“It’s Elementary” is a monthly column every first Wednesday that asks comedians to share funny memories from their elementary school years, or “periods” (get it?? Like moments in time, but also like in school!) from those formative years that have informed their personal and comedic identities. Or, they’ll just submit some random anecdotes. Whatever they want, really.
by Dave Metter
I have long been fascinated by what has influenced and inspired other comedy writers, especially during their youths when their comedic senses were still so nascent and less judgmental. This month features writer/director/performer/tech man/backslash abuser Paul Triggiani.
Dave has kindly asked me to write about my time in elementary school for this installment of “It’s Elementary.” So, yes, I’d love to tell you about one of the darkest, most repulsive periods of my life that isn’t right now.
1st Period: The Move
When I was in third grade, my parents moved my brother and I from a private, progressive school that we had been in since kindergarten to a public school. It was the hardest, least pleasant time in my life. I’ve never spent any significant time in prison, but it was probably a lot like that (adjusted for scale of life experience and emotional preparedness).
2nd Period: From Apple Orchard-come-Commune School
The school we had up and to that point spent our entire lives at was an apple orchard-come-commune. The inhabitants of that commune didn’t want to go out and find square jobs so they just said, “Fuck it, let’s be a school.” I remember once asking a teacher how the Native Americans came to be in North America, and she just stared into the ceiling and said, “Nobody knows.” It was a really nurturing place to grow and find your emotional center, but by the time we transferred to public school in third grade, I didn’t know how to read or tie my own shoes.
3rd Period: To Public School
The next year, I transferred to public school and was immediately met with a series of sobering truths—1) the rest of the world had a shared popular culture, it extended beyond 1974, and everyone knew about it but me 2) this was not a warm and inviting place where my ideas and opinions would be welcomed by everyone; to the contrary, every word I said and every thought I decided to share would be judged and used against me by some juvenile scumbag and 3) the other students were sometimes just as bad. It was an emotionally rocky time for me, and I spent a lot of time rolling around on the ground with a jacket over my head. Not sure why.
4th Period: Kids Corner
I can’t remember much about grade school that was positive, except for Kids Corner. If you’re from the area, it’s possible that you’re familiar with the long-running children’s call-in show hosted by Kathy O’Connell and produced by Robert Drake. If you listen to the show today, you’ll hear a lot of music specifically geared toward children, but in the late eighties and early nineties, it was a very different show. From what I could tell, they had maybe ten records that they cycled through—two Dr. Demento collections, a bunch of “Weird Al” Yankovic, They Might Be Giants’ Flood and The Dead Milkmen’s Beelzebubba. So this is how I managed to be exposed to almost nothing but novelty music for the better part of a decade.
5th Period: A Weirdo Unchained
But there was also an underlying message to Kids Corner, and one that I didn’t fully recognize until I was in my late teens. It came through the music they played, but also through the guests that they chose to feature—artists, musicians, nerds of every variety. The novelty music that I was exposed to through the show helped to shape my interest in comedy and show me where my sensibilities were, but the part of Kids Corner that had the biggest impact was that they managed to say “It’s okay to be a little weird. There are weird people everywhere, and they’re doing great” at a time when I needed it most.
Dave Metter is a comedy writer, and member of sketch comedy collective Iron Potato. See Dave’s show “Your News, Philadelphia!” at the Shubin Theater today, June 5th, in the finals of PHIT’s Variety Sweeps Week. Follow Dave on Twitter @DaveMetter.