David Raffin of Olympia used to be a stand-up comedian. These days, he's a metaphysicist.
“I choose to call myself a metaphysicist,” he said. “In a nutshell, metaphysics is just the asking and answering of the question ‘Why?’
“The earliest philosophers were metaphysicists or metaphysicians,” he added. “The more common term is metaphysician, but a metaphysicist sounds better, and then people won’t assume you’re a doctor.”
Labels aside, Raffin writes humor, and, these days, he reads it in front of a live audience, as he’ll do Tuesday at the Olympia Timberland Library.
If that sounds like he’s still more or less a comedian, well, his material might change your mind. At least, he’s not your average comedian.
“My material tends to be surreal or absurd,” he said. “It’s not about everyday situations and personal relationships.”
His self-published book, “Rhyme or Treason,” is a collection of short stories, some originally published in the national humor newspaper The Funny Times and some from Vision? Nary, a magazine he published himself.
Among the topics: the death of clowning as a way of life, and ruminations on “Charlotte’s Web.” (The spider writes in perfect English, he points out. Why is it that people make so much fuss over the pig?)
Before he quit standup, Raffin was finding success – Portland’s Northwest Examiner called him “a cross between Garrison Keillor and Salvador Dali” – but writing called him.
“I like writing because it feels more permanent,” he said. “I can write it, and people can read it. I can also go read to people.
“Sometimes, people say to me, ‘Well, are you just going to read in front of people?’ and I say, ‘Yes.’ That is exactly what people like David Sedaris do.”
He’s written another book, “Strange Cesspools,” which he’s showing to publishers, and is at work on a third, about Sigmund Freud. He calls his work “faction” and leaves it to the reader to decide where the facts end and the invention begins.
He’s looking for more opportunities to perform – but it’s a different model of performance. “When I write things, they are written in such a way that I can do a reading and deliver them like a stand-up comic or a theater piece,” he said.
It might sound counter-intuitive, but he said having pre-written material allows him to keep his act fresher.
“If you are memorizing your material, then you have a tendency to use what you know as a crutch,” he said. “A lot of comics have a problem with that.
“If you write it and deliver it from the page, there is no reason you can’t deliver something new, because you don’t have to memorize it.”
Also, he’s a literary kind of guy. Among the reviews on his website is one from a professor at The Evergreen State College. Raffin graduated from Evergreen in 2000.
He’s a well-known figure at the library, too, although this is his first time reading there. “He comes to the library all the time,” said librarian Kelsey Smith. “He’s a real regular at our programs.
“We got promo copies of his book and read some of it and thought it was really funny,” she added. “He has a really dry sense of humor, and a little absurd. Everything is turned on its head.”
Raffin’s edgy humor fits well into the mold of the kind of programming the library has been emphasizing lately – things that put a bit of a twist on the traditional reading.
And while they are often targeted at teens and young adults, the library’s programs are bringing in all ages, Smith said. “We just had the SciFiFest, and there were little kids there, and then there were 70-year-olds there and everything in between.”