I am old, I am old. I shall wear my trousers rolled. At 36, I’m a good two years out of the demographic sweet spot, and if people aren’t trying to sell you things, there’s a reason why. It’s all downhill from here. Besides, times are hard, and the nightlife is expensive. Better to just settle in with the laptop, fire up Hulu, and get comfy while I wait for the Reaper.
Get out of the house, says The Voice. Do not go gentle into that good night. Do you expect me to believe that you can’t find a life without paying a cover charge. You sorry sack of…
Okay, okay, fine. I’m going. But where? If only there were some sort of guide, some
list of (free) events around San Diego.
Well now, lookie here — a newspaper! The San Diego Reader…
SUNDAY, MAY 17
“ ‘Do You Believe in Gosh?’ Allison Gill performs Mitch Hedberg’s final album in tribute to the late comedian, 8:00 p.m., Blarney Stone Pub, Clairemont. Admission: Free.”
“Blarney Stone,” reads the caption below an image of the storefront hanging to the left of the pub’s tiny stage. A huge, creamy-white certificate hangs to the left of the tiny stage inside the Blarney Stone, looking for all the world like an oversized diploma. A photo of the storefront adorns the center of the certificate; the caption below reads, “Blarney Stone: 5817 Balboa, San Diego, California. Established in 1978. A Bass Certified Proper Pint Establishment.” Looking around at the low, rough-hewn rafters and the proliferation of proper tables, you can almost accept the designation and all it implies — almost forget that you are at the far end of a monster strip mall in a part of America that can lay little claim to the whole Irish in America experience. But then, there are reminders: the flat-screen TV hung on top of the mural depicting a pub fireplace, the paper shamrocks adorning the rafters, and the douchebags.
Well, that’s maybe a little harsh. But there’s something about the young guy sitting at my table — maybe it’s his shiny button-down shirt, the sleeves rolled smugly all the way up above the elbows; maybe it’s his agitated “I heart Red Bull” demeanor, maybe it’s the way he’s saving places for his friends with a cell phone, keys, and a pack of cigarettes — that rubs me the wrong way. Because I’m old and grumpy. Mind you, not as old and grumpy as Crazy Old Guy over at the next table — you know, the one with the standard-military-issue eyeglasses and the haircut that reduces his graying patch to a kind of hair-beanie. Even when he’s happy, buttonholing a nearby listener with his latest observation, he still sounds aggravated.
But enough about them. They are just two, and the bar is full and loud and happy, and here comes Ms. Gill, slouching up to the stage in a flannel shirt, boy jeans, glasses, and New Balance sneakers (you must not forget the sneakers, O Best Beloved). Her breasts are bound up with an Ace bandage — though that won’t become clear until later, when she returns to the stage holding it aloft and expressing gratitude for her newly regained freedom. She pushes her hair back out of her face in an appropriately dudelike fashion and gives a brief disclaimer in a whiskey-rich voice:
“Mitch recorded this record about three months before he died. A lot of the jokes I’m about to tell are kind of unfinished — he was working them out, trying new material on the crowd. Keep that in mind when you’re listening — you can almost hear how the jokes would have turned out had he not done a bunch of heroin that night in March. I love him, and this is for him.” With that, she slips into character and gives us a taste of Mitch working out his act: “I was at the DC Improv, and they used my name for all sorts of shit, and it was embarrassing…they were, like, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please do not yell out Mitch’s jokes during the performance,’ because I guess one time this guy yelled out my joke and he was too drunk so I got mad and it’s like…I don’t know, that shit’s funny. It’s f*in’ hilarious — trust me. Go into my head and come back out and tell me I’m wrong.”
(It’s a good save — by the end, the crowd is back on his side. And what do you know — my shiny-shirted friend is such a fan that I catch him delivering punch lines right along with Gill — almost like the joke. Better still, one of his friends is so deep into his iPhone that he can’t bear to put it down during the performance, and Crazy Old Guy is so annoyed by the phone’s glow that he storms off, muttering, “There’s one in every crowd.” Shiny-shirt and his buds will later conclude that the old man is an asshole.)
I listened to Hedberg’s “Do You Believe in Gosh” on YouTube before heading out to the show, and hearing Gill now, I am suitably impressed with her impersonation of the man. A lot of Hedberg’s charm comes from his inflection — simultaneously enthused and bemused, friendly and yet tending to trail off inwardly, as if he’s considering what he’s just said. Gill nails it. “I taught myself how to play guitar, and that was a stupid decision, because I did not know how to play. I was a shitty teacher. I would never have went to me.”
That’s a mid-length joke; many are much shorter. “I’m wearing New Balance shoes, but they’re old, so I might start falling.” (See, I told you not to forget the sneakers, Best Beloved. Gill did her homework.) Occasionally, (s)he’ll bust out an actual story. “I was watching TV and there was a show about a lady who was born without arms — like, literally, she was born with her hands attached to her shoulders. And it was, like, that’s sad, but they were, like, ‘This woman doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “can’t,” ’ and to me, that’s actually kind of worse in a way. Not only does she not have arms, she does not understand simple contractions. It’s very simple, Lola: you take two words and put them together, take out the middle letter, put a comma in there and raise it UP!” This works on so many levels, partly because Hedberg himself never used contractions when he spoke.