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Missionary Position

Funny instructs the Big Apple on the art of the Denver dick joke.

I was standing on line, as the Yankees say, watching a situation escalate in a bodega on the Upper West Side. A large Indian man, distressed and in a hurry, was barking the name of a product while a small Korean woman working the counter struggled to understand him.

"Pineapple cottage cheese!" he yelled, sweating. "Pineapple cottage cheese!"

"I do not know pineapple cottage cheese!" she stammered. "No pineapple cottage cheese!"

"Every day, I come in here," the man persisted, "pineapple cottage cheese. Today, no pineapple cottage cheese?!"

"No pineapple cottage cheese!" the woman replied.

To everyone else in the bodega, this exchange was apparently nothing out of the ordinary. They just stared at the floor or fidgeted with the ubiquitous iPod earplugs crawling like vines out of their clothing, as if similar scenes were taking place across the city, which they probably were. But I was transfixed. In Denver, you don't see too many Indians and Koreans, let alone one of each arguing with the other over something as frivolous as pineapple cottage cheese. And what the fuck was pineapple cottage cheese, anyway? And why was this Indian man in such dire need of it? If the Indian people have proven anything, it's their ability to delay the consumption of food. And to stretch their arms and legs to impossible lengths to defeat would-be foes.

I was hung over and needed a bottle of water. This snake was obviously going to continue devouring its tail unless someone intervened. And so, helpful Westerner that I am, I spoke up.

"Do you mean pineapple and cottage cheese?" I asked, assuming the situation to be a simple matter of immigrant linguistics.

The man glared at me as though I'd told him that his country shouldn't have nukes — at which point a Korean man emerged from the back of the shop, holding a tub of pineapple cottage cheese! "Oh, pineapple cottage cheese," the Korean woman said, and everyone laughed, and the man bought his snack. Here I'd never even heard of pineapple cottage cheese, only to find out that it comes pre-packaged! That's why I love New York: It shows you there's always so much to learn.

But I was not in the Big Apple to learn; I was there to instruct. My subject was the art of the Denver dick joke, as well as a few less vulgar jokes, and my classroom was a couple of gigs, including one Sunday night called "Tearing the Veil of Maya" that's regularly hosted by two of my current comedy heroes, Eugene Mirman and Michael Showalter. If you don't know them, look them up. Then feel like an asshole for not knowing them. Because they rule. Specifically, they rule a genre that, for lack of a better term, is called indie comedy and veers from the traditional club format into more of a rock venue/anything goes atmosphere. I was beside-myself-excited to be on the bill, and even more so when I learned that Zack Galifianakis was the secret guest. If you don't know who he is, just go fuck yourself. Showalter couldn't make it that night, so the lineup was Mirman, Galifianakis, Tim Minchin (Australia's biggest comic), Reggie Watts (a hilarious beatboxing phenom from Seattle) and me, Adam Cayton-Holland. After four years of doing standup, I don't get all that nervous anymore, but as I rubbed elbows (translation: slammed Stellas) with my idols, I started to feel some nerves, enough so that I removed my show shirt to avoid pit stains.

Mirman opened things up and then I was on, with ten to twelve minutes on arguably the best alt-comedy show in the country. Once I got the first laugh, I coasted through a set list that I'd been obsessing over the entire weekend. "Just once in my life I'd like to order a cab, and when the cab pulls up, the license plate says 'Fresh' and there's dice in the mirror," one joke began. All the comics were sitting stage-right and I could hear Galifianakis and Mirman laughing, an incredibly validating experience. It's a very exclusive club, standup, but the only price of entry is that you get laughs. I'm in no way saying I'm at the same level as these heroes — both of them are way fatter than me — and if you asked them about me, they'd probably say, "Adam Clayton-Who?" But I feel like I'm one step closer.

After the show, people were congratulating me, offering me gigs for the coming week. When I said I'd be back home in Denver, they told me, time and again, that I should move to New York.

The next day, I talked to a Denver comic friend about the insanity of doing such a high-profile show and doing well, and he rather astutely compared trying to "make it" in New York versus Denver as "the difference between living in someone else's house and building your own." I love this city, and I'm going to keep trying to build my own house. After all, I have a crew of amazingly talented friends here ready to help, as well as a puppy to take care of. But after this past weekend, New York continues to loom like some magical tree in a field of opportunity, every branch bursting with the forbidden fruit of pineapple cottage cheese.

 
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