"I'm confused. Aren't you a comedian?"

a new poem from Julian who may or may not be a comedian

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Hello, Sternal Journalists!

Last week, I was talking to someone about a short film I’m working on. I was talking to this person because they wanted to give me money to make it which is always helpful and appreciated and an always-awkward conversation full of awkward questions.

Their first awkward question was, “I’m confused. Aren’t you a comedian?” They asked this because the project in question faces head-on the horrors of dementia and aging, and also has some implied violence in it. I’m pretty sure—or at least other people have confirmed for me—that it’s funny also. But it’s way less strictly funny than, for example, my stand up bits titled “Louis Lasagna” or “Peeny Phiseeny.”

The short version of my answer to that question is that I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure I still am. But even as I’m going up and performing comedy in the scene again, I am having fun being way more loose form-wise and watching others do the same. In short, we’ve broken free of our bad habits! There are no rules anymore!

So with that mindset in mind, this week’s Sternal Journal is a poem I’ve been working on this week. It’s not comedic, but it’s comedy-esque. I also think with things like this, it’s best not to give too much of a preamble, which I’ve already done. So without further shenans, here is a poem I wrote for you to enjoy if you enjoy that sort of thing:

Maybe the Afterstuff
(and by “Afterstuff,” we’re talking afterlife, heaven and/or hell, great beyond, all that jazz, theoretical and potential)
by Julian Stern

Maybe the Afterstuff
is just a cocktail party
where you talk about 
everything you did 
in life.
They lied.
You do take it with you
but it is just the stories.
Murderers wind up fucking
in the coatroom a lot;
the Amish just graze 
around like “What the;” 
everyone in between
pretends to have fun.

and that’s the joke or the story.

Or maybe the Afterstuff is a chalkboard
that’s 69 miles tall and 420 across
and you have to write “Live, Laugh, Love”
until you fill it. It takes years. You finish
and you’re white with chalk up to your elbows.
Chalk caked to your skin as if it’s more cake than skin, 
your eyes bloodshot and somehow darker.
Not around the eyes, but the eyes themselves.
Cornea, iris, pupil, all just a darkness to them.

And you turn around and God shows up, 
looking stern and vengeful as ever.
His beard is a beard, but when you look closer,
(which he allows if not invites)
it’s a white froth of treacherous waves crashing
onto each other. Closer still and it’s a beard again,
and you realize it’s all it’ll ever be, so then 
the tides and whiskers part and a laugh comes out―
not one laugh, but 69 big laughs. And then a sigh―
not one sigh, but 420 little sighs. Still such an
eternity after your last eternity that you wish for death
four separate times, each time remembering you had
everything you wished for all along.

And just when you think that’s it, he turns the chalkboard
into the largest iPhone screen you’ve ever seen 
and opens his voice memos app and goes to the one that says
“Julian ― Comedy Closet Mic ― 060719 ― decent”
and you suddenly know what’s coming and it’s you―your own voice
(God goes to your open mics it turns out—woof), so it’s you saying,
“Y’ever see a ‘Live, Laugh, Love’ sign? For me, they have―they have
the opposite of what I assume their, ah, intended effect is. I see one of those signs, 
I immediately wanna, “Die, Cry, Hate.”

There is only one laugh―God’s―
as he turns the iPhone back into your chalkboard
slaps you on the back, and says, 
“That’s what you get for talkin’ shit about my rules.
Anyway, let’s get you inside, get you a drink.
Can’t wait to give you the tour.”

So it turns out that’s just the foyer of the Afterstuff.

And then maybe still the Afterstuff is just a fully immersive, maximally sensory VR loop of the time you were Crow #2 in a middle school production of The Wizard of Oz, and backstage one of the Ozians sat in your lap, and your pants tented in a very specific way such that everyone thought you had a boner but you didn’t, and Crow #3―effortlessly embodying the coolness and fast-talkery of an IRL crow on and off the stage more than you ever would or will―this Crow #3 said, “That’s alright man, that’s alright. It’s just good to know you’re workin’ down there.” And then moments later, when alone again―all the Ozians, other crows, munchkins, witches, Dorothies, and Totos disappearing into a puff of laughter and titters―your pants ripped. And what if you had gotten a boner, and that’s why they ripped―from force of boner. Oh, at least you would have died a legend, of embarrassment. 

But no. They ripped because you were a chubby little big boy. A chubby little big boy who was growing and morphing always. Such that if someone bought you pants on Monday, it would take a meteorologist, an oracle, and a pediatric nutritionist to formulate even a halfway decent stab at a guess as to whether those pants would fit on Friday, Wednesday, even Tuesday for that matter. Even then, it would depend too much on pressure systems, the Gods, and cholesterol to ever be sure. So they ripped because of that volatile chub of yours. So. In your all-black Crow #2 outfit, you went to the 6th Grade teacher, the assistant director, and whispered―quivered, “My pants ripped.” And you were about to go on, so tragically―so tragically―she asked, “Do you have boxers on?” No. There was no technicolor in this part of the story. No. You had to admit―quiver… “Only tighty-whiteys.” And she didn’t have time to assess the situation because it’s go time for Crows #1-3, so she just offered “I don’t think you can see it,”

and then pushed you into the light―

If you made it this far—truly, honestly—I welcome your feedback, reactions, and criticism. And if you have ideas for things that don’t fit into the main creative form you practice, I hope you’ll take this as another nudge to find another form and make a thing for yourself. That’s the kind of independence I can get down with, you know what I’m sayin’?



The Ezra Klein Show: Jeff Tweedy. Podcast. Speaking of doing things for yourself and not for anyone else, I thoroughly enjoyed this interview with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy about creativity. I was not a big Wilco fan, but I am now.

Call Me If You Get Lost. Album. I think I recommended this last week, but I want to double down because I finished listening, and listened again, and again. Listen, listen, listen, if only for the inspirational speech of RUNITUP, the painful, blunt love story on WILSHIRE, or the joy of DJ Drama reporting, “A young lady just fed me French vanilla ice cream, we all got our toes out too!” on HOT WIND BLOWS.

The Red Balloon. Film. I forgot about this wild art house short film for kids that my grandparents had the VHS for until rewatching it this week. If you love movies or kids or balloons, this is a real treat. If you, like me, had forgotten about it for a couple decades, I hope you give it another watch. There’s a grainy version on YouTube, but it’s available to rent for a few bucks on a bunch of sites. Here’s an A.O. Scott video review of it in case you need that sort of thing.

This Land. Podcast. If you’re looking for a self-educational piece of entertainment on this 4th of July, this podcast about tribal sovereignty and attempts by the U.S. government to undo it even further was really, really good.

Alright, Sternal Journalists! Much love and hopes for independence from whatever may be vexing you!