Every now and again, people ask me what my influences are when it comes to my writing style, as well as my overall outlook for the themes and voice of the CDP. Ever since I was a kid, things have been shaping and changing my writing personality and overall projected attitude towards written entertainment.
Here now, the people and things that have turned me into the pompous ass I am now, in no particular order.
As a kid growing up, reading Stephen King was akin to reading a dirty magazine, so I felt as if I was in on something very mature and groundbreaking when I cracked his books. He was probably my first main influence, as it was this sort of storytelling that got me into writing in the first place. I mainly started out writing awful horror pieces just to frighten my parents (not because the story itself was scary, mind you, but because they thought they were going to have to put their son through years of therapy). Although I haven’t read any King novels in over a decade, he made a huge impact on me as a child.
I didn’t do any humor until around the 5th grade, when I realized that I could instantly improve my popularity by doing impressions and making fun of people.
Calvin & Hobbes/The Far Side.
C&H was the most well-rounded, brilliant and beautiful comic strip of all time; TFS was the laugh-out-loud funniest. I look back at Far Side cartoons from the early 80’s and marvel at how far ahead it was of the surreal, intelligent, precision-based humor we saw with The Simpsons a decade later. Until the end of time, cubicle dwellers will continue to hang Far Side cartoons up as a symbol of rebellion and intelligence in a sterile and humorless environment. Even now, I cannot believe that The Far Side was allowed to mingle with the rest of the funny pages for so long; I don’t think a mainstream comic strip will ever match the dark and surreal world that Gary Larson created.
C&H represents my childhood more than I could ever convey. It’s an amazing journey to read through all of Bill Watterson’s collections, full of incredible humor, personal reflection and uncompromisable intelligence. Most of these collections are available at a book store for around $5 now, so you should probably pick up one or two. Better yet, the hard-bound retrospective makes a great Christmas gift (there’s one for The Far Side, too).
The illustrations, brilliant-yet-childlike dialogue and timeless philosophy make Calvin & Hobbes the most rewarding comic strip experience possible.
Billie Joe Armstrong.
Green Day’s Dookie changed my life; period. It made me realize that music could be created by actual people; and anyone could creatively express themselves through melody and 3 chords. Dookie represented the MTV generation and the fast-food wrapper apathy of the 90’s with ruthless aggression and honesty. I instantly bought a drum set and became the man I am now, without many changes in between.
There’s a certain age (usually 11 or 12), when that one special band finally hits you in the head and changes your outlook on life. In 1993, this band was Green Day. My friend Ben is a little older than me, so for him it was Nirvana in 1991. See? It’s all relative. Say what you want about the band now, but there’s no denying the effect it had on us tweeners in the 90’s.
Let’s see. Stephen King, Green Day…how else can I appear hopelessly dated and stale? Well…
Top 40 Radio in 1988.
I had always wanted to be a DJ, and was addicted to the radio for an entire decade starting in 1985. I thought they had the coolest job in the world, beaming music to kids like me, who were clutching the radio to their ear while their parents slept. Pop radio was my lullabye, and DJ’s were my outlet to the rest of the world. My folks always had the radio on at my house, so my encyclopedic knowledge of music started brewing before I even knew what was going on. When other kids were outside, playing with action figures and sports equipment, I was inside recording variety shows and working on my DJ voice.
My parents thought I was gay, for sure.
(It should be noted that I was a huge fan of radio at a point in history where some of the worst songs of all time were popular. I’m glad I made it out alive. I was also a huge fan of radio at the exact same moment that DJ’s lost all power over what was played on their station.)
I ran across his ‘blog’ in the 6th grade (the term didn’t exist in 1993), and I thought it was brilliant. With the internet still brand new for consumers, I hadn’t the chance to read peoples’ autobiographical short stories as much as we all take for granted now. The idea that you could read other peoples’ thoughts and ideas online for free was amazing. Of course, this just makes me sound like an old man in 2006.
From what I can gather, Graeme was a big technology commentator from Canada, and he hopped on the personal webpage thing pretty early on in the lifespan of the internet. He was also a genuinely good writer, and I immediately wanted to start a page of my own. 10 years later, I finally did.
Pork Tornado/Salami Tsunami.
This guy is the only blogger I’ve ever read (and I’ve read thousands) that makes me want to be better. He crafts his sentences and jokes with perfect timing and punctuation, his stories are always engaging and unbelievably funny, and he has this way of making the most inane seem hilarious. The concept of the Humorous Essay Blog is an art form that people should appreciate more in culture, and Dusty Scott is like Rembrandt (he can draw, too!). I have absolutely no problem declaring Pork Tornado the Funniest Blog on the Planet.
I found his page by accident, looking for ‘noisy neighbor’ info, and I was instantly hooked. If you’ve noticed any change in writing style over the past 8 months, blame Pork Tornado. Every time I think I’ve done something great, he has something up that’s better. I’m in a constant battle with him, and he doesn’t even know I exist. If the CDP has to take a backseat to one blog, I will bow in acceptance to the glory of Pork Tornado. His millions of hits and huge fanbase will back me up on this one.
I hate him.
Mystery Science Theater 3000/The Simpsons/SNL.
MST3K, SNL and The Simpsons made me smarter, which is something I can’t say about any other comedies. MST3K gave me a crash course in obscure film references, trivia and an anarchist approach to Hollywood, SNL kept me abreast with current US culture and satire, and The Simpsons (specifically John Swartzwelder) turned me on to many aspects of historic America and the future of ironic comedy that shapes me today.
As a kid, my parents wouldn’t let me stay up for SNL, but they would tape it for me. I would watch episodes constantly, analyzing the art of live tv and one-set stages. For years, it was my dream to be on SNL, although I wouldn’t want to do it anymore. Save your calls, Lorne.
I also take pride in knowing more information about these three shows than just about everyone I’ve ever met. At the end of the day, I’ve always stated that MST3K is the greatest television show of all time; even better than The Simpsons. My opinion stems from the fact that while The Simpsons have already peaked in popularity and creativity, MST3K was constantly solid and actually improved over their 10 year run.
Not to mention, an episode of MST3K was 2 hours long and ran for 10 seasons, which is the equivalent to 40 seasons of a typical 30-minute show. That’s a lot of jokes to write.
I wrote her hundreds of pages of letters when we were courting, and each one was a little masterpiece, because I wanted so desperately for her to think I was intelligent and worth her time. These letters turned out to be embarrassingly overwritten and emo-Shakespearean in nature. As much as I’ll be mercilessly made fun of, I’m willing to share a small sample with you, chosen completely at random…
I would trade in everything I’ve ever owned to hold you in my arms until you fell asleep. There’s no hiding it anymore, I have an obsession with you. I can’t leave you alone, and I will stop at nothing until I have you beside me. Once you’re there, you can forget about the world, because I’m never letting you go.
I know I can’t hold you forever, but I’m going to damn sure try.
Holy crap, that was absolutely psychotic. The Missus should have got a restraining order against me, seriously. In my defense, however, this letter was written months after we already started our hot-n-heavy courtship.
Still, though. My goodness, that was insane.
In the 4th and 5th grades, I got into the habit of writing weekly serials for the fellow students. I would create a character and put him or her in an amusing situation every week. Fellow students would line up by my desk on Friday afternoons, waiting to be handed a copy of the latest adventure. Eventually, the teachers got a hold of some of these, and promptly banned me from continuing.
Between you and me, Kickin’ It With Cliff isn’t a new idea. In fact, it’s based on a story I wrote in 1991.
I was also creating cassette tapes with my cousin that had us doing a huge variety of random things, such as singing parody songs, writing essays, doing impromptu sketches, mocking TV shows, doing mock call-in-style radio shows and announcing sporting events. We actually did this for 10 years, spanning from 1986 (I was 4!) to 1996. It was a chance to express all the creative and funny ideas we had concocted in unfinished basements all over Wisconsin (and after staying up for 36 hours straight). While the material on these tapes is absolute gold and a huge part of my childhood, we’ve made a solemn vow to never share them with anyone after 1998.
The idea was to be creative in as many forms as possible, and entertain friends and family as much as possible. I’m still doing that, only now I try to entertain thousands of strangers via the blogosphere. It’s a perfect fit.
So, there you have it. A large, boring chunk of my personal life, spilled into the open like so much toxic waste. Sound off in the comments section and call me a self-absorbed asshole. And while you’re at it, make fun of my influences for good measure.
And while I’m at it, happy Thanksgiving.