Why Lie? I Need a Drink
What if that grimy looking guy who just asked you for change really wasn’t homeless at all? What if, at the end of the day, he hops in his BMW and shoots straight out to his home in the burbs, or his vacation home in Tahoe? Is it possible to make more money panhandling than you can by, say, cooking fries at McDonald’s or some other thankless, albeit honest, gig? It’s questions like these that are explored in Sacramento-based comedian Keith Lowell Jensen’s documentary, Why Lie? I Need a Drink, which is due out on DVD next month.
Known locally for his work with the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Comedy sketch troupe and also as part of the Coexist? Comedy Tour, Jensen gets the documentary off to a goofy start as he tries to discover if one can really make a good living from begging. He takes to the streets to get a first-person look at the world of panhandling, and at first his approach flirts with the absurd. He dons a variety of costumes from a banana suit to mime makeup and arms himself with an arsenal of wacky signs–always punctuated with a “God bless”–to see what combination will earn him the most money. The absurdity reaches its peak when a man dressed in swimmies and goggles and wielding a pool noodle chases a banana-clad Jensen around a freeway off-ramp.
In addition to begging the old fashioned way, Jensen also takes panhandling into the cyber age. He sets up a website where people can send him spare change, cold calls people whose numbers he finds on the Internet and even culls Yahoo chat rooms for those who may be sympathetic enough to dig through their pockets.
The humor sweetens what can be a bitter pill. Jensen and company, for all their shenanigans, present a well-rounded view of panhandlers and how we treat our homeless. Interviews with both the beggars and the people they encounter run the gamut of emotions. One young man vents a lot of anger and resentment toward beggars, saying he’d like to spit on them; while another, perhaps of similar age, speaks from his past experiences with life on the street and says that he always tries to give money to those who ask. The film simply presents these arguments without showing its hand one way or the other, and for that, it’s to be commended.
Things seem to hit home for Jensen when he decides to ditch the costumes and go out panhandling in his regular clothes. One scene in which Jensen is begging in front of a post office in Roseville around Christmas time is especially effective. Shot with a hidden camera, a postmaster attempts to chase Jensen from the area while he pleads and protests that he’s got every right to stand there because it’s federal property. Though it’s obvious that Jensen is not destitute, it’s easy to imagine such a scene playing out in any town in America. As it turned out, the spot by the post office was Jensen’s most lucrative location, netting him upwards of $30. Most times out, however, he hardly earned enough to buy a cup of coffee.
Why Lie? I Need a Drink may not be the most hard-hitting examination of homelessness in the United States, but it’s certainly a humane one. It paints an elegant and entertaining portrait of life on the streets, how the homeless are perceived and the murky legality that surrounds panhandling.
The film was shown in theaters around California, including the Crest in Sacramento, and even as far east as Albany, N.Y. On Nov. 4, 2010 the filmmakers will return to their hometown Crest Theatre for the Why Lie? I Need a Drink DVD release party. Admission is $15 and will include a copy of the DVD. Extras on home video release include a neat interview with Jensen conducted by local personality and horror host, Mr. Lobo, as well as a handful of deleted scenes.
For more information or to pre-order the DVD, go to www.whylieineedadrink.com.