TATESJ: Jake Penner Lies To a Lot of People

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (TATESJ) has now closed, but performer Jason Compton is still writing about it…


In her article about TATESJ, Lindsay Christians of The Capital Times called that statement on Mike Daisey’s website a “disclaimer.” But it’s not a disclaimer. It’s his personal brand, the name of his podcast and story collections, and for all I can tell his own peculiar rallying cry.

Because no story is ever 100% accurate. We may want it to be, with all the best intentions, but it’s just not going to happen. For example, let me tell you about a lie woven into the origin story of Left of Left Center’s production of TATESJ.

Director Jake Penner lied every time he told people about the day I first presented an excerpt of TATESJ to Forward Theater Company’s audition triumvirate. The way he told the story went something like this:

“Jason walked in, and started talking. And after 30 seconds or so, I thought, ‘This seems really familiar somehow.’ And when he finished, Karen asked him, ‘Jason, what was that?’ And Jason said, ‘Oh, that’s from The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, by Mike Daisey.’”

Cool story, right? Except it’s not true. Not quite, anyway. Not in my version of the facts.

Because I try to do things by the book, and even though I’m walking into a room with three people who all know me instantly on sight, two of whom know me fairly well, I’m not just going to take that familiarity for granted. I’m going to respect the process.

So when I walked into the room, I first said, “I’m Jason Compton, and this is an excerpt from The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, by Mike Daisey,” and then launched in. They all knew exactly what they were listening to before I started. No gonzo auditioner, me, I gave them the usual setup rap.

And in my version, Karen Moeller wasn’t the first one to speak after the monologue. Jen Gray was. And Jen said, “Wow. That was great. You should do that. I would buy the first ticket to see that.”

But Jake kept telling the story his way. Finally, at our post-opening-night party, I asked him, “Jake, are you deliberately changing the story to make it better? Because the way you tell it isn’t how it happened,” and I launched into my version.

And he said that, no, he wasn’t exaggerating the event to make it a better story. He genuinely remembered it happening that way.

And that audition took place barely two months earlier.

Does it matter? Not really. Jake’s version of the story is admittedly a bit more interesting. You can imagine the three of them looking at each other in slight bewilderment and mounting recognition as they try to figure out what I’m up to, and their delight when I confirm it for them, etc. Maybe you hear it and say “what an unprofessional jerk, he didn’t introduce himself and his material like you’re supposed to!” but if you’re invested in the story at all, you probably don’t care.

And of course, having spent as much time thinking about Daisey, and Daisey’s impact, and that army of people out there who still wag their fingers and say “ONE SIMPLY DOES NOT LIE TO IRA GLASS ON NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO!!!111ONEONEONE we recognized how utterly perfect it was that the two of us had similar-but-different accounts of how this project got started in the first place.

Of course, my story naturally has some fictions in it too. I pride myself on my memory, but it’s probably not quite as sharp as it once was. I do believe firmly that some of the things I put in quotation marks above are gospel verbatim truth. Others, I have definitely composited and fudged in order to advance the story, choosing to put it in quotation marks even though it’s not a literal quote. For all I know, Karen also remembers speaking first. Jen may recall her endorsement differently.

Does it matter?

All stories are fiction, indeed.