Esteban Writes from San Francisco


Hang on tight, we got a long one here. I’m currently in Duluth, MN, after a couple of days of free camping, but this one will focus on my last week’s trip to San Francisco. Lots of thing to cover, so sorry for the length. I’ve already cut this in half, so thank me later.

Dear old lady, please don’t die

Halfway through the flight from Minneapolis to San Francisco a lady 3 rows in front of me is suddenly carried out of her seat, passed out. There’s noise and commotion, and the flight attendants come through the intercom to ask for a doctor. Two of them run to her and lay her down in the aisle. I can’t see anything but the attendants’ faces, who are running back and forth, bringing aid kits, blankets from the back of the plane. Suddenly someone is preparing a syringe, a passenger is instructed to hold an IV, and the doctor is reading the instructions on a defibrillator. I have no idea how serious the emergency is, but it feels like it prolongs for hours. It reminds me of that man that almost died during a comedy show I did once with Judd Apatow.
The rest of the plane was in complete silence. What are we to do? Are we to ignore the problem and go back to “Marley and Me” or whatever? Is it intrusive to ask the flight attendant how she is doing? Complicit in our inability and our incapacity to act, we just wait there, hoping for an opportunity to get some information, or to help in some way. Then, it happens. The flight attendant brings some sort of emergency communication headphones with double jacks that connect to two emergency input plugs that are right above my head. The passenger in the isle untangles the chord. I hold the input covers open, and the passenger in the middle seat plugs them in. Together we are “Row 27,” a perfectly efficient team of superheroes.
“Yeah, these headphones are not working here,” says the attendant. “I’ll use the plug in the back.”
By the time 24B proposes to plug them again she’s already near the 40s.
“It’s ok, 24B,” I tell him, with my hand on his shoulder, “It’s ok.” But deep down inside I know. Row 27 is no more.
We do an emergency landing in Denver and paramedics rush in and take her. I never see her face or understand her condition. All I know is she’s still alive, and based on the calm demeanor of the doctors, the paramedics, and her family I assume she’s ok.
All of them, along with the flight attendants and the four passengers around her that helped, get an applause. Row 27 does not, but that’s ok. “Good deeds must be done in the shadows,” I whisper to them, while we clap as if we were nothing but regular passengers…

San Francisco
Getting a city’s first impression from their subway always feels like a Christmas gift. You ascend the stairs in darkness and suddenly the city hits you in the face. You’re never sure what to expect. I got out of the BART system in the downtown area, and saw the Civic Center, which was closed and fenced for some kind of event. It was like that holiday I got a remote-control robot that didn’t include batteries. I just sat and stared at it. I hate private events in closed public spaces. It should not be allowed to have a few profiting from what’s supposedly for everyone. Oh, is that Clusterfest? The thing I’m profiting from? Oh, okay, carry on.
I feel a bit saddened by this city. It’s beautiful and I love how it shows the possibility of multi-cultural communities, but it’s also a city that seems to exemplify the wild contrast brought by late stage capitalism. The homeless population, the lack of attention to mental health, and the drug epidemic issues contrast with beautiful renovated Victorian spaces occupied by tech millennials who’s work websites probably describe ingenious apps that will save the world. The streets of Haight-Ashbury and the hippie movement sometime feels reduced to a business opportunity, and the ideals of those times seem a bit lost behind the superficial aesthetic of tie-dye t-shirts and the smell of weed and incense. Still, the powerful presence of the LGBTQ community and the openly progressive spirit of the city filled me with joy. I’ve never had so many people pronouncing my name right!
I got an Airbnb near Golden Gate park, in a quiet neighborhood that had amazing vegan food and a quiet vibe. In a coffee shop a Latina woman greeted me in Spanish. This is a really exciting event that happens from time to time, when two Spanish-speaking latinos just jump at it. Then two, three other clients came in, all “gringos.” Turns out, she just greets everyone in Spanish, and everyone who goes there tries to engage in Spanish. As a Spanish teacher who supports bilingualism, it was beautiful, but also it meant it wasn’t something particular about me. Damn, Norma, I thought we shared something.
I took a table outside, next to a pretty interesting group. I know this sounds like a joke, or the start of a riddle in a multi-cultural production of a Greek tragedy, but all of this happened, more or less. There were three people: a Latina woman, a Black woman, and a White woman. They were switching between languages: English, Spanish, and some French.  They had three dogs: a black, big dog, a brown fluffy one, and a small, white one. The dogs were named Tsuki, Coco, and Pearl. Dogs, languages, names, and people didn’t quite correlate to one another.
As they were leaving they passed by my table and I just had to say hi to the dogs. They immediately took this as an opportunity to settle some sort of long-held controversy as they all stood in front of me and immediately asked me which dog I liked the most. The dogs, as if trained, sat down expectantly. It was like Paris and the Golden Apple. I politely told them it was against my principles to show any kind of preference for any dog, as they were all beautiful creatures who…
“You MUST choose” They said, all six of them, interrupting me in unison.
“Oh, Ok. In that case I gotta go with Tsuki.”
Tsuki and his owner were incredibly excited about this. According to the myth they will live forever. All other 4 immediately became constellations.
What Pearl and Coco didn’t know is while shaking his leg Tsuki slipped me a $20.
He didn’t need to. He was truly a beautiful dog. Don’t tell Zeus.

I don’t know how I got to this festival, but there I was, mingling around green rooms with Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Adam Scott, Todd Barry, Chad Daniels, Rory Scovel, Tig Notaro…
On Saturday, perhaps too confident, I decided not to worry too much about my set. I walked through the city and got to the venue all sweaty. They took us all through make-up and hair, and we were invited to record a small interview for a podcast, and to do some promo stuff for Comedy Central’s Instagram page. I grabbed a drink backstage and waited for my set, feeling relaxed and excited, chatting with other comics and trying not to think much of it. I wasn’t nervous at all until my name got called and I jumped on stage.
I had two options on how to approach this set: I could memorize it word by word, hitting “play” in my mind, and having a precise, safe set, or I could go out there and feel the room a bit, being a bit loose, and take my chances. I felt confident enough to do the latter and regretted it the minute I walked on stage. The result was that I doubted my self for a second and made a couple of mistakes. I was a bit nervous to start, and at one point I blanked. “Great, I forgot my next joke,” I told the audience. “Seems like a good thing to do in a big show.” Got some laughs and kept going. At the end I felt disappointed. I had recorded my set but didn’t dare to listen to it. In my mind it was a bad set. Comics and producers around me congratulated me, but you can’t trust them! David Koechner was particularly supportive. It wasn’t until I headed out to the streets and heard strangers complimenting me that I started feeling better.
I listened to the recording on Tuesday, and it was way better than I expected. At least I won’t be ashamed of it when it comes out.

The Punchline and Pringles
On Sunday I did a set at a small theater downtown. After my set some comics invited me to The Punchline, a famous club that has a locals night on Sundays. In order to work at the club, locals need to come every Sunday for a year, and then at some point they get one shot to perform. They don’t know what week, they don’t know the line up. The booker feels the room out and approaches the comics, who are all lined up at the sides like wrestlers waiting for the tag, and says “you’re next.” And then you barely have time to put your thoughts together and perform 5 or so minutes after a year of waiting,
This booker seemed annoyed to meet me, and when I asked for the possibility of doing a set he dismissed me. “You are welcome to stay and watch,” he said. So I sat down in a table in the back and saw some great locals and other beginners who’s bad sets probably denied them the opportunity to do another one in a long while. The room’s energy switched from relaxed to tense depending on the stakes and ability of each of them. Then the booker tapped me on the shoulder. “You can go up next. You have 5 minutes, you get a light at 4.” I played it safe and had a great set. At the end of the night I hung out with the locals and heard about their efforts to save the club, which is closing its location soon. Hopefully they get to save it. But at least I was glad I got to do a set there before it happens.

I stayed in San Francisco two more days to film an ad for Pringles through Comedy Central. They put me up in a nice hotel. “Welcome, Esteban,” the woman at the desk told me when I checked in. “We have a King-Size bed waiting for you!” I responded that it was perfect as that is the bed size I relate with the most.
On Tuesday I got an early pick up at the hotel, and spent six hours riffing jokes about potato chips. In the corner of the set two guys handled cans of pringles like nuclear scientists handling plutonium. Blue rubber gloves and intense precision. They were stacking them perfectly and determining which ones were the best looking ones to be featured in the ad. After their decision they handed a beautiful, idyllic chip to one of the other comics, who, after a failed first take, instinctively ate it in one single bite. The sound of that chip crunching in his teeth made the Pringles scientists drop to the floor and scream “THE HUMANITY!” It was fun.
Most of the content we filmed was improvised, but in one of the takes I was to react to some jalapeño heat in the chips, so when I took a bite I reacted as I thought people who can’t handle heat react to hot chips. ¨
“Cut!” said the director. “Esteban, let’s try that again but this time pretend you’re eating a hot chip and not like you are struck by lighting while having a stroke.” So bad news, you won’t get to see my beautiful hot chip performance, which I expected would get me an Oscar. They do have an Oscar category for “Best performance in snack/beverage commercial” right?
I went back to the hotel and met with Sara, a friend from Madison, at a small sushi restaurant for dinner. She’s probably still there, waiting for her miso soup to arrive. Then back to my ride, to two planes, three airports, transported back to my reality. It was all really exciting and new and fresh, but nothing felt as exciting as seeing my entire house, all of my belongings, and my favorite celebrity, Autumn, pulling over the small, non-busy street around the Marquette airport.
I’m back to reality, and it feels good.

Subscribe to my newsletter!

Esteban Writes from the Mackinac Bridge

Esteban Writes from Somewhere

Last week felt like our trip had not officially started, as we were been waiting for our final piece of equipment to arrive.  Which means we were going around in circles around West Michigan, waiting for it to arrive. It’s a solar panel! And we think it has enough wattage to give us sustainable power through several days of off-the-grid camping. Our trip is in a big part motivated by sustainability, so we’re excited to use it. 
While waiting, we decided to spend the weekend at Silver Lake Dunes, as my father-in-law has a cottage there. Most of Autumn’s family came, including Felton, my brother-in-law’s dog, who baptized the place by running out of the car, right into the central part of the living room, and taking a shit in front of everyone. Yeah, Felton is a… special dog.
On saturday we left our camper there and drove back to Muskegon, to meet with two of our closest friends, Beth & David, who were on their way back to Wisconsin via Lake Michigan ferry. We had dinner at a place that had an “award winning” soup. Just like that, in quotation marks. The soup was basically liquified cheddar, and it was “good.” We then walked through Pere Marquette park, a beautiful beach on the lake. We hadn’t seen each other in a while but it was as if no days had pass. I’ve grown to love them in a special way, as their relationship, their curiosity, and their itinerant life reminds me of ourselves.
“Special things happen when we’re together,” I say as we watch the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. What a cliché, to feel emotional over a sunset, but what can I tell you, it was a pretty good one. Now I’m convinced I’m not the kind of person that would cry over a sunset, and I didn’t. But I could have if I would’ve allowed it.
We head back to Silver lake, and on Sunday we walked in the dunes. Several sand dunes surround Lake Michigan and Silver lake, and it’s such a powerful landscape. While walking there I told my niece Hannah, queen of the eye-roll, about the Star Wars composer who came to Silver Lake, and it was here where he felt inspired to write the Darth Vader theme song.
She knew it was a set up so she just looked at me, already annoyed.
“Yeah, apparently he pointed at the landscape and went ‘dune, dune, dune, dune-dune-dune, dune-dune-dune!'”
Both Autumn and her were not impressed with my ¨award winning” comedy.

Then we headed out to Manistee National Forest, and arrived at Condon lake, a small camping site where we camped for free. And this was a big part of our plan: to live in shared land they belongs to you, me, and Woody Guthrie. That night I finally reorganized the car while Aut prepared dinner. When she called me in we set a table with spaghetti, a side salad, and wine, and that tiny table in the middle of the silence of an isolated forest was suddenly home. That dinner was more powerful than a sunset, apparently, because I cried.  

Not everything is overwhelming beauty. A couple days later we slept in the parking lot of Camping World, an RV store by the side of an intersection in a town called Houghton Lake. Instead of birds chirping we were woken up by a delivery truck backing up right next to us at 7 am. That morning, in the store lounge, we had a conversation with an older couple from Alabama, who after a friendly introductory chat asked me if I was illegal. She made some pretty strong comments about immigration. My first instinct was to respond aggressively, and show how upset I was. But this woman was legitimately curious about my opinion so I calmly expressed the importance of immigration, and when she talked about assimilation and people speaking English I talked about the multicultural background of the people that have been living there long before the United States was founded. “That’s a good perspective” she said, and while I doubt 15 minutes of conversation in the lounge of Camping World of Houghton Lake was enough to make her go back to Alabama to let all friends and family know how mistaken they are, I felt proud to have had a conversation that may have helped someone understand a new point of view. Whenever I think of people like her, hardcore conservatives with deep held beliefs against immigration, I try to remember that for the most part there’s no ill will in them. The majority of them are not intrinsically hateful. We just live in different realities, and the moral convictions that were imposed onto her are different than the ones that were imposed on me. Their isolation from urban areas with more immigration limits their understanding of other spaces, and it’s good to have opportunities to share experiences with others. Reaching out to the other side with empathy and compassion is the only way to build a healthy society. Hard to do it though, as sometimes with those comments my mind just wants to go to the dark side (queue the Darth Vader dune song).

We then spent two days in Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Forest, where the weather was rainy. Which meant spending a lot of time together in our little house. We made it work by pretending we live in a normally sized apartment, so when I needed something I would yell to the other side of the house. We had an awesome hike through the woods that lead to a dramatic view of lake Michigan. Aut saw a really cool bird and got so excited she hurt my arm.
Yesterday we had dinner at Petoskey, an artsy, touristy little town, where we splurged with dinner, a brewery visit, and incredible gelato. And then slept in another parking lot, this time in a casino.
We have crossed the Mackinaw bridge today, so we’re officially in Michigan’s UP! Next week we’re taking a break while I fly to San Francisco for 5 days, because I got a couple of gigs with a company called “Comedy Central”? Never heard of it. I should be writing for these gigs, but haven’t had much time. My mind is focused on this trip!

Up next:
Saint Ignace
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Marquette, MI
And San Francisco!

If you want pics, follow me on Facebook or Instagram.
If you want, reply to the letter and let me know if you have questions, comments, or insults. Thanks for reading this. Love you all!


Esteban Writes from Central Michigan

Esteban Writes from Somewhere

Hey, welcome to my newsletter! Thanks for trusting me with your email address. Expect updates from places I’m visiting, profiles of people I’ll meet on the road, and lots of lots of spam, as I’ll be selling your personal information to the highest bidder.
Last weekend we had to fit everything we decided to keep in a Toyota Highlander, which was not an easy task. So I would like to take a moment to thank the people that stopped at our garage sale, the St. Vinnies thrift shop for being located so close to our house, and my younger self for all those years of Tetris. I don’t know if there’s something deep in our primal instincts but packing that car made me feel like the monkey that throws the bone at the end of the first act of 2001:A Space Odyssey (except the bone was packed under the seat along with the toolbox).
We left Madison on Sunday, after paying tribute to the city that saw us change so much. I performed at the club that weekend, so they put us in a hotel for our last day. We suddenly turned into tourists, walking down State St., standing at the center of the Capitol and looking up, eating some spicy cheese bread… It helped us assimilate we were leaving, which still feels surreal. We drove out crying like babies, listening to a playlist methodically engineered to squeeze every teardrop possible. Songs included “Two of Us” by the Beatles, “This will be Our Year” by the Zombies, and “It’s Time to Move On” by Tom Petty.
We’re currently near Lansing, MI. If you don’t know where that is, ask someone from Michigan. They’ll pull their palm up, near your face, and point at the exact location, showing you precisely how annoying they can be. I’m among those people right now! My family in law live here, and we’ve come to drop our stuff and get last minute arrangements done in order to hit the road. Love them all. We’re having some family time before we head out. So so far our journey has felt like a family visit.
However we are getting things done and getting ready! We’ve already had some unexpected stuff happening: 400 miles of uneventful travel only to get to our storage site, try to open our camper, and breaking the key inside the lock. If you’re ever in the area, hit up Ionia Lock and Key, and ask for John. He’s a sweet, lanky, redheaded man who came from the pastoral highlands of Scotland to live in rural Central Michigan because he fell in love with this place. Yeah, I don’t get it either.
But we have already visited some interesting places! Yesterday for example we started our trip right by visiting the breathtaking wilderness of a DMV. A lush place filled with untamed noises, with some menacing creatures that came too close to us even though you’re not supposed to feed them. Just what we signed up for: a place to sit and do nothing for hours.
Coming up:
A weekend in Silver Lake Sand Dunes
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
A drive back to pick up a solar panel
And finally I need to fly to San Francisco at the end of the month to perform there for Comedy Central (!). I’ll be performing at a comedy festival called Clusterfest, and I’ll appear on a Comedy Central TV show. Yeah someone there screwed up so I get to go.

I feel there’s more I should be sharing but right now I’m at my brother in law’s and we just bought a dozen donuts so I have priorities. Also, wow, really impressed you made it this far.

Thanks again for taking a moment to go through your spam folder and reading this. Love you all.


The Competitive Sport of Wisconsin Small Talk


The worst thing about Wisconsin’s winter is not only that it sucks, it’s that you’re forced to talk about it.

As I leave behind the cold February wind and unwrap six layers of winter gear, I see Wendy from HR walking into the building. Our eyes meet. I’m terrified, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s on. I’m trapped. It’s time for small talk.

Am I scared? Of course. This is not any kind of small talk, but Wisconsin small talk. And I’m facing Wendy herself, the queen of chit chat. It’s the big leagues. She approaches with the warmest smile, her face slightly tilted. Oh, she’s good. People tremble when poised against her baby pictures. There are rumors of some defenseless souls who have been exposed to up to five of her crochet projects. This is not amateur hour.

“Esteban!” she shouts, opening her eyes wide. “I almost didn’t make it. I have no idea how I actually got out of bed!” she says, pointing at the whirlwind outside. This is why she’s a legend. Not even a “Hey,” no sign of a “how are you” – we’re going straight into the weather. The worst thing about Wisconsin’s winter is not only that it sucks, it’s that you’re forced to talk about it. But I don’t even flinch. I’ve been training. Big smile, hands on the waist, strong eye contact. “The only thing that got me out of bed,” I say, skipping a beat for maximum effect. “was coffee!” She bursts into laughter. Oh, how we chuckle and howl. I’m starting strong. Maybe Wendy from HR has finally met her match.

I’ve been training on my Wisconsin small talk since I arrived to Madison 6 years ago. Nothing prepared me for such professional chit-chat. Sure, everyone’s proud of the Packers, but nobody seems proud of Wisconsinites’ greatest pastime. And as an immigrant from South America I tried too long to avoid it: arriving late to all meetings, speaking Español to my Uber driver, or keeping my groceries under 12 items or less so I can use the self-check out machine at Woodman’s.

Every encounter between any living multicellular form involves a power struggle. Some animals show their teeth, some animals emit incoherent sounds, and others sniff butts. Small talk is nothing but an overly complicated version of the first two. And I felt terrified of playing this game of repartee with such pros. It felt like being tossed in to play basketball with Michael Jordan, or like trying to prove a point using outdated sports references because everything you know about American sports is the 1996 live action/animated classic film Space Jam.

Hi, I’m Michael, get ready to jam.

Wendy and I move slowly down the hall and I feel like I’m doing great. She talks about the unpredictability of March, I mention Al Gore, we share a moment of silence for the polar bears. I wonder why people here are so keen on these performances of social comfort. There’s no need for small talk where I’m from. Quito is a relatively big, cosmopolitan city, so that may be part of it. In South America we kiss hello with strangers, quickly compliment each other, and go on our way. There’s no need to establish a social connection when we’re already tightly linked by Salsa music, Catholicism, and all those germs from kissing strangers. Maybe the intensity of these things keeps us on the move. If I wanted to know any personal detail about my coworkers I could just ask my aunt Julia. Here in the US all CIA information is classified, but in Ecuador you can gain access to the Aunt Intelligence Network with a phone call and the promise of some herbal tea.

When Wendy and I reach the end of the hallway and notice we are clearly going in opposite directions, it’s evident neither of us wants to let it go. I refuse to lose. Too much is on the line for me. This is graduation day. I am not going to go gently into the “have a good day.” Defeating Wendy would mean I’m no longer scared of small talk. It means I can look Wisconsin’s weather in its ugly face and say “I understand you. I understand your people.” It means I can feel ok with wearing an orange Styrofoam wedge on my head. But also, I must confess: compared to the freezing gray outside, Wendy’s casual banter is making me feel warm inside. It makes me realize that small talk is the only logical reason why someone would ever settle on Wisconsin.

I couldn’t fathom the existence of early Wisconsin settlers who, after setting up and getting comfortable in the Wisconsin summer, witnessed their first Midwest winter weather. What stopped them from packing up and heading south? I can now guess someone made eye contact and said “Can you believe this weather?” And the extended chatter that followed lasted until the answer was yes, they could believe it now, and it was time to collect berries, and fish, and run from bears or whatever. Wendy helped me understand that. Sure, the weather sucks, but that’s a small price to pay for the ability to connect with your community about how much it sucks. Exactly how much did it suck for you this morning? How much does it suck compared to other years? How hard is it for you to believe in how bad the weather has sucked this season? You answer some of these questions and suddenly you warm up to the idea of a collective embrace.

This weather SUCKS!

As far as who won our small-talk competition, no one gave it up. So after 42 minutes and two follow-up emails later, we decided we are getting married. Maybe next May or June, when the weather gets better. We’ll choose a date as soon as we’re done talking about construction on the beltline, which I assume will take a couple more weeks.

Judd Apatow Takes a 5 Minute Break


Judd Apatow stands in a corner of the stage in silence while we wait for paramedics to arrive. The entire sold-out crowd of a Sunday early show is looking at the back table, where a man has passed out. 

There’s nothing to do but to wait anxiously for this new spectacle to be over, so we all stand in silence. It’s as awkward and quiet as a Prius. The entire room feels like a religious painting from one of Quito’s Catholic churches, those dark baroque oils (minus the impaling demons): hands covering mouths, eyes wide open in expectation, all looking into darkness. We don’t know if the man is ok.

Mike comes out of the booth and whispers in my ear. “Wow, he’s killing.”

I try not to laugh, but it’s true. Five minutes ago the entire room was bursting with laughter. The scene is surreal and unsettling. In the silence I look at Judd and I realize that after 48 hours of having a small glance at one of the most prolific comedic voices of our generation, and seeing him running around along with his small team -his assistant Scott, and his feature comic Wayne Federman – there’s something perhaps more surprising:  Judd Apatow has no choice but to take a 5 minute break, and this is the first time I’ve seen him not working.

48 hours earlier, as I jumped on stage to host our first Friday show I felt a sharp pain in my back, and I had the feeling I suddenly aged. It was a pain that felt like it would stay with me until I died. As I continued to work with Judd for 3 nights, a total of 6 shows, I lazily sat around while this man, fourteen years my senior, ran around, canvassing before the election, calling in interviews, coordinating a benefit show in Milwaukee for children. He even made some time to text the president of a major entertainment corporation, calling him out for a racist commercial that was running on a three-lettered channel. That was one day. What had I done that whole weekend, besides scheduled laundry? Not even laundry.

“I’m just stressed all day long trying to think of things. I’m sitting there thinking, Why aren’t you thinking of anything? You’re behind. You need to get going.

From Sick in the Head

I didn’t feel the need to ask him for advice, as I learned quickly what his answer might have been. There’s no easy way. No shortcuts. This unspoken answer was a disappointment for me, as I would very much appreciate a shortcut in my lazy comedy career (can I call 2 open mics and 30 minutes of writing a week a career?).  It was a disappointment too for one of Judd’s fans, an older lady who told me she had driven from far away just to see him, hopefully meet him, and hopefully give him, if possible and with my help, this very good script she wrote (she mischievously cracked her purse open to show it to me, like a contraband kitten).

I couldn’t believe someone could think that would be a possibility, but I also felt a connection to her: I would love if I could pull my talent out of a briefcase and just hand it to someone who could let the entire world know its worth. I wish I had the balls to have pitched Judd my spec script of “2 Funny 2 People,” my sequel in the “Funny People” Universe. But I didn’t.

The room is so quiet you can listen to the hum of the mic’s feedback. Everyone is looking at the back table, which is also surprisingly quiet. We’re all dying to know if the man is conscious, if his family and friends are ok, and if those paramedics are single (both of them ripped, hot humans. Very distracting). Judd just stands there, not used to being the person furthest away from attention.

As busy as he is Judd Apatow is a listener. His talent comes from an obsessive attention to what others are saying. When he was 14 years old he went to several comedians’ homes, including Jerry Seinfeld and Garry Shandling, in order to talk about comedy, and he’s been busy since. “He never stops,” his assistant Scott told me during one of his shows. He was glued to the monitor right outside the show room, briefly turning to me to respond to my questions. He’s expected to note how his latest jokes are doing, what could be done better, what didn’t work. He also needs to be ready in case Judd wanted to show the audience his slideshow, which includes a picture of him with Stormy Daniels (for six shows Scott was on hold, the slideshow was summoned once). “I’m expected to be available 24/7,” he tells me, and smiles. “It’s exhausting.” I can tell he works as hard as Judd does. I can tell he loves it too. He’s always on a great mood. He’s also on a break.

The hot paramedics confirm the man is conscious, and carry him outside on a stretcher. Judd thanks the audience for their patience. Is this the end of the show?  We all know the man and his family are OK. He takes a second to check the crowd. Measure the odds. “Good timing on him. The show was almost over anyway,” he says, and the silence bubble bursts in laughter. Apatow is back to work. Mike goes back to the booth. Scott glances back up to the monitor. Doors close, lights dim, glasses clink. And I just sit there, thinking about how this weekend has taught me the value of hard work. Maybe I’ll write about it, and finish a piece by tomorrow, November 5th. By next week, tops. For now I’m just waiting for Judd to hit his closer, so I can go back up and close the show, hopefully soon. I’m kind of jealous of that stretcher, to be perfectly honest. The pain in my back is killing me.

Mark’s Phone Wants to Break Up


Right after his phone broke up with him Mark recalled all the signs he had missed. He had felt it distant, lately, as if every notification came with a sigh, every calendar input with an extra turn of the little circle, every reaction to the ON button a little off. He had looked down for his magazine to check if it was time for bed, but all the phone had said was “It’s over between us.” And in his futile search for explanations he realized he should’ve seen it. He remembered that day when it had refused to be unlocked. Or the morning he woke up uncharged, completely disregarding its plugged battery. Oh he should’ve seen it.

Was there anything he could do to fix this? He acknowledged it. He had been distant. No surprise there. Roaming while camping, keeping it in his pocket while having dinner, reading a book in the bathroom -a fucking book! Always with the perfect excuse. Zero photos of the Steely Dan tribute concert: he had low battery. Zero emojis in a two-hour span: He was driving. He could’ve taken a couple snaps on airplane mode, he could’ve at least checked it for notifications during the boring stretches of the highway, but no, he chose to keep it in his back pocket like another cheap leather wallet. He was not going to blame this one on the manufacturer. It was not another LG 5S story. This one was on him.

“Please don’t do this to me…” he said, watching his own reflection on its dark screen. “I’m sorry!” Had he really changed that much since they first met at the Verizon store months ago? He was there looking for another LG, hell, even a Samsung, something casual he could use for a couple of months. He just wanted to have fun. But as he browsed, the clerk (his name was Dan, as he would learn later when they had returned weeks later to thank him again) pointed it out from the other corner of the store. “That one would be perfect for you.” The first thing Mark noticed was its cute silver-coated power button, curiously placed in its back, and not at the side like the ordinary 5S. He greeted it with a gentle swipe and with its first start screen animation he was taken. Oh it was so beautiful, with its perfect color display with popping reds and that graceful silver chrome finish at the bottom of the screen. He felt like a boy watching his prom date descending the stairs. The rest was a formality. Mark asked some follow-up questions, tried to keep casual when his heart was racing. He had it unpackaged and on in minutes. They didn’t even reach the car. Hell, they almost didn’t make it to the parking lot! He had thrown the packaging with the receipt in the ashtray, right outside the store, the ultimate promise of a serious commitment. They spent an hour just getting to know each other right there, in the parking lot of a Verizon store. Their first date.

Could he try to be that person again? He pleaded and cried, he tried to restart it, but it kept repeating and repeating the same black home screen with those words. No chance to argue. No chance to talk. At least tell me why, burn my pocket, give me the stuck-at-home-screen treatment, anything else but that horrible matrix-green Courier font bullshit of “It’s over between us.” Fuck you. Fuck! You! At least have the decency of lying to me. At least give me the “it’s not you it’s my operating system” shit. It would be at least something, a lie as a mantra he could have repeated to himself that night to try to get some sleep.

The darkness of his screenless night kept bringing back memories of their displays of intimacy. Like when he changed the PIN lock to a thumb recognition. The phone enjoyed that intensely, shaking mildly after the three seconds of contact, opening up its home screen like a flower, giving in to that same thumb now slowly exploring the pages of the apps menu, going back, fidgeting with its widgets until it would let him know with a gentle vibration exactly how far he could go. As the screen would gradually warm up he would slide down the notification panel, gently revealing its bare settings, and it would vigorously close its idle apps, and it would dim its brightness, and…

He didn’t sleep at all that night.

Early morning he got out of bed with a fake sense of hope and promised it he’d do anything. He started by asking his buddies in the customer support forum. At first he went into general discussion, easing back in, quoting the good old times. They greeted him kindly and posted fun memes. They knew he only came when there were problems in paradise, so their enthusiasm was a little hurtful. He described it carefully, quoted the words, noted the black screen, even gave them some intimate details of things they had done on their last day together. XxcrushbushxX asked for pictures, fucking creep.

“Have you tried a reset?” he had asked. Of course he had tried a reset. “I meant a hard reset”. Just like that, in italics. A hard reset, was he crazy? Erase what they had built these last eight months together? No. Replace the mother board?! No, he was not about to give it the digital equivalent of a lobotomy (also, it would cost like $280). None of them understood, they never did. He logged out without saying goodbye. He needed professional advice. The phone had no answers for him, and the forums didn’t either. But there was someone who may.

He called the place and set an appointment. They drove to the west side with the radio off, the phone on the passenger seat, its black screen weakened but persistent. He started crying. A few tears first, uncontrollable gasps of air shortly after. “Is this what you want?” he asked. “It’s over between us,” it insisted in a font as small as a whisper. He rolled slowly into the parking lot, trying to gain his composure, parking in the same spot. It had taken him a long time to get to Verizon. Had he prolonged the drive, taking extra turns knowing the chances were slim? Why was he been lost? Was it his sadness? His teary eyes? His lack of access to Google Maps? Probably the latter, but also the sadness.

Dan remembered them, and he was kind, and empathetic, and listened carefully. He listened to him first, and then took it to the back of the room, see what he could do. Mark stood by the door, with his back to all other phones, as if they were also somehow responsible for his pain. After several minutes Dan called him with a sad nod. He didn’t even need to hear it. Dan’s words came with the empathetic meaninglessness of a cancer doctor. “I’ve been trying to get a sense of its issue, and it seems clear to me that it’s best if you both move on.” He was right, and he knew it, and he just needed to hear it from him to realize it was over. Mark asked to see it one more time. “I just want to pick up my SIM and SD cards,” he said. Dan put it on the table and gave them a moment. The phone waited in silence while he carefully reached in and removed them. He held his battery in his hands, feeling its heat one last time. The phone was all dark now, no text. Just the resigned sadness of a mirror that reflects what could have been.

Mark knew what would happen next: they were going to reset it, clean it up, place it back on display. Someone would find it, and it would be good. As he exited the store he turned around one last time to see Dan starting the reset, the phone’s screen lighting up again, fading in his colorful light. He was thankful at their times together, and he smiled at the prospect of his phone’s future happiness.

He got on his car, wiped down his tears, and started the radio. Maybe he’d go home and take a bath. Call the boys, grab a beer. First he could take the long way back, eat at the Chinese place near the Apple store. “What is Apple up to?” he wondered. Maybe he would drop in to take a look. Maybe he could find something he could use for just a couple of months. Something casual, something fun.

Las sonrisas regaladas de mi vieja


Feliz cumpleaños Ampis!

Creo que te he dicho que mi primera memoria es abrir los ojos de una siesta en tus brazos, y verte sonriendo. Estamos en un barco, atravesando el océano Pacífico, viajando, parece, hacia el sol. Desde entonces me has regalado 30 años de sonrisas. Sonreíste con ternura en esa primera memoria, y mientras yo aprendía a crecer y me equivocaba tú sonreías con compasión. Sonreías con alivio cada vez que las sesiones de quimioterapia del Sebas terminaban, y sonreíste un sol entero después de la última. Sonreíste también años después cuando el Sebas te mostró entre las vísceras del Supermaxi un riñón y dijo: “Mami, me compras uno de estos?”


Sonreías al llegar a la casa después de un día largo de trabajo. Sonreíste también cuando la pubertad me convirtió en un signo de advertencia, y hasta en los momentos más preocupantes de mi juventud (un par con policía involucrada) sonreías después del castigo y la lección aprendida.

Con lágrimas en los ojos sonreíste también cuando me fui por primera vez, y le sonreíste a la gringita cuando le ayudaste en el hospital. Sonríes a la distancia y sonríes cada vez que nos abrazamos en las puertas de tantos aeropuertos. Entre llantos de felicidad sonríes cada primero de enero cuando después del cero la familia se abraza. Sonreíste cuando mi ñaña dijo “sí.” Sonreíste con la llegada de tus nietos, con el sueño cumplido de la casa perfecta. Sonríes cuando el tono de la llamada internacional se conecta. Cada vez que le llamas a la Lolita, cada llamada de mi ñaña, cada vez que le perdonas a mi papá por sus bellas ridiculeces (esas ridiculeces que tan a pesar de uno se heredan). Con cada sol, con cada día tibio, con cada café en la noche, con la luz del velador apagándose, sonrisas!

Te levantas todos los días lista para regalar sonrisas a quien se te cruce. Hacer sonreír a la gente es ahora tu profesión. En la distancia te imagino sonriendo a tus compañeros de clase, mientras estudias. Veo las sonrisas detrás de los documentos subrayados, de los cuadernos donde anotas las voces de tus pacientes, que poco a poco se van animando a sonreírte.

Gracias, vieja bella, por tanta sonrisa. No solo porque iluminan mis días y los días de tantos, sino porque son lecciones de vida. Con ellas nos has enseñado que la felicidad, la sonrisa propia, se mide por la cantidad de gente que sonríe a nuestro alrededor. Así viajo por la vida, Amparito, como en un barco atravesando un océano iluminado de sonrisas, tratando de asegurarme de que todos los pasajeros que me acompañan se bañen un poco de ese sol. Así que por tu cumpleaños quiero regalarte una sonrisa de vuelta, quiero que sepas que detrás de estas líneas estoy yo, a pesar de la distancia, pensando en ti. Te imagino leyendo estas líneas hoy, en tu cumpleaños. ¿Estás sonriendo? ¡Yo también! Ese es mi regalo de cumpleaños, la celebración de tu vida y la de nuestra hermosa familia: una sonrisa.

The JFK “I am a jelly donut” thing is not true and now I’m reconsidering citizenship


Around 4 to 6 years ago I got married to a woman despite the fact that she was from the United States. Don’t get me wrong, the people are nice and all, but I’m from South America, and you took the name “America” from us, along with our fruit, our oil and 4 to 6 democratically elected presidents that didn’t quite liked that. So don’t take it personally if “place of origin” was on the cons list.

But Autumn told stories about a place with vulnerability, and empathy, and multicultural understanding, and she told me about the day when one of the most significant presidents of American history said “I am a jelly donut” in German. And I realized “America” was possible. Because it meant Kennedy was a flawed, clumsy human like the rest of us, and in that moment millions of people in Berlin (in Berlin!) saw a world leader saying “I’m soft, I’m warm, I’m filled with jelly,” and people were like “Lol, you’re not a donut but are you baked?” To be able to empathize with Kennedy, wow. That’s hope. That’s the American Dream right there.

Well, not quite. I first heard it from Charlie Kojis and Adam McShane’s podcast “Adam asks Chuck,” and I got official confirmation from the Internet. It turns out people did not hear it that way. So the saner, empathetic version of America that my mind held is gone. Great. Wish I knew that before I completed my citizenship application. All I have left is right turns on red lights and unlimited refills of Coke products at Chipotle. And my wife, of course, who has taught me so much (including the differences between who and whom), and whom I love so much. She really is a beautiful jelly donut, despite of course of her “cons”. Which I guess are now mine. Sigh.

And that is all. Good night and gesundheit.


All of the 5th Beatles, ranked from 1st 5th Beatle to 5th 5th Beatle


Everybody remembers the Beatles by hit songs such as “Love me Do,” “She loves you,” “All You Need is Love,” and “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?” but did you know they were not alone? There was always a 5th person along the way. A person so important to the band he was considered the 5th Beatle… Problem is, nobody, not even The Beatles, agree on who this 5th Beatle was. So I decided to end the debate once and for all and rank all of the 5th Beatles.

Before doing so, I’ll start with my obligatory rank of the 4 members of the band.

1. George Harrison. The most inspiring Beatle. He taught me to be at peace with myself and others. If you disagree, well then go to hell.

2. John Lennon. He usually ranks 1st, but just because he was the first one to die. That helps. For me, a better argument would be that he wrote a song called “Everybody Has Something to Hide Except for Me and my Monkey,” which encompasses everything there is to love about John: he was honest, he was irreverent, and he carried a small sized primate everywhere he went.

3. Paul McCartney. I used to think he wrote the best songs. That was yesterday. Although you gotta give it to Paul for being the best drummer in the Beatles.

4. Ringo Starr. Although lots of people make fun of Ringo, it’s undeniable that he was one of the Beatles.

And now, I present to you my official ranking of all the 5th Beatles:


1st 5th Beatle: George Martin. Not only he was crucial producing and arranging their discography, George Martin also called dibs when the whole “who´s the 5th Beatle” question came up.


2nd 5th Beatle: Brian Epstein. He discovered them and told them they should dress in a more “civilized” manner. Basically he was the Christopher Columbus of The Beatles. He died before John, so that also amounts to something I guess.


3rd 5th Beatle: Pete Best. When he was in the band people knew Pete as the Best Beatle. But he was no Starr, so he was replaced.


4th 5th Beatle: Neil Aspinall. He drove the van.


5th 5th Beatle: Your uncle Phil: Not only he has kept the original pressings of the complete discography he got in the early 70s, your uncle Phil also saw Paul McCartney going into the Paramount theater in New York in 1966, and he claims he actually reached out and touched his shoulder.

This Woody Allen Science Fiction Script That Never Saw the Light of Day Is Amazing


I used to be a huge Woody Allen fan. I still am, but I used to too. I love his movies, particularly his “early funny ones,” to quote one of the aliens that briefly appear from Stardust Memories, a movie that was not science fiction but included a space ship and some aliens.

Now that I think about it, Woody Allen has extensive credit as a Science Fiction author. Besides this clip there’s of course 1973’s Sleeper (which features a menacingly giant banana), but also several of his short films that appear in Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex (which features a menacingly giant boob), and his segment on the collective film New York Stories (which features a menacingly giant mother in the sky. Do you see a pattern here?)

But today I discovered his best. I found his album “The Night Club Years: 1964-1968” a year or so ago in a discount bin. I didn’t go home to play it immediately. I kept it in my record collection for the same reasons rich people keep dogs: just to show off (and if I’m being honest, I must confess that’s 80% of the reason why I own records). But I’m glad I listened to it today. He does this bit that is so absurd that it sounds fresher than the freshest fruits being harvested in modern stand-up.

So I thought I’d share.

Woody Allen

The Science Fiction Film

The Night Club Years: 1964-1968

I wrote a science fiction film which I’ll tell you about.

It’s ten after four in the afternoon, and everybody in the world mysteriously falls asleep.

Just like that.

They are driving cars, whatever they are doing, bang!, they go to sleep. The Russians, the Chinese, the Americans.

And the whole world sleeps for exactly one hour, till ten after five. And they wake up at ten after five and mysteriously upon awakening everybody in the world find themselves in the pants business.

Stay with us, ’cause it’s brilliant.

Everybody is making cuffs and flies and cutting velvet, y’know, And a spaceship lands from another planet, and men get out with jackets and shirts and black socks – no trousers at all.

They say: “Are the pants ready?” We say: “No. Could you come back thursday?”

They say they must have them, ’cause they are going to a wedding, and we work dillingently and make pants constantly and they come to get them, and when they come to pick them up, they leave us with socks, hankerchiefs, pillowcases and soiled linnen, and they say: “Do it!”

And the president of the United States goes on television and says that an alien superpower from outer space with superior intelligence is bringing us their laundry, and they are foiled, ’cause they travelled a hundred and seventeen million lightyears to pick it up, and they forget their ticket.

And here’s the bit:

Now I gotta tell you, not only this is my favorite science fiction piece by Woody Allen. This is now my favorite stand-up joke of all time. Although I have seen some Bill Cosby at my local St. Vinnys. Will report back in a year or so.