I was criminally underphotographed in the 1990s. The photo above, of me looking out at the Schuylkill River, and the one of me above right, at an exciting party with other grad students, are actually the ONLY two snapshots taken of me in the entire decade of the '90s. And the problem was not a national camera shortage, either.
I was a TA in Penn's (not Penn State’s) German Department. I treated teaching sheerly as a performance, barely noticing whether my students were learning German. I was a ham, and it paid off.* In Grading the Profs, the kids made comments like, "Shrake is a demigod on the same order as Goethe" etc. and the chairman (a German) took it all literally (of course) and so I received the Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching.
I desperately befriended some English majors in a film class at Penn and we collaborated on The Allen Smithee Project, which they turned into a book. My assignment was to host/emcee our Smithee conference, wearing a black crushed-velvet tuxedo.
The keynote speaker was film critic Andrew Sarris, who famously introduced the auteur theory to America. He said to me, “I like you.”
OF COURSE no photos exist of me in my tux.
Anyway, I have a master's degree from an Ivy League university.
After I left grad school, I started writing book reviews for the (now defunct) Philadelphia City Paper. I'll never forget the day I saw this, the first one where they laid it out like an article and gave me a byline. I miss the days when publishing meant something, before everyone started "publishing" their "stuff" on "social media." You know what I always say: Everyone has a story, but only certain people should be allowed to tell theirs publicly.
That was 1999. Y2K came and went, I moved back to Michigan for a few years to work for Borders, the (now defunct) bookstore chain, as their copy editor. Then I moved to Washington, DC, to work for the Discovery Channel. In 2009, I began performing comedic storytelling and stuff.
The shot at left was taken at my first show in Philadelphia. I shared photos I had taken for the Huffington Post at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner. The crowd was a typical Philly crowd. "You're boring!" someone in the front row said loudly into the silent room.
I had to go into psychotherapy for 3 years to work through this heckling incident and my overall rejectophobia.
I got on Amtrak that night and sat alone looking out the window. Every few miles I would yell out obscenities as I flashed back on what happened to me onstage.
But it's in Shrake's nature to go back to the scene of the crime, and I did. I couldn't wait for a re-do with another hostile Philly audience. I went back again and again after that, and tailored my act to the local temperament: Insulting the crowd ("They love it!" a veteran Philly show host told me), mean but fair, as Shrake can be.
A NEW ERA HAS BEGUN IN NYC, BUT SHRAKE IS ALWAYS AWARE OF THE 6 YEARS HE LIVED IN PHILLY.
Philly is truly the Town Without Pity of song and legend, OK? It knocked me around, it's rough.