My New York Obsession

Writing Under the Influence

In a city where sitting still feels like a crime, taking your notebook to a bar is a subversive act.

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Notebooks are the gifts I receive most often. I mean, what do you get the girl who hates everything and writes jokes for a living? I keep all of my old, used, coffee-stained notebooks in piles all over my room, just in case I ever need to look back on a forgotten idea. (I’ve literally never done this.) At this point, they exist more as decor for my bedroom and to create the illusion that I’m a writer. Still—and I never thought my life would come to typing out this sentence—notebooks are a big part of my life.

comedy writing under the influence
How to fight loneliness. / Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Now that we’ve covered notebooks, let’s move onto another one of my passions: beer. Just like your average, annoyingly overconfident dude on Tinder, one of my “interests” is IPAs. A beer with too much flavor and a fan club full of guys who don’t know when to stop talking at you has won me over. Sad, but the heart wants what the heart wants.

Because I’m a genius, I realized I could bring together my two greatest passions—overpriced Moleskine journals and beer—while simultaneously telegraphing to the world what a cliché I am by writing in bars. Who said women can’t have it all?

My notebooks are filled with scribblings like “white women,” “drunk babysitting,” and “resting bitch face” written over and over again. Art comes in many forms.

In all honesty, going to a bar to spend time with a beer and my notebook is one of my favorite things to do in NYC, where you always feel like you’re racing against a clock and that sitting down to simply enjoy something seems illegal. Plus, much like the pile of notebooks stacked in my bedroom, writing in a roomful of people makes me feel less alone. Don’t worry, I usually dress in sweatpants and leave my wire-frame glasses and wooden pipe at home to avoid looking like too much of a colossal douchebag.

comedy writing under the influence
Have pint, will write. / Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Bringing a notebook to a bar is often part of a ritual. I’m a stand-up comedian, and before I go onstage I need to figure out what the hell I’m gonna say up there. I know all of my jokes, but I like to figure out a general order, because I have a million thoughts zipping through my mind all day and I have actual nightmares about getting onstage and realizing I don’t know which joke comes next. In these dreams I’m standing in front of a crowd and my mind goes blank. I try to think of literally any joke I’ve ever thought of, and still nothing. Just deafening silence. How thrilling to spend my nights doing what I do when I’m awake, only worse!

Anyway, I like to write my jokes in a bulleted list and call it my “set” (comedians use our own lingo in order to feel like what we do matters). This means my notebooks are filled with scribblings like “white women,” “drunk babysitting,” and “resting bitch face” written over and over again. Art comes in many forms.

There are also nights I enter a bar with my notebook in hand when I don’t have a show, or anywhere to be for that matter. These occasions are meant for writing new jokes. It would be romantic—and good for my career—if I were able to say that this scene involves me sipping my crisp, hoppy ale and tending to my pen and paper with absolute dedication. The reality is that I cozy up to the bar, order the strongest IPA they have on draft, open up my notebook to a fresh new page, and then watch every single story Instagram has to offer.

I glide from passion to passion and open up Twitter to peruse my own tweets. When I see a good one, I transcribe it onto the paper, magically transforming it into a joke. Eventually I run out of procrastination techniques, and the desire to actually write something kicks in. In that moment, I truly become that asshole who brought her notebook to the bar. Do what you love and you’ll never make another friend in your life.

I cozy up to the bar, order the strongest IPA they have on draft, open up my notebook to a fresh new page, and then watch every single story Instagram has to offer.

Allow me to paint the scene for you (I’m also a gorgeous painter). The stereo is blasting the kind of song you know the bartender played just to let everyone know they have heard of that song. We’re all very impressed but truthfully don’t know who sings it or what it’s called.

Words finally begin to connect in my head and I jot them down as quickly as I can. I’m afraid I’ll lose my train of thought or the perfect word if my hand doesn’t keep up. Later I’ll open to this page, look at it all, and think: Hmm…what the fuck does this say? I wonder why I’m not famous yet. Mystery.

comedy writing under the influence
Nothing goes with jokes like a cold IPA. / Photo by Sayaka Ueno

I write a few variations of each idea, and sometimes I get stuck on the last word. I reach for my beer and take a sip. You know, for inspiration. The woman down the bar greets her friend and orders two White Russians. I haven’t had a White Russian since I kissed a girl for the first time. I’ll move on to a new joke and the punch line for the last one will come to me later, when I’m sleeping or dead.

The bar is filling up and people are yelling over the music. I can hear it, but I don’t realize it’s noise until I look up for the first time in 15 minutes. People are here with their friends, taking shots and showing one another memes on their phones. It’s nice to be here with them. I’m sure they feel the same. My beer is almost gone, with just the last few, warm sips left. I had forgotten about it. I take a swig because wasting in sinful. I should probably go home before my other notebooks get jealous.

notebook collection
The notebook: much more than a Ryan Gosling vehicle. / Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Irene Fagan Merrow is a Brooklyn-based writer and comedian. She performs her comedy regularly across all five boroughs and is very tired.