RL431 - Mr. Mustache

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: John had to agree to terms, referring to

The show title refers to John’s improv teacher in Gonzaga who was 24 years old and had a mustache at a time when young people don’t used to have a mustache.

Raw notes
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John trying to reset a password (RL431)

As Merlin called John was talking to his mom about his latest password, which is a big exciting topic. As long as Merlin has known John he has been very concerned about cyber, opsec, and redconning. He was trying to reset a Cloud password and he had to call them on the phone because their online thing never works, and because of security, opsec, and redconning this particular institution likes to cancel your password prompted by nothing, like when the wind blows and a butterfly in China flaps its wings.

They don’t want you to ever use a password that you ever used before, including 19 years ago, they want to have a special character, a capital and a lower case, a number, a day of the week, they want you to pick a cat and a country in Idaho. John had to reset it because he had to do some stuff, he had already reset it 15 times this week, and as he typed in his new password he realized that this was the password he couldn’t remember, the last one he had used and he wished he could go back and just use it. John told his mom about it and she asked him what the password was, she wanted him to tell her in meat space.

John is wondering if he is talking to Merlin who is talking into his shoe (reference to Merlin’s video series That Phone Guy). Is he about to give a TED Talk, maybe talk 5 minutes on passwords? Merlin could tell John some tips and tricks that the Wall Street fat cats don’t want you to know and he hasn’t been sharing them with John the whole time because he takes out just enough to beat him (reference to Milton Berle). He wants to keep John’s interest and the interest of their listeners.

Merlin’s name is not in the show, he is not line. In show biz, which is not show friend, they say that John is first on the call sheet. John read that in The New Yorker the other day and found it funny that that is a thing. Your name is before the title, like ”Nicolas Cage in…”

Superman, movie call-sheet order (RL431)

Merlin went to the movies in 1978 to Superman by Richard Donner and his mom bought him a souvenir booklet for Superman that talks about the movie that he still has here in his office. It is like the booklet that came with the movie Dune that talks about what all the different spice names were, it came with a glossary. At the beginning of The Lord of the Rings they also have to explain a lot of the vocabulary. Merlin showed the booklet to his daughter, it is on display in his private office along with a lot of other stuff, like the Wilberforce doll (see RL188) Merlin just changed his Twitter header image to show his dolls.

In the booklet the top credited talent is Marlon Brando who only had a small role and didn’t memorize his lines very well, but he was the greatest actor of his generation. Gene Hackman was second. They continue to list people from the movie credits of this movie. John had no idea that the original movie Superman was a who-is-who of Hollywood in the 1950s. Superman is going to make 1978 look like 1956. John likes Merlin’s TED talk, but in the spirit of TEDx, this was more TEDxxx Tokyo Drift.

John doing improv theater / Theater Sports in Gonzaga (RL431)

In college at Gonzaga in 1987 (see RL410) John did Theater Sports. A guy with a mustache showed up from Canada - at a time when young people didn’t wear mustaches - and he looked like if Lindsey Buckingham in 1974 had a mustache. He was starting a new improvisational theater comedy group called Theater Sports in 1987 when nobody had ever heard of such a thing. He was probably 24 and when John was 24 he couldn’t grow a mustache, but this guy did. At the time John was 18 and they all thought 24 was old.

He was Pied-Piper-ing his was through the small colleges of the West starting Theater Sports groups, like the Johnny Appleseed of ”Yes, and…” As the message went out across the campus 9 people showed up, equal boys and girls including John, based on attraction rather than promotion, and all 9 of them were great. They had not been John’s friends before, but when John heard about it he was intrigued. This group didn’t have anything in common with each other, but they went into the work, and as soon as they started doing it this was all they cared about and with all of their free time and every bit of energy they had they were meeting in the theater at night.

He was there on the sidelines, really encouraging. It didn’t take explanation, but all they were doing was practicing and refining. They were doing a scene and then talk about it and everyone’s comments were on point and explicitly to make it better. They all immediately took on different qualities and it all fell together. At the time there wasn’t a culture around improv yet, there wasn’t a school of thought, there weren’t 10 million people who had done it, but they were inventing a thing.

They did a show in front of a full theater, which was terrifying, but it was a huge success and their second show was sold out. It was the big theater where the college repertory company did its shows in. It was in The Spokesman-Review newspaper, it was a hot ticket! John was at Gonzaga for two years, but this was the year where he had been rescued from his D- High School years and had been given a second chance in college and he loved it. John should have spent all of High School building trail in the national forest (see RL48) and he would be Yogi Bear and he would be preventing forest fires.

For the rest of that year this Theater Sports group was a thing that you couldn’t have duplicated. They were all in love with each other, not because they liked each other, but they learned to trust each other and they when they went out on stage it worked. There was never a dead moment, they learned ”Yes, and…”, they tried as hard as they could to make it native to them, and there was nobody in this group that would stop a scene on stage because they didn’t know where they were. They were leaping!

They were writing letters to each other all summer and in John’s second year at Gonzaga their coach, Mr. Mustache, said that the group had it from here and he was moving on to the next college. His work here was done. He was a wonderful director and facilitator and they didn’t want him to leave because this felt like the future, it was what they wanted to do in life and he was the magic, but he said: ”No, you understand it, now take it and fly!” John felt a cold chill because he was wrong and they didn’t know everything they needed to know and he was the magic.

He suggested to take the message to the people and have auditions, and because Theater Sports had been very popular the year before because their group of 9 had done these shows that were a big deal 50 people showed up across the spectrum of all the attention-seekers, all the people who would call themselves a Thesbian, all of the people who just wanted to be seen and heard and known, the people who wore crazy hats, and they all wanted the spotlight on them and wanted to show how brilliant and creative they were.

The philosophy was that it was not an audition, but anyone who wanted to play could play and they had rehearsals with 50 people, there was no ”Yes, and…” anymore and you can’t teach it to people because all they see is their chance. It was also premised on the idea that Generation X grew up in that everyone was creative and all you had to do was tap into their creativity. The rehearsals were a disaster and when they asked for comments then every single person needed 5 minutes to give their comments, it was just a full-on drag.

When the season started, the group said that John was the natural one to be the leader because there needs to be someone who calls the beats, who calls ”Now, scene!”, and John was good at it and of everybody he was the all-around player, but of course in that situation he did appoint himself the traffic cop when he saw that there were too many cooks, when he saw that people were talking when they should be listening, and he became more and more bossy because he wanted everybody to learn their lesson.

John would have been great to be the one of the 9 to have the stopwatch and call the beats because they all trusted each other and everybody was in charge, but in a group of 50 where he had the whistle he was terrible at being the cat wrangler because even then he had the feeling of: ”Just because you like Rocky Horror Picture Show doesn’t mean you are going to be good at this, and you are walking in here with the presumption and the attitude that you are already good at it and you are not listening!”

Nobody in the group of 9 thought of themselves as a theater person. They weren’t actors, they weren’t in the theater program, one of them was a novice Jesuit, one of them was a crazy-cool girl who never brushed her hair and who lived under a dam, there was a business-student who put tons of gel in his hair and was getting an MBA. In the following year there were all the people who had auditioned for the theater program and couldn’t get in.

It sounds like you get to do theater without having to memorize scripts or do anything hard or disciplined, but that is of course not true and John became a total asshole and a complete dictator. The same happened on Twitter as a whole: Gradually the 50 people outnumbered the 9 and started a whole new set of rules, which were that everyone was invited and every idea was good, and what ”Yes, and…” means is that you have to approve of everything they said and did and nobody was wrong and everybody gets applause. Their first show was a freaking catastrophe.

Merlin’s first time of seeing improv live was in the late 1980s with his friend Tony whose thesis project at New College very heavily involved Keith Johnstone, the guy who wrote the book Impro (Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre) and did Theater Sports. Every cliché that makes people wince at improv was in there. Merlin loves dicks and poop as a medium, but so much of the stuff became overworked and tired bits, trying to be the bossy bottom who is going to make everybody do the bit that you want, and everything becomes a really awkward toilet joke, or the SNL problem, like: ”This got a laugh the last time, so even though the prompts are completely different it is really easy to just bend it around!”

Alternative comedy shows in Seattle, San Francisco, or Portland nowadays are very self-supporting ecosystems. You got a person on stage and 25 people in the audience who all are aspiring comedians who laugh hysterically at every awful joke by people who are not comedians and are not funny. Partly what makes those show ”No please!” for John is that they are not organic, there is nothing authentic about them at that level.

The 50 people in John’s theater group all brought 4 friends and the front three rows of the theater were people who were way over-emoting. After two months there was a big meeting of everybody and they said that they couldn’t have John as the leader anymore because he was too imperious and didn’t understand ”Yes, and…” because he says ”No!” and John was not fighting for himself.

There was nothing else John wanted to do in life at the time. By the end of a show you realized you couldn’t have made that alone and it was hilarious and they had no idea that they would end up where they ended up and they ended up there together. By the time John got booted out halfway through year two it had turned into another defeat for him where he had ruined it and his own worst impulses came to the fore Theater Sports continued on without him.

6 of the other 9 managed to stay in the group under those conditions, which increased the sense for John that maybe it was him who was the problem when he already came out of 10 years of thinking that it was his fault and it was just another thing. For a year he thought he had found his place in the world, it even had the word ”Sports” in it, he had never found his sports place, and here it was: Both Theater and Sports!

John doesn’t want to make the direct correlation of that and starting to dink beer out of a milk carton. The college had been piss-testing him for 6 months, he passed every test, he would go in and talk to the priest whose name was Father Sitter, he was a cool priest, and after 6 months they were loosening the reigns because they thought they got to him and had helped him a lot and now it was his turn to fly. Who knows if Theater Sports had kept him sober until he had gotten somewhere where he had a little bit of success and freedom and all of a sudden he would have done speedballs at the Chateau Marmont, maybe that would have been bad or worse?

They weren’t piss-testing him anymore Father Sitter believed that John was on the straightened arrow. He had been kicked out of Theater Sports and he started going to parties and he would walk around with a carton of milk and when people asked him about why he was at the party he would say he was only drinking milk and he was just here to hang. He started to fill this carton with beer because there were spies everywhere, it was like the fucking STASI because there are so many do-gooders and fucking onion-eaters in college.

John under drug surveillance in his second year of Gonzaga with regular tests (RL431)

John was not drinking or on drugs at this point because the university was forcing him to take random urinalysis tests in order to be allowed back into the college after they had expelled him at the end of his freshman year and he fought the whole summer to get back in, partly because he wanted to do Theater Sports and he had to agree to these terms. He had to meet with a priest every week and they could summon him from class to give a urinalysis test at any point without any notice.

Despite not drinking or doing drugs John was still a very messed-up youth and when his Theater Sports group turned on him he was secretly relieved because it had become awful, but he was also devastated because he had been chosen by the 9 Nazgûl to lead them, and he had been chosen by acclimation by this group of people who were incredibly talented beautiful people and now he was being thrown out on the street by this rabel (?). How did they even get in there! They should have the original Theater Group and the other one for the fucking JV (Junior Varsity). Without Mr. Mustache it wasn’t the same and if he had come back only for one more year it would have changed John’s life.

How the Ted Lasso gang made it, but John didn’t (RL431)

The other day John decided along with his little brain trust that they are going to watch the great Apple TV+ show Ted Lasso (John says Ted Leo) again because the new one is coming out soon. Merlin was on a podcast talking about one of his favorite episodes Make Rebecca Great Again, you can watch those episodes over and over. John knows that Jason Sudeikis is one of those accomplished people like Tina Fey. They were not born into privilege, but they were from some town somewhere and they were good at something.

They were doing 30 Rock when they were in their 30s, they were doing SNL when they were in their 20s, and those were the things John wanted to do. How did they get there? You want to think it is because they went to Hollywood High School and then Juilliard and so on, but Jason Sudeikis went to a community college in Kansas and he is from some little town, and Tina Fey is just a regular person. They got into improv a couple years later than John and at the time it gone through the years of growing pains. Somehow the mustache guy stuck around long enough for Jason Sudeikis and Tina Fey and this next generation of comedians to learn it enough.

The people who make things like Ted Lasso seem super-human at first until you look closer and realize that a little turn here and there is all the difference. Bill Lawrence who produces the show and who looks exactly like Justice Brett Kavanaugh - they are both the same age as John - graduated from college William & Mary (in Williamsburg, Virginia), which is a fine college, but it is not Juilliard.

He started to write for TV as some kid that got kicked around the writers room until he created Scrubs in 2001. John was 32 years old and he was just finishing up on the first Long Winter record and Bill Lawrence was the show-runner, writer, and director of Scrubs. John spent all of his 20s sitting in cafés, smoking cigarettes, staring out the window, and talking about how they were going to put on a show and it was going to be the best show ever. Somewhere in America there were people the exact same age who were actually putting on shows. In the end it becomes just a fucking hamster wheel that John is on, comparing himself to other Generation X people who are making things.

When Merlin was a kid he would get the new Guiness Book of World Records every year and one time there was a kid with a photograph from Japan who was Merlin’s age who was having the highest IQ in the world and Merlin was so God-damn mad! He was envious of a Japanese boy because he was smart. What did John do? He cajoled up to Hodgman and now Ken Jennings, the two smartest white boys in the universe, and to Merlin, smartest white boy in the universe of 2003, and John is standing around, holding all those guys’ water.

Merlin watching Hitler documentaries, the difference between the SA and the SS (RL431)

Merlin has been watching a lot of Hitler documentaries lately, which was what this show was about in the early days. He is learning a lot about World War II and he found a channel on YouTube teaching him how it all came about in the 1930s. Last week one of those dingelings, probably Marjorie Taylor Greene, maybe Gomer, said that Biden wants to send people door to door to make you get a vaccine and they are going to take away your Bible and your gun and it is just like the brown shirts. On cable news they then said that the brown shirts (the SA) were the ones who went door to door collecting Jews for the holocaust, but that is completely incorrect!

It is the difference between the SA and the SS and a lot of people get this confused. Germans continued to wear brown colored shirts even after 1934, and although the brown shirts (SA) as an idea continued, the SS is the result of the purge at the Night of the Long Knives.

Starting to churn on Beandad while playing Minesweeper (RL431)

John plays Minesweeper, the game he was addicted to 25 years ago because it came bundled with any IBM product and he still had a PC and Minesweeper was one of the 3 games together with Pong and Breakout. Now John was able to put it on his phone and he sits and plays Minesweeper, but he noticed the other day that while he was playing he had started to churn on Beandad. This is also why he would play it when he was on the phone because it didn’t take his whole brain.

For the last 6 months John has been vigilant about his tendency to churn and he knew, even in January… Right now he has come to terms with Beandad, he feels like he understands where it sits in his life, when he looks back on it he feels like he has a handle on what happened, and he was not churning on it because he was dealing and coping with it in real time. But John caught himself playing Minesweeper and churning, thinking about different people, what about this, what if somebody called him, what would he say if they ever call.

He did that for an hour and he suddenly shocked himself away, realizing he had just spent an hour thinking bad thoughts about Beandad and he protected himself against this very thing because the real damage of that whole event would be if he churned on it for the rest of his life. That is where the pain and punishment lies and only he himself can choose whether or not he turns it into that. He wasn’t even aware! How did it creep in!

John plays Minesweeper 50 times a day because he opens his email, there is nothing there, and you don’t even know how you got to Minesweeper and you close it and you pick up your phone 30 seconds later and open Minesweeper again. Every time he played he went immediately to churning and he started to have a fight with himself. He does not want to stop playing this game because life is eternal, you never die, and you want to spend 6 hours a day playing a mindless game because otherwise how do vampires pass the time?

John was fighting himself to not have this conversation with this person in his imagination because it is not helpful and not good. John had worked so hard to spend the last 6 months trying to not have bitterness be a ghost that haunts his house and that is in his car with him, talking to him while he is driving. John was doing really well, but you leave the door open a crack and the house is full of mosquitos.

John installing security cameras in his trees (RL431)

John has been waiting for a long time to put a security system in his house. Ever since that possum was in his walls and stole his 100oz bricks of silver (see The Burglary) he has wanted a comprehensive security system. He has gotten so many emails from Matt Haughey how he has to run CAT-6 line through his ducts. A friend bought some electrical plugs that you put in the wall and you can control them from your phone because she had lamps that she wanted to turn on and off from across the room.

One time John was at Jonathan Coulton’s house, sitting in the living room, and he said: ”Lights! Turn red!” and after 10 seconds the lights turned red (see RL316). John couldn’t think of a reason why he wanted to do that, but it was cool.

John’s friend had two extra of those plugs and offered them to John and he couldn’t say ”No!” to that! John has Christmas lights outside that he wants to turn on and off and they are hooked together with an extension chord. As John was downloading the app and he realized that they have all these other things, like cameras that are super-cheap and how could you afford not to buy them. So John bought 7 cameras because he has a bag of GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) that he paid more for than for one of these cameras.

It is in the cloud, it ”doesn’t cost money” until you want any features at all, but it is still cheaper than putting CAT-6 through your house. They are battery-powered and wireless and John started nailing them up to the trees because nobody thinks there are cameras in the trees. People are looking for a tote in a hole, but not for a camera in a tree. Now John is the guy who is looking at his phone all the time how his house is looking from the trees.

Having a teenage boy hide in his yard (RL431)

The other night he heard voices in the yard, which he had never heard before, he was looking out the window, it was dark, and he hard whispered voices in his yard. John went on his phone and called up the app and got spinning beachballs because he hadn’t updated the firmware or something. He ran outside and went: ”Get the fuck out of my yard!” and he heard whispering and tittering and running and he saw a couple of male shadows run out of his driveway into the street.

John ran out into the street and there was a car with 3 teenage boys, 17 probably, all blond with swimmer’s bodies and floppy hair, and he went: ”What the hell were you guys doing? What were you doing in my yard?” - ”We weren’t in your yard, sir!” - ”There was some teenage boy in my yard 35 seconds ago and now I come out here and there are 3 teenage boys in a car. I am assuming one of you was in my yard!” - ”Sir, we weren’t in your yard! Oh sir, never!” and John was like a storm trooper on Tatooine: ”How can you be so bold-faced! You were in my yard!” - ”Sir, no!” with concerned faces. ”How can we help you sir find these boys who have been in your yard!”

Then there was a teenager walking down the street and John went to him and asked him what he was doing and he was just walking and felt intimidated. John was standing in the middle of the road with all these kids and all of a sudden he became ”Get off my lawn guy”. They were just twisting him. Eventually John just realized that he was all the way wound up and he said: ”Everybody go home. Good night!” and he went back in and thought that he doesn’t care if they are in his yard because they did the same stupid thing that he himself did when he was that age.

After all was said and done the video from the cameras finally popped up on John’s phone, and it showed that one of the teenage boys crouched down and hid behind John’s car because he is freaking playing hide and seek with the other teenage boys. There was no booze involved, he was not even pissing on the tire, but he was 16/17 years old, he was like: ”Tihi!” and he hid behind the truck.

John had gone out into the street and had turned it into a whole production where he was this fucking dupe, this middle-aged guy who has a rake in one hand and is shouting: ”Your rabbits keep eating my lettuce!” and they get the gratification by: ”What do you mean, sir?” while he always imagined himself as the guy who would say: ”Kids, let me tell you! I don’t care if you are in my yard! Why don’t you come in the house and have a beer! Let me tell you how it is to be a kid!” and instead his Minesweeper game was interrupted and he was the goat.

Merlin ensures John he would have had the same reaction.

They were committed to the improv and John broke character a little bit. They were like: ”Sir, we are 3 tigers!” - ”I am a banker in the middle of Manhattan!” - ”Sir, we are tigers. t-i-g-e-r-s!” - ”How many moneys do you have?” There is a famous story of Joan Rivers doing improv with Del Close in the 1950s and she apparently was pretty notorious for not being very good at it in a way that is very important for a Del Close environment and Del Close went into a scene and said something how he is torn up about the divorce and she goes: ”What are you talking about? We are not even married!”

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