As a guy who failed to make it as a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles, returned to Chicago with no job, and now lives with his mother, Mike Preston has a lot he could complain about. But he doesn't. "Nobody owes you anything," he likes to say.
Instead the Crystal Lake native and former social worker spends a few hours a week working on his cable-access talk show, Psycho Babble, which airs at 10 PM Tuesdays on AT&T Broadband channels 3 and 38 in the western suburbs. On the show--with the help of sidekicks like Mr. X: Man of Mystery and the Very Famous Lance Vegas--he examines why we Americans are addicted to improving ourselves--which in Preston's worldview means complaining way too much about our problems and blaming others for our shortcomings.
"I'm afraid that social-work experience wrung the compassion out of me," says Preston. "If bitching and moaning was going to help people move on, advance, and grow, I'd be all for it. But it's a never-ending cycle. I'd like to put my foot down and stop that cycle."
Toward this end Preston has published what he bills as "the world's first openly hostile self-help book," Stop Talking Now! Developed from his stand-up routine, it includes chapters like "The Brutal Truth: Nobody Cares," "We've Contacted NASA and It Turns Out You're NOT the Center of the Universe," and "There Are People Who Are Good With Words, You're Not One of Them."
To avoid boring people with your problems, Preston recommends that you ask yourself, "How important is it? And who asked me?" Then before speaking, count to ten, then count to ten again. Once the urge to whine, bitch, moan, or babble has passed, you're on your way to recovery. To speed the process, he suggests anonymously sending the book to the whiner of one's choice: leave it on your coworker's desk, mail it to a friend, slip it into the boss's car. "Put their name on it," he adds, "so they know it wasn't a mistake."
What people don't understand, he says, is that "when you're pouring your heart out about your troubles to someone else, there's a good chance that, despite the look of deep concern, they're actually balancing their checkbook. Most people don't really care, but they're afraid to say it."
Modern therapy methods are to blame, he says. "Social work is nonconfrontational. I'm more about confronting people, telling the truth. Some people practice tough love. I practice tough apathy, which means I don't care. But I don't care very deeply."
Since putting out his book, Preston has been gathering material for a sequel. "I think I'll call it 'I Thought I Told You to Shut Up!' It'll be a little more hostile."
Because Stop Talking Now! is a print-on-demand book (from Writers Club Press), you can't find it on the shelves, but you can get it for $9.95 from any on-line bookseller while Preston looks for another publisher. You can hear him spout his theories in person December 27, 28, and 31 at Zanies, Pheasant Run Resort, 4051 E. Main in Saint Charles (630-513-1761). He'll appear at Zanies in Chicago, 1548 N. Wells (312-337-4027), January 28 and 31 through February 2. For more information see www.psychobabbleonline.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/David Kamba.