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What I miss about Michigan…

i_love_michiganNext week will be the first time in about two years that I’ll be back in Michigan. I miss it a lot. I miss my friends. I miss my family.

I’m incredibly grateful Go Comedy is letting me have a show there on Thursday the 8th. Time is incredibly limited this trip because we’re coming back to wedding plan. This show is a good opportunity to get to see a bunch of friends all at once! So, if you’re going to the show, it will be over with by 9:00, we can all go down the street to a bar afterwards and hang out.  What’s that? You didn’t know about this show? Well click HERE for more info. And if you still need tickets to the show, just click HERE.

Now that my shameless self-promotion is out of the way, let’s get to what this post is really about. In addition to the obvious friends and family, there are a lot of unexpected things I miss about Michigan. Here’s my list of my top ten.

10. Fresh Air. The only reason that everything in Hollywood smells like poop and pee is because everything is coated in poop and pee. On the bright side, when Allyson and I go for walks we play a game called “Identify the Turd” where we try to figure out if a pile on the sidewalk came from animal or human.

9. Drive Thru Starbucks. I haven’t been to Starbucks in ages because I’d have no idea where to park if I found one. The upside is, going without Starbucks has let me save the fortune that it costs to live here.

8. Space.It’s not just the parking spaces. It’s space in general. Our apartment in Canton was twice the size of our apartment in Hollywood. I had my own bathroom in Canton! Do you ever feel like you’d shop at Trader Joes more if the parking lot wasn’t so cramped? That’s how everything in Los Angeles is. The entire city is breathing on the back of your neck with poop breath.

7. Meijer. It’s so nice to be able to grocery shop at midnight because the lines are shorter and the people watching is better. Meijer is a magical wonderland.

6. Zucchini and Yellow Squash. I miss the Ron Jeremy sized produce of Michigan. California Zucchini looks like it just got out of a cold swimming pool.

5. Bottle Returns. Every time I took back bottles it felt like winning a scratch off lottery ticket. You would think California would be the king of the bottle returns. Nope. I’m sure there’s a place to return them somewhere, but it’s not like Michigan. There must be a value to them because there are certainly people pushing overflowing and precariously stacked bags of bottles and cans in shopping carts down the middle of the street…which wouldn’t be the end of the world if there were just a little bit more of that aforementioned space!

4. Pop. On the subject of bottles and cans, I refuse to say “soda”. I feel like if I do, I’d be surrendering like Donald Sutherland gave up at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I won’t do that to my fellow Michiganders. I will not be assimilated!

3. Coney Island. Yes, there are a lot of great restaurants in Los Angeles, but many of them either too far to walk and parking stinks or they’re close by, but filled with the worst uppity pretentious people. Also, nothing kills an appetite quicker than losing a game of Identify the Turd because you mistakenly stepped in round two. Also, I can live happily if I never hear this sentence again:

“You’ve never had the Fred Armisen Indie Tacos before? Oh my God, I am soooo jealous that you get to experience it for the first time.”

signs2. Better Drivers and Road Signs. Yeah, Michigan drivers get slammed by people not native to Michigan as being aggressive. I like to think of us as efficient. I’ve performed in 4 countries, 26 states and Alabama. California drivers are the worst! I don’t blame them entirely. The roads and signs feel like they were designed by MC Escher.

1. Fall and Cider Mills. They tried to have a pumpkin patch here. They really did. It was in three parking spaces on the side of the road. You could play Identify the Turd around the perimeter. I don’t miss Winter at all. But I really do miss Fall colors and smells and going to Cider Mills.

Best of 2016

This year the In Memoriam section of the Oscars is going to be longer than the award ceremony.

cfI’m writing this shortly after hearing about Carrie Fisher dying. Yeah, I’m a Star Wars fanatic, so of course I dig Carrie Fisher. But to me, she was something more. When I found out that she was a script doctor and wrote screenplays, that was the first time I really considered screenwriting as a cool endeavor. She was sharp and funny.

So that’s why I’m here in Hollywood. I want to write. I want to be like Carrie Fisher and be known for both my writing and my personality. She was amazing, guys. Yeah, she was also bat shit crazy, but aren’t we all?

Here is a more in depth look at my favorite films of 2016. I’ll steer clear of spoilers.

Starting with a cheat…

Tied for #10: Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Both are super funny comedies, but the two couldn’t be more different. Wilderpeople is Taika Waititi’s follow up to What We Do In the Shadows (possibly the funniest movie of 2014). I think a lot of the New Zealand specific jokes go over our heads in America, but Wilderpeople is still a really touching and funny movie that’s essentially an odd couple road film…a very tried and true formula.  Popstar is a modern day Spinal Tap from the Lonely Island guys. Their reign on SNL is a blind spot for me, so I really find their absurdly silly songs fresh and new. This is one that I saw in a screening very early on in the year (Judd Apatow was there) so I don’t know what’s different from the version I saw versus the final release. I’m guessing they trimmed down the final release, but the DVD/Blu-Ray features a lot of deleted material. Like Spinal Tap, the sheer number of jokes is mind blowing.

#9: Don’t Breathe. Again this is another one that I saw an advance screening. From what I understand, a few minutes of the Blind Man explaining his motivations were cut from the final release, but are on the DVD/Blu-Ray as well as a little bit of maybe a redemption moment for Jane Levy’s character. Jane Levy is becoming one hell of a scream queen. She’s great in this and writer/director Fede Alvarez’s previous Evil Dead reimagining. Don’t Breathe features a pretty realistic look at many of the vacant neighborhoods of Detroit too.

#8: 10 Cloverfield Lane. I missed a screening for this when it was still called Valencia. I think maybe the Cloverfield tie in hurt it at the box office. Did enough people see the original Cloverfield to warrant a kind of/not really sequel? The cast of this is phenomenal. I love stories that could work well as plays too. I’d love to see a stage adaptation of this. It’s really a master class in writing plot twists. I’m trying to piece together who is probably ultimately responsible for the great screenplay since there are three writers credited. Since the first two also have “story by” credits, I’m guessing Damian Chazelle, who will pop up again on this list later, is largely responsible.

#7: Sing Street. I’m probably the perfect age to really love this love story/80s musical. I’m the same age as writer/director John Carney. Like Carrie Fisher, Carney is very vocal about his opinions. Unlike Carrie Fisher, his opinions kind of made him sound like a dick. He took down Keira Knightley after making Begin Again with her. I loved Begin Again, as well as his debut Once. Sing Street, like those two films, is also the story about a boy who loves a girl and making art with that girl.

#6. Midnight Special. This is a phenomenal sci-fi allegory about parenthood. Jeff Nichols is just a master story teller. I’m really bummed that I wasn’t able to see his second movie this year, Loving. Midnight Special is wonderfully acted too. Michael Shannon and Adam Driver both play against type. Shannon is the protective dad and Driver, fresh off of The Force Awakens, is the socially awkward and clumsy NSA agent tracking Shannon and his son, played by Jaeden Leiberher, who held his own opposite Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy in the sweet St. Vincent.

#5. Other People. Nobody has been talking about this movie that has my favorite performance of the year. It opened on 12 screens in September, but is now available to stream on Netflix. This was written by Chris Kelly, who was one of the head writers at Saturday Night Live as well as almost every other funny sketch thing. I’m guessing this is a semi-autobiographic story because it’s about a struggling comedy writer, played by Jesse Plemons, who has to go back home to take care of his dying mom played by Molly Shannon. Molly Shannon is nothing short of amazing in this. The fact that she isn’t even being considered for an Oscar nomination is a real shame and says a lot about the politics of show business. She is by far my best performer of the year. Like films along the lines of Skeleton Twins, Other People is a perfect balance of super funny in one moment and then heart wrenching in the next.

#4. Arrival. I love a movie that makes me look at life differently after seeing it. Arrival did that. I ended up going for a walk before I went to my car just so I could process what I watched. I think time jumps are really difficult to write. Arrival does that in a way that, without spoiling anything, is simultaneously clear and ambiguous at the same time. I can’t think of another film that expertly doles out information as precisely as Arrival. I’m bummed that it was based on a short story, because this is a film that I wish I could visit a more thorough version of in prose.

sw#3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Yes, I’m biased. I’ve loved Star Wars my entire life. I’m not only a prequel apologist, but I’ll argue the merits of Jar Jar Binks. With that being said, Rogue One is the prequel we deserved. The last ten minutes of this film, the ten minutes where you know what’s going to happen, still end up being ten of the most edge-of-your-seat tense minutes of the year. I’ve been worried that Disney was going to do to Star Wars what they’ve done to Marvel and just drown us in content both good and so-so.  I was cautiously optimistic about a Star Wars movie without the core characters, but Rogue One calmed any reservations I may have had.

gr#2. Green Room. This was, by far, the scariest movie I’ve seen in a very long time. Mostly because I’ve been in situations that could have easily broken as bad for me as it does for the band in this film. I worked in a punk/metal club that sometimes featured Nazi bands, which drew Nazi crowds. We locked ourselves inside when fights between Nazis and SHARPS (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice) spilled outside and become near riots that attracted the Detroit Police. And in my later years, comedy has taken me to some really shitty dives in the middle of nowhere. Green Room, like Jeremy Saulnier’s previous film Blue Ruin is an uncomfortably grounded story about real people stuck in unreal situations.

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#1. La La Land. I’m a sucker for a musical. I’m a sucker for a Hollywood story. I’m a sucker for a love story. I’m a sucker for a bittersweet story. I’m a sucker for a story about pursuing your dreams. I feels like Damian Chazelle made La La Land specifically for me.  This, like Rogue One, ties a perfect bow on a really stellar piece of art in those final moments. The music is so good. I just saw this yesterday, otherwise I’d have already overdosed Allyson (my fiancé) with the soundtrack. I think I caught all of the “hidden” edits in Birdman. If there are hidden edits in the opening number of La La Land, then I didn’t find them…although, as soon as I finish writing this, I am going to dive deep into all the information I can find about how this was made. The cinematography was just amazing. Simply amazing. Linus Sandgren takes places I see every day and shoots them so beautifully.

So that’s the list. I haven’t seen Silence yet, but I really want to. I love stories about people whose faith is pushed to the limit. That’s why Calvary was my favorite film in 2014. I didn’t get to see Edge of Seventeen or the aforementioned Loving either. I think I’ll really like them both when I do catch up with them. One film I did see this year that will  definitely make my 2017 list is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I saw a preview screening and if it came out this year, it would have easily been in my top three. I think it screened at Sundance or South by Southwest, so I guess technically I could have included it, but we’ll hold off until everyone gets to see it.

Upcoming Shows

Here’s what’s going on…all in one convenient place!

Tonight!  Super fun show.  I was there last month with DJ dangler when he was in town.  Plus look at this line up!  A whole lot of funny!

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Tomorrow!  It’s insane that I’m on this show.  Joshy Fadem is bizarre and wonderful.  I’m really honored to be part of it.

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My buddy Casey Moran let me put together the line up for this show.  A bunch of my favorite people all in one place.  It’ll be material that’s not on any of my albums or on Youtube.

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And then you can find me almost every Sunday at the Comedy Store in the Belly Room with my West Coast comedy family at Candy!

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Writing Partners

4 hands

I write best with a partner. I’ve tried a few different ones over the years before finding one who I really click with.  And I found him completely by accident.

The hardest thing I found about writing with a partner is that one person is always going to be more motivated than the other. Some days you may be the motivated one, while other days it may be them.  No relationship is truly 50/50 all the time.

Whenever I write something, I send it out to a bunch of people to get feedback. Very few people actually ever get back to me.  DJ Dangler always does.  And when he does, he’s thorough.  The first thing I remember critiquing was a spec script I wrote for Bob’s Burgers.  We went through it line by line picking apart dialogue that didn’t feel true to characters and moments that didn’t feel like the show.  It was incredibly helpful.

The thing that he and I just pitched was originally written as a live action show. As it developed, it became clear that changing it to an animated show would open up a universe of opportunities.

DJ is a few years younger than I am, and those few years make a big difference. I went through most of teen years without a cartoon aimed for my age group.   The Simpsons were just bumpers during the Tracey Ullman Show for most of the time I was in high school.  And the Beavis and Butt-Head “Frog Baseball” short didn’t even debut until after I graduated.  In order for me to get into an animated show, I really have to get over the fact that it’s animated first.  DJ is different.  He’s always had cartoons in his life.

Having someone with experiences and strengths different than yours is great to have in a creative partner. DJ’s brain works in ways mine simply doesn’t.  We’re both pretty opposite ends of the spectrum.  I’m more of a classical story teller, tuned into the mechanics of script writing, while DJ’s brain works without restraint.  We pull each other to the center.

I romanticize things and thought that he and I never say “no” to each other and that we always went down paths together until we hit a mutually agreed upon dead end. He pointed out that I’m definitely seeing our relationship through rose tinted glasses and we argue a lot!  And he’s right.  I can remember a few nights where I was shooting down every idea he had and then we agreed that we got about as much work done that day as we were going to do.  Because we lived within walking distance of each other, I’d sometimes walk him half way home and we’d decompress.  My memory is that we never ended a writing session angry with one another.  Frustrated, definitely.

Writing with a partner is about compromise. I’m stubborn and spoiled.  My parents not only gave me everything I ever needed, but they gave me everything I ever wanted.  I get crabby if I don’t get my way.  I’m a child.  When DJ and I would work on a script, it was very hard for me to accept the fact that DJ has his own timeline.   That’s my biggest hurdle with writing.   I wrote a screenplay with a single mom in Michigan and was constantly grouchy about the fact that she had other responsibilities beyond our story.  It’s easy for me to take ownership of my issue while I’m not currently collaborating with anyone.

There are a lot of advantages in writing with someone. Dialogue is going to sound more natural when you have a person to actually speak it to out loud.  You’re going to be able to catch spelling and grammatical errors quicker because you’re proof reading one another.  With this article, I’m going to have to wait until Kent Tucker texts me.   And I’m going to be so mad at myself if I transposed to and too again.   You’re going to generate content you couldn’t have come up with on your own.  DJ and I wrote a screenplay and in it there’s a joke that DJ wrote.  I don’t completely get the joke.  I understand it enough from context, but I didn’t know the reference.  I like that.  It makes the story feel more “real” for me because there’s plenty in the world that I don’t know.  Your characters will also have distinctive voices because a lot of times you’ll find you and your partner start taking ownership of certain characters.

My favorite thing about writing with someone is that you have a teammate who can pick you up while you’re down. Living in LA is brutal.  Everything is so expensive.  Nothing moves quickly enough.  The traffic is a great metaphor for show business.  Nothing is moving and there’s no explanation why.  Once you get to the end of a jam, things go smooth, until they stop again without rhyme or reason.  Hollywood is dirty and smells like urine. The soundscape is a constant barrage of sirens, helicopters and car horns.   There were so many times where I thought this was all hopeless until DJ would say or do something that made it better.  And I hope I did the same for him.

My advice to other writers is try writing with a partner and see how it goes. If you have someone who gives you good feedback on your solo stuff, then maybe that means they like what you do enough to want to team up.  Steer clear of people who don’t give you feedback.  If they can’t find the time to do that, then they’re probably going to struggle to find the time to write too.  Find someone who brings out the best in you, who you like spending time with.  You can’t have DJ though.  He’s mine!

 

Pitching a TV Show

pitchI’ve been fortunate over the past year to shadow an established television writer as he works on various pitches for his own shows. He works predominately in procedurals and political dramas, while I’m mainly a comedy guy.  But I knew the fundamentals I was learning were universal.

He always starts with a brief, but catchy biography about himself and why that makes him the best person to write what he’s pitching. His origin story has become like folklore.  He was a Washington DC speech writer, but some of the details change a little bit here and there.  Most importantly, the drama amps up in a way that always hooks you right out of the gate.

From there he goes into the teaser for his show. If you don’t know, that’s basically the thing you see before the first commercial that, if done right, keeps you from changing the channel for the next thirty or sixty minutes.  My mentor is great a teasers.  Political drama and procedurals are pretty much at the bottom of the list of things I like to watch, but more often than not, his teasers grab me.

Then he talks about the pilot episode while giving pertinent information about all of the key characters. He gives you enough of their backstories to get you to really know who they are as people.  Sometimes if the teaser doesn’t grab me, his ability to create interesting characters does.  His characters are always flawed.  They feel real.  Most importantly, they’re interesting.  We always know what their needs are and why they need it.

After he gives a pretty detailed beat by beat run down of the pilot episode, he goes over story beats for the entire first season of his show up to the cliffhanger ending. He wraps up by touching on the themes of further seasons so that whoever he’s pitching to knows he’s thought through this entire world.

Off the top of my head, I’ve sat through seven very detailed pitches in the past year from him. He’s a work horse.  In addition to learning how to pitch, I learned how to manage time and projects.  I’ll write more about that in the future.

So that brings me to our pitch.

Along with comedian DJ Dangler and artist Axel Ortiz, I created an animated show. My friend Joe Apel has been working in animation for the past ten years and directed me to someone at a network who might be looking for something maybe along the lines of what we created.  I sent an email and a meeting was set up pretty quickly.

DJ spends most of his time on the road making his living off of stand up, while I’m currently choosing to take a little break from the road and focus my attention on California right now. When the meeting was set, DJ decided to fly back to not only be there for the meeting, but to make sure we were prepared.

Axel is just as much of a work horse as the aforementioned television writer. He’s a veteran of the pitch meeting, but pointed out earlier that if we had a star attached to our show, that would give us an advantage.  Over the past six months, I’ve been working on getting the biggest name I know attached to it.  The week before our pitch, we got him.  He looked at what we were going in with and said that he was happy to be part of it and if it lands, we can hammer out the details then.

I researched the person we were pitching to. She was a guest on a comedy podcast and spent an entire hour talking about the pitching process.  In that interview, I also found out that she, like DJ, is from Indiana and her wife, like me, is from Michigan.  She and I both nerd out over character actors too.  So I knew we had a conversation opener and I wasn’t going to have to overly explain things like if I said, “Oh this character is a little bit like Miller from the movie Repo Man, played by Tracey Walter”, she was going to know who Tracey Walter is.  For the record, many of the scripts I’ve written have characters that I imagine Tracey Walter playing.  I know why Jonathan Demme puts him in every movie, because Tracey Walter is a national treasure!  I once told DJ that I would be more excited about meeting Tracey Walter than I would be about meeting George Lucas or Harrison Ford.  I think Tracey Walter lives within a mile of me too.  And if you think every time my girlfriend and I walk around the neighborhood, I’m not on a constant look out for Tracey Walter watering his plants, then you’re wrong!

Axel went in to pitch on another show three weeks prior to our meeting and told us what the executive asked from them. DJ and I wanted to make sure we were over prepared.  We had a pilot script.  We had ideas for story beats for our first season and I knew what I wanted to happen in the final episode of the entire series.  But DJ and I detailed out episode by episode the entire first season of our show.  We knew the story beats and what themes each episode would explore.   A friend of mine who works in printing made us a really nice pitch packet too.

The idea of writing stories with an overall point of view or theme is something that I would accidentally sometimes hit, but other times missed completely. DJ and I have a mutual friend in comedian turned television writer Nick Anthony who really hammered into us the idea that we sometimes missed that.  So when DJ and I started the conversation about each episode of our show, we started with what was the theme for that episode.  It really helped us figure out where the other characters were going to be in their individual arcs.

The night before our pitch, DJ and I walked home around five miles from West Hollywood to the far eastern side of Hollywood really exploring every character we created. We knew their strengths, their weaknesses, their desires, their backgrounds, and their secrets.

So going into our pitch I knew we created something cool, timely, we have a big name attached and we were prepared.

The meeting was great. I told her that I enjoyed the podcast she was on and we found out her dad and sister both went to Purdue, same as DJ.  Her wife and my girlfriend are from the same small suburb of Detroit.  She asked how DJ, Axel and I knew each other.  DJ and I have a fun origin story where we both showed up early at Nick Anthony’s home to go do a show in San Diego.  Nick wasn’t there yet.  I was parked on the street waiting.  A guy pulled up on the other side of the street, got out of his car, put a large pizza on the roof and just ate the entire thing in front of me.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  He was so full of unadulterated and gluttonous joy.  From that moment I wish I could be that guy’s friend.  That guy turned out to be DJ.  We hit it off that night and have been friends ever since.  Axel and I met at San Diego Comic Con last year and our origin story gave me a chance to really talk about how much I love his work and why he was the perfect person to design our show.

Then she wanted to know about our characters. DJ and I were able to speak passionately and deeply about each of them.  I like writing female characters.  This show features two really strong female characters.  The main character is, in some ways, man boy with arrested development not completely unlike DJ or myself.  One of the women in the show is his daughter, the other is basically his boss.  Both are strong.  Neither of them are bitchy.  Both of them are just as cool and quick as he is.  They’re strong women, but they’re perfect.  They’re deep and rich characters.  I can see how it would be an easy trap for a guy writing a woman to over compensate by trying to make her too perfect.  Ours aren’t at all.  They both have real human foibles.  Also, I’m hoping I just used the word “foibles” correctly.

At the end of our meeting she asked us what our roles would be if the show were picked up. I explained that when Garth Ennis created the comic book Preacher he gave artist Steve Dillon co-creator credit because he felt the look of it was just as important as the story.  I believe in that.  When I asked Axel to draw the characters, I told him very little.  And aside from changing the hair color on one of them, I didn’t have any changed.  I love his art.  DJ and I are great at writing jokes and character, but we still struggle with story and conflict.  An analogy a script reader gave us of a screenplay that we wrote was that there’s “a lot of icing, but not much cake”.  That’s fair.  So I said DJ and I care a lot about our characters, but if the show were picked up, it would probably be best if we were teamed with a producer who was better at breaking stories.  So I think that showed that we were flexible and going to be easy to work with.

There’s another show, which I can’t name, where the creators were fired because they were way too difficult and had very unrealistic expectations of what they were entitled to. Hollywood is a city built on collaborative art.  Nothing here is a single vision.  You have to be willing to trust others to help you create the best product possible.

According to the podcast our executive was on, because she sees so many people, her pitch meetings rarely go more than thirty minutes. Ours went 45.  She laughed a lot and seemed engaged. There’s nothing I would have done differently about our meeting.  We gave her our book with the character art and descriptions as well as additional information about the show.  We’ll know more in a couple weeks.

Yes, at this stage a hundred things would have to happen for this to be a show any of us would ever get to see. We’re going to move forward and continue pitching to other places too.  But on the flipside of this meeting, I thought it would be nice to share some of the tips that I learned.

  1. Know as much about the person you’re pitching as you can. As they say, “knowledge is power”.
  2. Be prepared to explain why what you’re pitching is important to you personally and why you’re the best person to write it.
  3. Television is a medium based on characters. Make sure you have interesting ones and you can talk about them.
  4. As with any speech writing, pepper in a joke or two if it suits the mood. I don’t think I’d try to make anyone laugh if I were pitching Schindler’s List: The Series.
  5. Keep it pithy, punk. Metallica songs are like three hours long and feel like they include every idea that everyone in the band had. In the time it takes to listen to two Metallica songs, you could listen to seventeen Ramones songs. Be a Ramone. Leave them wanting more.
  6. Don’t just talk. Listen. We were prepared to talk nonstop for 15-20 minutes, but were totally able to let our exec lead the pitch in a much more conversational and informal manner.
  7. Television is a flexible art. We didn’t get any notes in this first meeting, but my mentor has. He digests them all and if he has complaints, he does it later to his manager, not in the room.
  8. Know what you’re talking about inside and out. DJ and I know every in and out of our show where it stands right now. And if you had a question for us that we didn’t know the answer to, we’d make something up. We have an alien character who is the last of his kind. What planet is he from? Zaphodbrock. He’s a Zaphoid from the planet Zaphodbrock. I just made that up. It’s one part Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and one part late singer of Gwar. If you wanted me to talk about Zaphodbrock, I could. And DJ could jump in and we’d piggy back on each other’s ideas. Executives want to feel safe. The words, “I don’t know”, has never instilled security in anyone.
  9. If you can’t come up with ten items, don’t just make stuff up to fill time or space. See #5.

So there you go. I’m far from an expert, but I know a week or two ago I’d love to have this information compiled in one place.  I hope this helps or at least makes for some interesting reading.

Mandom Fan Dumb

After the release of the Rogue One: A Star Wars trailer last week, I posted on Facebook five IMDB message board thread titles that I felt really showed the best/worst reaction.

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The fanboys aren’t happy.

Later in the day, I had a talk with a gay Asian coworker about the reason behind the backlash. He didn’t get it.  That’s when I realized what it might be.   He’s had a lifetime of not seeing himself onscreen in genre films.   Most fanboys haven’t.

Straight, white males are used to seeing themselves represented in nerd culture. From Ant-Man to Zartan, comic books and sci-fi are riddled with straight, white male characters.   I grew up in a pretty white suburb.  When we played Star Wars on the playground, everyone wanted to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker.  No one was calling dibs on being Princess Leia or Lando Calrissian.

If a movie hero isn’t a white male, for the longest time, that movie was a mainstream flop. Granted, Steel and Blankman are arguably terrible movies.  But Spawn were decent enough.  And Hancock was actually good.  The Crow was a cult hit and maybe that’s because Brandon Lee was only half Asian.

To the best of my memory, Val Kilmer in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the first time I even remember seeing a gay action hero on screen.Pitfall!_Coverart

It’s been said that video games are the future of entertainment. They don’t have a much better track record, although I always liked to believe that Pitfall Harry was a nickname for Pitfall Harriet, and she was running across the jungle, not in an exercise of futility, but for Civil Rights.

Video games, for the most part, have straight, white male protagonists, unless it’s a game where you can create your own character. When those games offer a possibility where your male avatar can romance another man or your female avatar can romance another woman, it becomes a newsworthy and there’s backlash.

I’ve got news for the conservative parents who insist that Mass Effect made their son, playing a male Shepard, romance that hot male soldier. The game was impartial.  Your son banged that dude because your son wanted to bang that dude.  And believe me, he had to really work for it, just like I had to work to have my female Shepard bed down with Liara, the blue alien lady.

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I like this new era of seeing diversity in our heroes. Any time I’ve played a video game where I could create my own character, I’d create a badass lady hero.  And it’s not that I’m such an emotionally advanced and progressive dude.  It’s just that if I’m going to stare at the back of someone running for 100 hours of game play, I want them to have a pretty butt.  And that’s the same as my coworker who said that any time he can create his own character, he’d create a super hot guy.

The backlash with female heroes seems to be a pretty American thing. Luc Besson almost exclusively heads up his films with strong ladies.  Mad Max: Fury Road is a technically an Australian film.  And even more so, should have been titled Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road.   American genre films, especially Star Wars seems to be the core of sexism and racism in nerd culture.

Was Mad Max any more groundbreaking than Star Wars: The Force Unleashed? Both movies are female lead requels of existing franchises with full realized worlds and cutting edge special effects.  Star Wars was woefully snubbed at the Oscars. How many black people are in the entire Mad Max franchise?  One.  Tina Turner.  Star Wars has Finn in a starring role and I really hope that it’s dropped casually and matter of factly that Poe is gay.  Star Wars also has a much deeper plot then, let’s drive towards the left side of the screen for an hour, then turn around and drive to the right side.

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The Force Awakens was dismissed by many as being a retread of A New Hope. I couldn’t disagree more.  They’re similar only in that both stories are about people discovering their calling.  Isn’t that kind of the case of all origin stories?  A New Hope is basically just Luke’s story to blow up the Death Star.  The Force Awakens is mostly about the quest to find Luke Skywalker.  It isn’t just about Rey’s journey from survivor to hero.  It’s about Finn going against his literal programming to be a hero.  It’s about parents trying to fix their part in not being their for their son.  It’s a much deeper film than Mad Max and A New Hope.

One of my biggest hopes was that if I ever had a daughter, I’d have a son first, so he could be the protective big brother. But in this age, especially in this Star Wars age, of having role models like Daisy Ridley, Felicity Jones and hopefully a better used Gwendoline Christie, I realize I don’t have to revert to ancient beliefs and hokey old fashioned thinking.  If I ever have a daughter, she’ll get to live in a new era of Disney Princesses who don’t need rescuing.  She’ll get to live in an era where Disney Princesses wield lightsabers and steal Death Star plans.

2015 Resolution or…W.W.L.D.?

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In 2014 I made a huge leap of faith from my long time home in Michigan to the great unknown in California.  It was and continues to be scary.

This is a place that’s much more open to helping you when you’re a visitor than it is when you’re a resident.  When I would visit, I got on the best shows in town because I knew a handful of people and could say, “Hey, I’m going to be in LA the second week in June, can you put me on?”  Now that I’m here, there’s no urgency.  I’m just another mouse trying to get a piece of the cheese.  As far as comedy goes, honestly, I’ve done more here as a visitor than I have as a resident.

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I Am a Reluctant Test Audience

For free entertainment, I managed to get myself on the list to get free movie screening passes.  Recently, this has gotten me into a couple of super advance screenings of movies that aren’t due out for months and months.  Contractually, I’m not allowed to say anything about the movies, but there wasn’t anything in the confidentiality agreement about talking about the screening process.  So let’s cover those in the broadest terms.

After the movies everyone in the audience gets questionnaires.  And when I say everyone, I mean everyone.  Every opinion is the same.  My opinion doesn’t matter any more or less than the guy in the American flag shirt with the cut off sleeves…and yeah, that guy really exists.  My opinion doesn’t matter any more or less than woman who kept misplacing her child because she was doing something else.  My opinion also doesn’t matter any more or less than that child, who also gets a questionnaire!  Technically, my opinion matters less than all the aforementioned people because I’m too old.

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How to Be a Good Comedy Audience

Inspired by an article on Hip in Detroit about how to be a good music fan, I decided to write about what it takes to be a good comedy audience.

1. Research the comedian you’re going to see.  There are a crazy number of a varieties of comedy.  It’s like ice cream.  Baskin Robbins sells 31 flavors because not everybody likes chocolate or vanilla.  Some people love Superman…and if you’re one of those people, you’re wrong!  Comedy is the same way.  Maybe you like the nimble wordplay of a Myq Kaplan or the introspection of a Marc Maron or maybe you just like an angry hippy to smash a watermelon on stage.  Those are just three examples of the many, many kinds of comedy out there.  All are valid.  Comedy clubs generally only serve one kind of ice cream each week.  I love Moose Tracks.  I’d hate to go to a comedy club expecting Moose Tracks and find out that week they were only serving Raspberry Sherbet.  I hate Rasperries!  So research your entertainment options.  Most comedy clubs have a website where they list the performers.  And most performers have clips of their act available online.  I wouldn’t walk into a movie house and just plan on seeing “movie”.  No, I’d know exactly what movie I wanted to see because I researched the product  first.  I should have stuck with the ice cream analogy.  I’m hungry. Read the rest of this entry

Comedy Pro Tip: The Tortoise and the Hare.

Maybe it’s nerves or the adrenaline rush of doing what we’ve waited all day long to do, but many comedians tend to talk a bit too fast on stage.  Comedian and owner of the Komedy Korner, Leo DuFour once suggested when I got off stage that I slow down and enjoy my time like I would a delicious meal.   Maybe that was a health tip and I’m forgetting that I was scarfing down a Poutine platter at the time….it was Canada after all.   Let me find another example.

One of my best friends asked me after a show why I don’t speak on stage like I speak normally off stage.  He was right.  I didn’t believe in my material at the time so on stage I would yell and ram my jokes down the throats of the audience as quickly as I could.

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Lessons Learned: Comedy Club on State

Last week I was at one of my favorite clubs, The Comedy Club on State in Madison, Wisconsin.  I absolutely love this place.  Gus and Mary who own it are two of the nicest people I’ve ever had the good fortune of meeting.  Their daughters Eve and Anna are beautiful inside and out.  Joe, the room manager runs are super tight ship and is an hell of a guy too.  The waitstaff is stunning.  The bartenders all handsome.  Both on the surface and beneath it, everything about this place is fantastic.

Originally I was supposed to be doing this week as a split week where I would headline Thursday and then Eddie Brill who used to book Letterman would come in on Friday and Saturday.  Eddie got into a little trouble earlier this year for being misquoted or having his words taken out of context about female comics.  So he canceled the gig.  Instead I was working with Ian Edwards. Read the rest of this entry

Harry Houdini

I’m in Appleton, Wisconsin right now.  Appleton is probably best known as the first American home of Harry Houdini.   I went to the Houdini Museum today and it struck me how much I could take from Houdini’s life and apply it to comedy.

Erik Weisz was constantly reinventing himself.  His earliest performing was as a trapeze artist.  When he moved on to magic, he took the name Harry Houdini.  For some comedians it’s easy to find your groove and stay in it.  I think sometimes there’s little difference between a groove and a rut.  I doubt anyone today would remember Houdini the trapeze artist, or Ehrich The Prince of the Air as he was calling himself at the time.  I don’t know how many of us would even remember Houdini the magician.  It’s that third reinvention as an escape artist that brought Houdini his fame. Read the rest of this entry

Week in Review: West Coast to the Midwest

This past weekend I was at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase with my friend Nate Fridson.  I’ve only seen Nate once since he moved to New York about a year or so ago.  He churned out a ton of new material.  It was really nice watching him.  I was nervous going into the weekend since it had been a good month since I did more than 15 minutes of time in one set.   Maybe stand up is like riding a bike.  I haven’t ridden a bike in years and I’m worried how my first attempt would be.

The shows ended up going pretty well.  With the exception of about four or five minutes on being an uncle, I’m not doing any material from my CD that I released just about a year ago.   I have a pretty good track record at the Showcase so I took advantage of that trust to try out some new pieces.   Most of them worked.

This week marks the start of two months of road work.  The boredom I feel from doing the same jokes over and over again tends to go away when I’m in new cities.   I know everything will be brand new to them.  This week I’ll be at the Skyline Comedy Cafe in Appleton, Wisconsin.  It’s a great club and I’m really looking forward to it.

Earlier in the week I did a live episode of WTF with Marc Maron.  That was pretty awesome.  I know Marc has his reputation, but he’s been super cool to me.  I was nervous for the interview, but it went fairly well.  We dug a little more into my personal life than I would have wanted, but that’s the nature of the show.  After that I went over to the UCB Theatre and did a set on Comedy Bang Bang.  Zach Galifianakis closed that show.  Backstage he seemed like a genuinely good guy.  That made me happy.  Eric Andre was there too.  He was just super nice and charming.  It really does seem like the only dicks you encounter in this business are the people at the bottom who are bitter being stuck there.  The higher up you go, the nicer people seem to be.

I closed out my LA trip with a set on The Meltdown and Meltdown Comics.  That show was simply amazing.  It’s a small room, packed full of comedy super fans.  The line up is always great.  I was so honored that my Jonah Ray let me be part of it.  Through my years I’ve met a lot of people who I don’t get to see nearly as much as I’d like.  Jonah is one of those guys.  He’s another guy who in addition to being a really good comedian, is also a hell of a nice person.

Sean Patton from New Orleans closed the Meltdown show and was simply amazing.  I worked with Sean here in Michigan and thought he was great.  Earlier this week though, that greatness was on a whole new level.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, another super awesome person too.  Hopefully Sean and I will be able to do some shows together in 2013.  He’s going to be on Maron’s television show for IFC next year.  I have a feeling that’s about the time that he’s going to blow up and become a household name at least with comedy nerds.

From start to finish, last week was a blast!  Enjoy some clips from Nate, Jonah and Sean.

Tales From The Script: Part 6 (Here Goes Nothing…literally)

Through comedy I know a few people.  Through her work, Lesley knows a few people as well.  In my mind, here’s basically how I thought this would work.

Lesley and I wrote a really good screenplay.  We let some people read it and give us feedback.  We wrote a better second draft.  We had some funny people over to read through it and we took notes on the comedy beats and how the words flowed.  We wrote an even better third draft.  We registered the script with the WGA.  Then we started contacting people.

Our script is basically Bridesmaids meets The Social Network.   It’s really funny.  Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids, was a stand up comedian in Detroit, just like me.  A mutual friend gave me his e-mail address a long time ago and we wrote back and forth a couple times.  He was super nice and supportive.  So, with this third draft in hand, I wrote him and asked him if he could point me towards someone who could read it.  I know there are all sorts of legal issues with asking him to read it himself.  I waited for a response.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been in LA to do some comedy stuff.  I always had a couple thumb drives in my pocket with copies of the script in case I ran into someone that could do something with it.  I ended up performing on Comedy Bang Bang at the UCB Theater.  It’s a show produced by the great Scott Aukerman, who in addition to creating Comedy Bang Bang, has been making a living as a writer since about 1994.   I got to pick his brain for a little bit after the show.

He told me that a response from Paul would be a long shot because even though I worded my e-mail carefully, the potential for lawsuits would be too risky.  Even if he did write back, it was unlikely that he’d feel comfortable passing on a thing he hasn’t read himself.  Yeah, that’s a big Catch 22.  He can’t read it because of legal issues.  He can’t pass it on because it’s good because he can’t read it.  Scott said the way to get it out there is to basically treat the script like I treat my stand up and let the work speak for itself.  I need to let people in Hollywood read it and generate a buzz.  Eventually the buzz will get around and someone will take interest.   There’s a part in the script that would be perfect for TJ Miller.  I know him a little, so maybe I’ll try to get it in his hands.

The more likely scenario Scott said was that someone will notice me from my stand up and want to be my agent.  They’ll ask if I have a script and when I tell them about this thing that Lesley and I created, it’ll make me 20 times more valuable.   Great.  Well, as good as I feel I am as a stand up, no one in nine and a half years has asked to be my agent yet.

Discouraging?  Yeah.  A long time ago and older comedian asked to take me out to lunch so he could pick my brain.  He was retired now and wanted to make a run of it as a comedian.  He was a nice guy who had been public speaking for longer than I’ve been alive.  He was comfortable on stage, but every joke he told came straight from a book.  I told him that the only way he could make a go of it as a comedian was to write his own material.  He didn’t want to hear that and got angry.  I couldn’t tell him what he wanted to hear.  I told him what he needed to hear.  Scott Aukerman didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear.  There is no secret backdoor into the writing pool of Hollywood.  He told me what I needed to hear.  There is no secret backdoor into the writing pool of Hollywood.

So where does that leave us?  Lesley has a couple connections too, but they feel like really long shots.  To make the script speak for itself, I think the plan is to do what I would do with my comedy.  For comedy, a lot of people enter festivals so our peers from all over take notice of us and hopefully spread the word.  I think Lesley and I are going to start entering the script into different script writing contests and see what happens.  Maybe it isn’t as good as we think it is.  I really like it.  When I pitch it to people, they seem to like it.  They laugh.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in nine and a half years in comedy it’s the difference between a kind and a genuine laugh.  I think they laugh genuinely.

So that’s it for now.  You’re up to speed.  I’ll let you know when something happens.  If something happens.

Tales From the Script: Part 5 (Voices Carry)

When Lesley and I initially started writing our script, we were writing it with the intent to find a local production company to shoot it for us with us in the leads.  Once we changed our minds on that, we dream cast it so that we’d both be writing towards the same vision.

I know a lot of writers say they don’t do this, but it helped me a lot.   Like with writing jokes, most of it happens for me while I’m lying in bed at night unable to sleep.  I’ll just lay there with ideas racing through my head until I have to jump up and find a notebook.  Sometimes ideas hit me first thing in the morning, which honestly, beating the alarm to jump out of bed with some creative inspiration is a great way to start the day!

Writing with someone in mind helped me find the character’s voice fairly easily.  Final Draft has a profile on Facebook where every day they have some sort of writing tip or question.  Recently they posed a question asking if you were to block out the names of the characters in your script, would you still be able to tell who they are?

Once we hammered out our first draft, we assigned each other characters and we went through the script focusing on each piece of those lines trying to make sure there was a flow.    One thing that came from this that I liked was I had one of the characters often times refer to another by a nickname.  I think this was a nice little touch to show that they had some sort of history.   The unfortunately short lived television show The Middle Man did this too.  The lead was named Wendy Watson.  Her partner called her Dub Dub.   A little touch like that was nice because it not only showed a little bit of familiarity, but it was so out of character for the straight laced Middle Man to use a nickname that it really humanized him.  It gave his character a little more depth.

Another thing Lesley and I did that helped was we had our friends over to read through the script assigning them different roles.  Some lines didn’t flow as smoothly out of other mouths, so as we did the readthru I took notes on how the actor initially wanted to read a line.

I tend to flip sentences.  Not like Yoda, but a little bit like that.  Right now, I’m totally blanking on an example.  Hmm.  I guess that was an example in itself.  Where a lot of people may have said “I’m totally blanking on an example right now.”  I lead with the “right now”.   I think I’m better at that now.   A long time ago a friend asked me where I originally hail from because he found my sentence structure so foreign.

So there you go.  That’s a little insight in our process in trying to give our characters unique voices.  Does anyone else have any tips?