Friday, August 31, 2007

Seriously, Though...


Sometimes, I'll have a student who's trying just a wee bit too hard to come up with something funny. As a result, they usually bring in nothing or something painfully forced. "Gotta be funny" is a tough thing for ideas to measure up to. It usually means many perfectly decent ideas are discarded before they have been adequately considered.

For this student, I usually assign The Serious Scene. Or The Straight Scene. The word "serious" can be misconstrued to mean the scene needs to be full of pain and pathos, which is not the case. It simply means to seriously deal with the story of a scene without any need to funny it up.

A good resource for this kind of scene is your own life. I recommend generating a list of pivotal moments or events, positive and/or negative.

Here's one that's a mish-mash of ones I have heard over the years...

1) parents divorce
2) coming out
3) buying a house
4) having a child
5) learning mother had a terminal illness
6) going to my first funeral
7) getting a divorce
8) proposing marriage
9) going to college
10) flunking the fourth grade

Again, this is from several different people over the years. I have personally only experienced 40% of what's on the list. Your list should be from your own life experience and, since you're not posting it on the Internet, be truthful and try to cover a wide variety.

As you can see, some of these things denote a moment while others may be a series of events. In both cases, it's good to do a second list that explores the elements more deeply. For this one, I will use one of my own experiences. Parents getting a divorce. It's a list of the first ten things I associate with that event.

1) Mom sitting me down to tell me
2) sitting alone in the empty house we moved out of with my dog that I had to give away
3) telling my girlfriend my parents were getting a divorce
4) delaying going to college to stay with my mom
5) meeting my dad and his new wife a year and a half later
6) eating liver and onions, a lot
7) asking my girlfriend at the time to marry me
8) talking to my mom's therapist about the divorce
9) my mom getting screwed over in court
10) moving from a big house to a small apartment

Doing this exercise might bring up some tender emotions. That's okay. In fact, it's useful. It will help you be honest when writing out the scene. Again, there are items on the list that can be easily developed into a scene. "Talking to my mom's therapist" or "Mom sitting me down to tell me" could almost be written as I remember them. Some items don't seem to have much stage potential, such as "eating liver and onions, a lot" and "sitting alone in the empty house we moved out of with my dog I had to give up." But both are interesting details and might be used as a part of the scene or a reference in the scene. Other items are still too broad, like "moving from a big house to a small apartment." I would probably have to do another list breaking it down to a specific moment, such as physically moving boxes in or unpacking.

If you have to combine a few different elements, that's okay. I might put "telling my girlfriend my parents were getting a divorce" in the same scene as "asking my girlfriend at the time to marry me," even though they took place at different times in different locations. What's important is that I stay honest to the spirit of the characters, emotions and situations. And there will be humor - me asking my girlfriend to marry me with her in her McDonald's uniform smelling like french fries and me in my bathrobe is going to be funny - but the humor will be organic to the scene.

Resist falsely heightening the scene to try to make it more interesting. You might not think it's that interesting because it happened to you. Others might be captivated by it on its own because characters being honest and telling their truth is interesting.

So that's the assignment. Write a "serious" scene.


Thea Lux joins Don Hall, Dave Awl, Nat Topping and myself as a featured blogger at The Nod September 19th at the Uptown Writers Space. Thea is a writer, musician, artist, actor, improviser, director and just one of the funniest and most creative persons I know. She's currently in a few shows at The Annoyance and you can look up her band, Let's Get Out Of This Terrible Sandwich Shop , on iTunes. Check out her website by clicking HERE. You can check out a sampling of all our works HERE.


Yesterday, I asked...

"An elementary school in Colorado Springs has recently banned what from its playground?"

12% answered "Nuclear Weapons"
- No. That was an isolated incident and they don't want to make a big deal about it.

13% said "iPods"
- No, but they probably should, if only because the teachers probably can't afford them and it just rubs that humiliation in their faces.

No one thought it was "Unauthorized Cootie Shots"
- No, but they are cheaper if you buy them in Canada.

The correct answer, that 75% got it, is "Tag"

According to the Associated Press and assistant principal of the Discovery Canyon Campus school, Cindy Fesgen, the elementary school banned tag on its playground because "It causes a lot of conflict on the playground." I totally see their point on this. Schools should ban everything that has any element of competition to it or may, in any way, prepare the student to the harsh realities of life.

I've heard they are also considering banning "Duck, Duck, Goose" because of how maligned it makes geese feel. Some other games are still allowed, but with stipulations. "Red Light, Green Light" is now just called "Yellow Light" and must be played with caution. "Musical Chairs" can only be played with a one chair per student ratio.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Nod is Coming

Don's doing the press for this, so I'm probably jumping the gun and talking out of school. Consider this a super sneak preview tip. And even though I'm the source, I refuse to confirm or deny what I am about to tell you.

On Wednesday, September 19th, come see The Nod.

Don Hall and I are putting together an evening of bloggers reading their material for an audience. One thing I noticed about my venture into the blog world, inspired by Don, is that I tend to write in my own voice. Literally. Generating the material reminds me of my days doing stand-up. I often read my posts out loud before publishing them. One of the reasons I enjoy Don's posts so much is because I can hear his voice in my head when I read his diatribes (and tritribes and quadtribes). Seemed like a pretty natural step to put together a live performance.

Joining us will be fellow RoboWriter Nat Topping, Neo-Futurist Dave Awl and perhaps one more special guest. The evening will be in two parts with the four (or five) of us taking up the second half. We'll be doing some type of free-form existential tag team reading from all our blogs. One of us will kick off the portion of our show with a post of their choice and then the rest of us, in no particular order, will read posts that expand or connect to the initial topic. Or takes everything in a whole new direction. We've never done anything like this before, so who knows how it will go? Nat, Dave and Don are all very funny and very smart, so I have no doubt about the evening being entertaining and thought provoking.

The first half of the evening is open to you. If you have a blog. People are invited to sign-up in advance and then come to the evening and read two or three posts they have published. This part is sort of an open mic for bloggers. You do need to be confirmed in advance, though. To do that, send us an e-mail at

The Nod with Don Hall and Joe Janes will be at the Uptown Writer's Space, 4802 North Broadway on Wednesday, September 19th at 8pm. Free snackies and drinkies. $5 donation requested. if all goes well, we'll do this once a month at various venues around the city.

To check out a preview of the featured bloggers check out The Nod website.


Speaking of RoboWriters, it's Thursday! That means RoboWriters night. If you have a sketch you are working on, bring it in. We meet at 6:30pm also at the Uptown Writer's Space at Lawrence and Broadway. $5.!

If you read Cracked as a kid, you know it as a poor man's MAD Magazine. They have completely re-invented themselves. Check out their website. Sure, there's juvenile scatological comics (Winnie the Pooh in Deadwood is one), but they also have some interesting articles. I was shocked to see how much I agreed with this one, Five Great Comedians Who Have Lost It.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Winnie Langley celebrated her 100th birthday by doing what?"

38% answered "Eating a pound of bacon"
- No, but doing that would keep her salty and well-preserved.

25% said she was "Stripping down to a g-string"
- Yeah, but they made her stop when her pasties scraped the floor. I mean, no.

No one thought it was "Drinking a shot of tequila"
- What's the order? Salt. Shot. Metamucil. No.

The almost number one answer is also the correct one, 37% said "Smoking a cigarette"

According to the Daily Mail, Winnie not only lit up off one of her birthday cake candles, it was also her 170,000th so called "coffin nail." She's became a smoker when WWI broke out and she was seven. She has smoked five cigs a day ever since. She says smoking helped calm her nerves during the world wars. I think I hear Phillip Morris getting an erection.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Show & Don't Tell

The rhythm of a scene is very important. Not only in performance, but on the page, as well. When a scene is being read, either aloud by actors or alone by a director, nothing can gum up the pacing more than stage directions. This can even be harmful if scenes are being read to be considered for a show.

One thing I see a lot of in sketch writers just starting out is a tendency towards too many darn stage directions. Part of this comes from wanting to make sure everything is crystal clear. The problem is that it interrupts the flow and can actually make things muddier. The trick is to just suggest enough paint a picture in someone's imagination without going overboard.

New writers might overload their stage directions before the scene even begins. It might look something like this...

(Lights up on a greasy spoon diner. MARVE, the owner and chef, is out back throwing out grease when CHIP enters stage right dragging a small carry-on bag that has one of those extendable handles and wheels. Chip is in town on business and has just checked in at his motel, but the room isn't ready. So, he decides to get a cup of coffee. He is recently divorced. He stands next to a dessert carousel loaded with cakes and pies. MAYBELLE is the sixty year old waitress who is smoking a cigarette and reading the paper at the counter. Marve enters stage left and can't believe what he sees. He yells at Maybelle to wait on Chip.)

All we need is what the audience can see. Lights up. Who's on stage and what are they doing? Anything else that's important can come out in action and dialogue. We don't need Chip's life story. We don't need to know what Marve is doing right off the bat if we don't see him. Unless it's really important, we don't even need things like stage right and stage left. That's what directors are for.

Some writers, borrowing from film and television formats, will give too little.

(A restaurant. Day.)

I think you need a little bit more info otherwise, especially for someone listening to the scene being read, people will get lost. Or they'll get frustrated in having to keep shifting what they are envisioning. "A restaurant" could be a five star fancy plate place or a fast food joint. And it doesn't tell us if it's crowded or empty or who the heck is on stage.

Here's a tighter way to start that still helps readers and listeners without hindering them with too much information.

(Lights up on a greasy spoon diner. MAYBELLE, 60, in a waitress uniform, is alone smoking a cigarette and reading the paper at the counter. CHIP enters dragging a small carry-on bag. MARVE enters wiping his hands on his apron.)

I moved Maybelle to the first part because she would be the first thing the audience sees. She's already there when Chip enters. I also cut "Marve yells at Maybelle," because that will be the first line of dialogue.

When people are reading or listening to your sketch for the first time, they are looking for clues. They want to know what they absolutely need to know to get what's going on. Everything is important to them and they will try to remember it all. If you overload them with a lot of unnecessary information, it becomes a burden to enjoy the scene.

That's also true for overdoing action or acting notations.

MARVE (angrily)
Maybelle! This isn't the Automat. I don't pay you to smoke and read.

MAYBELLE (sarcastically)
You don't pay me to do much of anything. Consider this me doing extra.

(Marve gives Chip a "What are you going to do?" look. Chip shrugs and looks around the room. Marve pulls out a chair for Chip to sit in. Chip sits. Marve crosses to stage left to get Chip a menu and comes back and hands it to him. Chip looks it over.)

MAYBELLE (still reading at counter)
What will it be, Honey?

CHIP (distracted)
Just a cup of coffee.

(Marve gets Chip a cup of coffee.)

If this were being read out loud, I would probably instruct the actors not to wait for the person reading stage directions to say things they can convey, such as angrily. Unfortunately, the person reading your scene alone has to read them all and it's a bit much. It slows down the pacing and tells them things they probably already know. There's also a lot of stage action that actors would naturally do or that readers would envision.

Here's what that looks like tightened up.

Maybelle! This isn't the Automat. I don't pay you to smoke and read.

(Marve pulls out a chair for Chip to sit in.)

You don't pay me to do much of anything. Consider this me doing extra.

(Chip sits. Marve hands Chip a menu.)

MAYBELLE (still reading)
What will it be, Honey?

Just a cup of coffee.

(Marve gets Chip a cup of coffee.)

I broke up Marve's action, so Marve would pull the seat out right away as he's speaking and dialogue would cover his going for the menu.

Only include
sits, stands or crosses if they are really integral to what you are setting up. Otherwise, let the director and the actors do their jobs. Same goes for notations like; dryly, sarcastically, with eyes rolling, etc. Smart actors with a good director will figure this stuff out. In fact, if you saddle them with too much of this minutia, it might keep them from discovering something better. A good rule of thumb is that if it doesn't reveal something new about the character or forward the action, you can probably live without it.


Yesterday, I gleefully asked...

"U.S. Senator Larry Craig has been arrested for lewd conduct in a men's public bathroom. He claims his actions were misconstrued, that he what?"

50% said "Is claustrophobic and keeps the stall door open"
- Creepy, indeed, but if he's just tending to the business of waste elimination, it's only an offense to the eyes. So, no.

30% picked "Always drops his pants at the urinal"
- Man, nothing weirder than seeing a grown man do this, but as long as he's just shaking it off and not jerking it off, it's not a crime. Nope.

Nobody thought it was "Can't help making those moaning sounds"
- We all know that sometimes, it just happens. It's only when the yodeling starts that we need to be concerned.

The right answer, with 20%, is that the senator claims he "Just has a naturally wide stance"

According to The Idaho Statesman, the undercover cop at the Minnesota airport in the stall next to Craig, knew Craig was interested in some mano-y-mano hanky-panky when he started tapping his foot and moved it to touch his under the stall. Craig's defense is that he just has a wide stance. And a hankering for anonymous weenie.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We Ain't Quitters!

Dear Mr. President,

How are you? I am fine. Hope you are enjoying your vacation. How about this weather?

Well, I finally figured it out.

There is a way to get out of the war in Iraq gracefully.

Don't worry. There will be no cutting. There will be no running.I Know how much you hate that option.

The answer has been right under our noses through most of your administration. Over a dozen high ranking officials and republican members of congress have been giving us the answer in droves.

We don't quit the war in Iraq. We retire from it.

Gonzales, Rove, Rumsfeld, for example, are geniuses. For some reason, when people retire in your administration, they seem to be absolved from any wrong doing. Everybody gets a clean slate and cake at the retirement party. It's a republican tradition dating back to Nixon. Respectfully retire from Iraq before the Shiite really hits the fan. Let someone else clean up the mess. Like the democrats.

I've even written up a little speech for you to give at a press conference. One of those press conferences where the reporters don't ask questions (like it's their job or something!).

I picture you dressed as Uncle Sam. Deepen your voice an octave or two to give that ol' Wilford Brimley "I'm folksy and wise" kind of sound. But you could also hire someone. Rich Little could probably use more work. Then you can read your retirement letter.

"My fellow Americans,

I hereby announce my retirement from the Iraq War. As you know, I love this war. I have put a lot of your time and money into it. Thousands of U.S. soldiers have lost their lives fighting this war. Gobs and gobs more Iraqi civilians have lost their lives as a result of our liberation of their country. It's hard to tell how many exactly because they don't speak English, yet, and have been unable to clearly tell us they are dead.

After giving my all to this war for the past five years, I have decided to leave. I need to spend more time with my family. That's you, America (wink). We'll finally be able to go play ball and have a picnic. And we can have that talk about sex that's long overdue.

While it's been a difficult war, even on it's worst days, it was better than my father's war. We killed more people, including Saddam Hussein and his boys, and grabbed more oil.

As I retire into the private sector, I am not leaving Iraq to fend for itself. No, Sireee. I already have a replacement for myself. Latvia, one of the few remaining coalition countries with forces still there, will continue to stand for democracy. All twelve of them.

I'll see you on down the road.

God Bless Me,

Uncle Sam"

Well? What do you think? I think it's golden and you can use it and I won't even take credit for it like that guy suing Disney over Hannah Montana. Did you hear about that? That's like someone suing you for stealing war strategies from LBJ. You crazy Texans and your wars in foreign countries!

Yours in Christ,


P.S. If you want to do one of those quickie recess appointments to replace Gonzales, I am ready and available. I have cleared my schedule and can start immediately. I have no law experience, but I can see where that would be an asset working for you.


Yesterday, I asked...

"In Oklahoma City, a church deacon got into a fight in a bar with a Texan over a t-shirt. What did the deacon do?"

18% said he "Traded the t-shirt for a Bible"
- Hmm, they both do have that "I'm with Stupid" appeal, but no.

No one fell for "Turned his other cheek" or "Prayed for the Texan's soul"
- We all know you never turn your cheek in a crowded bar and that Texans have no souls. Okay, just most Texans. Hank Hill's got soul.

82% nailed it with "Tore the man's scrotum"

According to NBC, the Texan was wearing a Longhorns t-shirt in Sooners country. The deacon made an undisclosed derogatory comment about it, the Texan took offense, and as mature grown men would do, they went outside for some good ol' fashioned Queen's Rules fisticuffs. Actually, only one of them made it outside. The Texan moved toward the deacon and the deacon grabbed the guy's cajones in self-defense, then ran. That's right, as in football, a good defense is a good offense. The police report described injuries that included a torn scrotal sack with partially exposed testicles. Score one for God and, apparently, untrimmed fingernails!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Shakespeare Improvis-ed

Last Friday, I sat in with The Improvised Shakespeare Company. If you haven't seen this show, it is one of the best improvised shows in the city. There's about a dozen players on the roster and the show usually features between five and eight each week. Schedules were tight last week so there were only four of us; Blaine Swen, Ross Bryant, Ric Walker and me.

We really paint ourselves into a corner.

The show is -

- two acts - completely improvised off a title suggested by the audience - each anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes in length, depending on how the story is unfolding

- done in the style and themes of Shakespeare, this includes (trying to) avoiding anachronisms

- done with absolutely no props or costumes, aside from the poofy shirts we're already wearing

- entertaining to the audience, regardless of their familiarity with the bard

Many people assume at the intermission that we are backstage plotting out the second act. We're not. We're usually just sitting around giggling, very manly giggling, about the first act. The only thing we do is recount the characters everyone is playing and what they want. This helps us remember names and helps us, as individual players, see the big picture of the portion of the story we just told. And that's it. We don't even discuss where we'll start when we resume with the second act.

There's a lot of immersion work that goes on in preparing for the show. The best way to learn how to improvise Shakespearean dialogue is to do it. A lot. The cast meets for two hours a week outside the show to do just that. We've also had rehearsal where we studied safe-to-improvise stage combat, watched DVDs of Shakespeare plays, taken vocabulary quizzes and met with professors of literature. It sounds like hard work, but when you enjoy Shakespeare, it's a lot of fun.

During the show, when not on stage, you are off to the side watching the action. Since it's a two-act play, it's very important to know what's going on at every moment. People often play multiple characters, so it's also important to notice their different affectations. Otherwise, someone walks in as "Wormwood" and you call them "Rodinal." This happens probably once or twice a show creating a sudden shift in the player or an awkward moment of confusion.

You're also paying acute attention to see how you can support the scene currently on stage. And I do stress support. Some of our scenes can run very long compared to other improvised shows. It's important to make sure you are adding to the scene and not "saving it" because you think the audience "might" be bored.

Another thing you're doing off to the side is rolling through your head possible directions for the story to go and looking for what might be the best next step for you to take to forward the story and the action. And, of course, being willing to let go of whatever you think should happen next for whatever is happening next.

On Friday, our audience-provided title was King Rodney III. Blaine played King Rodney, protecting the shores of England from the invading Irish. The play unfolded with some Macbeth-ian and Hamlet-ian overtones. Rodney killed his father to take the throne and his father's apparition (Ross) came to haunt him. Three witches foretold Rodney's rise to the throne and his death by the hand of his son. His son (Ric) was a complete wimp who preferred to play with dolls than do battle. I played King Rodney's General, Reginald, an Irish soldier named Dugan, and Prince Rodney III, Jr's n'uncle. Since there was four of us, we all played multiple roles, which made the battle between England and Ireland a lot of fun.

The show went well. A lot of action, death, over-the-top emotions, mystery and bloodshed. My girlfriend said it was the most Shakespearean of the shows she's seen us do. And the big treat was that two of the creators of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, were in the audience. They were in town putting together their show, Completely Hollywood (abridged) and The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), over at the Royal George. They chatted with us after the show and were super nice and told us how much they enjoyed the show. The biggest compliment they gave us was to ask us if we had any standard bits that we always did in the show. We don't. You can hear us plug our show on their latest podcast.


On Saturday, I asked...

"A comedy writer is suing Disney because he claims he came up with the idea for 'Hannah Montana,' except his show was named what?"

30% answered "Dakota North Dakota"
- A Disney Dakota Fanning vehicle, no doubt, but no.

10% thought it might be "Eat My Schwartz"
- A Mel Brooks pitch, I'm sure, but no.

10% picked "Out and a Sprout"
- The world's first kid's show featuring a gay single parent and his spy baby. I'd watch that. Disney wouldn't.

The correct answer is "Rock and Roland"

According to the Associated Press, Buddy Sheffield, who has written for The Smothers Brothers Show and In Living Color, says he pitched an idea for a television series called Rock and Roland to the Disney Channel in 2001. The story was about a junior high school student who lived a secret double life as a rock star, according to the lawsuit. Disney Channel officials at first liked the idea, but ultimately passed on it, the lawsuit alleges. The Disney Channel's Hannah Montana is about high school student Miley Stewart, who lives a secret double life as a famous pop star. Cases like this are tricky and hard to prove for either side. It might be that Disney liked his idea, but didn't like it enough and couldn't quite figure out what the project needed to work. And then someone else, independent of Sheffield, pitched Hannah Montanna, and it clicked in a way the other idea didn't. Then, again, some executive may have been sneaky about it and made Sheffield's idea his own. Given the entertainment industry's impeccable rep for honesty and integrity, it's hard to believe something like that could ever happen.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons!

The World of Commander McBragg (debuted in 1963)

So, here's something I didn't know. The World of Commander McBragg was a staple of The Underdog Show, which began in 1964. It was also a staple of Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales, which ran for one year in 1963. Poor Tennessee was went from the main attraction to fellow rotating segment when Underdog became the anchor.

The commander was a classic character. An older British fellow who liked to corner unwilling listeners at the upper crust men's club he frequented. Often we would find him and another gentleman who "really needs to be going" sitting in overstuffed chairs in a library near a globe. The commander would regale the gentleman with his fantastic, and highly improbable, tales of adventure from all around the world.

Here's a weird and loose pre-Kevin Bacon six degrees thing. The cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn, voiced by Mel Blanc, was based on a comic character called Senator Claghorn that was performed by Kenny Delmar. The older British man with the stiff upper lip was often personified in Hollywood movies by a character actor named C. Aubrey Smith. Smith is believed to be the inspiration for the commander. Kenny Delmar was the voice of Commander McBragg.

I have fond memories of McBragg. In looking up the cartoons for this, I was surprised to find each episode was only a minute and a half! They are packed to the gills with adventure. What I also find hysterical now, that I didn't notice then, is that the commander always looks the same age, even in flashbacks where he invents the aeroplane or builds the first pyramid.

Jim Zulevic and Brian Stack from The Second City were also fans of Commander McBragg and created a piece called The Men's Club where they traded tales of adventure that were acted out by the rest of the ensemble. I got to perform it with Peter Gwynn while I was in The Second City Touring Company. Some of the most fun I had on stage with that company.

Here's a classic tale from the commander that rivals Phineas Fogg's trip around the world. Enjoy!

McBragg also made a cameo on The Simpsons not too long ago. Here are the scenes in which he appeared.


Yesterday, I asked...

"According to President Bush, the following terms 'boat people,' 're-education camps' and 'killing fields' were created by what?"

100% of you got the right answer on this... "The U.S.'s withdrawal from Vietnam"

And it's a good thing to. If anyone had gone for any of the fake answers I would have turned this website around and gone home. I mainly threw it in there because I am so upset about this and haven't been able to approach writing a commentary on it. After years of denying any correlation between Vietnam and Iraq, Bush finally makes a connection. The wrong connection, an inaccurate but a connection. The reason the U. S.'s withdrawal from Vietnam was such a clusterf@ck is because it was ill-planned and OVERDUE! Are we really going to have to sit through another year of this butthead and his cronies? Why did impeachment become so unfashionable when it is so desperately needed. Hey, I'd settle for a good tar and feathering for Misters Bush and Cheney. Throw Rove, Rumsfield and Gonzales in there, too.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Parody Pariah


If you are a writer of one of my shows and you bring in a television, film or song parody, you're going to have a tough time convincing me it should be in the show. (I can be swayed, however. It usually involves gift baskets and massages.) My reluctance is two-fold. Most parodies that come across my imaginary comedy desk simply take something well known and add profanity or sexual behavior. I'm really not interested in putting Mr. Brady on stage beating his wife and screwing his daughters. I also believe parody is best served in the medium it's having fun with. TV and film parodies work best on video. Song parodies work best when the song sounds as much as possible like the original. There's a reason Weird Al has been able to sustain a career based on parodies. He's a brilliant producer and surrounds himself with top-notch musicians. (I haven't seen him live in concert in over ten years, but if you ever get the chance, go. His band rocks and he puts on a good show.)

Better suited for the stage are theater and literature parodies and good on ya' if you tackle one of those.

The assignment for this week is to write a short parody of a TV show or a film. The following exercises can be useful for any kind of parody you're up for, however.

First - Pick your target. I think it's best to write parodies based on shows you really do enjoy. It's important that you are able to emulate the language and feel of the material. I also think it works best NOT to pick a current comedy. You could imitate the style of The Office but I think doing a parody would likely fall flat. You're just not going to be as funny as the original. There's more comedy gold in focusing on something that takes itself a more seriously.

I'm picking Lost. I'm a huge fan and I have a few frustrations with the show. I'll flesh out some defining elements with a trusty brainstorming list of ten

1) mysterious island
2) flashbacks
3) love triangle
4) mysterious corporation
5) mysterious "others"
6) secret hatches
7) doctor
8) philosopher
9) bad boy/ con man
10) fat dude

The key to writing a successful parody is to distill all the elements that define that particular show or genre. It's like doing a caricature of someone. You make it look as much like the person as possible and exaggerate the hell out of one of the features. Using the above list, I could craft a scene where everything is over-the-top mysterious and nothing gets solved.

Another parody technique is to simply change one key element. This can also be worthy of a list of ten.

1) instead of an island, they are lost at CostCo
2) the mysterious corporation is Starbucks
3) the others on the island are illegal aliens
4) Hurley is Jared from Subway
5) the love triangle is a love octagon
6) they follow a bunny down a hatch
7) a boat washes ashore - it's the S. S. Minnow
8) swap the cast with characters from Gilligan's Island
9) Neo from The Matrix is the real bad guy
10) it's done in the style a 1960's Beach Blanket movie

Now, I think most of these ideas are crap. That's the beauty of a list of ten. I don't need all ten ideas, I only need one. I could see myself writing a scene about a group of people lost at CostCo. I also really like Lost as a Beach Blanket Bingo-type movie. Jack as Frankie, Kate as Annette, Sawyer as some muscle-bound super surfer stud. Ben as Eric Von Zipper and the others as his gang.

Can't stress enough to keep it simple. Stick to what's familiar with the show except for that one thing. Some comedy writers might take two or three things from that list of ten and try to squeeze them all in. It usually ends up muddying the effort.

Also, keep in mind that you are writing for the stage. There are no close-ups. Props and costumes are limited. If you find that too much of a constraint, then go ahead and write it for video. Thanks to digital technology, it's a lot easier these days to cobble together a finished product.

When someone does pitch a parody to me and I see some potential in it for more, I usually push for a rewrite that makes it less parody and more scene. Bob Chinn wrote a parody of To Catch A Predator for a show I directed that was fine. The "predator" coming in was just a guy under the belief that the garage was for rent. I asked Bob to drop the parody of the actual program and beef up the relationships. He came back dropping the news anchor and replacing him with a vigilante suburban father running his own predator sting and using his daughter for bait. The mistaken garage renter remained the same. It was a very funny scene, arguably now more satirical in nature, and, because he dropped the parody aspect, it has a longer shelf life. That's the other thing about parody, if it's imitating a very specific subject, it only works well as long as that subject is in the spotlight.

So, after you write your parody, take a closer look at it. There might be a damn good scene hiding in there. Be willing to strip away the parody aspects to find out.

Here's some Weird Al taking a parody whack at Bob Dylan.


I'm performing in it tonight. 8pm. iO. B. Y. O. C. P. (Bring your own cod piece)


Yesterday, I asked...

"Portsmouth, New Hampshire police were able to quickly find a reported drug dealer because of the accused's what?"

A whopping 66% picked "Lack of arms and legs"
- "Quick! Get him! He's rolling away!" No, that's not it.

8% chose "Orange tuxedo and matching fuzzy hat"
- No and please stop making fun of my prom tux.

NOBODY picked "Shark fin hairdo"
- Apparently, no one thought that would stand out in New Hampshire.

26% figured out the correct answer "Heavily tattooed face"

According to the Associated Press, police found it pretty easy to spot Eric Hardcastle because of the row of tattooed arrows over each of his eye brows, a tattoo on his forehead and scalp and matching markings on each cheek. Maybe he could find work on Pequod hunting Moby Dick.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

One from the Vonnegut

Ah, Vonnegut's rules for writing fiction.

Applicable to all forms of writing, even sketch comedy. These have been all over the Internet and beyond. If you haven't read these rules by Kurt Vonnegut and you are a writer, they are a treat. If you have read them before, they are always worth re-reading, but I included my imagined responses from
Michael Bay (director of Transformers and Armageddon) just to keep you entertained.

Vonnegut's Eight Rules for Writing Fiction

Here is Kurt Vonnegut's advice to writers in "Eight Rules of Writing Fiction" from his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction.

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

MB- Three words... Ka-Boom! Jiggle! Rock!

...and one long tedious love scene accompanied by a lame rock ballad so the stranger can go to the can or buy more popcorn.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

MB - It's called the Good Guy. The one who I allow my cameras to linger over their steely gaze. Root for him. The music will tell you when.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

MB - Yeah. A glass of water full of Ka-Boom!

4. Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.

MB - I say, do both! Nothing reveals more about a character than what gun they shoot repeatedly in an action scene.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

MB - Then stretch it out over two hours with lots of Ka-Boom! Jiggle! Rock!

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

MB - Awful things like; hurl a meteor at them, attack them with giant robots, bomb them with Japanese kamikazes, team them up with Martin Lawrence

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

MB - If by "make love" you mean "Ka-boom! Jiggle! Rock!" then, I am pleased!

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

MB - This is what the movie poster is for. The rest is a proven formula of 75% Ka-Boom! 25% PG-13 Jiggle! and 50% Rock!

Vonnegut conveys more on his craft with these brief rules than many who have written books on the subject.

MB - I have read books!

This version of the rules, sans Mr. Bay's comments, comes from Gray Swan Press, an independent book publisher. Check out the facts column on their blog page.Interesting stuff about famous books and authors.


Good title for a dada poem. It sounds like I randomly strung three words together, but no. It's a really cool looking type of eggplant. I killed it, cooked it and et it, yesterday. You know what it tastes like? Eggplant.


Come get your sketch comedy freak on. Have your scene read and receive feedback (not from Michael Bay). Tonight at the Uptown Writer's Space, 4802 North Broadway at Lawrence (not Martin) at 6:30pm. Goes til 8pm. $5 (Cheap!)


Yesterday, I asked...

"A woman in Des Moines was recently arrested for assaulting people with a hammer while what?"

50% said "Dressed as Thor"
- Nope. And I will kindly ask you to keep your perverted fanstasy life out of my quiz!

17% answered "Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity"
- No. You don't want to piss off Jimmy Carter. He's a maniac when he gets angry.

17% also picked "Drunk out of her mind"
- The likely choice, but the police report made no mention of intoxicants of any kind. Of course, the cops may have been tripping.

Only 16% got the right answer, "Naked as a jaybird"

According to the Associated Press,
Satin Delfrano, 32, of Des Moines was arrested on Sunday after police were called to a complaint of a woman armed with a hammer assaulting three other women. Delfrano also was charged with assault, assault of a police officer, obstruction of emergency communications, third-degree criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. Busy, busy, busy. Satin should change her name to Velvet Hammer. Or just Nutbag.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Shouting "Movie!" in a Firehouse

Dada is orchestrated chaos.

Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In 1916, Dada was created by a group of ex-patriates who found themselves in Zurich full of outrage over World War I.

Some members of the original group saw art's potential as an instrument for political change. Others just rejected the "rationality" of the world, arguing for absurdist or primitive approaches to what was traditionally defined as art. Content was less important than audience reaction. They sought to break down the barriers between forms, mixing and matching them in new, unexpected and sometimes shocking ways.

They were certainly able to do that at that time. People weren't staying at home zoning out to American Idol. They sought art and entertainment. They had their expectations of what to regard as art or entertainment in galleries and cabarets. Dada threw everything the audience knew out the window and, sometimes, the audience themselves.

How can you have this sort of effect in this day and age? People have more control over their entertainment than ever before. They can preview it, buy it, carry it with them, Tivo it, rent it, stop it or start it at will, see it whenever they like wherever they like.

It's hard enough to get someone to choose theater over other easier-to-control mediums. There's no pause button and, oftentimes, if you don't like what you see on stage, it's difficult to impossible to leave. If you're bored, you suffer. So, how do you get someone to come see Dada? They won't be bored, but it's unlikely they'll have the same whack-to-the-side-of-the-head experience audiences had almost 100 years ago. Or even that they are looking for such a thing.

The artists, though, are coming from a near identical place as the founders.

Outrage at war. - CHECK!

Rejection of popular art. - CHECK!

While Dada is certainly good for creativity, what's in it for the audience? Were there Dada fans in 1916? Were the artists just performing for one another? What the hell good is Dada any way? Then or now?

The people most likely to come to our show know what they are getting into. They've seen Dada before or they know enough to be curious. They aren't coming expecting to see anything familiar or safe. For people who who keep a steady flow of money going through the pockets of the producers of Tony and Tina's Wedding or Wicked, I have no doubt that Soiree Dada: Blinde Essel Hopse will be an invigorating experience. But why would they bother to come? What value would they see in it for themselves?

It's a good question to ask and it's okay to not have an answer.

Dada is a question. Dada was never an answer.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Louisiana State University researchers have discovered that a common cold virus also promotes what?"

50% answered "Baldness"
- No. Although it would explain why I always have the sniffles and leave a trail of hair.

12% picked "Rickets"
- No. I just like the word. Say it with me, slowly, "r-i-c-k-e-t-s." Fun, yes?

Nobody answered the virus promotes "New Prince CDs"
- If it were possible, he would. Until then, no.

38% got it right with "Obesity"

According to an AFP news report, a common virus that causes colds can be a factor in obesity. What's that saying? "Feed a cold, starve a fever?" Apparently, this virus feeds the cold Krispy Kreme doughnuts.