I have a fairly uncommon last name, so as a media figure, I consider it part of my “brand.” When I come across someone with the same name, especially when that person is in the public eye, I consider it a form of trademark infringement. I once asked teachers union president Randi Weingarten to retire and become an old-lady recluse so the number of my Google hits — the accepted international measure of fame — would finally surpass hers. Another time, I published a peevish email exchange with Reid Weingarten, the high-powered criminal defense lawyer, demanding that he change his name so no one would mistake me for a lawyer and shoot me. But the other day I ran across an even more annoying Weingarten. Daniel Weingarten, 25, is an up-and-coming comedian from California. This kid has not only usurped my name but is actually invading my professional turf. And he’s good.
Me: I hate you.
Me: I watched one of your videos. You have bland, blond, generic good looks, like a member of a boy band or some Norwegian alpine skier named Horst. Or one of the von Trapp brothers. It’s particularly galling to me since your mom is Argentine, your father is Mexican and they are both Jewish.
Daniel: I know. I can’t explain it.
Me: You are exactly the sort of guy who has young women lining up for the privilege of having sex with you, whereas I grew up begging girls to merely remain in my vicinity inasmuch as I resembled a swollen lymph node and dressed like an Ellis Island immigrant, circa 1926.
Daniel: I might be able to help you out here. In my brain I feel like a swollen lymph node. I have terrible self-esteem. I am a cocktail of neuroticism, sadness and self-loathing. It’s a Jewish beverage.
Me: Good. What is the most neurotic thing you’ve done?
Daniel: It’s so hard to choose. Okay, about a year and a half ago my girlfriend asked me what I thought about skydiving. What I thought about skydiving? I fear death on a constant basis. If I get a bug bite, I think it’s malaria. I’m afraid to cross the street even if there’s no traffic because it’s always possible someone has invented an invisible car. So I asked her why she was asking and she said she was thinking of giving us skydiving as a Hanukkah present. I said: “That’s not a present. We wouldn’t even be doing it together. We’d each be tethered to a different guy and the last thing you would see before you jumped is me squirming and whimpering and crying, ‘No! No!’ and then you are falling to the Earth with another guy who is reassuring you that everything will be okay, which is when you will realize that you are not with a real man and break up with me, so we are not going skydiving.” We wound up taking a cooking class.
Me: Ouch. Well, okay, but there’s something else that bothers me. You work for yourself and not The Washington Post, which means that unlike me you can say whatever you want. Onstage, you have used the word “[redacted]” and “[really redacted]” and “[redacted, then taken out back and shot],” all with joy and without penalty, whereas I can’t even hyphenate a dirty word, on my editors’ theory that some little old lady reader will figure out what it is and die of a cerebral aneurysm. This is absolutely true: It took me 20 years and two Pulitzer Prizes for The Post to finally agree, grudgingly, with great trepidation and apprehension, to let me actually write the word “smartass.”
Daniel: Sorry, man.
Me: In the end, all I’ve probably got on you is age and financial security. I assume like all young comics, to support your stand-up you have to work two really crappy jobs, like being a janitor with a mop in a peep show emporium?
Daniel: I support myself with my comedy. In April I am starting a 28-city tour.
Me: May you be hit by an invisible car.