Monday, December 31, 2007

Mainly, I Teach...

This was first posted in late April. It was the third post I ever put on this site. Circumstantially, it is all still true except in 2008 I will be doing more work with Fig Media as a creative director. Hopefully, the creative director position will soon lead to part-time employment with benefits and will still allow me to teach.

Mondays tend to be long days for me.

Every week day, I get up at six am, feed the cats (Houdini and Oona), check e-mail, read, see my girlfriend off as she leaves for work, write and prepare for the day. On Mondays, I teach two classes in the afternoon at Columbia and then teach a class in the evening at Second City. I have been teaching at Second City since 1997 and at Columbia since 2004. This is my main source of income. I love teaching, but it has its frustrations as a life support system. I only get paid when I teach. When we're on break or vacation, I'm not getting paid. There's no salary, no health benefits. And if a class gets cancelled because there wasn't enough students enrolled, tough cookies. Doesn't matter that I cleared my schedule or planned for that money. It's gone. Columbia does give you a $100 consolation prize. I think that's to cover the cost of the booze or low-grade drugs you'll need to forget that you're now out a few thousand bucks.

When school's in session at Columbia, I usually teach two classes that meet twice a week. At Second City, I'm usually scheduled for two classes. I would love to teach more at both institutions. For the money? Yep. But also because, I LOVE teaching and have compiled enough experience to be able to handle the workload.

At Columbia, I'm part-time faculty. Most everyone there is part-time faculty. It's how they keep tuition costs low. That means they can't really throw more classes my way without having to answer to someone somewhere about making me full-time. At Second City, I'm considered a Guest Artist, which is beyond me. It's the lowest rung on the faculty ladder there. I used to be a Core Faculty Member, which I enjoyed. Unfortunately, during my time as the Artistic Director of ComedySportz, I wasn't able to maintain my Core Faculty duties, so I was, justifiably and with my agreement, bumped down. Then, of course, about two months later I left CSz. It's going on a year, now, since I left and I still haven't been able to get bumped back up at Second City. The advantages to being Core Faculty is that you are guaranteed three classes a term and are first up for workshops and intensives.

So, why do I put up with such a shaky income stream?

I love to teach.

In the spring of 1997, I was hired into The Second City National Touring Company. About a day later, I got a call from Martin DeMaat asking if I would like to teach improv classes.

"Um, why me?"

"Gut feeling. I think you'd be good at it."

"When would I start?"

"Tomorrow night."

"What do I do? What do I say?"

"It's the first class. Just run them through some basic 2-3 person scenes. You'll know what to say."

And he was right. I was surprised to discover that once I got in the room and started to work with them, I did know what to say. It was like every teacher I ever admired was whispering in my ear. I saw my words have a positive impact on how improvisers performed in scenes. I saw people light up.

I haven't found anything better. I direct, I write, I act, but mainly, I teach.

Wow - that last sentence made me gag. I love the other stuff, too. Probably as much. Sometimes more. Out of all the possible sources of income for me as an artist, teaching has been the most consistent. Teaching pays most of the bills. And I'm happy to be doing what I love.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons!

This was originally posted on May 19th.

Columbia College:
My grades came in from both my history class and biology class. I got "A's" in both! That hasn't happened since my first quarter at Wright State University. Then I discovered a social life and it all plummeted from there. Unfortunately, being a part-time student, I don't get on the Dean's List. However, I found this other guy named Dean that I'm hoping will put me on
his list.


Grab a bowl of Frosted Flakes, pour too much milk (soy) into it and sit your butt on a pillow in front of the screen! Last week's was a sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore making fun of an old TV show called Thunderbirds Are Go!

This week, it's the real deal with Gumby and Pokey!

Friday, December 28, 2007

History on Auto-Repeat

I was originally going to be reaching way back to the beginnings of this blog for "encore" postings, but yesterday's assassination of
Benazir Bhutto prompted me to pull up this one from November 7th. Her assassination will likely have two affects: Musharef will stay in power, even if they hold elections as scheduled, and Al-Queda will gain more power. It's fucked up, but don't worry, the United States is giving our ally Pakistan lots of money because they are our friends and would never turn on us. At least, not until after we give them tons of money and military equipment.

(If you'd like to check out some fresh bloggery, go to Do You Speak English?. It's a fun site that features music and video oddities, mostly from the 60's.)


In 2005, at his second inaugural address as an un-elected president, Governor Bush said this...

All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

Democratic reformers facing repression, prison or exile can know: America sees you for who you are -- the future leaders of your free country.

The rulers of outlaw regimes can know that we still believe as Abraham Lincoln did: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it."

The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side.

Of course, this is a pack of hypocrisy and lies. Something this administration sells and re-sells (refurbished, but packaged as new). If it were true, we wouldn't be giving Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf such a pass. Just to say "we're disappointed" isn't enough.

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, some of the reasons given were that Hussein was a tyrant oppressing his people and he was a threat to the safety of America because he was trying to develop a biological and nuclear weapons program. All the while Bush and Cheney were banging the drum to take Iraq, North Korea was standing near the punch bowl desperately trying to get Uncle Sam's attention and get him to dance. North Korea is an oppressed country run by a tyrant with nuclear capabilities that has often blatantly threatened the safety of the United States. North Korea has - and had at that time - long-range missiles that can strike the United States.

But Bush and his pals had set their sights on oil-laden Iraq and would not be deterred by an actual threat.

Today, as Bush's tin war drum beats to invade Iran because of the top three criteria; tyrant in power, nuclear capability, threat to America, the administration is ignoring Pakistan, a country that has a tyrant in power, nuclear capabilities and, if not directly threatening the United States, certainly has ties to Al-Queda, which Iraq did not. Pakistan even has someone able to take over power that has the will of their people, is a rational leader, and a bit of a babe, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. I'm not saying we should go to war with Pakistan. But if we are going to throw some military weight around, throw it where it makes sense.

If Bush really meant what he said with All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. Then we would be crawling all over Pakistan AND Darfur.


Yesterday, I asked...

"According to the sheriff's office in Collier County, Florida, kids are getting high on a new drug whose active ingredient is what?"

30% said "Magic Markers"

- Mmmm, magic markers smell good. Why is my nose bleeding purple?

30% tried "Fermented Twinkies"

- No wonder Twinkie the Kidd always seemed so spastic.

No one thought anyone was getting high on "Life"

- Unless its Mikey.

40 % squeezed out the right answer with "Human Poop"

According to The Smoking Gun, there's a purported "new drug" favored by the kids. It's a homemade inhalant called "Jenkem," and causes hallucinations and a "euphoric high." Jenkem's active ingredients are urine and fecal matter. Guess smoking crack wasn't enough. Now we're going for the whole ass.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Putting Together a Running Order for a One-Act Sketch Revue

No Robowriters tonight!

We're on break until after Chicago Sketchfest. We will return on January 17th.Come see our shows on the 3rd and the 10th.

Here's a post from April 23rd. It's an essay I wrote a three years ago after seeing a few shows where I thought the cast was very talented and the material decent, but the show was off because of how the show was presented. If you have read it before and find something new, it is not because of my brilliant and layered writing style. I will from time-to-time tweak and update it.

Putting Together a Running Order for a One-Act Sketch Revue

Today, I am putting together the final running order for Savage Breast as well as putting the final touches on The Couch of Comedy's
Baaaaadaaaaasssss Revue and OLD's Sketch Khakis. It reminded me of an article I wrote a few years ago where I compiled my philosophies for putting an RO (running order) together. Here it is, slightly amended.

This piece specifically addresses the typical revue done in Chicago, which is usually only 30-50 minutes long. Only Second City tends to do revues in two acts.

The information is culled from over twenty years of working in improv and sketch comedy. There are similarities in philosophy in what I present here in Second City’s Improv Almanac and Bernie Sahlin’s book on creating revues. I recommend you read them. I also think the best teacher is doing shows, applying the theories and seeing them in action.

Often, I will see a show where I like the cast, I like some of the material, and the show just doesn’t work. I leave saying polite things, but there’s no excitement at having just shared something special. There’s something missing. I think the audience feels this, too, but probably has an even tougher time pinning down why. The actors may just chalk it up to a tough night or an unresponsive crowd.

Many times, the problem lies in the order of the material. Many groups focus on the individual scenes of a show and forget about the show itself. Or, I’ve seen them focus so much on style and transitions, that they forget to focus on the content and flow of the show. Essentially, what they perform is a comedy recital, not a revue.


“Let’s establish who the performers are and then surprise them with what else they can do.” – Paul Sills

In every relationship, there’s a deal going on – often unspoken – on what the two people expect from one another. I’ll be the guy you can go have a beer with when your boss is pissing you off and you be the guy I go to when I need a good laugh.

There’s this notion that the audience needs to be warmed-up, like they’re athletes getting ready for a workout. It’s not so much that they need to warm up, but need to be allowed the chance to warm up to you. They need to get a chance to meet you and like you. Then they can relax and really enjoy themselves. If they aren’t sold on you, it’s that uphill battle, again.

In a revue, the audience is looking to strike a relationship deal with the ensemble.

A show, like a scene, can be broken down into a beginning, middle and an end. In a scene, it’s important to establish with an audience the who, what and where so they can be in on action. The same goes for the whole show. In the first few minutes, if not seconds, of a show, the audience is looking to strike a deal with you. They want to know who you are, what you’re about, and that you care about them. They want to be your partner on this journey. They want to be assured that they have spent their time and money well. If you don’t gain their confidence at the start, you may have an uphill battle. Or you go through the show thinking, “we’ll get them with the next scene, that always kills.” You’ll never feel like you’re on sure ground with them. After the show, you may go on to blame the lack of rapport on things like the space, the tech, the time of day, the audience itself. Those have some validity, but what’s certain is that they never got on board with you.

Audiences want to laugh. They showed up, didn’t they? They are looking for opportunities. But they see and judge everything, especially in the beginning of a show. I have, on several occasions, turned to someone next to me in an audience after less than a minute and whispered “we’re in trouble.” And we were. How did I know? I look at several factors, so does the audience, but they may not be as cognizant of it… Did the show start on time or close to it? Are the performers any good? Do I like them? Are they trying too hard or not hard enough? Do they have confidence in the material? Is the material any good? Do I know what the hell is going on? Do I care?

Do I like them and do I care are probably the most important. At the start of a show, I’m looking to see if I want to invest in what’s happening on stage. If it’s coming across as amateur night, and totally lacking on all counts, then I’d rather be spending that hour at the dentist’s.

The sketch revue didn’t just happen. It’s roots can be traced to early Broadway and Vaudeville. It was honed in the early part of the century and when revues started to fade on Broadway, big musicals came storming in. Musicals stole from revues and are structured like them. They tend to start off with big, friendly numbers that introduce us to the main characters and the world they live in. If we don’t like them, it’s going to be a long night. That’s why the opening number also tends to be very upbeat.


The first three scenes of your show are the most important.

The first scene, the opener, is your first introduction of the cast to the audience. It’s important that the players are all well represented and portray characters that aren’t too far off the mark of their own personality. This is where you strike a deal with the audience saying this is who we are, get to know us, we’ll take care of you. Other key components of an opener is that it’s high energy, well staged and well executed. Many shows open with a song. This is smart, as long as the song is also upbeat, uses the whole cast, and is performed well. A sloppy song up front will have an alienating affect on the audience. You’re better off going with a high energy ensemble scene than a song if your company isn’t up to the musical task.

The second scene should be something quieter, more intimate. Even a monologue or someone directly addressing the audience could go here. The idea is to explode on stage to kick up the energy in the room and then to focus the audience’s energy with something softer. A two person relationship scene is common in this slot.

The third scene is another opportunity to meet the ensemble, but here, more extreme characters can be brought into play. Since the audience already has a sense of who you are, they’re now ready to happily follow along with you with your oddball character wearing the fake beard and rainbow fright wig.

I have also seen variations on this where the opening is essentially a series of very short scenes or black outs. Or where the first two scenes are high energy ensemble pieces. They worked well, too and set the appropriate tone of the show with the audience.

The first third of your show is where you want to plant strong, accessible material. Accessible material is the more conventional stuff that people can relate to. That doesn’t mean this is where you put “airplane food, men leaving toilet seats up” stuff. Don’t pander. Don’t put in anything that doesn’t represent your style. But do put in the best of what you do that’s the easiest to grasp. This is where you are building trust with the audience.


Right in the middle of your show is a good place to put another cast scene. This should be very different from the opener, but also upbeat. It can be another song or an ensemble piece that uses the whole space. It’s another opportunity for the audience to connect with your group as a group. And it’s an opportunity for you to give them another jolt of energy to carry them through to the end. You can also look at this as an opportunity to raise the stakes, as you would in a scene, and put in a cast scene that really showcases the talents of the group. Here, in a cast scene in the middle of the show, it’s less important that everyone be represented as equally as in the opener.


Two-thirds of the way into your show is a good place to put riskier material. Now that the audience knows you, loves you and trusts you, they’re more willing to go along with you on trickier stuff. This is a good place for hot topic issues that might turn off some people or for the weird surreal Dada stuff that you really love to do. This is a good place for any scene that breaks typical theatrical conventions. Deconstruction scenes are good here. Now you’ve gained the confidence of the audience, even if it’s not their cup of tea, they’ll go along with you to see where you are going. And, in their mind, if they don’t like the scene where you eat ketchup out of straw while a ballerina in a leather jacket punches a newborn calf, they know they’ve liked your other stuff and will wait to see what’s next.


The last third is where you really want to leave them with a lasting impression. This is where you put the best material. The scene right before your closer should be the funniest scene you have in your arsenal. This is often called the “runner” or “run out.” I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because it really picks up steam and runs you into your closer.

The closer – like the opener, should be full of energy and be well performed. It’s another slot where many groups will put a song. It’s important that the closer have a satisfying conclusion. It’s the closer for a reason. You want the audience to feel complete. The whole cast should, again, be represented. That doesn’t necessarily mean equally. The closer should be more theatrical than the opener. This is where you pull out all the stops.

Things to LOOK OUT! For

- CONTENT – Unless you’re gunning for a theme, have a variety of material. Not just in content, but form and style, too. Unless you’re a two-person group, a series of two-persons scenes will get tiresome. Even if you are a two-person group, you need to vary the form of the pieces and the dynamics of the relationship. Otherwise, you’re just doing the same two-person scene over and over, again. Or you’re doing stand-up. We get it, that guy’s smart and the other one’s dumb. Move on!

- If you do have a few pieces that are similar, you may not have to ditch all but one. If you have three pieces that deal with proposing marriage, or seeing a doctor, you can put them all together in a suite of scenes. But make sure they each have a distinct take on going to the doctor or on popping the question. There might also be a way to connect them. Maybe the doctor character can all be the same guy. In that case, spread them out.

- Typically, avoid ending a scene and starting a scene with the same person. Unless that person is playing the same character, you want to wipe the slate clean. If the person left on happens to have a great range and a fresh style, this is not so much a problem. But if it’s a performer who, although competent, is limited, you’ll want to avoid relying on them so heavily.

- Don’t keep actors hanging out on stage too long or abandon them backstage. Use an actor two or three times in a row at the most and then keep them out of at least one scene. When you do keep someone out on stage, make sure they are not the lead character in all their scenes. Don’t keep anyone out of more than two or three scenes in a row. The audience wants to keep in touch with the people they met in the beginning.


When putting a show together, first develop a generous amount of material and then select those scenes with which your revue cannot do without. They are your strongest scenes. They are also the most definitive of your company’s unique voice. They are the ones everyone is in most agreement about. These are your cornerstones. Now, you can build a show around then. Material developed from this point can be geared towards what’s already there – thematically, stylistically, and in content, including possibly expanding or recurring characters. Every successful revue creates a world in which the audience wants to live, or least spend time in. Your set pieces help structure that world and the other scenes, including transitions, help put muscle and flesh on that world.

In ensembles, there will be some people stronger than others when it comes to performance skill. Try to keep the casting as balanced as possible, but if someone doesn't have a lot of range, it's not a crime to use them a little less than the performer with a wider range. Just make sure everyone gets their moment or two to really shine.





















Sunday, December 23, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Swinging through Indiana today to see Julie's parents and then on to Ohio tomorrow to see my mom and brothers. Instead of us trekking to a Chinese buffet on Christmas, Julie is going to cook my family a huge Thai dinner. We'll get back on Wednesday.

Robowriters is cancelled for Thursday, December 27th and will return after Sketchfest on January 17th.

Have a happy holiday, in spite of how screwed up the world is.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons!

(This "Saturday Morning Cartoon" was the first ever on this blog posted on May, 12, 2007. I am taking a semi-vacation from blogging over the holiday and will be posting "encore presentations" that you may have missed. Enjoy your holidays. - Joe)

It's Saturday morning! Grab a pillow to sit on. Go get a bowl of Corn Pops.

Don't sit next to your brother. He'll try to fart on your cereal.

And when you're done with that, check out the fun we had at Looptopia. Been a long time since I got my Dada on in front of an audience.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Anton Chekhov's Bastard Child

One of my favorite shows ever that I directed was called Anton Chekhov's Bastard Child. The first and only show, that I know of, that tried to mix improv and writing. It featured four writers, on stage, with manual typewriters and four actor/improvisers. Writers would be churning out scripts as actors would rip them from their printing machines and act out scenes until they ran out of printed words and then start improvising. There were typos a-plenty, which the actors usually incorporated with glee. We did break-up songs, puppet shows and news casts. The big finish was an exquisite corpse-style poetry slam with guitar and drums. It was quite an undertaking. The original cast of writers was Aaron Sjoholm, Amy Guth, Greg Pokuza and Joe Linstroth. The original actor/improvisers were Gabe Garza, Kate Powers, Mike Johnson and Rebecca Wallenford (I probably just royally screwed up Rebecca's last name - sorry Rebecca!). That company of peeps became the seedlings of Teatro Bastardo which begat Robot vs Dinosaur-Chicago.

When the show rocked, it tore the roof off the place. When it sucked, it sucked mightily. There was no in-between. It's a tough show to deliver and I think our ambition was running a few yards ahead of our talent. The last time we did the show may have been in 2003. It would be interesting to bring it back to see how our chops measure up to the demands of the show.


We used to start ACBC by getting a line of dialogue chosen at random by an audience member from the works of Anton Chekhov. The four writers would immediately dive in to cranking out three three-line maximum scenes. The actors would start performing them after the first four were complete. The last four scenes were usually pulled from the typewriters mid-sentence.

Your assignment is to crank out three three-lines scenes based on the following quotation...

"We shall find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds."
- Anton Chekhov from Uncle Vanya

The quote is a jumping off point. Use it directly, use it indirectly. Move quickly, so there's not a lot of time for you think about it. The idea is to capture a moment in these three-line scenes. Use the stage directions almost as you would a narrator if you want to give background information. It's stuff you can use later, if you decide to develop the scene further.

Here's an example that I am pulling out of my butt as I write. The word peace makes me think of war which makes me think of Iraq and the desert at night.

(Lights up on Randolph. He is a young man in his early twenties. He is tough and wiry and alert. If he weren't wearing khakis and a flak jacket, he'd be wearing an orange jumpsuit in a prison in Jackson, Michigan. Next to him stands Vernon. A man in his late 30's who looks tired. They are both holding rifles.)

I'm going to lie down.

Don't lie down. You'll die out here.

Fuck that. There's nothing going on and I am whipped.

(Vernon lies down using his pack as a pillow and his helmet to cover his eyes. Randolph looks agitated. He shoots Vernon. Lights out.)

Brilliant! Brilliant, I say! Well, okay, maybe not. But I like the characters and I can see developing this further and, if I keep anything, this might be the very end of the scene.

Have fun.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Kyrgyzstan has decided to name a mountain what?"

30% said "Mount Jesus"
- Is that an order?

28% said "Mount Osama"
- Well, it would make him easier to find.

14% said "Mount Muhammed"
- Yeah, all we need is another reason for the zealots to get all uppity

28% got it right with "Mount Santa Claus"

According to the Associated Press, just in time for Christmas, Kyrgyzstan authorities say they plan to name a snowy peak "Mount Santa Claus." Why is a predominantly Muslim and former Soviet land honoring the jolly old elf? "We want to develop tourism, and Santa Claus is an ideal brand to help us do this," said Nurhon Tadzhibayeva, an official with Kyrgyz tourist authorities. I guess Kyrgyztan is a little behind in the use of focus groups. They also, I believe, missed an opportunity to infuse their economy with some mega advertising bucks. Mount Bee Movie, anyone?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

They Were Hoping We Wouldn't Notice

You probably heard about the energy bill passed yesterday that will hold the automobile industry accountable to increasing gas mileage and reducing emissions (by the way, these have been passed before, only to be rescinded as the deadline comes closer and the auto industry claims it can't be done.) Because of the hoopla over this bill from both the congress and the White House, you might have missed this...

Handed control of Congress last year after making promises to end the war in Iraq, restore fiscal discipline in Washington and check President Bush's powers, Democrats instead closed the first session of the 110th Congress yesterday with House votes that sent Bush $70 billion in war funding...

You can read the full article from the Washington Post by clicking HERE.

What is up with this pussy-whipped congress, you might ask? It's simple. We've all seen it before. We have either experienced it directly, have known family or friends who have been through it, or we have seen a Lifetime original movie about it. George W. Bush is an addict. Has been. Always will be. He is currently addicted to power and greed. Congress is an enabler.

According to, which uses alcoholism as an example, this is an enabler...

Many times when family and friends try to "help" alcoholics, they are actually making it easier for them to continue in the progression of the disease.

This baffling phenomenon is called enabling, which takes many forms, all of which have the same effect -- allowing the alcoholic to avoid the consequences of his actions. This in turn allows the alcoholic to continue merrily along his (or her) drinking ways, secure in the knowledge that no matter how much he screws up, somebody will always be there to rescue him from his mistakes.

Simply, enabling creates a atmosphere in which the alcoholic can comfortably continue his unacceptable behavior.

Here is a quiz, also from, that I suggest we send to every member of congress. I have substituted the word "alcoholic" with "addict."

Are you an enabler?

    1. Have you accepted part of the blame for his behavior?

    2. Have you avoided talking about his problem out of fear of his response?

    3. Have you paid bills that he was supposed to have paid himself?

    4. Have you loaned him money?

    5. Have you given him "one more chance" and then another and another?

    6. Have you threatened to leave and didn't?

    7. Have you finished a job or project that the addict failed to complete himself?

If you answered "yes" to most or all of these questions - which congress most certainly would if they tell the truth! - you have not only enabled the addict you have probably become a major contributor to the growing and continuing problem and chances are have become effected by the disease yourself.

As long as the addict has his enabling devices in place, it is easy for him to continue to deny he has a problem -- since most of his problems are being "solved" by those around him. Only when he is forced to face the consequences of his own actions, will it finally begin to sink in how deep his problem has become.

Congress - you are an enabler. It is time George W. Bush was held accountable for his actions. Tough love, baby. We need some tough love.

Robowriters Tonight

Robowriters will be meeting tonight and next week. Looks like we won't be taking any time off except during Sketchfest, when we have shows falling on those nights. So, if you have something you are working on or are looking for something to work on, stop by the Uptown Writer's Space tonight and next week. Usually, these run from 6:30pm to 8pm. At 8pm, the Robot vs Dinosaur group usually comes in, but we have moved them to another space to rehearse. Since there's no pressure to wrap up at 8pm, we'll go until we are through. No sketch left unread!


Yesterday, I asked...

"Visa is offering a new kind of gift card this holiday season that specifically goes towards what?"

42% said "Taxes"
- Ah, taxes. The gift that keeps on giving. Nope.

33% said "Funeral Expenses"
- See "taxes."

No one went for "Gambling Expenses"
- apparently, the mob has this one covered.

25% got it right with "Medical Expenses"

According to CBS, this gift card can be used for doctors' visits or deductibles, prescription co-pays, contact lenses and even elective surgery. The card is issued by Visa, so it can be used anywhere Visa is accepted for health-related services. So it might not cover your gambling debts, but if the mob busts your kneecap, you're set.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Believe...

Happy to announce that you will have more than one opportunity to see Locked in a Room with Don Hall and Joe Janes: 2 Guys, 1 Cup at this year's Chicago Sketchfest. Opening night on January 3rd you can catch us at 9:30pm in the West Theater of the venue. We will be doing an "encore" performance at 7pm on January 5th, also in the West Theater. As Don puts it, word-of-mouth of our Thursday show will either pack or empty the place for Saturday.

This year will be all new material. Last year's show had us venting our respective spleens all over the stage mostly regarding the state of improv and sketch comedy. There will still be some of that, but most of the show will be us setting off comedy dirty bombs about ALL the things that piss us off. Oh, and there's full frontal nudity.

One thing we did last year in our show was pepper it with Don and I stating our opinions about what's right and, mostly, wrong in the world. These segments were called "I Believe's..." We'll be doing that, again, but all brand new shiny ones.

Here are my "I Believe's..." from last year.

I believe people should be required to get a license use a public restroom. A test should be administered involving aim and hygiene that is considerate of others.

If you’re going to have public urination laws, using cell phones while driving laws, bicycle traffic laws, here’s an idea, enforce them!

We have an addiction-driven economy – gambling, alcohol, caffeine, pornography, fast food, to name a few. It’s not in the best interests of our nation to be healthy.

I believe an improviser whose ultimate goal is to be on SNL or MADtv, hasn’t watched either of those shows in awhile.

I believe improvisers are lazy and think standing around saying pithy things passes for good improv.

I believe America is fixated on material wealth and has lost sight of the really important things such as love of material wealth.

I believe technology has ruined for a new generation the joy of ever listening to an entire record album. Side one and side two. Great music should never be downloaded.

I believe everyone has already had their fifteen minutes of fame, and, really, it’s time to move on.

I believe conspiracy theories are a conspiracy theory.

I believe the general public confuses shock for comedy, gore for horror, scary music for suspense and jiggly things for erotica.

I believe the entire US tax system should be abolished and, in it’s place - a $20 cover charge.

There is no hope in this society until the manipulation of truth to go to war, illegal incarceration and murder make us more outraged than wardrobe malfunctions, gay marriage and oval office blow jobs.

Many people complain that iO featuring stand-up comedy is an affront to the study of improvisation, unlike the writing courses they offer.

I believe we descended from apes. Apes that wore leather, rode horses, and kept mutes for slaves. Hey, it’s what I believe.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Employees at a Fargo, North Dakota bank are getting holiday bonuses under the condition that they what?"

57% said "Not spend it on booze"
- Here's what's really happening behind that bank counter. Tellers are naked from the waist down and can't wait for you to leave so they can start partying again. Customers interrupt and annoy them. That's why they came up with the ATM.

No one thought it was "Not spend it on drugs" or "Not spend it on gambling"
- Apparently, these are very acceptable uses of one's money in Fargo in the winter.

42% got the right answer, "Not spend it on their families"

According to the Associated Press, State Bank & Trust Chief Operating Officer Michael Solberg said each full-time employee will receive $1,000 and each part-time employee will receive $500, as part of a $502,000 "Pay it Forward" initiative. Employees were told not to use the money for themselves, their families or families of other bank employees. I can appreciate where the bank is coming from, but if I were an employee, I would think this sucked mightily. They are being forced to be charitable, which kind of eliminates that charity part. Fortunately, I am here to offer a solution to the employee who wants to give and instantly get back for their efforts.

Send your money to:
The Joe Janes Foundation
c/o The Second City
1616 North Wells Street
Chicago, Illinois, 60614

80% of your holiday fund will be mailed back to you. I have to keep 20% for administrative fees, ya' know.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Think Before You Bink

In the late 60's and early 70's, there were two urgent movements in America that seemed to be gaining momentum and then just faded away. One was the ecology movement which focused on cleaning up our planet, from litter to pollution. It was probably the first big push to educate and influence the population to be socially responsible, from picking up litter to cleaning up the skies. Traces of it can be seen through Earth Day and current environmental initiatives. It even made its way into pop culture, most notably for me, through Carol Burnett. At the end of her show, just before saying good-bye, she would give a tip about picking up trash along the road, or whatever. As a sixth grader, it prompted me to write my first letter to a celebrity asking her for a list of those sayings. I made them into posters for a school project. And, yes, those posters probably ended up choking a raccoon in some landfill somewhere. Oh, the cruel, cruel irony.

Another movement that seems to have all but disappeared was ZPG. Zero Population Growth. In the '60's, there was a group of people trying to tell the world that if we don't stop multiplying, we'll run out of room and resources. They promoted images of crowded streets where everyone wore gas masks. Not as embraced as the ecology folks, they were generally considered to be paranoid alarmists. Given the failure of the abstinence program, the rise in teenage pregnancy, the number of young mothers with multiple children that I see on the bus and subway, the number of kids I see and hear up past 11pm on a school night, the more I wish ZPG were back with a vengeance. We are growing so quickly and irresponsibly, that not only are we endangering our resources, our children are not getting the proper parenting they need to grow to be healthy, contributing adults.

Below is the opening to Mike Judge's film Idiocracy. It is a brilliant satire about what our future holds given our current trajectory. His demonstration of why America is dumbing down is in the first three minutes. The whole film is great and was so biting, the studios buried it when it was released. It's now available on DVD. If you haven't seen it, SEEK IT OUT. You'll want to run out and give every boy who turns 16 a condom. I personally would prefer to also put a chastity belt on every girl until they finish college. And remind them not to litter.


Yesterday, I asked...

"The Miami County Jail in Ohio is joining other jails around the country trying to create a calmer environment by doing what?"

67% said "Using lavender scented aerosols"
- That's what my dentist does. And it does make me relax more and enjoy the pain.

17% said "Having security guards speak in hushed tones"
- Clint Eastwood speaks in hushed tones. It does not have a calming effect. "Feel calm, punk? Well do ya'?"

No one fell for "Pumping in John Tesh music"
- We all know what kind of blood shed that would cause.

16% picked the right answer, "Painting the cells pink"

According to the Associated Press, inmates at the Miami County Jail are putting color on the jail's once cream-colored walls after Sheriff Charles Cox entered the academic debate over the color pink's calming abilities. Researchers have documented the ability of certain colors to evoke emotional and physical responses, and many jails around the nation have been painted pink as a pacifying measure. I don't think it so much makes them calmer as self-conscious. No one wants to make any sudden, flamboyant moves.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cheddar Moon

Here's the ten-minute play I wrote for the Columbia College 24-Hour Plays Festival last week. It's been awhile since I've had that exhilarating feeling of just being the playwright and sitting in the audience. It makes you feel both excited and helpless. The place was packed. This piece went over very well. I got a big kick at looking over at Sheldon Patinkin in the audience and watching him crack up at stuff I wrote. It was beautifully delivered by Amber Linde (Doreena), Jon Cohen (Tate) and Brad Fry (Nick) under the direction of Brea Hayes.

Cheddar Moon
written by Joe Janes

Lunch Lady Doreena – late 30’s
Principal Tate – late 30’s
Nick – 18

(Lights up on Doreena. She wears a cafeteria worker outfit with a pink sweater. She stands in the center of the stage under a spotlight. She is in her late 30’s and has a lady beard. It’s light in color and a little wispy. She is holding a blue ribbon. She looks as though she is looking at her own reflection in a mirror. She takes the ribbon and ties a bow in her beard. She approves. The lights come up to reveal a cafeteria kitchen. There is a large soup pot on a stove and a nearby shelf with an old small boom box. She takes something wrapped in a handkerchief from her sweater pocket. She slowly and carefully unwraps it. It is a cassette in a red, white and blue case. She puts it into the boom box and presses play. Upstage behind her appears Nick wearing a red, white and blue tuxedo jacket. She does not see him or acknowledge him.)

Doreena. My sweetheart. It’s me, Nick. I made you this mixed tape with all your favorite songs on it so we’d have something to make out to after the Winter Formal this weekend. Maybe it will drown out the slurping sounds you said I made last time. Sorry about that. I think of you and it’s like turning on a faucet in my mouth.

(Nick wipes off his chin with his sleeve and disappears. “Alone” by Heart, begins to play. She slowly and sadly stirs whatever’s in the soup pot. Principal Tate enters.)

Doreena -

(She quickly turns off the tape and wipes her eyes.)

Principal Tate. You startled me.

I was just walking down the hall when I smelled this wonderful aroma. (He moves towards the pot and she counters away from him. He notices, but continues. He takes a sip of the broth with the ladle she left in it.) Lovely broth. Piquant. What is it?

Jock straps. And bleach. I’m boiling jock straps. With bleach. And a little lemon. The washing machine in the locker room broke down so I told the varsity coach I’d help out.

I see. Needs basil.

(He steps away from the pot and Doreena returns to it. She turns down the heat and stirs.)

TATE (continuing)
Doreena. As you know, the winter formal is tomorrow night.

Oh, is it?

Yes. And we need chaperones. I was wondering if you would like to chaperone.


I’ll be there. We could chaperone together. (He walks up behind her and smells her hair.)

I think I have something Saturday-

Oh - don’t answer yet. I brought you some candy. I know how much you love chocolate. So, I brought you some cough drops. I didn’t have any chocolate. They’re cherry. Very candy-like. Here. (He hands her a small box of cough drops, but she doesn’t take them. He sets them down near the boom box.)

That’s thoughtful, but you shouldn’t have-

TATE (Embraces her from behind)
Oh, Doreena. Don’t make me grovel. I ask you every year and every year you say “no.”

DOREENA (pushing him away)
Then maybe you should stop asking, Principal Tate.

Call me Lawrence. Like you did when we were in high school.

I didn’t love you then, Lawrence, and I don’t love you, now.

I know. You never loved me. You love Nick. Just give me a chance. Nick’s not coming back, Doreena.

I know that.

I don’t think you do know that. It’s been twenty years since Nick went riding off on his motorcycle leaving you behind at the Winter Formal. They found him and his bike crumpled to bits at the bottom of Cheddar Moon Quarry (he stifles a small laugh)

My brain knows that. My heart, Lawrence. It’s my heart that refuses to believe it. It still belongs to Nick.

Well, after twenty years, I can take a hint. You come with me to the winter formal, or you are fired.

Fired? You can’t fire me.

Yes. I can. This time, I most certainly can.

This place is the only thing I have left of Nick. I started working here right after graduation. I kept my summer job at the roller rink deodorizing the skates. Nick used to hang out there all the time. Spraying gravel in the parking lot with his motorcycle.

I know. I’m the one who always called the police.

They tore it down this year and put up a Chuck E. Cheese. He was, and is, my one and only true love. Nick. Not Chuck E. Cheese.

You think about what I said, Doreena. Just think about what I said.

(He exits. She turns the music back on and resumes stirring the jock straps. Nick returns where he was previously onstage, but slowly walks into the kitchen area. He watches Doreena.)

That’s a mighty pretty blue ribbon in your beard. (Doreena turns to see him.) It really brings out the brown in your eyes.

Nick! (She runs into his arms.) Oh, Nick. Is it you? Is it really you?

It’s really me, Doreena. (They kiss. He wipes his mouth off with his sleeve.) I knew I’d find you here.

I waited for you, Nick. I knew you’d come back for me. I stood in the middle of the dance floor and waited. I cried and I waited until I stood alone. The high school cafeteria was transformed into a winter wonderland that night with giant paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling tiles and tiny marshmallow snowmen with jujube eyes on the table-tops.

You made those snowmen, Doreena. I ate one.

I should have told you about the toothpicks.

NICK (he steps away from her)
You made my gums bleed like my heart. I saw you with Lawrence. It made me crazy.

It’s not what you think, Nick. He made me kiss him. He said he’d fire me from my job at the roller rink.

He couldn’t have done that. He worked the concession stand. (He moves towards the door)

I didn’t know. He had seniority. He made it sound convincing. You know how he is. He uses words like “piquant.” You left before I could explain… Oh, Nick. Please.

(The song on the boom box changes to “Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House.)

We never did finish our dance that night.

No. I guess we never did.

(They approach each other as if they are going to go into a soulful, graceful, romantic dance number, but then quickly slump into each other the way most high schoolers dance to slow songs. Doreena’s hands firmly planted on Nick’s buttocks.)

You look exactly the same, Nick. You haven’t changed a bit. How can that be?

There’s actually a perfectly logical explanation –

(Tate enters.)

I know how much you love flowers, so I brought you these festive pencils I confiscated- Nick!

Ass-Licker Larry!

(Doreena turns off the tape player.)

It’s Principal Tate, now, and you’re trespassing on school property.

Guess you’ll have to call the cops, A-L-L.

You’re supposed to be dead.

No thanks to you.

No thanks to me, what?


TATE (slowly working his way to the soup pot)
I said “You’re supposed to be dead.” And you said “No thanks to you.” What exactly are you not thanking me for?

My motorbike was sabotaged. The break line was cut, Lawrence. Know anything about that? (Tate shrugs) I think you do. So, I am not thanking you for me being alive. Sort of.

Are you alive? You could be a ghost. You haven’t aged at all. How do you explain that?

It’s really quite simple, at the bottom of the quarry-

(Tate flings a hot, wet jock strap at Nick’s face. It temporarily blinds him. He stumbles towards the pot.)

Let’s get out of here, Doreena. (He grabs her to go, she fights back.)

What the hell are you doing, Lawrence?

Saving you from a ghost.

I don’t think so, murderer!

Man, I thought cafeteria food sucked in my day! What the hell are you feeding these kids!

It’s a long story. (She rushes over to Nick.)

You killed me, Lawrence. I knocked on death’s door. He answered and he liked what he saw. He struck me a deal. I said I’d go with him, and let him wear my jacket whenever he wanted. Someday he’d have to let me come back and kiss my girl one more time and kick your ass!

(He grabs the soup ladle from the pot and hits the tape player which starts playing “Bad” by Michael Jackson. Nick goes after Tate who fends him off with the bouquet of pencils. They duel and bludgeon, etc. It goes back and forth until Nick and Tate struggle and Tate is stabbed with the pencils.)

Oh, crap. Sorry about that, Lawrence. I hate your guts, but I didn’t want to poke a hole in them.

It’s only a flesh wound. I’m not done, yet. (He takes a swing at Nick.)

Well, in that case…

(Tate still has some fight in him and they struggle. Nick pins Tate down and straddles him. He makes Tate hit himself in the face. Doreena turns off the tape player.)

Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?

I am not hitting myself. You are hitting myself.


Looks like he’s hitting himself to me.

Fine. I’m hitting myself. You stabbed me, I’m bleeding and this couldn’t possibly be any more humiliating for me. What do you want?

What do I want? I’ll tell you what I want. I want to hear the birds sing, again. I want to feel the roar of my motorbike between my legs. I want to feel Doreena’s beard brush up against the back of my neck as she holds me tight as we storm on down the highway. Most of all, I want you to leave her alone.

TATE (pathetically)

And Doreena, I want you to forget about me. Thank you for waiting for me. But you’re done now. I have to go back.

I’ll go with you.

You can’t. You need to stay here. Go get gussied up on Saturday night and go find yourself a fella that will treat you proper. You’re not going to find him staring into that pot full of athletic supporters and listening to twenty-year-old mixed tapes. I love you. But it’s time to heal your heart and move on.

(He tenderly strokes her beard and kisses her. He wipes off his mouth with his sleeve and vanishes the way he came in.)

Guess I won’t be coming in on Monday.

(Tate gets up. He checks his wound.)

DOREENA (continuing)
The jock straps need to be stirred every ten minutes. In an hour, take them out, wring them out, by hand, and then pop them in the oven at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes. They need them for the football game tonight. Don’t mess it up or you’ll be fired.

(She is about to leave. She turns and heads back to the tape player and takes the tape out. She thinks better of it and puts it back in and turns it on.)

DOREENA (continuing)
You keep it, Lawrence. It’s time for me to move on.

(Tate stirs the jock straps as “Alone” by Heart plays, again. Death –in a hooded black robe, carrying a scythe, and wearing Nick’s red, white and blue jacket - enters. He taps Tate on the shoulder with his scythe.)

Oh, crap.



Friday, I asked...

"Yanadi Kondaiah of India claimed anyone touching his leg would be cured of illnesses or have wishes granted. Two men this week thanked him by giving him a drink and doing what?"

50% said "Buying him 12 prostitutes"
- All at the same time, or did they give him one of those gift cards they punch a hole in after each use?

13% said "Dipping him up to his neck in oil"
- Sounds like fun. Unless it was used oil from a Chinese restaurant. Lucky Man Tempura, anyone?

No one bought "Stealing his pot of gold"

37% got the right answer, "Chopping off the leg"

According to the Associated Press, two men attacked 80-year-old Yanadi Kondaiah, self-proclaimed holy man in southern India and chopped off his right leg, apparently believing it had magical powers, police said Thursday. They should be easy to find. Look for the guys carrying a really large key chain with the lucky holy man foot on it.