WA Day 2 - Superheroes, Sci-Fi, and Seattle Comedy
Today I started the day still on the Vancouver side of the border. Vancouver is a very very cool city that I like a lot, but my fellowship is supposed to be about the US so after a nice breakfast with my Air BnB host, I set sail back to Seattle. Of course I wasn’t going to be in Canada without enjoying one of their greatest natural resources, Tim Horton’s Coffee. For all the jokes we Americans like to make about them loving Tim Horton’s, I do have to admit it’s a lot better and also a better deal than most American chains.
Fueled up, I made my way across the border. I was still feeling pretty mopey about not having swooped in and won the affections of my ex-girlfriend like I would have if this trip was re-made as a shitty romantic comedy, so I made the mistake of being weirdly honest with the border security guard and our conversation went basically like this:
Border Guard: What were you doing in Canada?
Me: I was seeing my ex-girlfriend.
BG: How’d that go?
Me: Not great.
BG: Probably why you’re not together.
Me: I guess so.
BG: What are you doing in Seattle?
Me: I’m a comedian.
BG: Well you haven’t been funny once this whole time.
Oooh it was like the platonic ideal of the conversation I didn’t want to have. It was almost too perfect, and even though I wasn’t thrilled with any of his comments, I couldn’t help but kinda love him for so expertly not giving a shit about my mopey feelings or career aspirations. It was like a little kick in the ass from the universe to dislodge my head that had gotten so firmly lodged up there (I should have been a poet, huh?)
Back in the US, I made it to Seattle without any incident and made my way to the Museum of Pop Culture, formerly two museums (Experience Music Project and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame) which had joined forces into becoming one behemoth of fun exhibits dedicated to basically anything anyone could possibly geek out about. My brother and dad went there several years ago when they visited Seattle together (where my brother may or may not have almost broken Kurt Cobain’s sunglasses), and both have raved about it ever since. In fact basically everyone I know who’s been to Seattle has raved about so I knew it was a must visit. Unfortunately in my excitement to go in, I didn’t think to photograph just how wild the museum’s Frank Gehry designed sheet metal and glass architecture is, but it certainly cuts a pretty unique profile among the other Seattle buildings. It’s a nice way of using the exterior of the building to tip you off that there’s gonna be fantastic other-worldly elements withing. Honestly looking at this photo of the exterior I found online I don’t think my little phone camera would have been able to do it justice anyway:
Because the Museum of Pop Culture (abbreviated MoPOP) is really several museums housed in the same giant building and it’s a privately funded non-profit, tickets are relatively steep but you certainly get your money’s worth. Because the baseline ticket was a little pricey ($25 if you don’t buy in advance), I sort of debated paying another 6 bucks for the special exhibit, but it was all about Marvel Comics so I ultimately could not resist. I later looked up all the cool community services and resources the museum provides (particularly encouraging music and creative writing education) so that helped me feel a lot better about my contribution.
I didn’t really need to reassure myself though, because the minute I stepped into the multiple-floor spanning Marvel exhibit I was like a little kid again, and I can only describe the experience as pure childlike glee. The exhibit started with a little trip back in time to the early days of comics, with a throwback Newstands where kids and true-believers of all ages were first introduced to Marvel Comics and a fella by the name of Stan Lee. In a fun little anachronism, the comics on the shelves are from every decade since Marvel started in 1939 as a little nod to the fact that while the comics have changed some the way fans devour them has remained pretty unchanged.
My favorite part of this scene-setting of the Golden Age, was this lovably goofy photo of some young nerdlings reading Mighty Mouse Comics… in 3D!
For a very dorky sort of wow factor, they also had a near mint-condition original issue of the very first Marvel Comic ever, which is estimated at being worth around $330,000. I’ve been a comic book geek my whole life, but the idea of mint condition and collecting something just to not read it never really made much sense to me, but it was still pretty cool to see this bit of pop culture in such perfect condition. While this particular comic would pre-date him, there’s a classic family story that my Uncle Tom had a ton of original issues including Captain America’s return in his personal comic book collection, but he didn’t do his chores so my grandma threw them all away. People just didn’t really know that this “kid’s stuff” would become so valuable one day.
From there the focus of the exhibit tightened to Stan Lee’s time at Marvel , the origin of all the classic heroes, and how they’ve changed and developed going into the modern age. The Marvel story was accentuated with some amazingly crafted life-sized sculptures of people’s favorite heroes basically screaming for photo-opportunities. I loved these sculptures (particularly the sleepy Thing) for scene setting, but I was also really impressed with the text in the exhibits, tracing a young Stan Lee’s journey up the ranks of the comics industry while also exploring larger social issues and what made these characters so resonant. Lee started at Timely Comics (what would become Marvel) in 1939 when he was just 17 years old, as a writer’s assistant which in those days meant he had to make sure everyone had ink in their ink wells. Two years later, he was promoted to writing his own comics, usually doing back-up features for bigger titles, though the publishers found he had a knack for it, and promoted him to editor at 19 years old. His meteoric rise was interrupted by the mild inconvenience of WWII and he along with an insane collection of current and future stars including Frank Capra, Charles Addams, and Dr. Seuss (!) were drafted into the Training Films Division to help write and draw different war-time training videos and materials as well as the occasional Propaganda-y cartoon. The whole time he was serving in the war effort his publisher back at Timely Comics still expected him to send in the weeks stories every Monday, which he did without missing a deadline which is just bananas. For the next fifteen years after the war ended, Lee wrote in just about every genre of comics except superheroes because they had fallen out of fashion. He got increasingly dissatisfied with the work and was thinking about quitting to pursue more personal creative ventures, when his publisher in 1961 tasked Lee to come up with a new Superhero team to compete with DC’s smash hit Justice League series (oh how the tables have turned in the intervening 50 years). Lee wasn’t really feeling it, but his wife told him if he was going to quit anyways, he might as well take this opportunity to write the kind of stories he’d like to write because there was noting to lose. Lee took this advice and together with Jack Kirby, they debuted the Fantastic Four. It might seem like a small thing today, but the idea of making his heroes a family that bickered and had to balance different outside obligations and romances with crime fighting was unheard of at the time. Heroes fought bad guys and won back then and didn’t have much if any personality beyond that. Lee and Kirby were the first people to emphasize the human in superhuman, and it was a roaring success. People could actually relate to the heroes, because although they didn’t fight armies of mole people they did have to worry about bills and remembering their girlfriend’s birthday. The creative duo really cracked the formula the next year when they debuted Spider-Man (Marvel’s all time most popular character) and combined heroics with the struggles of adolescence from homework, work work, and unrequited love. Peter Parker was not an assured confident man’s man, he was a dork who was granted incredible powers by accident and suddenly felt like he had no moral choice but to use them. Lee and Kirby found a way to really capture the feelings of being over-whelmed that so many young people (especially in the 60s) felt, mapping the arc of the hero’s journey with the awkward but thoroughly relatable arc of puberty. Spider-Man embraced youth culture in a warm, non-condescending way in a decade when the generation gap was widening worse than ever before, showing the now 40 year old Lee to be a sharp and humanist reader of cultural moments, a trait that has always set Marvel aside from its biggest competitor (obviously there’s been stumbles along the way but it’s truly amazing how much better Marvel has historically been with cultural sensitivity and inclusion than DC). It connected big time, and launched the two artist to the top of the game.
On that note of reading cultural moments, the exhibition next focused on one of both Old and New Marvel’s most iconic characters, Black Panther. Created by Lee and Kirby in 1966 (actually predating the Black empowerment group), Black Panther was the first Black superhero in a mainstream American comic book and sadly only one of a very few non-caricatured Black characters to to be featured in a major comic book let alone to be given a leading role. Early Black Panther comics, though not written by Lee, are also credited with being the first long-form story arc amounting to what we now call graphic novels, further cementing his importance in comics history. While older Black Panther comics are certainly dated by today’s standards (and obviously written by some very well intentioned but very white dudes who had never been to Africa), they are in some ways more impressive to me than the better written more modern versions because today people of all races were clamoring for more representation in a major studio effort, but in 1966 there may have been some vocal Black groups looking for a Black superhero but they probably would have been focused on more big picture items and there also would have been WAY more industry voices telling Stan Lee not to include such a character if not for outright racist reasons than to avoid losing readership in racist places. It was a bold move, that people were either not asking for or advocating against, but Lee and Kirby as two Jewish guys who changed their names to avoid anti-semitism felt a kinship and an obligation to the Civil Rights movement and wanted to firmly take a stance with their comics and in doing so they helped establish the Marvel Universe as a place where everyone could be a hero. It might seem trivial, because super-heroes are thought of as childish, but the effect it has on a young person to see someone who likes them in media being the good guy and winning cannot be overstated. Especially when so often at that time (and today), Black children see way more representations of them being the bad guys across all media. Mere representation’s a small thing that makes a big difference, so the fact that those early comics did that and then more by making Black Panther an equal partner to the existing heroes was huge, and it’s important that the creators didn’t just have a Black hero to do it, but really made him a full fledged character in their universe. The wild success of last year’s Black Panther movie, I think shows just powerful that quality representation can be and how much it really means to people.
The exhibit then briefly pivoted away from Lee to highlight his often under-recognized partner Jack Kirby. Kirby is sometimes thought of as just the artist, but he and Stan had an almost symbiotic creative relationship and they really did co-create the entire early Marvel Universe. He’s credited for really creating the modern visual grammar of comic books, sucking in elements from modern art, mythology, science, and history and combining it with earlier comic styles to create bold, dramatic images that pulsed with energy and could shift easily between realism and abstraction when the story called for it. Something I never knew that blew my god dang mind, is that Kirby almost never made sketches and would instead draw out entire stories in single almost stream of consciousness sessions that were almost always perfect on their first go. I think his distinctive style has become so copied and homaged that I had really forgotten just how impressive an artist he was, so it was amazing to see so many original pieces. My favorite pieces were a Hanukkah card made featuring a very cute doodle of the Thing in a yamaka and a prayer shawl (fun aside: the iconic image Kirby drew of Captain American punching Hitler was from 1941 before the US was in the war which was a pretty bad ass move) and a collage of a self portrait of Kirby working with all his iconic creations leaping off his drafting board (not the human torch lighting his cigar).
Fittingly after paying tribute to Kirby, the next section of the exhibit was just dedicated to beautiful artwork from Marvel past and present including the original of Gil Kane’s famous title splash for The Night Gwen Stacy Died. Comics are such a unique medium, in that I think most often they are judged by the quality of their storytelling, but alongside all those great stories is equally amazing art and it was really fun to take a step back and just enjoy things from that perspective.
The next couple of galleries were largely dedicated to the different major Marvel series’ theirselves and what each new creation added to the larger landscape. Setting all their stories in one universe and often enough all in New York was a master stroke of cross-series marketing and creativity that allowed creators the freedom to share characters and fans the ability to see all their favorites potentially team up. Contemporary Marvel was also really the first (and arguably the only) company to pull this off in other media as well with their shared Marvel Cinematic Universe dominating film and television for over a decade now. It’s easy to forget that before the success of the Dark Knight and Iron Man (the same year mind you), people thought super hero movies were a dying fad after the diminishing returns of Sony’s third Spider-Man and X-Men movies and the middling results of Batman Begins (sort of like the 90s slump after Tim Burton’s Batman) and the fact that Marvel not only helped usher in this new craze and maintained that momentum for over a decade is ridiculous. The big appeal of these next galleries for fans of that craze is that they had a whole lot of props from those movies, which were pretty cool to see.
The first addition to the Marvel Universe they talked about was how Thor was the first series to add elements of Norse mythology and mysticism to the otherwise vaguely realistic Marvel comics allowing conflicts to now approach more cosmic abstract scales. Thor can often be a bit of a one-not character to me, but when done well such as in Jason Aaron’s recent run on the series or the very enjoyable Thor: Ragnarok he can be a lot of fun allowing creators to throw rules of physics out the window and reach for either high camp or poetic parable with the more theatrical elements of the character.
Next up was the flagship series of the MCU, with lots of different Iron Man suits throughout the ages. The suits from the movies were cool to look at and impressively uncomfortable looking to wear, and the gallery talked about Iron Man as Marvel’s way of looking at the Military Industrial Complex of whatever age he’s in. His only superpower really is being very rich and good at military technology, but through that they’re able to look at how science and technology are often corrupted for warfare, how business fits into both, and interesting ideas about how world peace can come dangerously close to fascism when billionaires try to implement it (the Civil War comics and movie did a neat trick of making Iron Man the villain even with the best of intentions). Later Iron Man comics were also the first to really deal with mental illness in a superhero setting with Tony Stark’s struggles with alcoholism affecting his work.
Next up came an interesting little display of all the times current US presidents have made cameos in Marvel Comics. This was a fun bit of trivia, but also a way of exploring the way Captain America has been used as a cipher for different political climates since he got unfrozen in 1964, being a symbol of patriotism when the writers were feeling it or a perfect outlet for criticizing the government in times of turmoil. There’s been stumbles for sure, but it’s impressive how well they’ve managed to make a character that could have felt super one-dimensional and nationalistic feel continually culturally relevant. Also I’m happy that Ronald Reagan got brainwashed by a reptile.
Next up came Marvel’s ventures into the Cosmos with their space themed heroes here represented by some super cool props from one of their sillier franchises, Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians franchise is in general a free-wheeling throwback to earlier adventure comics capturing a youthful zeal for exploring other realms and letting pure imagination run wild.
Next up came a shout out to my personal favorite Marvel franchise, the X-Men. Combining Cold War era fears of radiation with a clever metaphor for puberty (taking themes from Spider-Man to another level), Marvel’s mutants became a super-powered celebration of loving what makes you weird and different without sacrificing the fact that the journey to that point is often tough and rocky. They also served as a parable of the dangers of discrimination, coming out in the days of segregation and making the Holocaust an integral part of Magneto’s backstory to imbue even the Villains with a sense of righteous humanism. Being a gigantic cast they’ve also always been the best examples of inclusion featuring many of Marvel’s strongest females, POC, queer, and even Canadian characters.
A fun bit of curation came with the handling of Marvel’s potentially goofy supernatural side of their universe with Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider, and the like getting art and film props plus a walkway of mirrors with projected animations on them to give you a full immersion into the fun and psychedelic side of just committing to go full fantasy.
On the opposite side of the spectrum was the gritty (relative) realism of Marvel’s Defenders, most notably Daredevil, who represent smaller scale heroics. In a lot of ways Daredevil was an attempt to recreate the darker side (and certainly the look) of DC’s Batman, but they took away the element of wealth which made everything feel more tangible and stacked against the hero which was important for overcoming the potential goofiness of his super-powered second sight. Toss in some Catholic guilt and you’ve got a fun adult version of Spider-Man’s struggle to really balance being a hero with the toll it takes on being a regular person. It was also a highlight in separating the art from the artist as I think Frank Miller’s a kinda gross dude, but as highlighted in the panels to the left he really is an impressive artist and storyteller.
Lastly but not least comics in general and Marvel in particular wouldn’t have lasted as long as they have without the fans, and so the exhibit ended fittingly with display of Marvel merchandise some official and some lovingly handmade and an ongoing poll of museum visitors favorite marvel characters. The fact that Black Panther is number one despite being relatively under-appreciated until recently is a testament to how good that movie was and again the power of just feeling like a welcomed and included part of your favorite fictional universe. I was biased from the start, but I really loved this exhibit and had a fun nostalgic time walking through all three floors of it.
After the special exhibit, I took a brief break to get some coffee at a sleek and stylish place down the block called QED Coffee, and thus it was demonstrated to really hit the spot and keep me going. Plus the walk helped me really enjoy the beautiful day out.
Reinvigorated, I dove into the museum’s massive permanent collection starting with a pretty incredible sculptural tribute to Seattle’s own Jimi Hendrix (a nod to the museum’s earlier days) called If VI was IX by British artist Trimpin, clocking in at three-stories tall and featuring over 500 instruments arranged in a giant wave including about 40 specially made computerized guitars that play specially composed arrangements on a loop. I was too excited to see the superheroes at first, but I gotta give this piece it’s due as a jaw-dropping first impression to have in your lobby.
If the sculpture is a nod to the Hendrix origins of the MoPOP the lobby is not without a nod to its Sci-fi origins with one of the original flying cars from the movie Blade Runner just casually floating above the cashiers. No big deal or anything.
The first permanent exhibit I went into was the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame which was founded in 1996 by the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society to induct and honor great writers and works of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. The Hall of Fame was relocated and incorporated MoPOP in 2004, and the inductees are accompanied by some pretty big ticket items of memorabilia including: Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber and severed hand for George Lucas; The Original Dr. Zaius suit to honor Twilight Zone and Planet of the Apes creator Rod Serling; Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Shirt to honor Nimoy, Gene Roddenberry, and Star Trek In General; godfather of modern Sci-Fi Isaac Asimov’s typewriter; Hellboy’s Right Hand of Doom for Guillermo del Toro; and the Staff of Ra and a certain famous hat for Steven Spielberg and Indiana Jones. It was a lot of concentrated things to geek out about for one room to have.
The next exhibit I went to was dedicated to some decade defining Seattle-ites: Nirvana, which started with a particularly Christ-like photo of Kurt Cobain.
I never actually got super into Nirvana, but as the exhibit points out it’s hard to ignore their influence on Pop-Culture as they were essentially the first band to really punch through the soulless commercialization of 80s pop culture and bring DIY punk to the masses. Obviously they did also intentionally or not become gigantic stars, but they helped put a greater focus back on using real instruments instead of all synths all the time and singing about real issues causing discontentment amongst the jaded 90s youths. They tapped into and launched a cultural movement the way no American band really had before, sort of combining the punk aesthetics of the Clash with the pop superstardom of the Beatles. Love ‘em or hate ‘em their influence on pop culture is massive and undeniable. I liked the way they exhibit highlighted not just the band, but also talked about the local DIY scene that birthed them, painting a picture of youth and underground art in the Pacific Northwest around the turn of the 90s. While Nirvana was the most famous band to emerge from that scene, it was cool that the bands that came up with them and inspired or were inspired by them also got their dues. It was a weird and supportive artsy community that did a lot of beautiful things, but also had a lot of problems, especially with drugs, and it was cool to feel that moment in time come alive warts and all. I was especially pleasantly surprised by two things cribbed from the Clash’s playbook: a staunch anti-Nazi, anti-racism stance evidenced in one Kurt’s homemade t-shirts (which I wish didn’t feel so damn poignant either then or now) and collaboration with the underground art scene as evidenced by some album art by incredible draftsman and cartoonist Charles Burns.
I think my favorite thing in the exhibit , probably just because it surprised me the most, were travel photos from Nirvana’s tours taken by and of Kurt, showing that the “tortured artist” could also be a straight up goofball, taking really funny photos molesting Col. Sanders and brandishing a crucifix at the cars that passed by. I feel like so much is made of his depression and drug use, that there’s something really nice and surprising about just seeing him having a fun time, which was always a big part of the music as well.
Next up came an exhibit about America’s most famous guitarist, Jimi Hendrix. The gallery through a gorgeous psychedelic Yellow Submarine-esque timeline traced his journey from a dissatisfied side-man in the States, growing bored with Nashville and getting kicked out of Little Richard’s band for being too flashy in New York, to a band-leader and a superstar in London. It’s crazy thinking that such an amazing talent could go so unappreciated in his own country for years before he got his big break. The arts are freaking hard man. Beyond the life story and trippy graphics, the exhibit also had a number of Jimi’s original guitars, some of his trademark outfits, and a number of vintage posters from gigs he played all over the world. It was a really lovely tribute to a larger than life figure.
The next exhibit was a bit of a departure focusing on a side of pop-culture often ignored in museums, videogames. The exhibit is called Indie Game Revolution and features dozens of playable games by Indie developers. The game developers are sometimes just one programmer/artist and sometimes small studios of likeminded oddballs, but either way they made new and inventive games of unbridled creativity too weird or technically complex for major studios. It was fun to see the sort of punk-y DIY mindset brought to the “geeky” world of gamers. It was fun to get to play everything, and there was clearly so much love, care, and artistry from the developers for their little engines that could. My favorites to play were: a super adorably violent puzzle game throwback to 80s slasher films in all their gratuitous glory called Slayaway Camp; an inventively gross platformer called Eggggg where you a play a boy with an egg allergy who has to eat eggs to unlock vomit-y superpowers to defeat cyborg chickens (obviously); and Everything, beautifully designed and silly game where you play as well, everything, exploring the worlds of sub-atomic particles to galaxies and everything in between looking for connections and listening to a soundtrack of soothing ambient music and speeches by the philosopher Alan Watts on the nature of the universe. Since the best part was actually playing everything, photos can’t totally do the exhibit justice but they can highlight the delightfully designed giant pixels that make up the walls of the galleries.
Next up came the museum’s massive 150+ item collection of memorabilia from Science Fiction films and television. It was just incredible the sheer size and scope of it, all spread out across different display cases in an immersive gallery meant to make you feel like you were inside a giant spaceship. It was so comprehensive that there must be something there that triggers nostalgia in everybody, which shows the impressive breadth of material under the sci-fi umbrella. It’s a tad reductive of the huge collection, but most items fell into of two categories: gadgets and tech or monsters and aliens. For the gizmos, the things I was most excited to see were: an original proton-pack from Ghostbusters (one of my all time favorites); the hoverboards from Back to the Future 2; different ray guns from the Men In Black series; and of course an exact replica of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s skeletal system aka the original T-800 model from Terminator.
For aliens, it brought me immense joy to see models of Greedo from Star Wars ( as well a pretty funny concept drawing of how he almost looked); the Martians from underrated Tim Burton gem Mars Attacks!; the only good bug, a dead bug from the shockingly relevant sci-fi political satire Starship Troopers that is somehow over the top and still so subtle most reviewers didn’t get it until years later; and the hilariously intense villain Roth'h'ar Sarris from the very funny and silly Star Trek parody Galaxy Quest. In all case the artistry of the creature design is really evident and just a blast to get to see up close.
My favorite alien items are nice illustration of the full spectrum of how art has imagined extraterrestrials from the lovably goofy Mork from Ork to the even more horrifying up close H.R. Giger designed Xenomorphs from Alien:
The next gallery was dedicated to the related genre of Horror, which like sci-fi so often seeks to get to the core anxieties and fear behind societal and personal predilections. If my taste in art hasn’t made it clear, I’ve always been drawn to the campy, macabre element of classic Universal horror films and the deeper questions and jumps behind better later horror films, so it was fun to get to trace the evolution of the genre through this exhibit. I really loved the design work of the classic Creature of the Black Lagoon, and I’ll always have a soft spot for the impressively expressive Gizmo from Gremlins so those were my favorite pieces, but there is something also just sort of cool in seeing the classic iconography of Jason and Freddy up there (even if their respective franchises are a wild mixed bag). I didn’t think to photograph it, possibly because it was too gross, but they also had the Leatherface mask and chainsaw from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which I don’t mind saying is probably still the best horror film of all time.
Even though I personally think vampires are kind of dumb and boring, I also have to give the museum a shout out for some astounding curation in the exhibits handling of vampire films by providing a timeline tribute of the genre through beautiful gothic stained glass arranged in a little faux-cathedral. It was just stellar art direction and I wish I knew who designed it. I’m especially a fan of the little bow tie on the vampire turning into a bat.
Things took a lighter more whimsical turn in the next gallery dedicated to Pop Culture of the Fantasy genre. I’ve personally always been more drawn to the darker stuff, but you can’t help but smile seeing the real costumes from such indisputable gems as the Wizard of Oz and the Princess Bride. It would be inconceivable not to!
Of course my favorite bit of costuming here was John Cleese’s fantastically ill-fitting helmet that he wore as the French soldier in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a film very near and dear to my comedy heart.
Again the artistic direction and curation was top notch with the exhibit space made to look like a magical forest, with figures from tarot card labeling each piece, and wizardly castles forming out of what initially looked like trees. I particularly liked the bizarre choice of having interviews with fantasy writers and creators on their craft and the themes of good and evil projected onto a screen made to look like the giant eyeballs of a dragonfly sculpture. I’m not sure why a dragonfly, but I love the commitment.
Next up was one of the coolest looking staircases I’ve ever been on, leading up to a special exhibition all about Star Trek intended to inspire the same kind of wonder as people felt when they first saw space on their TV.
I felt similarly about the Star Trek exhibit as I did about the Nirvana one, I wasn’t the most knowledgable or the biggest fan of the source material, but you’d be hard pressed to deny the cultural impact and it was still cool to get to see all the preserved props and artwork. They had classic costumes from every Star Trek crew through the years, monsters and aliens (I do love the Tribbles), and the coolest thing to me, the models of all the space ships. While I never got into it like a hardcore Trekkie, I do admire Star Trek for positing an optimistic version of space where alien races are able to co-habitate. It’s a nice corollary focusing more purely on the promise and potential of science and humanity, as opposed to the risks, fears, and dark sides of both as so much sci-fi does. It was really sort of heart-warming to read all the pieces from cast, crew, and fans about the way that positive message has inspired them. I also liked finding out that part of the way they got away with having the first inter-racial kiss on TV was that Shatner just intentionally made every take without the kiss totally unusable. How I would LOVE to see that footage.
The funniest bit of curation here was a sound-proof booth where you could go and just yell “KHAAAAAAAAAANNNN”. Just incredible work from the museum here.
The last exhibit I went to was called the Sound Lab, which was where you the viewer could try out different instruments and have fun jamming while learning about the history and roots of rock and roll. It was fun and interactive, and they had famous people’s instruments including an original John Bonham Drum set (not playable of course) but I was feeling a bit fatigued from all the other amazing exhibits so I only did a very small but enjoyable amount of jamming.
The last big thing at the museum was a venue space called the Sky Church which featured a truly colossal 33’ x 60’ HD LED screen playing music videos, concert footage, and whatever other programming the museum was feeling. It’s all complimented by psychedelic lighting and a wide, open ceiling speckled with hypnotic artistic umbrellas. Because there were videos playing, all the photos I tried to take came out pretty blurry, but luckily the museum website was able to catch the venue in a more dramatic way.
After absorbing all that pop culture, I was feeling pretty worn out so I went to get some more coffee at a place called Zeitgeist Coffee because I really enjoyed the name. When I got there, the sandwiches also looked delicious, and I hadn’t realized how hungry I was until I was surrounded by such good looking food. I decided to go vaguely healthy and get a fantastic turkey panini with roasted turkey breast on fresh local rustic white bread from Grand Central Bakery with black pepper, havarti, roma tomatoes & lettuce. Together with the iced coffee, it was a perfect little lunch, and you know it’s good because normally I have a tough time eating when I’m feeling a bit depressed but I ate every last bite.
After refueling at the Zeitgeist, I decided it would be good for me to make the most of the beautiful day outside. So I went to see a beautiful outdoor sculpture park: right on the waterfront of Downtown Seattle. Olympic Sculpture Park is under the umbrella of the Seattle Art Museum a couple blocks away, but it’s free of charge and impressively expansive so it really feels like it’s own independent spot. They had about 20 pieces from notable artists including Ellsworth Kelly, Louise Bourgeois, and Alexander Calder ranging from impressively large scale installations (including a full greenhouse designed by an artist named Mark Dion) to small such as all the benches in the park which were designed by various artists as interactive pieces for visitors. All the art was complimented and accentuated by 9 acres of beautiful waterfront greenery. My personal favorite sculptures included: A surprisingly lyrical steel sculpture called Schubert Sonata by Mark di Suvero that gracefully spins in the wind; a massive bust by Jaume Plensa that used computer modeling to stretch and abstract the features of his young model to create a dreamy otherworldly effect; a beautiful and playful water fountain by Louise Bourgeois called Father and Son where the Father and son are alternatingly engulfed in water and separated from one another; and a punny interactive piece by Roy McMakin called Love and Loss where the words Love and Loss are spelled out on overlapping stone benches and tables (and even the base of the potted trees) while a bright red ampersand floats in the sky.
Of course as beautiful as all the man made work was, it was pretty hard to top the natural beauty of the park’s view out over Puget Sound. It was really perfect and relaxing to just sit there on the grass surrounded by all the art and just look out over the rippling water.
After chilling out for a bit, I set sail for the night’s open mic. It was at a funky Thai restaurant called Jai Thai, and I’ll be honest I was a little skeptical going into another restaurant after the pretty small showing at the Chinese restaurant in Portland, but the venue is super supportive of their comics providing a really nice stage right by the bar.
I was a little early to sign up, because with my anxiety I generally show up to places early. But when the host, the very funny Mary Lou Gomba, found out I was from out of town, she said it was no problem and she’d give me a good spot on the list. It was a little act of kindness, but after the long night I’d had yesterday it really meant a lot and it was a good introduction to the overwhelming kindness I would find throughout the Seattle (and Tacoma) comedy scene this week.
While I waited for the mic to start, I talked to my friend Mike on the phone and he was very kind to both listen to me talk about my (ugh) feelings and also give me some very good recommendations for things to do in Seattle.
My friend Jacques, whose couch I would be sleeping on for the next couple days, came out to the open mic to see how my act had changed since college and also to just get a feel for a potentially fun thing to do in town. I was glad for the company, and it did end up being a very fun night, which was helped in part by the bar itself also having some really fun cocktails. I got something called the Laughing Buddha since it felt fitting for a comedy show, and it had House infused Lemongrass Vodka, Ginger Beer, Thai chili, Ginger, and Lime Juice. It was much sweeter and more gingery than spicy so I was into it, but the chili definitely did intimidate my frail Irish palette going in. On a less adventurous but still very tasty note, I got a Kentucky Dark Star Oatmeal Stout from Fremont Brewing which was perfectly right up my alley.
The open mic itself was solid top to bottom with really talented performers and a pretty nice audience that filled in as the night progressed.
My personal favorite comic of night was a guy named Daniel O’Connell who did a fun set making fun of ideas of toughness and masculinity by at first coming out like he was going to be very confrontational before announcing “I’m a tough little boy. I can wriggle out of anything.” It was a spot on description of elementary school fights, and a really funny and silly set.
There were a lot of other highlights tonight though including:
Mary Lou Gomba- I walked by my gym and I had forgot I was a member
Sunni- Tinder is not what we call a nice neighborhood
Robbie Shrader- this is your comedian speaking. We're coming in for an emergency laughing
Rick Taylor- If I'm at a gay bar I'm the guy I used to try to avoid when I was in my 20s. I got my nephew little Bobby a stripper for his birthday which was a bad idea… because kids don't have money
TL Mulaney- Generation X is the kids from your dads first marriage
Maddie Downs- Arm Spanks: For the girls who always wanted to raise their hand in math class but were afraid to try
Aberhahn - Childhood was confusing. Was I black? Was I African American? Is wishbone a dog who can talk?
Nikita Oster - Songs don't have four repeated words and their victim’s name. Spells do
Cliff Barnes - I saw a group of White People wearing white parkas while skiing. I see what you did there, you buttholes
Two other highlights that were really funny to me but harder to explain in a single line, were a guy name Eli Schweitzel who did hilariously stream of consciousness poems with a dead pan delivery worthy of Steven Wright, and a younger comic named Bobby Higgly who had a wild true story about meeting his closeted Mormon dentist at a bath-house in San Francisco. I felt like he was a newer comic and working on nailing all the laugh lines in the story, but it was such a funny “you can’t make this up” moment that it was still an amazing bit with a solid stinger of “ And That's how you lose a dentist.”
As for my own set, I think it went pretty well, and one of the comics, Rick Taylor, was nice enough to give me a pretty good video of it so I figured I’d share it here since I talk a lot about stand up here but very rarely show you all what I actually do up there. I really liked Jacques’ enthusiastic response of “Wow Joe, you’ve gotten a lot better!” Check it out:
After the mic, Jacques and I went back to his place, had a few more drinks, and got to catch up a bit more one on one. Not a bad way to end a day that I’ll admit started out a little rocky there.
Favorite Random Sightings: Foxy Lady Lattes; Fleabusters (who ya gonna call?); Trendy Wendy; Elephant Car Wash (big giant neon elephant sign really made this one see below)
Regional Observations: I feel like Portland, OR makes a big deal about being “weird” but Seattle seems to just have more natural weird and artsy vibes to it, which I really loved.
Albums Listened To: The Story of the Kinks: 24 of their Greatest Hits by the Kinks (a nice collection of mostly singles that I wouldn’t have on any other album); Straight, No Chaser by Thelonious Monk (a pretty much perfect jazz album); Stranger to Stranger by Paul Simon (the most recent album of original songs from Paul Simon with lots of super weird instrumentation, not perfect but kinda fun, plus he says “motherfucker” and it’s odd)
People’s Favorite Jokes:
Nothing today, so here’s one from the world wide web:
A Pastor goes to a nursing home for the first time to visit an elderly parishioner.
As he is sitting there, he notices a bowl of peanuts beside her bed and takes one.As they continue their conversation, he can't help himself and eats one after another.
By the time they are through visiting, the bowl is empty. He says, "Mrs. Jones, I'm so sorry, but I seem to have eaten all of your peanuts."
"That's O.K.," she says. "They would have just sat there anyway.
Without my teeth, all I can do is suck the chocolate off and put them back in the bowl.
Songs of the Day:
Bonus Important Piece of Pop Culture: