I had a lot of fun at the iO Halloween Party. Surrounded by creative costumes (Photo Booth, High School Musical cheerleader, Sexy Ira Glass, etc), I really regretted not dressing up. Halloween snuck up on me this year. Granted, I haven't dressed up in years, but this year I was so busy I didn't even have time to consciously decide not to get a costume.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Halloween party at work. Each year there are more babies and children in adorable costumes for the parents to bring in.
Allard was the only adult to dress up, because he owns his own gorilla costume.
Allard: Gorilla costumes are a great investment. You'll be surprised by how many opportunities there are to wear it. You can't go wrong buying a gorilla suit.
Predictably, the costume terrified several of the small children. Some of them continued screaming even after he took the mask off to prove he was a human person underneath. "Don't put it back on!!!" they screamed. "DON'T PUT THE HEAD BACK ON!!!!!"
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
I generally avoid self-promotion (besides, I guess, having a blog about myself). This isn't necessarily a good thing. When you put up a sketch show and have painfully small crowds... well, it's you're own fault.
So, I decided to send out my first ever Facebook Event Invite for this week's sketch show. Just one. Didn't want to be annoying.
Unfortunatly, some kind of Facebook glitch has resulted in the people I invited getting multiple e-mail alerts about this invitation. E-mail after e-mail. "Arnie has invited you to an event." "Arnie has invited you to an event."
So, I'm that annoying guy now.
Marla: [via e-mail] I'm super-invited!
Laura: [via e-mail] I was just about to write and say I only had one when I got another notification. Still just one actual invite, but multiple e-mail notices. And I thought it was cool that when I added invites, facebook told me which people it would not send an invitation to because they had already been invited. Apparently the right idea, the wrong execution.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Last night, after the Diplomat Motel show, Meador let us all know that because of the increasing demands of nursing school, he was going to have to step away from the team for a couple months. A hiatus. So, another close friend has left Diplomat Motel (for now, anyway).
Laura: If you need to focus on being better at saving lives, then do it. And since we're letting you go, it's like we're saving lives.
Me: That was easy.
Laura: We saved someone's life tonight!
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Old cups, bottles and cans tend to collect on my desk, especially now that I'm upstairs and all that much further from the kitchen and recycling bins.
Steveo pointed out that this combination, sitting in the middle of my desk, is funny. He picked them up and showed them to the camera on top of Poland's TV.
Poland: I hope you're not drinking those together.
Me: You're supposed to drink Blue Moon with an orange wedge, right?
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Back in Chicago doing the sketch show.
Here's a scene Alex and Glynn do about Abraham Lincoln.
One of the things Whirled News does best (or at least most) is "mapping" scenes. As I've mentioned before, mapping scenes are really just using the language of one thing to talk about another thing.
Over the five year history of Whirled News, the things we've mapped the most are probably relationships, sex, the Iraq war, and the ways various elections are run ('04 and '08). In that order.
So, in the improvised show, say we pull an article about cable operators off the back board (that's just the first thing that came to mind, I'm not trying to set myself up with a particularly ripe example). If the cable technician is shy and insists on three or four visits before installing cable, you're probably going to end up doing a sex mapping scene. If the technician declares "mission accomplished" after only getting one channel to work, it's going to be an Iraq war mapping scene. It's just that easy! And if you can work in the word "pull-out" it can work for both. These are obvious examples, and seem kind of corny here in print, but screw it, I love those kinds of scenes.
Without looking at the running order, I would say the Whirled News sketch show (as an outgrowth of the improv show) is about 50% mapping scenes. The opener is a sort of Iraq war/sex/election/children's birthday party mash-up. And this Lincoln scene has some clever jabs at the current election.
Glynn: (as campaign manager) Your opponent is going negative, and it is having an impact. First of all, there's your name.
Alex: (as Lincoln) What's wrong with my name?
Glynn: Well, your first name, Abraham... it's sort of Jewish.
Alex: What? But I'm not Jewish.
Glynn: I know sir, but it confuses some of the dumber Americans. And Douglas is using that. They're even claiming you were educated in a synagogue.
Alex: Ouch. What else?
Glynn: I hate to say it, sir, but it seems that Douglas is playing the race card. He doesn't say it outright, but he's basically calling you not a racist.
Alex: What? That son of a bitch! I'm totally a racist!
Glynn: They're very subtle about it sir, and it hurts us in the South.
Anyway, that's a little taste of the sketch show. Two more weeks to check it out.
[As if this post isn't already long enough, here's a taste from backstage.
Alex: When I say, "I think the beard makes me look like a terrorist," should I say I think it makes me look like "a fucking terrorist." Because... you know... profanity is funny.
Glynn: It might take away from when you say, "fuck it" at the end of the scene.
Alex: That's true.
Me: You gotta choose your "fucks."
Alex: You gotta choose your "fucks."]
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Canceled flights. Missed connections. A long day getting back to Chicago.
On my first flight I sat next to a nice, but talkative elderly woman from Seattle. When she found out I was from Chicago she told me the following story.
"When I was in college, in Oklahoma, we had three boys in one of my classes from Chicago. On the first day we all went around introducing ourselves and one boy said, 'I'm from a small town just north of Chicago.' I don't remember the name. Then the next boy stood up and said, 'I'm actually from a small town just north of that small town north of Chicago.' Then the next boy got up and said, 'You know, I'M from a town just north of those other two towns north of Chicago.' I'll never forget it. All three of them were from Chicago."
She was very sweet, and I politely said something like, "Oh," or "You don't say." But I was tired and cramped into an airplane seat and secretly thinking, "At your age, after all those years, THAT'S your Chicago story?"
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Great show tonight. Big crowd, big laughs. The audience was mostly, "white caps" (as someone working at the theater called them) but we could also hear college students laughing up in the balcony.
The only real criticism I would have of the show is that the second act went on way too long. The second act should always be shorter than the first. Leave them wanting more. There must have been some miscommunication somewhere along the line, though, because the lights just wouldn't come down to end the second act. So we just kept on doing more article and more scenes. The last thing we'd want to do is fall short of our contractually obligated show length.
It's hard to have an accurate sense of time onstage. And we couldn't confer with each other on the sidelines because of our ear mics (anything we'd whisper to each other would boom out into the theater). But we were all thinking, "Shouldn't this show be done by now?" We were still getting a great response from the audience but you could feel the diminishing returns.
Finally, on a big laugh, I bit the bullet and jumped forward, proclaiming, "That's our show! Goodnight!"
Our second act should probably be 30 minutes, tops. We later found out we'd gone over an hour.
Sorry we kept you out so late Louisiana.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
No show tonight. We figured we'd explore the little town we were staying in, and, since we had nothing to do until our 4pm sound check tomorrow, do some serious drinking.
Me: Is there anything fun to do in town?
Hotel Clerk: Fun? Here? Uh... we have a movie theater.
We drove around for over an hour trying to find a place to eat that wasn't a Chili's or an Applebee's. Finally we found a tiny local Mexican place that was still open.
Waiter: To drink?
Eddie: I'll have a Tecate.
Waiter: No alcohol on Sunday.
Waiter: Sorry. No alcohol sales on Sunday.
Waiter: Welcome to Louisiana.
We tried to keep a positive attitude for the rest of the night, but were ultimately unable to make our own fun. Here we are in the parking lot of the Sleep Inn, before we trudged inside to watch TV together.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Young, Eddie, Alex, Marla, Padraic and I start our brief tour through the south, doing Whirled News shows. Our first (and second) was in this beautiful old courthouse, recently turned into a theater.
Me: I don't think we've ever performed in a space with this much character before.
Theater Manager: [equally proud and exasperated] No one has. No one has performed in a place like this.
We were repeatedly reminded that this wouldn't be the kind of crowd we were used to in Chicago. Older, more conservative, religious. We passed dozens of 'McCain/Palin' signs on our way to the theater. Every yard. Which is fine... we don't have any particular agenda beyond being funny, but the question arises, "What will they accept us making fun of, and what won't they accept?"
As is usually best for these kinds of shows, we decided to play it pretty safe, taking only the gentlest of satirical jabs (at any topic) and mostly doing silly or slice-of-life scenes. To show just how safe we were playing it, Alex actually referred to someone as a "doody-head" in one of the early scenes.
As the show went on, though, the audience proved itself to be not as uptight as we'd worried, and we pushed the line more and more (although never all that far, frankly) to bigger and bigger laughs, making fun of Democrats, Republicans, religion, the president, the local paper, the theater, ourselves and ending on a joke about pubic hair that killed (the joke, not the pubic hair).
A great start to our little tour.
Friday, October 17, 2008
Went to watch Sarah do a late night show at the ATC. I ran into Joe Bill and we chatted.
He's one of the founding members of the Annoyance Theater and easily one of the best teachers I've ever had (in improv or anything really). A big part of his income comes from traveling to festivals or running corporate training workshops using improv.
We talked about the scary and dramatic decline of the economy.
Joe Bill: This could hit me hard. In an economic situation where travel, training and entertainment are the first things cut, it sucks to be someone who travels to entertain and train. Oh well, I guess I'll just be charging less than I'm truly worth for a little while.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
At the last minute, Laura had to travel out of state for a court case for, you know, her real job, being a lawyer.
Marla wasn't able to be in the whole run of the Whirled News sketch show, but she is sitting in for Laura for two weeks. She's a real trooper, jumping in to memorize the lines and not getting any real rehearsal time.
Here she is running over her lines one last time backstage before the show. This scene is about President Bush giving an exit interview to an HR person on his last day in the White House.
Marla: What would you consider your biggest accomplishment while here?
Glynn: By "biggest" are we talking best? Like... successful?
Glynn: By "successful" you mean, like, positive?
Marla: Usually, yes.
Glynn: Oh, when I-- ... nope. Nevermind.
Marla: Should we pass on that one for now?
Glynn: Yeah, Sharon, let's pass.
Marla: On the flipside, do you have any regrets about--
Glynn: Nope. Next.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I went to a party over the weekend and ran into Jordan, back in town briefly between shooting episodes of 'Friday Night Tailgate.'
He was one of the improvisers who went to Geneva with Charna a few months back to teach improv to the physicists who built the giant proton collider.
Jordan: It was neat to see them taking these simple rules we use, like "yes, and" and applying it with a critical mind to what they do. "Wait, you mean we can agree with each other and build on each other's ideas instead of just coming up with competing ideas?"
Most of the people he taught workshops for during the trip were actually American scientists.
Jordan: There was one member of one of our groups, it very quickly became clear, was from Geneva and not affiliated with CERN. He also had somewhat of a chip on his shoulder, initiating three line scenes with lines like, "Well, look at all these elitist physicists." Awkwardly inserting over-the-top passive aggressiveness into the scenes.
Obviously, this kind of attitude isn't very conducive to good improv (or learning), but I will say, in a space of mutual respect and emptied of agenda, "Well, look at all these elitist physicists" could be a pretty great scene initiation.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Half the cast of Whirled News is doing a series of shows in Texas and Louisiana this weekend. We've done a few promotional interviews.
Here's an interview Marla and I did.
Alex did an interview that I think is pretty interesting. The questions are very simple on the surface, but kind of intimidating. For instance, one of them is, "What is comedy?" As someone who's been toying with this question all year on this blog (with varying success), I feel like if I had been in Alex's place, the interview questions might have tipped me into an existential crisis.
Other questions included, "Is everything funny," "what do you think is most absurd about the human condition," and simply, "What about the audience?"
These questions make me feel a little dizzy, but Alex did a fine job with them. I've performed with Alex for years and I know that his central philosophy on performing is "be an expert." Even if he has no clue what he's talking about, especially if he doesn't know what he's talking about, he decides to be an expert and it always serves him well.
You can read all his answers here.
So, yeah, you can read him say smart things like, "Satire opens eyes in a less combative way," over there, but I'm going to share my favorite part of the interview here, which appears at the end.
Question: Maybe at its heart comedy is a celebration of human foibles in spite of our attempts to pretend we’re in control, in spite of our supposed cocksureness?
Alex: Yeah. I think that’s fair.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Diplomat Motel rehearsal at Gill Park.
I think I've written before about how the walls are usually filled with posters and schedules for children's classes. "Respect!" "Team Work!"
Sometimes a good improv rehearsal can mirror the simplicity of a grade school class. We went around a circle telling each other one thing we liked about the way they other person performed. Then we did basic three line scenes, focusing on just making sure both characters had names and giving at least one of the characters an activity to perform.
"I see you're unwrapping that present I got you."
Straightforward but effective. Little skills that get easily lost.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Struggling actors/improvisors end up taking all kinds of odd jobs. For instance Carrie and Niki, from my old improv group James Jackson, were both in the coin operated light gun video game, 'Target Terror.' An arcade game where you shoot terrorists.
Carrie plays the news reporter at the opening of each level, and Niki plays several live-action characters throughout the game, like, Sexy Female Asian Terrorist and Innocent Bystander With Pigtails That Seems To Be Wandering Around Oil Tanker For No Apparent Reason.
Once, on a lark, Young and I played through almost the entire game at an arcade, wasting more and more quarters so we could keep shooting our friends. According to Young we spent about $40, which seems crazy to me now, but he's probably right.
I recently found out that the game is now out on the Wii. In fact, it's been out for months. The reviews were terrible (the reason I found out about the Wii release at all, was that it was included on a list I stumbled across on-line of awful broken games). So, of course, I bought it. Used.
Kid Working At Video Game Store: We have a USED copy of this? I can't believe anyone bought this game.
I e-mailed Carrie (who's back in Chicago after a summer internship working for 'Ugly Betty' and 'Pushing Daisies') and Niki (who has retired from Second City's ETC stage, and I believe is moving out west soon) to find out if they knew about this development.
Carrie: I'm so glad I haven't seen it. I think I'm the most terrifying part of the whole thing.
Niki never e-mailed me back. I'll have to vent my frustrations over being ignored by shooting her characters.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
The usual Whirled News postshow dinner and drinks at Salt and Pepper.
We talked a bit about the special Election Night Show we're going to do on... well... election night. A place for people to come and drink while they watch election coverage, with us doing bits (some preplanned, some spur of the moment) during the commercials. They did it four years ago (I was in Arizona at the time and missed it).
Shane: It was a lot of fun. People played Halo. Marla and Padraic had a debate about why people from their home state, Florida, keep messing up elections. Of course, things got progressively sadder as the night went on.
Marla: Oh yeah. Some of the audience was crying.
Steve talked about a show he'd done recently with another group he performs with at iO, Bullet Lounge.
Steve: We asked for a suggestion from the audience and someone yelled out, "Sarah Palin." So the opening turns into us saying, "You know, we should pick an inexperienced woman out of the audience and have her do the show with us. Be our Sarah Palin." And we picked some girl out of the audience, it turns out she's a level three student, I think. And we made her be in every scene. Halfway through the show I started thinking to myself, "Wait, by the very premise we've set up for this show... did we want or expect this audience member to do badly?" But she was great. She did a really great job. So, take that however you want.
Friday, October 10, 2008
I've written before about iO (and the entire Chicago improv scene) being a transitional place. Lots of turnover. Most of the performers I looked up to when I was starting out are gone, and the majority of my own improv generation has either moved to one of the coasts or found that they ultimately didn't have enough time for performing.
Shotts, though, claims he's sticking around. Forever.
Shotts: I remember sitting here, at this bar, early on, and thinking, "This is it. I'm a lifer."
This photo was supposed to recreate that "I've found my home" moment, but somehow came out looking less positive.
Shotts: [laughing] Oh god!
Me: It came out less, "yes, this is the life" and more "oh no.. my life!"
Shotts: Eh. Keep it. Use it.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Today, Whirled News did a special improv show at the high school where Nick teaches Drama and Improv. As usual for these kinds of things, we wanted to be extra careful about language and content.
Nick: [via e-mail] My principal pulled me aside today to let me know that a few kids in the school who are outed Republicans/Conservatives/etc have been getting blasted by other kids lately and really made to feel like shit. Anyway, he asked if I could tell you guys to try to aim jokes at both sides during your show.
In the school auditorium, in front of 400 students and about 30 teachers, we did a totally clean show (the only possible eyebrow raiser was Megan doing a scene about a woman trying to get other people to take her cervical cancer exam for her, but it was more tastefully done than you might guess). Political balance ended up not being a concern because none of the articles the students cut out were about the election.
Doing these kinds of shows can sometimes be a drag, more work than fun, but today's was a real pleasure. They were a great audience and we gave them a tight, funny show. One of the articles we used was from the school paper, inspiring us to do a series of scenes about the school itself, which, of course, killed. Everyone seemed happy.
Although, at one point, I looked out into the audience and glimpsed a teacher standing off to the side repeatedly shaking her head back and forth, as if thinking to herself, "No. No. No. This isn't right. No." For a moment I worried that we'd somehow slipped up and offended the teaching staff, but I later found out that she has some kind of nerve disorder.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Steveo has a notoriously cluttered desktop. Icons covering every free space on his two monitors. On April 1st, Allard took a screen shot of Steveo's desktop, made it the wallpaper on Steveo's computer and moved some of the actual icons around. Then we waited to see how long it would take for Steveo to notice.
It took about half a year.
Steveo: I figured I'd finally auto-arrange my desktop, but some of the folders didn't move and I couldn't get them to do anything even if I clicked on them. I couldn't figure it out until Allard told me what he'd done.
Here's Steveo with his new, "cleaned-up" desktop.
Monday, October 6, 2008
After a few months without an official coach, Diplomat Motel is jumping back on the rehearsing-every-week wagon. Here's our new coach, Todd.
There was some scheduling confusion and Gill Park placed us in a tiny room with the radio play-by-play of the season ending White Sox game coming out of a small speaker in the ceiling. Not very conducive to rehearsing. So, instead we had a discussion about the direction of the team. A where-are-you-going,-where-have-you-been sort of thing.
Todd asked questions like, "Does the name Diplomat Motel have any special significance to the way you play as a team?" and "What one thing does Diplomat Motel do better than any other team at iO?" We gave answers like, "That's a good question," "I don't know," and "I'm not certain why but it seems important that the name is Motel and not Hotel."
Sunday, October 5, 2008
My key to the laundry room has gone missing. The landlord can be tough to get a hold of sometimes, so I asked the owner of the dry cleaners downstairs if I could borrow his key. It's odd to ask the owner of a dry cleaning establishment to help you get into a free laundry room, but he's a good guy and lent me the key without hesitation.
I asked him about his bird, which I hadn't seen around in some time.
Me: How's Kevin? Your bird.
Dry Cleaning Guy: Oh, I don't have him anymore.
Me: Did he... die?
Dry Cleaning Guy: No. I just don't have him. He flew away. A long time ago.
Dry Cleaning Guy: Yeah.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Trupe's 30th birthday party. Here he is with Wonak and their daughter Vivian (with a special appearance by Nick's daughter, Jane).
We had some drinks at O'Donovan's. The Halloween decorations were up and I pretended to get stuck in the giant spider webs. Not even the little kids laughed at that one.
Later, some of us watched the painful last game of the Cubs season at my apartment.
Trupe: Ugh. The second the game is officially over, you need to change the channel. The second.
Nick: [holding remote control at the ready] I will. The second the last out is called, I'll change it.
Trupe: I don't want to see any of their celebrating. Change it!
Friday, October 3, 2008
'Yes We Can't,' the Whirled News sketch show opened last night. Since we were competing with both the Vice Presidential Debate and a Chicago Cubs playoff game, we figured we'd have a very very small crowd. Showing up at the theater and seeing all the nearby streets closed off for the Cubs game, it became even clearer. No one was going to come. Under those circumstances I wouldn't have come (and I subtly suggested to a few people that they wait for a better week).
We decided to view it as a positive. The show is still a little rough around the edges and we could use the time to do a dress rehearsal.
Chin: We knew this was going to be a soft opening.
Then two people showed up. So... we did the show for two people. It's a little awkward to have only two people in the audience (especially during the audience participation scene I wrote), but it also keeps you more honest than a dress rehearsal, because even though it's just two people, it's an audience. No starting over. No yelling, "Line!"
We had to delay the start of the show by a few minutes.
Glynn: [whispering backstage] Are we ready to go?
Me: [whispering] We're holding. The entire audience is in the bathroom.
Midway through the show, I sneaked over by the bar and took a picture of the whole room. Cast on stage, Brady in the booth, lights shining down, two people in the audience (for whatever reason sitting in the fifth row, way over to the right side). It was blurry, but still, a great picture. Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted all the pictures on my camera. A painful loss. So, like all live theater, good and bad, the moment is gone. You just had to be there. And I feel fairly confident you weren't.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Both Chicago baseball teams are in the playoffs. Sarah is an avid White Sox fan. I am a Cubs fan in as much as I am a sports fan at all, which is not very much.
I realized recently that the question I ask most often when watching baseball is, "What is the longest a baseball game has ever gone on?"
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
This week's 'Time Out Chicago' has some nice things to say about Whirled News Tonight. With the election season heating up they did a piece reviewing various Chicago news-based shows.
They write, "We have all of the makings of a citywide political-comedy powerhouse, but why is most of what’s out there—with the exception of WNT and parts of Second City’s shows—broad, obvious and boring?" Later on they write, "Where _____ falls flat, Whirled News excels. It wisely humanizes its players via improv, thereby creating honest, hilarious political commentary."
Steve is singled out in the piece as being "casually brilliant," something he's sure to be teased about when we all see him next. This was the same reviewer who referred to Steve as an "urban folk artist picking material off the street" in a review of his (admittedly great) sketch show with Jordan. Mr. Heisler lurvs Steve.
And luckily he seems to like Whirled News too. He writes that our upcoming sketch show 'Yes, We Can't,' "has the potential to be the brightest of the bunch." Well, we'll see. It opens tomorrow.
You can read the article here.
Edited to add: Apparently Whirled News was also mentioned on the local TV show 'Chicago Tonight.' (You may remember this is the show Glynn and I appeared on back in January, making jokes about the years biggest news stories) An editor from Time Out shared fun tips for weekend activities with the host, Phil Ponce. Near the end she recommends Whirled News, explaining how we pull news clippings off of the back wall to inspire our scenes.
Phil Ponce: So, this show is... literally... off the wall?
Time Out Editor: Oh... Phil...
You can see the video here. The brief WNT discussion is at 4:45.