A Talk Show Disaster

My days are filled with the sensation that I am always five minutes away from a terrible mistake.

* * * *
The UG! Quarantine Show is one of NYC-based actor/director/stand-up Todd Montesi’s many, many ongoing projects. Live on Instagram, he and his fellow stand-ups discuss life and comedy in our pandemic era. He won me as a fan just because he pronounces the name of the show as it is written: “Ugh! Quarantine,” and not as I had pronounced it in my head when I first saw it: “U. G. Quarantine,” like the name of a long-ago college president.

He also sometimes says, “U. G.,” but it is his show, so he can.

In May, I started to work with a friend, Meghan Jenkins, an actor/comedian/director/creator/writer whose work and personality have started to attract notice from those whose notice might be desired. I assisted others more talented than I am in some of the work required to launch her website, and she has allowed me to publish a couple articles for her there. She also asked me to contribute a monologue to be read each week on her online improv comedy show, The The Ding Wrong Show.

My friend, Ms. Jenkins, landed an appearance on the UG! Quarantine show on October 10, and, not to get all show-bizzy on you, she slayed, as anyone who knows her might expect she would. (Video after the fold.) What was unexpected by your correspondent—me—was the fact that she spoke my name at all during her appearance, more than once. To judge from her discussion, one could be forgiven to think that I might be an individual worth an interview. Thus, I made my own appearance on Mr. Montesi’s program on October 12, and based on the video, it is clear that I am not that individual. (Shakes head vigorously, like a restaurant patron with regrets about that request for “extra parmesan.”)

Here is Ms. Jenkins’ appearance on the UG! Quarantine of October 10 (she makes her appearance at 8:09 into the show):

She did great, even with some unexpected questions from the show’s other guests and heckles from the show’s online viewers (more about that later), because she is an individual whose extensive skill set includes an ability to provide—live and on camera—creative thoughts and amusing talk. It is a comedy show made by and for comedians, after all, and she is a comedy creator. We have not yet met in person, Ms. Jenkins and I, and it may be that she is more comfortable and at home on-camera than in-person. There are many individuals who are like that, but not all of them discover this about themselves.

Myself, I am uncomfortable in person, on camera, in front of crowds, alone in a small room, really, anywhere. My days are filled with the sensation that I am always five minutes away from a terrible mistake. I am more at ease with myself today than I ever have been, but that is not at all the same thing as a life spent at ease.

On October 12, I followed two splendid standup comedians, Brian Rabadeau and Gianmarco Soresi (his is the face in the photo below). My twenty minutes on the show must have made for such a train wreck of the uninteresting and non-entertaining variety that Mr. Montesi does not appear to have uploaded the full show to his Instagram page. A slideshow is all that has been preserved:

A personal friend of mine told me after the show that I had been (her word) “amazing,” which is a word that is employed to describe a wide range of human achievements, from the successful rescue of a kitten in a tree to the collection of awkward twitches and empty-brain pauses I foisted on the world that night. On demand and on-camera. My respect for Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Montesi and the world of performers was already quite elevated, but I am grateful that I was allowed to experience an appearance on a show from the inside for myself. My respect is deeper now.

Here’s the funny thing: for the last six months, much of my life has been spent in conversations on camera, because webcam meetings have filled 2020 for me as it has for many of us. Further, much of my life has been spent in front of audiences, from theater in high school, to college lectures, to a music performance in a coffeeshop (I do not play an instrument), to recovery meetings, to radio. I have interviewed individuals, some of them hostile to me—somewhere there must be a tape of the Sullivan County, NY, district attorney screaming on the phone at me about an article I’d written—and I have been interviewed on podcasts, but only about specific topics about which I possessed some information. I write and publish, often about my personal life, and sometimes about things that a younger version of me might have continued to keep secret.

So what exactly misfired in my brain on October 12? One, it was not on Zoom or Skype or other any other platform that would utilize my webcam; as a facially unattractive man, I confess that I have spent some time on webcam in a search for the one-degree range of motion available in which I look acceptable as a human. Mr. Montesi’s show is on Instagram Live and thus on one’s smartphone, and, as a further thus, way too close to the general region of my face. And then, the moment my phone camera went live for the interview, I could not see myself, so my sense of that one-degree acceptable angle was lost for all time.

I stated at the start that I have never done anything like this before and that the reason for my appearance was to talk of how proud I am to have the chance to do some work with Meghan Jenkins as her career takes off. Before the show started, I guess I thought that those two statements would occupy my full twenty minutes, but if you take the time to re-read the previous sentence (go ahead, I’ll wait here), you might notice that it does not. I was left with nothing more compelling than my own mind, and if you have read this column all the way to this point, you are aware that there is little in this world less compelling than that.

Twenty minutes of hems and haws ensued, as if I was my nine-year-old self asked to explain how he ripped his dress slacks. (A true story. With an hour to kill before a drive to my grandparents’ home, I went for a walk in the woods out back and slid down a hill that I had to that point never fallen down.)

For a man who can write about his life experiences with candor and speak about himself quite openly and thinks about himself to the exclusion of almost any other thoughts, as it turns out there is nothing that can freeze me quite like a personal question on-camera. To the question, “How long have you been writing,” I think I responded with what time I had published an article that day and how many hours ago that was. Poor Todd Montesi.

Last, because this show was on Instagram Live, one can see the names of those who have checked in to watch, and the viewers can comment. It is a comedy show, so the comments are the typed version of heckling. You might want to comment on this column as you read it, but you will not be able to do so until after I have finished it (not yet), proofread it, picked an image for it, and published it. Not one heckler or critic sits beside me right now with critical comments while I make my way through the brambles of my thoughts, no matter how many memories of critical teachers or county D.A.s may pop up as a bramble. For a writer accustomed to praise, to see a sentence appear about how twitchy I appeared to be, which someone offered as a comment, was a sufficient distraction to make me even more twitchy.

If I am ever asked to appear on the UG! Quarantine Show or any other—and this column is written in part to dissuade anyone from the thought that they might want to invite me—at least I know better how to present myself and to stick to the topic, which will likely only be how proud I am to work a little bit with Meghan Jenkins and isn’t she great?

* * * *
You will encounter Todd Montesi’s name more often in the future. Born and raised in New York City, Todd Montesi is a stand-up who is on many comedy-watchers’ short-list of comedians who are about to become a huge deal. It is also obvious to onlookers that he insists on doing it his own way by following a vision and a comedic voice that is purely his own creation and he invites fellow comics who share that vision to join him. He has launched several sit-coms on YouTube, and one can see him grow as a filmmaker as well as a comedian: in one episode of PN & Friends, I noticed use of a mirror in shots that one would never find in a standard TV sit-com but will be of use as he continues to make films, either comic or dramatic.

Earlier this year, PN & Friends attracted attention as it landed former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci in a cameo recorded on Cameo. It was a goofy and hilarious surprise to see, but it was true to the episode, which made it less of a SNL-style, headline-grabbing bit of casting than was reported in the media at the time.

Montesi was also seen in comedian Pete Holmes’ HBO series Crashing, co-produced by Judd Apatow.

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