Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why Are You Here?

At the beginning of most writing classes at Second City, I will ask the students if anyone saw a sketch revue since the last class and what did they think about it.

Almost always no one has seen one.

Not even the mainstage or etc show, for which they get a free ticket a week through the training center. Many of them will make it to Writing 5 without having seen a Writing 5 show or, for that matter, ANY show in the Skybox.

This strikes me very odd.

It's certainly not for lack of opportunity. There are almost as many sketch revues in this town on any given night as there are improv shows. The Reader devotes a section of their theater listings to improv and sketch and isn't able to list them all.

The Second City Writing Program is a great writing program. I'm one of it's biggest proponents. I think Second City makes it very clear that the thrust of the core program is to learn to write sketch comedy for the stage. Every week, I tell students to go see shows, and often give them recommendations. So, last night, when I asked my Writing 1 students who saw a show last week and received the typical response of "no one," I asked them...

Why are you here?

Improvisers go see improv shows. Quite often, they are the audience! Actors go see theater. Playwrights go see plays. Why don't sketch comedy writers go see sketch comedy?

Turns out, only one of them was really interested in improving his skills as a sketch comedy writer.

Other answers included...

"Seemed like a good creative outlet."

"I write short stories (or screenplays or insert-any-medium-other-than the stage) and I thought this would help."

"I thought it would help with my improv." (The person who said this, by the way, is only in Level C of Second City's Beginner's Program. The writing program can be helpful to an improviser, but probably only if the improviser has some chops.)

"I wanted to see if I could write."

"Somebody told me to."

"Somebody else is paying for it."

Now, these aren't wrong answers, not by any means. It's just not what I expected. I expected people in a sketch comedy writing class to be there to learn how to write sketch comedy. So, no wonder they don't go see sketch revues. They could care less about sketch comedy.
By the way, the writing program can be helpful to these folks and whatever their goals are - but only as a by-product.

My hope, is that they will go see sketch comedy - good and bad - and that it starts to get under their skin. I believe to grow as an artist, you have to see what's out there. And you have to challenge yourself to be as good or better. And there's a lot of bad sketch comedy out there, so hopefully it's the better.


I worship the ground these guys walk on. Help them out, if you can. They are doing God's work...

Dear Friends,

In under two weeks, the Yes Men will speak on behalf of what may well
be the world's nastiest company at a very important conference. We've
got foul plans - but we need your help.

The last time we asked for your money, your gifts enabled us to
present the Halliburton Survivaball to insurance industry lawyers. This time, our
plans are about three times as tasteless, weird and elaborate. And
they're about as expensive: two hundred stinky-poo props don't come

If you can help, please visit


(ignore the part about shipping and sales tax).

You'll hear what you've done very soon.

The Yes Men


RoboWriters is tonight at the Uptown Writer's Space. The start time has changed from 6pm to 6:30pm, to give people coming from work a little more time for dinner. See you tonight!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hey, Nice Labia!

((The following blog entry is Rated PG-13 for strong sexual content and may not be suitable for children or your boss who may be standing behind you looking over your shoulder as you read this.))

Life is too short to be ugly.

Even your cooch.

I thought we as a culture had hit rock bottom with anal bleaching. How low is our self-esteem when we are concerned about the shade of our butt holes? A place I haven't looked at in years and have never tried to color coordinate. Is there some segment of society that shuns dark-skinned anuses?

What could possibly be worse than that?

Ladies and gentlemen, submitted for your approval - or disapproval - the latest in unnecessary and expensive surgical procedures...

There are three types of female genital surgery that are rapidly on the increase in this self-obsessed country of ours...
Labia Reduction, Vaginal Rejuvenation, and Clitoral Unhooding.

Now, for all three of these procedures, there may actually be a few women who can benefit from the operation. But, for the most part, it's for what the plastic surgeons call beautification.

That's right, the ol' hoo-ha just don't look like it used to. Or it never looked like it used to and it's scaring the beejesus out of the other ladies in the sauna at Curves. Sadly, it's mainly women who want to look like a porn star without being a porn star. Here's the secret nobody is telling you... NOBODY LOOKS LIKE A PORN STAR! Porn stars weren't born that way. They had to have surgery to get that look and it's long term effects are gruesome. I used to think it was rather ridiculous that anyone would spend money on a blow-up doll. They look nothing like the real thing. Instead of trying to improve the technology of the blow-up doll, women have decided to look more like the inflatable.

What's really scary is the amount of money these women are dumping into this. Hard to justify with all the hardship in the world, not to mention the women in third world countries who have no hope of ever having this surgery and whose labia scrape the ground when they walk.

So, you may be wondering, is Vaginal Beautification right for you?

I've taken the liberty of putting together my own diagnostic quiz.

Answer the following questions...

- While wearing shorts and riding a bicycle, do you hear the sound of playing cards attached to your spokes, even though none are there?

- When wearing tight pants, do you have Camel Foot?

- While making love, does your sexual partner have to tie a rope around his waste before entering you?

- Does the hood over your clitoris have a short Swiss man on it shouting R-I-C-O-L-A!

- Has anyone ever referred to giving you oral sex as spelunking?

- While running outdoors in the summer, have you ever accidentally ignited small grass fires from the sparks caused by the friction between your legs?

- While playing tennis, are you able to return volleys without the aid of a racket?

- When camping, does your pelvic area double as a sleeping bag or canopy?

- Has anyone ever said to you, "Is that two bananas laying side-by-side in your pocket or are you just glad to see me"?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then Vaginal Beautification Surgery may be just what you need.

If not, then just look in the mirror and repeat after me... I have a lovely vagina.

And then give me five thousand dollars.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Walleye Afterglow

Quite a weekend, but mostly a good one.

My mother is STILL in the hospital in Toledo. The doctors have been trying to stabilize her blood sugar levels. They won't release her until they do that. So, Julie and I visited her on the way to Port Clinton and on the way back. Hospitals are very depressing places. The lighting is horrible, the rooms are cramped, the food is awful and there are all those lovely smells. It's amazing anyone gets well. The good news is that my mom is looking pretty good. She's hooked up to a heart monitor and we noticed on the way back that her heart was stronger and steadier.

On Saturday, we picked up my brother and went to THE WALLEYE FESTIVAL! I was actually looking forward to this. It's a piece of small town America and something my hometown is very proud of. There were rides and lots of booths for food and arts and crafts.

Here's my suggestion for Port Clinton's next Walleye Festival... um, more walleye.

You would expect a festival for walleye would be overflowing in walleye. Nope. There was only one food stand out of maybe fifty food stands that served walleye, fried, on a bun. That's it. Perch, walleye's nemesis in the Lake Erie fresh water fish popularity contest was more available. And there wasn't much representation of the walleye around the festival itself. Except for a sign or two, you wouldn't know what the hub-bub was about. My girlfriend Julie was disappointed there wasn't some kind of walleye tossing contest. I would have been happy just seeing a guy walking around in a walleye outfit. Julie had never tasted walleye or perch and got to sample both. Perch won.



On Sunday, we drove around the area where my brother lives, which is east of Port Clinton, in Marblehead. We drove to an old cemetery we used to go to in high school. It juts out into the quarry there and there used to be an urban legend of a witch that would jump out from behind a headstone if you flashed your headlights at it. We never saw a witch there. Just drank a lot of beer. We also took pictures in front of Prehistoric Forest, which had cavemen living with dinosaurs way before creationists or The Flintstones. We stopped by Just for Ewe, an arts and crafts shop my sister used to do a lot of work for. She still had a few stained glass pieces there. She does lots of different things, but I think her stained glass work is her best.

The most interesting thing we did is visit Johnson Island. During the Civil War, it was a pow camp for confederate soldiers. Many of them died there. The Masons were conducting a Memorial Day service specifically for them. The guy in the top hat and apron said that these were soldiers who were Americans and they were fighting for freedom. Their freedom, any way. I wonder if there were any Memorial Services in the South for any of the boys from the North.

On Sunday night, we visited Julie's parents and hit them up for dinner at their restaurant. Monday, they bought us lunch at a sushi restaurant. Parents are good things.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons!

I'm off to Ohio today to spend time with my mother and older brother. And, of course, to enjoy the Walleye Festival. I envision a nightmare Body Snatchers- type scenario where I will be watching the Walleye Queen crowned and someone will point and screech "vegan!" at me.

Julie and I will stop in Michigan City on the way back to have sushi with her parents and grandmother. I'm not sure what this has to do with Memorial Day, unless it's to honor the fallen Japanese soldiers. You know, just to be nice.

Bite and Smile will return on Tuesday!

Until then, here's the Saturday Morning Cartoon!!!

I remember watching cartoons when guys like Barnaby and Captain Penny hosted local kids shows. Oh, sure, in retrospect they look like top-of-the-line child molesters. When I was pre-school, they were the coolest guys around. And no one knew pre-school hip like me. They were both out of Cleveland, so, I only got to watch them when the weather gods and the TV antennae all got along. These shows would often feature cartoons from the 1940's.

Here's one of my favorites...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Thigh Day

Last night's Robowriter's meeting was a lot of fun. The 8pm - 10pm group had the assignment to write a brand new ten page scene. Now, if you're primary experience is sketch writing, you're used to writing in 3-5 page increments. Trying to write a ten page scene can make your internal editor scream quite loudly and make your heart panic a little. Only three of the seven writers were able to accomplish this. Nat Topping wrote his in two hours the afternoon of the meeting! In the 6pm-8pm group, Scott Levy had similarly written a scene hours before the meeting based on one of the assignments from two weeks ago. It's the assignment I used last week to write my scene in forty-five minutes, also on the day of the meeting.

The interesting thing is, all three of those scenes were actually pretty good. All three need tweaking, but not a lot. There's a lot to be said for just sitting your ass down and writing. Especially under the pressure of a deadline. All three of us had the experience of not having much more than a sliver of an idea and all three of us were surprised by the results. I think it might come from trusting oneself. Or at least trusting that something good will come of it, even if it doesn't work on the whole.

NEXT WEEK'S ROBOWRITERS ASSIGNMENT: Develop a character based on a family member you may not know very well, living or dead - like an uncle or an aunt or a cousin. Write a scene where this character encounters something unusual.

MOM UPDATE: As of writing this, she is supposed to be released from St. Vincent's in Toledo and back at Edgewood Manor in Port Clinton by this afternoon. Julie, my girlfriend, and I are going to drive to Ohio this weekend to visit. Just our luck, it's also the weekend of The Walleye Festival!Yippeeeeeee!

TREAT: Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry are two very brilliant guys in their own right. I was surprised to find out not too long ago that they used to perform comedy together. Hugh Luarie did an outstanding job hosting SNL, so I sought them out. Their stuff's a little too clever for its own good, but still a lot of fun. Hugh Laurie's songs are hysterical. This sketch is a bit old-fashioned and punerific, but pretty darn funny.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cowards and Jackasses

Today we have a guest blogger... W. E. B. Du Bois (pronounced boys), one of the drafters of The Harlem Renaissance.

In 1919, W.E.B. wrote an essay for The Crisis magazine on drafted soldiers of African-American descent returning from helping liberate France from Germany and fighting for freedom in the name of the U.S.A. They were proud to serve and proud of a job well done. In spite of the deep irony of fighting for someone else's freedom and returning to a land of lynching and oppression.

Beyond color, I thought Mr. Du Bois had some interesting things to say about a country that "
despite all its better souls have done and dreamed, is yet a shameful land."

It disfranchises its own citizens.

Disfranchisement is the deliberate theft and robbery of the only protection of poor against rich and black against white. The land that disfranchises its citizens and calls itself a democracy lies and knows it lies.

It encourages ignorance.

It has never really tried to educate the Negro. A dominant minority does not want Negroes educated. It wants servants, dogs, whores and monkeys. And when this land allows a reactionary group by its stolen political power to force as many black folk into these categories as it possibly can, it cries in contemptible hypocrisy: "They threaten us with degeneracy; they cannot be educated."

It steals from us.

It organizes industry to cheat us. It cheats us out of our land; it cheats us out of our labor. It confiscates our savings. It reduces our wages. It raises our rent. It steals our profit. It taxes us without representation. It keeps us consistently and universally poor, and then feeds us on charity and derides our poverty.

It insults us.

It has organized a nation-wide and latterly a world-wide propaganda of deliberate and continuous insult and defamation of black blood wherever found. It decrees that it shall not be possible in travel nor residence, work nor play, education nor instruction for a black man to exist without tacit or open acknowledgment of his inferiority to the dirtiest white dog. And it looks upon any attempt to question or even discuss this dogma as arrogance, unwarranted assumption and treason.

A little shocking, isn't it? This was written almost ninety years ago. Even if the color issues don't seem to apply at the same level, the class distinctions sure seem to. The rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer. W. E. B. doesn't leave it at that, though. He also offers a solution.

But it is our fatherland. It was right for us to fight. The faults of our country are our faults. Under similar circumstances, we would fight again. But by the God of Heaven, we are cowards and jackasses if now that that war is over, we do not marshal every ounce of our brain and brawn to fight a sterner, longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land.

We return.

We return from fighting.

We return fighting.

Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.

So, the solution is us. We are the change we need to return our country - today in 2007 - to a true democracy.

You can read the full essay HERE.

ROBOWRITERS TONIGHT! Starts at 6pm, goes til 8pm, at Uptown Writer's Space. Bring a sketch you're working on.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What the F---?

As an artist, I believe it's my responsibility to be up on what's going on in the world. A part of being an artist is having your antennae up. An artist is a reporter of sorts, reflecting back what one sees in the world. And, as the saying goes, if you're not pissed off, you're not paying attention...

Bush's new strategy in Iraq, which the White House and toady republicans all hailed as such - the NEW plan - is to send more troops to Iraq. Fortunately, we elected a majority of democrats into congress last round of national elections to turn this Titanic in a bath tub around. The democrats have been standing tough.

Their new strategy for ending the war?

Give Bush what he wants.

Give him more money to spend and more bodies to send home in caskets. Um...what the f---?

Granted, they are sneaking in some pet projects of theirs - stuff that deserves funding and legislation, and shouldn't have to be buried in a seperate bill - more aid to Katrina, more money and care for war veterans, a hike in the minimum wage....but you're still giving the president money to fund his hellbent war in Iraq that's generated more terrorism than it has curbed.

Remember when The War on Terror was about eradicating the Taliban in Afghanistan and finding Bin Ladin and bringing him to justice? Pardon me for waxing nostalgic, but those were two very good ideas directly linked to 9/11 that were put on the back burner so Bush, Jr could manipulate suspect intelligence to show his daddy how it's supposed to be done in Iraq. That, by the way, is the opinion I held BEFORE the war. I'm just some schmuck in Chicago and even I thought the intelligence the Bush administration was using to justify war wasn't good enough. I had hope the democrats would be able to stop funding the madness and get us the hell out of there. Some people say that stopping funding doesn't support our troops. I believe it does if it gets them out of there and uses them to a better purpose, like in Afghanistan, which has been falling apart since our focus has been on the monetary and human blood-letting that is Iraq.

Agreement Near on Iraq Funding Bill
By DAVID ESPO, AP Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON - Flinching in the face of a veto threat, Democratic congressional leaders neared agreement with the Bush administration Tuesday on legislation to pay for the Iraq war without setting atimeline for troop withdrawal.

Several officials said the emerging compromise bill would cost about $120 billion, including as much as $8 billion for Democratic domestic priorities _ originally resisted by the White House _ such as disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina victims and farmers hurt by drought.

Reid and other Democrats pointed to a provision that would set standards for the Iraqi government in developing a more democratic society. U.S. reconstruction aid would be conditioned on progress toward meeting the goals, but Bush would have authority to order the money to be spent regardless of how the government in Baghdad performed. (!) (That's my "!" by the way - Joe)

Republicans said that after weeks of struggle, they had forced Democrats to give up their demand for a date to withdraw the troops.

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, added, "Democrats have finally conceded defeat in their effort to include mandatory surrender dates in a funding bill for the troops, so forward progress has been made for the first time in this four-month process."

You can read the full article by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Harlem in the 1920's

Harlem: 1920's Black Art & Literature

This is one of the classes I'm taking at Columbia this summer. It is taught by Marya Patrice Smith. I thought this would be a fun class. The Cotton Club, zoot suits, Duke Ellington, etc. This will be a blast. I love the time period, I love the music, I love black people. Let's party!

Once, again, I was in for a wake-up call. Marya (pronounced like Mariah) loves to teach. She's not your standard lecture and regurgitate kind of instructor. Hers' is experiential. She expects us to engage and participate in the course. She expects us to wake up to what The Harlem Renaissance was really about. She inspires me to use italics, a lot.

I left the first class stunned and glad I enrolled.

Here's a few nuggets I learned...

- The Harlem Renaissance was not an art movement. It was a consciously generated social movement. A social movement created by people tired of living in fear at the mercy of people who didn't see them as anything more than animals. Their goal in creating the movement was to be seen for their humanity. Their tool was art. Their target was white America. So, was it art or propaganda?

- From 1897 - 1907, there were 3,000 documented lynchings of black men, women and children. In 1919, during what became known as Red Summer, 643 lynchings occurred. Again, well-documented, with little or no repercussion to the perpetrators. These lynchings were well documented, because people took pictures. There are plenty of group photos that look like fishermen proudly standing next to their catch of the day.

- Most of the lynchings occurred in the north. In 1919, Red Summer began in Chicago because a black child went for a swim in Lake Michigan off the wrong part of the beach.

- The Cotton Club modeled itself after southern plantations. The servers were dressed like slaves. All the help and the entertainers were black. All the clientele were white. Blacks were not allowed in The Cotton Club unless they were hired to be there. And even then, only light-skin blacks. Louis Armstrong was not allowed to play there. Near the end of The Cotton Club's hey day, blacks were allowed in. They had to pay more than whites for entrance and had to sit in a segregated area.

It's funny how nostalgia works in this country. I find myself nostalgic for time periods I didn't even live in. I thought it would be fun to live in the 1920's. We remember only the good times or, at least, what we were told were the good times. This class is all about context.

And I feel like it's going to be like my Contemporary European Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict class where it's going to bum me out a lot on the road to being enlightened.

Congratulations to my good friends Pete Ficht and Paul Custodio who have put together a site called The Graffiti Table. I wish they were my teachers. Sometimes I think I'd much rather be studying about female streakers, pot brownie etiquette and running quality diagnostics on aging bands.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Danger of Experience

I have a very odd schedule. I almost never have a clear, consistent "x" amount of days off. When The Second City Training Center is between terms, I'm teaching at Columbia College. When Columbia is on break, I'm at Second City. Last week was the unusual harmonic alignment of both Second City and Columbia being on break for one week both at the same time. And I still ended up at Second City on four of those days. Not complaining, though. I love what I do. I have two Writing 5 shows opening next Friday, so I had extra rehearsals with them. And I picked up teaching an Adult Weekend Workshop. This is where a group of grown-ups come in to Second City, usually from out of town, and take improv classes in the morning and writing classes in the afternoon.

I love teaching these, especially when the improv teacher is someone of strong caliber. This time, it was Bina Martin, who's an excellent teacher. Without intentionally sitting down and working it out, both our curricula dove-tailed nicely into one another. I was able to build on whatever she did in the morning and she was able to continue the work the next day. Improv and sketch writing have a lot in common. The elements that make an improvised scene work will also make a written scene work.

While I love teaching these workshops, there's an element of trusting everything will work out that's required by me and the students. Most the students come in with high expectations that a brief weekend just won't fulfill. I usually tell the students that I'll be covering a lot of ground over the three two-and-a-half hours that we're together and if one-fourth of it sticks, we did a good a job. The workshop is essentially Second City's eight-week Intro to Comedy Writing smashed into seven-and-a-half hours.

I have noticed that the majority of these workshops tend to be populated by two types of students: writers experienced in another medium and members of a comedy group from another state. This time, there were five older ladies who were experienced authors, mostly romance novels and children's books. Another three or four students were from a Baltimore/D.C. group called The Comedy Pigs.

Here's the danger of working with students from either category...

- They've had enough success through bad habits that it's hard for them to be open to trying a new way.

- They're so preoccupied in showing me that they're just not some other student, but someone who doesn't really need the class, that they miss a lot of the value available. Instead of learning, they're looking for validation for what they already do and know.

- They talk too much. They spend a lot of time relating their own experience or giving wizened feedback to their classmates. They forget they came to be a student.

These are extreme examples and while this past weekend had some flavoring of this, it was really a great group to teach. The folks from Pigs were especially eager to learn and absorb as much as they could from being in Chicago and at Second City. But there was one woman who on the first day was resistant to what was happening in the workshop. She never said it directly. She expressed this through loud sighs, not writing during the writing exercises and whispering to her friend when the focus should have been elsewhere. Bina had similar issues with her non-participation participation. Not surprisingly, she also seemed to be the most experienced writer in the group. I believe she's had seventeen books published. To her credit, she got better each day. And by that I mean, quieter and actually did most of the work we did in class. Again, not surprisingly, her writing assignment on the third day was among the weakest in the class, which were generally pretty good.

This isn't a story about me reaching out to her and connecting and turning her around. I don't have the time and, quite frankly, I'm not interested. If someone already has their brain locked into being miserable, there's not much I can do or care to do, especially in a brief workshop. Had this been a full-term class, I might have had a conversation with her, but she likely would have dropped out after the first class. I'd rather focus on the students who are hungry to learn and fold this experience back into whatever their goals are as a writer. Unlike our president, I believe there is such a thing as a lost cause.

If you're going to take a class, especially as an adult, be a good student. I enjoy taking classes. I enjoy learning and growing (I start two new classes at Columbia this week - Harlem in the 1920's and French I). It expands my abilities not only as an artist, but as a human being. I'm a good student. I'm attentive, I'm curious and I'll give it a try. I empower my teachers. And here's something I know, things almost always go the way you think they will. If you think you're not going to get value out of a class you're in, you're probably right. It's up to you to take responsibility for your own experience.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons!

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, May 18, 2007

Fry Day

RoboWriters met last night. Again, I am blown away by the level of quality and creativity. I threw everyone a curve by bringing in a scene that had a serious tone. I probably should have warned them. As we were reading the scene, they were waiting for the big laugh to come in. Sorry, no donkeys, no strap-ons, no retarded robot pirates. The recurring theme in last evening's feedback was "character." There were a few scenes read where the most interesting characters weren't the ones the the scene was about. Tell a good story, yes, but what helps make a good story are characters you care about. Not just from the audience's perspective, from your perspective as the author. Write characters that interest you. You like vampires? Great, write about vampires. Or give one of your characters vampire-like qualities. You're the one creating a world, make sure it's a place you want to spend time in. You do that by making sure it's populated with people you want to spend time with.

ROBOWRITERS ASSIGNMENT FOR NEXT WEEK: Go to a place in public, like a coffee shop or a park, where you can sit and free write (pen to paper without stopping) for at least ten minutes. Free write about the environment around you and the people around you. Do this three times over the next three days. Develop a scene based on your observations. Develop a scene based on your observations.. I also challenged the 8pm-10pm group to make it a ten-page scene (and justify the length! No padding!).

MOM UPDATE: The doctors didn't find anything with the MRI, which I guess is good news. They kept her overnight and she should be going back to the nursing home today.

COLUMBIA UPDATE: I got an "A" in Biology! Somebody owes me an ice-cream cone. Non-dairy.

AL GORE: I'm glad we were smart enough to elect him president in 2000. I wish we had been smart enough to allow him to serve. Here's an except from an excerpt from his latest book, The Assault on Reason...

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hoped it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on Sept. 11. More than five years later, however, nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack.

At first I thought the exhaustive, nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial was just an unfortunate excess—an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. Now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time: the Michael Jackson trial and the Robert Blake trial, the Laci Peterson tragedy and the Chandra Levy tragedy, Britney and KFed, Lindsay and Paris and Nicole.

While American television watchers were collectively devoting 100 million hours of their lives each week to these and other similar stories, our nation was in the process of more quietly making what future historians will certainly describe as a series of catastrophically mistaken decisions on issues of war and peace, the global climate and human survival, freedom and barbarity, justice and fairness. For example, hardly anyone now disagrees that the choice to invade Iraq was a grievous mistake. Yet, incredibly, all of the evidence and arguments necessary to have made the right decision were available at the time and in hindsight are glaringly obvious.

The entire excerpt can be read at Time Magazine.

I'm not always the biggest fan of SNL, but I did think they got this right back in 2000 when the presidency was still up for grabs. It's a speculation on what a Bush or Gore presidency would be like shortly after they take office.

The only thing they got wrong is that Bush would have been in deep arrogant denial about things falling apart around him.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dada Writing Lesson

Last night was my last Dada writing session with WNEP for awhile. There's another one scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend, but I will be in Ohio visiting my mother.

We read a lot of stuff, but also worked on new material. Steve, the assistant director, had us do two brief sessions of free writing.

Free writing is where you simply put pen to paper and keep writing, nonstop, for a set amount of time. The purpose is to just unload whatever is happening in your head. I used to hate free writing. It seemed pointless to me to write something that didn't have a clear intention and wasn't meant to be read by others. It took an improv class to turn me on to the benefits of free writing.

A few years ago, I took Andy Eninger's Sybil "solo improvisation" class. As someone who's been around the improv scene for quite awhile, it's hard to find class situations that will be challenging. Andy's probably the best at performing this intimidating form, but he's also a fun guy and a great teacher. He knows how to take some of the pressure off. One of the techniques he encouraged was my mortal enemy - free writing. His argument was that anywhere from 10 - 30 minutes of free writing would help scratch the surface of your subconscious and help you flow more in your solo improvisation. I did it diligently, before every class and before every performance. The bastard was right. Now, I preach it in my writing classes for the same reason. Especially if you don't have anything to write about, free writing helps bring topics that are already going on in your head to the forefront.

So, last night. We did some free writing and then Steve had us write a poem developed from what we wrote. Here's my poem...

Remember, read it out loud with an affected German accent. A little panic in your voice will also be helpful.

by dada mondo yippeeeeeee

It's funny. Last night, while you were upstairs...
I became afraid...
I am always afraid.
I am afraid of being attacked.
I am afraid of being provoked.
I am afraid I will have to excuse myself to go to the toilet (again).
At a certain point, I...
I am afraid I may vomit uncontrollably.
I am afraid I ate my supper too quickly - chewing little, swallowing lots.
I am afraid I will sneeze or cough or choke or fart loudly
It's funny. Last night, while you were upstairs...

(dada walks offstage. offstage we hear painful moaning sounds that may or may not be associated with relieving oneself. dada walks back on stage.)

It's funny. Last night, while you were upstairs...
I became afraid.
I came into the dining room. Is there any wine?
I am afraid I will die before I am through.
I am afraid I will not die after I am through and will spend several decades twiddling my one arthritic thumb with my one orthopedic thumb.
I guess you heard me because...
You know.
You know.
You know I am afraid of forgetting and never remembering.
I am afraid of breaking. I am afraid of breaking my jaw, my nose, my kneecaps. I am afraid of bones snapping, organs failing, fluids leaking and gums rotting.
It's funny. Last night, while you were upstairs...........................................................
..............................what the hell was I saying?

RoboWriters: Meets tonight from 6pm - 8pm at The Uptown Writer's Space. It's only five bucks. Bring something to read.

Mom Update: My mother is still at St. Vincents Hospital in Toledo, Ohio. She had a MRI on Monday and, as of Wednesday, has not received any results from it. I spoke to her on the phone and she's sounding and feeling better. She talks about food a lot. As do I.

Joe Update: I fired myself from my job of waking up my girlfriend on weekday mornings. For the second time this week, I was late. You see, my cats used to have the job of waking me up. I fired them when they started to push the wake-up time earlier and earlier, sometimes at 4:30am! I'm usually very reliable at waking up on my own at the time I want, but this morning I was deep in a dream connecting Lincoln's assassination with the Dutch Mafia. I'll let you know if that theory pans out for me and was worth making my girlfriend late for work.

Cystic Fibrosis:
Jeri, my friend from college, has some beautiful kids that suffer from this awful disease. If you have a moment, check out her message...

It's that time of year again, I have a team walking in the Great Strides for Cystic Fibrosis. This is the only national fundraiser for CF. No amount is too small. Click on the link below and help add tomorrows for my children and others living with this deadly disease. If you are unable to donate; please become educated about CF, and go to the website. Awareness is a step toward finding a cure. Pass on this link, educate and/or donate. We can make a difference!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Nothing from Something

Theatre Review: Something from Nothing
written and performed by Caleb Manci, Megan Green, Aaron Kozbial, Carrie Bain, Aaron Rueter and Lauren Q. Hearter
Directed by Bryan Cohen
The Improv as Theatre Initiative
at The Apollo Studio

Something from Nothing is about seven months in the life of a Harold Team at ImprovOlympics in the mid-1980's. The Harold is a creation of Del Close's that helped define longform improvisation as we know it today.

As someone who has taken on studying comedy from since I was a kid, I appreciate it when improvisers take an interest in the roots of improvisation. So, when Bryan Cohen started to put this production together and I heard he had been knocking on the right doors to interview people about the time period he was focusing on, I had hope.

Let's just get this out of the way right now, this play is a mess.

So much of a mess, that I don't even know how to start this review.

Well, let's go with the old stand-by...

Good news first.

The good news is that the women in this show thankfully steal the show every moment they're on stage. Megan Green, Carrie Bain and Lauren Q. Hearter have brilliantly realized their characters and when all else fails on stage they can be relied upon to at least wring a chuckle or two out of whatever contrived situation is going on at the time. These ladies really do take the stage, give us characters they and the audience can believe in, and have perfect comic timing. One of the best moments is when Megan Green asks out another improviser as if she were checking off a To Do list with an underlying vulnerability that's both sweet and funny.

I also liked that the play, appropriately developed through improvisation by the actors, wasn't a straight-up history lesson. The play is presented from the viewpoint of the members a Harold team. One guy, Aaron Kozbial, has been left in the dust by his previous team who all got hired into The Second City's Touring Company. He auditioned, too, and didn't get hired. He has a touching monologue early on questioning why he's here and if he's on the right path. Something all improvisers go through, especially those who don't get cast by Second City.

Most improv teams, including Second City companies, are very unusual in that the people on the team tend to be put together, through the randomness of class enrollment or through an audition process. The people on the team didn't choose each other. There's a certain "casting your fates to the winds" involved when joining a team.

Having the play be about the life of an improv team is an interesting idea. I have seen people's lives transformed through improvisation. People bond, people grow, people become more self-expressive. People can be unrecognizable from their first class to who they are by their last class. It can be mind blowing.

This play doesn't really show us any of that.

Now, the bad news.

For one, it's too frickin' long. The first act was an hour and a half and left the audience on a weird, awkward note at the end of act one with a couple of improvisers on a very quiet date. It didn't leave us with any reason to come back from the intermission. And when the audience came back from intermission, it didn't really give us much reason to want to stay. There's very little story development. I didn't know where this train was heading and I didn't care after awhile. The only way I knew for sure the play was over, is that the actors stood in a line and bowed. The 8pm play let out at 10:40pm. I know, because, at times, my watch became more interesting than the play.

I'm really trying hard not to be a dick, here. But if you're going to do a play about improvisation, use some of the things you've learned from improvisation.

Things like...

- Show,Don't Tell - for a play about improv, there sure is a lot of sitting around talking, punctuated by occasional bursts of standing around talking.

- Share Your Voice - The Apollo Studio is a tiny space and I was only in the second row. I could barely hear the guys most of the time.

- Heighten - Not a lot going on in this department. There are things that happen. There are bouts of hook ups, break ups, unemployment, and even homelessness. But none of them build on one another or lead to anything big.

- Stage Picture - This is really Directing 101, here, folks. There were several scenes in cars and restaurants where actors literally sat upstage of other actors and couldn't be seen.

- Transformation - Characters change circumstances and wardrobe, but no character seems much different at the end than they were at the beginning.

If you're going to set your play in 1985, immerse yourself in it beyond clothes and cultural references.
Substitute one of Del's disciples for the offstage improv coach and this play could have taken place today. The play seems to have lost track of its original intentions to shed light on a historical period in improv. There no longer seems to be much of a reason to set it in 1985.

And this is picky - very picky - but I'm a stickler for this kind of thing, so indulge me. In 1985, it's very unlikely someone would have a video of Star Wars in their home. Unless it was a bootleg, which is conceivable. But they definitely wouldn't refer to it as the "original" Star Wars. Maybe, the "first" Star Wars, but I don't think anyone called it the original until either the redone version or the latest trilogy.

I really wanted to like this show. The people all seem very nice and I'm sure they have the best intentions. But the script needs to be severely overhauled and the guys need to not let their 80's wardrobe do all their acting.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Rules of Engagement

Anger and upset are very much a part of the human package. There's nothing wrong with having emotions. You can't NOT have them. We tend to work very hard at avoiding them, especially anger and upset. Or limit them, like there's a time and a place for them. Emotions don't tend to follow schedules. We grow up being discouraged to show our emotions (Don't you raise your voice to me! ...I'll give you something to cry about!) We're even discouraged as adults. (I can't talk to you when you're like this - treating someone who's angry like they're a crazy person.)If people allowed themselves and others the space to just let their emotions flow, they'd probably move through them faster and we'd all probably be a little bit happier. We'd also get to know each other a lot better and probably feel safer because of it.

Easier said than done. Especially if you're around people where there hasn't been any agreement made on how to handle emotional situations.

I have two rules that I personally have that I apply to any heated argument.

1) No hitting. No destruction of property.

2) No dirty tricks. (This could be anything from lying about what's really true for myself - No, I'm not upset.- to bringing up issues unrelated to the topic just to try to hurt the other person.)

I try to adhere to these rules as best I can and if the other person breaks them, all bets are off and I then have the option to get nasty.

My girlfriend and I are like any couple. We have lots of good times and an occasional rough spot that needs to be smoothed out with some conscious contact. These engagements are important to me, because this is where I really get to know her on a very intimate level. I also get to know her personal rules, usually through trial and error.

Things Not To Say Or Do In An Argument With My Girlfriend

- Do not equate her behavior to that of either of her parents

- Do not make a reference to her "very fine boo-tay."

- Do not talk like a duck.

- Do not make farting sounds (real or imitation)

- It's okay to leave the television on, but ignore it. Don't you even dare look at it. (Really best to just turn it off)

- No unscheduled performances of The Naked Weenie Dance.

I hope you find this helpful. As an artist, I think it's important to study not only how people handle upset, but how you handle upset. I also believe that the more you allow yourself to fully experience anger and pain, the more able you are to fully experience pleasure and love.

SOIREE DADA: We received a lot of positive feedback on our performance at Looptopia. Jeff Watt put together a small montage focusing in on one of my favorite pieces.

Brooke Bagnall
from the sketch comedy group Blaire is competing in a contest to be an NPR host. Seems like a very un-NPR thing to do, however her entry is interesting and sounds just like the real deal. It just takes a second to register to vote.

Brooke Bagnall on Public Radio's Talent Quest

Monday, May 14, 2007

Dumb Vegans

Vegans Sentenced in Baby's Death

By GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA - A vegan couple was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for the death of their malnourished 6-week-old baby boy, who was fed a diet largely consisting of soy milk and apple juice.

Superior Court Judge L.A. McConnell imposed the sentences on Jade Sanders, 27, and Lamont Thomas, 31. Their son, Crown Shakur, weighed just 3 1/2 pounds when he died of starvation on April 25, 2004.

Defense lawyers said the first-time parents did the best they could while adhering to the lifestyle of vegans, who typically use no animal products. They said Sanders and Thomas did not realize the baby, who was born at home, was in danger until minutes before he died.

Sometimes, vegans are dumb. That's a sad understatement based on the news article above. I get the same hitch in my stomach around dumb vegans that I get around idiot bike riders. That's great that you're doing something helpful for yourself and the environment, but don't be a jerk or an idiot about it.

I'm a vegan...mostly. A true vegan would chastise me for that statement. You either are or you aren't. If someone told me they were a vegetarian except they occasionally ate fish or chicken, I'd say they were NOT a vegetarian. They might be more health conscious than others, but if you eat the animals, you're not a vegetarian. No exceptions.

There are two reasons I'm (mostly) vegan and will always be. It's healthier and the amount of cruelty endured by animals to feed our gullets is beyond inhumane. It's as if Nazi exterminators, instead of being eliminated, were told, "Hey, don't do that stuff to people... Have you considered cows?" The life of a farm factory animal is not a Perdue Chicken commercial. They don't live in a big open barn just hanging out and enjoying life. Almost all the animals that make it to your plate lived in overcrowded unsanitary conditions, were doped up and more-than-likely fed remnant meat (Yes, even today ten years after Mad Cow Disease emerged in the news, herbivore cows are still fed meat waste. That practice was outlawed, but it's poorly regulated. If it saves a buck, it won't go away until it's taken away.) and they died terrified.

Everyday, people shove food in their mouths without knowing anything about it. Many people continue to eat based on habits they developed growing up and never question it. If you buy it at the store, it must be okay, right? People get sick everyday and are dying from obesity, cancer and heart disease and never make the connection between the quality of their health and the many pounds of meat rotting in their colon. That's understandable. A good portion of our health system hasn't connected the dots there, either. My mother had quadruple by-pass surgery. Within a week of having her chest cut open, the hospital served her a bacon cheese burger. The nurse told us that we could bring her McDonald's, if we wanted. "What's important is that she eats, no matter what it is." Sheesh... Apparently, it's their way to insure repeat business.

All right, let me get off my very tall horse. Because what really burns me are vegans, the extreme example being the couple above, that give other vegans a bad name. Some people jump into the diet without doing the very simple homework of nutrition. Just eating Twizzlers may make you a vegan, but a very unhealthy one.

Notice, I don't use the term "lifestyle" when it comes to veganism. I don't consider it a lifestyle. It's a diet. Anyone can do it. Part of the problem I have are vegans who embrace it as a lifestyle and alienate those who do not. There's a very fine organization called EarthSave that I used to do a lot of work with. The monthly potluck dinners they hosted were the best. People brought in amazing food and I always used the opportunity to learn to cook a new dish. What turned me off were people who would say things like...

"You have a cat? I can't eat your food because your utensils may have touched other utensils that touched cat food." - Chill, dude. I washed it.

"Ew, is that a fake leather coat? That promotes wearing leather." - Um, no. It promotes wearing fake leather.

"I don't cut my hair. I let it grow out naturally. I use crystal rocks for deodorant. I breast fed my child until he was sixteen. I make all my own clothes out of hemp. I smell funny on purpose." Okay, these are slightly exaggerated.

Veganism is a healthy choice. It's good for your body and it's good for the environment. But as long as vegans make dumb choices or perpetuate an alienating, condescending hippy persona, it's going to be hard to spread the good word on it.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons!

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, May 11, 2007

Fry Day


MOM: Is back in the hospital. The doctors aren't sure what's the matter. She had an attack similar to what she had last week which they thought was caused by an alteration in her prescribed medicine. They kept her overnight. I spoke with her yesterday afternoon. On her way to the hospital, they shoved a tube down her throat to help her breathe which, when removed, caused her voice to be deep and raspy. She actually sounded old to me. She has always sounded older, but she never sounded like an old lady to me before. It was chilling.

We had our first meeting, last night. It was small group, but they rocked. I was delighted by the level of quality and at how great everyone was at giving constructive, honest feedback. A common thread developed in the criticism. Most of the scenes started out strong and then flattened out into just a string of jokes or events that failed to heighten the situation. This isn't unusual. An interesting issue comes up early and the writer, instead of exploring that theme, abandons it to move on to other jokes that they want to fit in. So, many first drafts of scenes end up feeling more like two or three scenes in one. Usually, the strongest part of the scene is the one that has the most emotional resonance. Get rid of all that excess "funny" stuff and develop the more interesting stuff where the characters are more emotionally invested in an outcome.

Everyone took an assignment to work on for next week. I put together an image, a line of dialogue and a word from the dictionary. Their challenge was to weave them all into a scene, either figuratively or literally. Here's one that was left over. Feel free to use it on your own...

RoboWriter Assignment #10

Write a scene using the following elements….

An image…

A line of dialogue…

“If you give any explanation but the true one, you are a liar and a coward.”

And a word or phrase…


You can take these words or images figuratively or literally. It’s up to you.

TODAY: It's a scaled down version of Savage Breast at 2pm at Manifest in the Sculpture Garden next to the Getz Theater...
Soiree DADA will take to the street for a brief but glorious time during LOOPTOPIA on Friday, May 11th. Bask in the sunshine of their love at The Plaza at Chase Tower, between 7:15 - 7:45pm... And somewhere in all that. I'll finish my research paper and study for a final exam. Yikes!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

RoboWriters Tonight!

Today is one of those days where the hours available don't match the workload. I have to rework the running orders for OLD and for Savage Breast's turn at Columbia's Manifest Arts Festival. I also need to finish up a research paper on theatre in Northern Ireland and prep for tonight's first RoboWriters meeting at The Uptown Writer's Space. I also need to send off a Mother's Day card. I spoke to my mother yesterday. She doesn't have a phone in her room, so whenever my younger brother visits at the nursing home, he calls. She genuinely sounds fine. She likes her room and the food. Go figure.

Last night was another WNEP writer's session for the upcoming Dada show. It was a ton of fun. Some very creative, and slightly insane, people.

Here's a poem I've been working on that we didn't get a chance to read. Most of the material I've brought in so far have been created through mishing and mashing existing texts - cutting and pasting and churning words through translation programs. A very technological approach. I've decided to try a series of more organic poems. The following was originally handwritten while sitting and eating lunch - thus the imagery.

(Mind you, Dada is best if read out loud. So, if no one's around, go for it. If there are people around, even better. An authentic German accent helps...)

by Dada mondo yippeeeeeee

My throat enables the litter of previous bovine to tackle the up of a flip (AHEM)

My throat grabs at the words leaking from my lips. They slip from it's grasp like eels of wet spaghetti.


They splat in small dollops and are eaten by mice who are eaten by cats who die from holes bore into the corners of their stomachs.

My words have edges. They cause paper cuts. My words are deadly. Deadlier than I give them credit to charge what they like at the local five and dime-is-on-our-side

Words that when strained through the rotting jail cell of my teeth include, but are not limited to;




and "minuscule."

"Buttocks" used to be problematic.

I can now release it into the wild without thought of provocation or consequence.


Heed my advice.

Teach your cats well.