Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Spiritual Metaphors

Just above my bathroom sink I have a statement I typed, printed and posted there months ago. I try to read it every morning to help keep me in the "vortex" or whatever you call that frame of mind which keeps you in the spiritual moment. I find comfort in it and try to reference it often.
I do remember at the time I wrote it thinking hard on how I would emphasize it for importance. Underlining some words didn't seem right, quote marks didn't seem to work either. I decided on capitalization. As apparent in the photo, I capitalized IS twice and NOW once. That seemed to reflect the inflection echoing my internal narrative. But, it began to bother me that I had not capitalized the word God.
As you can also see from the photo a drop of water fell on the word God, making it stand out in a unique way. I wouldn't have the ability to highlight the word in such a manner, even if it had dawned on me to do it. But there it is, a natural exclamation point to the phrase.
I suppose every miracle can be explained in a natural way. And it is not unusual that a slip of paper posted next to a vanity sink might get splashed. Every thing is a matter of how we see it and all in the way it is personally interpreted. If you see an event as a coincidence and not a metaphor then it is only an accident.
For me I see this water drop not as a matter of circumstance, but as confirmation of a higher level of thought. The drop encompasses only the word God and includes no other letters. It is as if the word has been circled in celestial way; or it is just a drop of water that happened to fall at that spot on the paper. It is like art, we all get to make up what it means to each of us and there is no concrete absolute answer.
As for me I got the point and see the metaphor in the event. It lifted me to consider lots of things which could be dismissed as an accident or interpreted as a sign of non verbal communication.
There are no absolute answers only the prospect of more complex questions.
As you were,

Monday, June 27, 2011

One week Later...
It began with Fathers Day and ended with the wedding of Brandon's friend Stephen.  The week went by so fast it proves time is such a relative measurement.  
First the best toast for Father's Day.  Brandon and Taylor had both their Father and GodFather Harry to celebrate with here last Sunday.  I'm not sure who was first to call Harry Anderson the "GodFather from Hell", but both boys have embraced that moniker over the years.  It was a great day with my family and best friend.  Harry used to say, "Be careful not to say the word FUCK in front of the K-I-D-S."  Now there are no restrictions on stories or language in front of the M-E-N.
As eldest son, Brandon offered the official toast.  He raised his glass and said, "They say a child with a ventriloquist for a father and magician/conman for a GodFather might have trouble adjusting to real life..... (perfectly timed pause).....Cheers!" 
Big laugh from a very tough crowd.
It is great to have Brandon home, it means the house is active with his friends coming by.  Some of these people I have known since they were kids, some hang with Taylor and we see them often, but others aren't here unless Bran comes to town.  It the midst of Stephen's wedding our house was the weigh station for the grooms wedding party.  I think the party started on Friday afternoon and only briefly paused for rehearsals and wedding errands until about 11:00 am this morning.  I was glad to play a part in the festivities.  Stephen was such a lost child and I think we all thought it might not go well for him.  But he has become a great guy, with a kind soul. It was great to watch that amazing change. 
As you were,

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Duck Season

I really can't stop. Ducks have kidnaped my muse. I don't think this is necessarily a good thing, to be artistically induced by ducks.
As you were,

Good Bye Mr. Peabody

I drew this picture on the plane ride coming home on Friday. I can't remember what the inspiration was, I was just thinking of Ducks, all around me Ducks. Perhaps it is time for me to get off the road...
as you were,

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sorry Peabody Hotel
I went on and on about the way the hotel was inventorying their bottled water at the Peabody Hotel Orlando in my last blog. The whole electronic tag on the water was bogus. The water is indeed free to the occupant of the room. Their draconian/digital application was an assumption on my part that proved to be not the case.
Tonight when I went to get another over priced water bottle I discovered that there was no electronic tracking device on the other bottle. It was only then that I began to examine the magnetic object on the first bottle.
Apparently the tag was a "gift" from a former occupant of this room. It was in actuality a lapel pin meant to stick on a suit or blouse to advertise a company. Some practical joker decided to punch the nail part of the lapel pin into the bottom of one of the water bottle. Very funny, and here I was blaming the duck hotel.
The electronic elements of the pin were proven to be a battery and tiny circuit board that was meant to light a tiny flash in the middle of the logo of the company. The battery had obviously run down so it was not apparent to the unsuspecting thirsty lodger like myself.
The company is ADAYANA. I looked it up on the internet and it is a consultation company. Now I am not sure that an employee was the one that ruined my water. They surely give out lapel pins to people other than workers for advertising so you can't really blame the company. So who knows.
The only thing I know is that the Peabody Hotel is not to blame. I still think that they have over done the Duck thing but that said, I am sorry I accused them of bad minibar procedure.
The show went very well tonight. I emceed a show with David Spade and Sinbad. They are both friends of mine and I don't think that the audience realized that there would never be a show with the three of us on he same bill except a corporate show. In the case of Sinbad and David Spade they are both Headliners and no venue, except with a corporate budget, could afford to pay for two, and perhaps including myself, three headline acts. So it was a special evening.
I am very glad it went well and I will be glad to go home after a long time on the road.
As you were,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Peabody Ducks
I am staying at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando. It is directly across the street from the Orlando convention center. It was chosen for its convenience not necessarily the decor, or in this case the "decoy". That will make you laugh later but read on.
The Peabody is famous for the March of the Ducks. I believe the event started many years ago when a row of ducks followed a bellman into the Peabody Hotel in Memphis,TN and jumped into the lobby fountain. Since it was the day before cable TV and in room porn, it caused quite a stir with the lodgers. Soon Mr. Peabody decided that having the ducks come in every day as an impromptu parade was a good idea.
Years later the duck has become the calling card mascot of the Peabody Hotels and although I don't know how many there are in the world today, at least this one in Orlando maintains the "duck parade" with fierce loyalty.
I have witnessed the event during other stays here at the hotel. At 11:00am every day velvet ropes line a red carpet path leading to a fountain in the middle of the lobby. At the precise hour a dedicated elevator opens to a Sousa march and a flock of ducks wattle through the lobby and into the fountain like high rollers at Ceasar's Palace. There they swim and quack like ducks of means. It is all very cute until the ducks reveal themselves to be actual ducks and begin to deficate on the marble floor of the hotel. There is a duck dung wrangler responsible for the erradication of such droppings, but no human can actually keep up with a duck's bowels. It is not very appetizing. If this was a Disney Hotel they would have animatronic ducks who would secrete pate and crackers for the audience to munch on with cocktails.
Like all good ideas, they eventually give way to the marketing department. The entire hotel is duck themed. Duck patterns in the carpet, duck pictures on the room keys, duck decoys for sale in the lobby and even the soap is shaped like a duck. The hotel sign is an arist rendition of a walking duck. Every painting in the rooms has to do with ducks. And yes there is a yellow rubber duckie for each and every tub. It makes you want to grab a shot gun and hide behind the artificial plants in the lobby with a dog named Buela and wait till noon.
With all this "duck-a-bellia" you would think that the staff would have a sence of humor about it. Not so, the duck is a sacred cow at the Peabody Hotel. Case in point.
I decided to have some lunch in the coffee shop of the hotel. A very nice young waitress with an embrodried duck on her blouse and her apron asked me what I would like. I pointed to the picture of the duck that dominates the menu and said, "I'll have one of those, crispy with orange sauce." Not a twitter crossed her face from the obvious knee slapper I had delivered with the professionalism of a comic. She looked at me as if I had spoken German and waited until I said, "Club Sandwich" to show any acknowledgement. I wanted to say, "And hold the duck" but I knew I had crossed a line.
The last straw had nothing to do with a duck, but points to the fact that if you do not have your ducks in perspective you can make some terrible decisions regarding hotel management. In the refrigerator I found two bottles of Evian water. I know that the water is not free. And from experience I know that the minibar charge is excessively stupid. However, in the case of water, I generally take one from the hotel stash at night, and the next day buy a bottle, for a third of the in room price, at the lobby sundries store and replace it. No one is the wiser and it has works at most every hotel I stay.
This time however, I noticed that the bottle of water fom the mini bar would not stand up straight on the night stand. I examined it to find that a magnetic sensor was attached to the bottom causing it to list at an odd angle. I could not determine if it would set off an alarm if I walked out the door with it, or if by removing it from the fridge it had just signaled the hotel staff that a thirsty sucker had just been caught. Nonetheless, I decided that if I was going to pay minibar prices for the water, it would have to sit up straight. I pulled the sensor off the bottom, and found to my amazement that it had been applied with a nail. A nail through the bottom of a plastic bottle of water.
It immediately sprang a leak that under the presssure shot half way across the room. The way I calculate it, almost a dollar and a half of this over priced water provided a not so pleasant dancing water effect onto the carpet. I could not stem the flow until I poured it into one of the very small in room drinking glasses. It required me to chug several mouth-fulls before I could pour the remainder into the tiny glass for more casual drinking. What next, will they count the tissues and charge me per-nose wipe?
As you were,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Plane rides and InfoComm

I wasn't at home very long before I was on a plane again heading to InfoComm in Orlando. I was bumped up to first class which always makes the ride a little easier. It makes it a lot more comfortable to sketch when I have more room to spread out. When I can sketch, the time goes by very quickly.
I will be performing for the comedy show for Crestron Electronics at the Orlando convention center. Infocomm is where the nerds and the geeks meet with bankers to try to explain what a G is and why we need 4 of them. Their cocktail conversation is like an alien language, full of anagrams and numbers.
"Yeah we had the CSR for a while but BBD rate was so slow. Then we upgraded to the ENNS 9 co-processor and it gave us at least 8 gigs more baud. Little did we know that the increase was actually taking away from the processor RAM. I agree that the TSL rate is more robust, But I'm telling you, if that thing ever crashes, good luck saving your status on World of Warcraft." My comment is always OMG WTF?
Glad to be back in the world of corporate entertaining. It comes so second nature to me it really is fun to figure out a company, throw in some inside jokes, and look like you studied the company for months. I have a formula that seems to always work. Since comedy is really just the unexpected turn, it can be readily applied to the lingo that the company uses. I find the game much more exciting than a role playing Internet romp.
On the plane, as is my usual MO, I was drawing on my Ipad. It was an exercise more than serious art. I was trying to capture movement and form in the least number of lines and the quickest strokes I could. It was a lightning round of sketching and erasing the images. A couple of the flight attendants from Dallas started looking over my shoulder. They asked me what I was doing and what was the program I was using, and was I a professional artist? The question they really wanted to ask was Why? Why are you drawing so fast and erasing the picture just when you get it to look like something. But they were too professional to solicit that information. However, I am an attention whore and any notice is a good thing at 35,000 feet. I did show them some of my serious drawings and they had the appropriate ooh and ahh to make an iterate artist feel good.
Later the guy across the aisle stated asking me about my art. After the usual questions he asked, "Do you ever do cartoon fruits?" It is not a question that I have had practice answering so I said something as a response simply to find out what he was talking about.
Well, it seems that he has a new company and they are trying to get people to become more health conscious. He is a retired Olympic Athlete and is trying to capitalize on his fame, knowledge of fitness and charm and make money at it. He has all sorts of programs and websites that promote a healthy choice of foods and thought my style of art would be a perfect fit to make fruits and vegetables more appealing to young kids. I don't know what he saw in my quick studies. Perhaps they were so childish he thought I could actually relate to a third grader on his own level. He talked as if I had the answer to drawing a banana which was so funny and appealing it would make a third grader lust to devour it, forsaking the Snickers bar that was readily available. He wanted my email to contact me with a serious pitch. I didn't have a card but I took his and we agreed to pursue the matter at a lower altitude.
I have learned over the years that airplane chatter has no more reality than cocktail conversation. Mainly he was reacting to the attention that I had gotten from the flight attendants. He wanted me to know that he was somebody of importance. Even if the girls did not come up to him and ask questions, he was worthy of their attention as well.
The best way to make a conversation about yourself is to start by asking an obtuse question that gets minimal information as a response. Then you can explain why you asked such an unusual question. I have no doubt this was the case in fact. I am too jaded to actually think he saw something in my drawing he could use to further his cause. Yet the artistic child in me jumps at any chance to prove I can accomplish exactly what he is looking for.
It is so much like "actors syndrome". You get a script and immediately know is not right for you; by the time you play with it, rehearse it and figure a way to make the reading work, you convince yourself that you are perfect for the role. When the producers confirm your original opinion that you are not right their "NO" really cuts deep. Unfortunately there is no other way to get the courage to walk into an audition and give it your all unless you have become convinced that you are the guy for the part. It is the thick skin soft heart an actor must develop.
I will send this guy and email. The odds on him even remembering the conversation are too high to calculate. It is so much easier to look at art objectively when it is a drawing. A drawing is just something I put down on paper, or in this case a screen. I have some distance between it and myself. It is not me or my personality on display like it would be if I was acting or performing. This art is just an object that I can look at detached. I am glad this conversation took place because it really does help me to see who I am as an artist and what I do.
In the words of my friend Harry, "Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out." If anything comes of this skyline connection it will be documented in this blog first.
As you were,

Friday, June 10, 2011


One would think that the reason you go to see a show is to become immersed in the moment. Theatre, movies, concerts, plays and musicals strive to take you out of the world you are in for a few hours and let you live in one that is created for just that purpose. That is the reason you buy a ticket, you pay to enter this world of the imagination. I know that is the goal of some people when they come to see a show. It is the reason I wrote my show and it is the motive for performing it.
Not so much for the lady in the fifth row of the audience tonight. She texted all the way through my show. Why would you do that? There are announcements asking politely not to use a cell phone in any way during the show. There is also a matter of common curtesy.
It wasn't that it was just distracting to me. Although from my vantage point looking at the darkened audience it was like a lighthouse beacon lighting up her face. Being a professional I am able to deal with distractions and still keep the show flowing; however, it is like playing piano with boxing gloves becomes so much more work than necessary.
She was not a teenager, not that age is an excuse for rudeness. But, she *was* old enough to remember life without the need for an instant text response. Nonetheless she insisted on repeatedly annoying me and everyone around her for most of the show. It was hard for the ushers to see her and get to her to stop her without causing an even greater disturbance. Neither did the people around her take it upon themselves to self-administer the rules. They were I suppose trying to be polite. I could, however, see the annoyed expressions on their faces from the ambient light of her phone.
I finally had one of my characters tell her stop it with the same technique I have employed many times to silence a heckler. I embarrassed her enough in front of the crowd that she sheepishly doused the phone. Had it been my old comedy club days when I had code words established with the bouncers she would have been thrown out of the theatre. I rarely miss those days more than tonight. I would have delighted in watching a huge bouncer throw her bulky ass out on the street.
Why come to a show and carry on a conversation, tweet, check your Facebook status, make airline reservations, post a video or do anything but watch the show. If you have other things to do, go do that, no one will miss you, But if you are at the theatre watch the show. It is not just a waste of her admission ticket, it is a waste of my time and a waste of time and money for everyone else who came just to watch the show.
I am sure she didn't learn her lesson. If you are that out of touch with your surroundings and that oblivious to your rudeness it will take more than a puppet reprimand to wise you up. And unfortunately I doubt that I am immune to that experience again. It is not that Congressmen are texting inappropriate things it is that most of the texting world is texting at inappropriate times as well. At the theatre is bad enough but while driving a car it becomes more dangerous than drinking and driving.
Can't a person go an hour and a half without the need to communicate superficial facts via their thumbs. Because they have no opposable thumbs, monkeys may one day take over the world while every human is looking down at their iPhones "LOL-ing" It may have already happened in the corporate world. I am sure monkeys run tech support for windows even now.
So here's to the lady in the fifth row center... yeah you the anonymous twitter twat. Please never come to my show again, nor any other for that matter. Stay home and send all the tweets your thumbs can type. Make sure that all your followers know that you do not have a life except that which can be stated in less than 140 characters. Let them know that you "like" their status and make sure you use plenty of textspeak, LOL, :0 OMG the person receiving the info will probably FOFL. Never leave your bedroom. That way you won't disturb the rest of us who have come to a show especially to get away from the very likes of you. And as for me, then I can give the crowd their money's worth without having to stop a performance and give you a lesson on manners ..|.. (*_*)..|..
As you were,

Thursday, June 09, 2011

True Crime Stories

I have never wanted to be anything but a professional actor and ventriloquist, so I guess my life has worked out very well, up till now. That last qualifier speaks to the insecurity that the entertainment industry breads. It is usually feast or famine and you are either complaining about being away from home working or complaining that you are at home not working. The roller coaster ride of a career has never been one of the most attractive sides to performing.
I do remember in junior high I had to say what I would like to be when I grew up and instead of ventriloquist (which was not an acceptable answer to this query) I said... Lawyer. My sixth grade teacher smiled in approval.
I knew nothing about lawyers except what I had seen on television. Those lawyers seemed to be performers giving speeches to a very captive audience. In my naiveté the only thing missing was a puppet.
Little did I know that most of a Lawyer's day is spent reading boring case studies and quoting old legalese. Neither did I know that there were other kinds of lawyers who never did get to perform in front of a jury/audience.
However, I have retained a fascination for criminal trials and detective stories. The Casey Anthony Trial has so occupied my attention for the last two weeks that I am beginning to style my hair like Nancy Grace. I miss my cable access to shows like 48 hours and Forensic Files, and Cold Case Files on A&E. That is probably the motivation for this discovery:

At one of my almost daily trips to Wegmans, the food store of the area, I saw a bin of highly discounted DVD's for sale. Most were four bucks with titles that I had never even heard and actor names that rang no bells. I think at first my interest was to see if there was even one title that I might remember. That is when I came across a large collection of several DVD's titled... "Prime Time Crime". Of course that title was not familiar but it caught my eye. For cheap, I might be able to use the DVD player at the "star house", since the television reception sucks. I found out that it was a collection of Stephen Cannell television shows that had been on television during his era as a very successful producer/writer. In addition to favorite episodes of some of his more notable work like, "Hunter", "21 Jump Street", Wiseguy" and "The Commish" the cover also touted 42 episodes of previously unreleased series. One of those series was "Broken Badges" with a photo of the cast. There I was standing with my fellow actors as Stanley Jones in the "previously unreleased series.." on the cover of the DVD.
"Broken Badges" was one of the highlights of my career. Unfortunately it was not one of the highlights of the CBS television lineup. We were cancelled after 7 episodes or half a year. It took almost a year to do the seven episodes from pilot to cancellation so it occupied a lot of my experience.
I learned a lot doing a single camera drama. I liked the pace and I liked my character, a cop ventriloquist, which had room for me to grow and learn as an actor without a puppet. I got to act, chase bad guys, show a badge, carry a gun and do a lot of stunt fights. I might have grown tired of the whole thing over time, but it did not last long enough for me to feel anything but joy. I was very sad when we got the notice at Christmas that year that we would not be back.
I have most of the episodes of the show on video tape, which is fading and disappearing with the years. So I was excited that I could get all the episodes on DVD for nine bucks, less than it would cost to transfer the less than pristine copies I had already. So, I grabbed it up. Very excited that I had saved some of my own history. I brought it back to the "star house" very pleased with my discovery.
But wait. There was my picture and my performances on a DVD for sale at Wegmans in Rochester, New York. It was a SAG show with the standard contract language for RESIDUALS. My excitement turned to greed as I said to myself,
"Where is my dough for this Wegmans discounted bottom bin DVD?" How can they release my picture and my work without proper compensation under union rules?
Quickly I did the calculations based on the 7 shows at the going rate of .001% participation in each episode. Now I don't know what the profit break is on the combination of all these shows and episodes when packaged together. You also have to figure the cost of transferring them to DVD, marketing costs and distribution. I mean someone had to drive a batch up here to Wegmans for sale, and the cost of gas is almost 4 bucks a gallon locally. I figure Johnny Depp will get more for his several years on "21 Jump Street" than I will for half a year of "Badges" so I will have share with him and the other actors. And since the show probably didn't make a profit in its original release to CBS there could be some accrued costs to offset. But I still think that comes out to about .00063 cents a unit. So... if they sell more than 100,000 copies I should almost break even on my $9.00 purchase. But wait, I didn't include he accrued costs of my lawyer who made the deal with Cannell to begin with. So maybe they have to sell half a million copies before I get my nine bucks back. Since I bought the only copy in the bin bargain bin at Wegmans, that may take a while. But a deal is a deal.
Maybe I should have been a lawyer like my sixth grade teacher suggested.
As you were,

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Siren Alert

Since we have been staying in the suburban Irondequoit area of Rochester for several weeks now, there has been a consistent mystery. Not just the ghost we call Sammy, who continues to cause minor electrical disturbances. There is a siren that goes off loud enough for us to hear quite clearly, almost daily. At first we thought that it went off to announce a certain time, like noon or quitting time at 5:00. But it is never consistent and never a specific time.
During the first few days we thought it might be a tornado warning, due to the weather the East Coast was experiencing. But Rochester is on the coast of Lake Ontario inland of the unusual weather and other than rain and winter snow they seem to be insulated from tornados.
After never finding a pattern to the blasts, coming when the weather was clear, we went on line to search for an answer. Of course that is when Sammy acts up and causes a simple search to become a chore. I did find out that it was most probably a Chrysler Alarm siren, originally manufactured for a cold war air raid warning. Rochester was listed as having one of the last original Chrysler Sirens still operating in the entire country. I even saw pictures of the mammoth device and a schematic on how it was built. But no indication as to why the one still working would be going off at different times of the day, unless it was actually not working that well and had a schedule of its mechanical own.
We were finally down to searches of Fire Departments in the area. Through the modern miracle of electronic devices which can not only locate addresses, but pinpoint your own location as well, we discovered that we were close enough to the Ridge Culver Fire Department to make it the source of the siren. Since Ridge Culver is not Irondequoit or Rochester it was illusive at first, but here is what we found:

Ridge Culver Fire is a combined career and volunteer fire department that is divided into three groups, The Ridge Culver Fire District, The Ridge Culver Fire Department and The Ridge Culver Fire Association

So this station is a combined career and volunteer fire department. The siren is the alert for the volunteer's to come to the station. Mystery solved, but quandary created. It has gone off at least once a day and twice on others. When do these volunteer's work at their real jobs? But most importantly... in this modern day miracle of electronic devices I used to find the Fire Department... isn't there a better, QUIETER, way to notify the volunteers? I mean really? Their best means to get volunteers to the station is a cold war era Chrysler Air Raid Siren? Here is an idea they might want to consider.
The Most Powerful Siren Ever Built 1952-1957, 180 HP V-8, 3 TONS, 12 FEET LONG

The Most Powerful Phone Ever Built -2011, 3G, 4.62 Ounces, 4.7" x 2.3" x 0.5"

You do the math.
As you were,

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Weiner: What's in a name?

A week ago I defended Congressman Andrew Weiner's version of the twitter incident. His explanation sounded reasonable to me, as lewd pictures sent online to random young women seemed like the actions of an immature, over sexed male. I believed he was probably punked by a young person with the skills to hack a twitter account and manipulate photos with the lack of life experience not to use those skills in an incriminating manner. A kid who lived in the fantasy of the internet more comfortable with Computer games than common sense.Some hormone lead pimple face boy who couldn't tell the difference between titillation and stupidity. Certainly not a person who was in the public eye with a career on the line.
In his public demeanor Andrew Weiner seemed the very opposite of that. I liked most of his ideas, and he expressed himself maturely, and he was after my nemeses Clarence Thomas. It was that old adage, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend". Well, you never know some one by there "on stage" personality. I should know that from my years around actors and comics. Politicians have their public performance and their private actions. I was completely fooled.
In this 24 hour new cycle when there is really not enough news to go around, and anything involving pretty girls and sexting is tantalizing, how could a person in the public service think a lie would not be discovered? I am not addressing the insanity of sending shirtless photos to young women taken in his congressional office with pictures of his wife and family in the background. I am specifically thinking about the lies afterwards. Did he think that we would eventually buy the concept that a prankster had not only hacked his twitter account, but gained entrance to his congressional office as well? If he is that stupid, that arrogant or that dismissive of the intelligence of his constituents, then he should leave office.
He will contend that no laws were broken. It is the exact defense that John Edwards will use in his trial. When will we stop using the law as the line of decency? There are plenty of things that are technically legal but ethically wrong in a situation. Unfortunately, in this country over populated with lawyers it is only wrong if you get caught. Even then if you can beat the system you can still claim in innocence. Sometimes the court system works and it finds people innocent, but mostly they find them not guilty. It is not the same thing to me.
I don't want to get on a soap box here. I am just pissed off that I was taken in by a political performance for a News conference and wasted a blog on him. (This makes two now) Although I will say that by the very next news conference with the Weiner, as he started to hedge, it made me wonder why his innocence seemed to be so difficult for him to defend.
To paraphrase Sheakspear: A weiner by Any other name.... Is still a Weiner. A Weiner is also a hot dog, but in his case a dog that is not very hot.
As you were,

Monday, June 06, 2011

A Long Lost Relative

Kenny Warren sent me this photo and I was delighted to see it. It is the picture of a long lost Art Sieving figure Kenny has named "Artie." This is a cousin, or brother of "SQUEAKY", Harry O'Shea and the other Sieving figure I have who was unfinished and unnamed. Kenny found him residing in a carrying case at an Illinois junk store. It had not traveled very far from Art's home in Springfield,Ill. He doesn't have the moving glass eyes that most of Arts characters had, but it is no doubt his work without needing any other verification. Glad he found a home, Kenny. You have a real treasure.
I am not sure how many figures Arthur Sieving carved, I assume there were less than a dozen. I know there are many more than I can account for. Lisa Wetchel, an actress from Dallas who went on to star in the "Facts of Life", has a Sieving figure that I was able to get for her after Art's death. Blanche told me about it and Lisa was performing as a ventriloquist back then. I brokered he deal between the two ladies. Lisa named her partner Arthur.
Brick Tilley owns Phil D'Rey's gorilla the "Great Gangrene" which was craved by Art Sieving, and there are a couple of Sieving puppets in the Vent Haven Museum. If anyone knows of more I would love to flesh out he family tree, pun intended.
I think it speaks volumes to the influence that Art has even today that Kenny would call this guy Artie and almost 40 years ago Lisa named her partner, Arthur. Neither of them knew the man of their partners name sake. I know he would be pleased that he is still attached to the characters he created. He truly was a Geppetto able to endow his creations with a spark of life. They will always be special. I am glad that I get to tell his story in "The Two and Only", in some ways my show IS also one of his creations. Art truly has a reaching effect in every definition of the word.
Thanks Kenny.
As you were,

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Another Week

Only a matinee today but I am exhausted. They were a decent crowd and last night we had two great audiences. I think that ones mind knows when it is the end of the week and allots just enough energy to get through what ever number of shows you need to do. Tonight I would not have the energy for one more.
There was a reaction last week that still makes me laugh. I said, "There have been ventriloquist who have been executed simply for performing ventriloquism," and two members of the audience burst into applause. It totally cracked me up.
At the show this afternoon right down on the front row center seat was a man in his late fifties. Dressed fairly conservatively but his hair was cut in a grey mohawk. At first I thought it was one of those Woody Woodpecker hair cuts that was just combed up in the middle. Not the case, his more than middle age head sported a mohawk.
Darwin, the monkey, had a field day with that patron. At one time he said, "Next time the barber says, next, get out of the chair." The parting show was Darwin looking at him and saying, "I bet you buy shampoo for normal hair." He was a great sport and was the first one to leap to his feet for the curtain call. I was betting that anyone who would go out in public with that "do" would be open enough for a little razzing.
I am barely able to keep my eyes open to finish this entry. I will cut it short lest I fall face first onto the key board and the resulting text be more clever than the actual blog.
As you were,

Saturday Night

There is a lounge attached to our theatre. It is a holding station for the audience before they enter the theater. It is a bar, basically, but since they do not have a liquor license they sell cokes, water and various pastries. I get the water I have on stage from that bar each night and this afternoon when I went to get that water there was a couple of patrons in the lounge already waiting for the show. It was a Grandmother and her Grandson, James, who I am guessing was around 12 years old. I said Hi. He was a very polite kid that introduced himself. I showed him the lobby banner that we have with all the pictures of the characters I talk about during the show. I pointed out Art Sieving's picture and the others that I would talk about during the show and told him that when I mentioned these people he should remember what they looked like. He was a great kid and took more than a polite interest in what I was telling him. At the time I thought to myself... I hope the Grandmother knows that I say the F word in the show. It is usually the Grandparents who send me an irritated email after the fact saying that the use of that word was troublesome.

While we were on Broadway the producers had several versions of lapel buttons made for the show. One said, "Find your voice and throw it." Another said, "Help stamp out ventral-phobia." Still another said, "Broadway is for Dummies." One of the racier one's said, "Ventriloquists do it with their mouth shut". Like any printed material the more you buy the cheaper they are. We ended up with lots off the buttons left over after the Broadway run. Recently the Production Manager of the original production found an unopened box of the buttons and sent them to us here in Rochester. We handed them out to the ushers and have used them as special treats to the donors and sponsors of the show. They love them and it is great to have them for give aways.

I was so concerned that I might have offended the Grandmother of James with my language, I decided to give him one of the extra buttons. I felt like the extra attention I gave to him would make up for my language. I quickly grabbed one of the buttons from back stage and put it in my pocket for the curtain call to give it to him. During my curtain call I yelled for James to come to the stage. With great ceremonial purpose I gave him a button and said in front of the cheering crowd... including his Grandmother... "Thanks for coming to my show." The unfortunate circumstance is, I grabbed the first button I could get. It was one of the racy ones that said, "Got Wood?".

Do you still get Karma points for good intentions?
As you were,

Friday, June 03, 2011

Club vs Theater

This could be one of the strangest venues to do my show ever conceived. The people are really enjoying it and we receive a standing ovation nearly every show. I was told that the one time I didn't see them stand they stood for a second curtain call that I did not take. But it is a difficult venue to say the least. It used to be a very large comedy club until the producers turned it into a theatre. It has all the things a theatre should, but the front three rows are still tables. Behind the tables there is tiered theatrical seating. They don't have a liquor license yet so they BYOB. Some people are coming to a club and others are coming to a theatre. John and I have tried to figure it out and just when we think that we have some solid trends the audience makes a turn. Ultimately I think they are expecting my nightclub show and not "The Two and Only".
Tonight lead me to believe that is the case. Over the years of doing clubs I was always amazed that a Friday night audience was never as good as most every other audience of the week. One would expect it to be, since it is the beginning of the weekend, Thank God it's Friday is the battle cry. But consistently that was not the case in a club. The Thursday night and Saturday night would surpass the reaction to Friday every time. It seems that an audience comes to a club on a Friday night completely worn out from the week.
I never noticed the Friday night affect with a theatre crowd. The reason you go to a theatre is different than why you go to a club. It seems like a theatre evening is planned for a Friday night experience and the theatrical audience comes with a sense of renewed energy. Fridays were always one of the best crowds leading into the week end at the theaters we have played. Now that we have had a few Fridays to compare that reaction here, it is definitely a club crowd that is coming. In fact one of the front tables tonight requested the center front because they wanted to be picked on during the show. That's not what this show is about. As with any theatrical production there is a fourth wall and the audience is more of an observer. Tonight they were certainly observers, but not in the most pleasant way. This could have been the strangest crowd we have had during this run, or any other for that matter.
They were so un-responsive I decided that to keep my head in the game I had to invent another show that could co-exist with the one the cadavers were watching. So I threw inside lines to the staff and particularly John, who knows the show better than me. Everything was going over their heads but the creative stuff was a coded show for the theatre workers who enjoyed it to the max. I got some huge laughs from the back of the house where they watch from and occasionally the audience would have enough energy to join in. Mainly they stared and I wondered at one point if I had inadvertently hypnotized them. It was the theatrical equivalent of pouring concrete.
Yet at the end they stood and cheered, left notes of congratulation and left with great memories. There has not been a disparaging comment or a dissatisfied customer to date. Go figure. I guess by the time I am done I have turned a nightclub audience into a theatrical audience, but it takes so much energy to do that I am exhausted afterwards. I feel like Rocky facing Apollo Creed.
I chalk it up to experience. I realize that I have been so lucky to perform in so many venues it is hard to find one that ultimately confounds me. You only grow by challenging yourself to blaze new trails. This is one challenge that I have never faced with this show before, and as tough as it is, I know it is good for me to figure it out. It is like a tough class in college, hard to get through but the knowledge you gain from it is invaluable.
Soon there will not be a situation with this show that I have not faced before. I am not sure if that means I am done or it is just the beginning of a new opportunity. Either way, I love telling this story. I am getting better at telling it with every chance I get to repeat it. There is a great quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln. He supposedly said, "There have been bad times and great times as I look back on my life. At the time I was going through them I didn't know the difference."
As you were,

Thursday, June 02, 2011

My Entry into Stand Up Comedy

I have a friend who is doing the "encyclopedia of comedy" and has included me in the top 150 comics in history. I was very complimented and humbled. He asked me to write a few words about ventriloquism's place in the history of stand up comedy. It was not an easy task, but since it took up the time I would usually have to write a blog I decided to publish it. The opinions expressed are my own and based solely on the years I spent going from Comedy Club to comedy club in the 80's.

Ventriloquism and Stand up Comedy
By Jay K. Johnson
Speaking on behalf of ventriloquism and performing ventriloquists, comedy is just one element of the art form. It also includes elements of misdirection, acting, puppetry and dialogue. Ventriloquism has not always been linked to comedy historically but certainly by now it deserves a place in its ranks. But the question is: what is ventriloquism's importance in "stand up" comedy history?

The term "stand up comedy", to me, implies a very specific era of comedy, that is relatively new. There have always been vaudeville comics and burlesque top bananas. But they were not referred to as "stand ups". Even after vaudeville that term was not used to describe comics.

I don't think Danny Thomas, for example, was thought of as a stand up comic, just a comedian. Yet he was the Jerry Seinfeld of his day parlaying his night club comedy into a television empire. The venue of Danny Thomas's day was supper clubs. The club usually featured dancing as well as a show and always had a house band, so music was part of the act. Ventriloquism was certainly a part of vaudeville comedy and later the supper clubs. Most of those clubs booked the acts featured on early Variety television, well populated by ventriloquists. A good appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show could keep an act working for a year. What is the distinction between a funny act, a comedian, a comic, a clown or a "stand up?"

To me "stand up comedy" refers to the post Lenny Bruce era when comedians didn't sing or play an instrument, tell jokes, work with a puppet, or wear a funny hat, they became comedy commentators on life.

When the comedy clubs of the late 70's and early 80's started booming there were very few ventriloquists working. Variety television had all but disappeared hiding behind a talk show format. A great shot on Johnny Carson's Tonight show could jump start a career, but the talent bookers were not booking "novelty" performers. The comedy "caste system" was created by the Tonight Show even though Johnny Carson himself started his career as a magician and a ventriloquist.

Because of my exposure on SOAP I performed in the new "stand up" comedy clubs, but it was rare to see any other novelty acts. Even comedy teams were scarce. There was the occasional "prop act". Anything other than the standard comic with a hand held mic was treated as second class by stand up comics. There was a tendency to lump ventriloquism and comedy magic into the "prop" category and dismiss it as such. After the prop act came jugglers and finally mimes, relegated to the bottom of the hierarchy. I never felt fully embraced by the comics I worked with back then, even when I was the headliner.

I never understood the pedigree. A laugh is a laugh and if someone was making an audience laugh, standing on a stage, they were a stand up comic; even if that someone had, as in my case, a puppet to help deliver the lines. Sometimes the distance an audience experiences watching a dialogue has much more comic impact than a monologue. It can keep a bit from getting preachy or talking down to the audience. A puppet can destroy an obnoxious heckler in a way that no human comic could. There are things a puppet can say on stage that would never be correct for a human. The rudest of funny comments are tossed off as fantasy, if said by a puppet, and the human behind the remark is never to blame. I found it to be almost a license to kill in some cases.

But still I was not thought of as a true stand up comedian of that day, just some strange hybrid. The subtle implication was this: if I was really funny why not go on stage alone to perform the *true* art of comedy. As if the quality of laughter was somehow more pure by virtue of the delivery system. It still baffles me. Record laughter and see if anyone can tell the difference in a way the comedy is delivered. The early laugh tracks for television were recorded during the silent mime act of Red Skelton and used on most of the sitcoms of the day. Skelton's mime was used because it produced a pure track of laughter, no need to edit a set up or over-lapping joke.
So what is the importance of ventriloquism in "stand up" comedy history? Ventriloquism, if done well, makes the audience laugh.There is no difference in laughter. We ventriloquists made the same audiences, in the same venues, at the same time, laugh just like every other stand up comic.

That is my take.
As you were,

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

It's all Show Biz

A couple of days off from the show and only my ipad for news. I am following the Casey Anthony murder trial in Orlando, which is better drama than a Law and Order, and now the Congressman Weiner tweet which is better comedy than Seinfeld. And very much like Seinfeld, it is a story about nothing.
If you have been under a rock, here is your breaking story. Over the weekend a picture of the lower half of a guy in his underwear was "tweeted" from the congressman's account to a 21 year old coed in Seattle. The news refers to it as a lewd photo, which means they have never watched a fruit of the loom ad on their own network. The congressman wrote it off as a prank, and said his account had been hacked and the picture did not come from him. The girl immediately said she has never met the congressman, although she "follows" him on twitter, and assumed the picture was actually from a guy who has been harassing her via the internet, most likely a 21 year old student as well. She did say that because she likes the Congressman's liberal position on issues she referred to him as her "boyfriend" in a political tweet. She did say that she is tired of this unwanted attention from the boyfriend stalker and the media.
Three days later there are still reporters camped outside the Congressman's office asking questions. Have you filed charges against the hacker? Is that a picture of your "tighty whites"? Why were you also following this girls tweets? Why don't you deny it again for our cameras?.... Why are these reporters wasting everyone's time? The Congressman wants to know why the same reporters are not camped out at the office of Clarence Thomas who's wife received large sums of money from the Health care industry. There is a case coming up before the Supreme Court arguing the health care bill and Justice Thomas will not recuse himself from the case. The Congressman is trying to find out what is going on with Jolly old Clarence, but first has to answer questions about his BVD's.
The guys name is Weiner. I'm sure he has heard the jokes all his life. Someone sends a picture of a "cod piece" to a cute girl in his class using the Congressman's name, uh Weiner. It is a college kids joke. It is not lewd, it is stupidly silly, and juvenal at best.
Weiner is one of my favorite words. I use it in a humorous context very often. My wife will remind me that it is childish and never as funny as I think it is at the time.
So, can we move on? Can we maybe look into Clarence Thomas who has never asked a question, never rendered an opinion and never seems to know much about anything while sitting on the Supreme Court bench. Look up his record on almost any case. He is perhaps the worst judge that has ever sat for the court. His wife did receive a lot of money as a lobbyist from the very companies that will benefit from a favorable Supreme Court ruling on the health care bill. He was caught not disclosing that information on his IRS statements for the last decade. Claimed he didn't know he was supposed to. Ignorance of the law is not a good trait to have with that particular job. I'm not even questioning the legality of those payments Mr. Thomas, just recuse yourself from the case. You never participate much anyway, and at least this will make you look like more than just a toke appointment.
Clarence Thomas... now that's a wiener.
As you were,