I was walking down a street I have walked down dozens of time already walked down on this particular trip to San Francisco. It’s like the one street where everything is. And yet I just couldn’t vibe anyone to meet for some reason.
Maybe people were still in a food comma from last night, or hungover like so many of my brother-in-law’s. Maybe it was the cold and the rain that kept people from wanting to talk. Even the homeless stayed mute.
I walked past the comic book shop while walking my dog. It was empty except for the guy behind the counter. Desperate for someone to meet, I asked if it was okay to bring my dog in while I asked him a question. “For sure. This is a dog friendly business.” I liked him already.
When I told him about my social experiment, he didn’t hesitate. And when I told him my name, he laughed and say, “No shit. My name is Ian, too.”
Ian’s a middle child, number two of three. He comes from Sacramento, CA the state’s Capitol. There he had a pretty normal life with parents who were “neo-liberal hippies.” His dad, who is from Glasgow, Scotland is one of “a small number of Scottish Jews, and he’s an accountant. So there’s a lot of material there.” His mom is a newspaper editor, who also homeschooled her three kids.
Ian moved to SF in 2012, to study digital media production at California State University San Francisco (the same college my daughter just applied to). Go Gators! He’s worked in the comic book shop for three months after being a regular visitor there. But after watching his father hate his own career to feed his family, Ian left media to pursuit comedy. “Google Ian Levy standup” and you can see my story. “I am an open book. Literally, my life is all in my stand up routine.”
I haven’t seen his clips yet, but Ian assures me they are a lot better than his first time on stage. It was an open mic night at a radio program called the Mutiny. He was last on the list, and there were only four people left in the audience when the person before him was on. Those four got up to leave but the woman who ran the venue begged them to stay telling them it was his first time on stage and “he could use your support.” Ian confessed “while they didn’t laugh they did nod at all the right parts.” From one Ian to another, I confessed that happens to me every time I get on stage to preach.
In 1985, I walked into a record store in Rockville, Maryland. I was wearing a name tag on my jacket for the company I worked for. The guy in the shop said, “Hey, my name is Ian too!” He said it with the same inflation and excitement as this Ian, the comic who works in a comic book shop. He added, “And I worked at Johnson’s too!”
Turns out it was Ian MacKaye from the punk band Minor Threat. Because of my name, and where I worked I was put on the guest list that night at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC to see Ian’s new band Embrace - a band that eventually morphed into Fugazi. But that’s a different story for a different time.
Walking down Irving Street, the sun was going down. The sun was setting through the dark clouds. People still walked passed me and didn’t say hello or smile back. I can only assume none of them were named Ian. As I walked past the familiar shops and restaurants, I wondered if other people who share the same name bond like this. Jennifer’s get alone with other Jennifer’s the same way Ian’s do? Probably not because I know they can’t agree on what to be called Jen, Jenni, Jenny, or Jennifer or how to spell it.
For the most part every Ian I’ve ever met I’ve liked. Today’s Ian, like Ian MacKaye, was very nice, approachable, intentional, mindful, and enjoyable to talk to. I like to imagine that if we all showed the same kindness and generosity to one another no matter what our name, or where we’re from, or who we are or what we listen to. We could be the names that change the world!
Thank you Ian Levy, stand up comic and a stand up kind of guy.