I woke up on Monday, August 6th like a kid on Christmas morning. Well, an affluent kid who knew he was going to get lots of presents. I was set to play my second sold-out solo show at the famed Joe's Pub here in New York and my day was to be devoid of all stress. Then my phone rang. It was my mother.
"I just watched the 'Edge of Glory' parody on YouTube. I want it out of the show. Replace it with something else." I quickly leafed through the expandable file folder under my bed, frantically looking for my birth certificate to ensure that David Merrick wasn't listed as my mother. She was referring to the video that features me sitting in my apartment at an imaginary keyboard, scantily clad and singing my own lyrics to Lady GaGa's music. Her song is about the ecstasy of death. My version is about the annoyance that comes from dating a guy who takes too long to climax.
I can just see my mother sitting there in her "office." The room is elegantly furnished with a beautiful desk atop which sits her laptop (that never moves anywhere else). She's wearing her silk daytime robe and has brought her morning coffee with her as she settles in to watch the video I told her about three weeks prior (but she has waited until the day of the show to watch).
THERE AIN'T NO REASON WHY THIS GUY SHOULD TAKE SO LONG TONIGHT, YEAH BABY, TONIGHT, YEAH BABY
I'VE GOT SOME OTHER SHIT I'D KINDA LIKE TO DO TONIGHT
I LIKE A MAN THAT LASTS AWHILE, BUT NOT THIS LONG, ALRIGHT? YEAH, BABY, ALRIGHT, YEAH BABY
MY HAND AND JAW ARE CRAMPING UP, I'D LIKE TO CALL IT A NIGHT
I wasn't there, but I could see the tensing of the jaw and the widening of the eyes. Then, she hears the chorus (lyrics which are most probably not suitable for print here) and sees me close my eyes and throw my head back. That is when my mother, without taking her eyes off the screen, slowly extends her Fernando Sanchez-encased arm towards the phone. To be fair, I've put my mother through it with my solo shows. Last summer's show, which was entitled Ryan Raftery's IT GETS WORSE: An Uplifting Musical Tale of a Mercilessly Bullied Genius, featured an off-color joke made at my mother's expense that got the biggest laugh of the night. Comedians using their parents as fodder for their act is hardly a novel idea. Margaret Cho has made her mother famous for doing just that, but I wanted Mother to be prepared. I told her about the YouTube video and that it would be making its live debut in my show this summer.
"You can replace that song with something else. How dare you sing about c***ing on another man's face!" This is something that IN MY WILDEST DREAMS (and I have an admittedly demented imagination) I would never imagine hearing my mother say to me. She then hung up the phone after telling me that she and the seven other yentes she intended to travel with to Manhattan from her comfy retirement hamlet in Central Jersey would not be in attendance later that night.
My mother's horror came from the thought of sitting in the audience with her friends, some of whom I have never met, and being forced to imagine her son in a very graphic sexual act. I can understand how that could be embarrassing for her. Should I have capitulated and changed my show's content to please her? As my new show's title is Ryan Raftery KING OF THE JEWS!, I turned to another biblical figure for guidance... Madonna.
In the seminal (pun kinda intended) documentary Truth or Dare, Madonna's world tour brings her to her hometown of Detroit. Her father and stepmother will be in attendance and she expresses anxiety over performing "Like a Virgin" that night, because she simulates masturbation on a bed while framed by two dancers wearing cone bras. She warns him in advance, he shows up and the performance was executed sans censorship. If Madonna can jerk off in front of her dad, surely singing about a sex act would be far less severe and in that rationale; I found my answer. The song stayed in and was one of the biggest hits of the night. I even added a comment in the middle of the most graphic verse of the song that my mother was indeed in the audience just to get a laugh, and it worked in absentia!
Was I upset that my mother wasn't there for the opening of my new show? Of course. It was the very first one she has ever missed. The support of your family is something that not all artists can enjoy and I have always treasured it. My sister and my uncle both came (pun NOT intended, pigs!) and endured the surely uncomfortable moment with smiles on their faces. If an artist isn't going to maintain his or her artistic integrity, what is the point of saying anything at all? No one is ever going to love everything that you do. I'm sure that other people who came to my show might have had a problem with one or another one of my parodies. It's the risk (and the reward) of engaging in comic social commentary. But when faced with moments like this in my career, I tend to think of another diva who has inspired my onstage persona greatly. As Bette Midler once famously proclaimed, "Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke!"
Ryan Raftery's KING OF THE JEWS! A Musical Fable About Love Benefiting Hamas" plays Joe's Pub again on Monday, August 27th at 9:30pm. Tickets available at www.joespub.com.