Budgeteer columnist Brian Matuszak’s middle name is ‘Debacle’I know it’s hard to believe, especially when you glance at my picture that accompanies this column, but I am not the smoothest operator when it comes to ... well, anything, really. When the chips are down, I tend to pick them up and, in a panicked state, shove them into my mouth and chew. I have been known to put the D in “debacle”, the SHUN in “humiliation”, and the DORK in “dork.”
So it’s a brand new year, barely a week old, and I haven’t disappointed anyone yet (the cats don’t count).
Could this be the year where my awkwardness and inability to function in social settings doesn’t result in red-faced embarrassment and trips to the county courthouse? Probably not. But a fella can dream, hope, and aspire, even though he has no earthly chance of fulfilling those dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Just ask Ron Paul!
Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, especially when you glance at my picture that accompanies this column, but I am not the smoothest operator when it comes to ... well, anything, really. When the chips are down, I tend to pick them up and, in a panicked state, shove them into my mouth and chew. I have been known to put the D in “debacle”, the SHUN in “humiliation”, and the DORK in “dork.” Fortunately, this debilitation hasn’t stopped me from securing a fine group of friends and tricking a beautiful woman into marrying me, so I’ve been lucky. But here are two examples where things could have easily gone the other way and I could have been a social pariah. Just like Rick Santorum!
SUNDAY CHURCH SERVICE, CIRCA 1973: We had a fantastic priest at our church who would give you money if you could answer specific questions about the Bible. One time, I scored five bucks for knowing the Ten Commandments! (Most of that knowledge has dripped slowly out of my brain over the years, but I do remember there’s something in there about false witnesses and bears, so keep that in mind, Duluth News Tribune.) I scored some pretty good dough when it was just a small group of us kids at Sunday School, but one summer Sunday, Father was in the middle of delivering his sermon to a packed congregation and he called for my brother Bruce and me to join him at the altar. (This wasn’t a big deal, as we were both altar boys and already there.) Father then handed me TEN BUCKS and, in front of God and everyone filling those pews, asked me if it would be OK if I gave it to my brother. I panicked! I didn’t want to be perceived as a greedy, grubby little ten-year-old (which is exactly what I was), so I handed the money to Bruce, who quickly whisked it away under his vestments. The entire congregation howled at me and the priest looked a little shocked. In doing the right thing and giving my brother the money, I had inadvertently done the wrong thing and stomped all over the priest’s sermon points about greed. I have never lived it down over the years and my brother still owes me ten bucks.
COLLEGE, CIRCA 1987: I can’t go into much detail on this one except to say that, in an effort to show a girl how funny and suave I can be, I accidentally wiped my sweaty brow with an inky college newspaper. I didn’t have as much forehead space available then as I do today, but there was still enough available acreage to leave a black, smudgy Rorschach test all over my noggin. The girl is still my friend, which is a testament to the power of selective amnesia.
These two brief examples (space does not permit me to list others; it would fill every Budgeteer printed from 1968-2009) illustrate that when two choices are offered to me, in a panicky moment of desperation I will always, ALWAYS grab the one that causes me the most personal degradation and humiliation. It’s weird because the opposite happens to me on the stage. When I’m performing in a show and something goes wrong, I can improvise and keep the scene moving forward until it gets back on track. I think it’s because when things go wrong onstage, there really are no wrong choices you can latch onto. (Well, there are, but staring blankly out into space works only for political debates. Just ask Rick Perry!) See, it doesn’t matter WHAT you do to get the play back on track, you will always be golden as long as you are providing SOMETHING for the audience to enjoy. In fact, oftentimes an audience will be on your side and they’ll laugh and applaud like crazy when order has finally been restored.
Unfortunately, real-life audiences aren’t the same as theatrical audiences. Parishioners and college girls are unforgiving and ready to mock you at a moment’s notice. Of course, it works both ways and as soon as I hear someone mangle words and mush up the facts, I’m pointing it out and feeling smug and superior.
Now if only there were a Republican presidential candidate who fit that bill ….
Brian Matuszak has been difficult and demanding since February 2008. He is the co-founder of Renegade Comedy Theatre, founder of Rubber Chicken Theater, and would like to remind Bruce one more time about that ten bucks.