"The worse my life gets, the funnier I become," lamented Dana Gould six years ago in his critically acclaimed, autobiographical, one-man play, Insomnia. His life seems to be on an upswing as of late (he's currently working on the NBC sitcom Working), but thankfully he's got enough darkly comic fodder saved up for a good standup routine. Gould tells stories as mundane as his father's facts-of-life speech ("It's the woman's job to set a trap...") and as bizarre as his trip to the emergency room (to get a live moth removed from his ear canal). 8 p.m. at the Laff Stop, 1952-A West Gray. Also, Friday and Saturday, January 15 and 16, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Call 524-2333 or go to www.laffstop.com for more information. $10; $12, Friday and Saturday.
Growing up in Clear Lake, Susie Ibarra was forced to learn to play the piano along with the rest of her siblings. Little did her Filipino family know that she would grow up to be the coolest chick drummer on New York City's avant-garde jazz scene. Still in her twenties, Ibarra has studied under '60s jazz giant Milford Graves and performed with a long list of luminaries including David S. Ware, John Zorn, William Parker and Zeena Parkins, all of whom laud her polyrhythmic percussion for its responsiveness, organic pulses and use of such miscellaneous noisemakers as llama toenails. She's said to have a nearly extrasensory performance rapport with other free-jazz musicians, and that should hold doubly true for her concert at the Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts Auditorium, where she'll play with her husband, acclaimed tenor saxophonist Assif Tsahar. The Susie Ibarra/Assif Tsahar Duo play at the MECA Auditorium, 1900 Kane, at 8 p.m. Call 802-9370 or 666-5555 for more information. $7.
A National Geographic Society-sponsored Gallup Poll in the late '80s proved that Americans suck at geography. One in three respondents could not name any members of NATO, and only about half could find England on a map of Europe and New York state on a map of the 48 contiguous states. It was soon thereafter that adventurer, canoeist and photographer Peter Lourie began publishing his "river books." Written for readers age nine and up, Lourie's books offer a painless lesson in geography with trips down the Amazon, the Yukon, the Hudson River and the Erie Canal from headwaters to mouth. His latest canoe trip took him down 1,885 miles of the Rio Grande, with stops along the way for everything from an ancient Pueblo corn dance to a U.S. Border Patrol tour of duty. Lourie's showing slides at the Houston Public Library's Johnson Branch, 3517 Reed Road, 733-4981, at 11 a.m. and signing copies of Rio Grande: From the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico at the Woodlands Barnes & Noble, 1310 Lake Woodlands Drive, (281)363-0271, at 4 p.m.
Martin McDonagh is a London high school dropout who spent the majority of his late teens and early twenties unemployed in front of the television. Of course, he's also the guy whose very first play (written at the age of 25) won six Tony nominations and got a write-up in Time magazine as one of the ten best theater events of 1998. The Beauty Queen of Leenane -- now making its outside-New York American debut at the Alley Theatre -- is the story of a lonely, 40-year-old Irish woman whose only chance at love is thwarted by her needy and manipulative mother. Sound soap opera-inspired? Don't ever let anyone say you watch too much TV. 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Also, Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. through February 6. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue. Call 228-8421 for tickets. $31-$46.
You'll find more across-the-pond theater across town at the Little Room Downstairs. American-born-but-London-based playwright Martin Sherman's A Madhouse in Goa is actually two related one-act plays. The first, A Table for a King, is the story of a closeted young writer urged to "unbutton" by a Tennessee Williams-esque dowager (originally performed by Vanessa Redgrave). The second, Keeps Rainin' All the Time, explains that the first play is a semiautobiographical novel written by the closeted young writer, who, after 30 years of drug abuse and a stroke, can no longer speak coherently. (Can't wait to hear that accent.) In addition to slurred speech, the second play features volcanic eruptions, tropical storms, AIDS, cancer, nuclear fallout and terrorists. 7:30 p.m. Also, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through January 30. Little Room Downstairs Theater, 2326 Bissonnet, 523-0791. $15.
Self-taught photographer Mario Algaze doesn't take pictures of people. They may occasionally wander in front of his lens, but Algaze's real subject is Latin America: the slow, southern personality of its cafes, colonnades, balconies, street corners, plazas and puddles. Algaze identifies with the idea that Latin America is both "real and surreal, grounded and ethereal," and he brings that feeling to his photographs with the help of "a very early light, a magical light, which on most days only allows you about an hour to work in." If you wait until midday, Algaze says, "it doesn't give you that feel of profundidad -- it doesn't give you depth." Mario Algaze's "Portfolio Latinoamericano, 1974-1998" is at John Cleary Gallery, 2635 Colquitt, through February 13. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
He's been called a "citizen provocateur" by Supreme Court Justice William Brennan and a "political sociopath" by Harris County Republican Party leader Dr. Steven Hotze. Now Ray Hill, our favorite champion of the underdog and host of KPFT's long-running Friday night "Prison Show," is bugging his name-calling critics again with a one-man show lambasting the police and the courts for their misunderstanding of the First Amendment. Ray Hill and the Sex Police will give you the scoop on seamy prosecutions undertaken against good people for doing what comes naturally -- like, say, sodomy. 8 p.m. One's A Meal, 647 West Gray. Wednesdays through February 24. Info: 523-2802. $10; $8, seniors.