New Year's Eve at Duffy's. Duffy (pictured) and I used to perform together on Otis.
Duffy's new place, a very nice two story coach house, has become the new party spot of choice for slightly older improvisers like myself. Otisgiving, a holiday party I missed but heard a lot about, and now New Year's Eve.
As people grabbed their plastic cups of champagne, someone yelled out, "Five minutes to midnight!"
Some of the more theater-bred party-goers yelled back, "Five minutes, thank you!"
Monday, December 31, 2007
New Year's Eve at Duffy's. Duffy (pictured) and I used to perform together on Otis.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
I can tell we're going to have a good house for the Whirled News show when there are already extra chairs set up when I get to the theater.
Chin: 85 reservations. More than any other show at the theater. With walk-in traffic we should easily sell out.
Busy night. Whirled News upstairs at 8. Diplomat Motel downstairs at 10:30. Having two shows in a row is kind of win-win. If the first show goes badly, you have a chance to redeem yourself with the second show. If the first goes well, you can ride that momentum into the second.
Tonight was a good night. Both shows went well.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Back in Chicago.
Last night I was on 'Chicago Tonight.' WTTW called iO and Second City looking for performers to be part of a live "irreverent" round-table discussion on the biggest news stories of '07. Glynn (far right) and I represented Whirled News, while Seth and Joey were there through Second City's Touring Company. It was all thrown together very last minute. I don't mind admitting I was nervous.
As we were about to go live, the stage manager hooked up our mics and checked our light.
Stage Manager: [pointing at Glynn] Number 4, you look pretty hot. [chuckles] Don't worry. That's a lighting joke.
We all threw out the obvious responses to that. "I'd like to take you out to dinner. That's a lighting joke." "Can I kiss you on the mouth? Lighting joke."
Stage Manager: What are you all here for? What do you do?
Glynn: That's a good question.
Joey: I guess we're... "local comedians"? Or at least that's what they'll probably introduce us as. Something like that.
Stage Manager: Oh. Comedians. So... my joke probably wasn't that funny, huh?
Me: No. No. It was good.
Seth: We laughed.
Joey: It was funny.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
We try a new board game every year. This year it was Apples to Apples.
Dad: Wait, how is "flipping the car" considered "radical"? That doesn't make any sense.
Mom: I thought it was pretty good.
Julie: How is Mom winning this game?
Mom: Real nice.
Sherry: I think this game is good for us because you don't have to be smart and know Trivial Pursuit answers.
Dad: Speak for yourself.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
My Christmas gift to Ty and Will was a "Clap and Laugh Microphone." It's a working microphone with buttons on the base that you can step on to make applause or laughing noises.
They're both too young to understand what stand-up comedy is, but they enjoyed yelling into the mic and stomping on the laugh button as hard as they could.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Christmas Eve with my Dad's extended family.
Grandpa Paul hands out presents to all the kids. Then it's time for the gag gifts. Golf shirts that read, "Get Some Balls." Things like that. Browns fans get Bengals shirts and vice versa.
Years ago one of my relatives had the bad luck to, shortly after hemorrhoid surgery, shit the bed while staying at someone else's house. Every year since he's gotten some kind of poop-related gift. Toilet paper. Adult diapers. This was the first year that he didn't get one. So maybe some embarrassing jokes do die down with time. After, say, a decade.
Finally there's the White Elephant exchange. Gifts are opened, gifts are stolen. I don't participate because I don't fish, golf or follow sports in general. You can see my dad at the top of the picture examining a present carefully before choosing it. He tends to have bad luck in the exchange.
Dad: This could be a fishing pole... but it could be a plunger. You have to be careful.
It was a fishing pole. But it was eventually stolen. The next gift he opened was the DVD 'Harold and Maude.'
Dad: What's this? Hey, anybody want to steal this? Nobody?
I tried to tell him that it's actually a pretty decent movie, but my description didn't sound appealing to anyone.
Mom: Maybe there's money hidden inside.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
The family signed Grandma Anne (my Mom's mother) out of the nursing home and took her to Pizza Hut.
Allie: How are you doing?
Grandma: I could be better.
Grandma had a little bit of a cold and was unhappy with her hair. The woman who usually does her hair hasn't been back to the nursing home since her husband drowned in a vat of manure.
Mostly, she's unhappy to be at the nursing home at all. Understandable. But since she signed everything over to Uncle Kenny, we're pretty much powerless to do anything. And unfortunately, it's easy to get tired of the complaining. As Mom said to her during our Thanksgiving visit, "Well, it could be worse. You could live in Iraq."
Still, it was nice to see her. And she seemed happy to get out into the world. By the end of the meal, though, she seemed quiet and worn-out. My brother-in-law, Matt, leaned over the table and asked, "You following Rooshie basketball?"
Grandma's head popped up, and she answered in a voice more emphatic than anything she'd said all day, "You BET I do."
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Hometown, Ohio for the holidays. When I came in the door, Dad was watching 'Christmas Vacation' on his new television.
Dad: Randy Quaid. He's pretty good.
Mom: I don't think I've ever seen this before.
Dad: You've seen this before.
Mom: I don't think so.
Dad: Well you've led a sheltered life, Doris.
Later, in the car...
Dad: I always liked Rodney Dangerfield. He had a lot of good one liners. "My parents moved when I was a kid. I found 'em."
Mom: [laughing] Tell Sherry.
Sherry: [taking off headphones] What?
Dad: "I don't get no respect. My parents moved when I was a kid. But I found 'em."
Sherry: I can't hear you.
Mom: He said, "My parents... when he was a kid, they moved. But he found them."
That night, my youngest sister, Allie, talked me into getting some drinks with her college-aged friends. They seemed nice. Unprompted by me, they started talking about stand-up comedians they like. Some I agreed with, some I didn't, but I kept my opinions to myself.
Allie: I just like it when black people make fun of white people.
Friday, December 21, 2007
My annual holiday meat-scursion with some friends. Hansen (far left), Nick (second), Trupe, Meador, Young and Martin (not pictured, due to having a show during the first half of the evening).
We had dinner at Fogo de Chao, a fancy Brazilian steakhouse, where endless skewers of meat are brought to your table. This year we all ate "too much" rather than "dangerously too much." We're getting older.
After that we went to one of Hansen's lawyer hang-outs, the bar in the Four Seasons Hotel.
Me: Should we exchange gifts here.
Nick: I don't know. This place is too fancy for some of my gifts.
We were going to take taxis from Fogo to the Four Seasons, but as we stepped out of the restaurant, the driver of a ridiculous stretch Hummer limo, approached us and said, "I'll take you all there. $35."
Hansen: Oh, we HAVE to do this. I'm paying. Everyone in.
Me: Maybe could he drop us off a couple blocks away from the hotel?
Hansen: Oh no. Front door. All of us crawling out of this thing.
Meador: Hansen, is there a weird experience you can't resist?
Trupe: I think Hansen has a novelty gland.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Sarah and I went to the iO Holiday Party last night. Charna, the owner, closed down the theater for the night and served free chicken and ribs and offered an open bar (until 11, anyway).
I spent some time talking to Alex (left), from Whirled News, Jet (middle) and Steve. Jet and Steve recently became understudies for Second City's Touring Company.
Steve: We did a show in the Napa Valley.
Jet: Wine country.
Steve: It was amazing.
Jet: Beautiful scenery. Wine tasting. Hot tubs in our rooms. I was just excited to be in a hotel. I was jumping on the bed. "Hotel room!" I grew up kind of poor, so just normal hotel rooms are exciting to me.
Alex: [laughing] Well, I grew up really super ridiculously rich, and I think hotel rooms are great too. They're fucking awesome.
Steve: There were 200 channels on the television.
Later, Sarah and I talked to St. Clair, a performer in the current Second City ETC show.
St. Clair: It's like my theory about Second City shows. The first one you see blows you away and it's always your favorite. For me the first one was, 'The Psychopath Not Taken' and that will always be my favorite.
He used this as a metaphor to explain to Sarah why 'Gears of War,' the first XBox 360 game she'd played was her favorite XBox game.
Odd that so much of the evening was spent talking about Second City (I wonder if they talk much about iO at the Second City Holiday Party). Odd that it's come up so much on my blog. Or at all. Second City is the most famous comedy theater in Chicago and for many it's the pinnacle of a Chicago comedy career, but it has very little to do with my own creative life. I've always been respectfully disinterested. Probably that's just a defense mechanism. If I don't audition, I won't get rejected.
Still, last week I signed up for my first Second City audition. Even if they asked (and who says they would) I wouldn't be willing to give up my job to do TourCo. Maybe sometime down the line, though, when things get less crazy, I could take a sabbatical and do a Second City Cruise. With all the random opportunities the theater offers, it's dumb that over the last six years I've never auditioned there. Plus, it could make interesting fodder for my blog.
See how carefully I've shielded myself from the inevitable rejection? This is an amusing lark for my blog!
What was I talking about again? [sips at beer] Oh yes, Merry Christmas iO.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Sarah, my girlfriend, has been making some extra money on the weekends by dressing up as Mrs. Claus at a mall in the suburbs. She got the gig through ComedySportz, a theater that is very good at hooking its performers up with promotional work. She works with Prouty, who plays the Nutcracker Prince.
Sarah: We've had a couple different Santas.
Prouty: We've had Creepy Santa, Fast Santa...
Me: Which Santa did you have today?
Prouty: New Santa.
Sarah: We've never seen this Santa before.
They keep the kids organized in the Santa line and do a skit retelling the story of the Nutcracker (with added moments of karate).
Sarah: I've had a couple parents joke that I look too young and thin to be Mrs. Claus.
Prouty: "Oh no! I'm too young and thin!"
Me: Just tell them you're not Santa's first wife.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Diplomat Motel rehearsal.
Timmy: You know, I check out your blog every Monday, and I'm like, "Oh, let's see here. Where's Timmy?" I do a little keyword search. "Let's see. Is there a 'timmy'? No."
Trupe: Then you put in TM?
Timmy: Yes, then I put in TM. No. Hmm. Maybe he's got me under T-Bone.
Timmy: No T-Bone. So I type in... maybe he's got me under Knick-Knack Paddy-Whack...
Me: That doesn't even make any sense...
Timmy: Put me in your blog, Arnie!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
My oldest sister, Julie, sent me this picture from Ohio of my nephews, Ty and Will.
They are wearing basketball jerseys for the college team that my Dad coaches. I don't know if you follow sports (I mostly don't) but you may have heard about the small Division II basketball team that beat Ohio State University in a preseason exhibition game. That was my dad's team.
Ty and Will's favorite new game is to pretend like they're running out of the locker room onto the court or field before a sporting event. I got to see it while I was home over Thanksgiving. They go into the next room, and my brother-in-law, Matt, yells, in his best announcer voice, "Introducing, number 1, Tyyyyyyyyyy!!!" They run out, everyone claps, then they go back and do it again.
Matt: It was Ty's idea in the first place. One day he whispered, "Dad, dad, announce me. I'm going into the other room. Announce me." It took me a second to figure out what he was talking about.
Dad: It's a big moment when the players come out. Everyone's watching and cheering. Kids love it. It's the drama.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
After tonight's Whirled News show, Chin (far right), the director and original creator of the show, gave Christmas gifts to the cast (those of us who were there, anyway, attendance for most shows gets a little sparse around the holidays). Awesome black hooded sweatshirts with the Whirled News Tonight logo over the heart.
Glynn: Thanks. This is so much more useful than the journals we got last year.
Me: I'm rarely introspective, but I'm often cold.
Shane: They say "2008."
Eddie: They're from the future!
Friday, December 14, 2007
The vast majority of the shows in the downstairs theater at iO are completely improvised, which is to say, completely made up on the spot, with no script. Each show is different and new.
Except for the host. There's no script telling you what to say when you open a night of improv at iO, but most hosts say, almost word for word, the same things.
"Hello, welcome to the iO Theater. By applause, how many of you are here for the first time?" Some hosts will ask for a show of hands, but applause is better. It doesn't really matter who's never been to a show before and applause pumps some energy into the room.
"Well, you're in for a treat. You're about to see some long form improvisation. Each group is going to come to you, the audience, for one suggestion. They'll then take that suggestion and use it for inspiration for various characters and scenes and games." This is where the host is most likely to get lost. Most people don't know what long form improv is (as opposed to short form games), and although it's not really all that complex an idea on the surface (one suggestion and then anything goes) it's natural for a host to feel like they need to further explain it, or even subtly defend it. They may throw in phrases like, "themes," "interweaving," "more than the sum of its parts," and sometimes, if they're really nervous, "art." Usually, though, it's best to quickly move on to, "All of it made up on the spot, giving you a show that has never been seen before, and will never be seen again."
"We're not just a theater. We're also a bar." There may be some patter with the bartender about what the specials are and about how the host is "definitely going to order that drink as soon as I get off stage." About half the hosts throw in the joke, "The more you drink, the funnier we get." It always gets a laugh and is not untrue, but I'm not a big fan of it. Every once in a while a host may throw out a joke about there being no drink minimum but no maximum either. Legally speaking, this is not strictly true.
The piano player is introduced ("improvising with us all night, on the keys..." or sometimes, "the most important improviser in the room...") and the first group is brought on stage.
At the end of the show, the host thanks everyone, and encourages the audience to tip the wait staff. "They appreciate your applause, but they appreciate your tips even more. They use that money for little things like food and rent." Some hosts add, "and drugs" to the end of that for a laugh, and at least one frequent hosts goes one further by adding, "like insulin."
Finally, the host may plug whatever show is up next, and they'll usually plug the theater's training center. "If you thought this looked like fun and you think you'd like to do it, you can. We're not just a theater," and a bar, "we're also a training center. All of the performers up here tonight have taken our classes. For more information grab a brochure at the box office or visit us on the web at..." and then the host usually can't remember if the address ends in com or net. It's net.
It rarely deviates from that. And despite the fact that most of the hosts are very experienced improvisers, when it does deviate from the "script" it often goes badly.
I've never hosted.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Work holiday party. Everyone in the office voted on what we should do for the party. Go-karts and kareoke lost, and a private party at the super fancy (and expensive) restaurant, Moto, won.
We had a ten course meal of small gourmet concoctions. The first thing that came out, besides the large number of wine glasses (different wines for different courses) was an edible menu.
Amanda: The menu looks good.
Steve-o: [nibbling at the bottom of the menu] Am I the only one that's eating dessert first?
There were several jokes about the fact that on the menu, the first course was listed as "greek salad" and the second as "greek salad, again." But neither of the first two courses were actually salads. Each was a dramatically different dish that tasted a surprising amount like greek salad. And that was the idea of the place, things that taste like other things.
I honestly couldn't describe most of it. One course was a biscotti and coffee but the biscotti tasted like coffee and vice versa. Another was a piece of paper with a picture of cotton candy on it that tasted like cotton candy.
I generally like simple foods. I've never really "gotten" fine dining. But I Iiked the meal a lot. Each bite was an experience, ten separate little culinary magic tricks.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The video, titled 'Wishlist,' was shot by Anderson (left) and Rick (right).
Rick: I actually haven't been to iO in over a year. My wife gave me the ultimatum. I have three things. Home, work, which is this video stuff, and improv. She said, "Pick two. And make sure it's the right two."
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Spent the day shooting a video with Steve (another Whirled News cast member) for a local contest.
Me: I know it's too late now, but what's your honest assessment of the accent I've been doing?
Steve: It's fine. How's mine?
Me: Good. I just have a tough time sustaining any kind of accent.
Steve: I have no idea where we're from. We're, like, Brooklyn-Chicago-Boston cops.
Later, we had to park for a few minutes in an alley next to a playground full of kids.
Me: Uh... do you realize that we're two guys in a car wearing...
Me: ... next to a park full of...
Steve: Yep. This is weird.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Back in Chicago at a Diplomat Motel rehearsal.
This time we were in the room with a sign on the wall that reads, "Kraft GREAT Kids Rules." The rules include things like, "follow instructions," "no eating or drinking juice or soda," and, "respect yourself and others."
As a warm-up we did a game called Five Things (sometimes Three Things or Seven Things depending on how much time is available). Everyone is given a topic to, as quickly as possibly, list off five things for. You know, like, "five made up names of world leaders," or, "five things you'd yell out if you were filled with rage." Then the person has to rattle off that list of five things as quickly as possible, whether they make sense or not.
Trupe (pictured on the right) was given, "Five OTHER Kraft Great Rules For Kids."
Here's what he yelled out as fast as he could:
"1. Don't put those markers in your pants!
"2. Don't slap Rico!
"3. Raise your hand if you farted again!
"4. Don't tell your parents anything that went on here today!"
I can't remember the fifth one.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Sherry: So, are you glad you came?
Me: Yeah. I was worried that it would be awkward, or we'd get tired of hanging out, but it's been fun. And I had more fun the times we hung out together than the times we hung out separately.
Sherry: Me too.
Me: Thanks for asking me.
Sherry: Thanks for coming.
The Cheesecake Factory in Caesar's Palace is really nice.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Headed over to the Flamingo to see the Second City Las Vegas show. I used what little contacts I have to get free tickets. I was excited to see the sketch revue that Shelly had co-written and used to perform in, and was curious to see what other ex-Chicagoans I might recognize in the cast.
As the lights came up on the show, though, I realized that I'd somehow gotten tickets to the fully improvised show that the understudies perform, and not the scripted revue. Disappointing. The show was not bad, the performers, none of whom I recognized, did a fine job, it just wasn't the show I wanted to see.
And sitting there, I couldn't get past the thought that everyone around me had paid about $50 to see old (to me anyway) improv games like, "The Dating Show" and "Dah-Doo-Ron-Ron." Everyone seemed to enjoy it, though.
As I left the theater there was already a long line waiting for the next show on that stage, a non-Second City (I assume) topless revue called, "X Burlesque."
Friday, December 7, 2007
In Las Vegas with my sister, Sherry. Her company rented out the Hard Rock Casino's club, Body English. With deep leather booths, ornate chandeliers, and hallways so dark you can't read the signs on the restroom doors, the place was sort of what I imagine Morrisey's house is like.
Since it was a corporate holiday party, you were more likely to see middle aged businessmen and their wives on the dance floor than, say, Paris Hilton. Which was just fine with me. (The closest I came to a celebrity spotting was later, when a incredibly drunk guy kept insisting that he'd just seen the Iron Sheik playing blackjack at the $10 tables) I tried my best to get dressed up enough for the party, but realized, with a shirt that was exactly the same purple as the Hard Rock employees, I looked like I worked there.
Sherry's co-workers seemed nice. A few of them awkwardly tried to figure out if I was Sherry's husband. "No. No. Just her brother. We have the same last name because we're siblings. Not married."
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Until recently, I somehow made it through a half decade of Chicago improv without ever going to a Whirlyball party. Whirlyball is a combination of bumper cars and basketball (with some la crosse thrown in), and its pretty high among the improv special occasion destinations (behind karaoke and just-going-to-a-crappy-bar-near-the-theater-and-drinking-too-much).
I finally went to a Whirlyball party a few weeks ago for Meador's 30th birthday party. I learned that I am terrible at Whirlyball, although not as bad as Young who spent half a game stuck under the basket because he didn't realize his bumper car had a gas pedal.
Meador: [later, via e-mail] You and your camera left before I got stupid drunk, right? It was a rough night of which I remember little.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I left work a little early today and headed over to Second City to catch a little of their annual 24 hour improv show. It's a charity event where a core set of improvisers put on a show for 24 straight hours, with a rotating cast of sit-ins, and the occasional visiting musical act. I got there as the show was entering its final hours.
The first person I saw as I entered the theater was my friend Shelly, who'd I'd performed with in the improv group Otis. It was the first time I'd seen her since she'd moved back from Las Vegas, where she'd been for a year doing the Second City Las Vegas revue.
Me: Have you been up the whole 24 hours?
Shelly: Yep. The whole time.
Me: How do you feel?
Shelly: Good. A little loopy, which is maybe dangerous because everything seems funny to me right now.
Me: How long have you been back?
Shelly: I just got back. Great timing, huh? I drive across country from Las Vegas through terrible weather, and then I turn right around and do a 24 hour improv show.
A half hour later I took this picture from the audience. Shelly is the one on-stage nodding off.
Later, the improvisers took a break while the Blisters played. The Blisters is a Chicago band made up of four grade school age kids. For part of the set, Jeff Tweedy, the father of the drummer, sat about four seats away from me, nodding along to the music.
The Blisters play the 24 hour improv show every year, and I'd actually seen them once before, a couple years ago. Jeff Tweedy played with them that time, but he's apparently been kicked out of the band since then.
They did a good job, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. There was only one minor moment of awkwardness when a guitar had to be switched out, and the whole room sat there in silence waiting for the next song.
Then one of the improvisers in the audience (Grosz, I think) yelled out, "Banter! You gotta do some banter."
The lead singer, smiled, stepped back up to the microphone and said, "Oh. Uh... so... I was at the library the other day..."
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
My friend Tom, who I first met in a gifted program back in elementary school, has started working at Jellyvision. We're not working on the same project, but we work in the same office now. In fact, his desk is right behind mine. We work back to back.
Tom: I'll try to look less corpse-like in your pictures from now on.
Monday, December 3, 2007
Diplomat Motel rehearsal at Gill Park. McCrackin sat in as a substitute coach. We were given the Arts and Crafts room to practice in.
McCrackin: Hey, pipe cleaners!
Me: Pipe cleaners are easily the best craft material.
While we rehearsed scenes, McCrackin sat next to the "Please Don't Touch the Art Supplies" sign and shaped a detailed set of pipe cleaner eyeglasses.
McCrackin: I also made this heart for my daughter.
Half-way through rehearsal a woman asked us if we would mind moving upstairs to the exercise room. "They double booked the room. I have an art class about to start. I'm so sorry."
We finished rehearsal upstairs.
Meador: Were you nervous she'd see the glasses and get mad that you were using up pipe cleaners?
McCrackin: Yeah, totally. I hid 'em in my coat the whole time.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
I'm glad that I agreed to go to Las Vegas with my sister, Sherry, next weekend.
The company Sherry works for has a holiday party in Vegas every year. Free flights and hotel for employees and a guest. This year, none of Sherry's friends were free that weekend, and my other two sisters, Julie and Allie, couldn't go either. So Sherry asked me.
Sherry moved to Chicago about a year ago, and we've been getting together every month or so to have dinner and catch up, usually at the Cheesecake Factory (my Dad loves Chedders, Sherry loves the Cheesecake Factory). We talk, we eat, we run out of things to talk about, we go our separate ways. It's always nice but rarely lasts longer than the amount of time it takes to eat a meal.
Still, if someone offers you a free trip to a warm place in the winter, you take it. And I'm hoping it will be fun to spend some time together. Also, I found out later that if I'd declined, she wouldn't have gone at all, so I'm glad I said yes.
Sherry has one stipulation. "Shave the beard."
Saturday, December 1, 2007
There are a number of comedy theaters in Chicago. I mostly perform at the iO Theater, which, according to its own sign, is the home of "Chicago's Best Improv Comedy."
iO was originally called the Improv Olympic, but had to change its name after threats of legal action from the International Olympic Committee. They were concerned that customers might confuse a night of semi-professional improvised comedy for an Olympic sporting event.