What’s all this then?

This week I have some exciting news to share. A screenplay I wrote, Super High Maintenance, is a finalist in the Stage 32 Annual Comedy Writing Contest.

What is most remarkable is that I had no idea I was even in the running. I did enter, several months ago, but when they announced the quarterfinalists, I didn’t see my name. I felt badly for about a day, and then moved on.

Last week I received an email announcing that the finalists for the contest. I clicked on the link, thinking I might know one of the names. As it turned out, I did.

You might wonder, as I did, how did he NOT make the quarterfinals and then end up a finalist?

The solution is fairly simple, there were two categories, features, which I entered, and TV, which was listed first. Apparently, I failed to notice that there were two lists, and inadvertently saved myself the anxiety of waiting for each cut.

Of course, now I have to wait to find out how I do. Anxiety finds a way.

Here’s a link to the contest page, you might recognize one of the names. But make sure you don’t stop halfway.

https://www.stage32.com/happy-writers/contests/3rd-Annual-Comedy-Writing-Contest

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Posted in Thoughts

Weren’t Your Scared?

Recently, someone asked me if I ever got stage fright when doing improv. I have to admit, when I started it was scary. After all, I had to make stuff up on the fly. There’s no script to fall back on. What if I don’t know what to say?

One of my earliest improv teachers, Tom Soter, used to say, we’re all improvising all the time and he’s correct. People don’t have lines written for us in advance, memorized and ready to deliver on cue. We’re all just making it up as we go along. Certainly, we do write ourselves dialogue when we want to say something important, but since other people don’t have the script, those scenes often go off in unexpected directions. Life might be improvised but not everyone says “Yes And.”

Working with scripted material is great fun, especially if it is well crafted. Excellent dialogue is a joy to act. If it’s not great, it can be a rewarding challenge. Not always of course, but you do what you can. Even with the best script it’s possible to forget lines. Being able to improvise can help, but like a backup parachute, you’re glad to have it but hope to never use it. That sounds a bit dramatic but we’re talking about acting after all.

One of the wonderful things about improv is you can never forget your lines. Or blocking. If you just listen to and respond to your scene partner, you’re all good. You might not be funny, but that’s something else entirely.

Performing improv is essentially play. Kids play all the time but eventually we’re taught that play is frivolous. There are many adult games but very few have the pure joy of doing improv. Play is fun. Children are rarely afraid of play. Frightened of bullies maybe, but not play.

It seems I may have digressed from stage fright, which was what I began this with. Okay, once you have the basics down for improv, there is no reason to have stage fright. Unless you have to sing. Oh, you LOVE to sing? Must be nice. I’ll be having a panic attack while you croon.

Posted in Yes and so this happened

Six little words

This past week was a pretty terrible one for the world. Of course, it feels like the world is beat up every day. People cleverer than myself have offered wisdom on how to cope with this, for which I am eternally grateful. All I have to offer this week is more six-word stories. They will not solve anything but they might make you smile. Enjoy.

The small fight, and titans topple.

Work drains soul, fills my wallet.

Drink tonight, regret it all tomorrow.

Life hack this, always a cost.

Never look back, sorrow is there.

If you don’t ask, who knows?

So much is left unseen, unread.

Walking gunslinger, six bullets, six names.

Cyborg clanks, but nanos are silent.

Sleep’s sweet embrace, or deeds done.

One more, the lie we tell.

Sometimes it is better, not always.

Too many questions, hit the road.

Nothing to say, too damn hot.

Posted in Uncategorized

Dutch Courage

Performing on stage, for most people is a terrifying prospect. People are more afraid of public speaking than of death. These days, the rise of fascism probably ranks higher, but most folk still don’t want to get up in front of a group and speak, to say nothing about being funny.

Some say that if you’re feeling anxious, a drink will calm your nerves. This technique is also called Dutch courage. This is not a slur against the Dutch. It was coined by English soldiers who drank Dutch gin to calm their nerves before fighting in the Anglo-Dutch Wars. So simmer down Netherlands and maybe England needs to slow down.

My friend and fellow improviser, Matt Higgins, was recently asked if he ever had a drink before performing. His reply, and I’m paraphrasing, was that he didn’t because he felt that it dulled his mind and it’s important to be focused while on stage. Matt is perhaps the best improviser I’ve ever seen. He lives his life in an improv way, seeing the gift in the every day. He is also doing a Kickstarter for an improv video project, the link is at the bottom and I suggest you support him.

Even after many years of improvising, I still get a little nervous before a show. I don’t even like to eat before a show, being full makes me logy but hunger sharpens my mind. To play devil’s advocate, booze does break down inhibitions, a quality that is not only to be admired but is necessary for good improv.

I’ve only done one show under the influence, and here’s how it went. On the evening of a show I was in, I was invited to have an early dinner with a woman who I was happy to dine with. We cooked together and she opened a bottle of wine.

Now I’m a gentleman and if a lovely woman opens a bottle of wine, only an utter bounder would refuse to share it with her. Even if you prefer beer or whisky, clink those glasses and drink deep.

All too quickly, show time is approaching. I say goodnight and dash off to the theater, which was fortunately quite close, and arrive just before the curtain went up. Full disclosure, it was only a metaphorical curtain, but it’s a better image than a bunch of improvisers sitting on the side of a black box theater.

You might be asking, so how did the show go in your inebriated state? Did you forget what was going on mid-scene? Was there stumbling and falling. We’re you obstreperous? Did it come to blows?

The sad fact is this. None of those things happened. When I said “sad” I mean “delightful.” Fortunately I struck the right balance of wine and dinner. Forgot I also had dinner? Well I did.

Honestly, it was a great show, I felt completely uninhibited in the best possible way. I yes anded the hell out of that show. It felt effortless.
And I’ll never do it again. It could’ve gone the other way so very easily. I’ve done a few shows with improvisers who have indulged and it doesn’t always go that well. It’s all too easy to become a burden to your fellow performers while under the influence.

With the benefit of hindsight, my experience was a lucky accident. I’m not always that fortunate. For example, I never had dinner at that woman’s place again. But that might have been for the best. Lets just leave it at that.

Please remember, the time to get hammered and make a fool of yourself is after the show.

If you want to support Matt Higgins Kickstarter, and you should, he’s the best, here’s the link!

Posted in Yes and so this happened

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.

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