Try this

I’m a little at a loss as to what to write about this week. There are certainly a multitude of topics to discuss based only on what is going on in the world. Admittedly, most of what is happening it horrifying. I’m not sure what I have to add to the cacophony, except the following

This week, I urge my faithful readers to do one of these super obvious things.

Create something-Write a poem, cook a meal, or even build a little fort from office supplies. Bringing something into the world, that is non-destructive, is a tick in the good column. If you’re feeling ambitious, start a novel, design a game, or build a house, small or large, it makes no difference.

Spend time with friends-Everybody is busy, I get it. On your death bed, you will not be thinking, “I’m so happy I stayed home to watch Downton Abby for the fifth time instead of going to meet my friends for dinner.” It’s easy to retreat from the world and sometimes it’s necessary. However, time spent with people you care for and who care for you will make you happy. It seems obvious but it’s forgotten all too readily.

Do something just for you-We are often running errands for family and friends, to say nothing of our day to day jobs. Just take a moment to indulge yourself. It can be listening to some music, reading a good book, or whatever makes you happy. You know what your like, I haven’t the foggiest notion. Just do that thing.

Pet an animal-If you have a cat or dog, you’re all set. They are already likely to demanding such affection. No pet? Visit a friend or loved one with an animal companion. Make sure they are friendly, both the friend and the pet. Just remember, the best dog in the world is the one you are currently petting and the best cat is the one that hasn’t scratched you.

Do something kind-Open the door, hold the elevator, or in a non-entrance related thought, compliment someone unexpectedly. Life is rough but not just for you. We’re all dealing with our own things. Just do something nice for someone, it costs literally nothing but a moment of your time. In other words, don’t be a jerk.

I’m sure there are any number of things you can do to make life better but maybe try just one of these. None of these suggestions is terribly original but they do work. Prove me wrong.

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Posted in Thoughts

I’m funny on my Father’s side

It will be Father’s Day this coming Sunday and I’m sharing with you, my faithful readers, some memories of my late father. Specifically about my dad and comedy.

I have to say, I can trace my love of comedy to my father. When I was a child, my folks and I would go see revivals of Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati films and my dad once took me to see National Lampoon’s Animal House. In retrospect, that seems inappropriate but we both enjoyed ourselves so lets call it a wash.

I used to love telling jokes to my dad but as a child I was an appallingly bad joke teller. Though in my defense, all kids are appalling joke tellers. We’re all too excited to get to punch line and have absolutely no sense of timing. My dad told me as much but more kindly.

Of course, as I got older, my dad and I didn’t always see eye to eye. I don’t suppose that’s unusual, most sons and fathers disagree on things. Even in comedy, I adored Monty Python, which mystified him, though we both enjoyed Faulty Towers. Abbot and Costello, I Love Lucy were not to his taste though I consumed as much I as could even if he mocked them.

And of course we fought about other things, after college he suggested I get a job a the Post Office which at the time translated as “I don’t think you can succeed.” It hurt me deeply at the time, though I never told him. Years later, I understood that he felt that a government job was stable and meant I would be safe. It really meant, “I love you and I want you to be safe.” I wish he had said it more plainly but I’ll have to be satisfied with knowing what he was saying. Which is more than other people have.

When I started to do sketch comedy, I never invited my folks to come see me. It may have been that I wanted to have a part of my life that was just mine, plus a dose of insecurity about not making them laugh. It’s not a rational fear, like the fear of sharks, but it was real enough for me.

The first time my parents saw me do comedy on stage was at Caroline’s in Times Square. No pressure. I think because the room was so big, and fortunately we had a full house. For historical purposes, I should say that this was my sketch group SPANK!, comprised of Jonny Fido, Janice Bremec and myself, directed by Mike Benicvenga. Also we were shared the stage with Ms. Dee’s Iced Tea, an extremely funny group of people.

Not to brag, but the show was a huge success, both groups got many, many laughs. When I saw my parents after the show, they were both impressed. Now we’re coming back to the translation aspect of this remembrance.

I know that my dad did not necessarily get all the jokes. Which is not to say my dad was not smart. He was a very intelligent man, smarter than I am in many respects. But there is that age gap between parents and their children that makes communication difficult.
Even if he didn’t get all the jokes or references, he did see me stand on stage, with confidence, and he heard a large roomful of people laugh at what I said. I like to think that made an impression on him. But then again, we never talked about it, which was our way.

Posted in Thoughts, Yes and so this happened

Thank God for Dave

How is comedy like an orgy? It is best done in the dark and it should have a lot of people involved. I know that sounds like a dirty riddle but it’s true.

Comedy, is a vampire’s art, best done when the Sun has set and indoors. Do you think that’s nonsense? Name one outdoor comedy festival, I’ll wait… That’s what I thought. Music loves to play outside but jokes are hiding in the basement.

The reason is, and you may well know this, but under the cloak of darkness, people feel free to laugh. It’s like wearing a mask on Halloween, that sort of anonymity is freeing. Being in a large crowd enhances that.

While it’s easy to turn down the house lights, it’s not always easy to fill the audience up. Especially as you continue to do shows on a regular basis, even more so when it is a performance workshop.

I was in one such workshop, the Wingnuts. We did shows every other week, which is a great way to learn, you can’t stop a scene in a show because it’s gone off the rails, you need to figure out how to right the ship. I’ve mixed my metaphors but you know what I mean.

One week, we had more people on stage than in seats, which is never good. Except one of those people was a man named Dave Storck. Dave was a former Wingnut and came to support us. He’s a good improviser and a good guy. He sat in that tiny black box theater and laughed his ass off.

There may or may not have been other people at that show, but it didn’t matter because Dave was there. He was not self-conscious about being the only one laughing and it made it easy get through what might have been a soul crushing evening.

Sometimes, all it takes is one person to laugh to get things off on the right note. And if you’re lucky, you have someone like Dave there. But if you can get Dave, do it, he’s got a really good laugh.

Posted in Yes and so this happened

Secret Invisible Dinosaur

I met my friend and fellow improviser, Andy McCann in an improv class. This was in a kindergarten classroom, because Chicago City Limits did shows and offered classes at the Jan Hus church and school on the Upper East Side.

There are times when you know that you will be friends with someone immediately. I knew that when Andy picked up a wooden dinosaur and moved it about while making growling sounds. The instructor had told him to find something in the room that delighted him.

Both Andy and I are big fans of science-fiction and fantasy, which is one of the cornerstones of our friendship, as well as our love of improv. Unsurprisingly, we often found ways of blending the two together.

We were doing a long form narrative, and in one scene, briefly discussed a secret submarine base. It did not overtake the story, it was just an aside, and it amused us.

However, it didn’t amuse Tom Soter, whose show this was. He felt that it was a distraction. As a result, he didn’t put us in scenes together after that, though I recall we found ways of working together.

Sometime after the secret submarine base incident, I was in a scene where I was doing some space work, which is a fancy way of saying I was pretending to do something physical without the benefit of props or set pieces. In this case it was building a robot.

Tom, who I can only assume thought this was more of my nonsense, announced that there WAS no robot, because he couldn’t see it. Now Tom is an excellent teacher and I can thank him for many of my skills due to his classes. But it was an out and out denial, a big improv mistake. It’s fortunate he trained me so well because I responded, “Of course you can’t see the robot, he’s invisible!”

It’s important to remember that relationships are the lynchpin of improv narrative, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not room for more fantastic elements, especially if they’re secret and invisible.

Posted in Yes and so this happened

Secret Origin

Before I was in the Chainsaw Boys I wasn’t. This is my way of saying that I was not a founding member. It was however, filled with my friends and I went to see them perform a number of times in the early part of their run.

That summer, it was sometime in the 1990’s, they were doing a ten week run at a space on the lower east side called the candle factory, or perhaps it was the candle room. In any event, it was aptly named, as it was comprised of exposed wooden planks and floorboard and one matchstick away from a horrific blaze. Additionally there was no AC or back entrance. This space is now a very chic restaurant with no fire hazards. Or so I would guess, I can’t afford to eat there.

I was asked if I would do the lights for them one week, which I did. The next week, one of their members, Karen Bergreen, who is now a noted stand-up, could not perform so they asked if I would sub, which I did.

Over the ten week run, I did five shows. A fellow improviser, Todd Stashwick asked me if I was in the Chainsaw Boys to which I replied, “I don’t know, you’d have to ask them.”

At the end of the summer, Mike Bencivenga was asked if he could put together a show for a venue downtown. He asked the Chainsaw Boys and another group to do to short sets, which we did.

While at drinks afterwards, they asked Mike, his then girlfriend Karen, Bethany Pagliolo and myself to join. Consider this the secret origin of the Chainsaw Boys. I guess it’s not really a secret, you can tell whomever you like.

Posted in Yes and so this happened

The laughter of strangers

Getting people to come see you do improv is a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns. At first, your friends and family are happy, even excited to see you make stuff up on stage. But you will find that their enthusiasm will weaken and disappear with time. You can say to them truthfully that each show is different, but unless they love improv unconditionally, or love you the same way, don’t expect people to consistently come to each show.

This is aggravating and disappointing at first, but you will grow to accept and understand it after a while. Especially if you go to other improv shows. Trust me, you will get it.

Sometimes, you get to perform in front of strangers who know nothing about you and aren’t there out of any obligations. I’m going to share with you one of those rare times.

I was doing a midweek show at a café near Columbia University which was usually sparsely attended. It was no reflection on the performers, all of whom were excellent. Please see my comments above. Our show was in the smaller space on the lower level and that night, the larger space was hosting a banquet for fifty Scottish architecture students who were returning to Edinburgh the next day.

Our director, one Tom Soter, asked their professor if they would like us to do a short show for them after the one we were scheduled to do. He agreed. If he didn’t, this would be a very different sort of story.

So, we came upstairs and did a forty-five minute show. It might seem exhausting to do two shows back to back but a larger and enthusiastic crowd does wonders for your energy level.

We do a variety of short forms, which go over very well and we end with a soap opera. For those of you too young to know what a soap opera is, it’s a Telenovela in English.

Now to humblebrag a bit, I was known for doing an excellent Scottish accent, at least by American standards. So I’m put in the first scene but I don’t do the accent, which makes Tom wonder WTF I’m doing. But I do mention my twin who was brought up in Scotland.

In the next scene, I break out the accent and the place goes nuts! I don’t remember any of the plot, but every time I spoke like a Scotsman, I got huge laughs.

Afterwards, I shook a lot of hands, and one of the students asked me how I learned to speak like that. I told him I watched a lot of TV. His reply was, “Yeah, a lot of crap TV.” That sounds like an insult when written out but his tone wasn’t dismissive. I’m not sure if he was making a comment on the state of Scottish media or TV in general, but he liked the show.
So here’s to crap TV!

Posted in Yes and so this happened

Two worlds collide

This week I’m mashing up my love of improv and haiku. Please enjoy.

In life we say no
On stage, a different story
Yes and all night long

A one word story
Go to the store, see mother
Happens every time

Musical improv
Reverse-engineer your joke
Singing is gravy

Was this a good show
Wow, you are so very brave
Bad show, time to drink

What will you say next
Just pay attention and watch
It is all right there

Posted in Yes and so this happened