Friday, February 29, 2008

Went to a birthday party tonight for Nick (the one holding the Blue Moon) and his wife Katie's 30th birthdays. Their birthdays are a day apart.

Nick and I met in my first improv class at iO. He was also on my first improv team at iO, James Jackson.

Me: How does it feel to turn 30?
Nick: A little weird, I guess. But we've already got two kids so it's not like it's a huge shock to be adults.

The party was at the Candlelite. The food was decent, although the service (for drinks) was painfully slow. It was a good time, although at the end of the night, I suspected something was up when I saw these guys huddled around the bill.

Apparently there had been a misunderstanding about food. Instead of just being charged for people who ate, the Candlelite charged $16 for everyone who showed up, whether they ate or not (drinks were separate) and there was some speculation that they counted a few strangers who happened to wander to our side of the bar. So the food bill came out to $555 for eight pizzas and two plates of buffalo wings (and another $350 for drinks).

Meador tried talking to the manager, but even from across the room you could tell it wasn't going well from the way she was moving her head. Kind of like an angry chicken.

Me: Doesn't look good.
Nick: Nope.
Me: [joke whispering] When I say "go" make a run for it.
Nick: What about my coat?
Me: Leave your coat! Leave your presents! Go! Go!
Nick: My presents!!

In the end, the Candlelite didn't budge on the price, and we scrounged together the money, emptying our wallets.

Meador: I feel bad that I don't have more on me to pay.
Me: Eh. It's a long life. They'll be plenty of chances to pay for each other's fiascoes.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

I have an old e-mail address that I mostly use as a spam account. I sign up for things using that address and all the spam goes there.

That account is still signed up to the Comedy Corner e-mail list that I joined nearly a decade ago. So all the e-mails that they write to each other still end up in my inbox. Enough time has passed that I don't know who any of them are (and I'm guessing none of them know me) so I rarely read what they write. It's mostly administrative stuff anyway.

I have, however, started reading their weekly setlists. Some of the names make me chuckle. Even better, though, is the list of props needed for each sketch. Here are some of my favorites from the last few weeks:

"finish ur sex: condom box, one condom, sheet (music: papa roach - last resort)"

"Dear diary: diary, corpse raft, sheet, skull, bear suit (for ape)"

"mr yates: mustache, man clothes"

"Hotel Schmotel: whore costuming, briefcase, tablecloth, BK napkins, sharpie"

"Peaches: bowls, peaches, forks, nipple tassels"

"Puberta: girly make up, beaches starring BM, pubes, etc"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Each game posted on the You Don't Know Jack website has its own comments section (you know, like this blog does). We don't have an official moderator, but we do follow the comments out of curiosity about who these people are that play the game we make. Many players post comments every day. Over time personalities begin to emerge. Some are funny, some are boring, some are annoying. And there's usually one commenter that somehow gets under the skin of everyone else. More and more of the comments are about how annoyed everyone is with this one personality. Then they go away and someone else takes their place.

We've had several of these "nuisance" posters over the last year of the game. We talk about them around the office, sometimes we gently tease them in the game itself, and then we find ourselves missing them a bit after they disappear.

The current one is probably our favorite. I'll call him PD69. He posts a comment every day, gives his score, which is always high, and says something like, "It was hard at first, but I eventually got my score up." Basically, he's cheating. The second time through the game he knows all the answers and is able to get a higher score. So every day he brags about his score and seems oblivious to the fact that everyone knows he's cheating. And it drives all the other commenters nuts. Add to that the fact that he has an idiosyncratic habit of always using phrases like, "this was difficult/hard" or "today's is easy/simple." He's an amusing nuisance. It's fun to be annoyed by him. Around the office we talk about him like some kind of lovable archnemesis.

Mostly its fun to speculate about him. Who is this dude? He's incredibly dedicated to the game, smart enough to figure out the loopholes in our anti-cheating protocols, but also somehow oblivious to how obvious it is he's cheating and how much it pisses all the other game-players off. Nate suspects he's some kind of comedy genuis, playing an Andy Kaufman-esque role. For a while Steveo (far right) was convinced PD69 is actually Nate playing a prank on the rest of us.

Nate: Oh, I wish. I wish it was me.

And we all go on making jokes about the weather being "cold/chilly."

Today one of us found his MySpace page. And we started to get the sinking feeling that there might be something wrong with PD69.

Me: Oh no.
Chris: Oh no.

His 'About Me' section is the longest I've ever seen. Obsessive. His Favorite television show section begins, "I like watching The Simpsons (comes on at 6:00pm &; 6:30pm Monday-Friday on The CW Channel 21 &; Sunday evening at 7pm on FOX 44), Maximum Exposure which comes on at 11pm on WBRL CW 21 Saturday nights..." and goes on and on like that. "COPS which comes on Monday-Friday at 10am &; 10:30am on WBRL CW21, check it out on Court TV channel 51 Saturday evenings at 6pm &; 6:30pm, Sunday evenings at 7pm, 7:30pm, 8pm, &; 8:30pm, Monday evening at 6pm &; 6:30pm, also it comes on at 7pm &; 7:30pm Saturday evenings on WGMB FOX 44, well you get the idea."

Steveo: I think he might be mentally... challenged.
Me: Like high functioning autism or something like that.
Chris: Oh no.
Me: What does it say about you if you have an archnemesis and they turn out to be mentally handicapped?
Nate: I still think he's awesome.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The internet went out over the weekend and then Monday night the cable went out as well. I was... totally lost. I am addicted to the internet and I am addicted to television. It's unhealthy, I know.

As horrible as dealing with the cable company always is, I actually really got along with the cable guy who showed up at my apartment today. We seemed to have a lot in common.

Cable Guy: Rock Band, huh? Great game. The drums are too hard for me, though.
Me: Me too.
Cable Guy: I stick with the guitar.
Me: Me too.
Cable Guy: This job is good for me, because I can walk around people's homes and get ideas for stuff I should get. Scope out things I should buy. [picking up video game] You like 'Bioshock'?
Me: Yeah.
Cable Guy: Well I gotta go get it.

He saw the season four Wire set sitting next to my computer.

Cable Guy: You like the Wire?
Me: I love the Wire.
Cable Guy: That's my show. I'm worried about the ending though. You seen the newest one?
Me: I saw the one that aired Sunday, but I haven't seen the next one yet because the OnDemand was out.
Cable Guy: So you saw... [trails off]
Me: Yeah, I saw [big spoilery thing that happened].
Cable Guy: I've seen the one after that. Crazy shit. Things better end good. It's my favorite show.
Me: Things usually end badly.
Cable Guy: I know. Hey, you watch the preview? You see the scenes from the next episode.
Me: Uh.. yeah.
Cable Guy: Who do you think it was that [important character] was shooting? You know what I'm talking about?
Me: I did see that. I have a guess. I wish I hadn't seen it because I think I know what's going to happen.
Cable Guy: Who do you think he's gonna shoot?
Me: Alright... I'm going to say who I think it is. But don't tell me if I'm right or wrong, because I don't want to know yet. And I'm going to look down so I can't read it on your face.
Cable Guy: Okay.
Me: [looking at floor] I think he shoots [other important character].
Cable Guy: Okay.

We were both quiet for a bit.

Cable Guy: Can I tell you if you were right?
Me: No! Don't tell me!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Every workplace has its own language and its own jokes.

Jellyvision is an intentionally uncorporate environment but we still have our fair share of "lingo."

Monday mornings we have an office-wide meeting where people report in on the status of various projects. At the end of today's meeting, Harry asked Shane about his wife's pregnancy.

Harry: Wasn't that kid supposed to be born already?
Shane: The baby project is still on schedule to go live on Tuesday, although we had thought there might be an earlier release. Harry was hoping we could go into beta with the conversation fully enabled.

This got big laughs.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Diplomat Motel rehearsal at Sheil Park.

Chicago park district buildings are a blessing and a curse for improv teams (and, apparently, shady-looking real estate seminars). They provide a cheap space to rehearse in, but they're sometimes poorly run. It's hard to find a time when an entire group of performers can get together to rehearse, so it's frustrating to find out your room reservation has been lost.

Trupe: Who answers the phones in these places? I think a random kid runs in off the basketball court and pretends to work here. They go back to their game without writing anything down. "Throw me the rock!"

Our reservation was lost today. Young (who thanklessly arranges rehearsal spaces for us) was so upset he stormed out of the building. Once we got it figured, and finally got a room he had to slink back in to rehearse with us.

Trupe: There are few park district buildings left in the city that Young hasn't blown up in.
Young: None. There are none.

Then Trupe brought up what may be Young's least favorite story. "The time he yelled at the deaf guy who works at Gill Park."

Young: When you say that it makes it sound like I yelled at him because he's deaf.

We joked about it a little longer then started to warm-up for rehearsal.

Young: Oh man. I feel like I need to take a nap. I burnt off all my energy with that rage explosion. I'm literally exhausted.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Meador continues to work his ass off (pun intended) studying to become a nurse. It's fun to read his blog and see the strange practice equipment he uses, like this fake butt, officially called 'Seymour Butts' (again, pun almost certainly intended).

There was a Diplomat Motel show Wednesday night. Before the show I got an e-mail from Meador. "I failed my skills test today. It was terrible. I am worthless. I hope to god this is a good show. I need it."

Because of the Whirled News taping I had to miss the show but I snuck downstairs afterward to see how it went.

Meador: It was good. Not amazing but good enough.
Me: You feel better?
Meador: Yeah.

There's a hokey old saying that laughter is the best medicine. Causing laughter is pretty good medicine too. Sometimes I wonder about the side-effects, though.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Most people still confuse improv with stand-up comedy. Even in an improv-saturated city like Chicago, often people assume I stand in front of a microphone and tell jokes.

Maybe it's because of the stand-up showcase cable show, 'An Evening at the Improv', that aired on A&E in the '80s. I used to love that show. The Improv was (is?) a stand-up comedy nightclub like Zanies and Laffs.

iO is an improv theater. This doesn't make it better or worse than, say, Zanies, just different.

iO has started putting up headshot-style pictures of some of its famous alumni (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler) in front of the theater. It makes sense as a marketing ploy ("Ooo... maybe we'll see the next Rachel Dratch!"). Unfortunately, a stand-up club like Zanies advertises their current headliners with similar headshots in front of their theater. This can cause some confusion.

More than once I've overheard people walking past iO, say "Oh look, Mike Meyers is playing here this weekend." Then again, the Chris Farely headshot should be a pretty big clue that that's not the case.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Here is the gym near work that I go to when I can find the time/motivation. It's called Crunch. I like the gym, but not the name. I guess it means crunch like "doing crunches" or it's just supposed to sound intense. To me, though, "crunch" makes me think of either food, or being mangled in a terrible exercise accident.

I am overweight. Actually, that's not quite right. According to the body mass index I am officially obese. I'm a tall dude (6'4'') so I can carry the weight a little better than some. I have an undeniably prominent gut, but I think I look more overweight (husky?) than outright obese. When the homeless people near iO yell out, "Big man, spare some change" I think, "They mean Big Man as in tall." Maybe I'm fooling myself.

I'm okay with myself. I'd like to be healthier and thinner, but my sense of self worth is only ever-so-slightly bruised by weight issues. Sarah rubs my belly and says, "I like your size," and I choose to believe her.

Sometimes I think about famously fat comedians. Stand-ups and commercial actors whose very career is based on the fact that they could be considered comically overweight (just like there are actors whose work all translates to, "I am very old" or "I am weird looking"). I imagine they have mixed feelings about their success, but I suppose it's equally possible they just think it's awesome. "This is who I am, and I get paid lots of money because of it. Are you going to eat that? I'm just kidding. That's one of my jokes. Lunch is on me."

I once met a fairly successful fat actor who had recently lost a lot of weight. It was way back when I was in Comedy Corner and he came to the university to perform with us as an alum. I had never heard of him before but he'd been in a lot of movies (playing characters called Morgan Poundage and Fat Elmer) and I realized I had seen him in 'Blade,' as a fat vampire. He seemed like a nice guy and was very proud of all the weight he'd lost, but his stand-up was... weird. Again and again he kept saying, "All my jokes are about being fat. I lost all this weight and I lost all my jokes." He tried to tell his old jokes, but they didn't work anymore.

Just now, I looked him up on IMDB, and it's heartening to see he's still getting regular work (although his characters don't seem to have names anymore, just Manager, Delivery Guy, Police Officer). The only biographical information posted is that he was born in 1966 and he "lost 210 pounds with help from a personal trainer."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Whirled News had to re-tape our (potential touring) promotional video tonight. You may remember we did this back in November, but apparently the sound didn't come out very well.

Chin: I'm not making this up, they said they're not used to recording audio with "that many laughs."

So we did the showcase again, this time with lav mics (and less laughs).

Even without audio, East Coast Entertainment has already booked a handful of shows for us for the next year. Their promotional page lists us as "improvisation for the Wall Street Journal set" (Alex: In other words, if you are smart and rich, hire us. Perfect.), and "one part Capitol Hill, two parts Benny Hill."

If you want to hire us (and you do, right?), you can get info (and see the no-live-audio-but-a-jaunty-jazz-riff video) here. Or I guess you could just contact us directly through our website, here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lunch with Tom and Nate.

Nate is in the two person sketch group, Team Submarine, probably one of the most popular sketch shows in Chicago right now.

Tom: I read that article about you guys in 'Time Out.'

Team Submarine has built up a following by doing a lot of shows. They do a lot of shows in a lot of weird places.

Nate: We actually just turned down a show for the first time. It's this weird college show and the theme for the night is racism. An anti-racism student group wanted us to do an intentionally racist show, I guess to show that racism "isn't a laughing matter."
Tom: Oh no.
Nate: What's the upside of doing that show? Either the audience hates us or we're responsible for people enjoying racism. And they couldn't pay us, but they tried to say it would be good exposure.
Tom: Oh no.
Nate: The e-mail actually said that main reason we should do it is that it's finally an opportunity to do "all the racists material we've always wanted to do" and get away with it. So, yeah, we're not doing it.
Me: Sounds like the right choice.
Nate: I am thinking about going to watch it, though.

Monday, February 18, 2008

My youngest sister, Allie, turned 21 recently. She must be home from school because I got a text message from Mom Saturday night telling me that she and all of my sisters were out "bar hopping" through Hometown, Ohio to celebrate.

Seems kind of out of character for (almost) all of them. I'm sad I missed it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Here's a professional photograph from Shane and Clair's wedding, a few years back. The reception was held near a miniature golf course, so the Whirled News cast took some pictures there, including this one where we all lifted up Shane.

Once again I'm not doing any of the real lifting! My participation is comically ornamental.

Shane: The look on your face suggests you already know how much weight you're actually carrying.

I have a sort of shitty grin, like, "Yeah, I know."

Maybe it's because I'm tall. I tend to drift to the back or sides of photos and stage pictures, so I don't block anyone. Or maybe I just don't like to get into the center of things.

At Shane and Clair's baby shower, there was a stack of blank cards next to the gift table. People were encouraged to use them to offer up their future babysitting services. I didn't fill one out.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

After what appears to have been a brief on-line debate, the Whirled News Tonight Wikipedia page has been deleted, despite, "a slight numerical majority of keep votes."

So we have officially been deemed "not notable" by Wikipedia's Council of Elders, specifically someone who goes by the handle, Orderinchaos. If you're into that sort of thing, you can read the debate here.

Meanwhile, Whirled News has started fouling up a different corner of the internet with a podcast. It's a pretty lo-fi endeavor (we just plugged a recorder into the sound booth at the theater), so the sound is a little muddy, but if you'd like to hear the first act of our weekly show you can search for "whirled news tonight" or "wnt" on iTunes, or go here.

Here's a five minute snippet from tonight's show, three scenes inspired by an article about a bizarre local murder:


Friday, February 15, 2008

One drawback to the cabaret theater downstairs at iO is that there's no backstage area. There's no good place to warm-up before going onstage.

Usually teams warm-up in the alley behind the theater, occasionally interrupted by a homeless person or a car creeping by. This isn't an option, though, when the temperature dips down to the single digits.

Here the Diplomat Motel warms up in the back hallway, next to the men's restroom.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Sarah had a ComedySportz show tonight, so for Valentine's Day I watched her perform while eating the Hershey Kisses that decorated the cabaret-style tables.

If you've never been to a ComedySportz show (I hadn't) they use a competition between two teams as a framing device for a bunch of short form games like World's Worst and New Choice. One team "wins" and one team "loses" but really its just one big ensemble putting on a show. If you watch closely you can see teams subtly helping each other out if it will make a game funnier.

The audience votes after each set of games. The couple sitting next to me seemed to take the voting very seriously. "Oh man. This is tough. This is tough. They were both good. It's gonna be close."

Sarah's team lost.

Sarah: I was a little nervous knowing you were in the audience.
Me: Really? You were great.

Afterward we went to my place and watched LOST.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I was rifling through the kitchen at work, looking for something to eat for lunch when Evan showed this to me.

Evan: Have you heard of LOL Cats?
Me: Yeah.
Evan: Look, LOL Cheese.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Last year, Whirled News was approached by NBC to shoot a pilot for a web series for their (now defunct) viral video site, Dot Comedy. It was a fun/informative/incredibly frustrating experience.

People still frequently ask me if we're going to do more episodes of 'Kyle's in a Coma.' For now it's as dead as Dot Comedy.

On a table in the front foyer of Alex and Megan's condo, there's a picture of the two of them from the day we shot the pilot.

Steve: Did Megan put out that picture so that she could pretend that you're really a doctor?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Most of us are probably familiar with the old E.B. White chestnut about how analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog, but still, here are some interesting thoughts on comedy I heard recently while catching up on my NPR (and PRI) podcast listening.

1. On 'Fresh Air,' Tamara Jenkins discussed her movie 'The Savages,' an incredibly sad comedy about two siblings putting their father in a nursing home. "The world separates comedies from tragedies, and dramas from farces, but I actually think that if you are paying close attention in life you will see that they are actually operating in stereo most of the time."

2. On 'This American Life,' Tami Sagher, who writes for '30 Rock', told a story about being on a trip through Switzerland. A group of people referred to her as "the professional" and asked her to tell a joke. She told a fairly innocuous joke about a pedophile which was met with complete silence. Then someone else said, "What do you call a cow that can't give milk? A milk dud." Everyone laughed at that one.

"So, this is the joke I tell when people say, 'You're in comedy, tell me a joke,' and this always disappoints. Always. But I still love it. 'What did the snail say on the turtle's back? Wheee!' They're just like, 'Oh, that's... that's what you do for a living?' And I want to be like, 'No. But you can't handle the truth. You can't handle the Jewish pedophile.'"

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A few weeks back Timmy and I were talking about the fact that he plays janitors a lot in shows. We agreed that in our next show he wouldn't play a janitor and I wouldn't make any pop culture references.

During our next show, almost immediately, he jumped into a scene as a janitor. I thought he did it intentionally as an inside joke to me, but when I mentioned it after the show he said, "Oh, yeah, I did play a janitor didn't I? Hmm. It just seemed like the scene needed a janitor. I guess now I owe you two shows with no janitors."

We had a Diplomat Motel show tonight.

Timmy: One show down, one more to go!
Young: Really?
Me: Uh... how do you feel about the fact that you played a maintenance man?
Timmy: Hold on. There's a world of difference between a maintenance man and a janitor!
Me: Maybe, but you started talking about putting sawdust on vomit. You were a janitor!
Young: Did you make any pop culture references?
Me: I don't... think so...
Young: You called a bed a Murphy bed.
Me: That's not a pop culture reference.
Young: It might as well be.
Me: It's just calling something what it is.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I took this picture from backstage before the Whirled News show.

Every once in a while, like tonight, we'll get someone in the audience looking to hire us for some special show (maybe a corporate gig) and they come to see if we'll be a good fit. Which often means, keep the blue humor to a minimum. Not necessarily censor ourselves, but try to avoid being too dirty. They almost always say, "PG-13."

We did a pretty good job tonight. No drug use. All references to sex were pretty subtextual.

Afterward, in the green room we tallied up the few curse words that had slipped out during the show. Megan had said "ass." Alex had said "shit." And Young said "fuck" (although, I didn't notice that one).

To be fair, there aren't any official official guidelines, but usually you can get away with one "fuck" in a PG-13 movie.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sarah's been very busy lately doing ComedySportz shows (on top of performing at iO and the Playground). Tonight was the first Friday in a long time that neither of us had a show to do. So it was date night.

Sarah: It feels weird not doing a ComedySportz show. Maybe you should award me points for being funny throughout the date so it feels like a normal Friday.
Me: Do I need to wear a special date jersey?
Sarah: And buy date shoes that you can only wear on this date.
Me: I just hope that this date will eventually lead to some high paying corporate dates.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Speaking of Otis, here's a picture from Shotts' MySpace page of an old Otis show. Shotts is the one "flying."

Improv is about support. That's why it works (when it works). When people tell me that the very idea of improvising is "terrifying" to them, I explain, "It's not just me up there. There's a whole group of people up there working together." Teamwork. Group-mind. Support.

There are lots of subtle and not so subtle ways to be supportive (and unsupportive) onstage, but the most literal example is flying. For a performer to fly (or float or swim or levitate), all they need is for other people to pick them up, and, even more importantly, keep them safe in this vulnerable position, so they don't fall and crack their head open. They need literal, constant support so that they don't fall flat.

If you saw a week's worth of shows at iO, you'd probably see at least two "flights." Probably more. It's kind of a go-to bit. Not in a cynical, joke-repeating kind of way, but maybe just because people like to fly (or, more often, people think its funny to make other people fly).

Looking at this picture, though... maybe it's just me... but I don't think I'm doing my fair share of lifting. Joe is right in the center holding Shotts up. Gandy, who is half my size, has legs slung over his shoulders. Everyone is kind of straining to keep Shotts aloft. And I'm only half-helping, like a guy who offers to "open the doors" when you have to move a large piece of furniture.

I worry I'm not supportive enough.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Like most improvisers (and maybe most people period) Young has a day job he doesn't like. He ports numbers. I only half-understand what number porting is and it doesn't matter anyway.

Today Young put in notice that he's leaving his job. He's been hired as a content producer (a writer essentially) at the very cool company where Trupe works.

Trupe e-mailed him some ground rules for working together:

"1. You can't hate someone I like unless you have a convincing reason and my approval
2. Don't have a gross desk
3. Don't use the shower on the second floor
4. Don't send mindless emails to the whole company
5. Don't leave the lid off the Twizzler jug
6. Be diligent on kitchen duty but don't show me up
7. Contribute to meetings
8. Achieve your dreams"

Young: Trupe, stop worrying. I won't think anything without running it past you first.

Also, the XBox 360 is back. So, things are looking up for his real career and his fake band.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Gandy Gras.

My old iO team Otis was broken up about a year ago. Like many teams cut from the iO schedule, we pledged to keep doing regular shows together at other theaters, and then didn't. But we still get together to celebrate the traditional Otis holidays like Otis-giving and Gandy Gras, hosted by Gandy, our resident Louisianan.

(Gandy is sadly not in the picture because he was busy preparing the King Cake)

Since Fat Tuesday and Super Tuesday coincided this year, Lauren (and later Joe as pictured) spent much of the evening constantly refreshing various news sites to get up-to-the-minute but inconclusive primary results. The upside of this was that whenever a question came up in the room ("Was there some kind of natural disaster?") Lauren would yell, "I'll find out" and look it up online.

Me: Someday every party will have someone assigned to man a laptop.
Gowland: Designated fact checker.
Me: [pantomiming typing] "You're right, Tom Selleck wasn't in that movie."

Later, Marc sat in the middle of the room and everyone tried to throw beads over his head.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Every time I write the word "improv" for this blog, Firefox doesn't recognize it and marks it as a misspelled word. It recommends I replace it with "improve." After all this time Firefox hasn't realized that I almost never use the word "improve."

Although... duh... I just figured out that there's an option to "add word to dictionary." (Honestly, as I was midway through writing this entry I figured that out) So from now on it will recognize "improv." Good, that's an improvement.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Winter's been a little rough lately, although it's finally gotten warm enough to snow.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Here's how the Whirled News show works. When the audience enters the theater, there's a table set up with newspapers and scissors. They cut out articles and tac them onto a giant corkboard on stage.

During the show, we pull articles off the board at random, read the headline and first paragraph or two, then do scenes inspired by the article. Basically we deconstruct the article, taking different things from it to inspire, say, two to five scenes.

For instance, tonight an article about Microsoft's potential 45 billion dollar hostile takeover of Yahoo led to a scene where a man was angered that someone was offering him 45 billion dollars ("This is the most hostile thing anyone could possibly do... offer me 45 billion dollars! This is the worst day of my life!") and a scene depicting a literal search engine war ("Someone killed Jeeves!").

Last week, an article about President Bush's proposed stimulus package inspired a scene about a used car salesmen selling a Stimulus Package ("This one has all the bells and whistles, everything you need to not call the current state of affairs a recession."), a group of friends trying to figure out how to invest their money, and a father explaining to his son that there's no money to send him to college ("We sent your college fund to a rich family. We're hoping that education will eventually trickle down you.").

Don't worry, there were a lot of dirty jokes too, many of them said by me.

Friday, February 1, 2008

I'm slowly trying to get rid of old junk that's cluttering my apartment. I'm currently going through old VHS tapes, figuring out what to throw out. I should probably just pitch it all, but like Chin and his light saber battles tape, maybe someday I'll regret throwing away season three of 'The Larry Sanders Show.'

I found some tapes of my old college sketch group, Comedy Corner. While I was getting a creative writing M.F.A. in Arizona I found myself less and less interested in writing the perfect literary short story and more and more interested in doing poorly written sketch comedy in front of an audience of freshmen and sophomores.

It's kind of painful to watch now. Most of the sketches are pretty infantile, undercooked and sometimes borderline offensive. But we did an original hour of sketches every week and you can learn a lot from writing and performing that much, even if most of what you write and perform is kind of crappy.

And some of it was not so bad. The tape I watched had an Othello-as-blaxploitation sketch I'm pretty sure I wrote, that at least had an amusing 'Shaft'-eque song in it ("Who's the Moor Venetian general who's a tuppin' machine to all the maidens?" "Othello!" "Tis true!"). Not the most original premise, but it made me chuckle.

I'd like to think I've come a long way since then, but I often still stand in that same Superman pose while on stage, and the two sketches I wrote this week (one a slightly dirty Shakespeare parody and the other simply called 'Always Pooping') would both be right at home in a Comedy Corner show .