Volunteer for Ben Gran’s stand-up comedy show

I need a few volunteers for my stand-up comedy show on March 9.

Volunteers, to arms!

We’ll need a few people to…

  1. Sell tickets at the Box Office/hand out Will Call tickets at the door (1 or 2 people)
  2. Check IDs and issue wristbands for the 21-and-over crowd (there will be booze!) (2 people)
  3. Make a video of the show (using a camera I supply – or your own camera if you’ve got a good one and know how to use it) (1 person)

All volunteers get a free ticket to the show ($10 value!) plus my undying gratitude.

Please let me know if you’re interested by dropping me a line at benjamin.gran@gmail.com

Ben Gran’s Top 6 Comedy Heroes

So unless you’ve been living in a cave and don’t have Internet access, you probably have heard about my stand-up comedy show on March 9 at the Des Moines Social Club. Maybe you are wondering what kind of style of comedy to expect.

Here are a few comedians whose style and delivery I really admire and identify with. I don’t claim to be as good as these guys, but they’re the ones I’d most like to emulate. These are my heroes of stand-up comedy:

George Carlin: George Carlin made comedy into an art form in a way that no other comedian can touch. He was so smart, so tough, and so rigorous in the way he thought out every joke.

George Carlin - Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/people/22385015@N00

You can see the craft that George Carlin put into every joke and every delivery. I saw George Carlin live a couple times at the Des Moines Civic Center and I loved that even in his last few years of life, when his health was suffering and a lot of other people might have retired, George was still going strong with as high energy of a show as ever. He’s been dead for over 3 years but I still miss him and I watch his old routines on YouTube quite often.

Henry Rollins: Henry Rollins doesn’t describe himself as a comedian, but his style of spoken word performance has a lot of humor and it comes with a great intensity and precision to every thing he says. He’s an autodidact and a world traveler and is

Henry Rollins - Image credit: http://henryrollins.com/photo/press_shots/

relentlessly seeking knowledge and experience, and I respect his politics and his life perspectives. I’ve seen Henry Rollins speak a couple times at Iowa State University, and it’s always a great time. He  makes you laugh, he makes you think, and he makes you feel what he feels about whatever he’s talking about.

Louis C.K.: Louis C.K. is probably the biggest name in stand-up comedy right now, and it’s well deserved. I love how even when he’s doing a joke about something dirty/inappropriate/misanthropic or mean-spirited, the joke is always ultimately on him. “I have lots of beliefs, and I live by none of them,” is one of my favorite bits from the Louis C.K. “Live at Beacon Theater” special, which you should totally pay $5 for and watch.

Mitch Hedberg: No one ever wrote jokes quite like Mitch Hedberg. They’re like riddles wrapped in enigmas. And his delivery was so…cute. Even if he was telling a joke about drugs or sex or something awful, he had this way of telling it that made him sound lovable and impish. One of my favorite Mitch Hedberg jokes was the one about, “My fan moves side to side and it always seems to be shaking its head ‘no’ at me. So when I talk to my fan, I ask it questions that a fan would say ‘No’ to. Do you keep my papers in order? (shakes head ‘no’) Do you keep my hairstyle straight?”

Bill Hicks: My brother John (who is hilarious, by the way – all of my siblings are smarter than me) introduced me to Bill Hicks because he thought I’d like Bill’s combination of intellect and rage. He was right! Bill died tragically young (age 32) from pancreatic cancer, and I wish he was still alive because I can only imagine how funny he’d be as he got older. I would have loved to see Bill Hicks’ take on the George W. Bush years.

Rob Delaney: I am obsessed with Rob Delaney. I have read the man’s entire Twitter feed. Back in January, I drove my family to Omaha, stayed in a hotel overnight and had my mother-in-law watch our kids just so my wife and I could go see Rob Delaney’s show

Rob Delaney

at the Slowdown. Rob Delaney is so, so smart and he’s so, so dirty. I’m not sure I want to re-print any of Rob’s jokes on this blog, because I’m not sure how inappropriate-for-work I want my blog to get, but if you go to Rob Delaney’s Twitter feed you’ll quickly see what I mean. Reading Rob Delaney jokes is like getting an unfiltered glimpse into the male id, but in a good way. But he doesn’t just tell dirty jokes, he’s also really smart and focused and a very good writer, not only of Twitter jokes but longer-form material and articles. I think Rob Delaney could have been a political speechwriter or policy analyst, if not for his comedy career – but I’m glad he became a comedian instead.

There are a lot of other comedians I like, but these are the big ones. I like smart, irreverent, dangerous humor that makes people re-think their assumptions and look at life in a new light. I like comedy that is dark and unsettling and makes people uncomfortable, in a good way – good comedy should make you squirm and writhe and sit at the edge of your seat.

The best comedians know how to get a physical and emotional and intellectual response out of the audience. I hope to do the same on March 9.

PLEASE BUY TICKETS to Ben Gran’s stand-up comedy show. (No pressure.)

5 reasons why Ben Gran is doing stand-up comedy

As you may know, with all the “buzz” going on in the “blogosphere” and the “Twitterverse” and “FacebookLand,” I’m going to be doing a stand-up comedy show on March 9 at the Des Moines Social Club. Along with Omaha comedian Zach Peterson. Tickets are ON SALE NOW.

Ever since I announced this comedy show, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people. Questions like:

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

and

“Why are you doing this to yourself?”

and

“You should probably see someone about your emotional issues.” (OK, that last one isn’t a question.)

So I gave it some thought. Here are the top 5 reasons why I’m doing stand-up comedy:

Because I probably need therapy, but my insurance won’t cover it:

I’m prone to melancholia, anxiety and curmudgeon-hood, but nothing makes me happier than making people laugh. Some of my favorite memories in life are the times where I got to be part of a room full of people laughing. There’s nothing else like it. It’s such a rush. It gives me endorphins like no legal drugs possibly could.

Because I’m socially isolated and emotionally needy:

As a freelance writer, I spend a lot of time sitting at home by myself wearing pajamas (some days I go the extra mile and wear pants) and I don’t get to talk to other people very often. So rather than take the smaller step of joining a co-working space or hanging out at a coffee shop, I’d rather go all-in and tell jokes to over 100 people. (Right? There will be at least 100 people at this show, right everybody? Please come to my show. I need this. You have no idea how much I need this.)

Because I must:

It’s just something I need to do. The idea came into my head like a miniature meteorite plummeting out of the sky and bonking me in the brain: “You should do stand-up comedy.” I want to do stand-up comedy for the same reason Sir Edmund Hillary wanted to climb Mount Everest: “Because it’s there – and because I need to get out of the house and spend some time away from my wife and kids.”

Because I want to make memories:

As a father of two small children, I spend a lot of time contemplating my own eventual death. Time just keeps speeding up on me, and before long I’m going to start rapidly aging and deteriorating and collapsing into dust like the guy at the end of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” who chose the wrong chalice to drink from.

The guy who "chose poorly" at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Remember that scene? The guy who thought he was drinking from the Holy Grail and would be rewarded with Eternal Life, but then it turns out he quickly disintegrated into a pile of bones?

I’ve never seen such an accurate onscreen depiction of the aging process.

"He chose poorly"

So before long, that’s going to be me. And before I die, I want to make some more memories from doing the things I love best. Someday when I’m on my deathbed, some of my fondest memories will be the times when I got to perform, make people laugh, make people think, and bask in the adulation of an audience.

Is this attitude entirely emotionally healthy? No. But that’s who I am.

Because I just don’t give a damn anymore:

Being a stand-up comedian can be tough. People might not laugh. They might heckle me. They might be offended by my jokes, throw garbage at me or threaten me with bodily harm. At this point, I don’t care. I’m 32 years old, I’m a grown man, and I don’t have, need or want a regular job anymore so I don’t have to worry about the Corporate Thought Police judging me for the things I say onstage.

So if you’re reading this, and you’re going to be within driving distance of the Des Moines Social Club on March 9, please BUY TICKETS and come to my stand-up comedy show. I promise not to collapse into dust until after the show is over.

Ben Gran stand-up comedy: Tickets On Sale Now!

Ben Gran is performing stand-up comedy on Friday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. The brilliant Zach Peterson of Omaha’s OK Party Comedy will also perform.

Want to buy tickets? Now you can:

BUY TICKETS NOW

Ben Gran stand-up comedy FAQs:

You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers:

Where’s the show going to be? Des Moines Social Club, 400 Walnut Street, Des Moines, IA

How much do tickets cost? Only $10! It’s a cheap night out! And much more fun than your typical overrated Hollywood blockbuster. Plus there’s a small processing fee that goes to benefit the Social Club (a goodhearted non-profit that supports the local cultural scene, NOT an evil corporation like Ticketmaster). Only 150 tickets are available. Get ’em before the show sells out!

BUY TICKETS NOW

How do I pick up my tickets? There are two options: the tickets can be sent to you via U.S. mail for a small additional postage fee, or you can pick up your tickets at the Des Moines Social Club Will Call window. Sorry, but there is no “print at home” option.

Can we bring our kids to the show? Probably not. The show is officially designated as age 18+ and there will be frank discussions of adult topics. And probably some use of profanity. It’s going to be kind of like a really profane R-rated movie, like Harold & Kumar but without the nudity. If parents have questions about whether the show is appropriate for your high-school age kids, please contact Ben Gran at benjamin.gran@gmail.com

BUY TICKETS NOW

Where’s the booze? Alcoholic beverages can be purchased in the Kirkwood Lounge bar. We will be checking IDs. 21 and over only, please.

What makes Ben Gran think he has any right to do stand-up comedy? Ben Gran is an experienced comedy performer, script and sketch writer. He has performed sketch and improv comedy and acted in plays, but decided to do stand-up because he was tired of other people getting to say all the lines. (Ben is what psychologists refer to as a “pathological narcissist.”)

BUY TICKETS NOW

Why should we trust Ben Gran to make us laugh? What if he sucks? Friend me on Facebook to see my best material. Many people tell me that my Facebook jokes are the sole reason they log into Facebook each day. (Not to brag.)

Who is Zach Peterson? Zach Peterson is hilarious! I saw him open for the great Rob Delaney at a comedy show in Omaha, and I was like, “This guy is good. Now I need to con him into performing at my stand-up show in Des Moines!” Here’s a video of Zach Peterson opening for Rob Delaney in Omaha:

Do you have any other questions? Send them to me: benjamin.gran@gmail.com

Please come to the show. Otherwise it will just be me, talking to myself in an empty bar. In other words: a typical Friday night.

BUY TICKETS NOW

Ben Gran Stand-up Comedy: Des Moines Social Club

Want to laugh at Ben Gran in public?

Here’s your chance:

Friday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m.

Ben Gran, dangerous stand-up comedian

Drawing by David Anderson, Houston, TX

WHAT: Ben Gran! (Performing stand-up comedy)

WHERE: The Des Moines Social Club!

WHO: Ben Gran! Also: A funny guy from Omaha named Zach Peterson will be on hand to deliver devastating witticisms! (You might say Zach puts the “Ha!” in “Omaha!”)

HOW: Ticket Info and Juicy, Scandalous Details are here – BUY TICKETS NOW! (no pressure)

WHY: Because we need something special to get through the gray slog of our daily lives, but drugs are illegal.

Love,

Ben Gran
(Amateur Comedian, Professional Assassin, Certified Life Coach)

P.S. Are you wondering, “Who is this guy? How dare he perform stand-up comedy?” Connect with me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.gran

Why we’re hosting a foreign exchange student

My wife and I recently decided to host a foreign exchange student from Brazil. He’ll be living at our house for the spring semester of 2012 – January through June.

We had talked before about wanting to host an exchange student, but we always thought it would be on our “someday” list – someday when our kids are older, when we have more money, when we have more time, etc. We’re very busy right now taking care of two young children under the age of 4, and we live on one income, so we weren’t 100% sure if we were “ready” to take in an exchange student for a whole semester.

But we decided to go for it. Here’s why:

  • I know how important the exchange student experience can be. 16 years ago, when I was a junior in high school, I met a young man from Germany named Fabrice Witzke who was an exchange student at my school. We went on to become lifelong friends. I went to visit Fabrice in Europe in 2000, 2003 and 2004. He came to stay with us at our house in 2008. I’d like to help make it possible for someone else to make a lifelong friendship with someone from another country. Perhaps our student from Brazil will meet friends in Des Moines that he will stay in touch with for many years to come.
  • Fabrice Witzke, Ben Gran and baby boy Gran (Aug. 2008)

  • I love meeting people from other cultures. I lived in Japan from 2001-2002, teaching English on the JET Program. It was one of the most memorable and influential years of my life – I would recommend it to anyone who’s trying to decide what to do with their first year out of college. I traveled in Europe during the last summer of my college years, in July of 2000. I saw Germany, France, Spain and London. I lived out of a backpack and traveled by train. I stayed with Fabrice in Cologne, we traveled together to Paris and stayed at a hostel where they served us a breakfast of baguette and hot chocolate. Then we took the overnight train to the lovely seaside resort area of Seignosse, along the Atlantic coast of France, where the World War II concrete bunkers still stand watch over the shimmering sea. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Then I found my way to San Sebastian, Spain (my wife and I named our firstborn son in honor of this charming city of the Basque region), took an 8-hour train to Madrid, went to Barcelona and then back to Paris again. I met new people all along the way. You never learn more about yourself than when you’re travelling in another country.
  • I want to be a good host to other world travelers. During my travels in Europe and my time living in Japan, so many people opened their homes to me. Fabrice’s aunt helped us find a place to stay near the Atlantic Ocean in Seignosse, France. Fabrice’s college classmates in Paris hosted wonderful impromptu dinner parties with lots of wine. My friends Hiro and Satoru in Japan hosted me at their family homes in Tokyo and Chiba. Hiro’s friend Shoichi let my wife and I stay at his apartment on our first night in Japan in Feb. 2007, and poured us many cups of delicious tea. I am sorry to say that I cannot even remember all of the names of the people who have shown me such wonderful hospitality, but all of them in their own small way were serving as ambassadors for their home countries and cultures. In my own small way, I’d like to do the same. I want to be known as someone who is generous, welcoming, and willing to create connections with people. We’ve hosted other international visitors before – from Kosovo, Spain, Chile, Ethiopia, Sweden and Japan. We hosted two Japanese high school students for a week last October. So we wanted to take the next step and host an exchange student to be part of our family for a full semester.

Our Japanese exchange students with our son

Being a work-at-home freelancer can be tough sometimes – I sometimes feel a bit isolated and shut off from the outside world. By hosting an exchange student, in this one small way I think we will be a bit more involved in the world. My favorite learning experiences in life have come from travelling, living abroad and meeting people from other countries and cultures. These are the experiences from my life that I would most strongly recommend to my own children. I hope we can provide a happy home and a rich learning environment for our student from Brazil.

Would you like to host a foreign exchange student? The program we’re involved with is the American Institute for Foreign Study.

I can’t think of anything more important, or more meaningful, than helping a young person achieve the dream of living and studying in the U.S. I’ve seen the power of this experience in my own life, and I’m proud to open up my home to help make it possible for someone else.

How I made $100,000 on Elance

I recently passed a significant milestone in my career as a freelance writer on Elance: I have surpassed $100,000 in lifetime income on Elance.

This all started with a single $200 project that I won back in February 2009. A business consultant in Australia hired me to help him write some training materials, and the rest is history. On that day, I never would have guessed how thoroughly my life would change as a result of getting signed up on Elance.

I originally started out as a part-time freelance writer just to earn some extra money and have some fun with some more interesting side projects outside of my day job. Soon I was working nights and weekends, loving the work and loving the extra income. There were frustrations and stresses and hassles along the way, but I maintained my determination to keep bidding on Elance jobs and finding new clients and building up my reputation.

By July 2010, I had quit my corporate job and started my new life as a full-time freelance writer. I’ve been doing this now for almost 1.5 years and I sometimes still can’t believe it’s real. I love working from home. I love spending ridiculous amounts of time with my family. I get to eat lunch with my kids every day (I used to eat lots of miserable, lonely lunches in my cubicle – no more!) and I get to feel sunlight on my face every day, and I get to work with interesting people from all over the U.S. and all over the world.

If you’re stuck in a job that you hate…maybe you should start working as a freelancer on Elance. Start small. Start now. You never know where it might lead. That first Elance project could turn into $100,000 of income.

How to write great corporate Case Studies

As a freelance writer, I often work with clients to help write, edit and polish their corporate Case Studies – the “success stories” of specific situations that help illustrate their value and explain how they work.
Here is a standard format that I like to use when writing Case Studies, along with some questions that I pose to my clients to help generate the details.
Client Background: Give a short description of the client’s business and industry.
  • Who was the client?
  • Who are the client’s key customers?
  • How many employees do they have? How much annual revenue do they earn?
Challenge: Talk about the problem that you solved. This is the “villain” or conflict at the heart of the Case Study’s story.
  • Why did the client hire you?
  • What was the specific problem that you helped them to overcome?
  • Why did they need your help? Why couldn’t they solve the problem with internal resources alone?
  • What special circumstances were there – short timeframe, limited budget, large-scale product launch, high-stakes, high-pressure, all of the above?
Approach: Share the unique perspective that you brought to the problem.
  • How did you “diagnose” the problem and decide on a remedy?
  • What did you do “above and beyond” the call of duty to make the project a success?
  • What did you learn during the course of the project?
  • What was the “game changer” or biggest difference-maker in the project’s success?
  • What were the most important insights that you gained during the project?
  • What were the most important resources that you used?
  • What was the client most grateful for/impressed by during the course of the work?
Results: Show how the world is a better place as a result of your work.
  • What were the measurable results of the project (if possible to specify)?
  • How many people/stakeholders/customers were affected by the work?
  • What was the highest praise that you received from the client as a result of the work?

Case Studies can be a great way for your company to show your value. Try to pack the narrative with as much specific detail as possible – but without compromising any client confidentiality or privileged information, or course. A well-written Case Study can show prospective clients your thought process and problem-solving approach, give them a sense of what it’s like to work with you, and who how you can help create results for their business.

Freelance Worries

There’s so much to worry about when you’re a freelancer. The hierarchy goes like this:

  1. Will there be enough work?
  2. I have plenty of work – but do I have time to get it all done?
  3. I have plenty of work, and I’m getting it all done – but am I charging enough?
  4. I’m making more money than I’ve ever made in my life – but am I setting aside enough for taxes?
  5. I’ve set aside a bunch of money for taxes – but will I have to pay all of it to the government, or will I have some left over?

Maybe the answer is: stop worrying. Focus on what is in your control. Do your best work, make a diligent effort, and enjoy every day as much as you can.

Freelancing is full of uncertainty. That’s one of the worst things about freelancing, and yet it’s also one of the best. Every paycheck brings new feelings of triumph.

Japan’s tragedies

I lived in Japan from 2001-2002, working in Saitama prefecture, Hidaka City as an Assistant English Teacher on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.

Although I was only in the country for one year, my year in Japan was one of the most influential of my life. I cannot imagine a better way to spend the first year out of college, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in living abroad and experiencing a unique adventure.

I’ve been quite preoccupied by the news from Japan since the March 11 earthquake, the tsunami that followed, and now the frightening nuclear crisis. I’m hoping for the best. I’ve been in contact with my friends in Tokyo; fortunately everyone I know in Japan (and their families) are safe. My heart goes out to the victims and their families. I can’t imagine the devastation that has come crashing down on these people.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Japanese earthquake and how it has reminded me of certain aspects of Japan that I really admired.

I’m not an expert on Japanese culture, but I have some very good friends there and the place is close to my heart. So here are some of my impressions of what I’ve been reading in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake:

Crises amplifies the strengths and weaknesses of every individual/organization/culture.

I’ve been really impressed by what I’ve seen from the Japanese people in responding to this earthquake – lots of patience, calmly waiting in lines, no panic, no looting, no disorder. While Japan is not a perfect, crime-free place, they do tend to have a very safe and orderly society. Japan tends to have a high level of social cohesion and “team spirit.” People look out for the interests of the group before they look out for their own self-interest. Japan is very different from America in this way, when compared to the American spirit of go-it-alone, rugged individualism. Japanese culture is good at accepting the things that cannot be helped – “shikata ga nai” is the expression in Japanese for “it can’t be helped.” This is SO different from America. Americans want to fix everything. We never want to concede defeat. We tend to believe that we are all protagonists in our own unfolding story (whereas collectivist cultures like Japan put more importance on each individual person playing their appropriate role in their group, family, company, society – there is more of a context for how you relate to your fellow people and your society). In America, we have a very hard time accepting that some things in life are just inexplicably hard, tragic, impossible, unable to be helped. Japan has a better cultural sense for the transience of things and the fragility of life. (Of course, when this cultural trait goes too far, it becomes hopeless fatalism – which is counter-productive. But in many ways, I think Japanese culture is better adapted to dealing with tragedies and natural disasters.)

Unfortunately, the crisis has highlighted some weaknesses of the Japanese system as well – in particular, Japan has a hard time with delivering bad news. Until fairly recently, even cancer patients in Japan would not be told the full truth about their diagnosis, in order to spare their feelings/keep them from being distressed. We’ve seen this cultural tendency in the Japanese government’s public statements about the nuclear crisis. It’s been hard to get transparent, reliable information about the nuclear situation, either from the Japanese government or from the Tokyo Electric Power company that runs the stricken nuclear plant. Much of the public statements from the Japanese government have been ambiguous and hard to decipher. This is unfortunately a weakness of the Japanese system of government – there is often too much deference given to authorities, bureaucracies and entrenched interest, and not enough transparency to the public. (Gosh, does that sound familiar, America? America is also far from perfect in this regard.)

I’m surprised it wasn’t worse

Japan is prone to earthquakes. When I lived there, I would occasionally be awoken in the night by the sound of teacups rattling in the cupboards – the walls of my apartment building would wobble. Most of the time the shaking only lasted a few seconds, but it still was unsettling to a guy from the Midwestern U.S., where earthquakes almost never happen.

I remember reading about the Tokyo earthquake of 1923, where over 100,000 people died. Japan had a terrible earthquake in Kobe in 1995 where over 8,000 people died. Even with all the modern building codes and advanced construction techniques of a wealthy country like Japan, there’s only so much that can be done to protect human lives against the worst earthquakes.

So in a way, despite the terrible loss of life, part of me was surprised that the Japan earthquake and tsunami haven’t been even more deadly.

Of course, Tokyo is the world’s largest city, and it is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. Most of the world’s population lives close to fault lines – we are all “whistling past the volcano,” so to speak. Most likely within our lifetimes, major earthquakes will hit some of the world’s most populous cities. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”

Let’s Help Japan

I know, Japan is a wealthy country – but they still could use our help. I donated to the American Red Cross Japan earthquake relief fund (any unused proceeds will be used to help with other disaster relief efforts around the world). Every dollar counts. If you’ve read this far, will you consider making a small donation?

At times like these, we should all feel lucky just to be alive, to have family and friends who love us, to have food in our bellies and money in our pockets. Let’s give a little bit to help people who are facing terrible challenges – in Japan or elsewhere in the world.

Here is the Red Cross donation site: http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main&s_src=RSG000000000&s_subsrc=RCO_Donate_OnlineGiving

Please give what you can.