Thursday, December 4, 2008
When I got the call from my Dad, the first response I had was "wow", but in my head, I was thinking, "Wow-how are all of the women in Nana B's family going to sit in one room to talk and still get through in one single day."
For the last few months, she had been trying to desensitize us to her illness. She was talking about accepting that she wasn't going to be around, and that wasn't easy to hear. But she made sure she said something every time we talked to her to remind us- we'd have to live without her and she was really going to be okay with the idea. She was really ready for this. She was the one who understood that every day was another day closer for the end for her. And , she wanted to make sure we heard her laughing as much as possible.
The day she talked to me about her illness for the first time, she was excited about getting to buy wigs- like a movie star. She wondered if she'd get too skinny. Like a movie star. She was awe inspiring- and much smarter than any movie star. Even now I can't picture her without her big old smile, saying, 'Yeah, I know it, I know it'.
The last time we talked she was out of breath, and had just a few seconds in her. But she talked about seeing Frannie's grandbaby, and how excited she was that she was going to go to Vegas, and maybe even have a drink. Jeanne was looking forward to seeing everyone. As usual, she hid how much she was hurting, and didn't want to talk about it too much. She made a quick joke about being too skinny and that she was thinking of Burger King. But she couldn't talk very long and that was the last time we chatted.
I have several of her phone messages. She called on my birthday, on Ricky's birthday, and even on Lincoln's birthday. We talked at least once every couple of weeks, but I never felt like we talked enough. On Thanksgiving, by the time we got home from a friend's house- it was too late that day, and I put off calling her because I worried she would be out of breath. I figured- she'll be here in a week, I'll say hello in person. I can almost hear her in my mind saying, "How did that work out?" and laughing about it. The last message I had was her telling me that she decided to go visit people- and she was giggling about it. She was just thrilled that she was going to have what she called, her "Big Bang Party" and was eager to see everyone.
Her family was the reason she stayed around so long. She loved her grand-kids and was sad about being sick around them. She joked with me a lot about Ricky and their lives as kids. I won't repeat a word. But I'll smile a little more around my dad, now. That was her magic. She wanted to laugh, and she was really great at it. That's what her legacy really is- and that's why I think everyone should think of that smiling face and not the illness that took her. That's all I can see now. That's what she gave me- and it was worth a billion dollars, six countries, and a bottle of cola. Maybe a Whopper, Jr., too.
Thanks to the comedians in Comed-o-Therapy, she was able to have a night where she laughed that BIG laugh, wore that movie star hat, and even was surrounded by family. It was a lot of her in that room- and a lot of laughter that she needed. I can't thank the comedians enough. The next show will be in her memory rather than her honor. And we will carry her laughter.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
She has become an OUT performer because of the recent election issues, and she made that perfectly clear in her Las Vegas show this past week. I can think of women who are on stage and television now who just won't make that announcement because even today, in 2008, it affects their careers. That makes me heartbroken.
The world I grew up in was very tolerant of gay folks, and my dad worked as an electrician on a club called Buddies in Boston, so I got to meet people like Divine when I was still pretty young. I was never told "gay" was abnormal. I was never told "gay" was bad.
A friend of mine has a daughter who was in the playground with two boys who were ranting- at age 7 and 6- that gay people were not going to heaven. Fortunately I don't believe in heaven, but if I did, I know it couldn't exist without my gay pals. But, this little girl took a stand and told the boys that LOVE is what makes a good parent. She was awesome for saying so. And, her mom is awesome for letting her daughter KNOW that people are who they are- genetics do what they do- and love people regardless.
Wanda came out to a crowd who only knew her from Tracey Ullman's shows, or the Wanda Sykes Show. They didn't see her at any weddings, nor did they see her talking about Prop 8 on television. They just were there to see a woman who makes them laugh- and they didn't judge her announcement as a betrayal, nor did they leave the show. They DO NOT CARE because she is a funny person. She is a PERSON, and she's a funny one. Period. No one struck her with lightening for telling the truth, and no one started to hate her comedy just because she isn't heterosexual, (nor white, nor male). She is a funny lady.
If only we could have been that smart during the elections this year. If only there were enough smart people saying "I may not want to vote for people because it all seems the same- but I will vote for the Bills and Laws that matter to me." There weren't smart people who said, "Wait, YES means I don't want rights? THAT is silly." There weren't enough smart people who said, "EVERYONE matters in this country, no matter their orientation, age, country of origin, and ability to physically do things." I don't like the word "race" because I always thought we were the Human Race, and homo sapien doesn't split up into genus of homo sapien hetoro, and homo sapien homo. It just genetically reads Homo Sapien.
Wanda made a few hundred people laugh. She makes a few thousand people laugh. And, she is now admittedly part of another minority. Not just female. Not just black. Just gay. That's how some people will see her now. And that is not what comedy is about. Comedy is about the common tragedy we all face, and the ability to see the absurdity throughout it all. It is about the common issues we have as human beings. Sykes knows this, and now she faces those who are unclear that we are people first, and titles second. (or tenth, or thirtieth)
It was a blast walking up and down the Pro-rights Rally in Las Vegas yesterday. (Pictures at picasaweb.google.com/gimpyratcat, under short bus in Las Vegas Rally.) It was a blast seeing people who care about people. It was a blast being one of those people. And, I'm honored to know that Wanda Sykes, comedian, is now Wanda Sykes, GAY comedian, because she just opened up her common issues to the group of folks fighting hard to be heard. She is heard. That's a huge step forward.
If only we could all be so honest.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
There were two comedy nights during the visit. The first was in a town near where I spent some interesting years. Montebello is kind of the gateway to Pasadena, or the last stop before you hit Cerritos. Either way, it's a nice town with a strong Latino heritage, and some down-home shops on the main drag. One of the restaurants features a comedy night, hosted by Erik Schulte, (not sure did I spell that right? I think so..). In either case, I used to hang out there when I was living in South Pasadena, in search of thrift stores and enchiladas.
The Wild Coyote doesn't seem like a place that would a. host comedy and 2. be in a Latino town. The walls held posters of Marilyn Monroe, (marylina monrovia?) and Megadeth- as one of the members of stated band plays there now and again. There is a small 5 x 5 stage in the corner by the restaurant side of the bar, and it has probably one of the crappiest sound systems..appropriate for Megadeth I guess... and one of the nicest sound guys ever. The waitress is somewhat absent minded, but her legs make up for it..as that seemed to distract many people still waiting for liquid as I type. The tables were pretty far from the stage- about 18 feet or so- and there was a dance floor, so there was kind of a weird effect with the crowd.
The line-up included six or seven people..about the right size for a room that small... and the majority of these were students at El Cerritos City College or somesuch who are taking- no lie- stand-up comedy classes. That made for a GREAT place to play new material, and test out bits. The only drawback..the sound was so bizarre that it was hard to tell if the crowd was able to hear..and there were running televisions..including a few giant screens. So while the Phillies were clobbering the Rays, I was on stage hoping I wasn't the only one hearing the feedback into the microphone. I was., apparently..as the video doesn't have any of the weird bleed audio that I was hearing.
Erik does a good job of hosting- he doesn't do too much material in between sets, and he is generous with time to the comics. He also listens to the people on stage, and seems to really enjoy the job. That makes for a good emcee and a great host. I can't tell you how many times I've been in rooms where the guy/gal decides it's okay to do 10 minutes between each act- driving both comics and audience members crazy. He was supportive of the new group, and kind to us old-timers.
There was one guy left when Grace and I had to leave..neither of us leaves a show before the last guy, usually, but the last guy was running really, really long. His name was on the posters, so I am sure that had a lot more to do with it- and he was making the fatal comedy mistake of YELLING INTO A MICROPHONE, which you don't need to do, especially in a room that seats about 40 people. As a result..I never got to thank Erik, but it was a worthy room for the drive, and I recommend it to people who want to test material, or play in a bar for crowd work.
Friday, Grace and I were also booked at another room together. It's great having a comedy-buddy to play with, because you get to see how the act progresses, and can help each other with notes to punch up punchlines. This time we hit Mar Vista, and joined David Corrado at his Friday Night show in St. Bede's basement.
This room is quite intimate. There is a general atmosphere of "try stuff out, we'll love you", and there are probably only 12 people around- which means you are fairly driven to play to your friends. We got there, and David played some pre-show music from the 50's which inspired regular visitors, a couple well into their oh- 200's? Okay maybe 80's... to dance their butts off. They were ADORABLE- she was doing her best Busby Berkely, and he was Fred Astairing. Nice warm start.
Last time I was there, I tried a bit that hadn't been on any stage before. Nor since. But, this time, it was standard jokes, testing things out for use on Onyx stages. It worked well, and having Grace to bounce off of during the event only made it better. Dana Snow was there again, and unfortunately wasn't feeling all that well. I did get to meet a few other comics I hadn't had a chance to chat with before- including Rosie Tran.
It's unusual for a room to book more than one female a night- having three was a blast. We had our own approaches, and none of us used any of the same topics. We each had a casual demeanor and it makes for a supportive, happy show. Rosie has an infectious smile, and even when her jokes didn't go over...very rarely..she was so charming it made up for it. There were four guys up that night too... and they each had different appeal. All stayed the whole show, and all were very fun to watch.
David is also a wonderful host- he pays attention to all of the people he books, and is very good about watching time. I am one of those who times her act before hand so I figured- I had six minutes, I did six minutes. But David will let people do more time if they want it- and he notices when people struggle with too much time. So many emcees don't get that.
If you're in the LA area and want to do some work-out rooms, these two are on my "yep, they are great" list. You won't get the laughs you would in a standard comedy club, but you'll understand your own material better. If you want to use a camera to catch how you're doing, that's easy. The hosts are cordial and the audiences are happy to see you.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
When I hear an insurance bit I think back to Alan King. When I think of bits about teaching, I think about Dennis Wolfberg, whose bug eyed delivery always made the bit better than it was. When I think of a white jewish girl pretending to be a big black man, it's Karen Haber. And, when I think of the Wizard of Oz, it's Lois Bromfeld. My personal heroes- Phyllis Diller and Moms Mabley did the "I'm ugly" bit long before others did. And, they did them right. The first time.
These bits are all on you-tube, and other websites, and are readily available. If you see them, you can see who is doing the exact routines. Mark Pitta, for instance, does one of the best Robert DeNiro imitations ever...because he LOOKS like DeNiro when he's not doing it. When I saw some kid imitating Pitta doing DeNiro, it just didn't ring true. He was imitating Pitta doing DeNiro and it was just not correct. It was mimicry at best, and falsely inflated ego at worst.
The fact is, there are thousands of us with ADD. There are thousands of us bringing note cards up on stage, and using THAT as part of the bit. The general colloquialisms that permeate our language, (all the izzle's inclusive), are not new. Bill Hicks did Bill's material, Denis did Denis's material, but the performances were so extremely similar no one can dispute them. Parallel thought is part of the world of comedy- parallel parking on an exact phrase, exact delivery, and exact timed piece is just plain hack.
The ones who bother me are the ones who assume that no one else studies comedy the way they do. That bothers me because I am one who would go to clubs EVERY night whether I was on stage, or not, and LEARN about comedy by watching everyone I possibly could. I sat transfixed to Lenny Clarke, Richard Jeni, and Roseanne with the same aplomb. (love that word) They were up there, headlining, and getting people to pay attention to them, and I wanted to know WHY- not what they were saying that I could improve on, or plainly steal, as so many seem to do now. When I saw someone doing a Bobcat imitation on a TV show supposedly designed to find "new" comedy, I nearly lost it- it wasn't anyone behaving as a comic and being funny, it was someone PERFORMING without WRITING anything new- and it was just theivery. It's the problem Fred Travelena and Rich Little have with those who imitate THEM, when in fact, they've written bits specifically to match their impressions. Other impressionists stealing bits from Fred and Rich are just telling the audience, "screw you, you don't know any better." That's just the wrong song to be playing in the Intel Age.
The online video sites are there for anyone to learn about what stand up is, and what it isn't. It's there for people to see "Oh yeah, Jeneane Garafalo had a good few years before she was on TV doing stand-up", "Patton Oswalt wasn't always killing when he first started.", "Oh yeah, look at Bernie Mac doing TV for the first time, wow, he was so much like Redd Foxx in his timing." It's for people to understand character motions, like those done by Buster Keaton, Mark Blankfield, and Jim Carrey. It's there for anyone to watch good comedians when they were not-so-good, and see them grow. It's there for people to see Ritch Shydner, and Mitch Hedberg and not just wonder who they were on the stage. It's there for the wisdom gained by Piper and Tupper, and Bobby Slayton, and Margaret Cho. Some continued on to be huge names, others great headliners and others, just footnotes in the comedy history books- but they're not up there so people can STOP writing.
Writing is what comedy is about. In Vegas, we have some terrific writers- Don Barnhart, Brandon Muller, Tanyalee Davis, Kathleen Dunbar for example. All are at different stages of their careers. We have terrific shows- the Short Bus Comics inclusive- where those who are more like Tim and Eric or even Terry Fator- can be alongside those who are college headliners, and longtime veteran champions of comedy everywhere. But people are writing constantly. It's what makes the stages come alive here. Diaz Mackie to Jeremy Flores, you'll find gems if you look.
So no, there isn't a reason to assume your audience isn't aware of comedy and the history of stand-up. (And before you start to mumble it, yes the Ass of U and Me line..done to death, thanks.) Assume that someone in your audience is also aware of Jim Norton and Jen Kober. Assume that someone in your audience has seen Carlin or Cosby, maybe even the same nights, and have played their albums for as long as they could. Assume that someone in your audience gets that Ernie Kovacs and Norm Crosby knew what they were doing. Assume this because if you don't, you are going to be disappointed when it comes time to talk to that person who DOES know these people and GETS that you are 'borrowing' material.
Everyone has their own views of something . I will write about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a different way, based on my own experiences and language than Grace Fraga. I will write my way, she will write her way. I will present my way. She will present her way. But I will WRITE and she will WRITE. When you're up there and talking about George and Gracie's version of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it will be obvious to others that you're just "playing comedian" and not actually being one. If you want to do the acting thing, that's great, but you don't get a pass to not write your own stuff. Check out Michael Keaton's stand-up and see if you can't find Johnny Dangerously in it. Learn the craft. Learn to write.
And then be the comedian you want to be- don't pretend you are someone else. You WILL be discovered, as a hack if you do. You WILL be discovered as talent if you WRITE.
Friday, October 17, 2008
You may have noted- I don't bash people as a rule. I've been heckled three times in a 24 year career. That's either saying that my audience just falls asleep when I bore them, or that I am too busy ignoring people- when actually, they're a lot f my act. I adore playing with people- and although I'm not as swift as Jimmy Brogan, I tend to make the audience my pal... or I just go away, head held low, knowing I didn't accomplish the goal of making people happy. Life goes on...
I've had great sets, and I've had full months of bad sets. I mean last year, when I was prepping for Comed-o-Therapy, I asked pal Bill Word if I could play his room to test out new stuff. The good part is that I got to work out a lot of material. The bad part is that the room is full of comedians, and want-to-be comedians, and they sat at the FAR WALL of the room..leaving a vast empty pool of seats which made my type of comedy very difficult to do. For the first time in my comedy career, I spent days bombing. Days. I mean nights. I even had a crappy night with my pal Martin Moreno at his room- where seven people, ready to hear about my vagina, were regailed with gimpy stuff they weren't sober enough to get- I didn't read them right, and I did miserably. Two weeks later, when Richard Villa had me in the bullet position, (first up), I did pretty well at the Improv, and felt a lot better... not quite as defeated.... and had some great laughs, too.
Flash forward to this year, and I'm doing a few rooms in Los Angeles, and Vegas. Fortunately, I'm not hearing crickets, and things are flowing. I had one not-so-perfect, but great times at Friday Night show with David Corrado, Grace Fraga, and Dana Snow. But, I saw Jamie's movie at the store- and thought- yes, I would very much like to see this, especially with a mix of Hutchens, Emery, and Maria Bamford. I think every comic should see Lenny Bruce, The Aristocrats, and Heckler. Maybe you can see that movie with Tom Hanks and Sally Field, because George Wallace in the hospital scene is worth the rental- but the first three listed, see.
When you go on stage in a college in Ohio, and there are fifty-one football and baseball players expecting you to do sports jokes, and you were told it was a benefit for the alumni association- but you're getting paid- it's sort of like living the movie, Heckler. It's a lot of people staring up at you- "Who's the CHICK?", then figuring out you're okay when you mention Larry Bird, and suddenly you can do your own material again. When you sit and write a three hour monologue for ten minutes of usable material- it's exactly why you do comedy- and it's why you're glad you do it.
Jamie Masada is one of the funniest part of the extras. He's seen EVERYONE, (me included), and knows ALL of the come-backs to people who mouth off to a comic. His brother was still alive and booking the Laugh Factory when I was there- but watching him brought me right back to the days when I would sit by a waitress wondering if I could go up that night- and hearing Jamie in the background saying, "I don't know if you can be regular yet." If that doesn't make you regular, nothing will.
I never have met Jamie Kennedy, that I remember. I met most of the people in this little flick. I met them when we were on rosters together, or when we were in lines waiting to be called for Open Mic's at the Store back in the 80's, or at the Santa Monica Improv, (rip), waiting to hear Lonow tell us one more time, "I'm not sure yet." People like Slayton were up there, doing amazing things, and Carrie Snow, and Taylor Negron, and my personal comedy god, Charles Fleischer- blowing people off the planet with just how fast and funny each is.
Everyone who spoke truly gets the point of being on stage. They get what it's like to be destroyed by someone's comments. It's a standard rule with me, words aren't to be wasted, and they are to be cherished. If you start your conversation with what you hate in the world, or whom, then you are just saying, "I don't like my life too much and I want you to be miserable too."
The guys shown to be critics are just so boring to me. They should be to anyone who loves comedy. Critics of comedy are generally people who never got picked by Masada, Mitzi, or Lonow to do stage time. They're generally people who couldn't get hired by the local A.M. radio station, started a podcast, and used enough naughty words to get noticed by the keywords on google. Basically, they're just people who didn't get to be the bully, or class clown, so use words to be both. Just sad. Sad. Sad. Sad.
Loved Heckler also because it was a great way to see Emery editing again. He's a great human, and a super pal, and just all out talented. I hope he gets a lot more work...he's got a great eye. That's all - and if you need no other reason, watch for Jen Kober. She's amazing.
Monday, October 13, 2008
That said, there are people who do THINK for a living, and they are the ones who have always been the sexiest human beings on the planet to me.
Marc Maron, for one, is a thinker. Whether the topics is his cats, or Obama, he always has something interesting to say, and a great way of saying it. Very sexy. Very cool. He may not be the guy that you'd find at starbucks, but he certainly will tell you all ABOUT the guy at starbucks, who is working there, why they are there, and what they assume the world is about- and he'd be right. Coffee and cigs to Marc- he's earned them.
Henry Rollins is a thinker. He's a book-boy- the kind you find perusing the mom and pop used book stores, wondering if the next great find is just around the next shelf. He talks about politics from the perspective of a son-of-a-military man, and that shows in every event he's in. I listen to Black Flag with equal aplomb to his spoken shows- and he always makes me wonder why I didn't articulate as well exactly the words he uses.
Eddie Izzard- looks better in bright red lipstick than I do, but my favorite moment was sitting next to him for the entire showing of The Aristocrats in the Hollywood premiere...thinking..this is the sexiest man who has ever crossed dressed, and that's one tomboy I wants to play in the sane-box with. He makes thinking a way of life- and he's just stunningly sexy.
Now there are far too many stupid men on this planet. (mccain) There are so many that just starting a list of them (bush) seems useless as I think there aren't enough ink jets in the world to print that list up.
Stupid men tell you something you already know and try to make it sound like their original idea. They try to impress you with a vocabulary garnished from dictipedia, and amusing anecdon'ts. They will belittle the intelligent guy, and assume you will go along for the joke. To me, and many women, they are hideously boring. When a guy starts comments, "I just heard this..." you know that they're testing an idea that THEY find stupid, but want to see if it's acceptable to others.
Meanwhile, there's Dave Barry sitting at home, talking about his wife and kids with the same enthusiasm as Einstein talked about mathematics. My first crush was on Gene Wilder because he made me laugh.. and he was smart about it. Yes, he was in the most famous fart-joke movie ever, but he was still smart. Smart, funny. Witty, wise. These are the qualities of attractive men.
I bring this up because the other night I mentioned to someone I liked Sci-Fi nerds. I like them, and I find them very sexy. Kevin Smith is a sci-fi nerd, as is Seth MacFarlane- they could each recite lines from the FIRST Star Wars movie back and forth to each other, and then have a full conversation in iambic pentameter reguarding anything including shoe-horns, (a word I find quite amusing). One of my friends said, "Sci fi is for idiots", and I think I wanted to laugh at her, hard, and wonder if she has ever seeeeeen David Tennant in Dr. Who, or the equally gorgeous, yet somehow just too gregarious gay-boy-toy, John Barrowman in Torchwood.
Thinking boys are the best. They not only have read the Karma Sutra, they can tell you the Klingon sex games, and even offer you a handful of skittles as they do it. I mean do it.
I married a guy who is now a sci-fi nerd. He wasn't when I met him. Now when we're zoning on the couch, when he has the remote, which is always, he flips to the Sci-fi channel, the nerdiest movies, and he can recite EVERY line in Fargo, which isn't a Sci-fi movie, but is a good brain-man movie just the same. He was always a book-boy, though, and that's a huge thing with me, (writer and all), because it means he is still learning about life, and approaches the world anew with every turned page. Clancy, Ludlum, or King- he devours what he reads- and then joins me in the discussions of biographies- Beatles to single moms. He gets the idea that life is about what you don't know THEN about what you do.
That's smart boy sexy.
And he's funny. Not Izzard-Maron funny, but in a Farrelly Brothers Neurotic kind of way. That's a good sci-fi nerd trait.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Friday night was the Short Bus Comics sophomore show- the second of a long great run at the Onyx Theater, in Vegas. Roman, the producer, is certainly one of the most talented artist hunters I've ever met. I emcee'd a room that was filled with great energy, great comedy, and great people. Some folks hit the stage for the very first time, some are storytellers, some are Aliens from another planet, and some are puppetmasters. But all of them are true to themselves, and do that special thing that makes comedy so much better live- they let themselves goof up, and the try things that others aren't willing to risk.
For this reason specifically, I expect the Short Bus show to last in Vegas for a very very very very long time. It's reminiscent of the Greenwich Village shows at coffee houses where you'd see Woody Allen play alongside Brother Theodore. (Yes, Gabriel, that was for you.) It's the melting pot of humor that works really well because there isn't a "You do comedy this way" method that seems to prevent other rooms from gathering heat. With the warm personalities- every one is there from start to finish supporting one another, and offering something amazing- a home.
After a few minor glitches with mics, and with the goofy emcee getting a couple comis out of order..(sorry guys).. the show was mostly a smooth run of the magnetic personalities and truly unique acts that made being on stage just a joy from start to finish.
This morning, I had to get up at 6am to prep for the book fair at the Clark County Library. (yeah, I know, zombies don't even get up at 6 in Vegas.) It was pretty insane, but it had to be done. Lots of print-outs. Lots of copes for the Las Vegas Quillkeepers table. One other member made it, and she was amazing, (thanks Wista). The guy who had the table after me is not unkown to comedy circles.
The fact was, I know his daughter Sandi. We met about 12 years ago, in Los Angeles, at the Comedy Store, when I wanted to brush up on my act after being off stage for 6 months. Sandi has a book about comedy and it's pretty good- we got to be friends and I even helped her with her website for a little while. She would bring her dog to the club, and her dog and I were also friends. His son, Pauly, was at the club when I was doing stage time for the first time there. He was a mere 17 years old, I believe, and still Rodney Dangerfield's favorite kid comic up until he died.
Mitzi was a terrific mentor, and I'd hear her telling other comics, "you'd be good if you just worked a few other rooms, then came back". I was lucky enough to be "passed" the first time she saw me, when she said, "You got something unusual kid, don't lose it." In the divorce, Sammy Shore gave Mitzi the Comedy Store, and she really made it into the home for most Los Angeles comedians.
Sitting with Sammy today was a complete accident. It turns out our table was to be his at a designated time, and I waited for him, to help him set up and to say hello- he is SAMMY SHORE after all. The peer to Moms Mabely, Phyllis Diller, Joey Bishop, and the opening act for Elvis for five years. There isn't a stage that Sammy didn't own, and to meet with him, after having dozens of chats with his daughter and son was just a thrill so hard to describe.
He was just the glowing dad when it came to talk about Sandi- and that was charming. Working with Tony Orlando is also something he was just excited about telling me...and he was just vibrant. The guy may be 81 on the outside, but he's about 35 upstairs. Smart, swift, and really a funny guy who has seen it all. His hearing isn't the best- and my low voice probably didn't help- but we had a great chat. Politics, publishing, comedy, the Store, his kids, his dogs- we just had a nice afternoon.
So for the last 12 hours I had a great immersion into the world that is comedy- part with new legends to be, and part with a true master of the form. It was a day that let me know "I'm doing the right thing, and these are my people."
It's a great feeling.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
The first, is the good, because no one seems to talk about good stuff anymore. But there's a small room in a church basement of an episcopal church. I know, you don't usually hear ME talking about going to some church, but this was different. David Corrado runs a little show Friday Nights in St. Bede's in Mar Vista, with a combination of music and comedy as the theme for the evening, and it's just terrific. I didn't really bring A- material, because, really, had no idea what the room was, and didn't really plan for anything other than working out a brand new bit...but that was perfect.
David and I first met years back when I had a room in Westminster, in a Bennigans, (commence Butters imitations now), and people like Martin Moreno, Steve Marmel, and Courtney Cronin were regulars- along with Tanyalee Davis, Roz Browne, Julie Kidd, and a few other interesting folks. The room worked because there was no pressure on anyone. It was JUST a work out room and just a place where doing new material is the right thing to do. Headliners came down, did a 15 minute set, and then went back to the Store, the Factory, or the Improv, and killed. It worked because everyone was there from start to finish to support one another, and as emcee and host, I never wanted it any other way.
David's Church Basement show was more than that because there were musicians doing the same gig. I had never been in that atmosphere- and it was kind of hip and wild, and cool, and a throwback to all things I miss about "performance art" which I was so much ensconced in during the 80's. No one was there to do their auditions, and no one was trying to be a tv star, like you'll see ruining the comedy rooms around the city- it was just people who wanted to play on stage, and have a great place to do so. David brought that into fruition, big time. He's a humble host, and a funny guy, who gets why people do comedy. If you get a chance to do his space- DO it. The crowd may be small but it's just perfect. And, I'll be back, along with Grace Fraga, and Dana Snow, to do some newer and older stuff, and to feel at home again.
Then comes the opposite of the spectrum. In every year, since 1979, the first year I was on a comedy stage, I have never once did a show where someone said to me, "you must bring at least X number of people or you won't get on stage". Ever. These are prominent in the music community and it was not unusual to see bands walking up and down Sunset, or in Venice Beach, GIVING people money to go see their shows at the Whiskey or Palomino club- the bands did that- the comics didn't. Why? Comedy clubs HAD audiences... people wanted to laugh and didn't care if it was a black guy, a white girl, or a jewish nun doing the show.
So it's now 2008, and I got a response back from one club in North Hollywood, whose name rhymes with "Blah Blah", saying, sure come on down. Wednesday night gig. Okay. Weird night of the week, but okay. And, the only other thing in the email, "do you advertise when you play?" I wrote back, of course, it's all over MySpace, Facebook, etc... and people tell me they'll be there, and usually they make it. Well, Kyle Cease was at the improv, Gabriel Iglesias was at another improv, and the new Laugh Factory Long Beach was luring people with comps that night so I didn't have high hopes that there would be a big "me" crowd- just figured ah, they're open Wednesdays, they must advertise something, too. Silly me.
I told a couple of folks where I'd be...and heard crickets. Just nothing. No warnings. This is why I write. This place is the worst place for ANY comedian to perform for MORE than just a "bringer show" atmosphere. They charge comics a $5 per SODA fee. I have no idea what the liquor costs, but it wasn't that cheap, either I'm sure. There were comics getting charged a COVER fee..uhm... no. NOT cool. And, twenty minutes AFTER the show starts, no one was even told their times on the slots for the night.
A full twenty minutes after a show starts, someone needs to know the slots, and the comics need to know they are going up. But ten minutes after THAT... some guy who was doing part of Mark Pitta's, Jason Stuarts, and even a bit of K-von's act- mostly just posing and pretending he was cute- comes up to me and tells me, "You don't have any people up here yet. Do you expect them to show up soon?"
Uhm. I drove from Las Vegas specificially because on TUESDAY when I called the club to confirm I was told, "Oh yeah, we're doing a show at 9pm. You're set for the gig." I said, "My husband just got out of surgery, do you have any slots later in the week?" The nameless voice, (by the way, the email wasn't signed by anyone either..just blah- blah cafe.... ), saying, "no, we're booked solid two weeks so you have to take this or nothing." I say, "I'll be there an hour early".
I show up... there's a security guard. I ask who I check in with- he says the bartender. The bartender says someone named Eric, (aforementioned hack), and the Eric guy never made an appearance until well after the show began..so I just slunk into the back. Now, anyone will tell you- whether you are Dennis Blair or Celeste Davis, I'm going to stay from the first comic to the last because I know comedians need audiences. I learned when I was playing the 2am slots at the Improv ANY audience is better than NO audience..and never once have left a show before it ended unless I was scheduled somewhere else.
So that said... it's 45 minutes in- no one I know is there..and that kid goes up on stage to do the gay boy dancing routine. Uhm. It's an older bit, and Jason does it better. So does half the Logo TV comics where he probably got it from. And Ian Harvie does the "I'm coming to get you" line with more believability. It was not a great set. He disappears. Never returns. Never tells me I'm going up...and never says anything about me driving JUST for this show. Unproffessional on every level.
I have texts and calls into Roz, Grace, Gulden, and Ant. Gulden tells me to pass the phone to Jack. Well Jack is apparently outside getting screamed at or flirting with someone else on the phone. Never did acknowledge me..or welcome me...or anything..and he's supposed to be the big guy. Okay. So I have a place in Long Beach I have to get to by midnight because there are babies there...
The kicker? I got my cd which is part of the newer bit..the d-jay, aka the security guard, tells me "Oh you're not going on?" He didn't have a set list of who is up... not even the people WORKING know who is going up.
So recapping- Ant, Roz, Gulden, Grace, Dana, David- supportive and wonderful. St. Bede's Friday Night show... really fun, and David is an awesome host. DO that room. Blah Blah club is only in the business of making money OFF of the comedians, and although ONE guy (someone named Hutch? who looked a lot like Cabin Boy...) was funny and had some stage experience, the club wasn't paying attention to anyone. At all. Not worth going all the way up to North Hollywood unless you're looking for an overpriced drink and free parking. Seriously. You can do that on in Vegas- the drive is cheaper- or at your grandma's local bar.
Meanwhile- The Short Bus Comics Show opened this past Friday. I'm emceeing on the 10th. I hope to see the Vegas locals and visiting folks then. Should be a HOOT. GREAT comedians, GREAT body on the nekked one. And, no more cafe gig for YOU or me. (warning warning warning) Just hit the St. Bedes if you want to test material out..you'll be happy. Very.
Monday, September 8, 2008
She- "I love Eddie Izzard"
Me- "So Don't I! he's wicked pissah" (pissah is en extension of wicked that means, quite excellent indeed.)
She- "My brother doesn't get him, he so retah-ded".
Me- "What a retahd."
Suddenly, a snippy barbie girl who must have been the result of a failed abortion in 1987, slams down her food and yells over to us, "That's an INSULT! You CAN'T use that word!"
Me- "I beg to differ. I can use a lot of words, that included. I have mastered the English language many years ago."
Snippy- "That's JUST rude!" (This coming from the eavesdropping child who yells across the restaurant.) "The word is MENTALLY CHALLENGED!"
Me- "Like you? Because, you do know you just gave two words, not one. Wasted a lot of time using adverbs and adjectives to state Re-TAHD." Of course, it was apparent, this kid was wicked mentally challenged.
Then I realized my pal was laughing hysterically- looking at the kid's shirt which had on it "Niggah Please". That was priceless, so we both started laughing.
She- "Do you know your shirt is more insulting? You're a blond haired white person and you're wearing a racial epithet."
Snippy- "I don't have no gravestones on my shirt!'
Me- "Why don't you get back to eating your happy meal, princess, and leave the thinking to people who discern words from places other than text messages and rap songs."
Snippy- "Are you saying, I ain't smart."
She- "No one has to. You obviously are a brain trust."
Me- "You just seem a little retah-ded."
Then Snippy took her Star-Wars™ toy off the table and hopped away into the kiddy-habitrail and ball-bouncy room. Meanwhile, my pal, who has Cerebral Palsy, just looked at me. Took a beat, and practically made me pee my pants when she responded.
She- "So don't I"
You can't beat days like this.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
It's been a rough five years. I mean five full years of happy marriage, and all of that. It's still going on. That part is working great.
It's also been a lot of surgeries, and hopefully no more for at least another five years. I don't know if that's going to be the case for long, but for now, no surgeries. Just think, only five years ago, Robert Downey Jr. was a white guy. How the world does spin.
You may be able to see in this picture, I have a nasty new issue. The problem is, this picture is over ten years old. The other problem is, no doctors picked up on it during that entire time. In 1990, I had a tonsillectomy, and the doctor also pulled a nice fist sized tumor from my pharynx. And no, that's not the part of your ass where poop escapes. Although, those who have seen my act wondered.....
I ended up on some iodine treatments, and some other things to ensure that the throat muscles wouldn't atrophy. If anyone ever offers you that, make sure they know if you're allergic to things like... iodine. I'm not but I've heard stories. I was also given prednisone for the first time. That is a steroid, and if given properly and monitored, should cause no issues except a bit of bloat and maybe a little bit of a moon face. It worked for Zappa, so I accepted.
Flash forward to 2001. I was off of all medications. I mean ALL of them. I used to drink "sleepytime" tea to fall asleep because the boy toy at the time was a horrendous snorer, and I wasn't able to attempt to sleep if he fell first. The tea helped. Sometimes I had Melatonin. It's not hippy, it's real, and it works. There were years, and I mean from when I was 12 to 29, when I was on anti-depressants. Some were great, some were vile. And, tegretal, a drug used for epilepsy was amongst them. I didn't like any of them and weaned off of them slowly...until I got married for the second time to a guy who had absolutely no interest in being married to me. After a few months of him, I was back on the meds. (Yeah, I worked three jobs to support us. I still don't know if he ever got a job.)
The meds did something weird. I gained weight. I mean not just a few pounds like the warning state, but a full two stone. (About 23 lbs for us Yanks.) The marriage was over, I was bicycling every day, and I still didn't lose any more than 15 of that. But, I was human sized. Not for me, but for the rest of the world. That's when I weaned off of the meds again...and voila, was back to normal tiny W.O.P. from Bean town doing stuff on stage, and feeling fine. Things worked out okay.
Then I started getting dislocations. I was put back on steroids. I hated them. Why? Okay so my shoulder stayed in place and the swelling went down- but I gained again. It made me depressed. I got put on antidepressants. Starting to see a pattern? The doctors didn't. I had a sinus infection right before I was getting surgery for a deviated septum- which I guess means nose job in Hollywood-speak. I gained another 40 lbs. Seriously. In less than two months. People thought I was pregnant since I was newly married. Not a chance... kids are something I am allergic to, thanks.
Flash forward to 2006. I went to an endocrinologist to find out why I was reacting this way. Why was it that a medical journal said, "may gain a small amount of weight" meant, "may change name to Orca" with me. He said, "Stop eating so much". I became afraid of food. I hardly ate as it was- one meal a day, and a snack or a small breakfast. That was it. What could I cut out? I knew. The doctor.
I dropped about 38 lbs, and started to feel human again. Next thing I know..I'm gaining 3-5 lbs a week. Again, "oh are you going to be a mommy?" No, I'm just a mother, thanks. I'm at the gym three to four days a week, and sweating like Meatloaf in a New Jersey stadium show. Back to the picture. You may notice this is a shot of my neck. It's a big neck. I swam for high school, and oh yeah, rode horses. I have a big neck and shoulders. But, it's bigger than that now.
What the smarty pants doctor didn't realize was- I was growing a big old Thyroid. The blood tests didn't agree with my symptoms at that time, so he became a smart ass, and I became sicker. All this time, had he JUST paid attention to my history, or even looked at my fingernails, the way the weight was presenting itself, some female issues, or oh yeah, the STEROIDS and antidepressants I was on- well he may have figured I had the onset of Hashimoto's Thyroidosis. In other words, my body was fighting me against me. Yeah. Just like a video game.
Two years later, my blood tests are going kablooey. I have a rather large lumpy throat. I fortunately do not have to have surgery, but there is a chance that the nodes growing may have to cut out. (Go look that up on Austin medical and tell me it isn't the ickiest operation you've ever seen.) I'm now on synthroid.
SO what does that all have to do with comedy? I start a new show this year. It's called Short Bus Comics, and it turns out- I need one. Again. Pretty cool. More later.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Both my husband and I are musicians. I listen to music that's more Bartok and Neil Young- and yes that combination is very workable. He is more apt to listen to Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson, both for influences and for sheer discovery of the proverbial soul of this music format. Just as some people can tolerate Kate Bush yet disdain Tori Amos, I am likely to put forth a Patti Smith tune the same day I write a four part choir piece. The hubby is far more inclined to push Caravan to places that are virtually impossible for any other human to master. It's who we are as musicians, and where we are in our skill, and comprehension.
Golf. I say the phrase, "He's Tiger Woods" whenever I'm asked how the most skilled player of the game manages to astound the masses. My husband understands the nuances of the game, can sit for hours discussing the traps, the eagles, and of course, the lack of beer involved. I am better suited to the stands in Fenway, screaming the disdain to the OTHER team, and drooling as Varitek and Ramirez round bases. That is the sport that seems sportsmanlike to me- Men sweat, teams bond, and the crowd is as in tune with the hot dog vendor as they are with the outfielder. It's the same with Jazz.
My husband has an ability to concentrate. I am what is kindly referred to as distracted, at best, and diagnosed improperly as Attention Deplete. Frankly, I enjoy things that have black and what outcomes, but spend most of my day drifting from writing, to music, to singing, to emails, to becoming entranced by the latest exploits of one, Anthony Bourdain. My goal in life is to not miss out on anything, and that leads me to many different venues, many different creative ventures, and far more greetings and meetings with the public.
The sidekick carrying the male version of our wedding ring can decide to do something and nothing in any way, shape, form, or design can move him from that notion. If he says, "I am going to lose some weight", he is deployed on a seven month mission to become the thinnest him there could be. For any artist he cares to hear, he doesn't become a fan, he becomes a historian. You can ask him any question regarding movies, and he can certainly out trivia any game show. His passion for the cinema is only second to his passion for chocolate- for which he can name sixteen varieties, the locations of the best shops in several continents, and will tell you the nuances from African beans to south American ones. When he states knowledge of jazz, he does so with authority, experience, and minute detail.
My taste in music is multicultural, multi-class, and very rarely excludes any tone of any sort. I've listened to shinai with the same aplomb as a Ringo Starr solo. The one tone that bothers me, surprisingly so, as I've studied the instrument as a child, is that of Violin. The shrill of the wires doesn't sit in my ear, or nestle in my head- instead it takes my ear drum and sizzles it like bacon, wearing it away like the ocean eats sandcastles. And yet, I am also a jazz fanatic.
My knowledge of the music was limited at best when I met Ravi Coltrane- who eerily appears as a clone of his late, great, father. He practiced his soprano sax in my living room at Calarts, and I had the balls to ask him "What kind of clarinet is that?" As I am a comedian, it fortunately fell like a joke in a great club. But, from that point on, my mission was to understand, learn, and devour jazz as some would decide to become parents. After several months, I understood that Dave Koz, and Kenny G are certainly not comparable to Stan Getz, nor Kurt Elling. In fact, I was so enthralled by the singers of this breed that I quickly bought any and all I could find- except Diana Krall or Billie Holliday, both of whom I have grown a bit weary.
It's been twenty years since I snapped on a 1- 3 measure. It's been just as long since I've listened to anything remotely titled "smooth jazz". And, thus comes the topic of this very blog. This is the music that the hoi poloi aren't able to comprehend. This is why a majority of jazz radio is sorely mistaken, and several of the programmers and disc jockeys should be sent to Gitmo. Annie Ross, Eva Cassidy, Rosemary Clooney, Etta- both Jones and James, Julie London, Mildred Bailey, and my favorite, Rachel Gould are in heavy rotation in the iPod and car, as I try to live every note Peggy Lee or Bessie Smith ever uttered. Julie London and Clooney share my range, but Annie Ross has my favorite playful way of making notes sound easy. The youngest member of my collection is carried by Renee Olstead, whose appearances on a comedy sitcom seem to belittle her enormous skill and talent as a jazz songstress.
Billie Holliday changed people's perception of jazz. She responded to notes by giving each personality. In this, she is worthy of history. She does however, grate on me, as a songwriter, for not actually hearing the notes she is supposed to sing, as she changes the reason for a song. Diana Krall once dated my husband, back in the days she was a Berklee student. She makes jazz very approachable, and is highly commended for her ability to take a tune, and make it available to the general population- especially those which were lost to history. However, she hasn't got the vocal range to carry off some of the better lost songs, so she kind of misses the mark with me. I think if she pulled out some Ada Jones, I'd be more impressed. But, I have heard a few dozen Diana Kralls-a-likes, and they really aren't changing the medium. Even Dana Owens, aka Queen Latifah, recalls Lush Life with the charisma and charm that demands attention. I'd take ten Dana Owens albums to one Krall, any day.
Rachel Gould isn't a household name, and doesn't get much rotation on any jazz radio. That's abominable. She has a voice that seems to tell the world, "This song was written JUST for me, and you will never hear it again without thinking of me." She seems to say this, but doesn't. She should. She's right. Eva Cassidy, who died far too young, as if there IS a right age to die, brings a bluesy feel to all her work, and has become what Janis Joplin aspired to be. When Eva carries a tune, you feel as if you want to be in her house, having coffee, with a cat on your lap, and doing nothing other than hearing that voice.
Don't forget, I like some pop musicians. I think Joss Stone, despite the vocalese, has mastered her voice that brings timelessness to songs. Alicia Keys, one of my favorite songwriters, pulls a punch as quickly as she seduces. Amy Winehouse, drugs be damned, works her shimmy out of nothingness. But, jazz radio has determined these artists are under the same umbrella as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and aforementioned, Coltrane. That's like saying my husband and I play the same music.
He has jazz critics come to the shows, leave jaw dropped, and writing reviews which would put tears in anyone's eyes for the joy of it. I have a habit of making people believe there are seven members to my band, that I am seeped in Earth Wind and Fire, and oh yeah, should be on a Motown label. Culturally, he's from Buffalo, and that's one step closer to Oscar Peterson-ville. I'm from Boston, and it seems I've learned much of my craft from the days spent with a guitar in a subway station. Yet, we're both considered jazz musicians.
The one thing that does frustrate him is my ability to write a song in as long as it takes him to think up a melody. I usually have all parts, done. All of what I write, I've written a million times for every artist I ever admired. He writes for himself, and it's always as if he spent years on something that takes him a few hours. He's Tiger Woods, and I'm the other guys. His sounds is timeless in ways that leave people heart-pounding and lost for words. My music is more pedestrian, and people often wonder what 1970's band I was in. I write music I wish I could get my favorite singers to sing- and he writes what only he can play.
And that is the power of jazz. It removes all pretense and turns to the heart for its purpose. It isn't some pretty little tone you hear whilst dining in an upscale restaurant, which spins around giving you a better view of the city. It isn't the comprehensive tonic to the fifth to the tonic that leaves the listener satisfied. It can be gritty, or interpreted. It can be followed the way a teen ager follows a cast member of a popular movie. It's the music which decides where we have left our broken heart, our secrets and our long lost relatives. It's Tiger Woods.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
I ran across a quote I hadn't read in some time- "The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer." I have to agree with this statement, which stands as true today as it did in the 1860's, when written by the author Henry David Thoreau, (pronounced "thorough" for those who are unacquainted with the New England manner of correctly speaking French names).
Mr. T wasn't exactly the world's sweetest guy. There are great tales from Emerson, (Ralph Waldo, not "Lake and Palmer"), who called Henry just about every nasty name he could muster and some he hadn't even thought existed. Melville, Stevenson, and Hawthorne each thought of him as a well-spoken, albeit oft spoken curmudgeon whose love for his fellow man was greatly overshadowed for his love of solitude. My guess is that had he lived in this day, he would certainly never have a cell phone, would disdain the idea of "myspace" and "facebook", and probably would blog incessantly between his strolls through gardens and deserts, if not Manhattan proper.
I'm convinced I'm much like HDT in myriad ways. He never did speak a word without first thinking of its purpose. For him, the spoken thoughts were reflections of the mind, and using words carefully meant being responsible for their outcome. In this point we're united. I'm generally and willfully disgusted by those whose idle banter and chatter seem to carry on long after a point was placed squarely. It is unlikely you'll find me in small talk on a telephone, for any reason. If I don't have the punchline I won't ramble on searching until it appears on the verbal horizon. Succinct or nothing is my preference. Perhaps this is why some people think I'm not involved in a conversation, when the fact is, I'm more involved in listening.
When I was a teenaged girl, searching for meaning and purpose as one does at that age, I was introduced by a burly teacher to the intricacies of the words in Walden. I visited the Lyceum fairly often in Concord, Massachusetts, which sits in the spot near Henry's original wooden box of a home. The building stood barely giving the appearance of a residence, more resembling a large shed. I marveled at the simplicity of his life, and took many walks around the pond which shared the name of his greatest known essay. I pictured him grunting at the sales clerk in town as he got his weekly supplies, as his idea of greetings consisted of a nod, if any acknowledgment at all. He didn't speak with those whom he did not have reason to speak.
And yet, he was certainly full of thoughts, conversations, and deep insights. His essays carry readers into the concept of the Enlightenment Age, his salon chats with his peers, and the intimacy of the life of a hermit. The quotes he is well known for sit in a Wiki entry, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Henry_David_Thoreau but the greatest quotes are those that the readers discover when they find themselves mirrored in his thoughts. Ever timeless, he transcends far more than the written word, tapping into the human experience in nearly every paragraph.
I end this note with the concept of self-reliance. As he wrote a number of times, the efforts of man support mankind when man himself is solely responsible for his actions, words, deeds, and intent. He cannot demand others to supply him with worth, as it is his own to hold. Esteem, held humble, yet firm, is a stronger weapon against a venomous self-denial and negative introspection. As he walked alone, he didn't dwell on the life he left unlived, or the dreams he left unfulfilled; instead he carried the notion that his life was worth every moment, and worth every minute he spent spying the smallest of insects, or grandest of trees. The words of others, who certainly were not as keenly aware of their surroundings, didn't penetrate his shield of self worth, and self reliance. As townsfolk often bantered back about the strange man who lived in the shack- they still wondered how his great mind worked to create such wonderment. It was the idea that their thoughts weren't as important as the ones he held, and his own belief system which he lived truly to the last which caused him to be a greater man. He stood on solid mind as well as solid ground.
The lessons of the past must be apparent in the present for them to have any importance at all. Thoreau was a rabbi in the truest sense in that he taught millions to believe as he did, that the world is better when appreciated, and people are greater when understood. The quote at the beginning of this passage is certainly a statement to the idea that everyone and everything has a reason to be noted, and heard. Those who ask questions to give their own answers are missing the reason to care for a fellow man. If he wants to hear his own thunder, he should stay alone. If he wants to hear others, then listen intentionally. It will create a better respect. And, the one heard will be forever grateful for the chance.
|The Portable Thoreau (Penguin Classics) |
by Henry David Thoreau
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