Monday, June 30, 2008

Over the weekend I sat in on another show at the ATC (not to be confused with the Second City ETC). Nora Dunn was there again. In fact, she enjoyed the show so much last time that she wanted to play along. She opened the show by telling a very funny story about being part of a disastrous comedy benefit for mothers whose children had been tortured (for the Lifetime channel) and we improvised scenes inspired by her story.

The night got me thinking about all the famous and semi-famous people I've met or (more often) been in close proximity to over the years.

When I was in grad school, Comedy Corner opened for Kevin Nealon (I guess I'm slowly collecting encounters with that era's SNL cast). We performed a sketch I wrote where I pretended to be a magician getting volunteers from the audience that were all clearly just members of our comedy group. Each person would accuse the person before them of being a plant. And each time I would tell them to check their pocket and they'd pull out the three of hearts. "Oh my God! It's magic!" And then the next person would leap up from the audience yelling, "They're a plant!" And on and on until someone from the audience shot me but the bullet is stopped by... the three of hearts! And we all bow theatrically. The end.

After the show Kevin Nealon said to me, "I liked that magic sketch. But you should end it like this. You get shot and they find out something's blocked the bullet and it's a card and you ask, 'Was it the three of hearts' and they say, 'No. It's the nine of spades. You're not a very good magician, are you?'"

And he was right. That's a much better ending (any sketch that ends with an over-the-top theatrical bow is really just an admission that no one could come up with a proper punchline).

Through Comedy Corner I also got to meet and talk briefly to David Cross and Demitri Martin.

Over the years I've started talking less and less to the famous people I see. I rarely know what to say, so I've started saying nothing at all. Mike Meyers. George Wendt. The Upright Citizens Brigade. Neil Flynn. Horatio Sanz. Tim Meadows. It's always neat to see them, but I leave it at that.

This time, though, I did make a point to actually talk to Nora Dunn, even if just for a second. I was by the door as she was leaving and I said, "Sorry to interrupt but I just wanted to say it was a real pleasure to play with you." She thanked me and said, "You were funny."

I couldn't bring myself to ask if I could take her picture, so you'll just have to settle for one of the theater's sign.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I suppose you never forget where you were when you first heard an SUV drove straight into the front of the iO West Theater in L.A. I was... uh... on Facebook.

So, yeah, apparently an SUV swerved off the road in L.A. and crashed right through the front door of iO West, demolishing the front entrance and taking out a good portion of the bar. Luckily the theater was nearly empty at the time and no one was hurt.

And since no one was hurt, tragedy doesn't need time to equal comedy. The comments section of all on-line notices about the incident pretty much turned into showcases for bits. The stuff you'd expect: "yes and" jokes, swipes at the Real World cast, "someone didn't make a Harold team." Stuff like that.

Mostly, I enjoyed seeing that the ongoing annoyances in the iO West community are pretty much the same as the ones at iO Chicago. "Who cares? When’s the fucking A/C gonna get fixed?" and "Well, I’ve never heard of Car Smashing Through Wall either, but, they’re from Chicago and Charna loves them, so, they get a slot…"

I'm not exactly sure why, but I think my favorite joke I read was, "That’ll teach you not to crowd the waitress stand!"

[Readers of my last blog, A Year of Working, may remember that when I visited Comedy Worx in Raleigh (iO South) last year for an Otis reunion show, a truck ran through the front of that theater too. Improv theaters beware.]

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Young is Road Show Car Cursed. After the corporate gig back in March his car wouldn't start and the two of us spent hours in a parking garage downtown waiting for a tow. Last night, after the Beverly Arts Center show it happened again.

It's nice to make a little extra money doing these kinds of shows, but Young keeps ending up losing money on tows and repairs.

Road Show Car Cursed.

Megan: Make sure not to drive on Wednesday.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Whirled News (with Brady along to stage manage) did a special gig at the Beverly Arts Center on Chicago's South Side. As we pulled up we saw our show being advertised on a big electronic display. After our ad scrolled past, an ad for Cherry Poppin Daddies replaced it.

Here's Glynn in the green room, listening to his iPod, trying to figure out what to use for our entrance music.

The wall behind him is covered with graffiti from groups that have played the Center in the past. I'm guessing big established acts don't go in for that sort of thing (or get tired of it fairly quickly). 10,000 Maniacs was the only particularly famous signature I saw.

There were a number of old Second City Touring Company signatures, though (and Mission Improvable, another workhorse of the improv touring circuit). "Hey, Haskins has been here. And Jordan. And Shad." There was one block of Second City signatures that could have been decades old. Jim Zulevic. Tim Kazurinsky.

Brady: [looking at the wall] You know, I would have thought Dave Pasquesi would be above signing a wall, but... I guess not.

None of us got around to signing it ourselves.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

There's an improv exercise where two people will take turns endowing each other with physical traits. For instance, one of them might say, "This man is wearing a very nice tuxedo and tennis shoes." And then that other person plays that character in a scene.

I've always liked the idea that two or three well chosen details can be evocative enough to create a character.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

E-mails have started bouncing around the Jellyvision office (with lots of old pictures) suggesting we do another Mustache Day sometime in September.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

So, someone got a projection clock as a gift and didn't really want it so it ended up in the office. Now we've got a giant looming ghost clock floating on the wall.

It kind of stresses me out. Giant second hand swooping endlessly around. Tick tock. Tick tock.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The second Time Ghost video is up now. You can watch it on Funny or Die or YouTube.

I'm not in this one, but I did direct it (Logan shot and edited it).

Early on I was trying to explain how I wanted a certain moment to be and said, "It's awkward, like... like someone farted in an elevator, and you're not sure if you should acknowledge it or not."

This led to jokes that from now on I would only direct via fart analogies. And then, because it amused me, I did direct that way for the rest of the day. "Look, it's like someone has been farting and farting and you finally snap at them and yell at them not to fart anymore, but then they do."

It was surprisingly effective. Those fart jokes coaxed some pretty good performances out of Young and Alex.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

This may be the greatest thing predictive text has ever done.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Trupe took a few hours off from fatherhood today and we went to see the horror movie 'The Strangers.' We only had a small window of time, so we ended up having to see it at the Logan Square Theater. A tiny rundown old moviehouse. And not the glory-days of moviehouse old, just old and kind of crappy.

There were four handwritten warnings on the movie poster out front explaining that the the film is not for children.

Still, about 50% of the sparse audience was made up of a woman and her four children, ranging from an infant to a sullen early teenager. A little boy of about nine bounced around and stared up at the screen where a young couple was being terrorized by a trio of masked killers.

Across the aisle from the family was a man who was either drunk or on something and I'm pretty sure started vomiting near the end of the movie. But vomiting in a very assured way (as if vomiting were a familiar companion), leaning over to the side, puking in front of the empty seat next to him, peering back up at the screen for a moment to see if Liv Tyler was going to be alright, then back down to vomit, then back up to the screen again. Like that.

Trupe: That was a good place to see a horror movie because the theater itself is fucking scary.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The American Theater Company has begun experimenting with doing a few improv shows a month in their space after their regular productions are done. I was asked by Adal, who sat in with Whirled News a few times when we were low on cast members, to take part in a show of thrown together performers. "Just people I enjoy watching perform."

Performing with strangers, or even just people you don't regularly perform with can be tough, but I decided to say yes because over the years I think I've become too stuck in my own comfort zone. Also, there would be free beer and the theater is right by my apartment.

It was a fun night. The show we did was funny, if a bit tentative. It was more of a theater audience than a traditional improv audience and they seemed really into it. As Timmy, who was also in the show, said, "They really ate up any jokes about theater."

Afterwards we found out that Nora Dunn and the creator of the Tony award winning play 'Urinetown' had been in the audience. Well... I hope they enjoyed it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Burgers and drinks with some old work friends, two that don't work at Jellyvision anymore (Meyer and Lacy) and one that does (Chris).

Meyer recently got a sweet job working at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Meyer: I just started and it happens to be the museum's 75th anniversary so there are all kinds of celebrations and I keep getting free tshirts and other swag.

Lacy, meanwhile, just got married to her longtime boyfriend. And they're about to head off on a honeymoon to... somewhere in South America. Although, Lacy is adamant that its not a honeymoon. In fact, it's sort of the opposite. The trip was planned first, and then became partly a good reason for them to get married and share insurance.

Lacy: I would hate people to think it was the ONLY reason we got married. It was a happy impetus that ended up being more of an excuse to get the ball rolling and just do the thing quickly rather than getting caught up in a long span of planning a wedding.

The day they got back from their small wedding in Texas, Lacy found out that she unexpectedly qualified for SAG insurance.

As for Chris, he's started dating a dentist.

Chris: A dentist. Not my dentist. Although the dentist I'm dating is actually enemies with my dentist. They used to be friends and now they're dentist enemies.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Finally caught up on 'Real World' episodes. More and more improv stuff seems to be seeping into the show each week, although it largely revolves around attendance.

Still this week was very iO West heavy (I barely had to fast forward at all). An important improv lesson was learned. Don't perform drunk.

Drunk Real World Member: Dude, I'll probably perform better because I'm wasted.

He didn't. He stumbled into scenes, waved his arms a little and stared blankly. MTV did a good job of underscoring how painful these moments can be by letting the moment play silently, with no music in the background (probably the only moment of non-music in the whole episode, if not the entire history of the show/channel). The friends/gross-hangers-on in the audience winced in pain. So, yes, a reality television moment that rang pretty true.

In the second half of the episode, though, the guy apologized, got his shit together and hosted a night of improv (introducing all the groups). He seemed to take it seriously and do a good job. Cue victory music.

You know it's easy (and fun) to roll my eyes at these folks, and yes, hosting is a pretty small thing, but... I don't do it. So, he's got that one on me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I'm not sure how I got on this particular mailing list, but I've started getting packets from Highlights magazine, trying to get me to subscribe.

I used to love Highlights as a kid, and the how-many-things-can-you-find-hidden-in-this-picture drawings have become hardwired into my comedy brain. I wouldn't call it a go-to, but on a few occasions I've made Highlights references in improv shows. "There's a cat hidden somewhere in this scene. Can you find it?"

We're doing a small project at work for a client and I pitched a similar "what's wrong with this picture?" children's game idea.

This is a small part of one of the pictures I got in the mail from Highlights. There were supposed to be six things hidden , but for the life of me I could only find three.

This section only includes one. (Can you find it?)

Monday, June 16, 2008

This is the group picture the Diplomat Motel took a little over a year ago when I first joined the team.

iO teams are naturally in a state of flux. People join. People leave.

If this were the picture from 'Back to the Future,' some of us would be gone, others fading away. Trupe has been on hiatus since his daughter was born. Young recently decided he wanted to take time to focus on other performing opportunities. Meador isn't in this picture (he couldn't make it that day) but he's still on the team. Since starting nursing school I know he's worried that the time may eventually come when he'll get too busy for improv. Luckily that time hasn't come yet, but we all know it's in the possible future.

Also, McCrackin has stepped down as our coach. We sort of talked him into doing it in the first place. As he wrote to us, "I don't like that Harold players have to pay coaches out of pocket in order to perform. I think it's a wrong practice and I don't want to be part of it anymore. I'd happily schedule another rehearsal to tide you over until you find a replacement coach, so long as you don't pay any money to me for it."

Despite all this, we haven't had any attendance problems (pretty much everyone agrees the teams at iO are too big anyway) and we've had some good shows lately.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Called Dad for Father's Day.

Dad: We cooked out. Julie brought the boys over.
Me: Did you get any good gifts?
Dad: Well... let's see... I got a Bob Evans gift card. I'll use that. And... uh... two pairs of pants.
Me: Sounds pretty good.
Dad: Pretty good.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Before the Whirled News show Steve was talking about how he'd seen the Sex and the City movie in LA with his girlfriend.

Megan: [entering green room] Is this for real? Are we really talking about the Sex and the City movie? Is this my favorite day ever?
Steve: I was just saying how it's funny that I hated everything about the movie, the characters, but structurally I found it very satisfying.
Megan: Well you're a horrible person and I hope you die.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sarah: We finally have a show together!

Diplomat Motel performed tonight and Sarah's new iO team also had their first show to open up the night.

When first placed on the schedule at iO, teams are given intentionally terrible pun names, I guess as a way to encourage them to come up with their own name as quickly as possible. The names are often a pun combining something in the news and the name of a veteran performer at the theater. For instance, my old team James Jackson was originally called Attack of the Sohns. That was the summer 'Attack of the Clones' came out.

(I actually don't know what the original names were for Otis and Diplomat Motel because I was added to both after they had each been in existence for a while)

On the schedule, Sarah's new team is called Joey's Haunting (I have no idea what this means beyond that it is supposedly a reference to the recovering alcoholic who just left the cast of The Real World). Tonight they introduced themselves as Diamond Barf.

Sarah: It's a temporary name until we come up with something else.
Me: I like it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I took this picture last summer at Wizard World (a Chicago comic book convention). I went last year for the first time with Young, Hansen and Sarah. It was a blast.

It's coming up again at the end of the month. Even though I'm not that into comic books, I'm really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Haskins has started getting some on-air time on InfoMania, the show she writes for on the cable network current.

Haskins: [on a segment on wedding shows] The We channel puts the "We" in weddings and the "end" in feminism.

According to she has, "become the toast of the feminist blogosphere after just two outings."

I did a little googling and couldn't find the feminist blogosphere, but I did find a site where someone posted her two video segments and wrote, "Eee! I love her!"

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

As I've mentioned before I have a bad habit of constantly coming up with new side projects and then quickly abandoning them for newer randomer side projects. Most of them don't even get far enough along to see the light of day. Here's one that has...

I've been working on a podcast (along with Steve) about a fake TV show called 'Mystery Cove.' On the podcast we pretend to be the executive producers of the show, answering fan questions.

Here's what I posted on a couple different improv message boards to promote it. "I'd like to remind everyone that the third season of Mystery Cove is currently airing on FOX. We have been told unequivicably by the network that if it doesn't post better ratings this summer it will be canceled. Steve and I have put a lot of ourselves into this show over the last few years and have fought to use as much Chicago talent as possible at every level of production. I know a great number of you weren't fans of the second season and have stopped watching the show. But I think as a community, we need to support this show, even those of us who don't 'enjoy' it. As a way of reaching out to our (admittedly smaller) fanbase, Steve and I will be continuing to podcast about the production of the show, answering fan e-mails and teasing upcoming episodes."

I didn't really intend for anyone to think it was real. It was meant more as, "Hey, play along with this game I'm setting up." (There's a real e-mail address that people can send e-mails to that we read on the podcast) I got a few e-mails and there were a few forum posts, though, from people who took it as real.

Glynn: "I see Arnie and Steve on a nearly weekly basis. How have I not heard about this?" [and then later, after listening to it] "Ooooh... THAT Mystery Cove."

You can check the podcast out here. Or better yet, subscribe to it via iTunes, here (this second link will automatically open iTunes by the way).

Basically, what I'm saying is... hey, play along with this game I'm setting up.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The closing act for CIF last night was 'Sports Action Team.'

Not sure how under-the-radar it is, but a number of Chicago improvisors (including Niki, far right, who I was in James Jackson with) did two seasons of a largely-improvised syndicated Sportscenter parody show on some NBC channels. A big achievement.

My favorite story (heard third hand) about the production of the show is that studio kept telling them they needed to add more diversity to the cast by adding a Hispanic actor. Rather than recast anyone, they took Nahnson's character (far left) and simply changed her last name to Hernandez. Her character wasn't Hispanic, was never referred to as Hispanic, certainly didn't look the least bit Hispanic, but her name was Katie Hernandez. They never got another note about it from the studio after that.

I'm not sure if there's going to be a third season (I get the sense that there's not) but it still airs, and the cast improvised a live version of the show for the festival.

There had been a rumor circulating for a while that they were going to get Mike Ditka to appear with them for the live show (even last night someone cryptically whispered, "I think it's true. That person that people were saying is going to be here is going to be here."). Mike Ditka appeared on their television show numerous times, he was practically a recurring character, but he never did show up at the Lakeshore last night.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Whirled News backstage at the Lakeshore Theater before our CIF Mainstage show.

It was difficult to get Padraic to take a moment away from carefully wrapping his complimentary Chipotle performer burrito, and commit to being in this group picture.

Over the last year the Lakeshore has turned into a great venue for alternative stand-up (I saw Patton Oswald there). The dressing rooms are a little small for improv groups, though, especially the second tier one.

We were the opening act for the closing night of the festival. I think that's a pretty accurate representation of our place in improv pecking order. We're the smallest of the bigish. We should put that on our posters.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

I'm a pack rat. I keep everything, but then I can rarely find the things I want when I look for them. Last year, when writing about past jobs on my 'Year of Working' blog, I tore my apartment apart looking for a hand-drawn going-away card I was given when I left working in a microchip-making cleanroom to go teach at a high school. I knew I had it somewhere but never could find it. I ended up drawing my own crappy recreation.

I remember, while looking for that card, I came across some pictures I took at my first Chicago Improv Festial (CIF). Comedy Corner visited Chicago as a group and that's when I saw my first longform improv show and fell in love with the idea of moving to Chicago.

It was an Upright Citizen's Brigade show (this was back when they had their Comedy Central show). Their audience suggestion was "dog fucking" and they expanded that into scenes about people and their relationships with their pets and also the kind of things, good and bad, that follow us around for the rest of our lives.

I took some crappy pictures from the audience with my clunky old film camera that I only half knew how to use. I thought, "These people are on TV, I should take their picture" (During that same trip to Chicago I also took a picture of Jesse Camp, the MTV 'Who Wants to Be a VJ' winner).

The 11th annual CIF is going on this week. In fact, Whirled News is performing in it tomorrow. I thought, "I should find those pictures of that UCB show."

I tore my apartment apart again, but couldn't find them. I did, however, finally find that old hand drawn going-away card. Here it is.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Diplomat Motel did a special show at iO where we performed The Living Room. It's a simple improv form, you get a suggestion from the audience, then sit around talking for a couple minutes as yourselves, then do some scenes inspired by that conversation, going back and forth alternating between conversation and scenes. Like hanging out in a living room with people who start acting out scenes every couple minutes.

Our audience suggestion was "melon baller" and it somehow led to Eckart telling his "ball torsion" story.

Eckart: I was on a date a few years back and we... well... started fooling around. And one of my testicles started hurting. I got home and it kept hurting more and more.

Basically, he'd twisted a nut. A torsion. He explained that if the testicle doesn't get untwisted in a timely fashion it can die. He didn't say whether he knew this before going to the hospital or not, but it added a nice layer of drama to the story.

Eckart: I'm in a lot of pain and I'm doing the admittance interview. The guy behind the computer says, "So, you were with your girlfriend and..." I said, "Well... girlfriend? We haven't been dating that long. I don't know if I'd call her my GIRLFRIEND."

This led to a long string of tiny debates over the semantics of what to put in the official paperwork. All while Eckart was in extreme pain.

Eckart: The guy says, "So you were having sex.." I say, "No,it didn't get that far" The guy scratches his head. "This is a tough one. It would be easy if I could just put down intercourse." I say, "We were really just, you know, making out." Finally we agreed on 'horseplay.'

After a painful night in the ER, his testicle pretty much untwisted itself. He didn't share this next part during the show, but I've heard the story before and its one of my favorite parts... the girl somehow found out he was at the hospital and came to make sure he was okay.

She's his girlfriend now.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Here I am holding up Shane and Clair's son, Dashiell.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wrigleyville would not normally be my scene, dozens of packed clubs with long lines out front, but that's where iO is so that's where I spend a lot of my time.

Parking is tough, but as long as there's not a Cubs game it's doable. It's getting harder and harder though. More and more streets are being switched to permit-only. And now Addison, the last great hope for free parking (if you get there early enough) has switched as well.

When I saw these signs I was filled with rage. Parking Rage. I can't even park on fucking Addison now?! There's nowhere to park now! Fuck Wrigleyville! Fuck you Wrigleyville!

Later, having parked at a secret spot that will sometimes result in a ticket for no discernible posted reason, I came back to take this picture and realized that there was some small print. These signs don't go into effect until July. So I could have parked there. Fuck.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A classic improv debate recently resurfaced on one of the many Chicago improv message boards. "What is appropriate show attire? Dressy? Casual?"

We wear suits for Whirled News (the first act anyway), but for myself, I lean casual. Nice casual, certainly, no shorts, no word t-shirts, but casual. Jeans, sneakers.

Some emulate the Second City model, dress pants and ties, saying it gives the show an air of professionalism. This may be true, and I'd never tell someone to not dress up, but sometimes it seems like artifice to me, like a little girl playing dress up in her mother's closet.

One thing that draws me to improv is that on stage you are sometimes characters but you are also, always, yourself. This is me. These are my jeans. These are my sneakers. Like the hippie-dippy roots of improv, a team rises up out of the audience and disappears back into it. Of course, in those days, everyone dressed up. Audience, performers... everyone.

The most commonly quoted rule of thumb is, "Always look better than the audience."

I think I prefer what Ben wrote. "My rule of thumb for dressing up for improv shows is... always be better at improv than the audience."

Monday, June 2, 2008

I came across this old picture of performing with the Secret Show back in Arizona. Decent venues were hard to come by. We did a lot of shows at this Best Western hotel bar, moving the pool table out of the way, and performing under a black light.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Apparently Del is on Facebook now.