Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thanksgiving Recap

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Mine was very nice, thank you for asking. Had lots of turkey, which was delicious.

We had the fried turkey and let me tell you, it rocked. The skin gets nice and crispy, and the bird stays nice and moist. In this respect, it was quite different from the traditional dried out turkey. You eat that dry turkey, along with some nice dry corn muffins, and you need to drink a gatorade to fight off dehydration. I remember one year having muffins so dry, just pitching a dozen or so of these into New Orleans would have dried that city out in about an hour.

After the turkey is done cooking, you're left with a huge vat of boiling oil. What are you supposed to do with that? Well, if you lived in a castle and were under attack, it would be a delicious way to repel an attack. Next year, I'm going to be prepared-- as soon as the turkey comes out, in go the twinkies. Fried turkey and fried twinkies? Now there's something to be thankful for.

I have a co-worker at my day job who told me that in order to accommodate his niece, who is a vegetarian, they had tofurkey.

Yes, tofurkey. Tofu turkey. Tofurkey.

What the tofuck?

You wanna eat vegetables? Fine, go nuts! Eat vegetables! But must you perpetuate this silliness of pretending they are meat? Why not just use your imagination and pretend that the broccoli you're eating is honey-baked ham? Hell, why not imagine it's ham with magical powers? And I will pretend that my second helping of turkey is really a small green salad.

This is not how we do things at my Thanksgiving table. No sir.

You want tofurkey? Oh, I'll give you your tofurkey. And here-- here are the mashed potatoes. Only this year, we've made our mashed potatoes using a potato substitute-- called turkey.

More salad, please!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

And another

Egg nog. Egg nog lattes. I love a good nog.

One thing to be thankful for

Since I eat and drink too much all year, my body is already accustomed to the kind of abuse I will subject it to over the next month.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Ahoy from the engine room

Okay, if the world of comedy were a cruise ship, then I am somewhere near the engine room. I am trying to get a room above the water line, and then, eventually, a state room on the lido deck. But for now, I thought I would just provide an update on things down here near the engine room.

I did three shows last week. Last Saturday I was at 50 Mason Lounge, a club where I perform about once a month. That show went well-- got lots of good feedback. Then on Thursday, I produced my first show at a bar in my neighborhood. I have hosted lots of shows, but this was the first time I did everything-- I found the place, I promoted it, I booked the comedians. I invited everyone I could think of who might come, and none of them came. I understand, you know? It was a Thursday night, people get busy, people forget. Still I expected a few people to come.

I put up posters and distributed flyers in the neighborhood, and I thought that would generate some people. Not so. As far as I could tell, everyone was there incidentally. That is, they were just there to have a drink, and then didn't object to the comedy.

So anyway, not many people, and what people were there were somewhat indifferent. Oh well, it happens. So I opened/warmed up the crowd. It was a great line-up - a veritable dream team of some of my favorite friend/comedians in the area. The crowd grew a little bit through the show, but never got really engaged.

About halfway into the show, and old guy, very drunk, wandered in, sat right in front, and started trying to make conversation with the comedian on stage, and with the bartender. At a VERY high volume. I don't think he meant to be a giant disruptive pain in the ass, but that's what he was. He was a huge distraction until he finally wandered off.

Anyway, I was reasonably happy with how the show went. As much as I did to promote it, I have to do more next time.

Last night I did a show at the comedy college. The audience was, shall I say, small. Okay there were two people. Two. There were a handful of other comedians, but only two real audience members. It was frustrating because I had been out flyering, which, if you read my earlier post, you know how much I enjoy. Two weeks ago, we filled the room to standing room only, and had a killer show. Last night, two. It's a little tough to do a show for two people. But you know what? I did it, I lived, and I'm moving on. I'm hosting an open mike tonight, and then I think I can take it easy until after Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 11, 2005

And Still, "According to Jim" Lives On...

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
- Edmund Burke

I'm depressed. I just found out that "Arrested Development," my favorite new TV show of, oh, the past 10 years or so, is being thrown on the trash heap. It hasn't been cancelled, but Fox didn't "pick up the back 9" episodes for a full season. They only bought 13 episodes. That is not a good sign for a show. Ever ever ever.

This is an amazing show. I could sing its praises endlessly. It has a terrifically talented cast, including Jason Batemen, Jeffrey Tambor and David Cross. And the writing! Oh my God, how great is the writing!

I decided last year that I wanted to write a spec script. "Spec" means that you will never earn a dime, or "speck" of money for writing it. No! That's not true. It's speculative: you write an episode of an existing show to showcase your writing ability, with virtually no prospect of it being sold or shot.

I decided that I wanted to write an episode of "Arrested Development." It's a structurally complicated show, with multiple plotlines that tie together. I could have picked an easier show to try to write, but I just love Arrested Development, I love the characters. If I can write a decent spec script for AD, I reasoned, then I can write an episode of a simpler show.

Anyway. Fox, in their infinite wisdom, decided to take the Emmy award-winning AD off of Sunday night, where Fox is usually strong (Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle). Where did they put it? Monday night. Opposite Monday Night Football. Did they promote the show? Not much. And they certainly didn't give it the kind of promotion that say, NBC has given to "My Name is Earl," or CBS has thrown at "How I met Your Mother." Please. Fox said, "If you can build an audience, we'll place the full order." Then Fox put it in a position where it was near to impossible to build the requisite audience numbers, especially with weak promotion.

Meanwhile, what shows does FOX hang their hat on? How about "Skating with Celebrities?" Or "Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy?" Oh. My. God.

And People! People. This is what kills me, breaks my heart. "According to Jim" lives on. This awful, painfully common, excruciatingly trite piece of shit sitcom is back for its fifth season. Fifth!

I will not bring a child into a world where Arrested Development gets the axe while "According to Jim" comes back for a fifth season.

(Sidebar: I have to wonder what incredibly odious act Courtney Thorne-Smith committed in a previous life to deserve the karmic destiny of not only co-starring in a dogshit sitcom with Jim Belushi, but a long-running dogshit sitcom to boot.)

Shows very rarely get reprieves, but it can happen. The most notable example of this occurred this past season on Fox. Fox cancelled "The Family Guy" in 2002, but brought it back in 2005 due to viewer interest and more importantly, strong DVD sales.

So I say to you: watch the show while it's still on. Buy the DVD's. Write to Fox, write to your congressman. Together, maybe we can make a difference.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"Your Call is (Only Sort of) Important to Us!"

I open my cell phone bill last week, and after I sift through all of the unrelated junk mail in the envelope, I see that they have "upgraded" me to a new more expensive plan.

They are always upgrading the plans, never upgrading the service.

And this is when my nightmare begins, because now I have to call my cell phone carrier.

They have one of those annoying voice-recognition systems, where you talk to an overly agreeable automated voice. Like the soothing tones could even begin to compensate for the agony of navigating their customer service "network." So polite. Like the voice of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I enter the phone tree, knowing full well that they have designed it at least in part with the intention of causing their customers to become discouraged and give up. But see, I know this, so I am mentally prepared. I will see this thing through. I will not let them beat me! Okay, cell phone carrier: it's go time.

They always tell you that your call is important. Uh-huh. It's just not important enough to like, answer it. "You're call is important." Is it? IS IT? Because it doesn't seem like it after I've been on hold for oh, six hours. I'm beginning to think you don't really mean that. I'd have so much more respect for you if you just told me the truth. "Look your call is important to us, yes, but not enough to hire someone to answer it." At least then I'd have closure and I could move on.

So HAL says, "please enter your 10-digit cell phone number, area code first." Area code first, huh? Is there another way to do it? Maybe just throw it on at the end? Maybe I want to scatter it throughout, is that okay? So I say, "415-555-1234*." And HAL says, "let me make sure I heard that correctly: did you say 4...1...5..."





"Yes," I say. Urge to kill...rising.

Now I get to move on to level two. "Sure, I can help you with that. But first, please enter your 10-digit cell phone number, area code first." Uff, okay. "415-555-1234," I say, rapid-fire. "Let me make sure," HAL says agreeably. Always agreeably. "Did you say, "4...1...5..."

(Pause. Oh sweet Jesus.)


"--Yes," I say. Yes, I fucking well did say that.

Now I move on to yet another menu, and the vicious cycle starts again. Starting to get more than just a little pissed off. This time when it asks for my phone number, I say, "415-fuck you."

"I'm sorry, I don't think I got that. Please say it again."

"415-fuck you!"

"I'm sorry, I don't think..."

I feel somewhat relieved by going all Dick Cheney on HAL, yet it hasn't really gotten me anywhere. (Sigh.) I give HAL my phone number yet again.

Then finally-- miraculously!-- I get to the menu that says, "if you wish to speak to a customer service associate, please press or say zero." So I finally speak to a real live human being. And what is the first thing this guy wants to know?

"I can help you with that sir, I just need to verify your 10-digit cell phone number." I decide to mix it up a bit. I say, "sure, it's 415-555-2341."

"Hmm, okay that isn't the number you entered before--" "

"A-HA! I KNEW it! You guys don't need to get my phone number 4 different times, you're just trying to wear me out. You're probably all sitting around the computer saying, 'ooh, make him do it again! See if he'll do it again!'"

Anyway, I calm down to explain my situation. "Oh yeah, we made that upgrade to your service about 3 weeks ago."

"Oh...but I didn't order that."

"Well, we changed our packages. When you signed up, you had three hundred fifty minutes, with unlimited nights and weekends. Now we only offer two hundred fifty or five hundred minute plans. When we changed the packages, everyone who had the three-fifty was bumped up to the five hundred automatically. And now you automatically get free roaming in Hawaii and the Northern Marianas Islands."

Oh, sweet corn! Because those roaming charges on my visits to Saipan and Tinian were killing me.

"Well, I don't want to be bumped up. I want to be bumped down."

Then he tells me: "Well, I don't know if I can process that, but I can put in a request for it."

Look, I'm paying for something I didn't order and don't want, and you're saying you can put in a request for it? Like you're doing me a favor? Say, I have an idea! You know how you did this in the first place? Without my permission? Yeah. Now do the opposite of that.

"Well, is there a supervisor I could speak to? Would that help?"

"I don't think so. But I can have someone call you back about this, definitely."

"Okay thanks, I'd appreciate that."

"No problem. Now, what's your phone number?"

*415-555-1234 is not my real phone number.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Dr. Phil Talks to Britney and Kevin

From MSNBC's Jeanette Walls:

Britney Spears had some harsh advice for her hubby regarding his nascent singing career: Don’t get your hopes up. Kevin Federline recently brought home some music he’d recorded and he played it for Spears, according to the new issue of In Touch Weekly.

His efforts were “greeted with hurtful laughter from his superstar wife, who was unimpressed,” reports the mag. “She said his debut CD might sell ‘a hundred, maybe a thousand’ copies if he was lucky,’” an “insider” told the mag, who added, “Kevin looked really hurt.”

Fade in:

TV Studio Int.- Day.

Studio audience is applauding.


Welcome back. Kevin and Britney have been married for a little over a year. They just became parents to a baby boy. Their busy schedules, combined with these major life changes they've been going through, have put a strain on their relationship. Britney has been nagging Kevin and putting him down, while Kevin has been staying out partying.

(PHIL turns to KEVIN)

Kevin? Kevin. What are you doing? You're staying out late, going to night clubs, and spending your wife's money on drugs and strippers. Do you have nothing better to do with yourself than that, Kevin?


Yo, Phil, me and my crew, we's just keepin it real's all. You know how we do, son!


I'm glad you mentioned that, Kevin. You're a father to a new son, right? Your son wants and needs to be with his daddy, okay? That is your responsibility.


Phil, my shorty and me, we's tight, you know what I'm saying? He know what it takes to be a player! I don't need no babymama gettin' all up in my grill, tellin' me I gotta pick up Pampers on the way home, and that I need to spend more "quality time" with my boy. I ain't hearin' that.


Yeah... now Kevin, you are a slightly successful hip-hop dancer, correct? And your wife, Britney, is a hugely successful pop star. She makes quite a bit more money than you do, doesn't she? That means you aren't really the breadwinner in the family, right? Uh-huh. And that may be a challenge to your manhood, to your notions of family roles. You may be acting out of some resentment about your wife's success. That's something I think you need to take a look at.


Yeah, ah-ight. I guess maybe I been acting a little passive-aggressive.


And as for your music, Kevin, listen to me. Britney has sold millions of records, it's true. But she ain't doin' that based on musical talent--



PHIL (to Britney)

You will not talk when Dr. Phil is talking!

(To Kevin)

But I understand: she's your wife, you want her to support you. But Kevin, you're not there, changing the diapers. You're not there, getting up in the middle of the night to heat up a bottle.


Tha's right, Phil. Tell it!


Britney! This is my show and you will shut your mouth! Kevin? She might feel a little resentment about you're not being around and helping her out. You might want to think about that.


I feel ya, Phil. But check it: I don't feel like, appreciated an shit. I haven't been like, able to communicate that.


There you go, Kevin!


Yo, I just wanna send a shoutout to my brother Brandon, who's getting his pilot's license today, and to my personal trainer Dale. Peace!


Kevin? I want you to shut up. Just sit there and be pretty. I'm gonna speak to Britney now, okay? Britney? Do you understand that what you said hurt Kevin's feelings? If you really didn't like his music, couldn't you have found a more sensitive, constructive way to express it?


Yeah, I guess so, but damn, y'all! You shoulda heard it, Phil! It sounded like a bad hair metal cover band. But no, I probably could have said it nicer than I did.


Yeah, that's what I thought. Britney, this isn't really about Kevin's music, is it? What's really bothering you? You need to look at this, and you need to get real.

(Britney starts to cry.)

Ask yourself, why am I really mad at Kevin? Is it really that he is a half-rate talent, a gold-digging himbo? Or is it something else? What would be a more productive approach to dealing with it?

Britney, why don't you tell Kevin what's really bothering you.

BRITNEY (Sobbing)

I'm afraid you won't find me attractive after the baby.


What about that, Kevin? You did dump Shar Jackson for Britney while Shar was pregnant with your child.


You know, that's true but that ain't gonna happen this time. For reals, this time I am in it to win it, yo.


Good. And what are you going to do differently to meet her needs?


I guess... I guess I should spend less time doin stuff like getting my hair braided, and more time being an attentive father and husband. And bein' a better communicator and whatnot.


And Britney? What are you going to do differently?


I'm gonna try to be more understanding of his need to feel like he contributes something to the world.


Good. You two need to understand that communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship. That communication is gonna take work, and you can't always get your publicist to do it for you.

(To camera)

After the break, we'll catch up with Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, and see how they're doing.

Studio audience applauds.

Fade out.

Why Improv Rocks; Shout-out to the UCB

I am taking a month off from doing the stand-up classes. I am taking an acting class and an improv class. I'll still be doing stand-up shows-- so far I've booked shows for November 4, 11, 12, 17 and 18.

I decided that I need to recharge my batteries, devote some time to writing new material, and exercise some different comedy muscles.

I really love doing improv. It is quite different from doing stand-up, which makes it fun and challenging. In stand-up, you are the whole show-- you control everything that happens on stage. In improv, you are just a piece of what happens, your ability to control what happens is very limited. In stand-up, you are funny because you find funny things to say. In improv, a lot of what is funny comes because you are playing straight, which makes something else stand out as funny. The more and the longer you can play it straight, the funnier that other thing becomes. My instinct, from stand-up, is to hear a line and say, "hm, that's good, now how can I top it?" In improv, I have to make sure that I build on that line, and let the scene build. I don't want to throw out a punchline, because that probably ends the scene.

Sometimes the scenes are great, sometimes not. It's fun to do something more collaborative. Plus, it frequently stimulates my thinking for writing stand-up material.

I took classes at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre in New York, and I just loved it. The teachers there, who are also performers, are top notch. They can be seen frequently on Conan O'Brien, VH1 and Comedy Central.

Occasionally, people have asked me if I have ever seen a comedian and said, "that guy is going places." The answer is generally no, as far as stand-up goes. But the top performers at UCB are right on the cusp. Any of them could be on Saturday Night Live, or become big-time comedic actors a la Jim Carrey and it wouldn't surprise me. One of the founders of UCB is Amy Poehler, who is currently on Saturday Night Live. (Truth be told? I have a small crush on her.) Another UCB alum, Rob Riggle, is also on SNL.

If you are in New York, I highly recommend going to see a show at the UCB. I especially recommend ASSSSCat 3000, which they do twice on Sundays. It frequently features Poehler, along with other SNL cast members such as Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch and Horatio Sanz. The early show is $8, the late show is free. There's a reason why people wait in line for 2 hours to see it. It may be the best entertainment bang for the buck in NYC. (Technically I guess if the show is free, you can't really calculate the bang per buck, since that would necessitate dividing by zero. Anyway, just go see the show. It's funny.)