Wednesday, December 29, 2010
...that managing to avoid the mainstream movie releases and seeking out really good movies is a great way to spend Christmas. The Fockers can Fock off.
...that friends are family. And if you have a few family members that are friends, bonus points.
...that I don't believe in any religious dogma. The only thing I believe in is karma, what-goes-around-comes-around and practicing the Golden Rule. Justice gets served somehow. Even if we think someone has gotten away with something (see previous administration), karma will kick in somewhere somehow, even if it's in their sleep. I believe people fundamentally do know the difference between right and wrong and when they willfully wrong others for the sake of greed or any other self-service, it will eat away at them. Not as gratifying, but I believe it to be true.
...that there's something to be said for sticking close to home for the holidays. I saved a lot of money, been able to work out more, have been rewatching Firefly and have been majorly chilling out. I miss Ohio and seeing family and old friends, but this is the first time I can recall my holiday break feeling like a break!
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
...that creative collaboration is fun because it leads everyone to ideas we would never reach on our own. It also means leaving your ego at the door or you're in for a bumpy ride.
...that, no matter how much we try to stress it's not about money, the holidays are about money. It's money that determines what presents you buy, if any and where you go, if anywhere. But, of course, Christ was born in poverty, so maybe more of us are truly celebrating in the right spirit, whether we like it or not.
...that the best way to become more creative is to keep painting oneself into creative corners.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
...that if you're going to lie about missing class, make sure your Facebook updates don't say you were at a bar in Wrigleyville cheering on the Bears when your e-mail says you were downstate at your grandfather's funeral.
...that the only people benefiting from Trickle Down Economics are heirs.
...that laughing with a group of friends is probably the best kind of laughing.
...that it's okay to get angry, even at the little things, but it's not worth the wear and tear on the soul to hang on to that anger.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
...that holidays seem to be more about getting time off and partying than actually meditating on the meaning of the holidays. When scheduling around your impending hangover becomes an issue...
...that for improvisation to be successful, one needs to be emotionally invested in an outcome.
...that President Obama has jumped the shark in trying to appease the GOP by extending the Bush Tax rates, but what he doesn't realize is that republicans still aren't going to be fans of his show. And current fans are going to stop caring.
...that the reason I look a gift horse in the mouth is because I'm not tall enough to look the horse in the eye.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Thursday, December 2, 2010
...that creativity is risk.
...that one can be a brilliant improviser and also be a lousy actor, but if one is a brilliant actor, there's hope of becoming a brilliant improviser. And both have the same job - to play make believe.
...that WikiLeaks is doing the job investigative journalist should be doing. Why aren't journalists doing their job? Because the general public is more interested in Lindsay Lohan and TSA gropes.
...that being a teacher and being a performer puts one in a position of responsibility to set examples. Doesn't mean doing everything right, but getting it right when you get do things wrong.
...that a fun part of teaching is turning students on to stuff they haven't had any exposure to. I had a great time this week sharing Old Time Radio, specifically Fibber McGee and Molly, with students from my Comedy Workshop class. And they got to perform an original radio script live for an audience. Very cool.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
...that Christmas formally starts the day after Thanksgiving, even though Walgreen's started putting stuff out on shelves Halloween weekend. Every year, Christmas seems to push it's way in earlier like some asshole who holds up the door of a crowded elevator or CTA train to smash their way in to share with us their unwelcome fruitcake-scented armpits and holiday music blasting cellphone.
...that holidays are a pain in the ass. Don't get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving. Christmas, too. But times to be thankful and giving are every day of the year.
...that Thanksgiving is a time to take full stock in what and who one is grateful for in one's life and then to stab a turkey on a dining room altar in sacrifice to the gods.
...being a vegetarian means I usually have to BYOT(oFurkey) for Thanksgiving. I don't mind. I love to cook. But this year, I'm going to order my food. Check out this menu...
Pomegranate Glazed Tofu
Mac n Cheese
Smashed Potatoes & Gravy
Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Dinner rolls w/ rosemary butter
Slice of pie: you’re choice of pecan or chocolate silk
Meal orders must be in by 5pm, Weds, Nov 24th
...that I have never heard a Justin Bieber song, could not name the title to a Justin Bieber song, yet, I know who he is. And the song I woke up to in my head was about Justin Bieber fucking his own face. Thanks, Comedy Workshop. Great show yesterday!
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
...that no one's story is completely his or hers to tell. That's why you change the names when you steal.
...that Greg Wendling cracks me up. He co-wrote this piece for a customized show. My favorite is the corporate motto, "The Earth Has A Lot To Give. Let's Take It."
...that I like getting up early, getting some stuff done, and then taking a little nap before I have to be anywhere. That's productivity, baby!
...that when the zombie apocalypse comes, it will be from genetically modified food. Companies like Monsanto are doing so much freaky stuff to our food, unchecked by government regulations, that it is frightening. Splicing animal DNA into tomatoes, copyrighting corn, etc, all to make "natural" food last longer. We eat this stuff? We might die, but our toxin-loaded meat sticks will live on. BRAAAAAAAAAAAINS!
Monday, November 15, 2010
Here's what I wrote and performed. It started with me carrying a copy of my book up to the microphone.
This is a book I wrote. Sort of. In 2009, I wrote a comedy sketch a day for a year. This is all of them in one place. I didn’t write them to have a book, but they ended up in there. Not published by Simon and Schuster or Samuel French or some University Press. Published by me. And I hope that by the time I am done here, you are disgusted by it. Assuming you aren’t already.
November is National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. Last year, the official NaNoWriMo website had 165,000 participants registered. 30,000 of them completed the goal of cranking out a 50,000 word novel from scratch. It’s like the marathon for out-of-shape would-be writers. If this year’s number of participants has increased like it has every other year, that means come December 1st, there could potentially be 40,000 new novels completed and published. Not from any big publishing house. Not placed in some fancy display at Borders. 40,000 new novels unleashed into the wild, available on-line as downloadable eBooks. We live in an age where anyone with a blog can be considered a published author, anyone with a webcam can be a filmmaker or porn star or both. We live in an age where anyone can create a piece of work and put it on the Internet for potential millions to see and then write about it on their own blogs. And most of what’s being generated out there is just crap.
Millions of people upload YouTube videos every day. Millions of bloggers post content every day, mostly recounts of vacations and videos of cats. I am guilty of both. The number of podcasts available for free just through iTunes is staggering. Musicians are using their laptops for recording studios and posting their work on-line. Although, in the music industry, it’s not called self-publishing, it’s called self-releasing. Which sounds more appropriate and makes me giggle.
In theater, it’s not unusual for a show to cancel if the number of people in the cast outnumbers the people in the audience. As a society, we’re getting close to having to cancel our show. There are more artists than audience. People complain about not being able to draw an audience to their show. That’s because the audience is busy elsewhere doing their own shows. In Chicago, you can see improv seven nights a week in a few different locations. Is there that much of a demand for it? No. No one is clamoring to see Uncle Billy’s Fun Sack do a montage at 11pm on a Sunday in the back of a dive bar. There are that many shows because there are that many people wanting and willing to do that show. Self-produced. The theater world’s version of self-published.
The problem with so much content being created and “published” is that there’s no filter. There’s no one sitting behind a desk going, “Ew. No. Not that one.” For many of us, that’s good news. A lot of good, interesting artists get a chance to be seen or heard. But when the floodgates are open, a lot of flotsam gets a chance, too. On October 28th, Amazon allowed Philip R. Greaves II, or in today’s vernacular, Phillip R. Greaves .2, to upload a new eBook. An experienced “published” author, he already has two other eBooks.
The other books on Amazon that Greaves wrote have nothing to do with sexual molestation. One is called A Government of Service to All – “A discripeion of the political realities that influence us all.” And there’s my all time favorite, The Grand Delusion or What’s God Got To Do With It? Described as “An examination of man and his many notions of "God" with an aim toward disproving the existence of any universal intelengence of omnipotent creator. “ That’s right. He misspelled “intelligence.” The only thing being molested in these books is spelling. Or, as Greaves would write, “spieling.” Self-publishing is not only an assault on our morals and principles, it’s an assault on the English language.
((Note: I tried to link to these this morning, and it looks like Amazon has taken everything by Greaves off their website.))
His latest non-seller, a self-help book. The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover's Code of Conduct. It offers advice to pedophiles afraid of becoming the center of retaliation and includes first-person descriptions of such encounters, purportedly written from a child's point of view.
The book triggered outrage on Twitter – our newest form of quick self-published shouts at the world. A chorus of comment leavers on the book’s Amazon page called for them to pull the book. Which they did do. Three weeks after it was made available. Not because of any principles, because of the bad press they were getting and the threat of a boycott. Look, I’m not defending pedophilia or a pedophile. I’m all for whatever floats your boat as long as it does no harm to anyone and, if another boat’s involved, it’s there because it wants to be there, is of legal boating age and you’re not a Somali pirate. Amazon initially refused to take the book down based on freedom of speech. Hard to argue against because then we start talking about where to draw lines.
Many critics claimed Amazon endorsed pedophilia just because they carried the book. They have many other books about pedophilia, fiction and non-fiction. From text books to Lolita. This one, however, tells people how to get away with it, which many people feel, goes too far. Easy to understand, but based on that logic, there’s more stuff for Amazon to take down. They also carry the Dexter books and DVDs, and I’m pretty sure they don’t endorse serial killing. Now, you might make the case that one is non-fiction and offers actual advice on how to get away with breaking the law. Except Dexter does exactly that. It’s a code of conduct for serial killers who don’t want to get caught.
A more frightening book on Amazon that I found is Improvised Munitions Black Book, Vol. 1. Volume 1! There’s more to come. It gets rave customer reviews, mostly folks from Northern Ireland. “if you want a good book about explosives, rockets, chemical mixtures, how to build devices, and how to acquire ingredients, this book is for you.” That’s a direct quote. No protests in the comments section from anyone. A little more frightening is the accredited author. Self-published by the US Government. On the Amazon webpage there’s a section of “customers who bought this also bought…” which leads you to Uncle Sam’s other book, the U.S. Marine Corps Sniper Training Manual, just in case that DIY bomb didn’t go off.
Before the Pedophilia for Dummies book hit the headlines, its author claimed it had sold precisely one copy. After the media picked up the story, it had moved enough units to make the Amazon’s Top 100 list. Top 100 out of hundreds of thousands of books. Quite an accomplishment for a self-published eBook by an unknown author who rejects the oppression of spellcheck. I seriously doubt the books, were scooped up exclusively by pedophiles. That’s the double-edged sword of offensive material. One has to read it to be able to intelligently comment on it. Oh, not the people protesting. We all know the loudest protesters are the ones who didn’t read the book or see the movie. Sadly, for them, the digital age has taken its toll on book burnings. Used to be able to gather a bunch of copies up and set them on fire to demonstrate your disgust. Can’t throw a bunch of eBooks in a pile and hit delete.
Self-publishing is intoxicating. After I wrote a comedy sketch a day for a year, they were all produced last June. We had 26 directors putting up 26 shows with 176 actors over eleven nights at the Strawdog. I wanted to give the directors something special to say thank you for their hard work. I went to lulu.com, a self-publishing site. Although, lulu calls it “open publishing,” I guess because “it’s complicated” publishing didn’t sound very inviting. There, I uploaded the scenes into this book. With the click of a mouse, I became a published author. You can find the book on-line. Even at Amazon.
When I brought hard copies in to give to directors, other people asked me about buying one for themselves. Dollar signs shot off in my head like green and gold fireworks. I dreamt of being able to retire and just lie in a bed of royalties from book sales. That, of course, hasn’t happened. Instead of a bed, maybe a nice throw pillow of royalties. Not a big audience of readers for a telephone book sized tome of scripted sketch comedy by some guy.
I’m fine with that. It was meant as a souvenir of the event. Nothing more. But it would be nice to hit the Amazon Top 100 at least once, even for a moment. I mean, if a pedophile - who spells “perversity” with two “c”s - can do it… I just need to convince everyone there’s a reason to protest it. This thing (I hold up 365 Sketches) is vile and offensive.
Let me read some of the scene titles to you…
“Unicorns – Let’s Fuck Them Without Permission”
“Give The Elderly Aids”
“Anything Can Be A Urinal, Especially On A Train or At A Buffet”
“Lynching’s Aren’t Fun, Not Without Bungee Cords”
“Cancer is God’s Way of Saying Die, Already!”
Riled up, yet? It’s available on-line and in book form. A really big, easy to burn book. You can build a bonfire that will last for days. It’s also on sale at The Book Cellar. I think we should all march up there after. Everyone throw in a few bucks, I’m good for two dollars, and we buy a copy and set it on fire. Afterward, we can also have some wine and a sandwich. I love that place.
Greaves.2, my fellow published author, was interviewed by The Smoking Gun, and insisted his book doesn't advocate for adults to harm children. "The best advice I can give a pedophile,” he says, “is accept that masturbation is your best friend.”
...which brings me back to the topic of self-publication.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Dear Mr. President,
Are you kidding me? Are you freakin' kidding me?
This was a no brainer and you rolled over on it. Really rich people should pay more taxes.
I know, I know. If these tax cuts expire for the rich, rich people won't be able to hire any more illegal immigrants to work around their mansions. They may have to hire a pool boy who can also do yard work and keep the kids out of their sight until needed or grown. Life is tough for everyone.
The Bush tax cuts, particularly this aspect of the Bush tax cuts, are exactly what led to the economic mess we're in, now. It doesn't stimulate the economy. It would have already. They've been in effect that last ten years! When rich people make more money, they tend to keep it for themselves. You know this.
This last election had nothing to do with a "mandate" from the people. Most of the winners squeaked in like a tight release of gas at the dinner table. It was Big Money vs. Not As Much Money. And the democrats still have a majority in congress! When you were elected to office two years ago, that was a mandate. A mandate for change. A mandate to fight for the middle class and the poor, not ridiculously rich individuals and corporations by continuing to give them absurd tax cuts and tax breaks.
What gives, here? Boehner have a picture of you offering cigarettes to a baby?
Do your job, Mr. President. All this tells me is that you must really like Mitch McConnell and want to help fulfill his (myopic) vision of making you a one term president.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Last night, I performed at "This Much Is True." This was my first time doing anything along the lines of storytelling since my stand-up days. I could talk about anything I wanted. The only criteria was that it had to be true. This was a tough assignment for me. I wasn't able to come up with one story. What I came up with was a collection of smaller stories all around having birthdays.
The place was packed. I went second and was nervous as hell, but once I started, that melted away. The audience was great.
Deanna Moffitt and Scott Whitehair were the co-hosts. All the stories were touching and compelling. They do this show once a month and it's free. Only in Chicago. Check it out. Get there early.
For those of you unable to make it or missed my slot, here's a posting of my story. Keep in mind, it's written to be performed. Poor grammar abounds and there are a few stage directions.
Even though mine is six months away, I’ve been thinking a lot about birthdays.
Two years ago, I called my brother to see what he was doing for his 50th birthday. He said he would probably just get drunk. I found this unacceptable. “You’re turning 50. That’s huge. That’s half a century. Think of something you want to do, and I’ll drive to Ohio and celebrate with you. On me. “
I called him back a week later. He had a plan. Let’s go to the local sushi restaurant and then get drunk. Also unacceptable. He could do that anytime. More importantly, he lives in a small town along Lake Erie. I’m not going to partake in Lake Erie sushi. I told him he needed to think bigger. Let me do the planning.
I got on-line and started hunting. Found out Cleveland had a House of Blues. Good sign. Playing on my brother’s birthday…“Wish You Were Here” – the Midwest’s best Pink Floyd tribute band – a fierce competition, I’m sure. They would be performing, in it’s entirety, the album “Dark Side of the Moon.” This was a huge bingo in the 50th birthday search. My brother went to high school in the 70s. He smoked pot. He smoked pot and he listened to Pink Floyd. He would love this. I bought tickets, rented a car, drove to Ohio, the band really did put on a great show. He had a good time. Mission accomplished.
I bring it up because next year, I turn 50. 50. What the hell? How can something be so imminent and, yet, surprising. And I’m not sure how, or even if, I want to celebrate. Just getting drunk is sounding pretty good. Thinking about it has had me looking over previous birthdays.
Now, I enjoy birthdays. Turning 30, turning 40, no big deal. Good times. Smooth transitions. I’ve had intimate birthday celebrations, I’ve had parties, I’ve had tacked-on parties that came after a show or an event.
I will say this…Cake and blowing out a candle… essential to a good birthday.
I have never had a surprise party. Except year zero, when I was born. That’s the ultimate surprise party. Hanging out in a very warm, dark place finding just doing this (hold up hand and wiggles fingers) immensely entertaining. Then, sudden, bright lights and my first birthday spanking. Naked. Crying. No cake. Not a good birthday.
I’ve had great birthdays, lame ones, and just okay ones. I have only had two difficult birthdays.
The first one was when I turned six in kindergarten. Now, it’s not like I was lamenting turning six. “Oh, man, the first half of my first decade is over. It’s all down hill from here. Life sucks. I’ve had it up to here with finger painting and sounding out words. Look at those kids in daycare (shake fist). They don’t know. They don’t know.” Up until then, every birthday was one hell of a party. Lots of family – aunts, uncles, cousins – a pile of presents and cake and ice cream. And you were expected to make a big mess and end up wearing most of your cake. Birthdays were awesome. But nobody warned me that things would change when I turned six. There was no party that year. Cake came after our regular dinner. Just the immediate family. Then we watched TV. Only two presents. A toy bow and arrow, which was cool, but failed in its ability to inflict any real damage on my siblings. The other present, the omen of birthdays to come, the sign that I was getting older, was a shirt. A shirt? A short-sleeved dress shirt I could wear to school. They gave me something I needed. Something that was useful. For a six year old, they may as well have given me a tube of toothpaste. “Here, Son. Go crazy. We know how much you love fluoride.”
But I learned something. I knew then, that for me to have a good birthday, I’d have to take matters into my own hands. I made sure that every year, I asked for one thing that I really wanted and then mercilessly hounded my parents to deliver. Now, I kept it real. I wasn’t asking for a fully functioning chocolate spaceship that ran on the blood of fairies. Or even a pony. Nothing too expensive. Nothing that could not be obtained. I made sure I got something I really, really wanted. If they wanted to throw in a shirt or socks or toothpaste, whatever, fine. Just make sure I get that one thing.
The best example I can think of was in the sixth grade. Little background, I grew up in a trailer park. Along a river. Near woods and a dairy farm. A reluctant member of Future Rednecks of America. My friend, Butch, who lived a few trailers down, bragged to me that on his birthday, his dad let him hold his handgun. For my 12th birthday, I didn’t ask for a bike or a baseball mitt or to cradle a firearm. I asked for a briefcase. Although, I didn’t call it a briefcase. I called it an attaché case. Why did I want an attaché case? As I explained to my foolish parents, every top secret agent on television had an attaché case. James Bond, Maxwell Smart, all the men from UNCLE. All had attaché cases. And they were cool. My parents tried to reason me out of it. I couldn’t take it to school. My books wouldn’t fit in it and it wouldn’t fit in my desk. Next year, in junior high, it wouldn’t fit in my locker. I held my ground. There was nothing I wanted more in the world than an attaché case. And that year, on my 12th birthday, I got one.
I was ecstatic. It didn’t come with any secret compartments, knock out gas, or spring-loaded knives. Apparently, those aren’t standard. But what I had was a good start to becoming a secret agent. Sleek, black, little latches that could be locked with a tiny key. I put comic books and monster magazines in it and carried it everywhere. The playground, church, on the bus, even school. Kept it right next to my desk. Rode my banana seat bike holding it with one hand. No one mistook me for a secret agent, but I felt like one. My love affair with my attaché case lasted forever, a full week. I was 12. I got tired of lugging it around. I decided that a very funny thing to do would be to empty it and fill it with shaving cream. No one would open a briefcase and expect a sea of minty foam. So, that’s what I did. And it was funny. To everyone except my dad whose new can of Barbisol did nothing but fizzle when he went to shave. That was a good birthday.
The only other difficult birthday I had was when I turned 25. In this case, it had nothing to do with any celebration. It had to do with me being unhappy with where I was in my life. I wasn’t on SNL. I wasn’t a movie star. I didn’t have my own sitcom. I was bar backing at a meat market called Corvette’s in a Ramada Inn in Cincinnati. Very, very far away from anything I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t rubbing elbows with celebrities. I was rubbing elbows with rapidly aging salesmen and divorced women, former disco queens and kings, who wore too much Jungle Gardenia and Old Spice Musk. Also, on that very day, in addition to refilling ice bins and beer coolers, I had to dress up like a sea-faring fisherman, who for some odd reason also wore a scuba mask and snorkel, and offers customers fried calamari from a fishing net. I argued with the inconsistency of a scuba mask and yellow slicker, the Gorton fisherman steers the ship, not dives into the ocean to grab up fish sticks by hand. But management vetoed me down. It was humiliating, but that difficult birthday was also a turning point. I took matters into my own hands, again. I told the manager I wanted to stop bar backing and be a club dj. It was the closest step I could think of to make that would, even vaguely, put to use my college theater education. He put me on the happy hour shift where I could play whatever I wanted. While the nighttime djs were playing extended dance mixes of Madonna tunes, I played classic rock before anyone called it that. The Doobie Brothers, ELO, Steely Dan. I was cool, again. And I got out of there early enough to be able to hit local open mics and work on a stand-up act. A year later, I was on the road working fulltime as a comic.
Some of my best birthdays have been those planned by girlfriends. If you’re in a relationship and your partner doesn’t know how to plan a birthday celebration for you, get out. It’s not a good relationship. I had a girlfriend where on her birthday, I got a suite at a hotel downtown, tickets to the matinee of Wicked, dinner and drinking at a Mediterranean restaurant that had belly dancing and belly dancing lessons. It was an event. When my birthday rolled around, she had planned nothing. We ended up going to a restaurant we heard about that was only okay and then walking around. It was so ridiculously low-key and unplanned that I thought, okay, well, she’s obviously putting me on. I’ll turn a corner and see a big party of my friends jump out from behind a dumpster and yell, “Surprise.” Nope. No cake. No candles. Relationship doomed.
Best all-time birthday was my 33rd. I invited a bunch of my friends to join me for pizza, cake, ice cream and video games at Chuck E. Cheese. And something you may not know about Chuck E. Cheese, but makes sense when you think about all the parents who go there, they serve beer. It was a blast. It was on a weeknight, so there weren’t a lot of kids around. They let us play in the ball pit. In retrospect, I’m a little grossed out by that. At the time, after a few beers, it rocked.
So, I’m turning 50 next year. I’m not on SNL, which I’m okay with, but it would be nice to be asked. I’m not a movie star. I don’t have my own sitcom. I’m not 100% happy with where I’m at in my life, but I’m pretty happy. I’m at about 85%. I love my job. I have good friends. It’s not like my 25th birthday, half of my life ago.
For my 50th. I feel like I should do something big, like jump out of an airplane. With a parachute. Or do something meaningful, like volunteer at a homeless shelter. I’m just kidding about that one. Hitting the half-century mark really does feel like “getting old and no turning back.” What I learned from my brother is that it’s easy to want to celebrate turning 50 if you’re not the one turning 50. Some good friends, a cake and just getting drunk sounds pretty good.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
Well, the social and political commentary was a great method to develop and discipline my writing skills. 365 was a great way to really dive into a form that I really enjoy and has meant something to me since I was a kid. Now, I'm exploring different things as a writer that don't fit easily onto a blog.
One of the things I am working on is a performance at This Much Is True. TMIT is a monthly evening of storytelling created a few years ago by some friends of mine after they took a workshop with master solo performer, Paula Killen.
Me getting up in front of a group of people and talking is no big deal to me. I teach, I was a professional stand-up and I've done many a hosting and emceeing gig. What distinguishes this from other things I have done is that it must be a true story. That's the only criteria and one that kind of freaks me out. I'm not one to just spin yarns about my life. I have based works on actual experiences, but those are rewritten for comedic effect and wouldn't hold up as testimony in a court of law. To get up and tell something that is absolutely true is scary to me. Not because it's vulnerable, although it is, but because I'm worried it won't be interesting. Or have a good ending. I've been involved in lots of fun and fascinating things in my life, but I'm not sure I can get beyond a "so that happened" summation and a....so, what?
So, that's the challenge and that's what I have been working on and avoiding working on because it's this coming Tuesday and I don't have a rough draft yet.
But, please come out and be witness to either my train wreck or brilliance or somewhere in between.
This Much is True
The Hopleaf — Upstairs
5148 North Clark Street (just south of Foster)
Tuesday, November 9th
7:30pm — FREE!
Monday, November 1, 2010
Get yer asses there!
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
...that the Tea Party is not as popular as we might think. That they're popular at all is frightening enough, but there's a reason we think they're bigger than they are. If you had a news crew, are you going to point them at the rational, level-headed politician or at the candidate proselytizing fear and being followed by angry imbeciles wearing tri-hats with tea bags and holding signs with pictures of Obama with a Hitler mustache and claiming he's a "tyrint"?
...that there's a mystery to the universe and I don't know if it's all a soupy accident, God, Buddha, Yahweh, or some snarky old dude named Burt behind a curtain somewhere. It's not about getting or having the answers. It's about living in the right questions. And if someone claims to be quoting God, they don't know shit.
...that when people stop growing and learning and playing, they start growing old. And start making poor fashion choices.
...that Guinness is the cigar of beers. One pint once in awhile is fine. I prefer IPAs. They're tarty.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Jane Espenson. Smart lady.
One thing that will drive me crazy in writing class is when a student starts talking about what will get laughs and what audiences love. Shut up. You don't know.
You only know what makes you laugh and what you love.
Here's more of what she has to say. Click HERE.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
...that sleep happens.
...that there's an opportunity this election year to tell the gluttonously rich "less government is better -for us" CEOs that the millions and millions and MILLIONS of dollars they're pouring into campaigns to tell me I was better off under Bush and they can get the country back on track (we're off track?) to fuck off. This country is not for sale...anymore.
Archie Bunker: Gay, gay, what'd you do? Bring us into a fag hangout?
...that if a character says something inflammatory in a film or play or television show it is not necessarily an endorsement of that sentiment. Referring specifically to the flack Vince Vaughn is getting for his character in the film The Dilemma saying "That's gay." For one thing, the comment is being taken out of context. If you haven't seen the movie, and I haven't, you don't know how that comment reflects on his character or society. I am not defending the derogatory use of the word "gay." I am saying, in context, in comedy, in telling a story, it may be appropriate and actually highlight why not to use it in such a way. For examples, watch the first few seasons of All In The Family. It is brilliant satire that uses a bigot as its main character to highlight the ignorance of bigotry. Archie Bunker would not be allowed to exist on television in today's world.
...that we tell each other stories to help us live a better life and some of our best story tellers aren't doing hit TV shows or blockbuster movies or anything on Broadway or best-selling novels. They're in comic books, cable, Netflix, storefront theaters, independent book stores and bars.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
P.S. Here’s why…
In 1998, I wrote a play called “A Hard Day’s Journey Into Night” about the break-up of a Beatles tribute band. I put a year into writing that play. Dug into the characters and relationships. Poured my heart and soul into it. The production never came together like I envisioned. The first compromise was dropping having actors who also played instruments who could pass themselves off as a tribute band, if even a mediocre one. I was told there was no way we could find people who could do that (in Chicago, no less). The second compromise came in choosing a director who, while a great guy, was better at directing/coaching improv than traditional theater. The third turn down a long dark tunnel came when the cast was chosen. All improvisers who preferred to “riff” than memorize their lines. That’s an exaggeration. There were some hardworking folks in that show who worked their butts off to deliver what I wrote. And then there were others who simply used what I wrote as a springboard. One guy even told me he should have co-writer credit. I declined. The experience was a nightmare.
“The Saga of the Viking Women…” just completed its fourth weekend. It’s a fun show with big characters and lots of music and action. Everyone at RvD is proud of it and considers it to be our best show, yet. RvD is made up of writers. When we’re in a show or supporting a show, we may be doing the task at hand, but we’re always filtering everything through our writer sensibilities. We know when actors are going off script and we’re aware of how it affects the story. On Saturday, there was so much ad-libbing going on in the show that it dragged the momentum we’re trying to build in the last half of the piece making the climax less so.
Why do actors ad-lib?
- It could be they are not confident in the script and, as performers, are covering their asses. If they can just get the audience to laugh at what they’re doing, the audience will see it’s not they’re fault the show sucks. This is not the case with “Viking Women.” We all love the show and the characters.
- They’re bored. I have seen Second City revues devolve into big soupy messes simply because the performers got bored with the material and started to change it up unaware of or unconcerned with how far they have drifted from the original show. They’re keeping it fresh for themselves at the expense of a paying audience who came to see the revue they heard or read about. Since “Viking Women” is only a ten-show run and last Saturday was only number eight, I’ll assume that’s not it, either. If it is, these actors need to learn more about how one keeps a role fresh and interesting internally without damaging the story telling experience.
- I let them.
Yep. I think that’s the one.
As a director, I don’t mind when actors try new things… in rehearsal. It often leads to moments that truthfully flesh out a character or aspect of the tale being told. As a writer, it sometimes leads to a better line of dialogue, which makes me look smarter and funnier than I am. It’s a win-win. It also helps build ensemble and the sense that we are all creating this thing together. This is essential, in my experience. The actors aren’t meat puppets. They are co-creators. They’re the ones who breathe life into what’s on the page.
This is also tricky. I want actors to honor the script and I want them to discover exciting, spontaneous moments. Where this becomes a burden is when an actor “runs” with it and changes lines that aren’t an improvement, often just different, often simply not as good as what was written. Or their ad-lib is simply them speaking the subtext of their character when it would be far more interesting to keep those comments internal and show them to us.
Again, at a rehearsal level, this is easier to address and handle. Once the show opens, it becomes a different animal. Lights come up and the actor is now in control. This is as it should be, but with all the weeks of preparation and proven moments, why would an actor ad-lib? (By the way, I am distinguishing ad-libbing from improvising. Improvising is discovery and exploration. Ad-libbing is an actor trying something they think will be funny. Usually premeditated and not in the moment. Also, don’t improvise during my written show!)
Ad-libs usually start flying because an actor had success at it and now wants more. They’re high on how clever they can be and how much the audience shows their approval through laughter. Laughter solely caused by that actor’s wit. The actor has shifted from being an ensemble member to being in it for him or herself. This leads to the kind of ad-libbing that breaks character, calls out the story or other characters/actors and does NOT forward the action or make the play more engaging. It’s an indulgence.
And it’s my fault for not telling the actors to knock it off after the first weekend. The show is now set. Deliver the show.
“Saga of the Viking Women” is filled with brilliant comic talent. It’s a big show with lots of props and costume changes and the story is complicated. We rehearsed in a space too small for the show and we have performed on all three stages at Stage773. Two of them were last minute changes and done without a tech rehearsal. We own this show – the writers, the crew and the actors – and feel like we can do this show anywhere, anytime. But, we’re also not infallible.
Saturday’s new ad-libs were mostly chitchat and spoken subtext that landed with slow-motion thuds. The audience still enjoyed the show, but we, the writers, know they didn’t get the full experience of what we intended.
Actors. Want to look like rock stars? Commit to your character. Commit to the relationships. Commit to the story. Deliver the show everyone is there to see.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
...that to be able to forgive oneself is empowering. To be able to forgive another is freeing. But just because you forgive someone, doesn't mean you have to fuck 'em.
...gays being denied marriage and military service (hopefully over), 50 million people still uninsured post-healthcare reform, stalling benefits for the unemployed, blocking jobs programs, kicking people out of their homes before doing everything possible to keep them in their homes, putting corporations before people... Everybody counts, America. It's the land of opportunity, not the land of "go fuck yourself." Act like it.
...that "fiscal conservative" is an oxymoron.
...that the GOP is trying to buy the election with massive amounts of money being poured into election campaigns from foreign and domestic corporations and billionaires. My vote is not for sale. However, I will entertain offers.
...that you only have two more weekends to see Robot vs. Dinosaur's The Saga of the Viking Women and their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of The Great Sea Serpent. See it before it's gone forever. The show rocks. It's funny. The music is great. And it has a sea serpent!
Friday, October 8, 2010
JET BLACK CHEVROLET written by Scott Barsotti. It's part of a two one-act program called It Could Happen Anywhere present by The Curious Theatre Branch at the Prop Theater. Jet Black Chevrolet is an expertly written exploration of self-imposed sleep deprivation brought on by the grief of losing a son. The acting is excellent and anyone who has ever experienced staying awake way beyond the point which your body stays on board for the venture will relate. There are enough loops and turns in the story that will keep you talking after the show about what exactly happened and I mean that in a good way. The second one-act on the bill, The Flowers Are Dead by Matt Rieger is not as successful. It tells the parallel stories of two small poverty-stricken families and the young teenage sons trying to break away from their familial constraints. The stories don't intersect until the end and does so in a way that, while artful, doesn't really make sense given the rational behavior of the two boys. IT CLOSES THIS WEEKEND!!!
CANDIDE directed and newly adapted by Mary Zimmerman at The Goodman Theatre is well worth the time and money to see. Candide, as a musical, has had a troubled history with many high caliber writers and directors taking a whack at taming this unwieldy story. While not 100 per cent successful at that, it does come closer than any previous incarnation. At times, the narration is too heavy-handed and too full of straight exposition and there are no breakout songs, save for the closing number, which had me up on my feet for a standing ovation. Anyone who has ever sat next to me at a show knows I am loathe to just dole those out willy-nilly. Still, this production is full of stunning imagery and comic performances. I also recommend reading the book. It is one of the best social satires ever written.
THE NAIROBI PROJECT presented by Blewt Productions at The Annoyance Theatre is hysterical. It is the presentation of a play commissioned by a Chicagoan for a Nairobi playwright to pen. The playwright is certainly well-intended and does his best to grapple with English as an almost second language. The actors commit full guns to their characters and the action. It's a good exercise in what happens when a cast follows the dialogue and stage directions to a tee. A good lesson for aspiring playwrights and sketch writers out there.
Of course, a must see is Robot vs. Dinosaur's The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage To The Waters of The Great Sea Serpent as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of The Great Sea Serpent at Stage773. I love this show. It makes me laugh every time.
The 365 Omnibus Shows You Would Never See Unless You Knew Someone In The Cast: Remounted closed its four-show run at Gorilla Tango last night. Scott Olson and crew did a great job and reminded how cool a process 365 was - from the writing to the shows. There are no current 365 productions in the works, so if you're interested in putting something together, let me know.
Coming down the pike, Robot vs. Dinosaur is in the pupa stage of writing our next show for the spring and, I didn't think this would ever happen, but Don Hall and I are working on another two-man show. The clincher, we came up with a great title. Don Hall and Joe Janes Are Using This Show To Try To Get Laid. We're going to be diving into the world of dating and relationships from the perspective of two middle-aged men, one twice-divorced and one never married.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
After three years of doing shows, RvD got its first review by one of the more established institutions in Chicago and if you weren't familiar with our work, it probably won't have you rushing to the phone to order tickets. Fair enough. Put up a show and invite reviewers to cover it, can't complain when they do. You can read the full revue by Albert Williams of The Chicago Reader by clicking HERE.
Here's my response to elements of the review...
"Comedy troupe Robot vs. Dinosaur crosses Roger Corman's 1957 drive-in potboiler, The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent, with Marat/Sade, Peter Weiss's 1963 play about a group of lunatics--led by the Marquis de Sade--who put on their own show about the French Revolution."
What problem could I possibly have with the above statement? We're not a comedy troupe. We're no more a comedy troupe than The Neo-Futurists or WNEP are. We're a theater company whose core group is made up of comedy writers. We craft our scripts. When a show is ready, we pick a director and cast it. "Saga" has a cast of fifteen. Of those folks, four are company members. Our roots are in sketch comedy, for sure, but we strive to present more theatrical work.
"Despite occasional bright spots, the production doesn't follow through on its premise: The characters of the inmate-actors are never developed, so we're left with a limp send-up of a cheesy old movie whose main attraction was its cast of scantily clad, soaking wet babes."We're doing a parody, here. Marat/Sade is our context and we swapped out the story of the French Revolution for The Saga of the Viking Women. The Marquis de Sade was a full-of-himself hedonist which seemed like a perfect swap for The Great Sea Serpent, who is worshipped as a god in the film. Our show, as presented, is about 80% "Viking Women" and 20% "Marat/Sade." We could have evened it out and spent more time on the inmate/actors, which would have made it a two-act show and probably deathly boring. The insane asylum is our way into the story and, ultimately, back out, with the serpent having his own uprising. To me, it's about The Great Sea Serpent, played by the multi-talented Nat Topping, and he has a story to tell with Orson Welles-like control. Everyone else lives in his world and is his puppet.
It bums me out that Albert didn't like the show more. I think it's a ton of fun. It's filled with many great songs and many great comic performances.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Thursday, September 16, 2010
If you saw it over the summer, we've added new material and more catchy tunes.
Robot vs. Dinosaur’s mash-up of deliciously terrible B-movie and “Marat/Sade” takes audiences on hilarious voyage
CHICAGO, IL (September 14, 2010) ... You could call it a metatheatrical feast of love, lust, betrayal, loyalty, and the struggle of all human beings to overcome the suffering of being alive, or like the poster says, “A hilarious play based on a bad movie, with songs and scantily clad ladies, performed by lunatics.” It’s Robot vs. Dinosaur’s The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent (as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Great Sea Serpent). The show runs Fridays and Saturdays, September 24 - October 23 at 10:30 pm at Stage 773.
This comedic play reanimates Roger Corman’s 1957 babesploitation fantasy about Viking women in search of their men and mashes it together with the famous 1963 Peter Weiss play best known as Marat/Sade.
The production first appeared as part of this summer’s Neo-Futurists Film Festival, which typically features staged readings of deliciously bad movies. But this go-round at Stage 773 features even more madness than before. Joe Janes, director of the show and head honcho of Robot vs. Dinosaur added, “The great part of the new show is that we’re no longer beholden to the original film script, which is quite horrible and filled with long stretches of just people walking. We also added original music and material because the Great Sea Serpent demanded we beef up his part. He’s quite a diva.”
The Saga of the Viking Women… will challenge all of your preconceived notions of both asylum inmates and buxom berserkers. Catch it Fridays and Saturdays, September 24 - October 23 at 10:30 pm. Stage 773 is at 1225 W. Belmont (the former Theatre Building Chicago).Tickets $15. Call 773-327-5252 or http://www.stage773.org/.
More about Robot vs. Dinosaur: Robot vs. Dinosaur is a writer-centric group with a great deal of experience in the Chicago sketch comedy and improv scene. Their goal is to write and perform original comic material that is eclectic, dynamically staged and fun for audiences. Assembled by Joe Janes, the comic mind behind the 365 Sketches Project, Robot vs. Dinosaur consists of fellow writers Geoff Crump, Susie Gutowski, Rebecca Levine, Chris Othic, Nat Topping and Greg Wendling. More information can be found at http://www.rvdchicago.blogspot.com/.
Monday, September 13, 2010
What Actors Hate
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
My friend, Andrew, is getting married this week. I'm the best man. The makes the second time in my life where I was the best man. The first time was for my brother's second marriage which was a very downplayed affair. My responsibilities included wearing a suit and showing up. For Andrew, I was charged with putting together a bachelor party.
For most guys, that means renting a limo and figuring out which strip club to start at. It's really a lame, trite ritual that exists mainly for the groom's friends, not for him. It's also strange. "Hey, you;re getting married to a woman you love. Let's take you out, get you drunk, and thrust boobs in your face. Your new bride will love it!"
Andrew's bachelor party had to be different. Out were strippers and booze. I thought about some big, macho thing, like paintball or skydiving or racecar driving, but none of those felt right, either. Paintball is old and Andrew's not a big fan. The other two things would be a group of guys watching Andrew do something out in the suburbs that would last a few minutes. I wanted something more intimate and personal. I drew on my strengths.
I did a shout out to all my storyteller friends to see if they could make the date and time and then to see if they could come up with a two-fisted tale of manliness, real or made up. Dennis Frymire and Jason Adams, two WNEP Skald winners, answered the call. Dennis told a personal story about confronting a 60-year-old man for grabbing and kissing his girlfriend. All men have been in the situation of risking a physical confrontation to stand up for your woman. It's not pretty. Jason told a rousing sea-faring adventure about a tallship's encounter with a Cracken.
The final story came from Erin O'Shea, the only woman allowed at the event. Being the only woman at a bachelor party usually means one thing and this wasn't it. She kept her clothes on and everyone was gentleman. Erin told this story...
Up until a year ago, I did not know that Andrew Ettenhofer existed. Let me clarify. Like everyone, I had heard of him. I had heard the stories. Ice fishing in the Antartic with his bare hands, starting a fist fight with Vladamir Putin, and winning, breaking sales records at Fig Media. But one files those under the same category as Adonis, Santa Claus, Superman and Sasquatch. Of which, Andrew is all of them. Not just a little bit of each. All of all of them.
After graduating from St. Mary’s Catholic School for Slightly Wayward Girls – by the way, the uniform still fits – I went to college. There I majored in astrophysics with a minor in competitive cheerleading. I still have the trophies. And the uniform. I graduated magna cum laude the same time the economy turned sour. The climate was not kind for a scientist-slash-leader of cheers. I took what jobs I could, eventually landing employment with an international airline as a flight attendant. I still have that uniform, too.
One night, on a redeye from Kathmandu to Nepal, I was having a typical work shift. The only thing that made it different was the ruggedly handsome man with a sparkle in his eye in first class who ordered a glass of wine and then explained to me how you can tell how old it was by holding it up to the light. As an unsolicited sidenote, he also told me how to carve a rose out of a radish. I did not have a radish or a knife he could use, so he demonstrated on an Oreo cookie with a toothpick. It was the most beautiful chocolatey-creamy-centered rose I ever saw. He gave it to me. I thought to myself, well, this may not by just any old flight from Kathmandu to Nepal. I thought, Dana, this man was someone special. Someone a girl could really throw herself at and be happy to be rejected just because he spoke to her.
It could have been the start of something special, except this was the night a group of Norwegian terrorists tried to hijack the plane. He and four of his terrorist buddies each had brought on board a piece of a bomb hidden in the lining of their parka hoods. I became suspicious when all four of them retired to the lavatory at the same time. Usually when more than one person enters an airline restroom at the same time, it can only mean one thing. They really have to go bad. But when four people enter, well, my training in mathematics, geometry and probability told me something was amiss. I knocked on the door and told them they needed to return to their seats. I heard something drop and then there was an explosion. I blacked out for a moment. When I came to, I was falling through the sky in the dead of night. An icy updraft kept me from plummeting like a rock. The updraft meant I must have been somewhere near Mount Everest.
My physics education and the elective I took in meteorology told me that there was a slim chance that I could survive this. If only something firm, but soft could break my fall. A peek down revealed by the full moon a wall of jagged snow-tipped rocks reaching up towards me.
It was then that I felt two strong arms cradle me. A warm voice whispered in my ear, “I’ve got you.” It was my Andrew. I mean, just Andrew. I asked if I was dreaming. He said, “No. This is real. The explosion knocked a hole in the plane and sucked you and a band of Norwegian terrorists out of the lavatory. It was no accident I was on that plane. I’m a secret agent. I’m also a dj and I do sales for, you know, weddings and stuff. Here’s my card. Facebook me.”
“The plane…Is everyone…?’
“Everyone else is all right. I was able to stabilize the cabin pressure by draping my Kevlar Travel Snuggie over the opening. I did it as I jumped out. They should be fine.”
“Why would you do that?”
“To save you, Flight Attendant Erin.” He remembered my name! “I felt bad about not preventing the explosion. My name is Andrew.”
I could not believe my good fortune. The man whose eyes twinkled when he talked about wine and the culinary arts was rescuing me from my fall. Except, “Andrew, how are we going to get out of this? We will be hitting the rocks any moment, now. Do you have some secret agent thing that will save us?”
“No. But I used to live in Colorado. Mount Everest shouldn’t be anything I can’t handle. I always come prepared for snow.” Andrew reached under his sports coat and brought out a boogie board. He slapped it onto his feet with one hand while steadying me with another. We hit the rocks at an extreme angle and Andrew boogied his way down Mount Everest without ever dropping me or toppling over. It was the most amazing feat of manliness I had ever witnessed.
Fourteen hours later, we reached the bottom. I gave Andrew a big hug and a kiss on the cheek, but, of course, I wanted and hoped for more. We heard a car horn honk. It was his bride-to-be Nicole in a red Chevy Nova. He had texted her as we were coming down and she came to pick him up. He explained that Nicole was the one and only love of his life and that saving me was something he would have done for anyone in distress, just like Superman.
Oh, and then the four Norwegian terrorists parachuted down around us. Andrew quickly dispatched them with a dazzling display of mixed martial arts.
(She reaches into her pocket and pulls out a handkerchief. She unwraps it revealing a pile of Oreo cookie crumbs.)
Nicole may have his heart, but I held on to the rose he gave me. It hasn’t held up well, but it’s still a rose to me.
They dropped me off at the nearest hospital to be treated for frostbite of which I am fully recovered. But what the doctors couldn’t cure was my broken heart.
(On the verge of tears, Erin approaches Andrew.)
I sincerely hope you and Nicole are very happy, Andrew. I really do. But if things shouldn’t work out, or she dies, unexpectedly, or even of old age, I’ll be waiting. I’ll be waiting.
I wrote the story, in case you couldn't tell. Erin did an excellent job with it, making it much funnier than it had a right to be. After the stories, the other men toasted Andrew, sharing with him their hopes, wishes and desires for his wedding day and marriage. Pretty cool. No one got drunk and no one has to lie to the bride. Maybe we didn't do it right.