Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tonight I watched MTV's 'The Real World' for the first time in at least half a decade. This season they're in Hollywood and instead of having a job, they all have to take improv classes at iO West with Charna. Charna's been talking this up for some time ("This is the first year the show is going from a half hour to a full hour because there was so much great material") and I'm curious to see more improv-via-reality-television.

The young reality cast seem very different from most of the improvisers I know. Different from most of the people I know, period. They look like they stepped out of a bad science fiction porno. And their first reaction when they find out about their new assignment is, "I need to get a haircut." Still, they seem generally enthusiastic (for now, anyway).

Not surprisingly, very little of the episode was dedicated to improv. Like 'Top Chef' the cast watch an improv show that is edited down to about three of four lightening quick wordless shots of wacky stage physicality (including, yes, someone being lifted into the air by the rest of their team).

The actual class with Charna gets a little more time. She rattles off a list of famous people she's taught, and subtly slips the title of her book into conversation. Next, a quick montage of the reality cast doing scenes. We get to see about four snippets, each including one line from a scene. The first is, "So, you're finally coming out of the closet." So, maybe these L.A. club kids aren't so different from other begginning improvisers after all, because every entry level improv class that ever was has probably had at least one student utter that line.

The class segment ends with some quick soundbites of good advice from Charna. "The reason you should see a lot of shows is you learn faster that way." And, "You got your laughs by being honest." And with that, MTV's first improv lesson comes to an end.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Looking at a list of web searches that bring people to this blog, it seems that for the most part, people intentionally search this site out. There's not a lot of stumbling across it while looking for something else. Almost every search phrase is some variation on the blog's title or my name.

Although, recently, someone in Washington D.C. ended up here by searching for the phrase, "what year did comedy started." (Could it have been... the president?) Whoever it was didn't stay long, but it raises a good question. What year DID comedy started?

A quick and lazy web search of my own didn't bring up anything conclusive, but Aristotle speculated that comedy originated from Ancient Greek "phallic processions." So it may have all started around 500 BC with insults and dick jokes.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Another going-away party, this one for Knauf who performs with Sarah on the Playground team, Cowlick. He's not moving to New York or L.A., though, he's moving to Denver to join the circus. He's literally going to be a ringleader.

Leaving the party, Sarah seemed a little sad. "Friends go away sometimes," she sighed.

"Yeah," I said, remembering my own going away party and Sarah's as well, "Sometimes friends come back too."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Diplomat Motel rehearsal.

I actually had to miss a DipMo show on Friday because of the CIF preview. McCrackin read his show notes at the beginning of rehearsal. It's weird to hear notes on a show you weren't in or didn't see because they pretty much make no sense.

McCrackin: Okay, the Terminator Toaster scene was good. After that was the Child Predator scene...
Meador: Although, you know, as child predator scenes go, I thought it was pretty tasteful.
McCrackin: Sure. He was a very passive child predator.

Apparently some of Meador's nursing school classmates came to the show and were distractingly rowdy in the audience.

Meador: Sorry guys.
Young: You know who the worst audience member I've ever seen was? My mom. She would not shut up. She kept yelling stuff out. "What if they were in a boat?!" I wanted to kill her.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Yesterday was Nate's last day at Jellyvision. We surprised him with cake.

Nate: The best part about this is that I didn't have to go pick it up.

Nate seems a little nervous about the neighborhood he's moving to in New York.

Nate: The place is really nice and really cheap, but it's in a terrible area. So, the next time you see me, I'll probably be a hardened racist.

At the end of the day, everyone stood and clapped as he sheepishly left the office.

You can play the farewell You Don't Know Jack episode for his 'Nate the Intern' character (and see if we killed the character off as Nate had hoped) here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Whirled News has been selected to perform in the Chicago Improv Festival again this summer, and tonight we participated in a preview performance for the festival at Second City's Donny's Skybox (only the THIRD most important stage in the Second City building).

Despite all this blogging, I don't do a lot of self-promoting. I didn't tell anyone about the CIF preview, but my boss, Amanda, serves on the CIF advisory board and corralled a bunch of my co-workers to come see the show.

I thought the show was a little below our usual quality level. Or maybe I just get self-conscious when people I know are in the audience.

Amanda: Really? I thought it was funny. I liked it better than the last time I saw the show at iO. And you know I'd tell you if it was bad.
Me: It's true. You don't really pull your punches.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

This picture was taken back in 2004. I think it was my last visit to my Grandma Anne's farmhouse (the house my mother grew up in). Shortly after this visit, my Uncle Kenny took her on what he told her was a routine doctor's visit but turned out to be her moving into a nursing home.

It's debatable whether she belongs there (she is probably the facility's youngest occupant), but there's no question my uncle's actions since my grandfather died have been incredibly shady. He's bullied and alienated my mother, trying to keep us all away while he got power of attorney, secretly made changes to my grandmother's will, cut her off from her own money, tried to get her (perhaps wrongfully) diagnosed with Alzheimer's, refused to let her move into a better facility despite the fact that it's her own money that's paying the bill, and any number of things that I could rant on and on about with increasing anger.

There's not much we can do to help while she still signs every paper Kenny puts in front of her. She's German, and old-fashioned, and he's the oldest son.

Anyway, the house sits there on the farmland that Kenny has already claimed because he built his welding business there. The house, along with the land, will eventually go to him, and according to Grandma, everything in the house will go to my mom.

Well, Grandma's still very much alive, but Kenny recently sent Mom a letter (in his best attempt at legalese) giving her a month to remove anything she wants from the house before he starts renting it out (to his daughter).

Honestly, I don't know that there's much in that house that any of us want, but we're going there next weekend. Personally, I just want to walk around the place one last time, because I'm fairly certain I'll never go back.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I may be one of the few people that doesn't regularly watch the reality show 'Top Chef' but I did watch (and enjoy) it tonight because the chefs visited Second City, and several people I know were guest judges.

The competitors watched a Second City ETC show. The clip showed part of a notepad improv set (performers ask the audience for a lot of suggestions all at once, and they all get written on a large notepad to inspire a run of scenes). The audience was asked to yell out colors and emotions and... food ingredients. So, yes, those audience suggestions became the names of the dishes the chefs had to cook the next day.

Purple Depressed Bacon. Magenta Drunk Polish Sausage. Orange Turned-On Asparagus. (I don't know about colors or food, but if you ask for an improv audience to yell out emotions, especially at Second City, they're almost certainly going to give you "drunk" and some variation on "turned-on"... usually "horny." That's just the way it is.)

So the chefs had to make these dishes, with the producers constantly throwing in curve balls like, "quick, we have to move to a different kitchen NOW" and "there are no blenders." So, the gimmick was that the chefs needed to improvise. The episode was called, 'Improv' and the word improv was said about a million times. "We need to improvise this dish." "I think we improv-ed it pretty good." "This requires a lot of improvisation." Soon, the chefs would just yell out the word improv whenever some new twist was introduced. "Oh shit, yo! Improv!" I've never heard the word improv said so much, and I'm an improviser.

Which is, probably, a good thing. Improv is creeping more and more into popular culture, or at least into reality television (Charna, and iO West are supposed to play a big part in the new season of 'The Real World').

Sure, 'Top Chef' didn't show any actual improv, and the appearance of the improvisers seemed edited to within an inch of its life, but the show unintentionally touched on a central improv dilemma when one of the chefs huffily whined, "I'm not going to dumb down my food because of what some drunken schmuck yelled out in the audience."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

During a recent conversation with Sarah it came up that once while working in a salon she had learned how to perform ear candling. I'd never had it done and really only vaguely understood what it involves.

This led to Sarah candling my ears. Why not?

I can't say that I felt any different afterward, less waxy or more balanced (and looking it up on Wikipedia I just read, "according to medical researchers, it is both dangerous and ineffective"), but it was a funny little experience and I think that's all that really matters.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Nick brought his daughters, Jane and Lucy, to the brunch yesterday.

Here's Carrie reading a Bazooka Joe comic to Jane.

Carrie: Hey, Jane, do you want this Bazooka Joe comic?
Nick: Jane, Carrie's just trying to trick you into taking her trash.

It was nice to see Jane, who is about the same age as my nephew, Ty, and who I also only see a couple times a year.

Nick: Did you tell Arnie that we watched him in one of his videos on the computer?
Jane: We did.
Me: Uh oh. Which one? Some of the language is probably not that great.
Nick: Yeah, we had to fast forward through some of it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Brunch with some of the members of James Jackson.

Hawley talked about her upcoming wedding.

Carrie talked about her upcoming internship with the writers of 'Ugly Betty.'

Jill talked about life in the suburbs and getting her dogs into the local paper's 'Pet of the Week' column.

Jill: They made it. They made Pet of the Week.
Jill's Husband: Although there was some controversy over them not getting Pet of the Year.
Jill: They weren't even finalists! A rat shouldn't win Pet of the Year.
Me: A rat won?
Jill's Husband: A gerbil was a finalist.
Me: What won?
Jill's Husband: A golden retriever that saved a kid's life.
Me: That sounds like it qualifies as Pet of the Year.
Jill: Whatever.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Great Lakes Center Volleyball Tournament... or something like that.

Sarah and I got there just in time to watch Allie's team play the semi-finals game.

Me: Would you ever dive for a ball like that? Throw yourself at the ground?
Sarah: Sure. It's part of the game.
Me: I'm pretty sure I wouldn't.

After winning, a very sweaty Allie jogged off the court and we took a group picture. It wasn't until looking at the pictures on my camera that I realized we were all wearing Allie's school colors.

Me: Did you wear yellow on purpose?
Sarah: No.
Me: How about you?
Sherry: I didn't think about it when I packed this shirt, no.

We had to leave before the final game because Sarah and I both had shows in the city, but as we were driving back I got a text message from Mom reading, "we won."

Friday, April 18, 2008

My youngest sister, Allie, is flying into Illinois for a college volleyball tournament. Mom, Sherry, and my nephew, Ty, drove out for the weekend to see the games. I visited them in their hotel as they waited for Allie's plane to land.

As it got later, Ty had to grudgingly change into his pajamas, but he was allowed to stay up to wait to see Allie.

Eventually Allie called, confused about what room we were in in the hotel. It was then that Mom realized the team was booked in a different hotel.

Mom: They changed hotels. We're in the wrong hotel. This is the hotel they said they'd be in, but they must have changed it at the last minute.
Sherry: Well, we'll see her tomorrow at the tournament.
Mom: But I bought her this sandwich. Come on everybody. Let's go see Allie. She needs this sandwich.

Walking to the elevators, Mom and Sherry argued about how necessary it was to drive to a different hotel in the middle of the night to bring Allie a chicken sandwich and Ty kept saying, over and over again, "Why am I wearing my pajamas? Hey, hey, why am I wearing my pajamas? Guys, why am I wearing my pajamas?"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Had lunch with Nick across the street from the high school where he teaches drama.

The Backrow sketch show back in January (the one I wasn't it), included a sketch about a school band and a boy who organizes everyone to play a song he wrote to impress a girl he likes named Amelia. They play the song and realize it's actually Simon and Garfunkel's 'Cecelia.' "I thought it sounded familiar but I didn't realize I'd copied it until I heard all the parts together." It was a good sketch. It's usually fun to see performers play instruments on stage, the nerdier the instrument, the better.

Nick: Some of my students saw that show and they liked it. Anyway, one of the guys who saw it is dating a girl named Cecelia, and he just asked her to prom during a school assembly by getting a bunch of people to play the song. He got the idea from the sketch.
Me: That's pretty neat.
Nick: He'll probably win the Best Asking Someone To Prom competition.
Me: There's a competition?
Nick: Every year. Whichever one is the best wins free tickets to prom. Which is not a small thing. Prom tickets are, what, 100 dollars or something.
Me: So, right now, at your school, there are big grand romantic gestures going on left and right?
Nick: Pretty much.
Me: Wow... That would make a good movie.
Nick: You're right. It would.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

An early cut of the cop video Steve and I shot for Anderson and Rick back in December is online now. You can see it here.

The language is a little not-safe-for-work. Like the 'Kyle's in a Coma' webisode pilot we shot a year ago (two years ago?), the idea turned dirty somewhere along the way.

Steve: We start out with such high aspirations, but it always turns into butt sex and hand jobs.

But you know what? I like dirty jokes. I'm not a fan of stuff that's pointlessly crass, but a smart dirty joke is tops in my book.

Anyway, there's a little more of me on the internet now.

[Also, several people have pointed out to me that the 1900s got a major shout-out on Perez (speaking of pointlessly crass).

Me: [via text] Supposedly your band is on the front page of Perez Hilton.
Jeanine: i win. I'm famous.]

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Thanks to being on the front page of YouTube, Joe's 'March Madness' video has been viewed over 225,000 times. From there it got noticed by a Canadian TV show called 'Torrent' that wants to air it along with an interview of Joe. They asked him to record himself answering a short list of questions, and send them the footage.

Joe wanted to shoot the interview with all of Otis, but only Hedges (left), Marc and I were able to show up. We wandered around Piper's Alley trying to come up with interview location ideas on the fly, but none of them quite worked out. The elevator was too dark. The escalator was too dangerous.

Joe: The Otis elevator company makes escalators too.
Me: Oh, I didn't get that. Otis. Otis.

Finally we gave up.

Marc: Maybe you should just shoot a video of yourself at home.
Me: It'll be easier for them to edit and, frankly, you deserve it. It's your video, you should take the credit.
Joe: Yeah, but I just want it to be an Otis thing.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sarah and I went to a White Sox game with Glynn and his girlfriend, Brooke (who performs on Sarah's iO team, Stottlemeyer).

The Sox played the Oakland A's. A couple of A's fans with signs sat a few seats behind us, and got a good amount of jeers from the crowd around them. One guy in particular kept yelling out jokes at their expense.

Then Oakland scored some runs and the heckling grew quiet. I'm no baseball expert, but the Sox didn't seem to be playing all that well. Morale dipped low.

Brooke: This game sucks.

Then the main heckler noticed someone with a Cubs hat sitting a section over to the left. Suddenly he was on a roll again, going on and on about how terrible the Cubs are, and how stupid you would have to be to be a Cubs fan. I couldn't make out most of what he was saying, but he got a lot of laughs from the crowd around him.

The Sox rallied a little near the end, but still lost. Leaving the stadium, I didn't overhear a single joke about the A's, but I did hear a rousing chant of "Fuck the Cubs!"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spring haircut. It is spring, right?

It's freaking cold!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

We did a Q and A session for a group of visiting high school students after the Whirled News show. I know they're a bit self-indulgent but I love doing them. They remind me of standing in front of a mirror as a kid and pretending to be interviewed on a talk show.

They almost always involve the same questions. "How much is prepared in advance?" "How often do you rehearse?"

And, of course, THE question. The one that always comes up. "How much do you all make?" Or, "How do I make a living doing what you do?" The simple answer is "almost nothing" and "mostly you don't." After that we always try to come up with an answer that is self-deprecating and honest (you don't want to sit in front of a group of students and pretend to be something more than you are), without painting a needlessly bleak picture. Because it's not bleak.

Usually someone will say something like, "You should do it because you love it," and hope it doesn't sound trite. Trite or not, its true.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ran into Shotts at the bar at iO. Shotts has the beard by which all other Chicago improv beards are judged. There are more of those beards these days, but his is the touchstone.

Shotts: Did I tell you I got an e-mail from someone wanting to do an improv show of all dudes with beards? Beardprov.

Of the hundreds of improv shows in Chicago, an actually pretty high percentage revolve around similar gimmicks. All fat guys. All tall guys.

Later I realized I didn't asked Shotts if he agreed to do the show. It's probably doomed if he didn't.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

This is Shaun.

Back when I was in Comedy Corner he was in a different group on campus, The Charles Darwin Experience. We were sort of distant acquaintances then. I moved to Chicago for several years and started doing improv. Then I followed a girl back to Arizona for a year and a half. During that time I got to know Shaun a little better. I briefly coached a team he put together. Then my relationship fell apart and I moved back to Chicago and that pretty much brings us up to date... for me anyway.

Shaun and I aren't particularly close but I follow what he's up to via his blog, and, I think, vice versa. I do yearly blog projects, he does yearly blog projects. My current one is "A Year of Comedy," his current one is "A Year in My Non-Existent Comedy Career." An old friend wrote to me recently to say, "I keep up with your blog still, and it sounds like you're doing good. Your blog is kind of the complete opposite of Shaun's, which makes his fun to read as well."

Back in October Shaun wrote on his blog, "Today marks the tenth anniversary of my first show with the Charles Darwin Experience. I joined the group in 1998, and stayed until 2002, and it was a very fun part of my life. Things since that time have been very unhappy, certainly. Most saddening to me is that I feel like I have gone nowhere, that after five years out of college I haven't even achieved the smallest of what I've hoped to achieve." Many of his blog entries since then give the impression that he is both very driven, and more than a little depressed. "I will redeem myself. I will write an act that I find to be very funny and practice it until I find it satisfactory. Then I will go out on stage and kick ass. Then I will take less pictures of myself with a gun to my head."

The last ten years for me have been... different. I've had some luckier breaks, maybe, and I would say that on the whole I am happier than I was during that time. Still, I don't really buy the premise that Shaun and I are opposites, beyond the fact that he hasn't had quite enough failure to give up and I've had just barely enough success to keep going.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Most of the original cast of Whirled News still performs regularly with the show. That's pretty rare for a four year old show. Jordan got too busy with Second City and left. Haskins (pictured) also left for Second City and then eventually for L.A. to write for Al Gore's cable channel, Current. The show she writes for, 'InfoMania,' debuts this week.

(Wonak, although not an original member, left to focus on grad school)

Haskins sent me this picture of herself at work (at my request).

Haskins: Here's me in my office. I am pretending to be grumpy because I am stuck on a joke. I share the office with another writer. We're trying to "comedy" it up a bit. So far, we stick a lot of random stuff on the walls.

I couldn't help but notice that one of the post-it notes reads "poonami."

A few weeks ago Haskins was in Chicago and sat in on a Whirled News show. It was fun to have her back.

Haskins: You should all move to L.A.! Old friends are better than new friends!
Marla: Don't start that! That's how it happens. One person goes out there and they start talking everyone else into moving.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Now that the wave of improv babies has passed, here comes another wave of improv weddings.

Here's the Save the Date card for Martin's wedding.

Me: [via IM] Do you mind if I post it on my blog?
Martin: Um, no. I guess everybody that's not getting invited needs to know sooner or later, right?

Monday, April 7, 2008

Improv is, by design, ephemeral. Here for a moment, then gone. As you're likely to hear before an improv show, "The show you're about to see has never been seen before and will never be seen again." Improv is transitory.

Some improv theaters are that way too.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

As I was leaving iO after last night's Whirled News show, I was stopped by someone who used to watch me perform in Arizona, nearly a decade ago, back in my old Comedy Corner days. "We just randomly came to this show. I was looking through the program beforehand and, 'hey, I used to watch that guy every week when I was in college'."

The very nice woman with him said, "Looks like you've really made it," and I simply said, "Oh, thanks," instead of, "Well, it's not that simple."

To be honest, I didn't really remember him but his face did look familiar. Small world.

Later I went to ComedySportz where Sarah was hanging out in the theater bar after her own night of shows. A number of improvisers were hanging out, drinking giant cans of Fosters (the beer they get at a performer discount) and growing rowdy, occasionally needing to be shushed for being too loud.

Sarah: My old babysitter was at the show tonight!

At the end of a ComedySportz show, the performers line up at the door to give high fives to the exiting audience. While Sarah had been standing in the high five line, a woman came up and said, "Sarah? Is that you?"

Sarah: We hung out and talked. It was great. She said I used to be "very serious" and that she always thought I'd be a lawyer. I told her that I remembered her letting me stay up to watch 'Saturday Night Live' with her because her boyfriend was a writer for the show. She said, "Oh, yeah, Bob Odenkirk." And I was like, "Bob Odenkirk?! Your boyfriend was Bob Odenkirk?!" She said, "Oh, I guess you'd know that name now. He was the last guy I dated before I married my husband... who is a physician." She seemed proud of him. Her husband, I mean.

Small world.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Sun-Times article, entitled 'Topical Paradise,' is out. There's a huge picture of Padraic, Young, Eddie, Marla and I on the front page of the Entertainment section. The article focuses on various local political satire shows. We come off looking pretty good (in the article anyway; in the picture half of us look like we're high out of our minds, especially Young).

The only real downer is that the photo caption refers to Marla as "Maria."

You can check out the article here. Sadly, the giant picture is only in the print version.

Small sidenote... the Sunday paper comes out on Saturday. I didn't know that.

Friday, April 4, 2008

One of the first signs of spring in Wrigleyville is that improv teams are warming up for their shows in the alley behind iO. Sure, it smells like garbage and piss back there and the occasional homeless person will try to join in on your game of Zip Zap Zop, but it's nice to not have to huddle into a small corner inside the packed theater to get loosened up for your show.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I had lunch with Margolis this week. She was the first coach of James Jackson, so I guess she was my first improv coach.

She recently left Second City after doing three runs of shows on the ETC stage (since the average Second City show runs about half a year that's a good number of shows).

Margolis: I was ready to leave, but it was sort of like college, its scary to think about what to do next. Then I thought, "you know what... I'll stay." And as soon as I thought that, as soon as I seriously entertained the idea of staying, I knew, nope, it's time to go.

So she's working on a one-woman show and enjoying being able to go out on a weekend night with her husband.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

My first iO improv team, James Jackson, has been retired (broken up, really) for a couple years now. Like Otis, we've performed together as a group a few times since then, but its rare.

On a whim, Young got us a guest slot at the Playground for tonight. Only two audience members showed up, though, so the show was canceled.

Alex: I feel kind of bad that we didn't bring anybody. I guess that's what you're supposed to do. Bring your own audience.
Nick: It didn't even occur to me to tell anyone.
Me: But to be fair, we're only one team of three tonight. Nobody brought anybody.
Carrie: We've never been good at self-promotion.

Still, we took this picture on the Playground stage.

Megan: I love how we get together once a year to take a group picture.

We all went out for margaritas and reminisced about old times.

Nick: Jill, do you remember back when we were in Gwinn's class and you refused to do the exercise where everyone had to lift you up in the air?
Jill: [long laugh] No.

At the end of the evening, Jill decided she wanted to pay the bill for everyone and refused to take any money. While she was in the bathroom some of us slipped twenties into her purse. Hawley drew a a crude doodle of a penis on a napkin and slipped that into Jill's purse as well.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

It's an April Fool's Day tradition at Jellyvision to put Poland's television in a different weird place every year. One year the TV was in the bathroom. The next year it was in the refrigerator.

Last year the original plan had been to put him in Krull. Krull is the office across the hall. None of us know much about the place beyond the fact that its called Krull and that reminds us of the cheesy 80s fantasy movie. Anyway, last year Allard asked Krull if they would help us out with the prank but it ultimately fell through.

This year Allard rigged up a laptop in front of the camera on Poland's TV, and set it to play a loop of a colonoscopy. So when Poland came online, that's all he saw on his screen, an endless journey through some poor stranger's colon.

Poland: I should get you guys back by shoving MY camera over here up MY colon.

When I looked at the colonoscopy (and I did my best to mostly not look at it) it occurred to me that the inside of a colon looks an awful lot like the hallways of the Black Fortress in the movie Krull. So maybe we got him inside Krull after all.