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Crazy Wisdom of a Clown: An Interview with James Inman / Garret Schuelke


James Inman (jamesinman.com) James Inman is a stand-up comedian hailing from Kansas City, MO. He has recently released two comedy albums, Pander Monkey and Misogynist Clown. He is also the author of Greyhound Diary and is a member of The Unbookables.


Garret Schuelke: Pander Monkey and Misogynist Clown are described on your website as “a collection of my favorite outtakes, tirades, b-sides and answering machine messages that are too weird to put on a normal CD” and “High and low quality recordings are mixed in no particular order.” Was this your original intention with these albums?


James Inman: Yeah, I meant to do that. My favorite musician is Elvis Costello and when he re-released a lot of his CD’s he added an entire bonus CD with demos, b-sides, outtakes, live recordings and miscellaneous tracks taken from wherever. I always liked the bonus discs better than the actual original CD itself. Same with Nirvana, they released Insecticide and that was always my favorite which was just some singles, demos, outtakes, covers and radio recordings. So I kind of totally ripped off that idea.


It’s a mixed bag of usable crap as opposed to a polished Pink Floyd concept album type thing. Like a concept of no-concept CD. But of course Misogynist Clown I would say is a concept within a no-concept concept. That came out of all these tracks I liked on sex, relationships and women that didn’t really fit into Pander Monkey but I wanted to do something with them anyway. Most of Misogynist Clown was written in Seattle where gender studies, gender issues and feminism were a big deal, plus I was always dating or living with strong independent intelligent feminists. I spent a lot of time thinking on those issues. I think a lot of comics don’t give the so-called PC crowd enough credit for being open minded at all. It’s not like they don’t ever discuss sex, relationships or gender. It’s all the she’s fat or she’s ugly or she’s so stupid crap that just isn’t funny. I’ve always found that way more offensive than say the word “cunt” which never bothered me or my girlfriends as much as a guy doing a fat joke or she’s ugly. That just makes me cringe. I want to rip the guy’s throat out.


GS: The description on your website also says some of the tracks were taken from two older albums. What were these albums like?


JI: My first CD Anti-Hero was recorded by Comedy Speak and it was one whole recording of an uncut show from beginning to end. I was pretty proud of that because at the time I knew a lot of comics were editing their CD and spicing it together to take out the sucky parts. But back then I didn’t have a distributor so I just burned them myself. I bought a CD burner before anyone else back in the day when they were like $200. After a few years everyone started selling CD’s after the show so it wasn’t cool anymore. But I did hear it got some Sirius Radio play back in the day.


My next CD was a lot like Pander Monkey. It was called Rarities Bootlegs and B-Sides and was distributed by Lulu. Then Lulu stopped distributing CD’s so I basically had nothing available online. It was the same concept of just mixed outtakes with some of the relationship and sex stuff too. By the time I released Pander Monkey and Misogynist Clown I had enough for two CD’s.


GS: How has the reception for the albums been doing so far (sales, reviews, plays on Spotify)?


JI: I don’t know really. I haven’t looked. I’ve been told I won’t even get any reports on it for three months. I just released them for myself really. It was something I would listen to. I have asked some friends what they think. I let my rape therapist girlfriend listen to Misogynist Clown to see if she had any problems with it like if it sounded like real misogyny. It’s just kind of a joke title to get people interested. She told me it was fine but then again it’s my girlfriend so of course she’s going to say that. I gave it to some of my other favorite feminist women I look up to for criticism or which tracks to take out. I just got, “I laughed my ass off” or my favorite was “You’re an ally. But you’re not Beta”. So I went ahead with it anyway. I’m sure some people will have a problem with it but I don’t care. Comedy is always like that. I like to stay mysterious and controversial. I want people to think, “What the fuck IS this?”


GS: Can you summarize your youth (childhood-teenage years)? What did you study at Emporia State University?


JI: I got beat up a lot as a kid by my sister and this bully down the street. I hated fighting. Physical fights because I would always get beat up. Never trusted my teachers, never trusted anyone at church, never trusted anything on TV, I didn’t read much because I had dyslexia. I never even watched that much TV because all the shows ended the same like Scooby Doo—always ended with some farmer being the ghost the whole time, or Starsky and Hutch always catching the bad guy. So my sister and my parents would stay upstairs and watch TV and I went down into the basement to listen to music. Mostly Yes, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Rush. Eventually I taught myself how to play lead guitar and learned all the lead solos that I could. I did enjoy math and science in high school but never did homework and always made straight A’s. But it seemed too easy. So I mostly just fucked off at school and hung out with other class clowns or people I thought were funny.

Later I found out I had a reading disorder so I was at least 17 before I read my first book from cover to cover. When I went away to college it was nothing but drinking the whole time and the classes seemed not much different than high school so it was boring. I only stayed in college for one semester. I didn’t trust school anyway because I always wondered why they wanted us to learn all this boring crap. This was during the Cold War so I spent most of

my time wondering what nuclear Armageddon would be like. I didn’t really start learning until I met this guy on New Wave night at Pogo’s the local bar. He mentioned some quote from Kurt Vonnegut and I asked him what he meant by that. He said, “You haven’t read Kurt Vonnegut?” and I said I didn’t read much. He looked at me like it was a big deal and said, “Ok this is serious. I’m going to give you a list of five books you HAVE to read. And you’re going to promise me you’ll read these books.” The list of books he gave me were On the Road, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Catch 22, Slaughterhouse Five and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. After that I’ve always loved reading. I spent most of my time in book stores.


GS: How did you go about becoming a comedian? Was there a single moment that started it, or was it an interest that developed over time?


JI: Me and a friend wanted to drink mixed drinks before we were twenty-one. In Missouri you could only drink beer after eighteen and you couldn’t drink hard liquor until you were twenty-one. He had the idea to go to this tiny comedy club that only sat like seventy people and the waitress wouldn’t card anyone because there was a show going on. So we went there and I saw all these great comics from Minneapolis. Alex Cole, Jeff Cesario, Tom Arnold and Bill Bauer. Every night the MC would mention open mic night and anyone could get on stage and try it. That always stuck in my mind. So one night I got the guts to do it and that same night I couldn’t sleep. I just stayed awake in bed looking up at the ceiling and I knew it was something I wanted to do like a kind of calling. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do since then.


GS: In the first podcast you did with Doug Stanhope, you said that you worked in a factory before you became a comedian. What other jobs did you work before you started making a living as a comedian?


JI: I worked in a bumper sticker factory that made all kinds of stickers. I basically worked there after college and it was a union job with good pay and benefits. I worked on this machine that would cut out a bunch of stickers. It was boring but I was able to write jokes at work. After that I did construction which is what my dad did. I worked at that for about six months and just quit to do stand-up comedy full time. I probably did open mic for about five years before I got the guts to quit my job. Stand-up comedy is what I taught myself when all my other friends were going to college.


GS: The description that I’ve often found to describe you is “the spawn of an unnatural union between Henry Rollins and Don Rickles.” Do you find this description to be accurate?


JI: I don’t know I suppose. I’m kind of an angry comic and I’ve always loved punk rock. The Clash were a big inspiration to me and I always loved mixing politics in with the comedy. I never knew I was so much like Don Rickles until I got older and people said I talked and looked just like him. So I guess it sticks. But my real hero was always Bill Hicks. I saw him when I was still doing open mic and I was blown away. He is still the most amazing comic I’ve ever seen.


GS: Since the material in Pander Monkey and Misogynist Clown is taken from different periods of your career, involves different formats other than stand up, and is placed randomly, it’s hard for me to tell how much you have changed over the years. The one consistent that I’ve found is your preference to rant. In what ways has your style changed, or has stayed the same, since you started?


JI: When I first started I would write jokes in a joke book, memorize them and try to recreate the funny on stage in that moment. When you do it that way you’re really just acting, reciting lines and trying to make the joke work. It’s too contrived. Years later in Seattle I got the idea to just talk off the top of my head in the moment. It was a skill I never taught myself how to

do in a stand-up context even though we do it all the time when we’re just talking. Back then I was still going to open mic night even though very few headliners would even show up at open mic. Occasionally they would come by to try new material. But I started using it to go on stage with nothing prepared and just improv. I knew I couldn’t get fired from open mic so what did I have to lose? Some nights it would fail miserably and other nights I would just kill harder than I ever had on stage. Eventually I got to the point where I could do it whenever I wanted and I started adding about five to ten minutes of improv when I was doing a paid gig. That’s when I found my written contrived jokes couldn’t follow the stuff I just did off the top of my head. I couldn’t even follow my own self.


Eventually what happened was I would remember and repeat the stuff I did that I liked and slowly all the jokes I wrote in a joke book got dropped out of my act. By the time I made my first CD all the jokes on that CD were written on stage in the moment. It just sounded funnier and more natural to me. Plus I was studying the Tao te Ching at the time which is a book about naturalness and letting things flow. So it just made sense in the context of a rant if you write it all out it ceases to sound like an honest rant. So since I was always doing angry rant style comedy it would make those parts sound even more real or natural. I’ve been doing that ever since. But the Greyhound Diary isn’t like that. That whole show I memorized word for word.


GS: Let’s get into Greyhound Diary. When was the first time you ever rode a Greyhound Bus?


JI: It was probably back when I lived in Seattle. I got rid of my car because the mass transit in Seattle is everywhere. You really don’t even need a car in Seattle and it’s a lot like New York in that way. Some of the gigs I did I flew but sometimes I would have to do some small town out in Idaho. To get there by plane it would be like $900 so I started just taking the bus because it was cheaper. I don’t really remember the first time. I never took the bus as a kid living in the Midwest. I do remember taking the bus from a gig in Omaha to Kansas City and I found a blank diary at the gift store with Edvard Munch’s The Scream on the front cover. I thought that was cool so I started writing about the bus to pass the time. When I got home I had about twenty pages written that’s when I got the idea to only write in it when I was on the bus in the moment. Towards the end I had to actually take the bus even when I didn’t want to just to finish it.


GS: How big was the original manuscript of Greyhound Diary? What type of stuff was cut out from the final publication?


JI: It was about twice as long as it is now. I gave the manuscript to a couple comic friends of mine and told them to mark which parts were funny and which parts sucked. So I cut out at least half of it because I hate to read boring crap. I didn’t care that it’s a short book I just wanted it to be good.


GS: Have you had similar experiences on other forms of mass transportation (or, will we ever see something like “Amtrak Diary”)?


JI: I thought about writing one for flying but that would sound too pompous. I can’t stand people who complain when they fly. You’re on a goddamn plane quit bitching. It could be way worse.


GS: Do you have any plans to expand Greyhound Diary, or publish a sequel (Greyhound Diary 2)?


JI: Ha, no way. It was hard enough making the first one. I thought if I had more slide film or good images that match what I already have I could make it longer. But it’s hard to get the right pictures. They have to be real. I really DID take those picture while I was riding cross country. It wasn’t all one trip but I took them whenever I saw something funny or if it matched the book. It does need to be a bit longer. It’s only about 30 minutes for the live one-man show. The book has way more stuff in it. I’m not sure if too many people know that.


GS: Besides Greyhound Diary, I’ve read your reviews on Amazon and your posts on Media-Underground, and being a writer myself, I’m especially curious: do you have any interest in publishing any other writings? Are you working on anything that could be considered literary?


JI: I have three different books I’m working on. One of them is editing a book of poetry for a close friend of mine Randy McCleary who recently passed away. Some people have a problem with the phrase “passed away” so he’s fully dead, his heart stopped working and he stumbled into the great beyond. I miss him. I still have dreams about him. His girlfriend left me his trunk of stuff and he had a giant pile of poems and short stories which is more than enough for two or three books. I’m going through that right now. Also I have a book of funny conspiracy essays I’d like to finish. But I want to add a few more pages so it’s a bit longer. Another thing I have is a spiritual diary that’s kind of like the Greyhound Diary but takes place at a couple Buddhist monasteries. All of this is just a matter of getting off my ass and doing the work. I waste too much time on Facebook and it’s a horrible addiction I’d like to wean myself off of.


GS: We know about your life in Kansas City and Seattle, but I haven’t been able to find anything about your time in New York. What made you decided to move there, and what was that period of your life like?


JI: The comedy scene wasn’t my cup of tea. I thought it was going to be really cool with all these great artists and comedians pushing the envelope. But it was just the opposite. It’s mostly comics writing safe material trying to get on TV. The audiences were tourists and almost all the comics were writing set up/punchline, set up/punchline crap. They didn’t seem to understand character based comedians. They just stared at me. I guess I’m more of a West Coast comedian; Seattle, L.A. and San Francisco. My material works better there. They like political stuff or comedy with an edge.


I was born and raised in the Midwest and all my life I looked up to New York as some kind of artist’s paradise. As if the people living there were ten times more intelligent than everyone else. It was the complete opposite. It was like a giant city filled with Rocky Balboa. The people there are just as dumb as the people in the South. It seems absurd to me how everyone makes fun of the South. New York is a lot like that without the stupid accent. It might be a bit more diverse than Alabama but goddamn finding an intelligent conversation with your average person at a bar is impossible. Every conversation ended with, “Well… What are you going to do?” or “It is what it is.” Didn’t matter what you were talking about. Politics, philosophy, religion, UFO’s, 9-11, literature, dog shit, capitalism etc. etc. Couldn’t find one interesting person to discuss anything with. Must be the cost of living is so high everyone has to work three jobs so they don’t have time to read or think. Maybe it’s the schools or their attitude but no one questions anything. They’re not even curious. It’s like, “I’m dumb and I don’t care”.


GS: How would you define, or label, yourself politically? What tenants do you abide by?


JI: Most of the time I’m a full on revolutionary socialist but I’m smart enough to know every system has its flaws. I think what we need here in the U.S. is not one thing or the other but a balance or mixture of the two forces. On the one hand you have the government and I totally get what Libertarians are saying but on the other hand it’s as if rich people can do whatever they want and no one seems to hold them accountable. Think about it. We have lived in the freest most capitalist country on earth since WWII. We fought and won the Cold War. And now people are turning capitalism into some kind of religion like it will solve every fucking problem known to man. Give me a break. I seriously think we could use a bit of real socialism, stronger unions, better schools, less military, stop throwing so many poor people in jail, legalize drugs, stronger tenants’ rights, tax the rich, all of that. And if it turns into a communist nightmare and I’m waiting in a breadline? Fuck yeah I’ll vote Libertarian. Until then let’s just see what happens.


GS: Where did your hatred for landlords come from? Like my previous question on how you became a comedian, was there one incident that sparked it? Or did it develop over time?


JI: Before the internet I would hang out at used bookstores all the time. Three or four days a week you could find me either trading books in for beer money or buying more used books. I had a reading contest with my ex-wife and we would see who read the most books every year. We had a giant list on the refrigerator. I go on the road for three months and come back to find out my wife had got caught up with revolutionaries. Real communists in Seattle. She starts talking about Marx all the time and keeps trying to get me to read Upton Sinclair.

I was working part time at a fish packing plant in between comedy gigs. So I’m behind in the book contest and I find this thin introductory book on Marx thinking maybe I’ll catch up. I’m reading this book on break at a fish packing plant making minimum wage. Just a total shit job. I get to the part about capital and how the owners want to keep wages low because they don’t want people to have enough money to save up and create their own capital or quit their job. I remember sitting there saying to myself, “Fuck this place. I’m never going to get ahead here”. I got up and walked out right then and there. I think I even waved the book in my boss’s face telling him to fuck off.


On the way home on the bus it’s talking about Cuba and East Germany. All my life I’ve been told how bad these countries were. The Evil Empire etc. There’s a part in the book about rent and how in Cuba and East Germany it’s against the law to charge anyone more than 7% of their income on rent and I’m thinking, “Holy Fuck! No one told me this! I’m thirty-five years old living in the U.S. THE most capitalist country on earth and somehow this never came up in the news? At school? At church? On TV? In the movies? Nobody ever talks about this?” It just seemed really odd to me. Then I get to that famous Marx quote, “The ideas that rule are created by the ruling class”. Something just clicked in my brain. I mean come on. However bad communism is, or Stalin, the Soviet Union, Siberia, Mao, the KGB or goddamn bread lines you would THINK that would come up somewhere. No one ever mentioned that? What the fuck?


GS: Stanhope has said that you have “run the gambit of conspiracy theories” If this is true, are there any conspiracy theories that you have had a long-term interest in?


JI: It’s probably been the UFO question. That’s been the subject that I’ve been the most interested in more than anything. I could go to a bookstore and find the UFO section and I probably read almost every UFO book worth reading on any shelf anywhere. I’ve been diagnosed with a mild form of autism so I’m kind of a collector when it comes to knowing things. When I get obsessed with a subject I tend to read everything I can find on it and start talking about it in the dumbest situation. It’s stupid. Why do I need so much about UFO’s? How is that going to help me in real life? It’s not practical and I just get made fun of all the time. Just so you know aliens DO exist. They’re coming here. The government knows about it but doesn’t know what to do. Some people are probably getting abducted and no one knows why they’re doing it. It’s frightening. But I’m crazy so don’t listen to me. I’m stupid.


GS: The Drunk Idiots Podcast: will there ever be any new episodes? Whatever happened to your neighbor/co-host Kelley?


JI: Kelley is still around. We have kind of a problem with a neighbor. If you listened to the last podcast we got the cops called on us because we were too loud. It’s in the actual podcast. You can hear them knocking on the door and Kelley arguing with them. It’s a freak show. Kelley lives next to this crazy paranoid freak neighbor that likes to call the cops for any reason whatsoever. She’s the reason he had to go to jail for a couple weeks. He had an outstanding warrant from like ten years ago. He never drives or goes anywhere or gets in any trouble. He just walks down to the store to buy his beer. This freak neighbor moves in next door and all she does it call the cops on him.

It’s creepy too because we did some investigation on her. She’s married to an ex-Navy Seal that used to be a sniper. So he’s almost like a cop anyway. Kelley doesn’t even want to go to the door and make peace with her because she’s taken him to court. It was such a bullshit charge that she didn’t even show up because she knew she was going to lose. I’ve thought about talking to her and just being nice and asking her if we can do the podcast when she’s not home. She doesn’t know who I am so I made friends with her on Facebook just to find out more about her and she’s such a huge bitch. Every goddamn post is about the dumbest shit, calling the cops and paranoid Jack Bauer 24 crap. She called the goddamn cops because there was a dead bird in her yard. Just the worst kind of human being. I want to fuck with her on Facebook but she’ll probably call the cops on me. The problem is she LOOKS like a normal human and SEEMS like a responsible tax paying citizen with two kids, money and her husband is ex-military but she’s dead inside. We can’t do the podcast while she’s at home because Kelley is afraid of going to jail again basically. I need to talk to her.


GS: Are The Unbookables still active as a group? If not, will you guys ever get back together for more shows or an album?


JI: We’re working on it. It’s kind of a touchy subject because everyone is waiting to see what Doug is going to do. He veers towards a Libertarian world view so he’s kind of hard to work with in a group. He’s better doing everything on his own. I’m kind of a communist and I want to bring everyone together and I’m good at collaborating. We need someone to take the wheel for us but we haven’t found a manager that is willing to risk everything. Also we’re still trying to promote the film. It’s coming out on Playstation soon. When the film starts getting more traction it will be easier to book bigger gigs. I don’t want to go out on the road playing to three people. But when the time is right it will happen.


GS: What is your traveling and living situation like these days? The impression I get from being Facebook friends with you is that it’s not that frantic—mostly sticking around Kansas City, with occasional out-of-state shows.


JI: Basically that’s it. Not drinking as much. Meditating, reading, looking for drugs. I’m also working on promoting the film and finishing my CD’s. I’m working on the physical copies now and the artwork. My next project is designing a t-shirt because Andy and Erickson also have one. Once I get that done I’m going to book myself again and go on the road more. Then maybe work on an Unbookables tour.


GS: Final question: where did your affinity for clowns come from? Have you ever performed professionally as one?


JI: There’s a great book by Wes Nisker called the Essential Crazy Wisdom. It’s all about the history of absurdist philosophy, trickster archetypes and Eastern religions that view life as an illusion. That’s really inspired me. I’ve probably read it like nine times. Plus In Praise of Folly by Erasmus. Those two books I found when I was reading and studying philosophy. I was always trying to find a philosophical world view that would fit in with comedy and those two books really spoke to me. Plus there’s Elvis Costello’s obsession with clowns and comedy. The director of the Unbookables found that image of me with the clown makeup that I use for my Twitter profile picture and it just stuck. I use Twitter to play the trickster. Facebook not so much. I’m more into conspiracy theories and politics on that. But I need to stay off Facebook. It takes up too much time. Plus the NSA is recording everything I write. Who knows. The world is an illusion but they want to keep track of everything. It’s absurd.


- originally published on Buzzfeed Community



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GARRETT SCHUELKE is a writer, podcaster, and musician that currently resides in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the author of the Godan series (Bakunin Incorporated), Anamakee (Riot Forge Studios, 2016), Whup Jamboree: Stories (Elmblad Media Group, 2017), and three ebooks. He is also the host of The Garret Schuelke Podcast, The Cheeseburger Blues: An Exploration into Dad Blues Rock, and A Riot of my Own. He makes music under the moniker Neobeatglory. To learn more, visit Garret Schuelke’s official website: garretschuelke.tumblr.com, or check him out on Twitter: @garretschuelke.

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