Thursday, January 31, 2008

Not as Good or Bad as You Think

On Wednesday nights, I am teaching a Writing I class and we had our fourth class last night. There are eight classes a term, so this was smack dab in the middle. This is where you really start to find out who's committed and who's not so sure about this "writing" thing. We had a few absences, which may mean these folks are subcumbing to the pressure they put on themselves to deliver a "good" scene on a weekly basis. Even though it's a class - clearly labeled as such, too - students still feel they need to come in with the perfect sketch. The one where everyone laughs at every golden line of dialogue and where the teacher breaks down in tears of joy at witnessing such blessed talent. If that should ever happen, believe me, you'll be the first to hear about my rapture.

If you are in a class, it's a good idea to keep reminding yourself that it's a class. No one expects you to bring in the perfect sketch. More importantly, you shouldn't expect YOU to bring in the perfect sketch. Give yourself a break. Whether it's Writing I or Writing 4, you should be a little forgiving of yourself. It's the first draft. And whether you think it's a steamy pile of pooh or a shimmering work of brilliance, you're just not the best judge of your own work. You really don't know what you have on your hands until you hear it read back to you. One student remarked last night that stuff he thought was going to be funny was so-so and stuff he didn't intend to be funny got a laugh. Yep. That's the way it goes. Get used it and understand that the feedback you receive is about what worked and what didn't work and ways you can improve upon your ideas. It's not a personal attack. Many students, regardless of experience level, hear it as what they did wrong and get defensive, which doesn't help them move the scene forward in a rewrite.

Having someone read your work out loud can be rough. I'm still not used to it and do what I can to keep from curling up in the fetal position on the floor. But it's one of the best ways to run a diagnostic on your scene and get direction for rewriting it to give it that rapture-like sheen.


Back and ready for action. New place, new time. Gorilla Tango, 1919 North Milwaukee (near Western) from 1pm to 3pm. $5. Bring in scenes. Have them read. fetal position optional.


Another good idea from a friend for supportive readers who don't have blogs. On Tuesday, March 4th, visit a message board and leave your "Impeach Bush Now!" message there.


Even the yetis were out. My friend Kate snapped this picture of someone - or some thing - on the bus.


Yesterday, I asked...

"In Los Angeles, controversial new vending machines have begun showing up that dispense what?"

13% said "DIY Botox Injections"
- I see this more as an arcade game instead of a vending machine.

12% said "Bullets"
- I'd hate to be around the guy getting pissed at the machine when it won't take his dollar.

No one went for "Puppies"
Really, is that any weirder than "Live Bait" vending machines?

75% got it right with "Medical Marijuana"

According to the AP, the city that popularized the fast food drive-thru has a new innovation: 24-hour medical marijuana vending machines. At least three dispensaries in the city, have installed vending machines to distribute the drug to people who carry cards authorizing marijuana use. Well, it's about time! And I bet the snack food industry is swinging some big deals to make sure one of these is installed next to each one...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Process of Process

For the better part of 2005, I participated in a weekly Sunday morning workshop at Second City (9am on Sundays, my friends, a true sign of commitment) led by Micheal Gellman. The plan was to work with Micheal on his theories of scenario one-act improvisation and put them into a show. All the while, our rehearsals and shows were documented and then shaped into a book by Mary Scruggs. The book is modeled after Stanislavsky's An Actor Prepares where all the characters in the book are fictionalized, but based on real events in classes and rehearsals. I don't expect to pick up Micheal's book and be able to recognize myself in it.

As an improviser, this experience was very beneficial. Even after all the training I have had, and after a decade of teaching improvisation, I still had a thing or two I could learn. One of the most important things I learned was what it really meant to explore the silence. Not just silence, "the" silence. I used to think it meant to keep your mouth shut until you think of the next thing to say. With Micheal, I learned it's about leaning into the moment and the emotional life of your character. It's an opportunity to forward the scene without words, purely through emotion and interaction. Pretty cool.

Also through this workshop I met Blaine Swen, which led to my all too in-frequent performances with The Improvised Shakespeare Company and through the stage manager, I met my fiancee, Julie. Needless to say, I hold my experience with this workshop in high regard.

The book is out and there will be a book signing today.

"Process: An Improvisers Journey", - today - Wednesday January 30 - from 5:30pm - 7:00pm at the Second City ETC. Theater in Chicago, IL.

It's free. I hope you can make it. Mary and Micheal will be there along with several of the workshop participants, like me.

Gellman even has a MySpace page about it! That's like your grandfather wearing an iPod! Please visit him. It's rather sad. His only friend is that Tom guy.


This Saturday, Robowriter fans! 1pm - 3pm at Gorilla Tango, 1919 North Milwaukee. $5. Bring whatever scenes you are working on or show up to laugh and be inspired.


An addendum to yesterday's post. On Tuesday, March 4th, if you don't have a blog, but still want to participate, use the comment sections of your favorite blogs to spread the cyber shout - IMPEACH BUSH NOW!

Also, Don Hall and I are working on putting up another edition of The Nod that night to cap off the day.


Yesterday, I asked...

"A travel agency in Germany is offering a flight where all the passengers have the option to be what?"

Guess this was an easy one - no one bought into the answers "Drunk out of their minds,""Available for networking," or "A member of the Mile High Club"

100% got it right with "Naked as jay birds"

According to Reuters, German nudists will be able to start their holidays early by stripping off on the plane if they take up a new offer from an eastern German travel firm. Travel agency said it would start taking bookings for a trial nudist day trip from the eastern German town of Erfurt to the popular Baltic Sea resort of Usedom. One thing I have observed about nudists, they are made up of the people you least want to ever see naked. It would be my luck on this flight to be wedged in between two hefty guys whose naked rolls of flab spill over into my space.

The Process of Process

For the better part of 2005, I participated in a weekly Sunday morning workshop (9am, my frioneds

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One Message. Loud and Clear.

I hate State of the Union addresses. Even when there's a president in office that I like - which has only happened once in my adult life - I can't stand listening to them. They are nothing but shallow pep rallies for the GOP. The applause breaks are more calculated and stilted than the canned audience of a pre-recorded sitcom. I'll watch some of the post-game antics on the news shows, but even that's mostly prepackaged spin responses that aren't very insightful.

The last State of the Union address I watched in it's entirety was in 2002. The big one after 9/11. At that point, I had some hope for the administration. They had responded to 9/11 by going after the Taliban in Afghanistan, a measured and appropriate response, in my eyes. But in that 2002 speech, Bush laid out the Axis of Evil - Iraq, Iran and North Korea. The bone-headed dickwad actually used the word "evil" making his inferences the seeds of a Holy War. The response to 9/11 was no longer about protecting ourselves, it was about God. Our God over their God. Way to stir the pot, George.

That speech also contained Bush lying to the world about Iraq's attempts to build a nuclear bomb by trying to buy yellow cake (unfrosted) in Africa. Which never happened and most intelligence agencies around the world refuted.

Here's what I am afraid of... It's George W. Bush's last year in office and everyone is focused on the campaign and the future. Understandable, except George is still in office and as much as we'd like to call him a lame duck, he isn't going to act like one. And as much as we want to go to sleep and wake-up to a new president, we, the American people, need to hold him responsible for his high crimes and misdemeanors. We want to brush it under the rug and just get him the hell out of there. But if we allow that, we allow the new president, and future presidents, the options to continue his law-breaking antics. We have set a precedence of non-punishment.

I want my voice to be heard and I want your voice to be heard. Me standing on the street corner shouting looks like a nut with too much time on his hands. Me and a few other people looks less lonely, but our voices aren't going to rise above the traffic sounds.

Here's what I propose...

One Message. Loud and Clear.

On Tuesday, March 4th, I will simply post on my blog


And I want you to join me. If you have a blog and share the same sentiment, post only "IMPEACH BUSH NOW!" on Tuesday, March 4th. If you don't have a blog, start one. If you read other blogs, please share the plan. I want to create a global "cyber shout" that cannot be ignored. I will also send this announcement to every member of congress.

Will it do anything? My jaded side says probably not. But we shouldn't let Bush ride out his last year without a fight. Help me spread the word.


Yesterday, I asked...

"A town after my own heart. Battleboro, Vermont residents will vote on an issue that calls for what?"

58% said "That kids must cover their ass cracks"
- I do believe this, but it's more of a safety issue. Small animals, like mice and squirrels, could try to hide in there and get crushed.

14% said "That all restaurants have vegan options"
- True. I do wish there were more vegan options other than salads and fries. Blooming onions don't count.

No one thought it was "That Richard Simmons be forced to wear pants"

28 % got it right with "That Bush and Cheney be arrested"

According to the Rutland Herald, Brattleboro residents will vote on Tuesday, March 4th on whether President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney should be indicted and arrested for war crimes, perjury or obstruction of justice if they ever step foot in Vermont. The idea is spreading: Activists in Louisville, Ky., are spearheading a similar drive, and he said activists were also working in Montague, Mass.. The article goes on to say the indictments would be the "law of the town of Brattleboro that the Brattleboro police ... arrest and detain George Bush and Richard Cheney in Brattleboro, if they are not duly impeached ..." Kurt Daims, the organizer of the petition drive, said "If Hitler were still alive and walked through Brattleboro, I think the local police would arrest him for war crimes." I don't think it's fair to compare Bush to Hitler. Hitler was a much better public speaker.

Heil, Bush!

Monday, January 28, 2008

With Your Help...

I know times are tough and it's hard to think about giving, but for just a few cents a day, you can help buy this man a pair of pants.

Sadly, this man wonders the streets of New York only able to afford this thrift store ensemble of a pair of striped boxers and a flamboyant wife-beater. The minimal threads of cotton he is able to clothe himself with is equal to the shreds of dignity he has left.

This condition has led him to shaving his armpits and airing them out to dry in public.

This man can sometimes be seen late at night on obscure television channels parading around with overweight people obsessively trying to agitate their sweat glands to music played by dead people. The only rare sighting of him wearing pants is on a DVD about "loving oneself." Clearly, the love he has for himself is of an abusive nature and he is in need of a professional to intervene. This man should stop seeing himself immediately!

With your donation, we might be able to get this man the clothes and the help he needs.


Friday, I asked...

"La Tasca, a Spanish Tapas restaurant in Richmond, Va. was recently fined $2,000 for serving what?"

42% said "Patatas A Lo Pube"
- Yum! Try it with the crabs.

No one went for "Toe-tilla Espanol" or "Pinchos Mucus"
- Both of which are wonderful with a little mole sauce.

58% got it right with "Sangria"

According to the AP, since 1934, the state of Virginia has prohibited mixing wine or beer with spirits. Frances McDonald, vice president of La Tasca Spanish Tapas Bar and Restaurants, found that out the hard way when his Alexandria location was cited for violating the sangria ban in 2006 and fined $2,000. McDonald said his business received no warning about the ban. Well, first off, ignorance of the law is no excuse, buddy. And this law makes perfect sense. Just ask anyone the morning after a robust evening of bouncing around between beers, wine and shots. That pounding in my head and that multi-colored swill spewing from my guts are an affront to mankind.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Saturday Morning Cartoons!

"El Kabong Strikes Again" (1960)

Quick Draw McGraw was one of many characters in the the Hanna-Barbera cartoon stable. While individual cartoons themselves seldom rose to the level of classic, the characters themselves certainly did. Most everyone knows or has heard of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss, but few would be able to quote any storylines. The characters were known for doing one or two things and they did that one or two things over and over again. Still, the characters were fun and, as a kid, I didn't care so much about the story.

Quick Draw was a horse in the Old (south) West with a sidekick burro named Babba Looey, often acting as the sheriff and deputy of a small town. Someone would need help and Quick Draw would answer the call. Sometimes, for no discernible reason, he would go as his alter-ego, the Zorro-esque El Kabong. There are other oddities, too. Even thought Quick Draw is himself a horse, he rode a horse. As did Baba Looey. Quick Draw also had a pet dog named Snuffles. And everyone else in the town is human.

The Quick Draw McGraw Show debuted in 1959 and tapped into the popularity of all the westerns that were on at the time. It has run in syndication ever since.

The Quick Draw McGraw Show was sponsored by Kellogg's. McGraw even appeared on boxes of Sugar Smacks. Yum... Sugar Smacks.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Looks like Uncle Sam's going to give us some money to go play! Woo-hoo!

As is typical with the Bush Administration, the folks who could really use a break aren't going to be getting it. They just want to give us some money to go spend and stimulate the economy. This is just a leftover of Bush's days as a drunk when he would buy everyone a round to prevent him from drinking alone.

This recession - that we are not actually in but have been on the brink of for a very long time mainly because everyone in Washington is too much of a pussy to call it a recession - is all our fault, really. We are at war, and we, the American people, are not taking it seriously. Resident Bush, the great visionary, called us on it right after 9/11. Right when we were ready to roll up our sleeves and sacrifice for our country he gave us a directive - "Go shopping!"

Did we listen? Apparently not.

Even though it looks to me like a lot of people are buying a lot of things. I am seeing more iPhones and Blackberrys than I did six months ago. My fiancee and I bought a new couch last December. I rushed into a Target last night five minutes before closing and bought the 30th Anniversary DVD edition of Blazing Saddles (It's on sale for $6.50, by the way - Yee haw!). There's always a line at the Starbucks I go to. So, who's not pulling their weight? Poor people, that's who! They're too busy blowing their minimum wage paychecks on almost paying the rent. They are taking their unemployment benefits and jacking up the price of ramen noodles with their reckless spending.

The stimulus package is too little, too late and is just a placebo to make us think that congress and the administration are actually doing something. All they are doing is showing that the government is full of idiots who love to spend money when the country is trillions of dollars in debt.

Wish my budgeting system worked that way.

Oh, wait, it does. That must be that Trickle Down Theory at work.


Yesterday, I asked...

"According to producer Michael G. Wilson, the title of the new James Bond film is what?"

14% said "The Stealth Affair"
- Nope. Sounds like a Pixar movie about adorable hi-tech fighter planes in love.

14% said "Silhouettes"
- Good description of the opening credits, but sounds more like a Lifetime Original movie with Valerie Bertinelli.

14% said "Die Another Golden Tomorrow and Live Forever Twice Dr. Octopussy"
- How about "To Overkill Another Day"?

58% got it right with "Quantum of Solace"

According to the AP, producers have revealed some of the secrets about the latest James Bond film, due for release later this year, including the inner turmoil that drives its suave superagent hero and its title: Quantum of Solace. WTF? Daniel Craig, who claims the title has grown on him, said Bond author Ian Fleming defined a "quantum of solace" — it means, roughly, a measure of comfort — as "that spark of niceness in a relationship that if you don't have, you might as well give up." Ummm... Where's the danger? Where's the mystery? Where's the cool factor? It sounds like the dry dissertation of a psych grad. Look for long scenes of Bond broodingly taking personality quizes in Cosmo.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thursday Mornings

First off, thank you for reading this blog. It's made a tremendous difference to me as a writer and if no one were reading it, I would have stopped doing it. But people do read, so I try to post something new Monday through Saturday by 8am, usually earlier.

If you are one of my early morning readers, you'll have noticed that I tend to post late on Thursday mornings. On Thursday mornings, I have coffee with my friend Andrew. We meet at 7am at Metropolis in Rogers Park and then walk over to where he works. It is here that we have a talk. But it's not just any talk. It's called "peer empowerment." PEP, for short.

Now, I know that already sounds weird. Maybe it is. It's certainly not a common practice among we humans. Here's how it goes, one of us talks for thirty minutes while the other one listens. Then we switch. And that's it. We don't try to solve each other's problems or in any way try to dissect what the other person said. We just listen to one another.

There are a few guidelines we try to follow. While listening, we try to avoid being judgmental. If I notice myself having strong opinions about what Andrew's talking about, I try to let go of it and try to stay focused in the moment about what he is saying. While speaking, we try to stay in the moment and try to "dig in" to whatever issue we're exploring for ourselves. We try to avoid speaking about the past or telling stories. Also, while speaking, we try to avoid being entertaining for the other person. We are speaking for ourselves, getting thoughts and feelings expressed so we can better grapple with whatever's going on in our lives. Afterwards, we might exchange a few comments about what we talked about, but generally we don't. Absolutely everything we say to one another is confidential.

I didn't realize this until recently, but Andrew and I have been doing this for five years. Time flies. It's an effective tool for getting a lot of things about career, family and relationships out of my head and into a realm of possibly doing something about them. There's also something really great and hard to describe about speaking and having someone attentively and non-judgmentally listening for thirty minutes.

Give it a try. It doesn't seem to work too well for family members and couples. Usually because the person talking tends to be talking about the person trying to listen without judgment. Virtually impossible for a married couple to do!

So, that's why I'm usually late on Thursdays. Blame Andrew.


Yesterday, I asked...

" features a shooter game where kids get to use what for targets?"

30% said "Illegal Immigrants"
- That's the republican version of the game.

25% said "House Pets"
- Yes, but they can only shoot the ones that scratch the new furniture. My fiancee would love this game.

15% said "High School Students"
- Yes, and then they move to the next level, which is college students, and then co-workers.

30% got it right with "Presidential Candidates"

According to The Smoking Gun, Presidential Paintball, a popular online games site offers kids the opportunity to assume the identity of a leading presidential contender and then shoot their political opponents in a series of armed confrontations in the White House. While the ammo is paintball, the game on the highly trafficked site allows kids to train a rifle scope on six presidential aspirants and squeeze off a hail of shots (which are accompanied with a rat-a-tat sound). I think a better name might be My Little Assassin.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Leaning to Write

Not a typo.

I do mean "leaning."

I recently wrapped up a big corporate gig where I had to write the narration for a series of mockumentaries. The mockumentaries were used as what's called "eye openers" and "energizers." They were the first thing participants saw at the start of each day, thus the "eye-opener" part and they were also peppered throughout the conference to give a boost to the proceedings, thus the "energizer" term.

The premise I was given to write for was that this particular group of salesmen were somehow linked to wolves. I was also shown a BBC documentary on wolves to model and a web invite that the company used that featured a Steve Irwin-type character in the wild tracking one of these sales/wolf beasts.This looked like a lot of fun. The BBC narration was very serious, which made it the perfect genre to imitate to heighten the comedy of the premise.

But how do you write a script for a mockumentary without any footage? You just take a swing at it and hope something hits. First, I studied the language of the BBC documentary and the topics it covered. I then started breaking it down to possible segments and possible narration. And boy did I have a lot of bits. My favorite was to show an older salesperson at a vending machine feeding his young - in my mind, a small group of children dressed like salespeople, complete with mustaches and receding hairlines.

After assembling four or five rough drafts and running it by my partners, we sent it on to the client. The client, in this case, is the person in charge of events and meetings. This person is our touchstone to finding out if our material is appropriate for the event. In this case, she thought the bits were funny, but had another parameter to throw down on us. When we go out to the dealerships to shoot footage, the salesmen couldn't know what we were really there to do. The video at the conference had to be a complete surprise. So, no asking them to do any wolf bits or anything out of the ordinary. Yikes! Now, it really was becoming like a documentary. We had to observe these salesmen in their "natural environments" and craft our segments from that. I had to learn to write backwards. Instead of writing a script and sending them to get the shots needed to support it, we had to get shots of salespeople at work and then craft the pieces.

Does that mean the time I spent on the rough drafts were a waste of time? Not at all. if anything, it got me writing in the voice and style of the BBC documentaries. It was good practice and about a third to half of the narration did end up int he final product.

But at first I was stumped and convinced this project was doomed. It was so out of the realm of how I was used to writing, especially for video. What helped, was spending one day with the camera crew at the first location they went to. We told the guys we were their making a promotional video for the company. I watched them do everything that day - make dials, appraise trucks, eat lunch, chat with each other about prospects and startegies, etc. It was a real eye-opener for me in that it didn't fit anything I envisioned. And seeing what they went through, gave me ideas for filling out the segment categories and gave me ideas for a few new ones. It was an important step that I now could see in my mind what the end result could look like. I was able to give the camera crew suggestions on what to be on the lookout for when they went to other locations.

In the end, it worked very well. I had to give up my usual approach and go with a back-and-forth script-to-video to back to script molding and shaping process. It turned out to be highly collaborative. It was up to the director to make sure the shots were there to use and up to the editor to make sure it all popped and flowed with the narration. Quite a challenge, but a satisfying one that forced me to write in a new way. If they had come to me before we started and asked me to do it, I would have told them to find someone who knows how to do it. Fortunately for me, I was already committed to work on it. I had to lean into a new process and teach myself how to do it as we were making it up. Great way to grow as a writer.

The big challenge with corporate work is to make it funny without relying on jokes that are too inside. I think we accomplished that. I'm keeping the client's name off the blog for a few reasons - I don't have their permission, for one. But if Fig ever posts the work we did on their website, I will link to it so you can check it out.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Researchers in Europe have declared that a cure for children's colds can be found in what?"

80% said "toilet water, literally"
- No, but I hear that works for dogs.

No one thought it was "swamp water" or "bath water"
Which are synonymous in some households.

20% got it right with "sea water"

According to Reuters, a nasal spray made from Atlantic Ocean seawater eased wintertime cold symptoms faster and slowed cough and cold symptoms from returning among children ages 6 to 10, researchers in Europe reported on Monday. It may be that the salt water has a simple mechanical effect of clearing mucus, or it could be that trace elements in the water play some more significant role, though the exact reason why such a solution works is not known, said Dr Ivo Slapak and colleagues at the Teaching Hospital of Brno in the Czech Republic. So, there you go. You now have permission to waterboard your children. It's not torture. It's a cold medicine.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Putting the "Pain" in Campaigns

Many presidential candidates go for broke, literally and figuratively, while campaigning for our votes. They will simply do and say whatever it takes to convince us they are the ones we should be spending our vote on. It's a time-honored tradition and, of course, this gets ugly.

For the Clintons, this is business as usual. Their view is a lot of blood will be spilled in a campaign, go for it and clean up the mess afterwards. Obama has slowly been drawn in to the negative campaigning. Seeing Bill Clinton slam Obama is uncomfortable. Here's an ex-president who I thought did a decent job in the White House. Here he is talking smack about a guy I find sincere and likable, to say the least. It's, well, unbecoming of an ex-president, and is tarnishing my image of him. And when I see Bill trashing Obama, or watch Hilary and Obama go after each other at debates, its that uncomfortable feeling one gets being at a restaurant where a couple is arguing loudly. Hey, knock it off or take it outside.

I guess my real beef is that this is taking over the focus of the democratic primaries. There's such a lack of respect for the voters that the candidates themselves have turned it away from a civil debate about issues to a catty popularity contest. Many politicians, i.e. The Clintons, will sum this up as "just politics" and we'll all forgive each other at the convention. I think it has a longer, more damaging effect. I also think it shows their true colors and should act as a red flag for voters. If they have the capacity to be this slimy on the campaign trail, they'll be this slimy in the Oval Office. Do you want a candidate who speaks about what they stand for and demonstrates it by walking their talk, or do you want a WWE Smackdown? You can't have both.

"We have got to understand, this is not about us personally. It's about what we are trying to do for this country."

John Edwards said that. He's running for president, too, by the way.


Yesterday, I asked...

"According to a poll commissioned by 20th Century Fox, the favorite movie weapon of all time is the what?"

No one, absolutely NO ONE, thought it might be "Kill Bill's Samurai Sword," "Indiana Jones' whip," or "James Bond's Walther PPK gun"
- I guess they're all too conventional. And that whip looks and sounds cool, but you need a lot of space and accuracy to get any use out of it.

100% got it right with "Star Wars' light saber"

According to The Press Association, the Star Wars' lightsaber has been named the favourite movie weapon of all time. The Jedi's blade beat James Bond's gun and Indiana Jones's bullwhip in the poll. Other weapons in the top 10 include the samurai sword from Kill Bill and the bow and arrow used in Robin Hood, the survey of 2,000 film fans commissioned by 20th Century Fox found.

As for me, this is my favorite movie weapon...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Robowriter's Update

Sound the trumpets!

Robowriters returns!

At a new space!

With a new day and time!

Saturdays at 1pm starting February 2nd (Ground Hog's Day!) !

At Gorilla Tango!

Alright, enough with the exclamation points. You get it. I'm excited. I've been going through Robowriters withdrawals over the last month. We're tickled all sorts of different colors to be working with Gorilla Tango. A few Robowriters have produced or been associated with shows there. David Devries' Eat Mud is currently running there on the weekends, Fridays and Saturdays at 10pm. Robot vs Dinosaur will be producing our new show there in the spring. A very sincere WHOOP-DEE-DOO is in order.

Gorilla Tango is located at 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave., just a few doors southeast of the Western and Milwaukee intersection, near the Western Blue Line Stop.


On Friday, I asked...

"The Swiss Meat Association is worried there may be a shortage of what?"

42% said "Italian tripe"
- They have another name for it there - politics.

28% said "Lithuanian pig snouts"
- Nope. Plenty there. Have a second helping.

No one went for the "Canadian turducken"

28% got it right with "Brazilian cow intestines"

According to Business Week, a sausage that has become a part of the Swiss national identity could soon become extinct, and the European Union is to blame. Despite the fact that Brazil has never recorded a single case of mad cow disease, the European Union banned imports of Brazilian beef intestines over concerns about Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis (BSE) on April 1, 2006. Switzerland isn't an EU member state, but it does observe food directives from Brussels to ensure it can continue to trade freely with its neighbors. "Darm-Alarm" is the call being heard across the land ("Darm" is German for bowels), wrote the Swiss newspaper 20 Minuten. One editorialist wrote, "Switzerland has surrendered itself in the case of our national sausage to technocrats in Brussels, of all people." Oh, shut up and drink your hot chocolate. The reduction of sausage from the Swiss diet will make everyone's cleaner colon there yodel.

Here's little Hans chowing down on the national sausage shaped, coincidentally, the same way it looks coming out.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Different Tom and Jerry

Pots and Pans (1932)

Still down in the dangly part of the United States, but was able to get up early enough today to post a little something, something. Some of my favorite Tom and Jerry cartoons involve music, so I was trying to track one down. Instead, I found this. Van Beuren Studios - with RKO - had their own Tom and Jerry. Humans in place of animals and more Laurel and Hardy than adversaries.

There are many arguments about the origins of the music video - The Monkees, American musicals come to mind - but I think an argument could be made for early cartoons. As early animators were still wrangling with how or if to tell a story, they often just showcased a song. And I'm a sucker for early black and white cartoons. There's something very innocent and surreal about them. In this one, Tom and Jerry operate a small diner and everyone, including the food, get in on jamming to a tune. Enjoy!

Friday, January 18, 2008

BS News Quiz

Today's a busy day at the corporate event. My call time is 7am and I'll be going all day through 6pm. SO, just the news quiz today...


Yesterday, I asked...

"U.S. scientists say they have created a genetically-engineered carrot that does what?"

34% said "Tastes like candy"
- Given how candy-ized yogurt and granola bars have become, this can't be far behind.

11% said "Beats up rabbits"
- That's one tough carrot.

No one thought it might be "Eats itself"
- This is geared towards kids who don't like vegetables and parents who like clean plates.

55% got it right with "Provides calcium"

According to the BBC, scientists in the US say they have created a genetically-engineered carrot that provides extra calcium. On its own, the carrot would not meet the daily requirement of 1,000mg of calcium, but if other vegetables were similarly engineered, intake could be increased dramatically. Um, instead of mutating nature with Frankenfoods, couldn't people wishing to have more calcium in their diet and avoid dairy just eat more vegetables that already have calcium in them. Stuff like kale? No? Too tough to market? Okay. Then if you really want me to eat those carrots so I can get more calcium, you're going to have to make them taste like coffee. Or Corn Nuts.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Florida Kind of Blows

Okay, I really, really, have nothing to complain about. I have a lovely hotel room. The food is decent and most of it will be paid for by the client. There's a small arcade with air hockey and a Family Guy pinball machine. The vending machines have sodas- 20 oz sodas! - for only a dollar. I'm being paid to write, perform and be creative.

What blows is to be in Florida in the winter and have rain, possibly thunderstorms, all frickin' week. We may get some sun on Saturday when I am booked to be indoors all, and I mean ALL, day. Woo-hoo! The big events today for conference goers are to either go golfing - which will really suck - or go to Universal Studios - which will really suck, but they do have many indoor activities. I'll be making my way over to Universal Studios later this afternoon after a rehearsal when it is supposed to lighten up a bit, but still be raining.

Last night, after a long day of travel and meetings, the Fig crew and I hopped in the outdoor poolside hot tub. As soon as I dipped my tired body into the bubbly hot goodness, it started to rain. But it was actually enjoyable. It was a light sprinkle while sitting in a hot tub. And it brought out the earthy smell of surrounding trees and dirt. So, I really do have nothing to complain about and having to choose between waiting for a bus in the single digit temps of Chicago or bobbing in a warm hot tub in the rain, well, you know...

One thing we did last night that I will be stealing and bringing to my own shows is how we sat around a table and went through every moment of the show flow. The "show," in this case, is over three days. Very thorough and it made apparent what was still needed and it added a lot of assurance moving into the week.


Yesterday, I asked...

"New census figures have declared France to be the 2007 European champion of what?"

47% said "American expatriates"
- I think it's only true if you are counting celebrities who can afford it.

8% said "Diversity" or "Wealth"
- Either may be true, but if it is, they are not bragging about it.

37% got it right with "Fertility"

According to the AFP, with 1.98 children per woman, France's fertility rate is now ahead of Ireland on 1.90, according to the latest government figures, and well above the European Union average of 1.52. Hmmm, I wonder if this has anything to do with George Clooney having a home in France. Somebody put that stud out to pasture already.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Flying South

Whenever I travel for business I almost always end up in place like Kuwait in August or the Upper Peninsula in March. This is one of two times that I can think of where the travel gods have got it right. I am flying to Orlando today and will return on Sunday. And it looks like I'll be able to do updates from there...poolside. I love traveling for business. It makes me feel important. But I couldn't help but notice that the client booked themselves flights out of O'Hare (in first or business class, I'm sure) while they booked the Fig crew and I to fly out of Midway (steerage).


Yesterday, I asked...

"A county judge in Washington state who made a woman in his courtroom remove her hat has apologized because she what?"

50% said "Her hat was a wig"
- I've seen old people do that and you can tell because it just doesn't quite line-up right. Velcro strips will help that. That's my bald guy tip of the day.

No one fell for "Is Muslim" or "Had severe hat head"

The other 50% got it right with "Has cancer"

According to The Tri-City Herald, a Benton County judge has apologized for telling a woman with cancer to take a knitted cap off her bald head or leave his courtroom. "Words can't express how sorry I am," Judge Holly Hollenbeck told the Herald on Monday, a few hours after he spoke with Bev Williams by phone and offered an unconditional apology. Williams, 43, said the District Court judge told her the no-hat rule would no longer apply in his courtroom. Williams, who lost her hair after enduring six months of chemotherapy, was in court to give moral support to her teenage daughter, who was facing a misdemeanor charge. Hollenbeck insisted the Kennewick woman remove her hat or leave. Williams chose to leave, crying as she left the courtroom, which had 60 people in it. You know, what kind of barbaric world are we to live in every time we change a rule for someone just because they have a little cancer. You get cancer, you take your lumps. Am I right or what? ...Hello...Excuse me, another Sea Breeze for Cabana Number 8, please...Keep 'em coming...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Auditioning for Improvisation

Currently at Columbia College, we are in what is known as "J Term." The "J," I am quite certain, stands for January. Being on semesters at Columbia leaves a huge month-and-a-half holiday break. J Term is a way for students to make some extra credit and boost their grade point averages while taking courses that are geared towards their majors. The classes are longer than usual, but also fewer in number, like a summer term.

Last year, I proposed a class in how to audition for improvisation. The class works on two fronts. For those uninitiated in auditioning for a Second City or a ComedySportz, it takes the mystery out of it. For those just plain new to the audition process, it provides information and an application opportunity to give yourself more of a professional edge. If I am auditioning for a show and I narrow a choice down to two people of similar qualities, I'm going to go with the one who came across the most professional.

Here are a list of audition guidelines compiled from my own experience on both sides of the table...

- Unless given specific instructions on when to arrive, arrive fifteen minutes early. Too early, and you might be an unintended inconvenience for the hosts. Too late, and it's disruptive. If you stroll in right on time, you have not allowed for any information sheet you need to fill out or any processing they might need to do with your headshot and resume. Most adjudicators like to have a chance to look over your headshot and resume before you enter the room.

- Make sure you have a contact number for the people you are auditioning for. If you are going to be late, CALL! If you are unable to make the audition, CALL! Nothing worse than scheduling a slot and not showing up. Even if you have just changed your mind about auditioning for that particular group, CALL! You don't have to tell them why, just that you are no longer available.

- Improv auditions are often held in groups. Connect with the people you are auditioning with. This may mean simply meeting them, but could also mean playing a quick circle game before going in. Another reason to arrive early.

- Bring a good pen. More than likely you'll need to fill out an information sheet and more than likely the pen they'll provide you is a piece of crap ballpoint with toothmarks. And fill out the info sheet honestly without trying to be funny. The audition is your opportunity to show you can get laughs through quality improvisation.

- Bring a calendar in case they need to consider your availability.

- Bring a current headshot and resume. The headshot should look like you. A pleasant smile is fine, no need for your headshot to be wacky. The resume should clearly state your name, contact information, and stage experience. Make sure plays are separate from improv. Don't lie and don't joke on your resume. Your headshot and resume are a little piece of you.

- Dress like you care. Business casual is always a good way to go. You look nice and comfortable. Make sure you are wearing something you feel at ease moving around in and, crawling on the floor in, if called to. Avoid ratty jeans, big heels, noisy shoes, flashy clothing of any kind, t-shirts (period) and hats. NO HATS! It hides part of your face, reads like you are uncomfortable and lacking confidence and, for women especially, it means you are probably a nut.

- If you don't know, ask. Improv games come by many different names. If you are asked to do a game you have never heard of, ask about it. And then jump in big. Even if it is a game you have never heard of or played before.

- If you are asked a question about yourself, just answer honestly. No need to try to be funny.

- This goes without saying for most of you who read this, but don't bring props. Yes, this has happened to me.

- Don't try to socialize with the adjudicators. If you know one of them, a little smile or nod is fine, but keep your demeanor friendly and professional. Come in, do your best, then leave. Don't hang out afterwards! And definitely don't ask how you did!

- If you run into the people that ran the audition later, don't ask about the audition. If they have information to tell you or ask you about, they will. If it's at a bar or restaurant, give them their space and privacy.

- Take care of yourself after the audition. You didn't do as bad as you think, but you also didn't do as well. Some retrospection on how you did and could do better is fine, but don't dwell on it. Go hang out with friends, go to work, go to a movie. Move on with your life. If you do have a relationship with one of the persons who ran the audition, it's okay to graciously ask them for feedback, but wait a few days.

Ultimately, what the judges are looking for is subjective. If you show up like a pro and demonstrate solid, basic improv skills, you have a better shot than most.

Let me know in the comment section if you have an addendum to this list.


Yesterday, I asked...

"David Binner of Doylestown, PA almost had a disorderly conduct charge added to a $5 parking ticket when he did what?"

33% said "wiped the ticket on his ass"
- If I were the cop, I would then make him eat it.

22% said kept "cursing at his grandmother"
- You never know. She may have deserved it.

No one said "plowed into the cop's car as he sped away"

45% got it right with "wrote an obscene message on his check"

According to the AP, a man who wrote a vulgar message on the memo line of a check he used to pay a $5 parking ticket has apologized in writing, leading police to drop a disorderly conduct charge against him. Clerks were offended by the message, and the disorderly conduct charge was filed because the comment was obscene, police Chief James Donnelly said. Yep. David dropped the F-bomb on his memo line. I always wondered what people used that for. I wish those people in the VISA check card commercials would insist on paying with a check and use the memo line to tell all those Busby Berkley shoppers to fuck off.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Kick It, Yo

Last week, I received an e-mail from Ken Robertson, an actor, improviser, writer and occasional reluctant director in San Francisco. Ken has run into a problem that I think most everyone runs into eventually, even in New York and Los Angeles. He states, "I’ve pretty much hit the wall for the level of teaching offered in out-of-town-intensives and over-the-Internet classes, as well as the limit of sketch-writing instruction I can find in San Francisco. And relocation to Chicago ain’t likely anytime soon." I can relate to this. In Chicago, I don't feel anyone is offering a sketch writing class that would benefit me at this stage in my development, but I think it's important to always be receiving coaching on the quality of your work. . In connection with this dilemma, Ken had some specific questions for me.

What sort of practice do you do on a daily \ weekly basis to keep yourself sharp and improve your writing?

- I paint myself into corners where I have to write. This blog is one example. I will also get involved in projects like 24-Hour Play festivals where there is a huge time crunch to produce material. It's also helpful to develop relationships with theaters that produce original material. WNEP often has writing sessions for generating material for shows. The Armageddon Radio Hour and Soiree Dada: Blinde Essel Hopse are two recent ones. Currently, I am working with them on a series of pieces based on Edward Hopper paintings. Robot vs Dinosaur also keeps me producing material on-goingly. Projects like these have also helped me professionally when I have to create material under a deadline. San Francisco has a rep for being a bit of a theater town, there must be somebody there doing something you like.

What things do you aim for \ look for when you work to improve your pieces (or your writing in general)?

- I usually just write to tell a story. However, I will always share what I have written with like-minded folks whose feedback I respect. This is important. The improvement usually comes in the re-write. They will tell me if I need to make something clearer, or more focused. Sometimes I will set out to emulate someone's style which helps expand my range. All the guys in Robot vs Dinosaur have unique absurd intelligent styles and I will sometimes try to write a "Nat" piece or a "Greg" piece. Or I will challenge myself by trying to write a silent scene, or a satirical piece, etc.

What sorts of actions would you recommend to someone like myself (working solo or at least in an area without a group of accomplished sketch writers) who wants to improve their sketch and comedy writing?

- I would recommend taking non-sketch writing classes and workshops and bringing what you learn into your sketch work. I will sometimes take classes in screenwriting or playwrighting to do this. But I also think classes in short story writing or poetry would also be beneficial. Fundamentally, all writing tries to achieve the same thing, but takes a different road to get there. I would also try to find one or two other like-minded writers that you can meet with regularly and give one another constructive feedback. They don't have to be accomplished, just people whose opinion you trust. And then get that material up in front of an audience. They're the ones who will give you the most honest feedback.

I hope that was helpful to you, Ken, and to others. If anyone else has questions about sketch writing, please send them along to


On Friday, I asked...

"Shona Adams, the owner of a look-alike agency in London, hopes to make a fortune off her newest client who looks like whom?"

40% said "A midget Mr. Bean"
- Only in my fantasies.

40% said "Benazir Bhutto"
- Yep. That would be sick, but the right answer is even worse.

10% said "Princess Di"
- Oh, she already has one. And for an extra 10 bucks, she'll pole dance.

10% got it right with "Maddie McCann"

According to The Sun, the boss of a lookalike agency who hopes to make a fortune out of a little Madeleine McCann double said last night: “It’s not sinister – it’s entertainment.” Shona Adams reckons three-year-old Kelsey Lynn Kudla’s similarity to missing Maddie could earn her £9MILLION for starring in a proposed feature film about the vanished tot. A film that only exists in Shona Adams' mind, by the way. This is just horrifying. Maddie's parents, of course, are deeply disturbed by all this. If there was a line between sinister and entertainment before this, Shona Adams has obliterated it. However, the person who should be really upset is Raph Fiennes. On the Juliet Adams Model Agnecy's Look-a-Likes page, they have this listed as his picture.