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A lot of us don't measure up to our idols. Like the little league ballplayers who dream of being Derek Jeter but grow up to be high school gym teachers. Or the young mall-rat divas aspiring to be Christina Aguilera who end up performing on Carnival cruise lines. But what about people who are distinct successes, but still want to be some wholly other thing? In the early '80s, Eddie Murphy apparently wasn't content being the world's most popular comedian and movie star, so he decided to become Rick James for awhile.

Far more damning than that story about him and the transsexual.

Or how about Billy Bob Thornton, who must have been so unfulfilled as a mere respected actor and Oscar-winning screenwriter that he tried to become some latter day, country rock Warren Zevon. Thornton yearned for that identity so badly he freaked out at the mere mention of his former self.

I guess I can understand this conflict. Even though I've achieved no success of any kind that could be mistaken for anything vaguely resembling the people listed above, I've always felt a disconnect between the kind of man I wanted to be and the kind of man I was destined to be. And I don't think that makes me unique. So many of us fit into neat pre-existing categories, but so few of us are content being that obvious. It doesn't even matter if we're destined to be good things. We have an attraction to the foreign and strange. Somehow, being what comes naturally feels like a cop out, and we flail hopelessly at everything we are not.

Here are three of my biggest conflicts in the categories of music, monsters and comedy.

Music: The Flashy Cosmic Rocker vs. The Earnest Singer-Songwriter

Rock comes in many flavors, but two of its biggest archetypes are flashy, visually significant, performance-based showmen like David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie, who convey a deliberately artificial image to supplement their music; and earnest, heartfelt songwriters like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, who sing for the common man in a voice he recognizes.

The Dream: David Bowie

In 1982, my big brother (who is 10 years older) brought home Ziggy Stardust from college. I was instantly transfixed by the music and the album cover, which revealed a rock star unlike any I'd seen before. I still remember exactly what I said when I first laid eyes on the back cover.

"Oh my God! He's SUCH a gaylord!"

Yep. I was shocked. Why was he standing like that? Didn't he know that looks gay? But Ziggy Stardust was so good that even an 8-year-old, sheltered, homophobic suburbanite got past appearances. And then, months later, a totally new Bowie emerged.

The early '80s Bowie was still unique and stylish, but less likely to get chased by guys with baseball bats after a concert in Boston.

David Bowie was everything I wanted to be: eloquent, daring, multifaceted, stylish and impossibly cool. So yeah, I dressed up like Bowie, and played in bands, and always aspired for diversity, but in every single musical thing I ever did, I felt something pulling me back down to a more familiar place. A place called ...

The Reality: Billy Joel

Long Island has the oldest prefabricated suburbs in America, the most heavily visited beach on the East Coast and more Billy Joel fans per capita than any other place on earth. And why not? Billy Joel was one of us.

He went to Hicksville High School. He had brown kinky hair, and everyone I knew thought he was at least part Jewish, Irish or Italian, just like we all were. He seemed to like baseball, and he wrote that song about that pizza place that may or may not have been next to the train tracks in our hometown. Also, it's not like he didn't have a bunch of Top 40 hits, too, so why not love him?

But loving people and wanting to be like them are totally different things. Billy Joel might as well have been my uncle, and where's the appeal in that? Not even in the '80s, when most rock stars like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Tom Petty were selling the earnest appeal of the rock star next door did I aspire to be something familiar, earthbound or identifiable.

I wanted to be the Thin White Duke, an impossibly cool alien badass who could go from platform shoes to neo-fascist chic to pastel suit prowess in the blink of an eye. And I couldn't, because up on stage I was this:

Not fair to blame Billy for the mullet.

In fact, my first time performing on stage, I sang Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" while wearing a T-shirt and a sports jacket at my high school Battle of the Bands. (An outfit I'm apparently still rocking.) Not exactly something that would have made Bowie proud. And not something that made me particularly proud, even though we won Battle of the Bands. (Yeah, suck it, Strike Force!)

Monsters: Vampire vs. Werewolf


The competing vampire and werewolf archetypes existed well before Twilight brought forth two sexually unintimidating actors to embody them. That competition is as old as the stories themselves. (I guess? After all, the majority of my vampire vs. werewolf knowledge comes from a book-and-record set I got at 5.)

Maybe not as respected as Interview With the Vampire, but easier to finish.

The Dream: The Vampire

I started compiling a list of things that attract me to vampires, and a funny thing happened: It was somewhat similar to my list of David Bowie attributes. Indeed, Bowie even played a vampire in 1982's The Hunger. Solid casting, as I enjoy the notion of the vampire as an elegant man about England, well-dressed, sophisticated, eloquent and impossibly seductive to women.

Yes, I know Bram Stoker's Dracula looked a lot more like the one in Nosferatu, but I'm not talking about his kind of vampire.

Just for clarity, I didn't aspire to be this kind of vampire, who looks like the spawn of gremlins and sea monkeys.

I'm talking about these vampires:

Yes, I know none of these vampires are English. Stop correcting me. You know what I mean. Nitpicking won't make your fangs grow in any quicker. [UPDATE: PLEASE STOP COMMENTING THAT GARY OLDMAN IS BRITISH. I KNOW. DRACULA, HOWEVER, IS FROM TRANSYLVANIA.] I'm just saying, the classy vampire is the horror archetype that I most aspired to be. But I'm not. If monsters were real, I'm pretty sure I'd be ...

The Reality: The Werewolf

No, I don't transform at the sight of a full moon or tear people's throats out, but I'm a helluva lot more like a werewolf than a vampire. First of all, my hair isn't pin straight and I'm not lanky or gaunt. I'm built like someone intent on winning a center of gravity contest. I was the short but broad kid the gym teachers bugged to join wrestling, believing I'd do well in my weight class. And of course, there's something else more obvious pushing me into the werewolf camp:

Yep, you guessed it. Werewolves are fastidious with their personal hygiene.

Yeah, the body hair. Perfect for a wolf, but not so great for a vampire.

Apparently, the thirst for blood is borne from inadequate testosterone levels.

And whereas popular movies like The Hunger and Interview With the Vampire cast the likes of David Bowie and Brad Pitt as ice-cool vampires, An American Werewolf in London features David Naughton as a sarcastic suburbanite Jew with an English nurse fetish. If this character were any more like me, he'd spend the whole movie trying to figure out how to work David Bowie into Cracked articles.

My hands don't look like that, but when I was 13 I heard they might start to unless I stopped doing a certain thing.

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Comedy: The Witty, Urbane Humorist vs. The Shticky Jew


There's no shortage of comedic archetypes, but by this point I bet you can figure out which kind of comedy appealed to me most. Yep, English comedy. Specifically, the kind that placed an emphasis on eloquence and intelligence as much as humor. Although I love all of Monty Python, John Cleese's combination of vocabulary and hostility was inexplicably appealing. Meanwhile, I was also a big Woody Allen fan, even if his humor was more familiar to me and something I could manifest almost instinctively. There will always be comics more concerned about seeming smart and cool than funny, and comics who wear their Judaism on their sleeve, cracking tired jokes about their overprotective mothers. Ultimately, I realized I didn't want to be either one.

The Dream: Oscar Wilde

If there is one figure who embodies brilliant, urbane English humor to me, it's Oscar Wilde. (Shut up, I know he was Irish.) For those of you who don't know, Wilde was a novelist, poet and playwright who lived from 1854 to 1900 and whose works include The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest. But he's probably most known for one-liners like "What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." Or "There's only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." He would have killed on Twitter back in the day.

"Either that dreadful 140 character limit goes, or I do."

This pick shouldn't be too surprising. After all, wouldn't Wilde have made an excellent vampire, and isn't Wilde the literary figure you'd most associate with David Bowie? I spent a lot of my early humor writing aspiring to that kind of comedy, adopting a heightened prose and elevated vocabulary while doing a lot to avoid easy Jewish humor, like ...

The Reality: 75 Percent of All Jewish Comics

This is difficult to explain and probably too hard to do so successfully online. I'm not dumping on Jewish humor. I'm proud of my Jewish identity, and the list of Jewish humorists I admire is far too long to mention, but just like with Billy Joel, sometimes there is a difference between what you admire and what you want to be.

I can't think of any clearer way to explain myself than referring to my Hate by Numbers video series. When it started, I was very aware that a Jew hating on things in a three-minute segment could be easily likened to Lewis Black's piece on The Daily Show. I love Lewis Black, but I didn't want to be him, so I decided to never scream or overly emote. And as opposed to Black's AC/DC theme music, I picked the jazz/cool stylings of Morphine to set a totally different tone. I also embraced the heightened vocabulary borne from years of worshiping Wilde and Cleese. The anger would be suppressed English sarcasm. The result was that I barely emoted for the first 20 episodes. I was so dead in the eyes, it looked like I'd been animated by Polar Express technology. And my tone was so subdued that EOC Jack O'Brien didn't think "hate" was an appropriate word to associate with the series.

And he was right at the time, but would I listen?

Over time, however, as the conflict above played out online, more and more of my personality emerged, until the show reached its high-water mark of market penetration as I hated on the Black Eyed Peas song "I Gotta Feeling." That episode was significant because it was the first time I acknowledged my Judaism in something creative and the first time I showed intense emotion in the show (even if it was feigned). Was that the reason for the episode's success? I don't know, but since then I've become more transparent in my humor, and while I might not be ready to publish the results of my prostate exam as my friend and fellow columnist John Cheese intends to do next week, an article like this leaves me pretty exposed as I sit in an increasingly comfortable chair located somewhere between the two archetypes above.

Was There a Point to This?

Yeah, I think so. Obviously, these examples are very specific to me. I get that. And I also appreciate that splitting my psyche open on the sharpened slate of the Internet has a limited appeal. But I do think there is a larger general point, and it's NOT "just be yourself."

While there are dangers in straying from what you do best or ignoring your true calling to forcibly insert yourself into some other mold, I think it has value, too. Neil Simon, the playwright and screenwriter famous for The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys and Murder by Death, said that he wanted to write his comedies like Eugene O'Neill wrote his dramas. In using one of the greatest dramatists as his source, Simon wrote some of the most well-regarded and successful comedies of his generation. I admire that commitment to going outside your comfort zone in the hope of being better than you are. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I think we can all agree that me gaying it up a la Bowie hand gestures for my '90s grunge band wasn't terribly successful.

Flamboyance and grunge don't mix. That's why you rarely see this.

But other times, I think the desire to escape what comes easiest has worked for me. And while I cannot seem to be my hero David Bowie in any capacity, I do continue to aspire to his belief that you should be able to present yourself, and in my case, my writing, in different ways. Reinventing what you do. Never being too comfortable as to any one thing. And to that end, next week I'll try to write a list about breasts or superhero erections or whatever else is nothing like this.

Subscribe to the all-new HATE BY NUMBERS. Also follow Gladstone on Twitter and stay up to date on the latest regarding Notes from the Internet Apocalypse. And then there's his website and Tumblr, too.

For more from Gladstone, check out Was 'Arrested Development' A Remake of a 70s Sitcom? and Dr. Strange The Movie: Why It's Not as Crazy As It Sounds.

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