This is part of my San Diego ComicCon diary from 2011. It’s sort of the middle of the story.
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Before I tell the story of Wootstock, I should give you a little background so things will make sense.
A stab at definition.
For those of you that don’t know about it, Wootstock is….
Well, it’s just Wootstock.
It’s sort of like a modern variety show. (Except nobody knows what a variety show is these days.)
Imagine A Prairie Home Companion if it was run by a bunch of sci-fi nerds. (Man, that’s no good either, does anyone else other than me listen to A Prairie Home Companion?)
Okay. How about this. There’s music. There’s comedy. There’s music-comedy. There’s skits. There’s cussing and nerd humor and poetry and, well…
It’s pretty much a big geek performance orgy.
Honestly, I’ve wanted a piece of Wootstock for ages. Ever since I first heard about it, I wanted in.
Now did I get a piece of the action?
I got an invitation from Ernest Cline.
I mentioned his book on the blog a while back. It’s called Ready Player One. And not only did I like it enough to give it a blurb. I liked it enough to dig up his e-mail address and gush to him directly about how much I loved it.
I think the entire content of my first e-mail was, “Your book is fucking awesome.”
I tried to get them to use that for the blurb on the back, (“This book is fucking awesome.” — Patrick Rothfuss) But their marketing people wouldn’t go for it.
Anyway, Ernest got an invite to Wootstock from Wil Wheaton, who is narrating the audiobook of Ready Player One. Ernest, being a generous human being, asked if I’d like to share some of his stage time.
I said yes. I said it in a firm, manly, baritone. Then I hung up the phone and laughed my most maniacal laugh.
Right. So. We all on the same page here?
7:00 – Backstage.
I walk up to the side door of the Balboa Theater in San Diego. Someone was waiting for me at the door, where they gave me this:
My very first All Access pass. It makes me feel like a rockstar.
I go backstage and down into the secret parts of the theater. It’s a magical sort of place. It’s a secret place that only the performers get to see, and it’s electric in a way that’s hard to describe. Everyone there is getting ready for the show. They’re excited, and a little nervous, and happy to see each other. Plus it’s comic-con, so we’re all a little exhausted. And a few of us are slightly tipsy, too… (Though not me, as I’m not much of a drinker.)
There’s a blur of people all over the place. Some of them I recognize, like Adam Savage from Mythbusters. And the guys from Rifftrax (who used to do MST3K.)
I’m introduced to a few people in a whirlwind fashion. I shake hands and nod at names. But they all run out of me like water. If I say, “someone said” or “someone did” I’m not trying to protect anyone’s identity, or snub them. It’s because a lot of the evening is a blur to me. I suck at meeting people, and I only have space in my head for about 5 new names.
Then I turn around and Wil Wheaton is there.
Plus we e-mailed just a little a day or two before Wootstock. I won’t bullshit you, that made me kinda tingly.
Anyway, we’re introduced, and we shake hands. He thanks me for the nice things I said about his book on my blog. And I’m a little surprised that he’s read it, though I shouldn’t be, I suppose. I tell him that I loved it.
That’s all we have time for. The stage manager is gathering everyone up to make some announcements before the show.
We all jam into a room and Liz is introduced. She is the boss. She tells us how it’s all going to work. She tells us we can watch from backstage, and that we should, so that we don’t miss our cues. She tells us to stick to our allotted time. She tells us where the beer and pizza are.
Everyone else nods attentively. There are a few jokes. But all of this is old hat for most of them.
Me? I’m grinning like an idiot. The show hasn’t even started yet and I’m having the best time….
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I should explain something. I used to do lots of group-performance type things. I used to sing in choirs. I used to do radio comedy. I used to act a little, and did a few plays, a musical or two.
I even used to do a little improv comedy. Which is like a trial by fire. Once you do improv comedy, no other type of performance will ever truly frighten you.
Now I didn’t do a lot of these things seriously. But I did them. I enjoyed them.
And I miss them.
You see, one of the downsides of being a writer is that it’s a very solitary occupation. If everything is going well with my writing, I’ll spend 10-12 hours a day alone, and the rest of my time sleeping. (Also alone, usually.)
When I do get out to do a reading or a convention, I have a lot of fun. I enjoy meeting fans and signing books. I enjoy doing Q&A and reading stuff to an audience. It’s a nice opportunity for me to go out and be social.
But while it’s social, it’s a very solitary type of performance. I’m up in front of 200-600 people talking. There’s just me and the audience.
I’d forgotten what it was like to be part of a group of performers. To be a piece of a WE.
It feels great.
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Liz makes one last announcement. They’ve gone to the worst seat in the house and borrowed the person’s camera. They’re going to pass it around backstage and we’ll all take pictures with it. That way the poor schlub with the worst seat will have a cool memento of the show and, as a bonus, the pictures will go online so everyone can use them.
It’s only because of the photoset that I have a shot of Ernest and me backstage, wherein I am getting my Kawaii on.
The show kicks off, and after cadging a piece of free pizza, I head upstairs we head up onto stage and watch the show from the wings. The theatre is gorgeous. A place with some real style to it.
It’s certainly the biggest house I’ve ever played to, and I’m a little nervous. But despite the fact that I’m anxiously fretting over what exactly I’m going to read, I can’t help but get pulled in by Molly Lewis playing the ukulele.
Her songs crack me up as I watch from backstage, and it helps me relax a bit.
Then, as I’m watching her play, a little motion catches my attention from the corner of my eye. So I look over and see Wil Wheaton dancing.
Before that point, I liked Wil Wheaton. I knew he was cool. I respected him as a writer, enjoyed him as a performer, and admired him as a strong, smart, outspoken member of the geek community.
But backstage in the Balboa theatre, I watched Wil Wheaton do a happy, goofy little dance, and that was when I started to love him.
Soon afterwards, Ernest gets his cue and heads out onto stage. He reads some hardcore geek poetry. Good stuff. He’s a good performer, too. Gets a good reaction from the crowd.
Then he introduces me. I’m a surprise guest of sorts, as I’m not on the program. People cheer when they hear my name, which is kind of a shock. It’s then that I decide what I’m going to read. I’m not going to try to follow Ernest’s poetry with more poetry. I think he’s got me beat in that regard.
I’m not going to read a piece out of my book, either. Too clunky. I even decide against reading a piece of a short story I’m working on.
No. A whole theatre of people cheering and my new man-crush Wil Wheaton watching from the wings means I go straight to my best material. The piece I keep in my back pocket whenever I do a reading. My sure-fire winner. My big gun.
I pull out The Guinea Pig Story.
Those of you who have seen me at a live reading might have heard it. Most of you have not.
It’s one of of the humor pieces I wrote back in college. Theoretically I was writing an advice column, but realistically I was making fun of people and telling incriminating stories about my life.
Here’s the only video I was able to find of the performance. The first little bit of my performance is cut off there, but it’s only about a sentence of the letter someone wrote in, asking for advice about keeping pets in their dormroom.
[Edit: After searching around a bit, I found another video from farther back in the audience that shows my performance AND Ernest's with Wil Wheaton's introduction.]
I got a great reaction from the audience, and left the stage feeling roughly ten thousand feet tall.
8:00 – Random House Party
After hanging around for a while and watching a few more acts, Ernest said he was going over to the Random House party and asked if I’d like to come along.
Though I was loathe to leave, I figured I should go and rub some elbows with some more bookish types. That’s kinda my job in some ways.
So I went to the party, hung out with some folks, and ended up riding a mechanical bull.
Why? No. Why is not the right question. I was at San Diego ComicCon. The proper question is “why the fuck not?”
That party was fun, but after about 45 minutes, I made my excuses and headed back to Wootstock. Because, y’know, Wootstock.
9:00 ish – More Wootstock.
I got back just in time for intermission, where I amused myself by handing out copies of the Chick Tract Dark Dungeons to members of the audience. I hope nobody thought I was serious….
After all my tracts were gone, I used my fancy pass to get backstage, feeling rockstar all over again. I wandered down to the dressing rooms and bumped into Felicia Day, who was also a surprise guest. I got a free hug and we chatted for about forty-five seconds before someone tells her she’s about to miss her entrance cue.
Somehow, someone managed to catch us on film during that brief moment. Proving that I’m not a big fibber.
I hang around and chat with folk, occasionally watching some of the show from backstage. I catch Jeff Lewis (Vork, for you Guildies out there) doing a piece of honest-to-god standup comedy. The man has amazing comic timing and delivery. As you’d already know if you were watching The Jeff Lewis 5-minute Comedy Hour.
11:30 ish – Autographing.
Eventually the show wraps up with a great closing number that I watch from the wings. Then I head downstairs to get my backpack and maybe another slice of pizza before I head out. When I’m gathering up my stuff, someone asks if I want to stick around and sign autographs. I shrug and agree, because I have nowhere else in particular to be.
Now over the last couple of years I’ve done a lot of signings. It’s old hat in a lot of ways. Usually I’m all alone. I’m a one-man-show.
But this one was different. A bunch of the performers were sticking around to sign posters and programs.
What’s more, at Wootstock, most of the people could give a damn about me. They’re there to see Wheaton, or Savage, or bask in the radiant glory of Paul and Storm.
And you know what? It was nice doing a signing where most folks didn’t care who I was. It gave me a chance to goof off and get to know the people sitting on either side of me. To my left was the aforementioned Molly Lewis. And to my right was someone I didn’t know at all, but I quickly learned that she was Amy Berg, writer/producer for Eureka (among many other things.)
So we hang out and chat as the line of people slowly trickles past. I’m feeling pretty relaxed. I’ve had a good day. I was on a panel with George Martin, had dinner with Jim Butcher, and got to chat with Wil Wheaton. I went to a party with an actual velvet rope, and the bouncer nodded me through even though I wasn’t on the list. I rode the mechanical bull and didn’t hurt myself. I got a hug from Felicia day and made a thousand people laugh….
It’s been a busy 14 hours, and I’m in that warm, happy place that comes when you know you don’t have to work any more. And, because I’m in a good mood, I start to joke around with the people coming through the line….
And that’s when I *really* start to get to know the people sitting on either side of me. I draw a picture of a duck on someone’s poster, and they mock me for its utter terribleness. They mocked me with a sharp-tongued viciousness I haven’t experienced since most of my best friends moved away from Stevens Point.
So I abandoned drawing and started signing clever things on the posters. Then my neighbors started writing things on their posters that were clever-er. And I feel really put out by this, because normally *I* get to be the witty one, and they were out wittying me without hardly trying. I felt the sudden need to step up my game, to say nothing of wanting to buy some of Molly’s music and catch up on the current season of Eureka….
The signing went on for at least a couple hours, and it was the perfect end to the perfect day. As I left the theater I felt that strange, glowy feeling that comes when you level up. It wasn’t until I got home that I found out where the XP boost had come from:
Best of all, I’d made it through two entire days at the convention without making an ass of myself in front of anyone.
But then again, it was only Thursday….
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Sorry this one was so long delayed. More soon…