What you see depends on how you look
We were at the Adolphine Fletcher Terry Library Monday; Audi had a therapy dog gig as part of the library’s family night.
Kids were invited to come in, pet and read to her, because she’s not judgmental when you have to sound it out. I was there as the spouse of Audi’s handler, so I had no real responsibilities. Once I realized I was a distraction I wandered out of the children’s book area and into the library proper where the Wi-Fi signal was a little stronger.
After checking my email I still had about 40 minutes to kill which, seeing how I was in a library, didn’t look to present a problem. I selected a random book from a shelf in front of me.
It was a copy of Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-the-Biggest Cities in the World by Todd Barry. You probably don’t know Barry’s name but you might know his face if you’ve watched Louie or Master of None. He turns up on the late-night chat shows. He played the supermarket manager who was mean to Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.
Barry’s name was familiar but I didn’t quite know why. So I looked at the first chapter. Which was about a Tuesday night show he played at Juanita’s Cantina in January 2015. It was Barry’s second time playing Juanita’s, and he noted the club had moved from its location on Main Street (I almost wrote “South Main” but the copy desk circulated a memo last week reminding us that Main Street does not have a northsouth divide) to the River Market.
Barry’s gig immediately before the Juanita’s show was at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. He opened for Louis C.K. There were 14,000 people in that audience. There were 58 people at the Juanita’s show. (Tickets were $15.) There had been 90 people in attendance when Barry played the club in 2008.
Barry was a little disappointed by that because, he writes, the second time you play a city you ought to draw more people. But, he went on, the show wasn’t well publicized (it got a mention in this newspaper’s weekly calendar but there was no preview story).
Other than that, Barry seemed to have a good time in Little Rock. He got in the day before the show and spent the next morning in my neighborhood; he took an Uber (a nice couple, he reports) to Hillcrest and hung around Mylo Coffee Company, then did a little browsing at the Shoppes on Woodlawn (which has recently been converted into the offices of Dr. Allan McKenzie, whose Yorkie, Belle, went through therapy dog training with our Audi).
Barry doesn’t write much about the show, but we can deduce that it went pretty well. Barry mildly rebukes a woman who went on his Facebook page to suggest he’d be facing a “tough crowd” for his “clever wit.”
“It wasn’t a ‘tough crowd’ (and you mean-spirited readers out there are saying it wasn’t a crowd at all),” he writes. “I’ve had this happen when I promote shows that aren’t in big markets. I remember posting a list of my upcoming tour dates on Instagram (yes, you can do that) that included two dates in North Dakota and one in South Dakota. A woman commented, Living the Dream. I guess she was being sarcastic. I doubt she would’ve said this if the dates were in Chicago, San Francisco and New York. I didn’t respond to the comment but I would’ve like to yell at her, ‘What dream are you living?!’”
I didn’t get much beyond the first chapter, but I think one of the points he wants to make with the book is that people who live in secondary or tertiary markets aren’t much different than people who live in major coastal cultural centers. You don’t have to condescend to them or dumb anything down. Maybe this is something you learn if you tour the country trying to make people laugh. Maybe you learn they laugh at pretty much the same things in the various Jacksonvilles and Springfields as they do in Brooklyn. Maybe everywhere has a hipster coffee bar where you can get a rosewater cappuccino.
Maybe later in his book Barry makes vicious fun of people in Mississippi or Oklahoma, but I’d be surprised. He enjoys playing these markets. (As long as he can get a hotel room that doesn’t open to the outside world.) And I like him for that. I’ll pay more attention to his career in the future.
I looked Barry up on Facebook. It turns out we have eight mutual friends. One of them works on a show Barry sometimes guests on. Another is a New York-based actor. A couple are comedians, a couple more are musicians. All of us, because of the nature of our work, maintain fairly extensive social media matrices.
In 1929, the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy hypothesized in a short story that any two individuals could be connected through at most five acquaintances. That was the origin of the “six degrees of separation” idea.
The world’s gotten smaller since 1929; in 1973, computer models suggested a realistic three degrees of separation existed across the U.S. population. Now, who knows? With all our virtual connections, we’re closer than we ever have been.
Out of all the books in the Terry Library, what are the odds I’d happen to pull out one that starts off with a story about my town and my neighborhood? Were I were a different sort of writer, maybe I’d imply there was some mysterious force—some ghost whisperer—that impelled me to pull out this particular book.
But had I pulled out another book, I might have happened upon another set of seemingly unlikely connections that might have proved just as rich. Our minds are designed to see patterns, to arrange random events into stories. Because more than anything else, we need to feel like it all means something, even if it’s just a weird thing that happened. What you see depends on how you look.