Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Well, this show is done.
But check in from time to time. I don't currently have any specific plans for another 'Year' blog, but I'm sure I'll get around to doing another one eventually. And in the meantime, I have various other projects in the works that I'll be sure to let you know about soon.
For those of you sad to have lost a little part of your daily internet routine, I leave you with a few things listed on the final page of '14,000 Things to Be Happy About' by Barbara Ann Kipfer. "Provolone cheese." "Frothiness." "Exploring your unconscious." And one that I'd like to think is ambiguously spelled (even though it's almost certainly not), "Improving yourself."
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
I don't perform with anyone on Otis anymore (except for Shotts's brief, and now finished, sit-in stint with Diplomat Motel) but we still get together for a few longstanding annual events like Gandy Gras and, tonight, Otis-giving. Not shows, just dinners.
Lauren wasn't able to come because she moved to New York, but since we scheduled the dinner for Monday, one of the few nights the Second City Mainstage is dark, Shelly was able to stop by.
Duffy forgot to thaw out the turkey properly but we still all stuffed ourselves on sides.
It was the first gathering I can remember where no one brought up doing an Otis reunion show or trying to get a couple slots at the Playground (or shooting videos), but we did talk about how nice it would be to get together for some drinks for New Years.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
The whole family flew down to Atlanta for Senior Night, Allie's last college volleyball game. Or actually, her last home game. Actually, no, her second to last home game. But anyway, Senior Night.
There was much discussion about whether we should all go on the court for the family picture.
Julie: I drove all the way down here. I think that's enough.
Matt: I'm going out and I'm just the brother-in-law.
Arnie: People will point at you and scream that you don't belong.
Sherry: Isn't it just supposed to be parents?
Arnie: There are an awful lot of us.
Eventually we decided to all go out. I did notice once we were out there, though, that most of the other senior just had their parents with them, and the announcer explained that their grandparents, etc were "watching from the stands."
We had this picture taken which Mom was hoping to use for her Christmas cards, although maybe not since you can barely see Julie and Will is completely hidden behind Allie's head.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Recently we've been dedicating a little time at work to playing party games. Board games, video games, random games people play. We play games and then ask ourselves, what did we like, what did we not like. What makes a good party game.
Today we hooked Poland's camera up to the big TV so he could be on a team with Steveo for Cranium. One teammate in Chicago, one in Michigan.
Here they are playing the Cranium question type that is essentially Pictionary. Steveo draws and holds the picture up to Poland's camera.
Poland: Hole! Shirt! Shirt hole!
Amanda: The clue is Place. Shirt hole isn't a place.
Steveo: It was a laundry mat! See!
Poland: I can barely see anything.
Me: This is really stupid. I'm glad we're doing this.
All in all, I've got a pretty good life.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
One of my original ideas for this blog was for it to be loosely structured like a long form improv show. Heading off in all directions to start and then coming together with connections and call backs at the end.
My feeling about the blog over the last few months is that it never really went anywhere, and there were some good bits but it's mostly just kind of there.
Chin: And this is different from a lot of improv shows how?
Me: So I've succeeded in making my blog a bad improv show?
Chin: Write that.
Bad is maybe too strong a word. I've done some bad improv shows, bracingly bad, but, and maybe I'm deluding myself here, those are a rarity. Of course, the truly transcendent ones don't happen often either. Most fall under the category of Unrealized Potential. Good, but not as good as they could have been.
Still, people were entertained and fun was had. The last thing you should ever do is bail on a show before it's over because it's not as good as you want it to be. Sure, you could, as I'm doing now, break the fourth wall and comment on the show, be honest about how you think it's not so great and see if that honesty can take you somewhere interesting. But maybe the audience doesn't think it's a bad show, and it's probably best to keep moving forward, projecting confidence (being an expert) until the lights go out.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
As I've mentioned before, when SNL is hiring, one of their (many) usual places to look is iO. SNL talent scouts come and see a showcase here once or twice a year. I've done some, I've not done some.
There was an all-women showcase a few weeks back and from that showcase, eight very talented Chicago improvisers were flown out to New York to do the infamous SNL audition where you stand on the show's stage and do five minutes of material while no one laughs. Among the women invited were Shelly (from Otis) and Steve and Jordan's girlfriends (who both obviously have identities above and beyond being girlfriends, but I haven't mentioned them on the blog before so I'm referring to them as that for simplicity's sake).
Steve: [from a conversation that week] It's funny. On Wednesday my girlfriend is going to be performing for Lorne Michaels and I'm going to be... what... interviewing a glee club.
Me: Yes. But you'll be interviewing a glee club on your national cable sports show.
Steve: Well, sure.
(It's worth mentioning that Steve had his own SNL callback a few years ago.)
Unfortunately, none of the Chicago women were hired.
Anyway, that's a long intro into mentioning that Charna recently said to me in passing, "The next time there's an SNL showcase here, you're at the top of the list." Very flattering, very nice. I don't really do characters or impressions, but still, it's nice to be on that list, even if it would be slightly wasted on me.
There was an SNL showcase last night which I wasn't in.
Charna: [via e-mail] There was only one slot left and I decided to go with Alex, but you're on the top of the list for the next one.
This didn't particularly bother me. I don't consider myself unworthy (or above it) but SNL performer isn't really in my skill set. Still, they're looking for writers so I submitted a writing packet through Charna.
I brought the packet to the showcase concealed in my bag. I felt slightly embarrassed about it, like a taxi driver with a screenplay tucked under his seat in case a celebrity steps in his cab.
I ran into Megan outside the theater.
Megan: Time to watch Alex do the showcase and pretend I'd actually want my boyfriend to move to New York.
Charna was very nice and made a point of tracking me down during the intermission to get my writing packet. My cover letter read, "Hello. Tonight at the iO theater in Chicago, there was a talent showcase for Saturday Night Live. The probably wise decision was made to keep the amount of performers down to a reasonable number. Sadly, this meant that there was not room for me to participate. Charna has assured me that I was 'the very next person' so, if you happen to hire everyone you see perform tonight and then find that you have one more writer position to fill, keep in mind that I am the next person and would probably be a logical candidate for that job (unless, of course, Charna was just being in nice by saying that I'm the next person, which is certainly possible)."
Too cute? Probably. And the sketches in the packet weren't particularly SNL-centric (except for one topical Obama sketch from the Whirled News sketch show), but like my lackluster Second City audition earlier this year, I'm trying to make a point of going after things. Putting myself out there, at least. The next step is probably putting myself out there in a way that is more than least.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Every day at the pool (at both resorts) activity directors try to talk guests into playing Crazy Games (that's how they're listed on the schedule). I always pass. "No thanks. I'd rather just read or swim or drink."
Today, though, they were playing that game where you throw golf balls connected with rope at a little PVC pipe ladder (I only know it by joke names like Dangle Balls and Sling Sacs). I like that game. So I volunteered to play along with a young man and woman from Mexico City and two old women from Canada.
At first I worried I'd play "too well" and would have to start throwing the game if I got too far ahead (each night before the Entertainment Show, the winners of the Crazy Games are called up on stage to wave their certificates of achievement back and forth over their heads while the DJ plays 'We Are the Champions'). I didn't need to worry about winning, though, because I did genuinely badly for most of the game. I had a bit of a rally near the end but still came in second to the deeply tanned Canadian woman who always giggled and rasped, "blue balls" when handed the blue colored balls.
After about five or six rounds, the entertainment director made the game more Crazy by adding new rules like "throw with your eyes closed" or "throw under your leg." I was fine with these new rules. Why not? But I felt bad that I didn't find them as hilarious as the other people playing the game. Why is closing your eyes while throwing not funny to me? How was I the humorless one?
The final round involved spinning around three times before throwing. The catch was, though, that the entertainment director would pretend to get distracted while counting the number of spins. So... you could either keep spinning and spinning or spin three times and throw only to be playfully scolded for not going to three. A lose lose situation (or just good dumb fun, pretending on how you look at it). By the time it got to me I had watched four people contend with this. I decided to go with endless spinning, thinking, "I am trapped in someone else's joke."
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
Many of the people who work at the resort seem to have a playful, teasing sense of humor.
Sarah: Could I have a Mai Tai?
Bartender: Mai Tai? [points to tie] I only have one.
Sarah: [pointing to colorful drink woman at bar has just ordered] What's that?
Bartender: A woman.
Maybe these aren't the height of hilarity, but when the people involved don't share a first language, they're pretty good (or, it may be significant that these all took place while drinking).
The point is, though, that everyone seems nice and funny.
Here is Aldo, our favorite, who works at the front desk.
Sarah: Is there a gym here?
Aldo: You don't need the gym.
Me: But I do.
Aldo: She doesn't. You... maybe.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The resort we're staying at has live entertainment every night. Tonight was the Michael Jackson show. Basically, an impersonator lip synced Michael Jackson songs for about an hour.
The MC introduced the show as, "the best show we have all week," although frankly I have higher hopes for tomorrow night's 'Around the World' (advertised with the slogan, "Enjoy Our Entertainment Show!").
Growing quickly bored with watching a man walk-dance back and forth on stage while lip syncing, Sarah and I ended up talking to a very nice old Belgian couple that was sitting behind us.
Belgian Man: We like Barack Obama.
Belgian Woman: Yes, but everyone in Europe worries that he will be assassinated.
We talked pleasantly about politics and the world and hoped it wasn't painfully obvious that although they knew a lot about America, we know next to nothing about Belgium.
Eventually we got back around to talking about Michael Jackson. The Belgian man said, "Michael Jackson... he is a bit problematic you know... he is..." He trailed off and we all nodded and raised our eyebrows in agreement.
"But he's got a couple great songs," I said.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Vacationing in Mexico.
Some things you will hear a lot of on your first day in Playa del Carmen:
1. "Are you on your honeymoon?"
We heard this one about three times before we even left the airport (each time from someone we thought worked for the airport or the shuttle service, although they always turned out to be someone trying to sell us something).
Official-Seeming Person: Are you two on your honeymoon?
Sarah: Oh ho, no.
Me: No. Just on vacation.
Official-Seeming Person: Just practicing?
Me: I guess so.
Official-Seeming Person: We offer many scuba-diving packages.
2. "Are you Canadian?"
Everyone seemed to think we were Canadian. Supposedly there is a lot of Canadian tourism in Mexico. More than Americans, though?
I half-suspect they were politely offering us an out. "Where are you from? Canada? It's alright to just say you're Canadians and make everything less awkward."
3. "Visit our famous 5th Avenue. Lots of shopping. It is not the New York City 5th Avenue. It's our 5th Avenue."
It's not so much that we heard this several times, it's that the wording was always exactly the same, as if it had been widely agreed that this was the perfect joke (and informative too!) when talking to honeymooning Canadians about 5th Avenue.
Monday, November 10, 2008
By the way, this is what Young and I look like on cable sports television.
The Big Ten Network post videos of the pretaped on-campus segments on their website, but not the live bumpers, so, sadly, this picture is all you're going to get.
Mom: [via text] dad & i just watched it. we thought u were pretty funny
Sunday, November 9, 2008
After an unusually warm fall it's now become winter cold.
Theater-going is seasonal. As soon as the cold hits, more people come to see shows. Whirled News was as packed as it's been in a long time. Extra chairs up front. Extra chairs on the sides. Tonight's Diplomat Motel show was packed too.
Also, selfishly, I'm glad it's finally gotten cold just in time for Sarah and I to leave for our vacation to Mexico this week.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
The booking company that gets Whirled News paying road shows (like the ones in Texas and Louisiana) requested new photos of us, so they could do better promotion. Basically, funny pictures.
So we had a staged photo shoot before our show tonight. Angela Manginelli took pictures while Charna gave us direction like, "You two, pick her up. You, look angry."
[As always, you should check out Angela's photos here, and her various official iO photos here.]
Friday, November 7, 2008
Jordan and Steve's show 'Friday Night Tailgate' was shooting at Northwestern this week, and they asked Young and I to come up and do a bit during one of their live segments.
At the end of the show, when the in-studio host, Mike Hall (also an improviser at iO), talks to the on-location Jordan and Steve he finds that they have been replaced by myself and Young wearing fake mustaches and Jordan and Steve's hoodies. It's kind of hard to explain. Basically, we're fatter versions of those guys.
Afterwards, we all decided to go get some drinks and walked out of the tent where the show was shot and onto a dark and empty baseball field.
Jordan: This is the part where we're mobbed by fans.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
The sketch show is officially done. Pack up the props and take them home.
Since the election is already over, we decided to cut some scenes and alter some of the others to make them kiiiinnnndd of make sense now that all the campaigning is done. On top of that, one of our cast members couldn't make it because they assumed we wouldn't still be doing the show the Thursday after the election too (which, to be fair, is a reasonable assumption). So everything was very much up in the air.
But then it didn't really matter because only two people showed up, so we sent them to the downstairs show and had a few drinks and toasted to the election and the show being done.
Me: Now I know how McCain must feel right now. Secretly relieved.
So, 'Yes We Can't' was a noble failure at best. Still, it was mostly fun and there were some good bits in there.
For instance, here's my favorite scene in the show. You can click on 'Watch in High Quality' right under the video to watch it in, well, better picture quality (this is probably common knowledge but I just figured it out myself today).
And here's an audience participation piece I did in the show. We got eight volunteers and handed them paddles with wires running backstage (to nothing) and tried to at least halfway convince them we were doing actual real-time opinion polling. This video is just the audio from that over the powerpoint presentation that we used to fake the results.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I went to my local polling station this morning, my pockets stuffed with my voter card, drivers license, passport and utility bill (just in case), prepared for a crazy election day ordeal. More than prepared... almost craving it ("In '08 I stood in line for three hours, but I stayed and I cast my vote!"). In reality, the whole process only took about 15 minutes.
This evening Whirled News hosted iO's Electapalooza Party/Show. We had election coverage playing on the giant screen in the theater and did some hastily thrown together comedy bits during the commercial breaks.
Here, Steve talks about how both candidates are unlikely to win since a senator hasn't won the presidency since the '60s. And Young talks about how the electoral votes of the underwater kingdom are being ignored (this was really just an excuse for him to dress like Aquaman).
Other bits included pretending my iPhone was CNN's silly demographic break-down touchscreen wall ("Among convicted felons, 0% voted for McCain and 0% voted for Obama...") and Alex admitting that his vote for Commissioner of Water Reclamation went to David Clearwater, purely because of his name ("I mean... come on... Clearwater!").
Once Obama was announced the winner, though, we pretty much stopped doing bits. We couldn't (nor would we want to try to) compete with what was playing on the giant TV screen. Everyone watched and cheered and laughed and got generally choked up.
Then, after the speech we had a dance party.
Shane: A good night. When we did this four years ago, the night did not end with dancing.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Eddie brought his daughter to the theater before the Whirled News show last night. They walked around backstage pretending to get ready for a show.
Eddie: Fly check!
Then they entered through one of the doors, Eddie making a distant-crowd-cheering noise. Holding hands, they half-ran across the front of the stage.
Eddie: Sweep edit!
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Halloween got strange in the wee hours
After the iO party ended, a number of us went to an after-hours bar, which promptly lost Young's credit card by accidentally giving it to some other patron with the same first name. As the bar closed, the bartender explained, "There's nothing we can do. You should go cancel the card. Happy Halloween."
Young was understandably pissed. As I watched him storm off into the night, I felt sorry for him, but also had to admit it was kind of funny to watch him charge angrily down the street dressed as a medieval knight.
Next, several of us went to a diner for some 4am breakfast food. There was only one overworked and frazzled waitress, so it was a long wait. The young man who refilled our water explained that he'd come in to order some food and the waitress had asked him to help out. "That was three hours ago. I'm in it for the experience of it."
About an hour later there was some commotion from the other side of the restaurant. A deaf man was arguing with the waitress, waving a piece of paper around. Then he started going from table to table, showing the paper and mouthing, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." The paper read, "We are deaf. We have been here for over 20 minutes and no one has taken our order. People have come in after us and gotten service. What have we done wrong?"
The waitress stormed over. "Stop bothering my customers! Leave them alone!" The deaf man continued on to more tables with his paper. The waitress yelled, "No one cares! No one cares! Raise your hand if you care!"
As this went on and on, my thoughts on the situation changed from, "Oh dear, whatever's happened, the deaf man is clearly in the right," to, "Oh, I think that deaf man is really drunk."
The deaf man was eventually escorted out by his more sober seeming deaf friends.
A few minutes later, the volunteer bus boy headed for the door. "Well, I'm out of here. Did you see those guys that just left? They stole my coat." He didn't seem that upset, just shrugged and headed outside towards his next experience.
Friday, October 31, 2008
I had a lot of fun at the iO Halloween Party. Surrounded by creative costumes (Photo Booth, High School Musical cheerleader, Sexy Ira Glass, etc), I really regretted not dressing up. Halloween snuck up on me this year. Granted, I haven't dressed up in years, but this year I was so busy I didn't even have time to consciously decide not to get a costume.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Halloween party at work. Each year there are more babies and children in adorable costumes for the parents to bring in.
Allard was the only adult to dress up, because he owns his own gorilla costume.
Allard: Gorilla costumes are a great investment. You'll be surprised by how many opportunities there are to wear it. You can't go wrong buying a gorilla suit.
Predictably, the costume terrified several of the small children. Some of them continued screaming even after he took the mask off to prove he was a human person underneath. "Don't put it back on!!!" they screamed. "DON'T PUT THE HEAD BACK ON!!!!!"
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I generally avoid self-promotion (besides, I guess, having a blog about myself). This isn't necessarily a good thing. When you put up a sketch show and have painfully small crowds... well, it's you're own fault.
So, I decided to send out my first ever Facebook Event Invite for this week's sketch show. Just one. Didn't want to be annoying.
Unfortunatly, some kind of Facebook glitch has resulted in the people I invited getting multiple e-mail alerts about this invitation. E-mail after e-mail. "Arnie has invited you to an event." "Arnie has invited you to an event."
So, I'm that annoying guy now.
Marla: [via e-mail] I'm super-invited!
Laura: [via e-mail] I was just about to write and say I only had one when I got another notification. Still just one actual invite, but multiple e-mail notices. And I thought it was cool that when I added invites, facebook told me which people it would not send an invitation to because they had already been invited. Apparently the right idea, the wrong execution.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Last night, after the Diplomat Motel show, Meador let us all know that because of the increasing demands of nursing school, he was going to have to step away from the team for a couple months. A hiatus. So, another close friend has left Diplomat Motel (for now, anyway).
Laura: If you need to focus on being better at saving lives, then do it. And since we're letting you go, it's like we're saving lives.
Me: That was easy.
Laura: We saved someone's life tonight!
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Old cups, bottles and cans tend to collect on my desk, especially now that I'm upstairs and all that much further from the kitchen and recycling bins.
Steveo pointed out that this combination, sitting in the middle of my desk, is funny. He picked them up and showed them to the camera on top of Poland's TV.
Poland: I hope you're not drinking those together.
Me: You're supposed to drink Blue Moon with an orange wedge, right?
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Back in Chicago doing the sketch show.
Here's a scene Alex and Glynn do about Abraham Lincoln.
One of the things Whirled News does best (or at least most) is "mapping" scenes. As I've mentioned before, mapping scenes are really just using the language of one thing to talk about another thing.
Over the five year history of Whirled News, the things we've mapped the most are probably relationships, sex, the Iraq war, and the ways various elections are run ('04 and '08). In that order.
So, in the improvised show, say we pull an article about cable operators off the back board (that's just the first thing that came to mind, I'm not trying to set myself up with a particularly ripe example). If the cable technician is shy and insists on three or four visits before installing cable, you're probably going to end up doing a sex mapping scene. If the technician declares "mission accomplished" after only getting one channel to work, it's going to be an Iraq war mapping scene. It's just that easy! And if you can work in the word "pull-out" it can work for both. These are obvious examples, and seem kind of corny here in print, but screw it, I love those kinds of scenes.
Without looking at the running order, I would say the Whirled News sketch show (as an outgrowth of the improv show) is about 50% mapping scenes. The opener is a sort of Iraq war/sex/election/children's birthday party mash-up. And this Lincoln scene has some clever jabs at the current election.
Glynn: (as campaign manager) Your opponent is going negative, and it is having an impact. First of all, there's your name.
Alex: (as Lincoln) What's wrong with my name?
Glynn: Well, your first name, Abraham... it's sort of Jewish.
Alex: What? But I'm not Jewish.
Glynn: I know sir, but it confuses some of the dumber Americans. And Douglas is using that. They're even claiming you were educated in a synagogue.
Alex: Ouch. What else?
Glynn: I hate to say it, sir, but it seems that Douglas is playing the race card. He doesn't say it outright, but he's basically calling you not a racist.
Alex: What? That son of a bitch! I'm totally a racist!
Glynn: They're very subtle about it sir, and it hurts us in the South.
Anyway, that's a little taste of the sketch show. Two more weeks to check it out.
[As if this post isn't already long enough, here's a taste from backstage.
Alex: When I say, "I think the beard makes me look like a terrorist," should I say I think it makes me look like "a fucking terrorist." Because... you know... profanity is funny.
Glynn: It might take away from when you say, "fuck it" at the end of the scene.
Alex: That's true.
Me: You gotta choose your "fucks."
Alex: You gotta choose your "fucks."]
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Canceled flights. Missed connections. A long day getting back to Chicago.
On my first flight I sat next to a nice, but talkative elderly woman from Seattle. When she found out I was from Chicago she told me the following story.
"When I was in college, in Oklahoma, we had three boys in one of my classes from Chicago. On the first day we all went around introducing ourselves and one boy said, 'I'm from a small town just north of Chicago.' I don't remember the name. Then the next boy stood up and said, 'I'm actually from a small town just north of that small town north of Chicago.' Then the next boy got up and said, 'You know, I'M from a town just north of those other two towns north of Chicago.' I'll never forget it. All three of them were from Chicago."
She was very sweet, and I politely said something like, "Oh," or "You don't say." But I was tired and cramped into an airplane seat and secretly thinking, "At your age, after all those years, THAT'S your Chicago story?"
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Great show tonight. Big crowd, big laughs. The audience was mostly, "white caps" (as someone working at the theater called them) but we could also hear college students laughing up in the balcony.
The only real criticism I would have of the show is that the second act went on way too long. The second act should always be shorter than the first. Leave them wanting more. There must have been some miscommunication somewhere along the line, though, because the lights just wouldn't come down to end the second act. So we just kept on doing more article and more scenes. The last thing we'd want to do is fall short of our contractually obligated show length.
It's hard to have an accurate sense of time onstage. And we couldn't confer with each other on the sidelines because of our ear mics (anything we'd whisper to each other would boom out into the theater). But we were all thinking, "Shouldn't this show be done by now?" We were still getting a great response from the audience but you could feel the diminishing returns.
Finally, on a big laugh, I bit the bullet and jumped forward, proclaiming, "That's our show! Goodnight!"
Our second act should probably be 30 minutes, tops. We later found out we'd gone over an hour.
Sorry we kept you out so late Louisiana.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
No show tonight. We figured we'd explore the little town we were staying in, and, since we had nothing to do until our 4pm sound check tomorrow, do some serious drinking.
Me: Is there anything fun to do in town?
Hotel Clerk: Fun? Here? Uh... we have a movie theater.
We drove around for over an hour trying to find a place to eat that wasn't a Chili's or an Applebee's. Finally we found a tiny local Mexican place that was still open.
Waiter: To drink?
Eddie: I'll have a Tecate.
Waiter: No alcohol on Sunday.
Waiter: Sorry. No alcohol sales on Sunday.
Waiter: Welcome to Louisiana.
We tried to keep a positive attitude for the rest of the night, but were ultimately unable to make our own fun. Here we are in the parking lot of the Sleep Inn, before we trudged inside to watch TV together.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Young, Eddie, Alex, Marla, Padraic and I start our brief tour through the south, doing Whirled News shows. Our first (and second) was in this beautiful old courthouse, recently turned into a theater.
Me: I don't think we've ever performed in a space with this much character before.
Theater Manager: [equally proud and exasperated] No one has. No one has performed in a place like this.
We were repeatedly reminded that this wouldn't be the kind of crowd we were used to in Chicago. Older, more conservative, religious. We passed dozens of 'McCain/Palin' signs on our way to the theater. Every yard. Which is fine... we don't have any particular agenda beyond being funny, but the question arises, "What will they accept us making fun of, and what won't they accept?"
As is usually best for these kinds of shows, we decided to play it pretty safe, taking only the gentlest of satirical jabs (at any topic) and mostly doing silly or slice-of-life scenes. To show just how safe we were playing it, Alex actually referred to someone as a "doody-head" in one of the early scenes.
As the show went on, though, the audience proved itself to be not as uptight as we'd worried, and we pushed the line more and more (although never all that far, frankly) to bigger and bigger laughs, making fun of Democrats, Republicans, religion, the president, the local paper, the theater, ourselves and ending on a joke about pubic hair that killed (the joke, not the pubic hair).
A great start to our little tour.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Went to watch Sarah do a late night show at the ATC. I ran into Joe Bill and we chatted.
He's one of the founding members of the Annoyance Theater and easily one of the best teachers I've ever had (in improv or anything really). A big part of his income comes from traveling to festivals or running corporate training workshops using improv.
We talked about the scary and dramatic decline of the economy.
Joe Bill: This could hit me hard. In an economic situation where travel, training and entertainment are the first things cut, it sucks to be someone who travels to entertain and train. Oh well, I guess I'll just be charging less than I'm truly worth for a little while.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
At the last minute, Laura had to travel out of state for a court case for, you know, her real job, being a lawyer.
Marla wasn't able to be in the whole run of the Whirled News sketch show, but she is sitting in for Laura for two weeks. She's a real trooper, jumping in to memorize the lines and not getting any real rehearsal time.
Here she is running over her lines one last time backstage before the show. This scene is about President Bush giving an exit interview to an HR person on his last day in the White House.
Marla: What would you consider your biggest accomplishment while here?
Glynn: By "biggest" are we talking best? Like... successful?
Glynn: By "successful" you mean, like, positive?
Marla: Usually, yes.
Glynn: Oh, when I-- ... nope. Nevermind.
Marla: Should we pass on that one for now?
Glynn: Yeah, Sharon, let's pass.
Marla: On the flipside, do you have any regrets about--
Glynn: Nope. Next.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I went to a party over the weekend and ran into Jordan, back in town briefly between shooting episodes of 'Friday Night Tailgate.'
He was one of the improvisers who went to Geneva with Charna a few months back to teach improv to the physicists who built the giant proton collider.
Jordan: It was neat to see them taking these simple rules we use, like "yes, and" and applying it with a critical mind to what they do. "Wait, you mean we can agree with each other and build on each other's ideas instead of just coming up with competing ideas?"
Most of the people he taught workshops for during the trip were actually American scientists.
Jordan: There was one member of one of our groups, it very quickly became clear, was from Geneva and not affiliated with CERN. He also had somewhat of a chip on his shoulder, initiating three line scenes with lines like, "Well, look at all these elitist physicists." Awkwardly inserting over-the-top passive aggressiveness into the scenes.
Obviously, this kind of attitude isn't very conducive to good improv (or learning), but I will say, in a space of mutual respect and emptied of agenda, "Well, look at all these elitist physicists" could be a pretty great scene initiation.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Half the cast of Whirled News is doing a series of shows in Texas and Louisiana this weekend. We've done a few promotional interviews.
Here's an interview Marla and I did.
Alex did an interview that I think is pretty interesting. The questions are very simple on the surface, but kind of intimidating. For instance, one of them is, "What is comedy?" As someone who's been toying with this question all year on this blog (with varying success), I feel like if I had been in Alex's place, the interview questions might have tipped me into an existential crisis.
Other questions included, "Is everything funny," "what do you think is most absurd about the human condition," and simply, "What about the audience?"
These questions make me feel a little dizzy, but Alex did a fine job with them. I've performed with Alex for years and I know that his central philosophy on performing is "be an expert." Even if he has no clue what he's talking about, especially if he doesn't know what he's talking about, he decides to be an expert and it always serves him well.
You can read all his answers here.
So, yeah, you can read him say smart things like, "Satire opens eyes in a less combative way," over there, but I'm going to share my favorite part of the interview here, which appears at the end.
Question: Maybe at its heart comedy is a celebration of human foibles in spite of our attempts to pretend we’re in control, in spite of our supposed cocksureness?
Alex: Yeah. I think that’s fair.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Diplomat Motel rehearsal at Gill Park.
I think I've written before about how the walls are usually filled with posters and schedules for children's classes. "Respect!" "Team Work!"
Sometimes a good improv rehearsal can mirror the simplicity of a grade school class. We went around a circle telling each other one thing we liked about the way they other person performed. Then we did basic three line scenes, focusing on just making sure both characters had names and giving at least one of the characters an activity to perform.
"I see you're unwrapping that present I got you."
Straightforward but effective. Little skills that get easily lost.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Struggling actors/improvisors end up taking all kinds of odd jobs. For instance Carrie and Niki, from my old improv group James Jackson, were both in the coin operated light gun video game, 'Target Terror.' An arcade game where you shoot terrorists.
Carrie plays the news reporter at the opening of each level, and Niki plays several live-action characters throughout the game, like, Sexy Female Asian Terrorist and Innocent Bystander With Pigtails That Seems To Be Wandering Around Oil Tanker For No Apparent Reason.
Once, on a lark, Young and I played through almost the entire game at an arcade, wasting more and more quarters so we could keep shooting our friends. According to Young we spent about $40, which seems crazy to me now, but he's probably right.
I recently found out that the game is now out on the Wii. In fact, it's been out for months. The reviews were terrible (the reason I found out about the Wii release at all, was that it was included on a list I stumbled across on-line of awful broken games). So, of course, I bought it. Used.
Kid Working At Video Game Store: We have a USED copy of this? I can't believe anyone bought this game.
I e-mailed Carrie (who's back in Chicago after a summer internship working for 'Ugly Betty' and 'Pushing Daisies') and Niki (who has retired from Second City's ETC stage, and I believe is moving out west soon) to find out if they knew about this development.
Carrie: I'm so glad I haven't seen it. I think I'm the most terrifying part of the whole thing.
Niki never e-mailed me back. I'll have to vent my frustrations over being ignored by shooting her characters.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
The usual Whirled News postshow dinner and drinks at Salt and Pepper.
We talked a bit about the special Election Night Show we're going to do on... well... election night. A place for people to come and drink while they watch election coverage, with us doing bits (some preplanned, some spur of the moment) during the commercials. They did it four years ago (I was in Arizona at the time and missed it).
Shane: It was a lot of fun. People played Halo. Marla and Padraic had a debate about why people from their home state, Florida, keep messing up elections. Of course, things got progressively sadder as the night went on.
Marla: Oh yeah. Some of the audience was crying.
Steve talked about a show he'd done recently with another group he performs with at iO, Bullet Lounge.
Steve: We asked for a suggestion from the audience and someone yelled out, "Sarah Palin." So the opening turns into us saying, "You know, we should pick an inexperienced woman out of the audience and have her do the show with us. Be our Sarah Palin." And we picked some girl out of the audience, it turns out she's a level three student, I think. And we made her be in every scene. Halfway through the show I started thinking to myself, "Wait, by the very premise we've set up for this show... did we want or expect this audience member to do badly?" But she was great. She did a really great job. So, take that however you want.
Friday, October 10, 2008
I've written before about iO (and the entire Chicago improv scene) being a transitional place. Lots of turnover. Most of the performers I looked up to when I was starting out are gone, and the majority of my own improv generation has either moved to one of the coasts or found that they ultimately didn't have enough time for performing.
Shotts, though, claims he's sticking around. Forever.
Shotts: I remember sitting here, at this bar, early on, and thinking, "This is it. I'm a lifer."
This photo was supposed to recreate that "I've found my home" moment, but somehow came out looking less positive.
Shotts: [laughing] Oh god!
Me: It came out less, "yes, this is the life" and more "oh no.. my life!"
Shotts: Eh. Keep it. Use it.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Today, Whirled News did a special improv show at the high school where Nick teaches Drama and Improv. As usual for these kinds of things, we wanted to be extra careful about language and content.
Nick: [via e-mail] My principal pulled me aside today to let me know that a few kids in the school who are outed Republicans/Conservatives/etc have been getting blasted by other kids lately and really made to feel like shit. Anyway, he asked if I could tell you guys to try to aim jokes at both sides during your show.
In the school auditorium, in front of 400 students and about 30 teachers, we did a totally clean show (the only possible eyebrow raiser was Megan doing a scene about a woman trying to get other people to take her cervical cancer exam for her, but it was more tastefully done than you might guess). Political balance ended up not being a concern because none of the articles the students cut out were about the election.
Doing these kinds of shows can sometimes be a drag, more work than fun, but today's was a real pleasure. They were a great audience and we gave them a tight, funny show. One of the articles we used was from the school paper, inspiring us to do a series of scenes about the school itself, which, of course, killed. Everyone seemed happy.
Although, at one point, I looked out into the audience and glimpsed a teacher standing off to the side repeatedly shaking her head back and forth, as if thinking to herself, "No. No. No. This isn't right. No." For a moment I worried that we'd somehow slipped up and offended the teaching staff, but I later found out that she has some kind of nerve disorder.