Gatherings Filled With Folks Who Fit You

I’m so glad a mutual friend sent you this way! Thanks for taking the time to find out more.

Laura, a social worker, Renee, a palliative care nurse, Deb, a children’s librarian, and Courtney, a horticulturalist — at a lunch I organized last year at Denver’s Saigon Bowl.

If you decide you’d like to join us for an online or in-person gathering — or have further questions — email me at ted@thetre.es, text/​call me at +1 (720) 728‑9494, or tweet me @gabinthetrees.

Ted

If an eagle and a tiger had a human baby that was then raised by ninjas, it would be Ted.”

Allan Branch
Founder of Less Everything

the trees is the pandemic-inspired, massively expanded version of the hobby I’ve been immersed in for 33 years —

I plan gatherings — lunches, text chats, hikes, phone conversations, destination trips — for people I’m confident will really enjoy each other’s company.

The best lunch date of my life. We were there for two-and-a-half hours but could easily have stayed for five.”

Tina Roth Eisenberg
Founder of Creative Mornings and Tattly

I inherited the hobby — and the recipe I use to make sure each gathering is a success — from my dad.

An excerpt from a phone conversation I organized in 2016 for Suzanne, a novelist from Atlanta, Emma, a startup founder from Seattle, Kat, a corporate organizational development consultant from Schenectady, NY, and Claire Michelle, a children’s librarian from eastern Pennsylvania.

The topic was a Washington Post Article, A new poll shows 52% of Republicans actually think Trump won the popular vote.

He first shared his recipe with me in 1986. And I still hear it in his voice.

Ted, it’s super simple. Every person on a gathering’s invite list must have the same sense of humor AND be a good listener.”

Set designer, Katie Tharp, and comedian, Eugene Mirman, at a 2013, 3-day mini conference called Meddle I held in the English Cotswolds.

And if there’s food involved, make sure it’s great.”

Exactly what I was looking for.”

Kristin Dura
Retired Mom of Four Grown Daughters

Do I need to be funny?

Absolutely not. Most of the folks who come to these gatherings are humor consumers, not producers.

Does it cost anything to participate?

No. It’s free.

How do you define ​‘sense of humor’?

For me, half of a person’s sense of humor is embodied in their answers to three questions —

  1. Who makes you laugh OUT LOUD? Nick Hornby? Kate McKinnon? James L. Brooks? Julia Louis-Dreyfus? Eddie Izzard? Carol Burnett? Your pun-loving brother-in-law?
  2. Who seems to make everyone else laugh out loud, but NOT you?
  3. When and where is humor NOT appropriate?

The other half is intangible. You might call it a person’s sense of humor gestalt.”

How often will I receive invites?

It depends on how often you’d like to receive them, what city you live in, and how many people on my master list have your sense of humor.

So some of the gatherings are in person?

Yes.

Where are your in-person gatherings?

Right now, all the small-scale, in-person gatherings are in Denver, New York, London, and Melbourne.

Destination gatherings could be anywhere, though I try locate them within a day’s drive of one of those cities.

How is this free? Are you a serial killer?

I get an enormous amount of gratication from this. And I’m going to try to run it on my own for a while.

If we get lucky, and the trees grows so much that I have to hire full-time staff to keep things from flying off the rails, I’ll probably come up with some sort of premium membership plan for folks who participate often.

How did you get started with all of this?

My dad ran his own lunch club, filled, very carefully, with sense-of-humor-matched fellow New York Times journalists. They met at Chinese restaurants, every Wednesday, for 49 years.

My dad, after his graduation from Columbia Journalism School, in 1960.

From the 6th through the 12th grade, whenever I had a Wednesday off from school (and sometimes when I didn’t), I got to tag along.

It was an incredible gift to spend time during those formative years around a group of people who universally liked one another.

At the beginning of my sophomore year in college, I saw The Man Who Planted TreesIt inspired me to take dad’s lunch club idea and face it outwards.

The Man Who Planted Trees won the 1988 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film and is voiced by Christopher Plummer. If you can spare 30 minutes to watch it (above), I’m confident you won’t have any regrets.

Who are you?

I’m Ted Pearlman. You can read more about me here.

What’s your sense of humor?

I try not to answer that question, for fear it might inconsciously influence how potential participants answer the question.

Why do you call this the trees? I assume it has something to do with The Man Who Planted Trees?

A tree is my shortcut word for someone with a penchant for listening. I can’t remember when I started using it. But I’m sure it was after I saw the film.

Can you tell me more about your dad?

I love talking about my dad.

In Central Park, near his Upper West Side apartment.

(Warning: This is long. And the two questions after this one are also dad-related. Tap here to triple-skip.)

After my dad graduated from his Brooklyn, NY, high school, in the spring of 1948, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.

But he started to get an inkling on September 14th, around 8pm.

That was when Sid Caesar, one of the greatest comedic talents of the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s, made his debut on dad’s favorite TV show, Texaco Star Theater, hosted by Milton Berle.

About a year after graduation, while making deliveries for his mom’s candy store (his dad had died 4 years earlier), he figured out what he wanted to do. When he got back to the store, he told his mom —

I’m going to be a comedy writer for Sid Caesar’s Admiral Broadway Review.”

She was not amused.

Dad, however, was dead serious. He began writing stand-up bits during the week and heading to the Catskills on the weekends (six hours each way, via subway, bus, and hitchhike) to hawk them to Borscht Belt comedians.

Fort Lee High School, near the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. Dad hitchhiked to the Catskills from the sidewalk out front. Weirdly, I ended up graduating from there in 1986.

I think he might have actually become a writer for Sid Caesar, if not for the Korean War and the draft. He couldn’t stand the sight of blood and wanted to avoid combat at all costs. So he put comedy writing on hold, and enlisted.

With a plan.

Growing up on the rough, ethnically divided streets of post-depression Brooklyn, and being the man of the house from age 14, he’d learned to quickly assess people and their motivations, avoid pickpockets, trade favors, and talk himself out of any pickle.

He was also conversant in Russian, which his parents spoke at home.

This gave dad the idea to apply to the US Army Language School in Monterey, California. He figured he’d become fluent in Russian, meet cute girls on the beach, and groom himself for a commission as an Army intelligence officer who’d recruit and handle Soviet spies.

The US Army Language School is now known as the Defense Language Institute.

During his entrance interview, however, he found out that the Russian program required an extra year in the army. So he switched to German, a language similar to one he was already fluent in, Yiddish.

After graduating (and allegedly meeting lots of cute girls on the beach), he indeed became an army intelligence officer. However, instead of recruiting and handling Soviet spies in Russia, he recruited and handled East German spies in the Soviet-occupied section of Berlin, with the cover identity of East German newspaper man”.

Dad threw himself into the role of a journalist. So much so, in fact, that, after the war, it seemed perfectly natural to him to become a real one.

9 years later, after one masters degree in Russian history, another in journalism, and a bunch of jobs at small city papers, he landed his dream job as a foreign correspondent for The New York Times.

He was happily climbing The Times’ ladder in 1966, when an old friend from his days working the Borscht Belt landed a job as a writer for Get Smart, a TV comedy about a bumbling secret agent. It was created by Mel Brooks, who’d arguably been Sid Caesar’s most important writer.

It seemed like some kind of omen to dad, and, for a few weeks, he contemplated trying to follow his friend out to Hollywood. But my mom didn’t want to move to California.

It was rough on him. But he came up with a way to make himself feel better —

Why do I need to be a comedy writer? Couldn’t I just get a bunch of people with my sense of humor together for lunch once a week?”

Dad and me in the Grunewald, near his and mom’s place in Berlin, 1969. Dad was a journalist with NBC News and we were living there so he could cover the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Did your dad ever get to write for a comedy show?

Yes. In 1973, Reuven Frank, the president of NBC News, invited dad to produce and write for Weekend. It ran once a month, in Saturday Night Live’s time slot, when SNL was taking the week off. Weekend was the first sardonic, comedic, long-form news show on network television. It is the forgotten great grandfather of The Daily Show.

Dad; president of NBC News, Reuven Frank; and Weekend anchorman, Lloyd Dobyns, in a 1978 article from TV Guide. Tap here to read the entire article.

Below is a very scratchy excerpt from an episode of Weekend. Still great, despite the pops and clicks.

Is your dad still with us?

Only in spirit. He died in 2015. Pancreatic cancer.

Dad, in the official garb of the jet-setting journalist, an expedition vest, during Thanksgiving weekend, 2001.

He’s looking at one of the endless, makeshift 9⁄11 memorials surrounding Ground Zero.

From the time I graduated college until his death in 2015, dad and I would regularly walk from 86th Street and Columbus Avenue, where he lived, to Battery Park, and back, a 12-mile round trip, talking the whole way.

This project is dedicated to my late, adopted aunt, Deena Stutman, or — as my sister and I knew her when we were growing up — Aunt Silly Billy’.

Deena and I had exactly the same sense of humor.

Deena, holding my cousin Gary’s daughter, Carli (who’s now working on her doctorate in Applied Behavior Analysis), 1993. Photo by Gayle Shomer.

My mom met Deena for the first time, in coach, on a transatlantic flight between New York and Berlin, in 1969.

Mom was returning home to Berlin, solo, with me in tow, after a trip to introduce the only-a-few-months-old me to family back in the States. Deena was starting a solo European vacation.

I was apparently crying my head off. Deena, in the row behind us, peeped over the seat, introduced herself, and offered to rock me to sleep. My mom took her up on the offer and, as legend has it, I slept.

Deena, holding me in my parents’ Berlin apartment, only hours after meeting my mom for the first time, 1969. Photo by my dad.