Monday, March 31, 2008

At O'Donovan's, according to the menu, all the burgers are served with "fires."

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The video Megan and I shot is now online for your viewing pleasure. You can watch it at Funny or Die here (and hopefully vote it "funny") or, if you prefer, you can watch it on YouTube here.

As you can see, I make my comedy face in the video.

The YouTube version has already picked up about 300 views thanks to being linked to by some random person's Battlestar Galactica LiveJournal blog. So far it's well received. My favorite comment on the LiveJournal blog is, "*giggling by 30 seconds in* 1:50... *clutches head in hands* 2:36 *dies laughing* :53 *splorfs*"

Splorf is good, right?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

As I've mentioned before, we wear suits for the Whirled News shows. Most of us keep our suits at iO, in the upstairs greenroom. A lot of people go through that greenroom over the course of a week and in the past clothes have disappeared.

A few years back I had a sports coat go missing. I posted a message about it on one of Chicago's improv message boards, explaining that it was the only jacket I had and would whoever took it please please bring it back. The next day someone anonymously dropped it off in the theater's training center annex when no one was around.

There haven't been any thefts is a while, but for a few months it was apparent that someone was wearing our jackets during the week for some other show. We'd find paperback books tucked in the pockets. We never figured out what show was doing it.

Eddie, who's lost a couple suits over the last few years, carries his new suit ("I got married in this suit") with him to and from the show every week.

Eddie: I've had people come up to me on the street and ask if I was selling it. "You selling that suit? I'll buy it." It's happened three times. People want to buy my suit.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Timmy pretends to fight Eckart in the downstairs light booth at iO.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

My old group, Otis, doesn't perform together anymore, but occasionally we'll be in videos that Joe shoots under the Otis name. I'm in the latest one ('March Madness'), which required me to dress as a priest.

It was shot at KunkleCo, a mortgage lender where a number of improvisers have worked, sharing one receptionist job when they weren't doing promotional work. I worked there briefly myself once. Joe works there now.

One of the back rooms sort of looks like a rectory. Joe decided we'd sneak in over the weekend to shoot my (very short) scene. When we got there, though, he was nervous about the cleaning lady.

Joe: I never asked if I could shoot here. I didn't figure anyone would be here. I went in and when I saw her I panicked and said I was looking for my phone charger. She probably doesn't care, but... now it would be weird to go back in and shoot something after I already left. Right?
Me: Yeah. I don't know.
Joe: I'm not sure if she even speaks English.

We're both giant wimps so we left. He asked for official permission and we came back the next weekend.

You can watch the final video here and/or here. It's turning into a bit of a hit. It just popped up as a "featured video" on the front page of You Tube. Over 35,000 views so far.

Meanwhile, KunkleCo isn't doing as well. It's being split up and was bought out. They're moving out of their old space. It was weird to be back there, and see most of the desks missing and lines of phones sitting on the floor. I guess some improvisers will be out of their 1/5th-of-a-job soon. Rumor has it that a new theater may be taking its place, supposedly the theater that the head of Sketchfest (the naked guy) has been threatening to open for the last couple years.

[By the way, speaking of internet videos, the one I shot with Megan should be online early next week. Megan also at one point put in a stint working at KunkleCo.]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Went to the historic Green Mill to watch Sarah perform in her third Mortified reading. It's a very funny show where adults read from their real (and real embarrassing) high school journals (and poems and letters... really anything mortifyingly funny from that age).

Sarah: This place is supposed to have fifteen exits.
Me: Really? Oh, from back in its gangster days? Secret passages, you mean?
Sarah: That's what it said on the History Channel.
Me: Maybe we can duck into an escape tunnel after the show.
Sarah: [grabbing my arm] Or we could escape right now.
Me: Are you really that nervous?
Sarah: Uh... yes. Earlier today when I started sweating just thinking about it, I asked myself, "Why do I do this to myself?"
Me: But you don't get nervous before improv shows.
Sarah: Not anymore.

The show went well. Sarah's journal entry was easily one of the best pieces, second only to a woman who recreated a high school history report she'd given, where, to impress a boy she had a crush on, she played guitar and sang her report on Winnipeg to the tune of 'Stairway to Heaven.' Ouch. And bravo.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Semi-weekly meeting for the video project, which now has a (tentative) name. Time Ghost.

We've been having trouble getting each other to sit down and write anything, so we decided to try generating material by audio recording some improv. Unfortunately, we spent most of the meeting trying to figure out how to get Garage Band to work.

Jordan: [seeing me pull out my camera] Blogging about audio difficulties? Really scraping the bottom of the barrel aren't you?
Me: Pretty much.
Jordan: How many of your blog pictures are taken between 10 and 11 at night? Most of them? "Oh crap! I haven't taken any pictures today!"

All the technical glitches did at least eventually lead to a pretty funny potential idea about batteries, so I suppose the night wasn't wasted.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Diplomat Motel show last night. It was the first time I'd seen Timmy since he'd won Sexiest Improviser at the Del Awards. Apparently he jumped up on stage and said, "Years ago, God decided to create a man and give him a wet baby bird body, an ocular disorder, buck teeth... AND A HUGE DICK!" Then he hopped around on stage screaming, "Suck my dick! Suck my dick!"

Cesar: It killed. Huge response. Huge applause.
Eckart: The best speech of the night.
Timmy: A couple days later I was at a bar and I overheard two people behind me talking, and one of them says, "I heard iO's sexiest improviser is here." And I was like, "oh ho ho, they're talking about me." But it backfired on me, because then the other one says, "Yeah it's a joke, because he's weird looking." And then I was stuck there listening to them talk smack about me for five minutes.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Went out for drinks on Friday with Hansen, Young and Meador.

Meador talked about school and working with real human patients this week (instead of manikins).

Meador: I had to insert my first anal suppositories into a patient today. Three of them. It was kind of like going onstage to start a show. You're just like, "Well, I'm going to do this." And then boop boop boop, all in.

We talked a bit about the new John Adams miniseries on HBO.

Meador: How old was he?
Hansen: 30.
Meador: Basically our age and they were starting a nation.
Hansen: Let's do it. Let's start one.

Instead of starting a nation, we came back to my place and played Rock Band, making up new lyrics to the songs to make each other laugh. 'Don't Fear the Reaper' turned into 'Don't Fear the Meador,' about a nurse who keep accidentally killing patients. "40,000 men and women everyday... come on baby... don't fear the Meador."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Sun-Times sent out a photographer to Whirled News to take some pictures for a story that should run in the next week or two. We speculated about what the story would be about (Shane: The death of theater?), but apparently its on "a couple different local news-based shows."

We did the usual, Everybody Pretend To Be Reading the Newspaper photo shoot.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The second day of Spring.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Comedy is largely based in reacting. And most comedy theaters (in Chicago anyway) were founded as reactions to other theaters. This is a gross oversimplification, but let's go with it anyway...

Second City grew out of the Compass Players which was founded as an attempt to put up shows differently than traditional theater. Second City's very name is a self-deprecating joke about not being New York City.

Eventually Del Close left Second City over an argument about whether improv was best used as a tool to generate scripted material or if it could be entertainment in and of itself. Del Close thought it could be, and he and Charna Halpern founded the Improv Olympic, which set itself apart from Second City by doing improv for improv's sake.

Second City and Improv Olympic made a lot of money teaching the rules of improv, and the founding philosophy of the Annoyance Theater was partly a reaction to feeling too restricted by those rules.

The Playground, a "not-for-profit co-op theater," was founded as a reaction to players and teams not having enough say in the running of the theaters where they performed.

There are other improv theaters in Chicago, but off the top of my head I can't think of how they'd support my flimsy thesis, so I'll just ignore them.

Supposedly there was a time when performs would align themselves with one theater and be adamantly against the others. "I perform HERE! I would never perform THERE!" These days, though, the same people teach, direct and perform at several different theaters. The venn diagram that is Chicago improv includes a lot of overlapping circles.

Sure, you still hear the occasional passive-aggressive dismissal of one of the theaters ("Second City is an out of touch tourist trap"; "iO is like a cliquish high school where all the shows are the same"; "The Annoyance is just dirty for the sake of being dirty"; "The Playground has small audiences"), but the truth is that they each churn out their fair share of brilliance and crap.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Went to the Team Submarine show at the Annoyance Theater. They were recording a CD of all their favorite bits from their time in Chicago.

I sat next to Evan, from work.

Evan: I was giving Nate a hard time about moving to New York.
Me: Why? Because so many good artists eventually move away from Chicago?
Evan: Yeah. I wish more would stay. But Nate said it's actually a good thing. It keeps Chicago pristine and special.
Me: Maybe.

After the show, Nate asked everyone to sign a list so the entire audience could be thanked in the liner notes of the eventual CD. He was also excited that besides the CD, they're also making a cassingle.

Exiting the theater, a woman in front of me explained to the man she was with, "It's a cassette with one song on it. A single on a cassette. Cassingle."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Video project meeting at Alex and Megan's place.

Alex spilled wine onto the coffee table, one of our scripts and a picture book of tiaras.

Megan: You've lost drink privileges. Nothing but clear liquids for you the rest of the night.

This project is progressing very slowly.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Looking through some old photos over the weekend, I came across this picture that I took literally seconds before walking into iO (then Improv Olympic) for the first time.

Back in '99 (I think), my college group, Comedy Corner, got some money from the school to come to the Chicago Improv Festival. We took workshops. We saw shows. And we took a History of Chicago Improv bus tour that took us to all the major improv theaters.

It was largely because of that trip that I eventually decided to move to Chicago after I graduated. And I decided iO was where I wanted to perform.

I can't remember the last time I talked to any of the blurry people in this picture, but that perfectly in-focus black and silver awning from Salt and Pepper, the diner next door to iO... I see that all the time.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rehearsal at Sheil Park.

Diplomat Motel is the third team I've been placed on at iO. James Jackson, then Otis, now DipMo. That's pretty good for... what... seven years maybe? Six?

Eckart has been around for ten years. Diplomat Motel is his fifteenth team. Fifteen! First he was put on Habeas Corpus, then Pyramid Scheme, then Nancy Reagan, then Vegas Magic Act, then Men Of Steel, then Peanuts Envy ("this team lasted one weekend"), then Lisle Community College Teachers Credit Union, then Pope Joan, then Rockstar Of Siam (which was later renamed Liar's Beer), then Fashion Bug, then Little Fat Girl, then Johnny Roast Beef, which is still around but he was moved to Autorock, then Psychoplasmics, and now Diplomat Motel.

That's just iO-run teams. That doesn't count various side projects.

Eckart: Overall, I think I'm up there with Mulhern and Shay [both of whom have since moved away from Chicago] as far as record number of teams.
Me: Does it get harder to be put on new teams after a while, or easier?
Eckart: I guess it's like dating in some ways. When I was on a good team that got broken up, starting over was tough. In other cases, when things got stale, it would be reinvigorating to play with a new crew. For a while, I was the guy who got put on established, yet declining teams to help provide support so they could still play on weekends. I think people thought I would show up to rehearsals and shows, dress nice, and improvise competently enough to allow the team to die with dignity. Those were tough assignments because the other players usually knew their number was up and it showed on stage. I felt like the Jonah-type guy in 'Master and Commander' who everyone looks at funny because he brings bad luck.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

This is Brady, the unsung hero of Whirled News Tonight. He's pulled lights for the show since the very beginning four and a half years ago. He's probably missed less shows than anyone in the cast.

Brady: I like hanging out in the green room, and I like the show, but I don't really like running lights that much. I have tremors in my hands, so pushing buttons in the dark can be a bit aggravating. I shouldn't complain too much, though. How many people can say they get paid to watch improv?
Me: You used to perform some, right? Do you still perform?
Brady: No, I don't perform anymore. I miss the fun times from my early improv days, but I need to become a tougher guy before I try improvising again.

I've never pulled lights for a show, ever. Never touched a light board. But if Brady ever does another show, I'll pull lights for him. Then again, maybe he wouldn't want me to. I might screw it up.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Oh, did I forget to mention that I love performing? That's odd. We're already about a third of the way through this year. I should have mentioned that by now. Well, I do. I love improvising.

Writing is lonely and its rewards are felt distantly if at all, but making an audience laugh is immediately rewarding. Performing with other improvisers (when its going well) is like having a great funny conversation with your friends, only there's more running around, and there's an audience saying, "Hey, what an interesting conversation you're having. Mind if we watch and occasionally applaud?"

Sure, sometimes there's annoying bullshit or drama involved with getting to the stage, or getting to stay on stage, but while there, things are pretty great.

If I feel sick, performing makes me feel better. And if a week goes by and I don't perform, I start to feel out of sorts.

I haven't mentioned this at all yet? Weird. Maybe I take it for granted.

[By the way, this picture, from a Diplomat Motel show back in January, was taken by Angela Manginelli. She's very kindly allowed me to reprint it here. You can check out some of her other pictures here. Not many improv pictures up there now. But hopefully she'll eventually add more.]

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Speaking of moving, Poland has moved. He telecommutes to the Jellyvision office from Michigan via webcam. We have him set up on a TV in the middle of the office. Recently he moved from his basement to a room on the second floor of his house.

Poland: I set myself up in the basement because my recording stuff is down there. But I can have my office up here where its livable and there's some sunlight, and just go down to the basement when I need to record music. It took me three years to figure that out. My wife suggested it the second week I was down there, but I didn't figure it out until now.

The televised view of his new office is a color explosion compared to the drab grey basement. Watching him from here I feel like we're the first family on the block to get color TV. Or, to use an example from my own childhood (instead of my Dad's), it's like when 'Family Ties' went to Europe, and suddenly the episode was shot on location on film. Everything looks different and better.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I don't like using a flash, and avoid it when I can. First, I think they make pictures look terrible and second, a bright flash of light draws a lot of attention.

At the corporate gig on Monday, as we were waiting to be announced, I pulled out my camera to take a candid shot, not realizing that the flash was on. It was bright, and for a second I thought, "Oh shit, that was unprofessional." Then I immediately switched to no-flash and started taking more pictures.

In retrospect, no one attending the convention seemed to notice. Young said he had no idea it happened. Marla and Eddie clearly did, though.

As blurry as it is, I love this picture. What I love most about it is that I have no idea if Eddie and Marla are playing up their "what the fuck, Arnie" response for the camera, or if they're really that alarmed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nate is moving to New York soon with his Team Submarine partner. They don't have anything lined up yet, but it seems like the time to do it. Bigger showcases. More industry. Cooler.

Nate: I'm trying to save up. I've budgeted myself at $50 a week for food and entertainment until the move.
Me: Not counting groceries?
Nate: No that includes groceries. All food. All entertainment. $50.

We've been stockpiling 'Nate the Intern' audio, but eventually we'll have to phase his character out of the game.

Nate: I think we should kill him off.

The big move is sometime late next month, I think.

Me: Good luck. When you end up doing the Team Submarine Variety Hour on TBS, and you need an intern character, keep me in mind.
Nate: If we ever do get a show, I really do hope it's on TBS.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Getting ready to run on "stage" for a Whirled News Corporate Gig.

Corporate gigs can sometimes be rough. Performing in a hotel convention room for an unresponsive audience under all kinds of restrictions. At first I was a little worried about this one, especially when an organizer said, "We've put our newsletter in with the other newspapers for people to cut articles out of. Just a heads up... the articles are mostly about things like human trafficking and horrible botched illegal abortions, so... you might not want to make fun of that stuff."

The show ended up being great, though. We had fun. They had fun.

One sign you're about to have a good corporate show: There's a flurry of energy right before you go on, as people start standing up and making spontaneous donations, raising a last-minute extra $10,000 for their cause. That's a hot crowd.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tonight was the night of iO's semi-annual Del Awards. It's an award show for the theater/excuse to do a lot of award show bits. It's usually pretty fun, but I decided to stay home and watch the Wire series finale instead.

Today was also the last day of the old iO schedule. New schedules are usually two months long. This one is only two weeks. Rumor has it that the schedule was extended because it might be depressing to cut a bunch of teams right before the Del Awards.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Logan, hauling an SUV-trunk full of fancy video equipment, helped Megan and I shoot a short film for the (still untitled) project we're working on. Logan, like myself, is an alum of Comedy Corner, who moved to Chicago after college to take a crack at improv. Only, you know, many years after me.

Megan: This is going so much better than the commercial I shot this week.

Megan shot a commercial for a gym, where she played a woman throwing a baby shower for a friend who turns out to not really be pregnant, just, uh...

Megan: Fat. The director kept saying things to the main actress like, "Okay, now we want you to rub your belly and look ashamed," and, "Be more disappointed in yourself." There was a table full of party snacks that we weren't supposed to eat, but I totally ate them.

Our own shoot seemed to go well (beyond my own lingering feelings that I could be doing a better acting job). After each shot Megan and I would improvise stupid and unusable extra bits for our own amusement. Then we'd realize that Logan was patiently standing there, holding a heavy boom mic.

Logan: It's okay. We're just... we're running out of tape.

Friday, March 7, 2008

There's always been a steady stream of people leaving the Chicago improv scene. Moving to New York or L.A. to make a go of it. Moving to other parts of the country to make a go at something else. Hell, I even moved away once myself.

With the introduction of the Second City cruise ship tours, even more people have been going away. Granted, its usually only for four months and they come right back, but still, any excuse for a Going Away Party (or a slightly self-indulgent LAST SHOW, THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO SEE THIS PERSON PERFORM IN THIS SHOW until they come back in a couple months).

Tonight I went to a Going Away party for Gowland (right) and his wife (who I sadly did not get a picture of, so you'll have to settle for a picture of Shotts). Gowland and I went through classes together at iO and were both on Otis (although, not at the same time).

The e-mail invite, titled "Fourth Annual Goodbye (Again) Party," read, "We're leaving Chicago to do another boat and then move to LA! This is the Fourth and possibly final goodbye so don't miss it! Have a drink and say goodbye to two people you've barely seen over the past two years. See you there! Otherwise, see you at the Fifth Annual!"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I am the tallest member of Diplomat Motel. Laura is the shortest. For some reason we always end up standing next to each other in onstage line ups.

We run onstage to open the show. Oh, look, I'm standing next to Laura. We join the back line for a show-closing game of Freeze. Oh look, Laura again. The tallest next to the smallest.

I wonder if performers gravitate towards certain areas of the stage. For me it's stage left. Although in Whirled News I hang out stage right. It probably has something to do with the fact that we enter stage left downstairs and enter stage right upstairs. I guess I stay close to the exits.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Drinks with Jeanine, my friend who isn't very funny.

Jeanine: Does this new blog mean you are going to pursue being a comedy star? Will this blog year end with you starring in a WB show?
Me: Not really. Especially since the WB doesn't exist anymore.
Jeanine: I mean, whatever that network is. I want you to go on a mission to become a famous comedian.
Me: I'm just trying to show what my tiny corner of a tiny corner of the Chicago improv scene is like. That's it.
Jeanine: But one of us needs to get famous, Arnie. Right? And I'm having a hard time getting famous.
Me: Getting famous is HARD.

Jeanine's not doing a bad job of it, though. Her band, the 1900s, keeps getting all kinds of good press. It's interesting, however, as an outsider, to see how being in a relatively successful band mostly leads to being more poor, rather than the other way around.

She was recently asked to be part of a panel discussion focusing on important women in the Chicago music industry.

Jeanine: A lot of those women are my heroes. It was awesome.

As you can tell from this picture, like many of my friends, I think Jeanine is tired of me taking pictures.

Jeanine: I like this new blog because if we hang out, you won't write about it because I have nothing to do with comedy.
Me: You'll still be in the blog.
Jeanine: Can you write it like, "Today i had lunch with Jeanine, my friend who isn't very funny." And then that would be it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

There's an interesting article about "The Charms of Wikipedia" in the recent New York Review of Books. It's written by Nicholson Baker, probably most famous for his novel 'Vox.' (I read 'The Fermata.')

He writes a bit about deletionists on Wikipedia. "A lot of good work—verifiable, informative, brain-leapingly strange—is being cast out of this paperless, infinitely expandable accordion folder by people who have a narrow, almost grade-schoolish notion of what sort of curiosity an on-line encyclopedia will be able to satisfy in the years to come." He quotes Andrew Lih who said, "The preference now is for excising, deleting, restricting information rather than letting it sit there and grow."

He writes about his own experience with Wikipedia (under the handle Wageless) and how he fought to keep dozens of entries from being deleted. In the article he includes a long list of entries he "argued for keeping." Near the bottom, between "Whitley Neill Gin, flavored with South African botanicals" and "Michelle Leonard, a European songwriter" is "Whirled News Tonight, a Chicago improv troupe."

So, Whirled News had a Wikipedia entry. Someone marked it for possible deletion. Three people voted to delete it. Three people voted to keep it (one a "weak keep"). One of those three proponents, easily the one most strongly in favor of keeping it, was Nicholson Baker. He even looked us up on LexisNexis for articles to support our notability. We got deleted anyway. Then he mentions us in the New York Review of Books.

Granted, he did the same for "Pyro Boy, a minor celebrity who turns himself into a human firecracker on stage" and "the Jitterbug telephone, a large-keyed cell phone with a soft earpiece for elder callers," but still, it's pretty neat.

You can read the full article here.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Young has started his new job, writing and working with Trupe.

Young: It still doesn't seem real. I keep expecting to have to go back to my old job next week.

Here they are in the kitchen. Bill, another improviser who works there, took the picture.

Young: I just figured out where the bathrooms are today.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Saw this up near Evanston.

Not as funny as "lies & fish" but it still made me chuckle.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Food and drinks at Salt and Pepper after the Whirled News show.

Marla told us about a friend who's play had just been reviewed in the Reader. She read some of it to us from her Blackberry.

Marla: It starts, "Wow. This may be the worst show I've ever seen."

Chin, our director, talked about some of the reviews he's gotten in the past. The first show he put up in Chicago got a blisteringly bad review. The reviewer suggested that iO should refund the money of everyone in the theater that night.

Chin: I blew the review up and hung it on my wall so I'd see it every day. A year later I had two shows get great reviews. The day those reviews came out, a handyman was working on my radiator and the knob flew off. I dove out of the way of a stream of scalding water. I looked up and it had melted the bad review off the wall.