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Far From Flatbush

Bobby on Beaver Street

The author in performance at the Killarney Rose on Bloomsday. Photo © Bette Yee.
Getting up in front of people and reading from my book is something I prefer not to do. I’m not a natural performer. The reason I became a writer is because I’m good at sitting alone in a room and writing. But the way things are in today’s book business, that’s not an option. Once a book is published, if you want people to buy it, then you’ve got to get out there and sell it. And one way to sell it is to organize events like Bloomsday on Beaver Street, as I did last Saturday, in New York, at the Killarney Rose.

If I’ve improved as a performer, it’s because I’ve done more readings in the past three months than I’ve done in the past 12 years, and I’ve come to look upon these events with excitement and anticipation rather than dread. I think I did a more than adequate job at the Killarney Rose, despite the fact that I slipped off the chair as I was attempting to balance the book on my thigh as I adjusted the microphone. I’ll blame that on Guinness. But I dare say that I recovered nicely.

Rather than critique my performance, which I’ll leave to others, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned recently about performing in general, and reading from Beaver Street in particular.

1. I read better when I’m sitting down then when I’m standing up. It’s more relaxing, it gives me less to think about, and it allows me to get lost in the book. The ideal setup, which I didn’t have at the Killarney Rose, is sitting behind a table on an elevated stage, with a microphone, good lighting, and a bottle of water within easy reach. After about ten minutes, my mouth tends to get mighty dry.

2. The so-called “dirty part,” from “The Accidental Porn Star,” about how I posed for an X-rated photo shoot as an experiment in participatory journalism, is something that I wouldn’t read in a lot of bookstores. But it was just the right passage for a New York crowd at the Killarney Rose. The excerpt is one of the comic highlights of Beaver Street, and what makes it work as a performance piece is the fact that it’s written in my natural speaking voice—a perfect rendition of the way I’d tell the story if I were sitting at a bar and talking to a good friend.

3. I found this bit of advice last week on the Internet, and it came as a revelation: Read the funny parts as if they’re not funny.

In previous readings I’d been putting emphasis on certain words and phrases to accentuate the fact that they were supposed to be laugh lines. I didn’t do this at the Killarney Rose, and it seems to have worked.

4. Like any performer, I feed off the energy of the crowd, and the energy Saturday night was electric. I felt the love. It was, simply, the best crowd I’ve ever read to.
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