Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Playing with Matches


A boy playing with matches started a fire in north Los Angeles County that consumed more than 38,000 acres and destroyed 21 homes last week, authorities said Tuesday.

Read the full story HERE.

Parents all around the world are revising their "don't play with matches warnings." I recommend some of the following...

- If you play with matches, George W. Bush will come visit you.

- If you play with matches, Arnold Schwarzenegger will wet your bed while you're still in it.

- If you play with matches, you'll cause over $1 billion worth of damage and it's coming out of your allowance, Mister.

- If you play with matches, FEMA will stage a press conference that paints you in an unflattering light.

- If you play with matches, Al-Qaeda will come get you...and try to recruit you.

- If you play with matches, you'll kill 14 people, destroy 2100 homes and your parents will turn you in for the $285,000 reward for your ass.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Pamela Worden of Warwick, Rhode Island has been accused by police of stealing a parrot and doing what?"

50% said "Sewing it to a pirate costume"
- Sorry, Matey. Tis the wrong answer. Here's an obligatory "Arrrrr."

37% swore it was "Teaching it racial slurs"
- Polly, want a cracker?

No one swallowed "Eating it"
- Parrot tastes like chicken, in which case, just eat chicken.

Only 13% got the right answer "Cutting off its leg"

According to the Associated Press, prosecutors say Pamela Worden walked into a pet store in May, stole the $500 bird and later snipped off one of its legs to remove an identity tag. Prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence for Worden for possessing stolen goods and cruelty to animals. I couldn't find any information on how the parrot is doing. My hope is that it survived the ordeal, has been outfitted with a nifty peg leg, and has found a nice pirate with a matching peg leg to take care of it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hope for the Future...and the Past!

One of the really beautiful things about improv is that people are human and they make mistakes. While improvising a scene, the best way to handle it is to embrace it. Otherwise, it's the elephant in the room that no one is talking about and is hoping will go away. Of course, it is possible to acknowledge the mistake by treating the person making the mistake like they are an idiot. This doesn't do much to forward the scene and works to putting that person in their head and clamming up (which, at times, might be the desired effect). But for the audience's buck, it's wonderful to see mistakes parlayed into important elements.

The last time I played with The Improvised Shakespeare Company, I informed the king of England that an Irish army would be invading our shores at dawn-thirty by crossing the English Channel. In the next scene, my geographically-challenged plot point was called out by the leader of the Irish army. "Instead of crossing the Irish Sea into England, which would be the quickest and easiest route, we'll be going all the way down to France and crossing the English Channel into England from there!" It would have been easy for someone to just correct my mistake. It was more fun to call it out and embrace it as a brilliant feat of war strategy. Huzzah!

A mistake in Danse Macabre! last Friday came when one of the players called another player by their previously killed character's name. Instead of telling him he made a mistake, the player created the first of many sets of identical twins that also shared the same identical name.

Not to sound too much like a lame inspirational business poster, but mistake are opportunities. They could even be considered the subconscious of the group mind mischievously at work.

The title of this piece? It's something one of the students said last night in an improv game for a class I was subbing at Second City. The idea of having hope for the past made me laugh quite heartily. You could see on her face just a flash of "what the hell did I say?" and it's exactly the kind of mistake I'm talking about here.


Yesterday, I asked...

"In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Craig S. McCullough was arrested in a public restroom when he was found with his pants down doing what?"

33% naturally assumed "passing out Republican Party buttons"
- Now, if they can only swing putting voting booths in bathroom stalls.

33% thought health and "checking for testicular cancer"
- Well, he was feeling around down there, but he was more interested in making a lump than finding one.

9% hungrily answered "eating his lunch"
- Did somebody say Quizno's?

25% overcame their denial and got it right with "lying next to an inflatable doll"

According to the Associated Press, Craig S. McCullough was arrested last week after a government agent allegedly found him in an office building restroom lying next to an inflatable, anatomically correct doll with his pants down. McCullough's criminal record includes a 2004 conviction for burglarizing a Just For Me bridal boutique. Shortly after the burglary, police officers found McCullough in a nearby alley, carrying a mannequin wearing a bridal dress. It's a shame it didn't work out with his mannequin bride, but it's their kids who will really suffer.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Magic of Comedy

When I was a kid, I loved magic. I couldn't get enough of it. The only magic I saw, however, was on TV variety shows and the occasional and rare birthday party or school assembly. I decided that if I wanted to see more magic, I would have to learn it myself. So, I started to absorb books on and by Robert-Houdin (the father of modern magic), Joseph Dunniger (a magician who amassed a huge encyclopedia's worth of magic history) and Houdini (a lithograph of his European tour as "The Wold's Handcuff King & Prison Breaker" is in my office). Imagine my disappointment when I quickly discovered that actual magic had nothing to do with, well, magic. Most of it seemed to be showmanship and misdirection. At which I am both horrible. I soon faded in my interest in being a magician and went back to being a fan. I love to be amazed. Being a magician, or studying magic, ruins magic for you. Your focus shifts to amazing others.

I love comedy and am fascinated with the mechanisms of what make someone laugh. At what makes me laugh. Unlike magic, I can still crack myself up and relish when I make someone else laugh. It still seems to have a lot to do with showmanship and misdirection. Showmanship in making sure a joke or laugh line is delivered in just the right way - is it a throwaway line or should I break out the bicycle horn for punctuation? Misdirection in that it's important to lead the audience down one path and then quickly turn a corner to a place they weren't expecting.


I love Danse Macabre! We had a wonderful time at The Acorn Theater. Dave and Kim are exceptional hosts and if you have any opportunity to stop by there, please do. The cast did a fine job with the audience suggestion of "The Garden Grave." A very bizarre tale of a woman badgering her husband (with her "stubby finger of judgment") into making sure she won the blue ribbon for her vegetables. She wants to grow "corn as high as...corn!" The husband ensures her victory by eliminating the competition. In doing so, he releases a rival Celtic spirit who can only be killed by pure innocence. It was worth everything putting this show together to get to see Don Hall and James Honey as two virginal twin sisters both named Helen.


On Friday, I asked...

"A mother in Naples, Florida is currently on trial for child abuse because she forced her 13-year-old daughter to do what?"

50% picked "Finish her homework before dinner"
- A criminal offense, indeed! Especially when that Science Fair project on hydroponics took her a month to complete. She was forced to eat her own soiless green tomatoes.

20% chose "Wear unfashionable clothes"
-She was forced to wear grandpa's hand-me-down tan Sansa-belt slacks all through sixth grade!

No one went for "Clean her room before going to bed"
- Apparently, that sounded more horrible to me than anyone else.

30% got it right with "Shave her head and pierce her genitals"

According to the Associated Press, the mother called on a tattoo artist friend to shave the girl's head and do the piercing after realizing that the girl had been having sex, including with the mother's boyfriend. The idea was to make the girl unattractive to men and, with the piercing, make it uncomfortable to have sex. Just swinging in the dark, here, but if a turd like her boyfriend is willing to jump on the bones of a thirteen year-old, the shaved head and pierced labia probably aren't going to act as deterrents for him. I think he's the one that should have received the Yul Brenner and the Prince Albert.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons!


Sorry I'm a day late this weekend. I thought Julie and I would be back from Three Oaks by mid-to-late afternoon yesterday. Turns out, we got home at 8:30pm exhausted. Damn you outlet stores!

The Beatles (1965-1969)

The Beatles, as a cartoon, aired on ABC for four years starting in 1965. It was the first cartoon to turn a live band, or celebrity, into an animated figure. The show was very popular, but quickly became an anachronism as the look of the figures didn't evolve with their flesh and blood counterparts. Enjoy!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Speaking of Staged Readings

There's no Robowriters' assignment today because last night was the staged reading of our new show. Yay!

Staged readings are like focus groups for the show, except the audience tends to be more savvy in the ways of all things theatrical. Regardless of the caliber of the folks, you are bound to get a few comments along the lines of "I think you should add chimps."

But I do find them valuable. Particularly for comedy. Laughter is undeniable feedback and there were plenty of laughs last night. It's also interesting to hear feedback from fresh ears and eyes. Having been in the Robot vs Dinosaur bubble for the last six months, it's hard for me to see the project as a whole.

After months of writing different kinds of material, we decided to focus on adventure. There's a lot of history and tall tales in our show. Such as Nat Topping's rollicking and twisted take on Johnny Appleseed called "The Great Apple Massacre" and Chris Othic's "Journey to the Bottom of the World" about the third man to reach the south pole.

We really didn't think much beyond "it's about adventure." The staged reading audience pointed out a few things we didn't see. None of the pieces show heroes in a flattering light. In my piece, "Mr. Mysterium," the hero doesn't even win. He gets turned into a zombie. One audience member, a very astute woman, summed it up with "It's about masculinity and myth." That sounded like a "Bingo!" to me and will be very helpful in how we shape the show from this point forward.


The Acorn Theater just an hour from the city in the lovely Three Oaks, Michigan, near New Buffalo. Directions from Chicago can be found by clicking HERE.


Condoleeza Rice says the U.S. is more than open and willing to sit down with Iran "anytime, anywhere" and find a diplomatic solution to their nuclear power program IF Iran would suspend their nuclear program.

"We'll talk to you, if..."?

Maybe I don't understand diplomacy. Don't we need to sit down with them to try to find a solution for them to stop their program? Why would they give us what we want first? Where's the incentive? The Bush Administration only knows how to dole out carrots to their rich, obese rabbit friends. I'm not saying we should reward Iran for anything, but all we're doing is threatening them. And if all you did was threaten me to stop doing something I didn't think was any of your business, I'd be thumbing my nose at you, too.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Actress Gretchen Mol and her director husband Tod Williams recently had a baby and named him what?"

31% answered "Gretchod"
- Which only barely beat out "Todchen."

16% picked "Steamwhistle"
- Which is my personal favorite and the primary reason my girlfriend won't discuss marriage or kids with me.

16% "Zorba"
- Close. It is Greek.

37% deemed the correct answer to be "Ptolemy"

According to Dlisted, Gretchen Mol, gave birth to a baby boy last month and I guess nobody cared. She announced it to People Magazine earlier this week. Gretchen and her director husband, Tod Williams, had the baby in NYC on September 10th. They named the poor child Ptolemy John Williams.

Okay, yes, I do have a problem with a kid being named after a Greek astronomer who believed the earth was the center of the universe. And, yes, he will and should be picked upon without mercy by his peers in grade school ("Hey, Ptolemy, I understand your "p" is silent!"). And, yes, it is better than Ptolemy's first name, which is Claudius. Even if he went with Claude, no child should have the name Claude. Only people born at the age 80 have the name Claude. But I think the most offensive part of his name is "John Williams." The film composer whose music all sounds the same! I don't even know why Spielberg hired him to do the new Indy film. Just sample bits from the previous movies, which is what John Williams is going to do anyway.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Death Takes A Sick Day

So, I just flat out took yesterday off to nurse this cold. I rested, I drank Yerba Mate and white tea, I ate my new favorite sandwich (Tofurkey Deli Slices, Tofutti American Soy-Cheese Slice, Vegenaise and real jalapenos on real flax and wheat bread), I watched the second episode of this year's Smallville (better than the season premiere, but it sure feels like these folks are done - I'm not crazy about the addition of Super Girl or the new editor and please stop over-playing the "dead" card on your characters), the second episode of The Office (also better than the season premiere, but still had a really dumb "turn" near the end - please stop these one hour episodes, it feels like a lot of filler), and I got some work done on some projects. All with only talking on the phone once because as the day wore on, my voice got worse and sounded like a flock of geese.

My body is feeling better, which is good, because I have to big events over the next two days...


Okay, that's more like the lack of an event. The reason there's no Robowriters is because of the...


We've been working on material for this since May. There's some really good stuff in it and we've assembled a really great cast. There's still work for us to do and what we need now is to hear from you and get your feedback. It's tonight at 7:30pm at the Uptown Writer's Space, 4802 North Broadway. It's FREE!



This will be your one and only chance to see Danse Macabre! this year. Danse Macabre! is an improvised story done in the style of horror films from the 1930's and 1940's (ala Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man). The premise is that 1930's horror meister Conrad Brünst, through the magic of Hollywood and the sacrifice of a small goat, has assembled his regular company of actors to recreate LIVE! one of his many films that have been lost to nitrate deterioration and poor organizational skills. The audience provides the title of the "film" they would like to see. It's a robust evening of creepy fun time storytelling.And it's ridiculously funny.

Here's my favorite quote from a reviewer about the show...

"With its spooky effects and black-widow palette, Danse Macabre! evokes a White Stripes video as directed by Vincent Price."
-- Ryan Hubbard, The Chicago Reader

This year's show features; Don Hall, Gabe Garza, Nat Topping, James Honey, Dennis Frymire, Tony Torres, myself and Jeff Shivar on the keys. And as is always the fashion with Danse Macabre!, we feature not one, but TWO fog machines.

Tickets are $15 and available at the door. For more information, go to The Acorn Theater website.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Sen. John McCain told workers at a small weapons factory that, if elected president, he wants to catch Osama Bin Laden and do what?"

20% said "...spit in his eye and punch him in the nose."
- I think he would only do that if Osama had been the son of a bitch that named him "Sue."

20% figured "...put women's underwear on his head."
- You know, I've yet to see how this is humiliating to anyone. But, of course, I guess it depends on whose underwear it is? Barbara Bush's? Ew.

No one thought "...bring him to justice."
- Yeah, I'm afraid justice just isn't one of those words being bandied about by most of the republican candidates.

60% hit the target with "...shoot him with your products."

According to The Boston Globe, republican presidential candidate John McCain told workers of a small weapons factory that "I will follow Osama Bin Laden to the gates of hell and I will shoot him with your products." McCain told reporters afterward he was joking when he made the comment, "I would not shoot him myself." Too bad, I might just vote for a gun-totin' vigilante for the White House. People would be stopped from entering his inauguration if they didn't set off the metal detector.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Damn this cold. It's moving down into my chest and I have a sore throat. My head's primary export is mucus and I sound like a geriatric Lucille Ball.

As much as I hate getting sick and want to be pissed at my body for not being impervious to all germs, I have to give my body a break. It works. It's doing its job to fight this cold. The best thing I can do is try to get out of its way by resting, eating lightly, and hydrating. Yay, body! You go, girl! Er, boy.

Wednesday's my busiest day of the week with classes at Columbia and at Second City. So, I have to figure out what's going to be the best thing for me to do today that will care of me, my students, and my wallet.

Until then, here's a silly picture I found through Brett and Anthony are ...... Workin' for the Weekend.


Yesterday, I asked...

"After digitally scanning the Mona Lisa, a French inventor claims she what?"

30% picked "Originally was a man"
- Hmmm....Morrie Lisa? Mona Lyle?

20% thought "Originally was scowling"
- She might have been after she found out what Leonardo did to her painting.

No one fell for my brilliant attempt at humor with "Is flashing gang signs"

50% got it right on the head with "Originally had eyebrows"

According to the BBC, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa originally had eyebrows and eyelashes. Pascal Cotte, a French inventor, said his 240-megapixel scan revealed traces of facial hair obliterated by restoration efforts. Da Vinci changed his mind about the position of two fingers on her left hand, her face was originally wider and her smile more expressive. Da Vinci made the right choices. Look what was underneath...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

CTA Blues

For those of you outside the city, you may not be aware of the fact that Chicago boasts one of the most efficient and convenient public transportation systems in the world. Well... it used to. I used to be very proud of the fact that I could live in Chicago and get around as easily, if not better, than my four-wheeled counterparts. Oh, sure, every once in awhile you'd get burned. About once or twice a year you'd be on a train that would mysteriously stop and make you late. But compared to traffic accidents and slow downs, that was nothing.

Now, everyday is an adventure when you take the CTA. What used to take thirty minutes, I now plan on an hour and, if I really want to make sure I'm there on time, an hour and a half. It makes me wish I had a car, which defeats the whole green(er) thing I'm going for in my life. Public transportation shouldn't make you wish you had a car unless you live in Detroit and the automakers bought up the public transportation system and trashed it (which they did).

What's worse is that the CTA wants to raise their fares a dollar AND cut services. I would be all for this if it looked like they were even trying to run the current bus and train schedules on time. Instead, I'll find myself waiting 50 minutes for a Fullerton bus and then three pull up. Or I'll be waiting 30 minutes for a southbound train and watch five northbound trains pass by.

We need the CTA (as well as Metra and Pace) to be the best that they can be so we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil, help clean up the skies, and ease the congestion on our roadways. And if we see ourselves as a world class city capable of hosting the Olympics, we need a public transportation system that's not in shambles.

The CTA blames the government, the government blames the CTA and the passengers are taking it out on each other. Just to make life easier, please; get your bag off the seat, keep your legs out of the aisle, sit up instead of lying down, scoot over, move to the back, turn down your iPod, stop making out, take off your backpack, turn off your walkie-talkie - a walkie-talkie? what are you? A construction worker? No - just someone who likes to talk loud and use a lot of profanity - and, please, take a shower.


Yesterday, I asked....

"A married couple in Iran will NOT be stopped by police for doing what?"

37% said "Wearing matching t-shirts"
- Actually, no problem for the guy. A gal wearing a t-shirt would warrant the wrath of Allah.

12% thought "Kissing"
- No way. The Iranian police are like nuns at a school dance. No pda!

25% picked "Hugging"
- Nope. Couples must leave room for Muhammad.

25% got the right answer "Holding hands"

According to the AFP, Iran in April launched what has proved to be its most severe moral crackdown in years, handing out warnings to thousands of people for dress deemed to be unIslamic and other outlawed behavior. Iran's police are to keep up their moral crackdown through the winter months, confronting couples whose behavior in public is deemed to be inappropriate. Any kind of intimate cuddling between couples in public, let alone kissing, is a social taboo in Iran. Holding hands has become acceptable in the Islamic republic, so long as the partners are married. Now, I don't condone this type of oppression on self-expression, but could we borrow these guys to patrol the CTA?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Taking Time

Relationships are hard work. They take a lot of time, energy, patience and understanding. It's like having a full-time job on top of another full-time job, except, it's cool because it's a girl and stuff. They're soft and pretty and say smart things. It's worth it.

Having a heavy schedule has kept me from being able to simply go out on a date with my girlfriend for the last two months. Julie and I made up for lost time this weekend. On Friday, we found a lovely little French restaurant called Cafe Matou that's just a ten minute walk away from our new apartment. Matou is French for "tom cat," which was not on the menu that night.

Yesterday, we took a little road trip to Malta, Illinois to visit Jonamac Orchards. It's about an hour and a half drive west of the city near Dekalb. We grabbed lunch at a place called The Black Stone Restaurant that served breakfast all day. It's the kind of place old people and families coming from church flock to. Shamelessly, the highlight for me was seeing two very overweight gentlemen who looked like brothers walk in wearing their Sunday best.

Jonamac was a lot of fun. The plan was to stuff ourselves with apple-oriented food products, get some pumpkins from their pumpkin patch, check out the apple catapult, and get lost in the 8-acre maze. We pretty much did all that with a few minor hiccups. The apple doughnuts just tasted like plain ol' doughnuts to me. The apple catapult was not nearly as exciting as I thought it would be. Basically, you just slingshot apples into a board that's about fifty feet away. Give me some moving targets or something cool to aim at. At least move the board closer so I can see the splat.

A sad part of the trip was that the pumpkin patch was devastated, Apparently, the Great Pumpkin took a beating from the funky weather. The pumpkins that we saw were spread out, split open or just in really bad shape. I somehow managed to find a skull-shaped green and orange one. Julie found one that was reddish-orange and all wrinkled. I'll post the before and after carving pics soon.

Other than that, the corn maze was really cool. And big. We must have been in that thing at least an hour. Maybe more. The caramel apples and apple pie were great. We brought home a caramel apple pecan pie, a dutch apple pie, cider, a big bag of honey crisp apples and a small bag on northern spy apples, which I have never heard of so I had to try.

Julie and I had a lot of fun and feel like a couple, again.


This video has been making the rounds. If you haven't seen it, it's a catchy little tune. I'll explain what it is after you watch it.

It's the end credits of a video game called
Portal which is an off-shoot of the Half-Life series. I've never played it, so there are inside jokes about Black Mesa and references to Aperture Science that I don't get. The song is being sung by an evil computer that the hero blew up at the end of the game.


On Saturday, I asked...

"Four police officers in South Bend, Indiana entered a vacant house recently and were attacked by what?"

17% answered "Teenage Vampires"
- Which I thought was a very good guess. Unfortunately, Indiana cops all reek of garlic and the hormonally challenged vampires all died.

No one figured it was "Demon Dogs" or "Zombie Slaves"
- Although, what else are you going to find in Suuth Bend, Indiana?

Scully-like logic prevailed and 83% got it with "Fleas"

According to the Associated Press, four officers investigating a burglary were attacked by a swarm of fleas in a filth-ridden vacant house. The tiny, biting attackers were so overwhelming that the South Bend patrolmen had to be decontaminated and ended up being sent home early from their shifts. "They were all over the place _ in our socks and even in our shorts. It was disgusting," said Cpl. Ken Stuart. The owners of the house were cited for flea-ing the scene of a crime.

Thank you. I'll be here all week.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday Morning Cartoons!

The Super Friends (1973 - 1986)

In various forms, The Super Friends ruled Saturday mornings for thirteen years. The series titles changed from Super Friends to Challenge of the Super Friends to The All New Super Friends Hour (my favorite just for its blatant disregard to be creative)and a few others. I remember liking it a lot at first but lost interest with the original comic kid characters they added; Marvin, Wendy, The Wonder Twins and that dog with the cape that is not Super Dog, but Wonder Dog.

This is from one of the later versions of the series in 1980 simply called The Super Friends Hour. In theory they tackled some darker stuff, in this case voodoo and vampires, but it's watered down through a combination of grappling with ABC's "standards and practices" people and cheap animation. You'd think a vampire might like to bite people and suck a little blood now and again. Nope. This vampire shoots lasers from its teeth and turns people into zombies, which I guess is the voodoo part. None the less, it's dumb and fun. Enjoy!


Yesterday, I asked...

"When Adrian McKinnon of Montgomery, Alabama found a burglar in his home, he made him do what at gunpoint?"

10% said "Rob his neighbor instead"
- Which would have been awesome, except his neighbor doesn't have anything worth having another man steal.

10% picked "Dance"
- And then he laughed, spat tobacco into a spittoon, and had another shot of dead eye.

Nobody fell for "Sleep with his wife"
- Seemed plausible to me. Maybe I've read too many letters to Penthouse.

80% scored mightily with "Clean up his house"

According to the Associated Press, Adrian and Tiffany McKinnon returned home on Tuesday after a week away to find that thieves had emptied almost everything the family of five owned. While Adrian surveyed the damage, the man who ransacked the place walked in the back door and nearly bumped into him. Adrian McKinnon held the suspect, 33-year-old Tajuan Bullock, at gunpoint and made him clean up the mess he made. When police arrived, Bullock complained and the police just laughed at him. I don't blame Tajuan. Sometimes that's what it takes to get me to clean up after myself. Tough love.

Friday, October 19, 2007



This assignment is a fairly simple one, but, I find, a rare one in sketch comedy.

Take a group of animals, endow them with voices and personalities, and write a scene about it.

It helps to apply a social structure to the group, such as a corporate structure to a group of lemurs or a nuclear family structure to a small pack of cockroaches. Try to pick an animal that hasn't been done to death in films (I'm looking at you, penguins!).

An assignment like this is a fun way to highlight human behavior through a safe filter. It's also an opportunity for you to do some research and mine an animal's inherent social structure for material.

Using our lemur example, did you know...

- Females are dominant in the group, which means they have preferential access to food and choice of whom to mate with. This is unusual in the primate world. Males do have a dominance hierarchy, but this does not seem important during mating season because even low-ranking males are able to copulate.

- One of the most unusual lemur activities that ring-tailed lemurs participate in is sunbathing. The ring-tailed mob will gather in open areas of the forest and sit in what some call a yoga position facing the sun. They sit with their bellies toward the sun and their arms and legs stretched out to the sides.

- Ring-tailed lemurs communicate using facial expressions, such as The Bared-teeth Gecker Face: Similar to silent bared-teeth face only with a rapid noise attached to it. This display occurs during subordinate flee-approach conflicts and also when an infant is bothered.
All good info you and actors can use in bringing your corporate lemur characters to life.

(You can find out more about lemurs and other animals at The Smithonian's National Zoological Park website.)

The scene is a clash of context between human behavior and animal behavior. As such, you'll need a relateable human situation to put them in. Since the females are dominant, I might make a female the CEO of LemurCo and have a male worker confront her about being passed over for a promotion because she's taken a shine to one of the low-ranking males. The animal's own social structure influences the scene showing us that, ultimately, we may not be much better than the critters.


When it comes to Comcast, I have always had quick, friendly and helpful service. I have heard other people complain about them and didn't get it. I have had Comcast cable and internet service for a year now and have had no complaints about them at all, until now.

I moved on October first and had all my Comcast services transferred to my new digs. Yesterday afternoon, I wasn't able to access my e-mail. Hey, stuff happens. Comcast is working on something, I figured. They'll get it fixed by the next time I need to check e-mail. Nope. I had a phone call late last night from a friend saying my e-mails were bouncing back. I got up early this morning to check it out. It was telling me my user name and password were invalid. I got a service rep on-line and found out that they closed my old account and gave me a new one. They closed down my old e-mail addresses! Just f-ing great! Because yesterday morning I sent out an e-mail throwing my hat in the ring on a writing gig. If they responded, my e-mail bounced back, which communicates to the world that this dork probably didn't pay his bill and might be unreliable. Not a good impression when looking for work. After spending 45 minutes on-line with "Ryan," I was able to get my e-mail addresses re-established.

I was also expecting no charge in transferring my service. Turns out my current bill is twice what it usually is because of installation and new service fees. I will be calling a quick, friendly helpful Comcast service rep later to give them a piece of my mind.


Yesterday, I asked...

"According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the field with the most depressed people is what?"

66% chose "Education"
- I must have a lot of depressed teachers reading my blog.

8% thought "Arts and Entertainment"
- Oh, quit your whining and get to work on that one-person show.

No one picked "Blogging"
- Nobody understands me! Except for my cats. That's right, "cats." With an "s."

26% got the ding-ding-ding! with "Personal Care"

According to Reuters, child care workers, home health care aides and other people who provide personal services have the highest rates of depression among U.S. workers. You know, I totally understand this. These people are doing God's work and are probably very poorly paid. If my main source of income was washing old people, I'd be sleeping with my head in the gas oven. Then some other depressed, poorly paid person would have to clean up the mess.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

World War Three-peat!

Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for us to export a can of good ol' American whoop-ass to Iran.

Is it because of their nuclear program? No. They are idiots in this area. It's taking them for freakin' ever. If anything, we need to get in there and blow them up before they do it themselves.

Is it because their president is out-of-touch, ill-informed and a war-mongering idiot? Gosh, if that were a good enough reason, I'd be writing this from my bunker in an undisclosed location.

Is it because the people of Iran are calling out to the U.S. to spread democracy to another oil-laden country? Just like the people in Iraq so loudly did? Now, folks,calm down. It's not about the oil or spreading democracy like it's Nutella. This is a war on terror, not oppressed gas stations.

It's about geography. Our president-in-chief may only have been a "C" student, but that doesn't mean he's never looked at a map. We are presently fighting valiantly in two countries - Iraq and Afghanistan. Guess who is smack dab in the middle of the two? Check the map above. We need to invade Iran so we can bridge the two. Right now, it's like having a war in Ohio and Tennessee and having to walk around those jerks in Kentucky every time you need to move some tanks around. It slows things down. Kills the momentum. Having Iran join the party takes what looks like three messy little separate wars and makes them into one big tidy one.

But if you are one of those pansies worried about the blood shed of the innocent. I have a modest proposal. We are essentially working on a United States of the Middle East and as much as we'd like to just kill them all (apparently, some countries we work with a lot don't like this idea - damn you France and Germany and England!), we'll need to either rebuild their countries or find them new homes.

Is there a way to avoid battle? Yeah, probably. If we must.

In land mass, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan are roughly the same size as California, Alaska and Texas. I say we make a trade. Swap all the people in California with all the people in Iraq. They'll think they are getting a great deal with all that ocean front property that's about to break off at the fault lines. Hollywood gets a place with perennial sunshine for their movie-makings. Iranians will jump at the chance to cool off in Alaska while Alaskans will jump at the chance to warm their bones in Iran. Afghanistan and Texas are an even trade.


Now, that Soiree Dada has wrapped up, I'm back in full-force at the Robowriters Meetings. Bring your scenes to work on or just come to get motivated and have a few laughs. Uptown Writer's Space, 4802 North Broadway, at 6:30pm. $5 (cheap!)


Yesterday, I asked...

"A six-year-old girl playing on the sidewalk in New York was cited by police for what?"

32% answered "Soliciting"
- Hey, now! This ain't Taxi Driver.

22% picked "Drug Pushing"
- A six-year-old pushing drugs? Yeah. Those red Barney Rubbles can bring in a wad of cash.

11% thought "Vandalism"
- She starts fires with her mind!

35% got the right answer "Graffiti"

According to The Brooklyn Paper, six-year-old Natalie Shea got a threatening letter from the city demanding the removal of “graffiti” she drew with chalk — with chalk! — on her front step. She is facing a $300 fine from the city. She may have to resort to selling drugs or her body to cover the costs. Here's a picture of her at the scene of the crime with the warning letter.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

She Loves You - Yah, Yeah, Ya!

The other night, Glenn Earich, a former student and current teacher in The Second City Writing Program, and I were discussing writing pet peeves that show up in our students' work. Imagine my surprise when one of the things I did was at the top of his list.

Glenn hates when a student uses the word "Yeah" (in his world, pronounced yah), when they mean "Yea" (in his world, pronounced yey!). According to Glenn, the right way in this world is...

Yea! I see the great white whale off the starboard bow! Starbuck, do you have my lucky harpoon?


In my world, it's always been...

Yeah! I found my peg leg. Now, I can go for a jog around the poop deck. Will you join me, Starbuck?


I mentioned this to Fuzzy Gerdes who tells me he does this...

Yay! I found a stowaway to befriend. I think I'll show him where my treasure is buried.

Ya. Captain. That's the wrong story.

Shut up and bring me my parrot.

Actually, I don't remember how Fuzzy dealt with "yah" because I was so stuck on his use of "Yay!" There's something about that "Yay!" that puts me on the edge of a seizure. It sounds right but looks very, very wrong to me. I believe it has the power to cause a rift in the fabric of reality and therefore should never be used.

So, what's the right way of expressing cheer distinct from a casual affirmation?

Dictionaries haven't been helpful on this. They do site "yea" in pronunciation of the cheer, but use it in a biblical sense (Yea, though I walk through the valley, etc...). In some, "yeah" and "yea" are interchangeable in meaning and pronunciation. And "yay" shows up when referring to measure, as in "yay high to a grasshopper."

So, let's ask a professor. According to Paul Brians, professor of English at Washington State University and author of Common Errors in English Usage...

“Yea” is a very old-fashioned formal way of saying “yes,” used mainly in voting. It’s the opposite of—and rhymes with—“nay.” When you want to write the common casual version of “yes,” the correct spelling is “yeah” (sounds like “yeh” ). When the third grade teacher announced a class trip to the zoo, we all yelled “yay!” (the opposite of “boo”!). That was back when I was only yay big.

There you have it. I was all wrong and Glenn was half right. And Fuzzy taught me a new word that I thought he made up. As much as that word "Yay!" gives me the heebeejeebies, I will now have to embrace it.



Yesterday was Blog Action Day! Sorry, I didn't get the memo and didn't really do anything action-y. While I discount blogging as valid journalism, I do think it is a valuable tool of expression and a great way for politicians to get a bead on we "the people." It's a way for us to build community in the world.


Yesterday, I asked...

"After months of frustration, a mother of a soldier in Iraq was able to ship to the troops 80,000 cans of what?"

23% picked "Hershey's Chocolate Syrup"
- I have no idea why anyone thought this was the right answer. What? The troops don't have any chocolate syrup for their sundaes! Where's the outrage? Support our troops! Support our troops!

7% chose "Spam"
- I think when it comes to potted meats, the army has enough to rebuild a war torn country.

Much to my dismay, no one thought it was "Prince Albert Tobacco"
- "Dear President Bush, We need more Prince Albert in a can. Signed, Pvt. I. P. Daley"

70% got the right answer with "Silly String"

According to the Associated Press, Marcelle Shriver's Silly String campaign began late last year after her son, Todd, a soldier in Ramadi slated to leave Iraq in November, asked his parents to send cans of the product. Soldiers can shoot the substance, which travels about 10-12 feet, across a room before entering. If it hangs in the air, that indicates a possible trip wire. I really wish the army had been on the ball and equipped the troops with Silly String from the get-go. Instead of toppling a statue of Sadam, I would much rather have seen jubilant Iraqis firing off cans of Silly String for the camera. Keep that in mind when Bush figures out a way to invade Iran without our approval.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sketch Writing for Riches!

So, my favorite form of writing is sketch comedy writing. In this town, there's not much reason to do it other than because you love it. If you are interested in writing for SNL or MADtv or sketch off-shoots like The Daily Show or Family Guy, it's an excellent training ground and you will, eventually, have to relocate. But if you want to stick to Chicago, you do it for the love and keep an eye out for opportunities to turn a buck with it.

One such opportunity is writing for corporate entertainment. Corporations often have big get-togethers where they have to get information out in an entertaining manner or, at least, have to spice things up between getting the information out there.

They tend to pay well, but I always feel like I'm getting screwed. Part of this goes back to my very first corporate gig.

Post-college, I was working at the Dayton Mall Food Court with an ex-girlfriend named Peggy. She had annually hosted a live kids show featuring the Care Bears over at the Salem Mall. Well, the folks at the Salem Mall had a fallout with American Greetings, the owners of the Care Bears. The Salem Mall still owned one Care Bear outfit, still had Peggy in town, had already scheduled the week of Care Bear shows. All they needed was a script. Peggy recommended me.

Immediately, I started brainstorming, letting it percolate in the back of my head, while grilling steak sandwiches at the food court. I came up with a title The Care Bear's Great Candy Adventure, a villain named The Icky Dr. Yuckbottom, and a joke.

Peggy is talking to the kids about something strange that happened to her. She rode her big wheel to the candy store and bought a lollipop. "I noticed my shoe was untied. So, I put the lollipop on the seat of my Big Wheel and tied my shoe. When I turned back, my lollipop was gone! At first, I thought my dog took it, but then I remembered, I don't have a dog!"

And don't know why, but it cracked me up that she would say that and it helped me gain momentum in writing the rest of the piece. The folks at the Salem Mall loved it, wanted to use it, wanted me to play The Icky Dr. Yuckbottom, and scheduled a readthrough. Mind you, this was all done before there was any talk whatsoever about paying me (sidenote: Always talk money BEFORE working on the gig). Peggy and I and the guy who would don the Care Bears outfit sat down with a Salem Mall rep to read the script. He gushed about it, we read it, we laughed. And then he said, "The dog joke has to go."

What!?! My brilliant work of genius comedy has to go? Why? Are you crazy?

"There might be kids in the audience who don't have dogs. They'll bug their parents to buy a dog and the parents will get pissed at us."

I still didn't get the logic of that being a problem.

"Theoretically speaking, then, we can't have anything in the show. No candy. No Care Bears. Nothing." I didn't say that. I wasn't smart enough back then. Plus, I was dumbfounded at their reasoning. It was my first experience of someone editing my work without honoring my input. They were killing my children!

I took the lump. I don't recall any other major alteration to the work. I was looking forward to performing my script for a crowd of kids for three shows a day for a week. A professional writer AND actor!

The money? I got screwed. I had no idea what was an appropriate amount. I think they expected me to negotiate. Not knowing I had any other options, I took the first figure they threw out. $300. It was less than I would have made working full-time at the food court. Peggy told me later I got screwed. Sigh.

Now, whenever I am offered a corporate gig, I ask for what I think it should be based on my experience with Second City. And if they ask me to do more than what was agreed upon, I ask for more. It feels weird. But it's right. Always ask for more than you think it should be. As an artist, you are usually low-balling yourself. The worst that can happen is that they make a counter-offer that's still probably more than what you would pay yourself.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Monsignor Tommaso Stenico was suspended from the Vatican after making advances on a young man says he what?"

25% guessed "Really did want the young man's opinion on his new pants."
- Do these standard issue black slacks make me look fat? No, because being gay has a slimming effect.

9% thought "Really is an amateur photographer who knows natural talent when he sees it."
- You remind me of a young Rock Hudson. Pout for me, pout for the camera, pout for the Pope. Uh, no.

8% figured "Really did find a stray eyelash on the young man's cheek."
- Got it! Now, make a wish and blow...harder! Nope.

58% rightly stated "Was just pretending to be gay."

According to the Associated Press, a Vatican official suspended after being caught on hidden camera making advances to a young man says he is not gay and was only pretending to be gay as part of his work. Monsignor Tommaso Stenico told La Repubblica daily he frequented online gay chat rooms and met with gay men as part of his work as a psychoanalyst. He said that he pretended to be gay in order to gather information about "those who damage the image of the Church with homosexual activity." And, yes, he said all these things with a cock in his mouth.