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Vol. #23 - April 10, 2020

Hey Hey Hey

I saw and felt some beautiful sunshine today, so I'll note that in the Wins column. And I'm not sick or in the ER, so that's good too. It's important to keep my privilege and my luck and the love of my friends and family in perspective as we close another week of...all of this.

At this point I only keep track of what day it is because I know I need to send this out by midnight on Friday. People are sick, people are stressed, people are grieving. But it's important, while acknowledging the gravity and abnormality of all we're dealing with, to recognize that tomorrow will come and this will end, and we have a duty to make sure that the new world we enter is better than the one that got us here.

I believe that fully and I love you all.

As per usual in the last month of this newsletter the first part of this week's WesRecs is COVID Corner, devoted to pandemic related news, info, humor, etc. If that's quite for you right now please feel free to skip past it down to your regularly scheduled programming, take care!

WesRecs is the weekly newsletter where I (comedian/storyteller/TV Host) Wes Hazard recommend a bunch of cool content (recs) to YOU (the person reading this). There's no particular reason for this other than the fact that I love curating stuff and I'm always excited to share items that I personally have found worthwhile, exciting, or necessary. If you like what you see please be sure to subscribe to get each week's edition delivered straight to your inbox and if you know someone else who might be into it definitely share with them. You can check out all past issues HERE.
COVID Corner
General News/Info

Random: I always do this on news pieces anyway but one thing that’s really gone into overdrive with me reading COVID related news this past month is immediately checking the date of publication on any given article that I come across. With the ground shifting so fast under us in response to this crisis something written even 7 days ago about prevention, or infection rates, or government response, or death tolls may as well be from 1920 in terms of relevance. Wild.

Just Be Kind to the People Who Ensure You Get to Eat - New York Magazine

Being able to stay home during this crisis while also having the disposable income to order non-essential Thai food and pizza delivery is a privilege. Please act right to those who are literally putting their lives on the line in order to bring you garlic bread and chicken wings. Part of that means tipping, like A LOT. Like 30% minimum.
"Not five days ago, I heard my neighbor — young, healthy — yell at a food delivery person she decided had gotten too close. “Stay back! Keep a six-foot distance!” she shouted, her voice shaking in panic. The delivery person, masked and gloved, jerked back. His eyes flashed with shock, and then darkened as he rode his bike away.
At the grocery store, I watched a cashier, helpless and weary, listen to a customer complain loudly that the store had not provided antibacterial wipes for those who wanted to clean their carts and baskets. In front of another grocer, a customer didn’t like having to wait to enter — a policy the store enacted to allow those inside to maintain a safe distance from one another. “You should be offering a discount for making us wait,” he told the employee stationed by the door. “I don’t have all day.”"
"Social psychologists agree that practicing empathy will help us through this. “What we call perspective-taking feeds into empathy,” Feldman Hall says. “When you think about the person who is delivering your food, who is out on the streets when no one else is, take a moment to consider what they’re going through, the risks they’re taking so you can get food or whatever you need, before reacting.”

 I’ve read the plans to reopen the economy. They’re scary. - Vox

So this is sobering. 4 think tanks/research centers with very different ideological orientations put out projections about what it will take to get US workers working again without a massive loss of life. None of the options look both great and realistic. A lot of people can die or the economy can tank beyond our wildest dreams or we can set up a strict electronic surveillance state to track movement/infections or we deploy quick and accurate testing at a rate that we are woefully unprepared to do. Damn.
"I thought, perhaps naively, that reading them would be a comfort — at least then I’d be able to imagine the path back to normal. But it wasn’t. In different ways, all these plans say the same thing: Even if you can imagine the herculean political, social, and economic changes necessary to manage our way through this crisis effectively, there is no normal for the foreseeable future. Until there’s a vaccine, the US either needs economically ruinous levels of social distancing, a digital surveillance state of shocking size and scope, or a mass testing apparatus of even more shocking size and intrusiveness."

"My point isn’t to criticize these plans when I have nothing better to offer. Indeed, my point isn’t to criticize them at all. It’s simply to note that these aren’t plans for returning to anything even approaching normal. They either envision life under a surveillance and testing state of dystopian (but perhaps necessary!) proportions, or they envision a long period of economic and public health pain, as we wrestle the disease down only to see it roar back, as seems to be happening in Singapore."

Coronavirus has shown us we were living in an economic fairy tale - The Globe And Mail

A sobering and damning assessment of what government and corporations are doing with your money as we speak. Well told via a parable of two men who take very different approaches to money, spending, credit, and responsibility from 2001 - 2008. A great read that still manages to be infuriating even though we all know well how this all plays out.

For Stand-up Comedy, the Pandemic’s Effects Have Just Begun - Vulture

I make my money mainly as a TV host (in front of a live audience), a standup comic & storyteller (in front of live audiences), and a background actor (on film/TV production sets that rarely have fewer than 50 people running around in close quarters sharing space and food and bathrooms). I have no idea what the future looks like for any of those things -- though I will say that the sacred tradition of a comedy show MC shaking the hand of each comic both as they bring them up to stage and go back up themselves after each set needs to be dead forever now.

Whatever happens I have utter faith that at some point in the medium to long term future there will be public opportunities for people to pay to sit (or stand) in a room wherein a series of other people will take turns standing in front of that room and attempt to make the paying people laugh using just their words and some amplification. What those people being paid to create the laughter will actually talk about??? I have no idea. Some, as some have always done, will not address what we're all collectively living through at all, in any way, not even allegorically. Some people need to hear pure escapism that allows them to jettison any thoughts of bills, health, civic unrest, war, injustice etc etc. And some comics work only in that mode. Not my bag, but fine. Some comics are going to jump right in, hashing out their loved ones that died, the failure of our federal response, the charlatans in the news, hookup culture in a post-COVID age, etc. But no one knows how the audience will take it, what the landscape will be. What the logistics and health concerns will be. How a crowd where everyone at least knows someone who knows someone who died is going to feel. Here Roy Wood Jr. offers some of his perspective.

"September 12th was, “Can I laugh?” Whereas now it’s, “Should I leave the house?” Do you understand what a cough would do to a comedy show right now? It’d be the same as a gunshot. So how do you tell jokes in an environment like that? The one thing I have stopped doing during the quarantine is I’ve stopped working on my stand-up. I’ve turned creatively to working on scripts, and there’s a book proposal that I want to get done. There’s a film I want to write. I think I’ll have more than enough time to get those things taken care of. But I have not looked at my material, because I don’t know what we’re going to be on the other side of this.

It sounds fucking crazy to say that I may have to drop my Kobe Bryant funeral stuff, and how that changed the country, in lieu of this. Because … talk about something that I thought affected us nationally and brought us together. I thought it was Kobe’s death. Wrong! I’ll see your Kobe and raise you a pandemic. Also, from an originality standpoint, I don’t want to just be onstage and go, “Kobe, Kobe, corona, corona, corona,” because I know every comedian out the gate’s gonna be firing that stuff. It’s gonna be like stand-up comedy in ’95 when O.J. beat the verdict — when O.J. beat the murder rap, and then every comedian had an O.J. joke. So I almost want to take a step back and just see where the dust settles in society and just kind of exist and live a little before trying to open up the joke book again. And at that time, hopefully some of the material I was working on in Pittsburgh will still have some legs. And if not, you know, it is what it is."

COVID Comedy
Things Read
Capitalism’s Favorite Drug: The dark history of how coffee took over the world - The Atlantic

So I haven't read this book, just the review of it seen here but damn if I'm not intrigued. This is a history of coffee (the second most traded commodity in the world after crude oil). From its discovery and introduction in the Arab world to its revolution-inducing sweep across Europe via coffee houses, to its establishment as a New World slave/cash crop, to it's foundational role in the modern business world. If you never read the book I still very much recommend this piece for the ridiculously interesting examples it provides of just how instrumental the most widely consumed drug on the planet is in maintaining what we think of as "The Modern World".
""Chattel slavery had provided a good answer for Brazil’s coffee farmers, but by the time Hill arrived in El Salvador, in 1889, slave labor was no longer an option. A smart and unsentimental businessman, Hill understood that he needed wage labor, lots of it, and as a son of the Manchester slums, he knew that the best answer to the question of what will make a person work was in fact simple: hunger.

There was only one problem. Rural Salvadorans, most of whom were Indians called “mozos,” weren’t hungry. Many of them farmed small plots of communally owned land on the volcano, some of the most fertile in the country. This would have to change if El Salvador was to have an export crop. So at the behest of the coffee planters and in the name of “development,” the government launched a program of land privatization, forcing the Indians to either move to more marginal lands or find work on the new coffee plantations."
"Near the end of Coffeeland, Sedgewick attempts to quantify exactly how much value a pound of coffee gives an employer (or, put another way, extracts from an employee), using Los Wigwam and Hill’s plantation as examples. He estimates that it takes 1.5 hours of Salvadoran labor to produce a pound of coffee. That’s enough to make 40 cups of coffee, or supply two coffee breaks for Wigwam’s 20 employees, which Greinetz calculated yielded the equivalent of 30 additional hours of labor. In other words, the six cents that Hill’s plantation paid for an hour and a half of labor in 1954 was transformed into $22.50 worth of value for Phil Greinetz, an alchemy that reflects both the remarkable properties of caffeine and the brute facts of exploitation."

He Made Brooklyn Comedy a Scene. But His Life Took a Different Turn. - The New York Times

The first time I ever ever ever did comedy was in 2003 in a cafeteria at Boston College. The less we say about it, the better, but it was, at minimum, a positive enough of an experience to keep me coming back. I have been doing comedy regularly (as in performing at least once a week with rare exception for times like hospital stays, out of state vacations, and global pandemics) since 2005. That was the year that a 3 CD / 1 DVD alternative comedy box set called "Invite Them Up" (titled after the East Village NYC weekly show where the material was recorded) dropped. Aside from David Cross, I didn't recognize the names of any of the people appearing on the box set back then such as Mike Birbiglia, Demetri Martin, Jon Glaser, Chelsea Peretti, Todd Barry, John Benjamin, Aziz Ansari, or Eugene Mirman but I'm sure you know most of them now because they're all talented and hilarious, and they've worked really hard in the last 15 years. Eugene Mirman is a big reason why a lot of them were able to get stage time to work with back in the day. He was/is instrumental in the NYC (and especially Brooklyn) alt comedy scenes and the impact of the rooms and comics he fostered (as well as the kind of comedy he personally created) is hard to overstate. I remember performing at the original location of The Comedy Studio in Cambridge, MA's Harvard square on weekends when Eugene was in town back in those days and all of us young comics being so eager to see him and what he would do. Man, those were some good times. Eugene started a self titled comedy festival, and did a lot of great comedy there and provided a lot of opportunities there, and he started a family, and he got on (and is still heard on) Bob's Burgers, and he moved back to Massachusetts and life has thrown a lot at him and this is a fantastic retrospective article about him and the new documentary out about Eugene Mirman and his festival, and I think you should read it and I can't wait to watch the doc.
Things Seen
"Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project" (2019) Dir. Matt Wolf
I had the opportunity to catch this incredible documentary at a screening back in January as the director was touring it around the country, I'm so glad that I did. It captures totally unique story about talented, dedicated, and difficult woman and it could not be more timely given what we're seeing played out in politics and the media right now.

Marion Stokes was an fiercely intelligent, socially engaged, proud, communist, and secretive woman with a wildly eccentric personality who happened to marry into money. That last part is important because it enabled her to embark on and sustain a project that would end up being her life's work: the 24/7 recording of every broadcast and cable news network available to her in Philadelphia, PA. She did this for over 30 years eventually requiring 9 separate apartments and 3 storage units just to accommodate all of the TVs, VCRs, and tapes.

Most people's reaction to hearing about her project is "what's the point? The networks do that themselves." But they don't. So much of her collection is already the only surviving recording of a given program making it invaluable. Aside from being a compulsive completist Stokes also believed that a project like this was necessary in order to hold those in power (and those tasked with covering them) to account (witness our current situation with a chief executive consistently making irresponsible and false claims only to assert a few weeks later that he said no such thing).

Aside from the singular nature of her project the documentary is also great for highlighting Stokes' incredibly complex personality. She knew exactly who she was, didn't suffer fools, and placed her politics and her recording project over all else...which caused no small amount of strain on her family relationships. I am so glad this woman lived and worked as she did and even happier that this documentary exists to show her to the world.
This is a pretty damned great example of how to adjust and make compelling art with a severely restricted palette.
With the exception of a brief dip back in the waters during my sophomore year in high school I haven't watched professional wrestling since I was a kid. Sidenote: This was somewhat of a professional liability as a standup comic who got started in Boston because the correlation between adult wrestling fans and male standups from Beantown is HIGH (but that's a different story). A few issues of WesRecs ago I included a story about how the WWE was adapting to the inability to have crowds at their shows in the COVID crisis by just doing their shows without crowds, which kind of turns things into a weird blackbox theater experiment. When I saw they were going ahead with Wrestlemania 36 in full no-crowd lockdown mode I got intrigued. I didn't buy the pay-per-view event on the Sunday it aired but the next day I went looking for footage of what it was actually like because I couldn't imagine how they'd do a full 3 hour show in a ring with no audience and manage to make it compelling.

This video unfortunately lacks actual footage from the event but the stills and commentary are incredibly intriguing. Yes, there was some standard ring stuff, but a fight also spilled into the offices and dressing rooms of the arena, one fight took place in a graveyard (or a set made to look like one), one match took place in a haunted fun house. Watching this I was like "HELL YEAH!! THIS IS WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. THIS IS HOW YOU ADJUST TO RIDICULOUS CONDITIONS & IMPEDIMENTS IN YOUR ART FORM!" Think about it, the WWE took a look at their product, recognized that so much of its appeal to fans and its inspiration for its performers comes from having a roaring live crowd of 20,000, recognized that wasn't going to be possible to replicate that under lockdown conditions, and then came up with creative ways to get around it while still maintaining its essence. Brilliant.

Comics should take note. If you're an artist you make art however you can. Can't get in front of a live audience during the pandemic??? OK, recognize that and don't just set up a mic and a stool in your living room and try to do a FaceBook live session to an unseen crowd like you're at a standard bar show on a Wednesday night. I know you miss the real deal, my body aches for it too, but at the moment it's a pipe dream so lean into the conditions you do have and work within those. Do a set from your bathtub, turn your joke into a short film, perform your material mute using just interpretive dance, whatever, just don't try and take something that works in normal conditions and shoehorn it into conditions that could not be less normal. The effort will push and challenge you and you might just see a side of your work that you never knew was there.
I was so happy to see this very necessary but often overlooked item on LinkedIn the other day. Black Illustrations is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Hi-res vector images of professional black people existing in the world. If you don't understand why things like this are so very needed I don't have the time to explain it to you here but trust me when I say projects like this are essential and long overdue.

To use the project's own words:

Black illustrations is a series of FREE digital designs of black people for your next online project. You can use these images in mobile apps, product launches, buyer personas, websites and more! 

Free for personal and commercial use.

Things Made
  • 10 Archaic Medical Terms from the Oxford English Dictionary That are Perfect for the COVID-19 Pandemic Illness on the mind, lots of free time, I love archives. Last week I shared the first half of 10-image series of collages I made combining obscure/archaic medical vocabulary from The Oxford English Dictionary and old public domain images. Here's the whole collection along with some helpful example sentences that you can use to start incorporating the these words into your daily life. They make great flashcards for the kids! Except for "elumbated" ...prob don't use that one with the kids.
  • Siren Diary Part II - Two issues of WesRecs ago I included a graphic detailing every instance of an emergency services siren that I'd heard in the previous week inside of my apartment in Bushwick Brooklyn. Here I'm including my second and last such graphic. Once again I’ll just say that this utterly un-scientific and no precise conclusions can be drawn from it (aside from perhaps the contours of my own insomnia). Anecdotally: sirens are the backing track to life in Brooklyn under lockdown. All day every day. For the sake of sanity and getting any kind of focus-oriented project done I stopped recording after midnight on 4/3, but I can now distinguish police vs. ambulance vs. fire without even having to think about it. This is a large image with a lot of text so the preview below is not great, use the link at the start of this entry to view.
Word of the Week
Legicide, n.
[ LEJ-ih-sahyd ]

Meaning: The action or an act of destroying or undermining the authority of the law; (also) the act of defeating or preventing the passage of a particular piece of legislation.

Origin: classical Latin lēgi-, alternative stem of lēx law (see legal adj.) + -cide comb. form2, originally after regicide n.2
Somebody Said This
“It confirmed my long-standing suspicion of my own body, which I always saw as ripe for malfunction, unreliable, with hidden glitches and snarls in its system. Think of all those moving parts, those liquids and gels, those miles of tubing and nervous circuitry. Think of the heart, which is hollow, or the paper-thin membrane of the eardrums. Everything inside us is fragile, treacherous, accident-prone. It’s a wonder we don’t all die sooner.”

-James Marcus Faint Music (Harvard Review)
Fun Facts
  • A single pound of honey is the lifetime work for about 768 bees, made up of visits to two million flowers. (Bonus Bee fact: Bees see different colors than us. Their three “primary colors” are blue, green, & ultraviolet. Red looks like black to them.)
  • The number of legal board positions in Go has been calculated to be approximately 2 × 10^170, which is vastly greater than the number of atoms in the universe, estimated to be about 10^80.
  • “1620” was not carved into Plymouth Rock until 1880
  • In the United States ransom paid in the event of a kidnapping is tax deductible.
  • The name for the flower variety “Orchid” is Ancient Greek ( ὄρχις) and translates literally to “testicle”.
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Copyright © 2020 Wes Hazard -- Comic. Poet. Performer., All rights reserved.

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