Monday, March 31, 2008

Musical Influences

Well, I tried to post a new News Quiz on Friday and Blogger was just having none of that nonsense. I couldn't even get rid of the old one and ended up moving it to the bottom of the page. Any way, coming off a busy week and going into a busy week. The upside is that I got to spend all day Saturday shooting seven fake drive-in movie trailers for an event in a few weeks. We didn't get the budget we wanted, so we ended up taking the original scripts and just doing them on the flying - changing them and coming up with other ways to do them. It was a lot of fun. Here are the movie titles I wrote for the project: Star Truck, Who's Afraid of Virginia the Wolf, Drive Hard 2: Drive Harder, Rock 'n' Roll Trouble, Truckstop of the Dead, Chris (the male version of Christine) and Mother Trucker. Very silly and they look like they are turning out to be very funny. We might end up posting edited version - sans client references - to the Fig website.


I like Southwest Airlines. They tend to be very reliable and the people tend to be very friendly. Lately, though, it seems they are over selling all their flights. All the ones I have been on. While that can be very uncomfortable there can be advantages. On Friday afternoon in Raleigh, they asked for volunteers to step off my flight. You would get a voucher for the cost of the flight plus a hundred dollars. I took it. The next flight was a couple hours later. The Raleigh-Durham airport, by the way, while small, is a great airport. Everything is reasonably priced, the food is good and they have a spa. I killed an hour getting a facial (insert your own joke here) and a neck and shoulders massage. It was great and not very expensive. The best part is that I was able to give my voucher to Julie who bought a round-trip ticket to Orlando for only $30. It was worth sticking around for that.


WNEP Theater announces auditions for Metaluna and the Amazing Science of the Mind Revue, by Joe Janes and directed by Jen Ellison. Metaluna will be produced at A Red Orchid Theatre, July 17 - August 16. Auditions will take place April 19 & 20, 10am - 4pm at the Peter Jones Gallery ( 1806 W. Cuyler, 2nd Floor). Please prepare 2 minutes of anything: Magic tricks, cooking tips, personal stories, a monologue, etc. To schedule an audition time, please send an email to You may also schedule an audition by calling 773/552-3133 on April 8th, 12pm - 5pm (Calls at any other time will not be accepted.) Walk-ins are welcome, though we cannot guarantee a time for you.


Mr. Othic filled in for me on Saturday and came up with this assignment for generating material... Write a list of 10 songs that you either really loved or hated, then take three of those and let the title, the lyrics, or the music inspire them. Then write down 3 one-line comic premises for each song, then write a scene from one of those.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The BS News Quiz of the Day

On Wednesday, I asked...

"Garrett A. Dalton of Connecticut may have been busted on a worker's comp scam when he was seen doing what?"

33% said "Teaching an aerobics"
- Feel the burn...and s-t-r-e-t-c-h that lie!

No one said "Climbing a tree" or "Giving a lap dance"

66% got it right with "Racing in high heels"

According to the Republican-American, Garrett A. dalton, a state correction officer who was collecting workers' compensation because of a back injury has been suspended from his job and arrested after news photographers captured him competing in a radio-sponsored 40-yard dash in high heels.

You know, I try to come up with witty things to say here, but all I really have for this guy is...idiot.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Corporate Lacky

I'm off to North Carolina today for a fun project. I'm helping out on an in-house training video as a "creative consultant." My job is to sit around and say "Hey, try it this way..." while Catholic school girls wash my feet and dry them with rose petals. Tough gig, but I am up for the challenge.

If you miss me, you can see my face downtown on these banners. My face is the one split in half by a light post.

(Photo by Fuzzy.)


Yesterday, I asked...

"A bearded man in Rome is wanted by police for robbing stores and banks using what?"

25% said "Whining"
- But I said I want the money now (he said, stretching the "now" into two siren-like syllables)!

12% said "Seduction"
- Well, hello. Did heaven lose an angel? ...All the cash, please. ...That smock would looks lovely on you. ...10's and 20's. In this bag.

No one said "Motivational Techniques"
- Are you afraid? Good. Face your fear! Put the money in the bag, you can do anything!

62% said "Hypnotism"

According to Orlando's Local 6 News, a mysterious bearded man in Rome is wanted by police for using hypnotism to mesmerize cashiers and bank tellers while he steals thousands of dollars. Surveillance video from inside a store that aired on CCTV showed the man walking up to a supermarket cashier and apparently mesmerizing her before stealing cash.The same man is believed to be responsible for robbing banks. A bank teller said the man approached her, leaned over and told her to "look into my eyes," the report said. The next thing she noticed was her till was empty. Another cashier handed over more than $1,200 after she said she became mesmerized by the man. Local 6 reported that the victim's don't remember any of the theft, only that their actions seemed natural at the time.

I guess the "help you quit smoking or lose weight" market has dried up for this guy. I hope he is working up to something bigger, because this sure seems like a waste of his talents. The obvious "show me your boobs" possibilities aside, this guy could be making wheel barrows full of cash as a religious leader, an infomercial pitchman or campaigning for Hillary Clinton - "Yes, she was under sniper fire in Bosnia. Yes, she did save her daughter and Sinbad's life. These are not the droids you are looking for."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Oh, The Audacity!

Well said, Paul.


Yesterday, I asked...

"A con artist in Pennsylvania is scamming McDonald's restaurants out of food by pretending to be what?"

40% said "A youth minister" - Blessed are the empty calories. 30% said "Ronald McDonald" - Anyone willing to fess up to being Ronald deserves a break today. 10% said "A food drive rep" - Feed the hungry...crap? 20% got it right with "A high school basketball coach" According to the Associated Press, police in three western Pennsylvania towns are looking for a man who pretends to be a basketball coach and scams McDonald's restaurants out of food and money using bad checks. Police say the man drives up in a school-type bus and enters the restaurants ordering about $50 of food for his "team." The man then pays with a $150 check that appears to be from a school district and takes his food and his change, in cash. Seems pretty elaborate for stealing just $100 and $50 in crappy burgers. This man's gifts are being entirely wasted. He should be in politics.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Background Check


In my Columbia Comedy Workshop class, we're working on a scene where a couple is having dinner at a restaurant and nothing happens. They just have a nice conversation. No heightening. Nothing at stake. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, by the end of the scene, nearly everyone in the background at the restaurant is dead. It's a fun scene and in putting it together, I realized how little attention is paid to the "background" in a scene, especially those written for the stage. Typically, if you even have people in a scene in the background, it's usually to emphasize the effect that the couple is in public and someone is making a fool of his or herself. They are just a little more than window dressing. A little.

So, the assignment for this week is to write a scene where the story - or stories - that you are telling play out in the background. In our show, we have three scenarios playing out. It doesn't have to be that many. It could just be one.
Whether the scene in the background is connected to the foreground scene or not doesn't matter too much. The main thing is that the foreground scene establishes what's "normal" in this setting while the background scene does all the work of telling a story. You definitely don't want pertinent information being delivered in the foreground scene once you have started the background story. It might get lost. Nor does it have to be set in a restaurant. Any place where you can have two or more people in the same room, such as an office, train station, doctor's office waiting room, etc.

It's a fun, but challenging exercise. We tend to rely on our dialogue to tell the story. In this case, we are intentionally relying on our dialogue to NOT tell a story and allowing one or more to play out through action. Good luck!

THE BS NEWS QUIZ OF THE DAY On Friday, I asked...

"British author Sebastian Horsley was recently denied entry into the United States on what grounds?"

50% said "He wore a anti-Bush button" - While always in fashion, he was not wearing one.

37% said
"Terrorists like his books"
- I'd be more frightened if Oprah did.
No one said

"His pen could be a weapon"

12% got it right with
"Moral Turpitude"

According to The Times, Horsley flew to New York to promote a book about his time as a drug addict and his insatiable love of prostitutes was turned back at the airport on the ground of “moral turpitude”. Sebastian Horsley, 45, had arrived, dressed in his “dandy uniform” that includes a velvet scarf and a stovepipe hat, for the US launch of his memoir Dandy in the Underworld. Instead he was interrogated for eight hours at Newark Airport about past drug taking, his links to Kate Moss and the contents of his hat (to which he replied: “My head.”). His convictions were ages ago. If you are not going to let people into the country because they admit to having done drugs or being with prostitutes, then we should start shipping them out, too. Start with D.C. and then move to the state capitals.

In slight defense of the immigration officer, you are going to raise a little suspicion if you show up at the airport looking like this...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Essentially Sweet


The Essentials present...

A Challenge for the Actor
written, performed and presumably directed by
David Hornreich, Johnny Mineo, Nick McMann and Pete Lopez

Gorilla Tango Theatre
1919 North Milwaukee
Chicago, IL
Wednesdays at 8pm
(final show March 26th)
box office: (773) 598-4549

Drury Lane presents...

Sweet Charity
book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed by Jim Corti

Drury Lane Theatre Oakbrook
100 Drury Lane
Oakbrook, Terrace
Runs through May 18th
Box Office: (630) 530-0111

On Wednesday night, I went to Gorilla Tango in Chicago to see a sketch revue by The Essentials called A Challenge for the Actor. On Thursday evening, I saw the musical Sweet Charity at Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace. This, my friends, was the range of Chicago(land) theater done in two nights. Both productions have admirable qualities to them, and while I don't wholeheartedly recommend either, I do think they could learn from one another. If it were possible to have Sweet Charity sit down and have some coffee with The Essentials, I think both would be better for the experience.

Gorilla Tango is a small storefront theater in Bucktown. A small bar-slash-box office when you first walk in, bathrooms to the right, and then a tiny theater that seats about 60, maybe less. The stage is a small platform surrounded by bare brick walls and an exit to the rear of the stage. Can't miss it. It's the only way in or out for the actors. And, in case of an emergency, there's a huge lit EXIT sign above the door. Technically, the sound system is tinny and the stage light options are "on" or "off." A small curtain, lacking all qualities for soundproofing, separates the front of the house from the theatre.

Drury Lane is massive. It doubles as a conference center. There's a full bar and catering services. The theater, while large, is as intimate as it can be. I would guess it seats four or five hundred. There's a huge parking lot and garage there. Valet service, if you want it. Walking in, you are assaulted by an ocean of plush red carpeting, red walls, chandeliers and marble statues. It looks like it was decorated by the wife of a mobster in the 1970s. The stage is huge, has an orchestra pit, and a fancy lighting system that treats us to the title of the play floating in and out and over a scrim as you walk in.

Both environments work for what they are. And I felt very welcomed and taken care of in both places. The staff is very friendly. The staff, at Gorilla Tango, being Dan and the staff at Drury Lane being any number of folks walking around in a red sports coat.

The Essentials put on a sketch revue. It was rough. It was hard to tell when scenes were over. Transitions were clunky. They were often done in silence with the lights up full and the actors seeming unsure where to put their chairs or even what scene was coming up next. The scenes themselves were interesting most of the time, but could use tightening and heightening. It felt awkward and there were times when the audience clearly didn't know whether or not to clap after a scene. This is where they could learn a thing or two from Sweet Charity.

Sweet Charity is a musical from the mid-'60s and it definitely demonstrates the growing pains musicals were going through at the time on Broadway. Trying to remain true to their roots while begrudgingly acknowledging the big changes going on in the world. It is a slight story that is merely an excuse for a song and dance revue. There are several numbers that do absolutely nothing to forward the story, such as it is. In the hands of Bob Fosse, the original director, this would be a blast. Here, the weak story shows its age with a cast that is bright, but unable to rise above the script. What they do know, and know well, is how to technically work the audience. I don't mean that in any false way. I simply mean that the actors know when to hold a pose, the director knows when to raise music and shift lights all to allow opportunities for the audience to applaud. It's an invitation. The Essentials don't know yet how to take care of their audience in this way.

Where Sweet Charity lets us in on what's going on by befriending the audience, The Essentials leave us hanging. Their title is A Challenge to the Actor, but why? On their website, they mention their show is "a sketch play in four movements." There was no mention of that at the show and, even in retrospect, I have no idea what they mean. There were no programs at the show. Even if that concept is explained in a program, it should be able to stand on its own in the performance. What The Essentials do well is cover territory in ways that other groups haven't, or don't. My favorite scene takes place on an L train when a regular guy just starts chatting with another guy. Seems like a cool situation, until the one guy starts dropping verbal bombs that show his acute bigotry. It's nicely done and not overplayed. Their material is original and not derivative of other sketch groups or smacking of being a thinly veiled audition for MADtv or SNL. These guys are finding their own unique voice. This is what Sweet Charity can learn from The Essentials.

Sweet Charity is a musical stuck in 1966 trying to appeal to an audience from 1956. Where director Jim Corti fails is in not seizing the opportunity to take this dinosaur and make it his comany's own. What they have put up is a functional representation of Sweet Charity. There are some good moments and some good laughs, but it never grabs the musical, or the audience, by the balls. Without that vital energy, we just see a series of scenes from the life of Sweet Charity that don't amount to much.

The Essentials has potential, but they need to work on their performance skills. Especially when it comes to music. Applying some of the showmanship and craftsmanship from Sweet Charity, these guys could be unstoppable. Sweet Charity needs to break out of its constructs and bring the talent and skills of its ensemble to bear. We need more of these actors and less of the ghosts of Broadway.

One technical thing: There's a scene in Sweet Charity in the second act where the two leads are stuck in a ride at Coney Island at night. They are up in the air and the sky is full of stars. Note to Jesse Klug, the lighting designer - Dude! What the fuck? Are you trying to blind people with stars? They got even brighter as the scene went on. I could barely see the actors because the stars were so frickin' bright. Tone it down, would ya?


Even though this is Easter weekend, we are still meeting. Hey, Jesus died on a Friday and rose on a Sunday. Saturday was his down time. So, come join us. 1pm at Gorilla Tango, 1919 North Milwaukee, $5. Bring a scene to read or just come to get some ideas.


On Wednesday, I asked...

"On his 90th birthday, author Arthur C. Clarke made three wishes; for man to kick his oil habit, for peace in Sri Lanka and for what?"

10% said "Another film sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey"
- That dream died with Roy Sheider, alas. Just kidding. I have no idea. I make this shit up.

40% said "Another ten years"
- He didn't. I would. Might as well go for triple digits.

No one said "Man to walk on Mars"
- He was more into Jupiter.

50% got it right with "ET to call"

According to The Times, marking his “90th orbit of the Sun” in December, the author said that he did not feel "a day over 89" and made three birthday wishes: for ET to call, for man to kick his oil habit and for peace in Sri Lanka. Rest in peace, sir.

Here's a picture from 2001: A Space Odyssey that was shot in the lobby of Drury Lane.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Five Years Ago

On March 20, 2003, the United States began a military campaign against Iraq called "Shock and Awe." Shock and awe, technically known as rapid dominance, is a military doctrine based on the use of overwhelming decisive force and spectacular displays of power to paralyze an adversary's perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight.

On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush declared the end of major combat operations in Irag and said to a group of soldiers on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln "Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free."

May 20, 2008...

Still shocked. Still awed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Value of Theater - Us vs Us

Theater used to be much more important in the world, because, really, what else was there? There were books, but until the printing press, those were hard to come by for the masses. Theater was the form of entertainment. With the exception of plagues, which was a very stylized, highly interactive form of entertainment. And crusades. Very funny. Very physical. But I digress...

Growing up, I loved television. I grew up in a time where there was really only three television stations. A show we all loved became a weekly event that the whole family geared their evening around. I especially remember this for shows like Laugh-In, Flip Wilson and Red Skelton. On Fridays nights, mom made popcorn or toasted puffed rice and poured butter and salt on it. Good stuff.

We also went to the movies. As a family, it was a huge event. The Clinton theater downtown was huge by my standards. Sitting in a dark theater and seeing the big screen. I remember seeing Peter Pan there and being blown away. At the Clinton, there was only one screen. A major motion picture would be released and be in town for just a few weeks before moving on. If you missed it, you missed it until years later when it would come on television. And even that would be a special event.

Nowadays, I have over 500 channels on my tube and I if I am unable to make time for something, I DVR it. I can also catch it on-line. If I miss a movie upon its release, odds are it will be knocking around the multiplexes for awhile or will soon be available On Demand or on DVD. I still love television and film, but it is no longer eventful to me. It's fun. It's a diversion. It's a time killer when I am at home.

Theater is valuable today because it is an event. It is an experience that requires effort on the part of the viewer. Television, film and theater all require an investment of time and money - Comcast, Netflix and AMC ain't free. Nor is Wicked, Second City or WNEP. Theater requires me to pay attention and have faith. On the screen, big or small, the medium does all the work. The story will go on and turn out exactly as it was planned regardless of my presence. And it will do it again, over and over, in precisely the same way.

In theater, I get to discover the story. I get to see actors make discoveries. I get to be engaged. Involved. I get to look the actor in the eye and he or she gets to look back. I am not shy about laughing out loud while watching a sitcom or comedy at home. I am equally not shy in a theater, but my laughter actually makes a difference. The actors and the rest of the audience respond with it or to it. We are connected and engaged in the telling of a story that we all care about. Actors on film don't hold for laughs.

Theater is valuable because it is an event, limited in its availability, that generates a communal experience. During the time we are watching a story unfold we are all in it together. The laughter is deeper and the tears are earned and heartfelt. And during that time, we are reminded that we are human and that, in the big scheme of things, on this planet, we are also in it together.


Yesterday, I asked...

"The Viet Bistro in Chicago has countered 'no smoking' laws by serving what?"

15% said "Dip Dip"
- A better name would have been "Dip Sum."

14% said "Tobacco Dumplings"
- Try the menthol ones. Steamed.

No one got hungry for "Cigar Satay"

71% got it right with "Nicotinis"

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, there is nothing particularly sexy or cool about stepping outside to have a smoke while you're out on the town with friends or on a date. That's exactly what sommelier/bar chef Rashed Islam at Viet Bistro, 1344 W. Devon, had in mind when he introduced the Nicotini. That's right, a tobacco-infused martini. Islam's Nicotini begins with tobacco steeped sugarcane juice; he uses 2 ounces of tobacco for every gallon of juice.

Better make sure that olive is stuffed with an Altoid.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Correct Way to Write

Yesterday, I received a few responses in the comment section from Snatchface and thought she brought up a good issue worth talking about.

"What's it called when you make the audience think you're talking about something else? Like it sounds your talking about porn, but you're really talking about Billy Joel CDs.

And how is that different than this mystery scene? Because I find myself writing the other a lot, and I want to make sure I'm approaching this correctly."

Here's my answer to the first part... I think what you are referring to in the first part is a lighter form of Clash of Context. In pure Clash of Context, a whole world is created out of smashing two different cultures together - Mr. Show was brilliant at this. One of my favorite scenes of theirs being the TV evangelists praising Satan. In its lighter form, one situation is laid upon another. A boss firing an employee or an employee quitting his or her job becomes a couple break-up scene. Seinfeld is really good at this. Your example of people talking about Billy Joel Cd's while the audience presumes they are talking about porn flicks (makes me wonder, in a porn context, why someone might be called Piano Man. Is that an upright?) I call that Fucking with the Audience (Messing with the Audience, if you prefer).

Fucking with the Audience is a term I came up with during my brief stint as head of the writing program at Second City prior to moving to Detroit for a few years to work with Second City there. The writing program then was still very young and I was able to nail down a curriculum for the first three levels before leaving. A type of scene I noticed in sketch revues and, again Mr. Show along with Kids in the Hall, is one where we think one thing is going on and then there's a paradigm shift that enlightens us to what is really going on. They are tricky to write and I think they work best if there's someone in the scene who, like the audience, presumes one thing and discovers the truth. Where it's tricky is making sure the events and dialogue are valid and don't get too contrived to keep the illusion going. Or worse, that the paradigm shift is "It was all a dream" or the whole thing's just a Three's Company-like scenario overhearing a conversation about baking a cake and thinking its about a sexual affair.

What's the difference between that and a Mystery Scene? I don't think the mystery scene necessarily has to have a paradigm shift. It's more about generating mystery through off-beat behavior. And in a mystery scene, what the audience thinks is going on may actually be what's going on.

But what I really want to address is your concern about doing a type of scene correctly. Types of scenes are just templates. If you have a scene that's rambling or feels flat, it might be helpful to figure out what kind of scene it is, or what kind of scene you'd like it to be, so that you can rewrite it and make it more focused. They are helpful tools. There is no patented tried and true formula to writing or approaching scenes correctly.

There are the basics to always work on - format, effective dialogue, efficient stage directions, rhythm, etc - but when it comes to the actual writing of a scene, it is what it is. You are an artist. When you sit down to write, it's like throwing a lump of clay onto a pottery wheel. You might intend to make a vase and walk away with a tea pot. Now, you can mash what you got and start over, you can cut off the handle and the spout and make it look more vase-like, or you can just let the tea pot be a tea pot and try again for a vase.

Writing is an art form. It's a process. The real skill is learning to serve the story and scene that's developing and worry less about whether or not it's correct.

Hope that's helpful and not too long-winded. Thanks for the question, Snatchface, and good luck with your writing.


Got this e-mail from Matt Slaybuagh...

Hello Blogging friends -
On Wednesday, March 19, a small by determined group of theatre bloggers will blog about the value of theatre. Here's a summary of what we'll be attempting to tackle.

What is the "value" of theatre? We need to figure out what it is that theatre does well and better than other art/entertainment forms. And then we need to figure out a positive way to describe those things to people who do not already identify themselves as theatregoers. Ideally, we'll describe things that most theatres have in common, regardless of the differences in the content of their productions. Some suggested topics: community, group experience, theatre is local, theatre is sensually rich.

We hope that you join us that day. You could write your own post, comment on ours, or make fun of us. It's all up to you.

Also, please pass this on to your blogging friends. I'd like to include everyone, but I don't have as many email addresses as I wish I did. I'd hate for anyone to be/feel left out.

Also, please let me know if you do plan to post that day. I'd love to put together a list of all the inter-related threads.

Thanks so much,
Matt (Slay)

So, tomorrow I will write about the value of theater.


Yesterday, I asked...

"To try to help them shed some pounds, polar bears at the Indianapolis Zoo are being fed what?"

28% said "Tofu"
- Polar bears love tofu. Especially when mix into a penguin stir fry.

14% said "Cliff Bars"
- I don't know about polar bears, but I could devour enough Cliff bars in a day to completely offset any health value they have.

No one said "Celery"

58% got it right with "Sugar-Free Jell-O"

According to the AP, Gorillas on Weight Watchers? Polar bears slurping sugar-free Jell-O shots? Giraffes nibbling alfalfa biscuits? The days of letting visitors throw marshmallows to the animals are mostly history at zoos around the country, replaced by a growing focus on diet and nutrition that parallels the fitness craze in humans.

Way to go, America. We're fat, our house pets are fat, now our zoo animals are porking up. First thing we need to do, get rid of the TVs in the chimpanzee pens. Then post pictures of thinner versions of rhinos on the walls of their area for incentive. And, be real, folks. I don't think we should rule out liposuction for the hippos.

Monday, March 17, 2008

What's in the Bag?


The writing assignment this week has to do with generating mystery.

The game, for the most part, in sketch writing is to get all your pertinent information out quickly so the audience can be on board and enjoy the scene. This exercise is about intentionally, and playfully, withholding information.

One of my favorite scenes from a Writing 5 show was written by Robowriters regular, David Devries. The set up is easy to get. A young man brings a young woman home to his apartment after a date. They start to make out on the couch and get interrupted by his roommate coming home. A very typical situation, except his roommate is dragging a large duffel bag across the stage and into his room. His behavior is also suspicious as he stammers over answering the question "What's in the bag?" His answer, "Apples."

He leaves, the couple returns to making out, the man enthusiastically, the woman a bit reluctantly. They are interrupted again by the roommate exiting his room and going to the kitchen. He crosses back through the living room with a large knife - for cutting the apples? - and returns to his bedroom.

David does a nice job of building the tension mixing the roommates creepy behavior with the woman's growing suspicions and the man's strong desire for some hormonal wrestling. The woman's suspicions are, of course, our suspicions, too. It's important to have someone in the scene going through the experience of the mystery with the audience.

In David's scene we do find out what was in the bag - I won't give it away, in case you ever get a chance to see it or read it. Suffice it to say, it's either really apples or a screaming handcuffed man in his underwear. Maybe I did just give it away.

I do think the mystery does need to be answered. It's very similar to an inappropriate response scene. If we don't understand what's causing the behavior, we're not in on the joke. Or, it means a character is behaving the way they are simply because they are being a dick, which is tough to justify and sustain.

A good way to start working on a mystery scene is to start with common, everyday locations and situations. A doctor's office, a coffee shop, a family dinner, a conference room, etc. And then figure out the slight curve you're going to add to the mix. We're generating mystery here, so it's important to start off slow and let it build.

I like the doctor's office idea and think an interesting scene might be a pregnant woman getting an ultra-sound for the first time. As it's going on, the doctor clearly sees something, turns the screen away from her, but keeps telling her everything is fine. He goes and gets an associate to take a look. I can build it with people's reactions to the screen or who it is he brings in. A nurse, another doctor, a priest, someone from homeland security. I will eventually have to answer "What's in the belly?" I don't know the answer and probably won't until after a first or second draft and perhaps doing a list of ten on the subject. Once I find the answer, I can rewrite my scene to make an even stronger build to that conclusion.


Thank you everyone who came out to the staged reading on Saturday. We had a very nice turnout. Jen Ellison, the director, also did an excellent job casting it and prepping us for it. The performances were spot on with my vision for the play. It's a difficult show to convey. There are a lot of stage directions and crazy Dada things going on. I think we did about as best as we could short of a full production, which will be in July at The Red Orchid.


On Friday, I asked...

"According to a survey by, the 'Tooth Fairy' gives kids on avergae what per tooth?"

37% said "$5"

25% said "$ .50"

No one said "$20"

And 38% got it right with "$2.62"

According to CNN, a survey of 150 mothers conducted by, an online toy store, says the Tooth Fairy is giving an average of $2.64, with 60 percent of respondents reporting that they give less than $3 per tooth. Stray too far above the average and you're bound to frustrate some other parents on the block. "If one kid gets $20 and tells the kids at school, then other kids go home and are upset they got less," says Dr. Rhea Haugseth, a pediatric dentist in Marietta, Georgia. However, those who stray too far below the average -- or, at least, below their child's expectations -- might find they have some explaining to do.

I never understood the Tooth Fairy thing. I lose a tooth and you're going to give me money for it? I never questioned what perverse things that fairy might be doing with children's teeth. Making necklaces or doing some odd twist on macaroni art, perhaps. But I did find it to be a vital lesson in business. I get money for losing a tooth. I take the money and buy candy with it to promote losing more teeth thus making more money. Back then, I was only making a dime a tooth. Damn. I should have stuck with it.

Friday, March 14, 2008



Metaluna is a play I wrote over a dozen years ago. I'm very proud of it and felt last week at rehearsal that it held up pretty well. While masquerading as a goofy romp through vaudeville and Dada, I feel like it also has a thing or two to say about politics, society and relationships.

Here is a picture of the cast being goobers backstage after our last show.

And, yes, that's me in blackface. The Dadas valiantly attempt vaudeville in the play and blackface was very much a part of the time. It also ties in with the transformation the character of Baden goes through. We had concerns about it in rehearsals, but went ahead with it anyway. We never heard a negative word about it from anyone, in the press or on the street. And we did have people of color come see our show, so it's not like we were just performing for our whitey friends. In the Los Angeles production, they backed off from it and only had the character of Baden wear it briefly for only one scene. They got reamed for it by one critic who called it a dark, regrettable moment. I think LA needs a hug.


Every Saturday, the boys from Robot vs Dinosaur and I wrap up our rehearsal to host a writing group open to anyone. It's from 1pm - 3pm at Gorilla Tango, 1919 North Milwaukee near Western. It's only $5. We think this is the best deal in the city for any writer to get high quality feedback on their scenes, so get off your butt and go take advantage of it! Don't worry about there being too many people there. We usually average around 5 and have room for more.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Connecticut 8th Grader and class vice-president Michael Sheridan was suspended and stripped of his title when he was caught at school purchasing a bag of what?"

12% said "Prescription Drugs"
- Dude, trade you my pbj for some Ritalin...

12% said "Paint Supplies"
- Dual purpose, man. You can vandalize a locker with it and then you can huff it and vandalize your brain.

12% said "Weed"
- Oh, how passe.

62% got it right with "Skittles"

According to CNN, Michael Sheridan, an eighth-grade honors student who was suspended for a day, barred from attending an honors dinner and stripped of his title as class vice president after he was caught with a bag of Skittles candy in school. Superintendent Reginald Mayo said in a statement late Wednesday that he and principal Eleanor Turner met with Michael's parents and decided to clear the boy's record and restore him to his student council post.

Why is the school backing down from this? Don't they realize that Skittles is a gateway candy? It will most certainly lead to worse things, like snorting Milk Duds, smoking Pixies Sticks or mainlining Twizzlers. Poor Michael is now on a treacherous path of not only tooth decay, but soul decay.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hell's Smells


Yesterday, I asked...

"Northhampton, Mass. city officials recently hired the Agawam environmental company to do what to their landfill?"

42% said "Feng Shui it"
- Coffee grounds and baby diapers should be mindfully separated to create flow and make one feel energized while strolling through the landfill.

28% said "Hide it"
- Is it a landfill or is it ART!

Nobody said "Turn it into condos"
- With this market and the general quality of condos, wait and the condos will turn into landfills.

And 28% got it right with "Sniff it"

According to the Associated Press, a "sniff squad" of trained noses is being called in to root out Northampton's landfill odors. The city has hired specially trained stink-sniffers to help determine whether the dump is too pungent for neighboring homeowners to stand. Northampton officials signed a $25,000 contract with an Agawam environmental company after state officials ordered independent testing of landfill odors. Using little more than their own noses, the super sniffers are trained to detect and rate the strength of rotting trash, landfill gases and other unpleasantries.

They are paying someone $25,000 to tell them if their landfill is too smelly for its neighbors? Ladies and gentlemen of Northampton, I think I can save you some money here. Ask the neighbors!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The News

Sometimes the news itself is so damn funny, I have nothing to add.

Governor Spitzer of New York aka "The Sheriff of Wall Street," getting busted for being a high-paying john? That's a set-up and punchline right there, my friends. The biggest laugh I've had this week came from Barrack Obama when the Clinton campaign dropped hints they might offer him the vice-president position on a ticket. He said (paraphrased from memory), "Why would I accept being vice-president to the person in second place?"

As far as Spitzer goes, I really have nothing funny to add that The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Countdown with Keith Olbermann haven't already covered and done better than I ever could in my blogosphere bubble. I will say two things, though. Whenever a politician or an evangelist is vocally super critical of something like prostitution, homosexuality or drugs, look out. Secondly, what's up with these wives who stand by their man at a time of ultimate humiliation for themselves and their families? Unless you were in on it and endorsed the behavior, let these jerks stand up there by themselves with their little weenies flapping in the wind.

Okay, one more thing... $5,000 to poke a hooker? Does this include a day at the spa and a gift bag? Does she use some rare kind of special lubrication culled from baby seals? What exactly are you getting in that blowjob that you couldn't get for a couple hundred somewhere else? An extended warranty? For my money, she better be humming the Star Spangled Banner and have a sparkler coming out of her ass. This is the real crime. A politician who doesn't know how to be frugal.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Officials in Jakarta are trying to deter commuters from riding on top of trains by doing what?"

28% said "Yelling shameful things at them"
- "You're disgracing the honor of your family, asshole!"

14% said "Poking them with a stick"
- That's what they do after the commuter falls off the train. To see if they are alive.

No one bought "Electrocuting them"

57% got it right with "Spray painting them"

According to the BBC, rush-hour trains in Jakarta are sometimes so packed that, to be on time for work, people are forced to get up on the roof and crouch below the black electric pylons until they reach their stop. But starting this month, guards are patrolling the stations, armed with canisters of coloured liquid. Their aim is to spray-paint anyone riding on top of the trains, to get some discipline back into the railways.

Here's an idea, Indonesia, just spit-balling here, how about providing MORE TRAINS!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Trippin', in a Good Way

Theatre Review

The Trip to Bountiful
by Horton Foote
Directed by Harris Yulin
Goodman Theatre
through April 6
(312) 443-3800 for ticket info

There are two things I discovered going in to this production...that the
The Trip to Bountiful was a play and that Horton Foote is still alive. He's in his early 90's and looks and sounds great. I hope to look that good in my 90's. Hell, I hope to look that good in my 50's.

In 1985, I saw the film version of The Trip to Bountiful starring the magnificent Geraldine Page. While critically praised, even garnering an Oscar and Spirit award for Geraldine, it got lost at the box office, stomped by such films as Back to the Future and The Breakfast Club. I only saw the film once in its theatrical release, but many of its touching moments are etched on my mind. Or, more likely, my heart. I remember going to a grocery store in Cincinnati after seeing it with my girlfriend and actually telling people there to go see the movie. We felt good after seeing it. Not pumped up. Not just put in a good mood. We felt human.

The Trip to Bountiful is the story of Carrie Watts, an elderly woman living with her son, Ludie, and daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae, in a cramped one bedroom apartment in Houston, Texas. The dining room doubles as her bedroom. She is a burden on Jessie Mae who treats her like a child and only seems to value Carrie for her cooking, housekeeping and monthly pension checks. Carrie is, of course, miserable and realizing that she is near the end of her time on this planet, she only has one thing she wants to do, that she must do, and that's to go home, again.

In going to see the play, I was worried about whether or not I'd be able to sit and enjoy it without constantly comparing it to the film. The story telling in this production is so good, that I was quickly caught up in the world the actors and director created. I have only seen a few shows at the Goodman and all have been on the side of spectacle. I didn't think they'd be capable of pulling me into such an intimate story. But they do.

The role of Carrie Watts must be the female equivalent of playing King Lear. The production rests squarely on that actresses ability to take us along with her on her journey home. Lois Smith as Carrie is outstanding. She encompasses the little girl in all aging women with grace and an infectious aliveness. The rest of the cast is superb as well. No one overplays their hand here and it's their light and dry portrayals more than anything that draw us into such a believable rural Texas.

The only thing that did pull me out of the story, albeit briefly and not enough to deter me from recommending the show, were the high-tech transitions. Particularly, the magical tree stump that moves on its own. It reminded me of a Star Trek monster trying to protect its eggs.

This play is a deceptively simple tale beautifully told. Go see it. If you absolutely can't, then rent the movie. And be thankful for such prolific living national treasures as Horton Foote.

I'm always reluctant to give out standing ovations and never stand up just because everyone else is. We were all on our feet at the curtain for this show. Well, almost all of us. Hey, people who leave during the curtain call so you can get to your car a few seconds early, you SUCK!


Yesterday, I asked...

"Firefighter Nathaniel King is suing to get his job back. He was fired because he what?"

50% said "Fears heights"
- He's a firefighter in Saratoga Springs, New York. There are no heights there.

50% said "Hates cats"
- Shameful, but not a fireable offense in this case.

No one went for "Burns easily"

And no one got the right answer, "Faints at the sight of needles"

According to The Daily Gazette, a former Saratoga Springs firefighter dismissed because he fainted constantly when giving injections is suing the city to get his job back. Nathaniel King lost his job after he failed to complete training to qualify as a paramedic. City officials said King doesn’t meet current requirements for being a firefighter, which include being a certified paramedic. Paramedics are required to administer injections and to do intravenous procedures.

I never knew firefighters needed to be skilled with hypodermic needles. There must be a faster way to put out fires.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Found in Translation


Write the first three lines of a very simple scene. Two people. A simple relationship and setting.

For me, it's a teenage boy and his stepmom. He has just walked into the kitchen through the backdoor. She is cutting carrots. He has peeled off his backpack and left it on the floor. he goes over to the refrigerator and opens it up. He takes out a milk carton, looks at her, and drinks from the carton. She looks at him and continues cutting.

STEPMOM: The principal called today.

BOY: He doesn't like me.

STEPMOM: Really? Clearly, he just hasn't taken the time to get to know you like I have.

Now, take the three lines of dialogue and head over to AltaVista's Babel Fish.

Take the dialogue and translate it into French.

STEPMOM: Le directeur a appelé aujourd'hui.

BOY: Il ne m'aime pas.

STEPMOM: Vraiment ? Clairement, il juste n'a pas pris le temps de finir par vous connaître comme j'ai.

Then translate it from French into German.

STEPMOM: Der Direktor hat heute gerufen.

BOY: Er mag mich nicht.

STEPMOM: Wirklich? Deutlich hat er soeben die Zeit nicht in Anspruch genommen, durch Sie zu beenden, zu kennen, wie ich habe.

Then from German back to English.

STEPMOM: The director called today.

BOY: He does not like me.

STEPMOM: Really? It just did not take the time up clearly to terminate by you to know how I have.

So, from here, I forget about what I started with and see what I think about where I ended up. "Principal" became "director." I could keep the relationship and have the scene be about how the boy is screwing up in a play. Or maybe it's his first professional gig. I love the last line, it's a lot of words that create a basket full of nonsense. Not very useful, but I like the word "terminate" which means the boy's future as an actor could be on the line. The stepmom could also be trying too hard to manage the boy's career, either sincerely trying to help or trying to live through her stepson.

Is it better than what I would have come up with on my own? Probably not. But given that I write from my own particular brain, it's a way to consider language or situations that I wouldn't normally be pulled toward.

Speaking of brains...


WNEP Theater Presents an Exhibition reading of


by Joe Janes

featuring John Wilson, Don Hall, Dana Black, Sharko Bizarre, Merrie Greenfield, Nancy Friedrich, Rebecca langguth, Kevin Gladish, Micheal Brownlee, Joe Janes and Dave Stinton

Saturday, March 15th (Don't say it!) 7pm at the Uptwon Writer's Space, 4802 North Broadway, suite 200. Tickets are $5. There will be wine, if you are wondering. SEATING is LIMITED. First come first served...that is the world's way.


Yesterday, I asked...

"Comcast SportsNet was called upon to apologize and discontinue an ad that mocked the name of a which town?"

33% said "Butte Face, Arkansas"
- Hey. Stop calling me Butte Face. Call me by my real name. Cliff.

22% said "Diquewad, Montana"
- The great founder, Jeremiah Diquewad, would be offended by this.

22% said "Titz, Nevada"
- Where all the Vegas showgirls come from.

And another 23% got it right with "Athol, Massachusetts"

According to WWLP Channel 22, Comcast SportsNet is apologizing for making Athol the butt of its jokes (their words, not mine). The cable sports network is also pulling print ads leaders of the small central Massachusetts town called insulting and offensive. The ads read: "We can pronounce Worcester without sounding like an Athol." But leaders of the town point out their community isn't pronounced like the similarly sounding vulgarity -- but "ATH'-ul." Comcast SportsNet spokesman Skip Perham says the ad was intended as a humorous play on words.

Perham said this while dipping into some snuff and daintily dabbing his nostrils with a handkerchief. Well played, Mr. Perham, well played.