Paul T. Bradley 100.3's Mimi Chen reads some raunchy internet submissions
"Ok, now here are some X-Rated ones," says a kindly, professorial elderly gentleman in a fishing cap before he belts out a few stanzas of offensive rhyming verse about a couple's sexual proclivities. A woman entering the bar is blindsided by a four-letter word out of context and gasps. This is a limerick festival, after all, and the gentleman, Prof. Leon Schwartz, is killing them softly with rhyme. Equally adept at matching tush and bush with witty, ditty, and tittie, Prof. Schwartz teaches at Cal State University-Los Angeles, and it is unlikely that his students ever heard him this raunchy.
Schwartz was the opening act Friday night at the 2nd Annual L.A. Limerick Fest, hosted by the Altadena Ale House, and he set the tone for an evening of quaint crass and refined raunch. In fact, given the locale, the patrons, and the bawdy poetry -- this event blows the faceplate off the quaintly-crass-o-meter.
The L.A. Limerick Fest is an unlikely event that, at least in theory, doesn't belong in the city of Angels; we're not known as a particularly Irish city, nor a particularly poetic one -- unless you count 140 characters at a time of Winning and Kardashian. So, what's the deal? Well, unfortunately for us, we've got to get a few beers in us to find out.
Paul T. Bradley L.A. Limerick Fest -- Bawdy Poetry is alive and well in Altadena
"What's better than sex and sheep!?" one poet opines after a particularly colorful rhyme, to which a well-imbibed patron responds, "Nothing's better than sex and sheep!" Clearly, there are few holds barred in the Limerick creative process. The festival is part literary genius, part puerile ditty -- kind of like the stories you may have heard if you spied on the after-hours portion of your parents' drink-sodden dinner party.
For the uninitiated, the Altadena Ale House is the stuff of dive bar dreams (for those of us that have such dreams). And it is exactly like the drink-sodden after-hours portion of a dinner party -- smiling, red-faced, and fun. Brought to you by Gail and Judah Cashburn (former owners of Pasadena's venerable Lucky Baldwins), the Ale House has only beer and wine (but obviously the best of each) and comes off like a very Southland version of Cheers. We all know how the song goes: Gail and Judah do actually know everybody's name.
Gail and writer Jan Michael Alejandro co-produce the festival. Both of them are sufficiently socially lubricated after the event and Jan gives us the basics: "We love this bar and we're in here all the time...so since I'm a poet and I know so many other poets and writers, I just approached Gail and told her that we had to do something literary here. She loved the idea and then it just happened...What's more appropriate than drinking and limericks in a bar?"
Mr. Alejandro, who has a new, less racy spoken word poetry book out right now, put up some of the evening's lewder favorites like:
My wife says 'Your jokes are so sick!'
'They're all about pussy and dick!'
Since you don't give me any
I've but hours o' plenty
To jack off and write lim-er-ricks!
For the record, we did not meet Mr. Alejandro's wife, though his adult children were in tow to support their dad and his stellar dick jokes.
Being fabulously foul-mouthed gets you far in the limerick world. Mistress of Ceremonies, Mimi Chen of 100.3's The Sound, sported her green bowler, and brought out all of her sarcastic "Irishness." In spinning the "Wheel O' Limericks," a custom limerick-inspiring device, Ms. Chen made sure that the spinner rarely strayed from the X-rated section.
Paul T. Bradley Prof. Leon Schwarz drops some rhyming f-bombs
The rest of the evening's poetic entertainment ranged from NPR's Tess Vigeland (host of Money Marketplace) and her witty, occasionally politically-tinged rhymes, including both classics and on-the-spot originals. A woman took the bus for two hours from Santa Monica to come up and run off a few of her own...and she was kind enough to regale the crowd with the original "Man from Nantucket" (the one with the bucket, not the one who "could suck it"). Jeff Goode, TV writer and poet, took literary creativity to simultaneous highs and lows with his barbs on feminine hygiene, fellatio, and some new takes on the raunchier Man from Nantucket.
On top of all of it, the proceeds of all of this light-hearted lewdness went to support A Case for the Cure, a co-op cause helping cancer research by raising money for the Susan G. Komen Organization, and The City of Hope. (Why not just call it Crass for a Cause?).
With its collection of JPL scientists, NPR financial luminaries, writers, poets, an occasional blacksmith and local yokels, the LA Limerick Fest finally seemed like it perfectly fit Los Angeles -- a warped mish-mosh of sharp-witted and hardworking folks carving out a creative niche and a wicked good time.
How can you not have fun at an event where someone like Prof. Schwartz, a decorated WWII veteran, can belt out some sublime smuttiness like:
There once was a small man named Don Juan
Who liked to find women to lie on
He found a Seľora
Whose name was Pandora
And he slipped into her box and was gone.
We tried to track down Prof. Schwartz as the night calmed down, but he'd already retreated to his writing cave before we could talk to him. As a bagpiper piped his way in to close out the evening. The crowd devolved (or evolved) into dancing and much more drinking. Gail and Jan held court on the smoking porch, trading stories. Without a doubt, we'll be back next year for L.A. Limerick Fest number three. There's going to be one, right?