Dear everyone who took my advice and came out to Literary Death Match last night: I'm sorry.
There are two major problems with complaining about how readings are boring affairs, as host Todd Zuniga did last night at the opening of the second Seattle Literary Death Match at the Re-Bar. The first is that it's not true: I've been to five or six great readings in the last month alone, readings that were just as entertaining as the same amount of time spent at, say a good movie or a fun rock show. The second is that if you're going to talk about how boring and lame readings are, you have to be sure to put on an event that isn't lame and boring.
The full apology, which includes a response from LDM organizers, the truth about why monkeys on TV wear diapers, and information about how to get your $10 back from me if you attended this event, is after the jump.
The first problem with Literary Death Match last night was Zuniga. He opened with a joke about Ken Griffey Jr. that fell flat, he followed by bumbling over the rules for a few minutes, he fucked up the pronunciation of nearly every performer's name, and he never connected with the audience, choosing to arm himself with a slight air of condescension rather than actually preparing for his duties as a host.
The second problem with Literary Death Match is the format: Two readers read pieces, and judges determine a winner. This repeats in the second round. Then the two winners are forced to compete in a un-literary game to determine the winner of LDM. At the first Literary Death Match, the winners were blindfolded and had to stab a map of the United States as close to Nebraska as they could. Last night's Literary Death Match featured a bean bag toss.
There were some good things about LDM : Judge Maria Semple opened with a hilarious story about writing for Suddenly Susan. (In a last-minute deadline crunch, she wrote a scene in which a monkey erupted from a closet wearing a diaper. The audience learned that monkeys wear diapers on television to hide their enormous erections, and we also learned that Kathy Griffin brought her dog in to the set for the express purpose of agitating the monkey.)
Stacey Levine's story, which she adapted from an old children's book called I Like Birds, was all about paternal anxieties and soulless simulacrums. It was funny, fascinating, and clever. (Watching Levine refuse to take part in the lame, forced hilarity of the bean bag toss showdown was a high point for me, too.)
Eventual LDM winner (by default) Kelleen Conway Blanchard told a very funny story from the point of view of a clueless rocker dude having a fight with his girlfriend. It included more metaphors for female genitalia—a "tiny water slide," "nature's pockets," a "pink waterfall"—than a standard edition of The Vagina Monologues.
But at least one of the readers was painfully boring—he clearly didn't know what kind of room he was reading for—and there were so many humorless, awkward pauses that the Re-Bar at times took on a funereal vibe. I'm sure I didn't do enough as a judge to liven up the festivities, and I apologize for that.
People who attended the first LDM in Seattle say it ran smoothly and was entertaining. I asked Zuniga what he felt about the event, and he replied by e-mail:
Last night was a strange show. It was the 59th we've ever done, and for this one, something was just odd about it—the lighting, maybe? I know my hosting was, at best, C-. It's the second we've done here, and the first was too under-attended (only 40 showed up) to justify the second, but we went forward, and I'm glad we did (Stacey Levine's masterful reading is justification enough). For me, my goal with Opium and the Literary Death Match is to move literature into a pop-culture atmosphere, to restore books and reading to a place alongside Mad Men and the next Pixar film. And while some people will liked what they saw last night, and some people didn't, the $10 people shelled out directly impacts the publication of Opium Magazine—we're $2400 short of paying for Opium9 (with nine days of fundraising to go!), and this event put us a middle-sized step closer. And in the process, they got a few blips of entertainment, were in a room with other book-loving nerds.
We work so hard (everyone is busy, everyone's busting their humps, I realize) to make the Literary Death Match and Opium special. To take it beyond what people typically think of a literary magazine, or a literary event. Sometimes that's going to hit so hard it makes you want to run to a bookstore and buy the entire place up. Other times it's going to make you say: fuck, I could've gotten another drink and a half for that ten bucks! To me, that cost is worth the risk—from our standpoint, and from the people who come, hoping and expecting.
None of this would have been such a crime if it didn't cost ten dollars, but that exorbitant cover charge makes the whole thing Unsuggest-worthy. I apologize to everyone who came. I wish I could refund everybody's money, but I can't. So here's what I'm going to do: I will give $10 and a personal apology to the first three people who come to the Genius Awards party on Friday and tell me what they thought of the event. I'll give a personal apology to everyone else. And, yes, I can guarantee that the Genius Awards will be a good time.
Thanks for your kind attention,