Whoa! I am blown away by this Norm MacDonald interview

I know that makes me sound like a dick, but for context: I was a teen in the 1990s, and so Norm MacDonald is sorta fixed in my head as a half-funny smirk standing off center in a scene framed around David Spade abusing Chris Farley.  It isn’t that I wrote him off—upon reflection, I just realized I never even evaluated what the dude was doing; the director, camera man, SNL staff, and guys I sat with at lunch wrote Norm off, and I took their word for it.

All that aside, this is a really, really fascinating interview.  Neat stuff about craft in here—which I’m always down for—but also a really nuanced view of art as a product of human interaction and actualization.

I was gonna write a book about how to be a stand-up without being funny, but I thought it would be too cynical. I really think I could write it though.

A manual for how to perform an impression of a stand-up comedian?

That’s exactly right. It was mostly about crowd control. If you’re not very good you have to deal with the audience a lot, so it was a lot about how to do that. Like, you can pick on one person in the audience, and then the rest of the audience gets on your side because they’re afraid of being picked on. It’s all the psychology of mobs. You can learn it. I’ll go to a club and suddenly the guy who was the bouncer last time I was there is a stand-up, because he’s been there, watching how it works. Even jokes, you can do them mathematically without having any inspiration.

How’s that work?

You just take a premise and instead of following it to its logical conclusion you follow it to its illogical conclusion by having a faulty premise to begin with.

It’s surprising that you ultimately decided against writing a book that would’ve suggested that your vocation, the field of your life’s work, can be an empty, soulless shell of an occupation.

Yeah, I also thought it would be too pompous. It’s nobody’s fault there aren’t more funny comedians. If I were an awful comedian, I’d probably still be drawn to doing it. I remember when I first came to Los Angeles, Jay Leno was there and at the time he was the king of all stand-ups. And one night, I had to follow him. I was thinking, My god, this is going to be the worst. But Jay told me it’s fine to follow a good comedian. You just don’t want to follow a bad comedian. Or a filthy comic. They pull the audience down. It’s hard to go on after a filthy comic with, “What about Raisin Bran? Doesn’t everyone know how big a scoop is?”

and

Are you following the Kathy Griffin stuff at all?

What she did was grotesque. Disgusting. It shows how isolated everyone is. I was golfing last week and I told the guy I was golfing with, “It’s getting pretty crazy. I heard someone say they’re trying to ‘humanize’ Trump. Well, he is human.” And this guy goes, “Well, barely.” Jesus Christ. But Kathy Griffin went about as far as you can go. It’s like she had no sense of the history of that kind of image.

It’s hard to understand how someone didn’t say to her or the photographer, “Maybe let’s dial this down from an eleven to about a seven.”

The photographer, her manager, her agent, the person who made the severed head—no one said, eeeh. And I hate the immediate apology. Why are you apologizing? You apologize and then everyone just accepts that the apology is genuine.

What’s wrong with apologizing?

If it had gone over good she wouldn’t be apologizing for it. She’s only apologizing for the result and what it might mean for her career. It’s like when a guy like Anthony Weiner says, “I’m sorry. I made a terrible decision.” A decision? You had a pros-and-cons list about texting with that 15-year-old? The action wasn’t the result of a real decision.

Do go and read the whole thing. It is worth your time today.

Need Help Building your Daily Writing Ritual?

Just a quick one:  For folks who are having trouble with writer’s block (either in their professional or creative work), I’ve put together this little week-long clinic.  Totally free, no strings attached.  My gift to you.  Check it out:

Clearflow Creative Writing Clinic

FREE READ: “The Lure of Lake 19” by David Erik Nelson

My horror short, “The Lure of Lake 19,” is up and free to read over at Evil Girlfriend Media’s Speculate! webzine.  This year’s theme is Curiosity Killed the Cat—’cause ain’t that the truth.

The story starts like this

Tate didn’t like how the kid was acting. The teenaged male in the second-hand cruiser’s back seat—who could produce no ID,10LureOfLake19a-300x200 but had given the moderately improbable name of “Jamal Kartazian”—was far too compliant. As a rule, kids like this—scrawny white boys with lumpy dreadlocks and grimy hoodies—were a spewing font of the Three Bs: bravado, back-peddling, and begging.

But not this kid. Jamal Kartazian was cool and collected; he almost seemed satisfied to find himself locked in the back of a cop car. And, in contrast to every other kid Tate had ever busted in his short two-act career as first a cop and then a rent-a-cop, this kid was actually asking to be “hauled back to the station.”

. . . and goes downhill from there:  “The Lure of Lake 19” by David Erik Nelson

Enjoy!

So You Need to Use a Comma

People freak out about commas.  Please don’t. Yes, commas are hella confusing (the Chicago Manual of Style dedicates 59 distinct sub-sections to them, and even then there is ambiguity and opinion and wiggle room leftover), but knowing these four little things will almost entirely solve your comma problems.

1. The “Oxford”/”serial” Comma

This is technically the “list” comma: When you give a list, you put commas between individual items.  E.g.,:

Go to the store and get eggs, pineapple, a ’57 Chevy, and enlightenment.

N.B. that the last comma (which I’ve put in red) is disputed; that lil fella is an “Oxford comma”.  Some folks say it’s unnecessary (including, at least at one time, the AP Style Guide), preferring:

Go to the store and get eggs, pineapple, a ’57 Chevy and enlightenment.

But this can lead to hilarious ambiguity, such as this oft-quoted (and probably apocryphal) book dedication sorely in need of an Oxford comma:

This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God

—or this actual and verified sentence published in the Times of London a few years back:

Nelson Mandela was a highly accomplished man.
Nelson Mandela was a highly accomplished man.

FYI, serial commas apply to lists of adjectives, too:

You mean that fat, red, flabby car?  It’s mine.  Why?

2. The “if, then” Comma

“If . . ., then . . .” statements need commas:

If you don’t cut it the fuck out, then I’m going to freak the fuck out.

Where this one tricks people is that we often omit the then in an “if, then” statement—nonetheless, we still need the comma:

If you don’t cut it the fuck out, I’m going to freak the fuck out.

3. “That/which” commas

Rule of Thumb: “that” is almost never preceded  by a comma, while a standalone “which” is almost always preceded by a comma:

You know that dog I hired?  Turns out he has no idea how to use Excel, which is super annoying.

(So what is a non-standalone “which”?  “Which” used in a phrase like “that which” or “in which”—in those cases, you don’t stick a comma before the “which,” because that would muck up the phrase.)

4. Commas by Ear

There are a ton of other commas (“parenthetical commas,” “conjunction commas,” “direct address commas,” etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam)—fortunately, there’s an easy way to figure out where to put them without learning a ton of new rules. Here’s the trick:

Commas indicate places where you take a brief pause when saying something.

So, there’s a really easy way to get your commas right most of the time:

Read it aloud; if there’s a place where you naturally take a half-pause or shift volume, then stick a comma there. If you don’t pause, then strike the comma—unless it’s one of the three situations listed above.  

For example, say:

Dave <pause> why did you say that?

That pause is the direct address comma:

Davewhy did you say that?

Or try:

Did you know that Nate <pause> the terrible drunk in my carpool <pause> is marrying my sister?

That’s the parenthetical comma:

Did you know that Nate, the terrible drunk in my carpool, is marrying my sister?

This fourth rule is the golden rule, since most of the first three types of commas are also marked in speech by a pause or volume/tone shift—but sometimes those commas can be subtle to the ear, which is why it’s worth knowing the first three rules. Rule #4 will keep you covered 90% of the time, while Rules #1–3 will help you catch the tricky 10%  

We’re done here. Go forth, my children, and sin no more.

(Want more details?  Start with the Purdue Owl on Commas, and then move on to the Chicago Manual of Style, if need be.)

My novelette “The Traveling Salesman Solution” is now available on Kindle! #FridayReads

Read the tale that David Gerrold (the guy who invented Tribbles!) called “a very disturbing story”!

In “The Traveling Salesman Solution” a wheelchair-bound veteran of the “War on Terror”—now working in the IT department of a Big Ten university—starts investigating suspicious marathon results, and ends up face-to-face with an absolutely chilling mathematical conundrum.

My 2016 Novella is a Finalist for the Asimov’s Award—and you can read it FREE!

My latest novella—”Where There is Nothing, There is God”—is a Finalist for the this year’s Asimov’s Award.  Asimov’s has posted all of the finalists for free download; nab ’em and read up!  (HOT TIP: Karl Bunker’s “They Have All One Breath” is an especially worthy read.)

Here’s a direct link to the PDF of “Where There is Nothing, There is God”

FYI: This novella is a standalone, and there are two other standalone stories set in this universe (both have appeared in Asimov’s, and one won the 2013 Asimov’s Award). Check ’em out:


I’ll Be at the Michigan Writing Workshop on March 25!

Just a quick note: I’m on the faculty of the Michigan Writing Workshop this year, doing fantasy and science fiction critiques (I still have a few open slots, they tell me).   Lots of interesting speakers this year (I’m especially hoping to drop in on D.E. Johnson’s thriller/mystery/crime writing sessions; I dug his book The Detroit Electric Scheme).

Check out my new novella, “Where There Is Nothing, There Is God” in ASIMOV’S!

My latest Time Portal novella— “Where There Is Nothing, There Is God” —is in the current issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, on news stands now! (Most Barnes & Noble locations stock it, as do many indie bookshops).

Our blockbuster December 2016 novella, “Where There Is ASIMOV'S Dec 2016Nothing, There Is God” by David Erik Nelson, is a rollicking Time Portal tale. It’s filled with a cast of unsavory characters who operate as though Cotton Mather’s favorite TV show was Breaking Bad. In this vastly entertaining story, it’s hard to know whom to root for so just make sure your inertia dampening system is on and enjoy the ride!

The other two stories in the series— “The New Guys Always Work Overtime” and “There Was No Sound of Thunder” —can be purchased for Kindle (click those links), or you can get that first story in many DRM-free formats for free(!!!) when you sign up for my newsletter using this link:

http://www.davideriknelson.com/NewGuys/