Robert Isenberg

Robert Isenberg
December 31
Robert Isenberg is a freelance writer, playwright, photographer and stage performer. He is a past recipient of the Brickenridge Fellowship, McDowell Scholarship, Trespass Residency, and two Golden Quill Awards. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, where he served as Whitford Fellow, the program’s highest honor. Originally from Vermont, he lives in Pittsburgh. His book, The Archipelago, about backpacking the postwar Balkans, was released by Autumn House Press in January 2011. See more at

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APRIL 13, 2012 10:10AM

This Weekend: Slackers, Stoners & Drunks

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Slackers Stoners Drunks 

“So what’s your monologue show about?” people ask.

            “Slackers, stoners, and drunks.”


            “Yeah. That’s our theme this weekend. Slackers. Stoners. Drunks.”

            They smile knowingly, nod, and say, “All right! I’ll be there!”

            It’s true: Everybody loves a sinner. Reprobates are irresistible. The company you keep in Heaven is ho-hum compared to the nutballs in Hell. And when the Pittsburgh Monologue Project plays this Saturday at ModernFormations, it’ll be two hours of frat boys, burnouts, dropouts, bartenders, hipsters, karaoke addicts, a Minnesotan guy mourning his dead friend and debating whether to hire a prostitute, a half-dozen over-the-hill yinzers, and one (deep breath) an American-born, German-raised, runaway single mother who tends bar at the Hilton Head Airport and has a chip on her shoulder about Southern Hospitality and insists that the Savanna St. Patrick’s Day is the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day in the nation.

            That’s the one I want to see!” friends keep telling me. “I mean, when the theme was sports, that was cool. But slackers, stoners and drunks? Who can beat that?”


On the one hand, slackers are annoying, people who abuse drugs can be frustrating and dangerous, and alcoholism is a serious problem that has affected a lot of my friends and family. I know this implicitly, and I hope never to truly minimize their problems. On the other hand, slackers are often hilarious, most people say outrageous things when they’re inebriated, and stoners are, as a rule, the most ridiculous people on Earth. So—lighten up, already. (And smoke ‘em if you got ‘em).

            Most of these monologues came about in my twenties, when life was freewheeling and unpredictable, and I lived among thugs, drug-dealers, deadbeats and on-again-off-again students. Most of them were harmless. The majority of them were fun and engaging. But they struggled. Their lives were a wreck. They had DUI’s, PFA’s, enormous debts, overdue rent, dishonorable discharges, alimony for faraway children, recurring stints in jail—and apartments that practically collapsed around them. I lived in the same slums, and I was dirt poor. But these people? They were lifers.

            Here’s the best anecdote: One time, in Polish Hill, the police were called into my neighborhood tavern, because the patrons had caught a kid spray-painting the side of the building. As the regulars held this kid in a barstool and screamed threats in his face, the bartender leaned toward me and said, “Say, there isn’t a warrant out for your arrest, is there? ‘Cause the cops should be here any minute.”

            I laughed at first, appreciating the head’s up, but wondering what crime she thought I had ever committed. Yet when I looked up, half the crowd had disappeared.

            This is how I have lived most of my life: a happy, directed individual floating in an ocean of tragedy. Ever since middle school, directionless substance-abusers have followed me everywhere. I don’t want to say something grandiose, like “that’s the nature of American life,” but in my experience, that is the nature of American life. We are a flagrantly self-destructive people, and because good humor helps us cope with terrible luck and decisions, the slackers, stoners, and drunks tend to keep the mood light.

            And the truth is, I often love the company. Damaged people tend to really appreciate good tidings. They like that you’re doing well, because they’re glad somebody is. They appreciate the time you offer them. They thank you for your friendship, because they can’t believe anyone would care about them. They don’t compete with your lifestyle, because keeping up with the Joneses is comically impossible. There is a peace among the slackers, stoners and drunks, because they don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will probably suck, but at least they weren’t expecting better. It’s like Zen Buddhism by way of a Budweiser special.

            Meanwhile, almost nobody in our show is a bad person. They are well meaning, open and honest, and they have things to say. Some of their thoughts are ironic and crazy, but some have real epiphanies. My favorite monologue is about a guy who, as a kid, took psychedelic mushrooms set a barn on fire—not realizing that his friend had passed out inside. What begins as funny and annoying becomes very serious and personal. The story is outrageous on all levels, including the tone, the language, and the verdict at the end. The speaker is all three—slacker, stoner, and drunk. His senses are dulled, but the torment lingers. Sober and functional, drifting through a cubicle, this man wouldn’t have told me anything. I would know nothing about his tragic past, and he would be a face like any other.

            So tomorrow night, we celebrate the slackers, stoners and drunks who make life so very interesting. It may only be “based on” real life, but it’s way cheaper than a trip to South Side.


The Pittsburgh Monologue Project plays Sat., April 15, at ModernFormations, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. 8 p.m. $10. Info:


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