Friday, January 25, 2013

Woody, Woody and Me

I fell in love with Woody Allen as a young girl, trying to survive the desolate Pennsylvania winters by reading things no one else in my peer group found interesting. Lying next to the heat vents after being dragged out of giant snow drifts by my very tall father, I wanted nothing more than to be warm, dry and somewhere else. Being nine, there was no option for my escape that didn’t involve words on a page; fortunately, that has and will always be my favorite form of travel, anyway. So I found this book called “Without Feathers” and felt super smart because I knew it was a reference to Emily Dickinson. I started reading these strangely funny short pieces, realizing quickly that I wasn’t understanding half the pages I was turning, but still laughing out loud every now and again.
It was “The Whore of Mensa” that won my heart. Yes, at that age, I was aware of MENSA, having spent hours in my aunt’s beauty shop rummaging through back issues of Reader’s Digest so I could take every condensed IQ and MENSA sampler quiz they published. I was kind of aware of whores, but less as a career concept and more as something boys called girls who liked fooling around. The idea of a woman’s mental companionship being valued equally as her tits and ass just rocked my little girl world. I think I really believed, premenstruation, that I might one day meet guys who would fall in love with me because I was smart and extremely well-read. Sigh!

This single book was my introduction to Woody Allen, and I enjoyed his writing without ever looking deeper. It wasn’t until college that my dear friend Jonathan Manitsky introduced me to Woody as a stand up comic and as a movie auteur. Jon’s greatest gift was his ability to retell, in the most charming Brooklyn accent I’d ever heard, the story of the moose (And there's a law in New York state against driving with a conscious moose on your fender Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.) It was laugh-out-loud funny to me, and never failed to pick me up when college was beating me down. But just listening second-hand wasn’t enough for Jonathan. He needed me to really know Woody, and wanted to be the one to finally introduce us. So I saw Love and Death, Sleeper, Bananas, Take the Money and Run, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Zelig and more. I became a fan.

Tuesday night, I found myself loaning my prized box set, Getting Even/Without Feathers/Side Effects, to another Woody.

Woody Battaglia hasn’t been doing stand up for very long. As a matter of fact, I think I may have witnessed his 64th performance this week at Acanthus open mic. Woody’s jokes are often about unusual things: like the way the Cold War might have been an entirely different event if Stalin hadn’t had to do his own laundry; tales of Citizen Kat, spelled with a K because Orsen Welles didn’t care about the soft C; bending his sex partner over the Scrabble board, so her rack bounces against the tile rack. I love these jokes: the Scrabble one, because the version of the game I invented in high school involved double-entendre answers that served as geek girl foreplay; the Orsen Welles references resonate because I, too, grew up with those horrible Paul Mason commercials (we will sell no wine before its time); and, finally, the Stalin starch adventure, because it reminds me of Woody Allen’s “The Metterling Lists”, the first piece in Getting Even.

Woody B is well-loved here in the Rochester comedy scene. He has encouragement for everyone who takes the mic, he’s fearless in his own right. His laugh makes every joke sound like a winner. While I am not certain stand-up is the right vehicle for his humor, I remain convinced he’s one funny, funny man. And so, Tuesday night, I placed my treasured books on a table in front of him and encouraged him to read. I’m hoping he is inspired and turns the Stalin bit into an essay. Maybe fleshes out the Orson Welles reference into something longer, quirkier, about Citizen Kat.

In the meantime, you and I are lucky! Woody and his friends have completed the first episode of “The LETTERHEADS”, a mocku-podcast from a creative writing group who strive to spread wisdom about the writing process to their listeners. You can download episode one free on iTunes, and look for future episodes every fourth Thursday. If, like me, you have any love for radio shows – I can’t imagine my life without the 12 original episodes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy– you will appreciate this little gem. Download it. Give it a listen. You’ll hear Woody as Manny and you will probably note, as I do, the warmth and laughter in his voice that can’t be hidden, even when playing the awkward, not-so-effective leader of this little band.

So Tuesday night was a great moment for me. I was able to share an old love – Woody A – with a new friend – Woody B – and now, it’s just a matter of time.

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