March 14th, 2013 | ABEL RAISES CAIN | West Long Branch, NJ
The roads in New Jersey are confusing and we find ourselves driving miles out of the way just to get back on track. If that’s not bad enough, my father keeps referring to Jeff and I as Laurel and Hardy because of the way we have to juggle our stuff, ourselves, the dog and our baby every time we load and unload the car or stop to do anything. “We could have used a roadie and a nanny on this tour,” he says.
Jeff and I joked about the idea of documenting our journey in the minivan with a camera crew following us around. It would be like “The Office” on wheels. You can guess who Michael Scott would be. As we head north, my mom is on the hunt for a Long John Silver’s. I didn’t even know they still existed. She was almost giddy when we found one. My parents love fast food and questionable buffet style restaurants with equally questionable names, like Golden Corral and Eat’n Park. Shouldn’t the latter be Park’n Eat? I never understood that. Nourishment on the road is challenging if you’re not an omnivore like everyone else. I eventually relent and eat something that I will regret later. The race to West Long Branch ended with a surprise finish. We were actually on time, for once!
Our host arranged for us to speak with Comm Works students on the Monmouth University campus, a group “committed to performance as a means to transform, educate, entertain, and empower both performers and audiences, believing that the performing arts function as a vehicle for civic dialogue, social change, and communal entertainment.” If this doesn’t spell out what Alan Abel does for a living, I don’t know what else does! The irony is that the Comm Works students responded with blank stares when I referenced Andy Kaufman. Jeff quickly jumped in and asked if anyone had seen “Man on the Moon” with Jim Carrey. Everyone went, “Oh Yeah!” even though that movie practically predates their existence as well.
On tour with the film, I realize how necessary it is to orient college kids by contextualizing my dad’s work with modern references to Borat, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, the Yes Men and Improv Everywhere. Pointing out that my father was doing these guys’ shticks starting back in the 50s makes the connection that he is a precursor to many popular satirists, corporate pranksters and public performance artists today.
I really loved meeting professors Andrew Demirjian, Matt Lawrence and Deanna Shoemaker. They were gracious, energetic, affable hosts. Andrew’s Advanced Video Production students were fun to talk with the following day. We discussed putting our documentary together and how audio is key to building a solid foundation. Like piecing together the outer edge of a puzzle first, I explained that you should be able to listen to your film ‘on the radio’ and have it make perfect sense and also be entertaining. I recommended that they listen to “This American Life,” as these weekly episodes continually inspire us with their compelling stories and excellent audio editing.
We ate in the university cafeteria that evening. There were hundreds of students swirling about. Eating in a school cafeteria brought back strange memories for me. My dad went into the men’s room and reported that one guy was ‘tossing his cookies’ and two other guys were ‘making love’ in one of the stalls. Whether he was exaggerating or not, I am so glad that I don’t ever have to relive my college years.
Before we headed over to the theatre, we took a peek inside Wilson Hall, a magnificent old mansion on campus where they shot “Annie,” and it was jaw-droppingly beautiful with its ornate opulence and grandeur. Along the way, we met up with one of my father’s long-time hoaxing confederates, Paul Hiatt. He was the guy who wanted to ‘sell his kidney’ for money to pay rent. Amazingly enough, Paul’s parents lived across the street from the main entrance to Monmouth University for almost two decades and he never once stepped foot on campus!
Despite the fact that spring break started the day after next, many students came to see our film, which I was quite happy about. And aside from the mad rush up to the projection booth to turn off the captions that should not have appeared over the opening sequence, the screening was a success! Sitting on the edge of the stage along with our tiny son during the Q&A afterwards must have been a sight to behold. My parents hammed it up as usual. I told our host, Matt, that he might need to sound a gong or use a cane to pull us off to the wings.
My analogy that a microphone to my father is like a carrot to a horse applies to me, too. I always secretly wanted to be a stand up comic, but I’m only pretending to be one on this tour. I tell the audience about how my dad would collect the hair from my mom’s brush to make mustaches with it, the times my mom would answer the door in her underwear if the Jehovah’s Witnesses rang the bell and how my dad used to make peanut butter and wilted lettuce sandwiches on soggy bread (because the lettuce would be wet) for my lunches at school. We always end the Q&As with my mom and dad’s singing routine, called “The Count and Henrietta” where my dad sings out of tune love songs from the 40s and my mom pretends to be a chicken. If you didn’t get enough weirdness during the movie, you’ll get your money’s worth after the show is over!