. I knew it was going to be a special night when I got there because the stage was 10 feet from the kitchen and you could hear the cook yelling, “Order up!” over the MC. It was also the night of the Apple Cup where the Huskies were playing the Cougars and there couldn’t have been more than 10 people in the whole place. Everyone was home watching the game.

Halfway through my act where I was pretending to be angry about online dating or my broken down car I caught a flash of something behind me on the other side of the stage. I turned around just as a young man walked up to me and held out his hand for the microphone. He didn’t say a word but I knew that’s what he wanted.

I was speechless. Not because someone ran up onstage. I was shocked because the features of his face were all melted together. He was a burn victim. What made it even stranger was that he was dressed like Mr. Spock. He had on the yellow shirt with the Star Trek patch, the black capri pants with the leather boots. He even had a skinny belt with a phaser on one side and a communicator on the other.

I don’t believe in Vulcan mind melds but in that one moment we stared at each other on stage we both knew that it was time for him to take over. And that is what he did. I gave him the mic, sat down in the audience, and watched him do 15 minutes of Cougar jokes.

“How do you get a one-armed Cougar fan out of a tree? You wave at him!” Boom! Huge laughs.

“Did you hear about the Cougar fan who locked his keys in the car? He had to use a coat hanger to get his family out.” Boom! Even bigger laughs. I thought the walls were going to cave in. Mr. Spock was killing. Each joke was worse than the one before but the crowd was going nuts.

Fifteen minutes later he finally runs out of Cougar jokes and hands the mic back to the MC. The headliner goes up and I leave the building. You’d think this would make me rethink my comedy mission. Not in terms of material but in terms of honesty. The audience wasn’t laughing at Mr. Spock’s dumb-blonde-turned-Cougar jokes. They were laughing because there was a man onstage who was completely comfortable with who he was and his only goal was to tell some silly jokes and make people smile. He was fearless and grounded and 100% himself up there He was everything I wasn’t. The audience knew it and they loved him for it.

Is that what I thought about on the way home that night? Of course not. I was completely incapable of seeing how that guy’s honesty and vulnerability was what the crowd was reacting to.

Two days later I had another show at the Tacoma Underground. I hadn’t spent two seconds thinking about the true meaning of what I saw in that casino. All I knew was that something crazy had happened and that I now had a story no one else had. I spent 48 hours writing dozens of jokes about the show, Mr. Spock, his outfit, all the Cougar stuff. I couldn’t wait to tell the next audience about the one man Star Trek convention in Mountlake Terrace.

Ten minutes into my act in the Tacoma club I launch into the story about how I was attacked onstage by a crazy guy with a phaser. Before I can get two words out, a hole in the ceiling opens up and gallons of brown water of unknown origin rains down in the space between me and the first row. The universe did to me what I was about to do to that audience. The show as over and so was my career as a comic.

It’s strange that trying to be someone I wasn’t was actually my comfort zone. For most of my life I believed that no one would want to love or even be friends with the person I was when I walked into my bedroom and turned off the light. If I had possessed even the tiniest bit of courage I would have written about the things I cared about and in the end found people who wanted to listen.

Luckily, in 2010 I discovered storytelling. I decided that I was going to do something that scared the hell out of me. I was going to write about my life as honestly as I could and to do it in a way where I wasn’t pointing the finger at anyone but myself. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past five years. I’ve been telling stories about all the things that make me feel awkward and scared. In fact, you could say that my new comfort zone is wherever I feel most uncomfortable.

And that is what I’m asking you guys to do at the next Fresh Ground Stories. Tell us about a time where you did something that made you uncomfortable. Was it good? Did you learn something from it? Why’d you do it in the first place?

The rules for stories are below but you know the kind we’re looking for: true stories that happened to you that still mean something to you days, months or years later.

Remember to practice out loud on friends or pets and keep it under 8 minutes.

Rules & Guidelines:

I hope to see you at our next show Thursday, September 24 at 7pm at Roy Street Coffee and Tea.


Thank You

Thank you everyone who came out to the show Thursday. We had some amazing new people show up and tell stories and I am always touched when that happens. Where do they come from? How do they find us? I have no idea. But I’m glad they do.

Jake, I hope I never have to find out what’s it like to be robbed at gunpoint. Walking us through those moments and telling us how you coped with it afterward meant a lot to me. Thank you for having the courage to relive that day on stage for us.

Jude, I was honored to give you the Banana Bread of Bravado. Thank you for reminding us never to get sick on Vashon Island and that sometimes a green smoothie is the best medicine. I am getting the Vitamix out of the cupboard this morning and dosing myself with berries and kale.

Paul M shared a story about how he always wanted to be pecked to death by ravens and how an encounter with a bear changed his end-of-life plans. Don’t take this the wrong way but I hope I never see you in a National Geographic under the headline, “Bear Eats Man That Looks Like Bear.” Try not to go camping dressed like a berry or smelling like a salmon, ok?

Jenny, my friend, thank you for coming all the way up from Olympia to share that story with us. I’ve known you for years and have always wanted to know you better. Now I feel like I do. At least a little. You know I’m going to do my best to get you and Amy to make that drive and come back again.

I can’t thank everyone individually but I want to take a minute to thank two regulars who came out and told two fantastic stories. They couldn’t have been more different but they were each beautiful in their own way. Ginger, thank you for showing me how little I really know about the people in my life and what they carry with them as they walk through their days.

Nathan, that was one of the funniest stories we’ve ever heard at FGS. Not only was it funny it seemed completely effortless. I felt bad that we ran out of time last month and I had to bump you but the wait was worth it. Thank you for coming back and throwing your name in Mr. Coffee!

Before I let you guys go I want to apologize for having to bump three tellers this month: Marjorie, Cavan and Sea. I’ve heard them all tell before and it hurts to end any show with names still in Mr. Coffee. I hope your stories can fit into next month’s theme or the one after that. I managed to get two more tellers than we usually have up there but there was just no way I could fit everyone in that night.

Thanks again to all the people who told stories: David S, Bill B, Nathan, Jake, Jenny, Paul M, Ginger, Paul B, Kauni, Deborah, Jude, and Margaret.

I’ll get the invitation for next month’s show out as soon as I can. It’ll probably hit your inbox sometime next weekend. The theme is Comfort Zone – Stories of making yourself uncomfortable. Or something like that. I’ll make it clear in the invite :)

See you at Roy Street on September 24!


Fresh Ground Stories: Dusting Yourself Off – Stories of Getting back up

I used to hate it when people would tell me about some horrifying trauma they went though and then at the end say, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” It sounded crazy. How could a triple hernia with a side of shingles be the best thing ever?

One time a friend sent me a video of a guy shouting into the camera, “Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me!” I remember thinking, “Pal, you need to raise the bar a little bit. If cancer is the best thing I’d hate the see what’s 23rd on your list. The time you went skinny dipping in the piranha tank? The night you did all those shots of tequila and chased them with expired milk?” I mean, what didn’t make the list?

Some of you know how my stories go so you won’t be surprised to hear that tonight, about 30 minutes ago, I turned into one of those grateful-it-happened guys.

In 2012, my girlfriend left me and I came very close to ending my life. You know those Palestinian women who scream and wail at their son’s funeral and throw themselves into the grave? I was like one of those women except the grave was my heart and I almost didn’t climb back out.

After months of intense therapy, countless late-night walks with friends, and some pharmacological wizardry, I started to pull myself together. Little by little I started leaving the house more. I began talking to people at work about the weather and the state of the lunch room fridge. I started eating again.

But there was one thing I needed to do before I could honestly say I was solidly on the road to recovery. I had to stop being afraid. I wasn’t afraid of one thing I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of talking to strangers in a coffee shop and I was afraid of dying alone. I was afraid of coming back five minutes late from lunch at my day job and I was afraid of telling people I went to support groups so I wouldn’t hurt myself when I went home. The world was a dangerous place. Nothing and no one was safe.

The most embarrassing memories I have are how I handled the breakup. I was a wreck. The level of self-harm I reached astonishes me even now. It had nothing to do with her. It had everything to do with me. In the history of love, there have been far worse ways to end a relationship. There were no fights. No yelling at each other. There was just an ending to something I never thought would end. The pain went through me like the Wehrmacht through Warsaw.

I knew the only way to make sure I wouldn’t crumble like that again was to build inner strength by doing the scariest things I could think of. I don’t mean skydiving or alligator wrestling. I mean the stuff that shakes your soul and rattles your will.

I asked the World’s Angriest Yoga Teacher out on a date

I unfriended my ex so I wouldn’t be tempted to check up on her

I started telling people at work that I was no longer with The Woman Everyone Adored

I got onstage in a little room in Tacoma and told the story of my recovery

I asked that girl on the second floor if she’d like to go out for coffee

I told my son about the night I almost left him without a father

You know what happened when I did all that? I got stronger. Even when things didn’t turn out the way I wanted I got stronger. I broke up with the World’s Angriest Yoga Teacher when I decided I’d rather learn to be alone than learn to ignore insults. I knew after that cup of coffee with the lady on the second floor that we wouldn’t be a good match and I quietly stopped flirting with her. I began accepting invitations to share my story at shows about mental health issues to let people know they weren’t alone.

I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it until yesterday. Yesterday I did something that almost made me pass out. Tonight I did something even scarier.

Yesterday on my lunch hour I walked to the library. While I stood in the magazine section I saw my ex checking out books at the counter. I hadn’t spoken to her in over two years. I started hyperventilating.

When I was a kid I read about acts of bravery the Lakota Indians called counting coup. The greatest act of bravery was touching an enemy warrior in battle and escaping unharmed. I knew immediately this was what I had to do. The ultimate test of courage. Walk up to my ex-girlfriend and say hello.

I walked up and gently touched her elbow. I said, “Hi.”

And then I ran to the self-help section. I could barely make out her, “Hey!” as I dove into the stacks and grabbed a random book off the shelf. I was hoping it would be, “What To Do When She’s Right Over There” or “Counting Coup for Dummies.” I have no idea what book it was. I couldn’t focus my eyes and my hands were shaking. It’s possible I wasn’t even holding it right side up.

I snuck a look over at the counter where she had finished checking out and and saw her smile and wave. And then she left.

Tonight, I was feeling pretty good. Pretty damn good. I had touched the enemy in battle and escaped unharmed. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t really the enemy and that I was more in danger of passing out from not breathing than I was from being wounded in battle. I did the hardest thing I could think of and survived.

Then I went to Costco. You may not think of Costco as place of spiritual growth but there are things that happen in the aisles of America’s biggest retail membership warehouse that cannot be explained through price points and volume purchasing.

The first thing I headed for the was the balsamic vinegar. I eat a lot of salad and I buy oil and vinegar in bottles the size of a water tower. As I turned the corner and headed down the aisle I saw her. She was standing by the almonds. Five feet from the vinegar. Her back was to me and I could have turned and run but instead I stopped, took a breath, and walked forward.

I was a few feet away when she turned and saw me. We walked up and touched each other on the arm. She asked how I was doing and I said great. I asked how she was doing and she said good. We talked for a minute or two and then hugged. I told her I loved her and she said she loved me too.

When I got home I wrote her an email thanking her for everything that happened. She was the only one who could knock me down hard enough to change my life. She has no idea what I went thought after we broke up and there’s no reason for me to ever tell her. Tonight I got a chance to apologize for things I needed to apologize for and to let her know that I wouldn’t change a single thing about that night in 2012. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

And that is what I’m hoping you guys will come and tell a story about. “Dusting Yourself Off – Stories of getting back up.”

When was the last time you got knocked down and climbed back to your feet? How did you do it? Are you grateful or angry? Was it long ago or last Tuesday? There will definitely be people in the audience that night who are still down. Maybe your story will help them get back up.

The rules for stories are below but you know the kind we’re looking for: true stories that happened to you that still mean something to you days, months or years later.

Remember to practice out loud on friends or pets and keep it under 8 minutes.

Rules & Guidelines:

I hope to see you at our next show on Thursday, August 27, 7:00pm at the Roy St Cafe.


David’s story

Here is David’s story about his father. There’s no way to capture the magic of seeing it live but I wanted to put it up here anyway as a way of saying thank you to David for putting so much of his heart onstage.

As he told this story he was holding a lighted yahrzeit candle. It’s a small memorial candle that Jews light in memory of the dead. At the end of the story he said good-bye to his father and blew it out.

I never met David’s father but it was a special moment for me knowing that there’s a bunch of people I get together with once a month where this can happen.




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