Charley Macorn

Not That Funny Anyway

Non-Binary

Non-Binary

Charley Macorn

Whenever I’m on the road, I always make a point to stop at a local comic book stores in whatever town I’m playing. I haven’t been a serious collector of comic books in years, but I still like to pop in and browse, more for the sake of nostalgia than anything else. I always make a point of buying something, though, not just because I always feel guilted into supporting small businesses. Books, in my experience, make wonderful keepsakes.

A good friend of mine is a bit of a comic book store purist. He gets all out of whack when collectible card games, action figures, or Warhammer figures start taking up too much space away from comic books. The small store I popped into before a show in Oregon would have done him proud. Aside from being dedicated to comic books, the store was also dedicated to being as open and welcoming as possible. This is very important, as comic stores have, historically and famously in geekier circles, been unhospitable thanks to a combination of social awkwardness and systemic toxic masculinity. But this store, right in the middle of downtown was open and accommodating.

 Its bathrooms were gender-neutral, and a stack of free artisanal menstrual pads sat on the table between the two doors. I know artisanal isn’t the right word to use there, but if you saw that pads, you’d know what I mean.

I browsed the shelf of LGBTQ comics, many of which were created by local artists. I was immediately drawn to Non-Binary a comic book by Tulsa, Oklahoma artist Melanie Gillman. I read the first few panels, before deciding to purchase it. It’s a great book. I highly recommend it.

It’s important to say here that I am a non-binary trans person. What that means is despite looking like Phillip Seymour Hoffman and clearly being a lady on the inside, I’ve found a home with myself at neither. My pronouns are they/them and Thanksgiving is always very awkward at my parents’ house. If you want a better definition of that I suggest you either buy Gillman’s book, or just Google it. It’s 2017.

I took the comic to the register, where a beautiful ambiguously gendered person scanned my purchase. I was in a cool city, in a cool comic book store, feeling very much at peace with myself. I had a show in an hour, and I was wearing a dress I looked fantastic in and more makeup and jewelry than I wear in my day-to-day.

“Will that be cash or card?” The clerk asked.

“Cash,” I said, handing my bills forward.

The clerk smiled. “My man!” They said.

I furrowed my brow.

“You know what I mean,” they said sheepishly. “Sorry.”

“It’s all good,” I took my comic and left.

How I Stared in Comedy, Part 2

I’m sitting in the smallest of three auditoriums in the back of the historic Roxy Theater. The long red couch I’m sitting on, depressed and aching from decades of use, is crowed with several other hopeful comedians. I’m not thinking of myself as a comedian just yet. Hell, I haven’t performed in front of audience since I gave a toast a friend’s wedding the year before. Everyone else on the couch, I soon learned, was pulled in from open mics and improv teams. I immediately feel out of place.

Albert Gunner, who invited me to audition after we ran into each other on a First Friday explains the basic premise of the show. They play a movie, and we, the mockers, will riff over it. The movie in question, for this afterhours tryout, was the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. It’s a movie I had seen multiple times in my then-two-plus decades.

As the movie plays, Albert switches out the mockers, trying different combinations at different times. By the end of the year I’d be hosting these auditions myself for Albert.

I’m not unfamiliar with speaking in front of audiences. Sometimes I remember that public speaking is one of the most common fears people have. It’s never been a problem for me. I was president of my high school’s Drama Club, and had done a handful of community theater productions in my sleepy hometown.

The only joke I remember from that audition happened during a scene where one of the eponymous turtles slams his back into one of the goons and yells “Shellshock!”

I immediately said, “Uh, it’s called PTSD and it’s a very serious condition, you jerk.”

Big laughs all around.

Years later I’m driving back from Bozeman, having headlined a show. Lee Vogt had hosted. The show opened with a couple of local Bozemanites (Bozemanians?), and had a prop comic in the feature slot. A motherfucking prop comedian. I have nothing against prop comics on principle. There are plenty of hilarious and talented comedians who use props, after all. But the only laugh this guy got was when he asked how long he had been going.

“Eleven minutes,” the stage manager called out from the crowd.

“Great. Forty more.”

He only did about five more minutes.

Lee, to his credit, brought the energy back as the feature comic collected his stack of paper plates and left the stage. Lee riffed on his idea of Jesus Christ murdering people on the side of the road and erecting cross markers like some kind of deranged maniac. Bozeman ate it up. I went on to a warm stage and a great crowd.

Bozeman is about a three-hour drive from Missoula (three and a half the way Lee drives). It’s the furthest I will go and not stay the night. I like sleeping in my own bed. It’s a week night and the highway is mostly deserted in the early hours of our return drive.

Rap Mix #3 had given way to early Kanye West. Lee turned the sound down, and took a deep breath.

“What’s up?” I looked over at him.

“Do you really want to have a vagina, Charley?”

I met Lee at an open mic. He had a joke about how awful Captain Janeway was. We had struck up a friendship based on our mutual love of comedy, our dreams of success, and Arkansas Polio Weed. Lee is a straight, cis dude. He served in the armed forces for many years before settling down in Missoula. He and I had talked about gender quite a bit. I find that’s true of a lot people in my life.

“Well,” I began, making sure to choose my words carefully, “My own genitals have always been foreign and strange to me. My whole body in fact. It hurts and it’s scary, but it used to hurt more and be scarier.”

A Highway Patrol car passed us. Lee smiled and waved at them, still holding the lit blunt in his free hand. If they saw us in the darkness, I don’t know.

“Transitioning is a very expensive and public thing to do.” I gave Lee the statics. Dramatically higher rates of suicide, murder, unemployment and drug abuse. I went over prices for the medications I can’t afford.

We sat in silence for another half-mile. “That’s pretty fucked up,” Lee took another puff.

“That’s the thing we need to remember,” I took the blunt from him. “Trans people, especially the ones who are transitioning or have transitioned are incredibly brave. They’re taking lumps now, so future generations don’t have to.”

“Would you ever do it?”

“Transition?”

“Yeah.”

I passed the blunt back and shrugged. “I’m a pretty big coward, Lee.”

Lee’s tossed the last little bit of smoldering paper out the window. “I don’t think you’re a coward. You roll into small town Montana, dressed like a gay magician and tell jokes about being queer.”

Behind us is Bozeman; Missoula is ahead of us in the darkness. “Public speaking has always come easy to me.” 

How I Started in Comedy, Part 1

One day I took the bus home from work. I was working as a student janitor in the University of Montana’s Liberal Arts building. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a giant E-shaped building with three floors and a lecture hall in the basement so old it still has No Smoking signs painted onto the gym floor walls. If you’ve ever been a student at UM, you’ve spent time in that building.

Shifts for student janitors were from 8 PM to 12 PM, but on Fridays--no doubt to make sure work actual work was done--we would start cleaning at 4, and then head out once everything was taken care of in the barest possible amount of work.  I lived in the basement of an old building someone had sloppily turned into a two-bedroom apartment about a twenty-minute walk from campus. I would make this walk down Sixth Street, past the church from A River Runs Through It, and home each night.  

At the time I living with an unemployed bluegrass musician who eked out a humble living by busking downtown and stealing pumpkins from fields. She had a degree in Spanish Literature. But this Friday, having hastily emptied the History Department’s trash cans and Windexed the whiteboards, I hopped on the Bolt Bus away from campus and road to the transfer center in the heart of downtown Missoula.

The walk home from the transfer wasn’t much shorter than my walk from campus, but the First Friday Art Walk was in swing. I’m certain your city has something like this, but on the first Friday of every month, Downtown Missoula hosts an art walk. This meant free wine. I had just gotten over being sober for 18-months as part of a plea agreement with the fine folks over at the county court house and was easing myself back into drinking responsibly. It must not have worked out too well because my drinking has been anything but since then.

Having had my one glass of free wine at an exhibit of swearwords written on different typewriters, I grabbed a fish burrito from a food truck and set out down Higgins Ave to my home. Spring had returned to Missoula, having once again defeated the frozen Montana winter before succumbing itself to a forest-fiery summer, so people were out enjoying the Garden City. Several buskers were playing the usual collections of instruments on every corner. Some of the longer streets could fit four or more musicians almost far enough apart. I stopped by the Wilma where my roommate and her boyfriend were belting out a bluegrass classic that sounds like all the other bluegrass classics. I stopped and threw a couple of bucks into the barren banjo case. Marsha owed me a month of rent after her plan to drive to San Francisco and busk at a food festival had barely broken even.  I hoped this would inspire more people to give her money, which would end up going to me anyway.

A father gave his son a dollar bill to drop in the case. Cha-ching, I thought. He looked up at me, and I recognized him as the friend of a friend who I had met once or twice in passing. He pointed at me.

“John, right?” He asked.

“Charley, actually.” We shook hands.

“Oh, right.” He took his son’s hand. “Hey, are we Facebook friends? I have a project I’m working on, and I think you’d be good for it.”

I ran my tongue across my teeth. Was he trying to sell me something? “What project?”

“You still do your Spooky Spooky?” This was in reference to the Spooky Spooky Spooky Spooky Movie Show, an improbably named web show where I screened public domain horror films with me at the ‘commercial breaks.’ It was not very well-received.

“I do,” I lied. I hadn’t done an episode in a couple of months, and, to date, I haven’t done one since.

“We’re ripping of MST3K, but live in a theater. Do you wanna audition?”

A little over two years later I was flying down I-90, watching from the passenger seat as my driver lit up another blunt. He was creeping far enough over the speed limit that I said something, and he eased back down to his usual five under. His sunvisor caddy full of CDs he had burned as a teenager a dozen-plus years ago, had given us Rap Mix #3, which we were listening to on the long drive to the show in Bozeman. Every time a roadside cross-the universal symbol for highway death—approached from down the road, Lee would point it out. “Jesus got another one! Great shooting, Lord!”

No one could tempt fate like Lee Vogt.

It’s still strange to me that these two events are so closely related, but they are. The series of choices that lead me to listening to my roommate play bluegrass outside an old theater in Missoula, also lead to me being in Lee’s car.

Tobe Hooper

Tobe Hooper passed away last night.  While there are filmmakers, directors, and writers whose deaths I think about fairly often (2+0+17=19, after all, as I’m sure other devoted Stephen King fans have anxiously noticed), I was blindsided as I read the news. When an artist dies you immediately think back to your interactions with their art. I am 10, and unable to sleep after watching Poltergeist. I’m 12 watching Texas Chainsaw 2 on MonsterVistion. I’m 27 watching LifeForce with my best friend.

Those parts of me are well in the past, but they still make up the person I am today. Hooper’s films helped me find a voice when I didn’t have words for what I needed in life. But the main takeaway, is the idea that if you really want to make art, you’ll can find away.

Hooper filmed his first feature, the transcendently disturbing Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in a house full of rotting taxidermy in three-digit weather, using money he borrowed from the Mafia, and paying some of his actors in marijuana. He suffered and took risks and is honestly pretty lucky that the working chainsaws they used for close-ups didn’t kill anyone. But he did it, and he changed film forever.

More than that, Tobe Hooper changed me, and millions of others like me. Though he’s gone, his body of work, especially that disturbing movie about cannibals and powertools in rural Texas, are going to live on. He made something and was something.

There's Comedy in Montana?!

Over the last summer, I’ve put in just under 5,000 miles performing comedy across the United States. It was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Not only did I get to get out and see how my goofs work in different parts of the country, explore beautiful landscapes, and meet wonderful people along the way, I also got to teach a whole bunch of people about Montana. As it turns out, telling someone that you’re a Montanan is on par with telling someone you’re a Sasquatch; no one believes you until they see your driver’s license.

I blame this on three interlocking factors. Firstly, no one knows what a Montanan is supposed to look like. Are we the old west? Are we all members of a gun-toting militia? No one knows, but the image of me, an openly and visibly queer person driving across the country with a Montana license plate isn’t it.

Secondly, no one knows anyone from Montana. This isn’t actually true, mind you. Montana has put some great people on the board. We’ve produced entertainers such as J.K. Simmons and Gary Cooper and notable politicians like Jeannette Rankin and Mike Mansfield among others.  

And finally, no one knows a comedian from Montana.  At the inaugural Portland Queer Comedy Festival last month, the hilarious Maggie Mae had to pick her jaw off the floor when I told her I call the Big Sky State my home. “I’ve never heard of a Montana comedian before.”

Montana, though, has a shockingly deep bench of quality stand-up comedians. But to explain why, I must explain Montana first. The fourth biggest state in the Union, Montana actually has one of the sparsest populations in the country. It’s not an exact figure, but we have less than one human being per square mile of land. Cows outnumber humans by a startling margin. Small towns, separated by miles upon miles of beautiful and empty landscape, dot the state. With a scattered population, it might seem weird that a comedy scene has been able to pop up. But it’s not at all shocking once you know Montana’s secret.

We have a hell of a drinking problem here. Pull just about any statistic related to drinking and you’ll find Montana near the very top, asking if one of the sober states would drive them to Taco Bell. We don’t just drink in Montana, we drink to excess.

A few years ago, someone complied a study to see how much money is spent on alcohol in bars in each state. For every single person in the state of Montana, regardless of age, $250 is spent annually in a bar. Not drinking at home, not in a restaurant or a ball park, but in bars. The number two state didn’t even crack $100.

With so many bars--to say nothing of the ever-present breweries, vineyards, and cider houses—full of people drinking, a state-wide comedy scene popped up to fill these drinking establishments with comedy. Missoula, Bozeman, and Billings, our three major cities (quick aside, when I say major city, or some other descriptor of something in Montana, just know I always mean to add ‘for Montana’ at the end), have turned out great talent that eventually takes to the roads of Montana.

Aside from the big cities, I’ve performed in biker bars outside of Great Falls, trendy nightclubs in resorts towns, and in more VFWs than you can shake a drink at.  And while most people don’t give much thought to Montana at all, even if they weren’t surprised at the level of comedy, it’s a really great life. I love Montana. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the country, and I’m really honored to be able to ply my craft across it.