Selected excerpts from Gregg Eisenberg's 'Letting Go Is All We Have To Hold Onto: Humor For Humans'
•Most problems are completely imaginary, and for some people this is a very real issue!
•I always follow my instincts, except when I get the funny feeling I shouldn't.
•Transcending the illusion of ego was easy; what's hard is not bragging about it.
•By refusing to compete with you, I've already won
•The truth that set me free cost me everything I have.
•The spirit of non-attachment sure is hard to hold on to.
•If there was ever a moment when the concept of time was just an illusion, it's right now.
Source: 'Letting Go Is All We Have To Hold Onto: Humor For Humans' by Gregg Eisenberg, used by permission
When sitting down with a stand-up philosopher, the boundary lines of conversation quickly expand to encompass a universe of concerns.
Particularly if that man is Louisville's Gregg Eisenberg, whose resume also includes author, poet, comedian, musician, even independent energy consultant.
Most recently, Eisenberg, 55, self published "Letting Go Is All We have To Hold Onto: Humor For Humans," a 16-chapter book of 750 jokes in which the bottom-line target of the humor is, really, life itself; as one blurb on the back cover has it, it's "For people in no shape for the human condition."
Many of the jokes Eisenberg unspools have the psychic charge of a Zen koan, the brevity and immediacy of a haiku, and aim to capture the absurdity of an existence that can make the most sense only when efforts to comprehend it are fully abandoned.
Sample: "The truth that set me free cost me everything I have."
In a quiet corner of a Boulder coffee shop, Eisenberg this week said the book was 10 years in gestation, and started as a log of some witticisms tossed around among friends in his hot tub.
"In this one book, I did what Michelangelo said you were supposed to do — you keep on removing marble until there is nothing left to take away," Eisenberg said. "I did the same thing with this book. I kept on removing mediocre content, removing mediocre content, until I was left with my best material."
But at his elbow, there's another book, "Amor Sin Locura," or "Love Without Madness." It's a self-published collection of about two dozen poems in both English and Spanish, in a vocabulary of romance, longing, wonder and mystery — with nary a joke to be found.
One stanza in "Walk With Me To The White Shores" offers: "Swim with me in the sounds of the churning night/Where moonlit waves run their dark fingers through your hair/and I will decorate your frail crown with painted stones."
The poetry, for Eisenberg, is nothing new.
"As a child I wrote poetry. I was a childhood poet, and that was before I knew that was cool, before coffee shops even existed. There was a poem I wrote ("The Butterfly of Happiness") when I was 13 years old, which is the next children's book I'm going to do with a colleague," illustrator Kenleigh Vazquez, Eisenberg said.
"I started out writing poetry, and then I wrote songs for 20 years. And then I stopped writing songs, and started writing poetry again. That's when these poems were written."
Vazquez, of Longmont, said, "My connection with Gregg was just very synchronistic, how we started communicating. And I loved that his comedy is sort of metaphysical in a way. His voice is very pure. And when you talk to him, he is very excited and enthusiastic. And I vibrate well with that.
"I like his positivity, and I think he has important messages to share with the world. And I would love to be part of that."
And then there's the songs. Eisenberg has recorded several albums' worth of original tunes. On Thursday he was busy re-recording vocals for "Sailor Song," penned when he was 19 years old, which will provide the text for another planned children's book.
"He's a very interesting character. He's not your typical guy," said Kevin Packard, a composer, producer and owner of the Laughing Yogi studio in Erie, where Eisenberg has produced much of his music.
"Everybody brings something different into the studio. He's really into the process in the studio. He's really into getting his emotions, and his message, across in a real honest way. Gregg is a real positive guy."
Boulder Digital Arts co-founder Bruce Borowsky has spent time with Eisenberg socially, and also was impressed with his stand-up show, "Even The Earth Is Bi-Polar II," billed as a multimedium exploration of the paradoxical nature of scientific knowledge and human psychology. Eisenberg has performed it a couple of times in the past year to enthusiastic receptions at the University of Colorado Fiske Planetarium,
"I was really impressed, to see him use the planetarium that way," Borowsky said. "It's a medium that not many artists work in. I thought it a great use of the medium.
"It was awesome," planetarium operations manager Francisco Salas agreed. "All the Facebook comments that we got were really great."
Borowsky noted the broad range of Eisenberg's projects.
"He's very prolific guy," Borowsky said. "He's always coming out with new pieces of art. He just thinks outside the box, in ways that you don't see very often."
Face to face, Eisenberg — although he is often billed as a comedian — was open to exploring a wide array of topics, from periods of depression that he has suffered, to the fractured state of the word, which his optimistic spin on life leaves him feeling can someday be healed.
In deep conversation, he doesn't manically riff nonstop, like some jokesters.
"You caught me before noon. If you caught me at four in the afternoon, it would have been different, because I am not really a morning person," he conceded. "When people say 'How are you?' I will sometimes say 'Pretty full-spectrum. How about you?'
"I think that talking about how I use art as a way to address the flaws of the human condition as I experience them, and bringing them to light and treating them through art, is a big part of what I'm doing. You can do it with songs, and you can do it with humor. And you can do it with poetry."
Elderly get the joke
Eisenberg's act is resonating well beyond Boulder.
Not long ago, a retirement home volunteer in Alpharetta, Ga., who offers Catholic communion to the facility's elderly residents, spent a weekend on Amazon, looking for light or uplifting material she might use to cap off her services.
Terri Coons, who is affiliated with St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Alpharetta, soon stumbled on "Letting Go Is All We Have To Hold Onto." She immediately liked what she saw. And when its content also clicked with her 12-year-daughter ("a tough audience," she said), Coons knew it could be right for residents at Cottonwood Estates.
"It's been a hit. They definitely look forward to it, a few little clever, humorous statements that really capitalize on the human condition, the ridiculousness of the human condition — that we can all see ourselves in and laugh, as we laugh at human nature," Coons said.
Soon, Coons was talking up Eisenberg to Laurie Kuckuck, manager of the 118-bed facility, and crafting a plan to make the book a "pillow gift" to all its new residents. And this past Tuesday, the two were on a conference call with Eisenberg about more ways that his unique perspective could be brought to bear to the advantage of their facility's elderly clientele, via Skype and possible visits in person.
A partnership could develop further between Eisenberg and the Vancouver, Wash.,-based Hawthorn Senior Living, the corporation that owns the Alphretta facility. That company owns more than 70 similar facilities spread across the United States and Canada.
"Laughter is the best medicine, is it not?" Kuckuck said. "We are heavy in California and the Eastern Seaboard, Florida up to Maine, and it would be wonderful if we could expose him to all our communities. If it's up to me, it's going to happen."
Eisenberg, whose revenue streams also include income from a couple of Longmont rental properties, and an independent energy consultancy, is excited at the prospect. He's seen his jokes connect with children. That they could benefit those at the other end of life's journey is a pleasant surprise.
"She (Kuckuck) said 'Your material is great for people who are trying to fight Alzheimer's disease, that it could help exercise their brain and maintain their memory, because they are like little mental calisthenics,'" Eisenberg said. "It's an area that is wonderful to consider, one that I might not have thought of."
'Fairly esoteric places'
There does not seem to be to much of which Eisenberg has not thought.
On page 76 of "Letting Go," he observes that "If I were the ideal version of myself, I wouldn't try to be perfect." He has the self-awareness to recognize he's anything but.
"I've had myself under a microscope most of my life, and I believe that I have not suffered from clinical depression, but I have had down periods in my life, because of the way things were going," Eisenberg said.
He alludes to past periods in his life of being "stagnant."
"If I am just sitting there, and not doing anything and I feel like one day after another is passing after another and I'm not making any progress toward my goals, that will disturb me. That's not an acceptable way for me to live. And I know that about myself, and I do not live like that."
Oakland-based theater director and former Boulder resident Michael French first encountered Eisenberg when French was teaching a Boulder acting class. He appreciated that Eisenberg originally hated the script that French assigned him to work from, but that he stuck with it and embraced it, and that the experience helped set Eisenberg on his road as a storyteller.
The two have stayed in touch, even after French relocated to California.
"He was out here in Oakland at the end of last year. I got to see his planetarium performances, and I've got the book," French said. He said the reception for Eisenberg in his performance at Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center was very positive.
"It's wild how we had kids and grandparents, and yet somehow, everybody could relate. He was talking about some fairly complicated philosophical concepts in a way that would make them laugh. He was going off in some fairly esoteric places," French said.
And referring to Boulder, French added, "That's the perfect place for him. Absolutely the perfect place."
But Eisenberg, whose various projects are outlined in detail at his website Curvedspacecomedy.com, has ambitious travel plans this year. He aspires to take his planetarium show, book talk and spoken word show along the West Coast to Vancouver, Wash., Portland, Ore., Oakland, and, he hopes, San Francisco and Hawaii. There also are ambitions to perform his poetry in Spanish this year in Mexico — and possibly even points south.
Tap Eisenberg's heart and mind and the material keeps flowing.
In an email sent at 1:36 a.m. the day following an interview with a reporter, he sent this:
"What you really need to know about me:
"My identity crisis is clearly what my life is all about.
"It took a lot of failure to get where I am today.
"I have made a full-time job out of getting over myself."