Arts Desk

The Transcribed Man: And I Am Not Lying Returns to the Black Cat This Saturday

Storyteller and comedian Jeff Simmermon (Ryan Collerd))

Brooklyn-based storyteller and comic Jeff Simmermon spun a stage show—now in a monthly residency at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Manhattan's East Village—out of his blog, And I Am Not Lying, which he started while living in DC in the early aughts. I wrote about him, and about our boyhood buddyship, in late 2011, the first time he brought his variety show to the Black Cat; you can see a 20-minute edit of his summer 2013 show there right here. He'll return to the club's main stage on Saturday to host a bill for which he's recruited comics Tyler Fischer and Natalie McGill, burlesque artists Matt Knife and Vada James, and musicians/improvisers the Boston Typewriter Orchestra.

What follows is a barely edited transcript of an instant message conversation we had last Saturday that eventually gets around to telling potential attendees what's all-(somewhat) new, all-(reasonably) different, and all-(potentially) spectacular about the 2014 edition of And I Am Not Lying.

Chris Klimek:

Hey, Pal. Ready to go?

Jeff Simmermon:


ready to do it

Chris Klimek:

OK. I was just setting up a LinkedIn profile and contemplating suicide (related).

Jeff Simmermon:


you are teasing about the second half I hope

Chris Klimek:

I am, but I still find that task just onerous and gross and horrible. “Let's prioritize your friends and acquaintances on the basis of what they can maybe do for you.”

Jeff Simmermon:


it's kind of the digital version of "New York"

Chris Klimek:

Anyway, we’re ON the record here. And I am just going to post a transcript, possibly edited for clarity and hilarity.

Jeff Simmermon:

ok – thanks for that headsup

And thanks for agreeing to do this!

Chris Klimek:

You have reached out in the hope of securing some advance publicity for the latest iteration of your storytelling & miscellany show, AND I AM NOT LYING, at the Black Cat. And I have responded with my usual shoulder shrug that I already wrote this piece, albeit 2.5 years ago, and how can I write it again? Especially since we were boyhood pals who were in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown together. In like 1952.


Jeff Simmermon:

Yeah, fair enough

however, I am confident in your abilities as a writer to find new depth, new light, and new magic

in material that others overlook

and also, when I have my PT Barnum hat on to get people to a show, I will totally draw down credit on pretty much any relationship

so it's a rich tapestry

Chris Klimek:

(Flattery filter: ON)

Jeff Simmermon:

Plus, the Internet is a flat circle, man – people miss stuff the first time and it comes back around

Chris Klimek:

Since we refuse to do the honorable thing and stop reproducing, yes.

And we lack the constitution for suicide. Except after maybe eight minutes on LinkedIn.

Jeff Simmermon:

I think that the military of the future will construct a death ray

that is just the phrase "leverage the power of your mutual connections" repeated in all languages and broadcast at subsonic tones

It's two octaves lower than the 'brown note'

You know, I left my job in November to pursue this show full time

Chris Klimek:

Same month I left my day job. We remain curiously in sync.

Jeff Simmermon:

and it requires to you kind of set your cap and say "NO, WORLD. This is who I am and what I do."

and I've started putting all this stuff about it on my LinkedIn profile

and you know, strangely

not a single fricking person cares

how's it been?

for me, I don't feel like I have any less anxiety, but I prefer this flavor

when you wrote about this show in what was it, 2011? It was a new thing, new to town

I think that time, as well as that degree of dayjob quitting commitment

has really solidified what the show is, what the experience is for the audience

do you feel like you've made any breakthroughs creatively?

Chris Klimek:

Well, no. I mean, I got into a few publications I’ve had my eye on, and I finally did a couple of very simple stories for radio, which I’ve been wanting to do for years. But those just feel like things I finally checked off my to-do list more than they feel like me getting better at anything.

Our cases are different, though, since you draw on your life for your material almost entirely—stop me if that’s an unfair statement—whereas there is some of that in what I do but not that much.

Jeff Simmermon:

there are loose parallels

when you find that you do what it is that you've always wanted to do

then it kind of gets that out of the way so you can grow more

ever since I was in middle school, I dreamed of doing the big room at the Black Cat

and something like SXSW

now that I know what that's like, it's kind of awesome because it makes room to dream and grow into something else

Chris Klimek:

You did SXSW in... 2012? Did you go last year / are you going this year?

Jeff Simmermon:

2012 and 2013

not going this year

I have a Moth GrandSlam this Wednesday (kind of a sweatervest ThunderDome for storytellers who have won previous Moth slams)

then 'And I Am Not Lying' in NYC Friday, DC Saturday

taking the show to Nashville in April, the day after an NYC show

anything else would make my brains seep out my tear ducts

Chris Klimek:

How often are you performing now? What’s the radio of appearing in others’ shows to cultivating your own? And how long were you in R & D to come up with “Sweatervest Thunderdome?”

Jeff Simmermon:

that one was off the head

I am trying to get up on stage an average of 1-3 times per night

to pick up your earlier thread: I am reaching a point where I am running out of past to stripmine for stories

Chris Klimek:

Ah. Are you too old to do self-destructive things just so you can write about them? There’s a cap on that, right?

Jeff Simmermon:

I am not going to say "too old"

Chris Klimek:

It’s hard for me to believe a guy likes you takes a job as a kangaroo spotter for some reason other than to gather stories.

Jeff Simmermon:

oh no, I totally did that for a story

and I would again

but I'm not going to have stories about my dating life as much

Chris Klimek:

Well, that’s my favorite of yours. Or at least the one I remember most clearly, perhaps because I know I’ve heard you tell that one more than once.

Jeff Simmermon:

why thanks!

I love that one

and I kind of miss the experience

not the smells though

I've been trending towards standup more lately

because I just want to get *unstoppable* onstage

Chris Klimek:

Are you backing off of dating stories because you’re married now, or just because you think you’ve exhausted that subject?

Jeff Simmermon:

well, I actually never liked them that much in the first place

Chris Klimek:

Sorry, I shouldn’t be doing multiple choice questions. That’s dumb.

Jeff Simmermon:

nah, that's fine

I think that that stories—or anecdotes—or jokes—about learning how to love somebody and be loved by them are so much more interesting than "ugh, I go out on the WEIRDEST dates"

I really hate stories and comedy that is gussied-up locker room talk

Chris Klimek:

So you’re moving towards stories that ask more patience & investment of the audience, but also focusing more on standup. Which I interpret as punchline, punchline, punchline, which asks LESS of the audience.

I’m not suggesting that’s a contradiction. Just want to make sure I understand.

Jeff Simmermon:

I actually am working to try and write/perform material that belongs on a comedy stage in a comedy setting

and hits every 30 seconds at least

so I do probably 7-10 open mics a week here

running jokes/bits through the rock tumbler

Chris Klimek:

So 7-10 open mics per week, and you’re going up multiple times at each one, or trying to?

Jeff Simmermon:

but am mostly doing mics in the Lower East Side/East Village, and at the Creek and the Cave in Long Island City

no, more like this:

1-3 mics per night

if it works out, I get picked to do between 1-3 sets of 2-6 minutes in length

so you go, put you name in a hat

hope you get drawn

wait 1-2 hours to do 2 minutes

get on the train, repeat

Chris Klimek:

Okay, well that compression is a problem I can relate to. One version of the Kangaroo story was like 20 minutes, right?

Jeff Simmermon:

when I have my own stage I can run it out like that

Chris Klimek:

And now you have to get what you’re after in 10 to 30 percent of that.

Jeff Simmermon:


I've been sitting down and transcribing stories by comics I really love

Gary Gulman, Louis CK, Cosby, Pryor

Woody Allen's "The Moose"

and you start to notice a few things

Chris Klimek:

Did someone suggest that to you as a useful exercise, or did you come up with that on your own?

Jeff Simmermon:

I came up with it

Chris Klimek:

Transcribing takes me a fucking eternity.

Jeff Simmermon:

that's the point

it really makes you listen to each line

each laugh

you count how many laughs per minute

and you start to see the structure

I am referring specifically to comic storytellers here

where the bit has all the hallmarks of a story: arc, conflict, stakes

and you discover that the writer/performer

uses a joke to define each thing and move us over the arc

so the first joke/punchline establishes the main character—something maybe self-deprecating about the comic

the second describes the other character

the third—the conflict/motivation

in a skilled hand—with Patton Oswalt at his best, for example,

that's at least four my-face-hurts laughs

in a minute

I am referring specifically to comics who tell stories here

Chris Klimek:

Oswalt is my favorite, bar none. But I probably would not have been able to explain why, as you have here.

It’s tough for me to break stories into their beats. Ira Glass, who has interviewed you on This American Life in addition to featuring your stage stories on the show, talks all the time about how he needs to hear a revelation every 45-60 seconds. I’ve listened to every single episode of his show at least once, many of them multiple times, and I still can’t always hear those beats ticking by.

Jeff Simmermon:

Maria Bamford and Wanda Sykes are two of my favorite famous standups in the world right now but they use anecdotes about their lives, peppered with observations and asides

Oswalt's best stuff follows the classic three-act, Joseph Conrad storytelling structure

Chris Klimek:

I know he works a script doctor, too, so that makes sense.

Jeff Simmermon:

and the thing is, you never know he's doing it

Kyle Kinane is another awesome standup who uses observations, anecdotes, etc

but is not really using the arc

Bill Burr—anecdotes/observations

I'm trying to learn from Bamford, Burr, Kinane, etc

how to mine little stuff for HUGE laughs

and then ultimately use those laughs to build a bigger story

Chris Klimek:

You’re the Komedy Koach.

Jeff Simmermon:

that's the big dream

I got to do an hour in Richmond last winter and it was like surfing a wave of liquid gold

it is really fun to open with a few bits that are just jab, cross, hook, dance, a flurry combo

Chris Klimek:

a mimetic polyalloy you can hang ten on.

Jeff Simmermon:

then slide into the ten-minute jam

Chris Klimek:

We’ll fix that in post.

Jeff Simmermon:


(I need to look up mimetic)

Chris Klimek:

I am told I have a waffle cooling rapidly in the kitchen. So let’s bring this home. Besides a focus on standup versus long-form storytelling, what’s different about this latest iteration of your show? Sell me.

Jeff Simmermon:

we're working in a live band

and making them integrate

the entire mix has cooled and congealed so that it goes together a lot better

the terrine can tower higher

my former partners aren't working with me anymore – so the lineup is going to feature a lot more new faces

this show is featuring a band of 4-5 people who play the typewriter

Boston Typewriter Orchestra

Chris Klimek:

Husband-wife storyteller/dancer/storyteller duo Brad and Cindy OUT, Boston Typewriter Orchestra IN

Jeff Simmermon:

and they are going to customize an act with Matt Knife, a boylesque (male burlesque) performer


Chris Klimek:

Customize? Not improvise, right?

Jeff Simmermon:

also in: boylesque Matt Knife, Arrested Development act by Vada James

bit of both

this will require a degree of improv, but they've got the cops for it


I'll be doing more standup bits folded in

the music is a really huge thread to run through the show

I'm also working on a partnership with the band

to fold into a story

the whole thing is more finely chopped, blended

after a few years of this, I feel like I've finally figured out a way to make the room hang together, maaaan

Chris Klimek:

Okay! Jeff Simmermon & Finely-Chopped Friends (And Typewriters) in SWEATERVEST THUNDERDOME, March 15 at the Black Cat.

Jeff Simmermon:


I hate competing onstage

this show isn't for everybody, but has something for everybody else

Chris Klimek:

Another good tagline. You’re getting sharp, Old Chum.

Jeff Simmermon:


thanks, Commissioner

I'm hoping to congeal this enough to be able to sell it/partner with a tour company

to tour it like a rock band

I want every show to *feel* like a rock show

where you're like "I don't know what the hell I just saw, but I want to see it again"

(this working for you?)

(taps mic) "How is everybody out there? Where are you from, ma'am?"

Chris Klimek:

It is. But waffle.

And I Am Not Lying returns to the Black Cat Mainstage Saturday, March 15. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are available here.

Jeff Simmermon photo by Ryan Collerd.


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