August 20, 2009—Literary Death Match NYC’s seventeenth episode had the air of a good stand-up comedy show. Each segment showcased another distinct voice and performance, each as often profound as uproarious. If its comedy club atmosphere was incidental—coincidently, three of the four readers performed without notes, which is unusual at LDMs—it was befitting for a reading series conceived by Opium. The tone for the night was set by an opening bit of actual stand-up by performance judge Scott Jacobson’s (four-time Emmy winning Daily Show writer), which left the audience in a state of mirth. The match progressed in high-energy hilarity from there, leaving Janice Erlbaum (GIRLBOMB) and Elisa Albert (The Book of Dahlia) to compete in a shoot-off finale, which Elisa won.
After Scott Jacobson’s opener, Blaise Allysen Kearsley (How I Learned reading series) took the stage to deliver an erotic history, an excerpt from her essay “How I Learned About Sex.” Notables from her performance include scenes of masturbation in which the author/protagonist is joined by a crew of “pale yellow cows” which came to resemble camels after the seshes, and an early encounter with a penis in pants which felt, to the author, like a “hot little hamster.” Erlbaum or “Errrrrrllbauuum,” as her in-laws pronounce it, followed with the hilarious and poignant account of some discomforting encounters between herself—that is, not Janice so much as her elongated Jewish surname in the mouth of her mother-in-law—and the anti-Semitic-type relatives of her Irish Catholic husband. The judges—Jacobson, Ethan Nosowsky of Graywolf Press and Tony Arcabascio (Alife's co-founder)—praised Kearsley's performance as hot, as in sexy, but were beside themselves over Erlbaum's experiential, experimental prose, and for the “emotional hairpin turn” by which she transformed a series of ethnic jokes into a touching story of family bonding. With this, Erlbaum won the first round.
Round two featured Elisa Albert (The Book of Dahlia) reading a speculative enumeration of the many possible causes of the first-person narrator’s brain cancer. The theme allowed her to unravel a lot of stunning prose and to delve deeply, in a few minutes, into the psyche of a modern person beleaguered by guilt and remorse for a lifestyle full of pain and risk. Albert’s crowning analogy compared the cancer-sufferer’s degenerating brain to strip of “emotional flypaper--” a rhetorical move which wowed the judges and audience alike. David Ellis Dickerson followed on the theme of religious humor established by Erlbaum. Raised a fundamentalist, this reader revealed that he abstained from sex through a long courtship, in spite of a prominent boob fetish. The story climaxes with Dickerson when he hires a hooker so that he can fondle her breasts. A special brand of Christian-guy-meets-the-real-world hilarity ensues. After many wisecracks, including Arcabascio's epic story of matzah ball soup and peeking at Playboys, the judges hurtled Albert into the finale.
The finale pitted Erlbaum against Albert. Both authors were armed with a big, giant Nerf gun and asked to fire it at large-scale photos of banned-book writers. After several rounds of fire, the finale went to overtime, in which each finalist—Albert then Erlbaum—were asked to fire on, at long range, the face of William S. Burroughs (a banned author, but one who notoriously shot his wife). After much confusion, Erlbaum only struck once, but Elisa Albert hit with three of four, earning her victory at LDM NYC, Ep. 17, and the priceless LDM medal that goes along with it.