Monday, October 31, 2011

HOUDINI Sets Fire to Magic Castle
Hollywood, CA
On the 85th anniversary of his death Eric Weiss, better known as the magician escape artist Harry Houdini, set fire to the historic Magic Castle in Hollywood. The Magic Castle, a private club for Magicians, was going through some repairs earlier this week in the attic above the Houdini Seance Room. In this courtroom sketch of the incident the ghost of Harry Houdini can clearly be seen in the upper story just after the fire was discovered. The greater alarm fire was reported at 11:11 am. Hollywood firemen were able to contain the fire to a small section of the attic. There was some water damage to the Houdini Seance room.

Houdini promised he would come back and give a sign from the after life if it was possible. For years, seances were held to allow him to communicate on the anniversary of his death which was Halloween evening in 1926.
The custom was discontinued in 1936 by his wife, on he roof of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, just a block from the Magic Castle, ten years after his death.
The ghost of Houdini was reportedly upset by the fact that current Houdini seances at the Magic Castle are conducted as a show and not an actual attempt to communicate. The fact that repairs and upgrades were being done to add several "effects" to the Houdini Seance show was said to enrage the Spector.
The magicians say that they will repair the damage and take another look at their policy to conduct seances at the Magic Castle to contact Harry Houdini. At the same time the event is being seen as proof that Houdini was able to communicate from the grave. It could be his greatest demonstration of a sign after death.
Reporting, in no way live, from the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, back Jay Johnson's blog.
Thank you Buck Heddleswine... and now back to the end of our blog. Happy Halloween.
As you were,
Halloween - 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Tomorrow----

Go tell your Mummy!

As you were,

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Okay, Lisa and Keith left comments yesterday that made me start thinking about my teachers.   First of all I love teachers.  As far as I am concerned teachers should be paid like rock stars and professional athletes. There is nothing more important than education and teachers are the point at which knowledge plows the new ground of fertile minds.  If this capitalistic society rewarded salary based on actual value then teachers would be at the top of the heap. My Dad was a teacher, and a good one. Had the job paid enough to support his family on that single income he might have retired a teacher.
I remember some great teachers in my life and then there were some that.... well, since there are teachers reading... let's just say... there was a disconnect between us. Nothing could exemplify either side of the spectrum more than my second and third grade teachers.
Mrs. McClure was my second grade teacher. She was a red haired Scottish Lady with mean eyes and a quick temper. Mrs. McClure believed that the way to motivate kids into doing better was to humiliate them when they didn't muster up to her learning curve. It was the Darwinian theory of learning; learn at the same level and speed as the rest of the pack or sacrifice your self esteem. She believed slow learners should not only be "stepped over" but "stepped on" in the process. She was an early believer in "no child left behind" except the stupid ones who couldn't keep up to her pace. 
I lived in fear of wearing the "slow poke" sign pinned to the shirt on my back during recess if I did not keep up;  or having to wear a hat in class called a "thinking cap" if I didn't read well.  To the rest of my class mates the hat was nothing more than a dunce cap. These stellar ideas were some of the more subtle methods she employed. I missed almost 30 days of school that year because of her. It was only second grade but I already hated this entire process called school, and I got so good at faking an illness they should have given me the Tony Award right then and there. As I look back she was the one who turned me from neutral to an absolute hatred for school.
The next year we moved away. It was a different town, and a new start.  In the third grade I had Mrs. Gordon as my teacher. Mrs Gordon was a saint and I am sure that now there is a cathedral somewhere in Texas dedicated to her goodness. She had a child who was 15 years older than me and experienced learning challenges in school. She dubbed his type of learner a "creative child". Billy learned to cope with his disabilities very well, went on to college and became a structural engineer, I think. I suspect he was dyslexic like me although they didn't know what that was back then.  But Mrs. Gordon recognized that my comprehension was similar to her son Billy and treated me accordingly. I do remember that when I was having trouble with something she would tell me what Billy had done in a similar situation.  I don't remember ever actually meeting Billy, but he sort of mentored me by proxy through that year. I missed very few days of school in third grade and only for legitimate sickness.  I actually decided to give fourth grade a shot because of Mrs. Gordon and continued to attempt to cope like her son Billy. It worked out for me.
So here is a shout out to all the great teachers of the world. Thanks...  You inspire us all.  
And a scream out to those teachers that subscribe to the McClure method of leaning.... perhaps a career as prison guard would be more rewarding for you.  Unfortunately, the worst prison guard makes more than the best teacher.
As you were,

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dyslexics of the World Untie
This is for the 100 out of 17 people, like me, who are dyslexic.  It took me several decades to even learn the correct spelling of that word and that I was actually one of their number.  In fact the word dyslexia wasn't even given to this learning quirk until I was almost out of high school.  
Thanks to Monty Wooley for sending this. I think it should hang on the wall of every grade school class room in the country. Only because my Dad was a educator and my Mom a creative genius did I make it through school not hampered by the "Stupid" label.  
I wasn't good at reading or spelling so they told me that I couldn't write. I wasn't great at math but aced Plane Geometry with no effort.  I could redraw most anything in front of me was good in acting class and I could make a puppet talk. All of this should have pointed any educator to the fact that I my abilities were not so easily quantified.  I was a fish that was being tested on climbing. 
Thanks to Mr. Einstein who also said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge" for putting it all in perspective. 
As you were,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

You gotta laugh... 
There is a notion that humor is what separates us humans from the rest of the animal population.  Non-human animals react to something that seems "off" with either fear or aggression. Usually humans try to laugh about it first before running away or starting a fight.  There are predictable exceptions to this idea when jokes or seemingly funny remarks themselves are taken the wrong way causing the very fear and aggression it should have defused.
The trick for a comic or humorist is to know how far to push that line to get the laugh and avoid the riot.  I don't think anyone is 100%. A comic tends to go for the joke first and deal with the consequences later.  If you have to stop and consider all the ramifications of a joke before you tell it, then your timing is going to suffer to the extent you waited. There is nothing "less" funny than a joke that misses its timing.
That is one of the exhausting things about being in a room full of comics.  It becomes a feeding frenzy to be the first with the funniest remark on whatever happens. No one is giving a second thought to the advisability of making the joke, they just want to be the first.  Being second with the same witty comment is last in the comedy race.  The only exception is if one can top the first remark, taking that level and pushing it further.
It all sounds rather complicated when you think about it, but timing is comedy. It is a fast track and you have to be willing to go for it as fast as you think of it,  knowing that perhaps 85% of the time you will be right, but that 15% error can be disastrous. If the percentage is reversed and 85% of the time is disastrous then you are not a comic and should go into accounting or work for the DMV.
With that in mind, when I visited the jail last week, it was the first time I had ever experienced that process. I really didn't know what to expect when I entered the visiting area of the jail.  It was all fearful and somewhat intimidating just to be there. After we waited in line, filled out our paper work, went through a metal detector and had our ID checked against police records we sat in a "holding" area.  If there is any problem with your ID check you are taken away in handcuffs.  I saw that happen to a few of the visitors who had made it to the holding area. They detain people with outstanding traffic tickets to parol violations, you better be clean when you agree to a check because they don't even have to "take you downtown" to the jail... you are already there.  
It is a long time before you actually get to see the person you came to visit.  They call out three or four names every few minutes in no particular order.  I asked someone who was a regular visitor what was going on.  She said, "Once you have been cleared they have to locate the prisoner you are here to see, then they call you to the window."  Because of where I was I did not burst out laughing, but my fear and intimidation had turned to humor. Outside I just smiled, but inside I was having a laugh fest as I thought, "They have to 'locate' the prisoner?  Isn't this a frickin' Jail?  If they don't know where the prisoners are they're doing it wrong." 
As a tag to this story, I talked to gay couple who are mutual friends about my jailhouse visit. They said they couldn't get up the courage to go and see our buddy but they had tried to send a Halloween card. It had been returned to them that day.  The deputies opened it, censored it and sent it back to the sender with this note.  The card had been rejected because of "Excess glitter".
As you were,

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Perfect Storm
To everyone who sent positive messages and comments about my Saturday blog, I appreciate it.  It was a strange weekend and very odd to have it all play out so publicly, but then that is where it all began and the only place for it to finish. And it truly is finished. I am grateful to Jeff for accepting my apology out in the open as he did.  I didn't expect that and it was above and beyond the best outcome I could have imagined.
Some have asked about the origin and timing of my  Epiphany. Since I have no modesty left in this situation, a final statement of honesty seems to be the appropriate epilogue. There were three events that came together on Friday in a way that created the perfect storm of clarity for me.
The day began with a visit to the Los Angeles county jail. I was visiting a friend. Of all my friends he is the least likely person I would ever expect to see behind bars. His journey is a long and complicated saga, too long to go into here. However, it was a complete break down in the American system of Justice in my opinion. Some day the case will be reversed on appeal, but until then my friend is doing tough time.
The Los Angeles Mens Correctional Facility is not a place where even visitors find a lot of dignity or compassion. Just before they cut the phone line connection between us, I said, "Keep your chin up, pal." He replied, "Thanks but we have to look at the floor, it's a punishable offense if you make eye contact with a guard."
Since you can't take anything but your ID with you when you enter the jail, I left my cell phone in the car. I was drained from the experience, and glad there was an email waiting on the Blackberry to distract me. It was from a friend who once again brought up my conflict with Jeff. My gut reaction was predictable. His was a bias opinion from a high profile but completely star struck fan.  It momentarily distracted me from the jail house experience but not in a way that made me feel better. In my mind I started composing a rather unflattering response to my misguided friend.
So the contemplation of these two completely different situations, the jail and email, began to merge in my mind on the drive back home.  I thought of my friend, now in jail, who had never struck back at the people who lied in court, never gave up trying to do the right thing, and even now was holding his head high even as he was forced to stare at the floor.  I began to realize the quality of strength my friend expressed was currently an unused asset in my character. This thought was beginning to temper my response to the email sent by the Dunham fanatic.
In the early afternoon a letter arrived in the mail from my friend and mentor, ventriloquist Jimmy Nelson. In his gracious way he was thanking me for the things I said during the celebration of his career last summer. It was as if a light went on in the room. The tone and style of Jimmy's letter cut through the bull shit. I suddenly saw myself as a total contradiction.  I was praising one ventriloquists while attacking another. And at the same time I was remembering my friend, who is in jail because of what someone said about him.
It was the perfect storm.
The timing of these events could be just a random pattern. That Raven on the telephone pole crowing at me the day my Dad died could be just the migratory pattern of a bird. When I had to reschedule AA Flight 11 out of Boston the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 it could be nothing more than a change of plans. Or each one of these events could be abstract object lessons; sort of like sign posts leading to a better destination.
Anybody can miss a sign once in awhile and get lost for a time; or say there are no signs and where ever they end up, claim it is where they intended to be.  Whether you believe in signs or not,  occasionally things happen that you just can't ignore. If these observables cause you to alter your direction and feel better, then it is its own reward.  For me I will always be looking around to make sure, if there is a sign, I don't miss it. It just seems logical.
As you were,

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Trying to set things Right 
This is an open letter to any ventriloquist who has ever lived or ever will; and everyone else I have offended lately:
I have a friend who's aunt died in an old folks home knitting the ski mask she planned on wearing when she assassinated Bob Hope.  No one knew what her beef was with Bob Hope or why she planned to kill him but it consumed every part of her senior years.  Everyone just thought she was crazy.
Just the other day I flashed ahead in time to an old man sitting in an old folks home  carving a puppet he would use to assassinate Jeff Dunham.  I then realized that old guy could be me in a decade or so. I didn't like the picture.
I am a ventriloquist and perhaps for a while I forgot that I am also a human being. I would hate to end a lifetime as the best ventriloquist I could be without also being the best human I could be. 
As a ventriloquist when I make a mistake I try my best to correct it to help make my performance better; now as a human being I have to correct a mistake I made to help make my life better.  
I will cut to the chase.
If you read this blog regularly you will know that in the past I  have written some things that were very hateful about Jeff Dunham. Don't bother looking, they have all been taken down now, but the fact that they were there at all is not something that makes me very proud of myself at this moment.  Each one was childish, presumptuous, mean spirited and unsolicited. At this point I can't imagine why I would have wasted the Ethernet on such pompous crap. I have hypocritically railed against such infantile postings from other blog writers. I needed to turn that observation to my own page. 
I have known Jeff Dunham for a very long time and our careers have even dovetailed in some esoteric way. We went to the same high school and our kids attended the same school in Los Angeles.  We shared Ventriloquist week on the Letterman show, and played the same Comedy Clubs early on. We even sit on the board of Advisors for Vent Haven together. I have an 8x10 black and white glossy of Jeff  accepting my "Vent of the Year" plaque when I was unable to accept it in person years ago. We even live on the same street in the same California suburb. I wouldn't say we were as close as Benny and Burns but I never questioned that we were friends. 
Then several years ago I bummed a ride home on his plane from Louisville to LA after a conVENTion. After a long ride and a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon, I thought our relationship had taken a huge step forward. I saw his arena show and finally "got" what he was doing out there. I had been so busy trying to make a Broadway show work that I hadn't noticed what was going on in his career. It was quite amazing. 
I didn't get to enjoy that place very long. Within a week all hell broke loose and we found ourselves on opposite sides of a legal issue. 
It is not important now and most everyone else involved moved on from that disaster, but I did not. In fact, it never went away for me.  It is not a problem that consumed me 24/7 but it never really went away. When something would trigger the feelings I went immediately into a very dark place.  Those feelings came out in my blog several times, and got progressively more odious and personal in the form of attacks on Jeff.  If I could knit, I might have started a ski mask.  
Don't know who I thought I was to call Jeff out on the Internet.  To his credit he never responded in kind, can't say that I took the same high road. I really can't undo it... even though it doesn't exist on this blog anymore... it is still out there somewhere. If nowhere else, it still stinks up my own consciousness. Feels pretty stupid and small for a guy my age to have done... I should have known better than to break my own professional credo. "What would Jimmy Nelson do?"
I would love to blame it on Bipolar disorder, but it is actually a case of asshole-ism. It is my own fault and there is no one responsible for the noxious bile but me.   But like I said,  all I can do is correct it and try to make the act of my life better. Unfortunately to do that I have to own the damage I have done and accept total responsibility. There is no such thing as ignoramus insurance. I probably couldn't get it anyway because of  pre-existing ignorance.
So... no more stupid personal rants about Jeff Dunham or anyone else.  I have reached out to Jeff personally to apologise but doubt he will return my call. Who could blame him? He doesn't owe me a thing.  And what I owe him now is just safe passage through my thoughts and my blog without the insulting gauntlet. 
I was told as a writer you have to be honest.  I've tried my best to do that here. However, I forgot for a couple of years that honesty is not the same as childish name calling. 
Sorry Jeff... you didn't deserve it, from me....especially me.
Over and done,

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Back to Court
The world is a stage and at this point one of the acts is the Conrad Murray trial. The prosecution will probably rest today, Dr. Steve Shaffer is their last witness. Dr. Shaffer is an expert anesthesiologist who has worked with all kinds of drugs in the hospital.  He is not charging a fee for his testimony, as is customary, because he feels like the bad publicity about propofal is dangerous to the care of patients. He is doing this to reassure the public that in the right setting and with the right care giver the drug is very safe.  He mentioned in his testimony that since Michael Jacksons death he has been repeatedly asked by his patients if the was "giving them the drug that killed Michael Jackson.   Dr. Shaffer has testified that Dr. Murray was grossly negligent in giving Michael Jackson propofal. Had he had the proper equipment and training in anesthesia he would have been able to resuscitate Jackson quickly and easily. He has debunked the defense theory that Michael Jackson drank the porpofal causing his own death while the doctor was out of the room for a few minutes. It seems orally ingesting the drug has no effect. Last week the defense announced that they were abandoning that line of reasoning.
I think that the prosecution is proving that Dr. Murray was responsible for Michael Jacksons death but not because of an overdose of porpofal, which is listed as the cause of death.  It seems to me that Dr. Murray was not prepared with the proper monitoring devices nor did he have the knowledge to handle the drug. It seems to me that this is a case of malpractice which led to a death. I suppose that this is technically a case of involuntary manslaughter, but it seems that event the amount of propofal that Jackson had been taking daily was not the actual cause of his death.  It appears to me that he died from not monitoring the patient properly to intervene when a negative side effect showed up.  Basically it seems that Jackson got so relaxed that he stopped breathing.  Dr. Shaffer said that happens almost daily when he administers anesthetics. If you have the right knowledge and equipment is it easily and quickly corrected with no damage to the patient. 
I am so glad that I am not on this jury, if for no other reason than I am able to form opinions and talk about the case before it is presented in total. Most of the fun of a trial are the twists and turns it takes and how opinions change from the testimony.
The defense case will be short and this will probably go to the jury in a week or so.  I doubt that Dr. Murray will actually go to jail because of the California over crowded prison system.  He will, I am most certain have his license taken and will probably never practice medicine again.  That is probably a good thing since he did not seem very capable in this situation.
As you were,

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Night and Death

I have always been interested in how we humans process time. Although we think of time as a constant, it is not. Einstein believed that time slows with distance and speed. Philosophers tell us that there is no such thing as time because it is so subjective. Echart Tolle would say that now is the only reality we have; the past is just a story and the future is just a fairy tale. 
We can measure time with all kinds of clock devices. Computers can generate smaller and smaller units of time digitally; but even the smallest unit of time is only a measurement of what was. Mankind can not measure the occurance nor duration of now. Now does not exist long enough to register in any tangible way. It exists but it can't be measured. 
Humans have a more visceral way to measure time. We use mental references as milestones to navigate our past memories of time.
I remember my folks would divide their lives into chapters of events that happened before or after certain vivid memories.  Things were expressed in terms of, before or after the great depression; other things happened after the war.   Every parent has a memory marker with the birth of their kids. 
I still calculate past events by placing them in terms of what theme park I worked which summer.
Everyone has their own way of determining when something happened in time, and it is all unique and personal. Some how we store significant moments of now in our consciousness and fit the rest of our lives around these moments that can't be measured. 
This brings me to now, and I just missed it because it is already another now, or is it the same now in a different time. 
The reason I clutter my mind with the complexities of contemplating the consciousness of now is simple self-distraction from thinking about Night and Death. The phrase stuck in my head and I want to write about it but I am finding reasons to write around it. 
This is my first night off since my Dad passed away. I had a night or two free in Rochester over the last month and a half, but it was not a night off. That was just a night I was not working while I was still in Rochester.
Unless you are in your house with your own stuff as the sun sets... it isn't a night off. This is real excitement for me, to be here and watch the shadows start to consume the back yard. Although one of many such nights I have spent at this house, this time it is different. It is my first night off after one of those time setting moments.  All the rest of my nights from here on out will be without Dad's planetary presence. 
I am already loosing count of the number of shows I 've done since the night he died. It is more than I want to think about on a night off.  This evening feels too unique not to deal with. I avoid reality by casting this connection of night and death into a movie script. The story of an elegant classic night having nothing to do with death. Then an orchestra begins to play in the background as Fred Astaire sings.
"Night and Death, you are the one, only you beneath the moon or under the sun..." not strictly Cole Porter.
So, here we are, right back where we began, contemplating time and the complexities it brings. Still dealing with death, and a night off. Death and Night. Night and Death  I guess I hope that in death whatever consciousness we have continues on after we leave this protein shell of a body. We might understand the timeless of now more abstractly without these physical restraints. Perhaps conscious memories remain, but not as a measurement of time. They are just to be enjoyed in an eternal state of now. 
As you were,  As we are,
As it is,

Monday, October 17, 2011

Redd Foxx
I find that more and more of the things I think are common knowledge are lost to the generation that now dominates the social networks.  This may be true of the Harlem comedian turned television actor Redd Foxx. 
He was a very raunchy comedian who was known for his 50's "party records". That was the name given to comedy record albums with language and material unsuitable for broadcast. By todays standards they are pretty tame.  However, he continued to push the envelope and kept pandering to looser mores and retained his XX rated act keeping up with the newest dirty material till his death.
In 1975 he was the star of a hit television show named "Sanford and Son". This let him charge big dollars for the dirtier material in clubs and Vegas. He was also heavy into drugs at the time and was somewhat of a loose cannon on board the network show. He was raunchy and unpredictable.
In his Vegas act the band would play him on and off with the theme from his show Sanford and Son, click on that link if you don't know it. It is a catchy tune.
One night in Vegas there was a very small crowd for a late show.  The band played the theme song, Redd Foxx walked to the microphone, looked at the crowd and said, "I'm not doin' my mother fucking show for only this many fuckin' people," and walked off.  The band immediately played the same song for his exit. 
I told John Ivy my PSM the story one night and from then on when we had an audience that was small one of us would scat the Sanford theme to the other and share a laugh.  It was all we had to do to communicate that it was going to be a small house. 
Cut to the last night of the run at the Magic Castle. Our show was so successful that we did a third show for the Sunday night crowd, which is rare unless there is enough people to justify it. It was a compliment that we were that popular but this show was the lightest of the run. Back stage in the green room we performers were trying to get up the energy to tackle what would be a more challenging show.  
Out of habit I started humming the Sanford and Son theme. John was not around and I suspected someone to ask me why I was humming that song. At that time I would get to tell the Redd Foxx Vegas walk off story again. Instead, magician Jack Goldfinger started to laugh out loud. He said, "Yes... exactly. Perfect." He not only knew the reference and the story, he was the opening act for Redd Foxx the night he walked off. He was actually there that night. 
To be honest I was never sure the story was true.  It is a great story and I love to tell it. Jack was able to fill me in on some more graphic details including the fact that he was even more insulting to the small audience than the way I tell it. 
John Ivy was the first person I wrote to with that bit of "Kevin Bacon connecting". You have to love this business cause you never know how careers overlap and stories you have always heard about can come to you first hand. If you are looking for Magic, you find all kinds on and off stage at the Magic Castle.
As you were,

Sunday, October 16, 2011

End of a Great Magic Castle Week
It was great fun. The mind reading act using a ventriloquist as the secret fooled most of the people. We had to expose the gag at the end just so they would understand they were "HAD". Mike and Tina are great and it was a very special show.

As you were,

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Magic Castle
I am having a great time at the Magic Castle. Two of my heros were in the audience last night. Mark Wilson, who produced and starred in "The Magic Land of Alacazam" on television when I was a kid, ; and Bill Link, who created an wrote such great television shows as, Columbo, Burkes Law, and countless others. Both are grand gentlemen and great talents in two different disciplines.  I have a peripheral love of magic and writing, and admire them both for their talents. I am proud to be their friend.
I don't work at the Castle very often, and should visit more when I am not performing. However, I do have some great memories of great times there. Some that stand out: the memorial service for Di Vernan, and the pre-death wake of Billy McColmb to name only a couple.  And one more that may shock some of my more critical detractors. (I am talking to you Anonymous "with disappointment... 7:11AM")
I am not sure of the date, but I know it would have to be the late 70's or very early 80's. Jeff Dunham was performing at the Palace of Mystery.  Jeff Dunham hadn't moved to Los Angeles yet,  he was unmarried, and one of the few vents to perform the Castle. To get the Magic Castle gig at all was a testimony to his ability.   The Castle was at the the time a place to be seen by LA shakers and movers.  Jeff was making all the right moves and getting people there to see his act.  
At the time I was sort of an itinerate mentor to Jeff Dunham. We grew up in the same town and went to the same high school, and shared some of the same gigs locally, at different times.  We discussed the art form in detail over the years.  I remember we both sat in my dressing room at the Casa Manana Theatre in Ft. Worth, Texas for my entire break.  I had to rush to get on stage for the second show. The differences that we had toward the art form always made for an interesting discussion.  
So, I came to the Palace of Mystery just to see Jeff Dunham perform.  I had not seen his act in a long time.  He was using a McElroy figure back then.  It was a good act.  I remember distinctly that I had never seen anyone use the McElroy upper and lower lip movement with such dexterity. There was another level to the mouth animation that was and still is quite unique. He didn't use the upper lip just as a gesture or expression, he actually used the movement to accent the proper syllables. I suspect this is how the McElroy's intended it to be used.
After the show I went backstage.  It was my turn to spend the break between shows in his dressing room.  After a while Jeff wanted to show me something that he had been working on.  On the table was a "rocks size" bar glass filled with water. He grabbed his figure and began a conversation and while continuing the conversation drank the glass of water.  I had never really seen that done before and have not since. Usually it is done with a trick glass or gaffed props, but until that moment I didn't know that it was really possible to do.  As I suspected Jeff Dunham had found the only solution I thought was possible to actually accomplish that trick. It was a matter of timing glottal strokes and swallowing within the context of specifically chosen words. I understood the mechanics but I'm not sure I could do it as effectively. It was really quite impressive. I never saw him do it again and I don't know if it ever made it into his act, but it should have. 
I doubt it would have the same effect done today in one of his stadium shows, even with the Imag. And it could never be as impressive as it was to me three feet away in the Magic Castle dressing room.
I am impressed with the brotherhood of magicians apparent at the Magic Castle.  They meet and share secrets and support one another.  They say if you get two magicians together you have a convention.  I have heard it said that if you get two vents together you have a fight. Perhaps I can be part of the solution and not the problem.  Perhaps vents should talk together in dressings rooms and not through lawyers and managers. Perhaps...
As  you were,

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fooling them at the CASTLE
It has been a very long time since I have performed at the Magic Castle although I have been a member for a long time and go fairly often. I am having a blast with Mike Caveney and Tina Lenert, members of the infamous Left Handed League.
We decided to do a routine together that we thought would be a gag and it turns out it is fooling magicians. Often for only a few moments and sometimes for a much longer.  I can't, of course, reveal  the nature of the trick since it might tip the gaff by talking about it. All I can say is that it involves mind reading or sightless vision. And not to say that the idea we have come up with is so ingenious that the master manipulators can't see it. I think that most of them are looking in the wrong direction. But ultimately that is what stage magic is... miss direction. But what fun. A moment on stage we thought would be a gag has turned into the talk of the Castle for this week. It has become a must see moment.
In reality we were just trying to add a little more magic into the show and not have it look too much like a variety show.
It is frustrating to have a great story like, "Fooling them at the Magic Castle", and not be able to talk about it. Bummer, I usually find that I don't edit myself as much as I should in this blog, but this time it really would go counter to the magicians code of secrets. And I have probably said too much already. Don't know why I brought it up if I can't talk about it. More Later,
As you were,

Sunday, October 09, 2011


I meant to say that the drawing I posted yesterday called "Dr. M" was my statement on the Conrad Murray manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson. As you know I am following that trial regularly. This is what I think of the testimony up till now. It works for me...
At the airport early morning, tight connection in Chicago. Sorry to leave Rochester but glad to be heading home.
As you were,

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Week End

My last night in Rochester. Home tomorrow. Blog next week...until then my
Drawing entitled "Dr. M"
As you were,

Friday, October 07, 2011

Tough Day at Work

I guess everyone has one of those days. You do your best and give it your all and it just doesn't seem to be enough. The crowd was a decent size for a Wednesday evening. In fact I thought they would be a really good audience. I have gotten great reactions from audiences half their size with this very show in this very theater, so I was not really concerned when I started. John tells me that I can't make a judgement on how the audience will react until after the first performance piece which is the Snake character. So, although I thought their reaction was a little stilted for the opening few minutes, I waited.
The snake routine came and went and there seemed to be no change in their attitude. I kept working them. At every turn of the story I thought I had figured them out. Their reactions proved me wrong, and it took me by surprise. I began to give up on ever finding them as the show rolled on. They were not restless nor distracting, they were just comatose. I could not get a reaction out of them if I delivered it in a Mac truck.
I have done this show for every possible type of audience. I didn't think there was a situation that I had not faced before. These people showed me that an audience is a crap shoot and you can never pigeon hole them. It was like they were in church. No one laughed no one reacted but they were watching and listening intently. Usually you can break through that "television attitude" and get them to respond in a live theatre, but I used every skill that I had ever learned and nothing was working.
The trick in this situation is to not let it get to you and not get vicious . In a club you can take out your frustrations on the audience and let them have it, and sometimes that works and they are brow beaten into submission. But you can't do that in a theatre setting when there is a thread to the story and it must follow a set of scripted cues. It was like trying to fight an opponent in the boxing ring with your feet nailed to the floor. I told John later I thought I was moving concrete blocks, everything took so much effort I wondered if I could go the distance.
Finally it was Darwin's turn. He is the least structured of all the bits and if I could ever go "club" on them this was the time. So I let him go. He bated and harassed the non-responsive as only a monkey can do and get away with it. Compared to the rest of the evening he did get them going, but just moving the bar from on the ground to up an inch was not the success I was hoping for. It was not a satisfying evening as it turned out. I was completely drained and weak. I had gone the distance but it had taken my all to do it.
Like I said, we have all had this experience and there is no insurance policy one can get to make certain it will never happen again. There will be another performance tomorrow night that has the potential of being a barn raiser.
John usually goes outside to have a smoke after the show and hears the comments of the audience as they leave. He said they were very impressed, happy and the comments on the evening were really good. You would think that they could have expressed those feelings to me in some way... a smile, a giggle, any sort of reaction a living body can make.
Oh well, I look at what I do as art and I guess the reaction to art is up to the observers. There is no standard response. They did their part, they observed without distraction. However, I wish I could let them know in some way that if they had participated just a little bit in the experience they might have enjoyed it exponentially, but that moment and that audience is gone and can never be repeated. And... I realize that this is what I love, the unknown response of a live audience. If it was always the same I would get very bored and find another venue for my talents that was not so predictable. I am a professional and sometimes you have a tough day at work.
As you were,

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Memories of Note

My Dad didn't smoke, didn't drink and never said a bad word stronger than Hell, and would apologize for that. It was not easy to maintain that constitution back in his day. Everyone of his friends smoked, I can't think of any grown up I knew when I was a kid who didn't smoke, except my Dad and Mom. It was always my job to go and get the ash tray for Dub, or Gid or Earl and Jo when they came to visit us. I would then have to disappear to my bedroom and go to bed, but I rarely ever went to sleep right away on those occasions. The smell of tobacco and coffee wafting down the hallway, and the conversation that I could almost make out was much too stimulating. I loved listening to my Dad tell stories and converse with his friends.
We lived in a dry county of Texas so liquor was not around, and if those friends drank they did it in secret. However when Dad changed businesses and became a Bond trader in Dallas, Texas the industry was fueled with two martini lunches and cocktail parties. You were just expected to keep up with the guys drink for drink to make a deal. Dad would go up to the bartender and order "a club soda... with none of your comments". He would get to know the bartenders and they would make the club soda look like a mixed drink and sometimes say, "The usual Mr. Johnson," and he would never have to reveal what he was drinking. The last few years of his life he discovered the joy of Baileys Irish Cream in his morning cup of coffee. The last time I was home we had to make a stop at the liquor store for more Balieys. It was the only time I can recall ever buying booze with my Dad. That male bonding experience was late in coming but highly memorable.
In high school I discovered a bottle of rum hidden in the back of the cupboard. It was dusty and old and probably used for "medicinal purposes" long ago. It stayed there for years until one night during my senior year in college.
My best friend Larry Imes enlisted in the Navy and was gone for two years. He came home from duty one evening and called me to pick him up at the airport. I was living at my parents house and commuting to North Texas at the time. We came back to the house and caught up before I took him home to his folks. In celebration of the sailor home from the sea seemed to be a good time to relocate that bottle of rum. It was still there where it always was untouched from my previous discovery. We had rum and Dr Pepper as the hours flew by. At one point the electricity went off and the house went totally dark. It only lasted a few minutes but it was odd. As it got very late my Mom woke up to us giggling in the kitchen. She was surprised to see Larry who was like one of her boys and greeted him appropriately. As Mom was going back to bed Larry said, "Mrs. Johnson, did you know the electricity went out a few minutes ago?" Without missing a beat she said, "It was probably the good Lord telling you to go to bed." Later the next day she asked me how much rum Larry and I drank. I tap danced a little and said, "Just a bit." She pulled the bottle out of the cup board and measured her fingers to display the exact amount we had consumed. She knew exactly how much had been in the bottle before my welcome home party.
As to bad language that is something my Dad never gave into. He thought "Gone with the Wind" was inappropriate with one Damn. This must have been a challenge for him when he was in the Navy. I think cussing like a sailor is the expression. He probably found a good use for the phrase, "I don't give a rats ass" in those days, because that is about all he would stoop to. In fact, when us kids were small he changed it to "Don't give a rats bottom... or simply the initialed explicative "RB". That we were allowed to say, RB in times of great personal trial. It was my favorite and only curse word for years until I found that the F word had more impact in most situations. My high school friend Larry even started repeating RB in times of frustration. I remember five years ago when Larry called me to tell me he had cancer of the liver, I didn't know what to say. He said it all by just saying, "RB"
I knew you didn't recommend a movie to Dad that had even a moderate amount of adult language. He just would not like it if there was any bad language. I am sure that is why my night club act was squeeky clean. I just didn't hear creative uses of certain words when I was growing up. In modern times it was impossible to see a movie that was not objectionable to him with regard to language. It could be the best story in the world, but more than a few bad words and it was not a good film. However, to his credit, when his Grand daughter started working on the producing side of movies he would sit through the worst of language just to see her name go by in the credits. I guess that was Dad. He would do anything for his family.
Larry passed away five years ago, I have had a chance to accept his departure. It has not been long enough since Dad's passing to have a good perspective yet. I guess what we are left with after all is said and done is just memories of what is was like to be with them. I have been blessed with great memories.
As you were,

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Trial Watch...

By now it is no secret that I enjoy a good true crime show or a juicy televised trial. I must remember to thank the Los Angeles Superior Court for timing the Conrad Murray trial during the weeks I would be out of town. With no television at the "star house" there is at least a streaming real life drama for me to watch before going to the theatre. And watch it I do. Because of the time change for the East coast I am able to sleep a little longer and still get up for the morning session. Except for the sessions held when I had to be on stage, I think I have seen the entire trial.
There are a few observations that I have made so far. I really don't have an opinion on Conrad Murray's guilt or innocence. I think ultimately Dr. Murray was hired at $150,000.00 a month to be a personal prescription drug dealer to Michael Jackson. If Michael Jackson needed Propafal to get through the tour, then it was just a cost of doing business for AEG Live. Besides I am sure if Dr. Murray would have refused the unorthodox treatment another Doctor ,ready to comply, would be only a phone call away. Most everyone around Michael Jackson wanted to get him on stage to sing and dance like a trained animal act, or more like a through bred race horse. Anything is fair game to get the horse to run. Perhaps there should be co defendants in this trial. Going all the way back to Joe Jackson and Barry Gordy.
It is sad to me that Michael Jackson was such a cash cow to those living off him. So much so, they would let him do anything to keep the dollars flowing. This was true his entire life, from his father to the record label to the body guards that were there to protect him. Everyone wanted him to keep doing tours and making hit records and anything was fair game to keep that well from running dry. Drugs, cosmetic surgery, kids, amusement park rides, oxygen chambers and a chimp named Bubbles.... it seemed like everyone around him turned a blind eye to anything that kept him happy. Since he was currently deep in debt the axe above his neck was an even greater incentive to keep the money stream flowing. It does seem odd to me that a man who was 400 million dollars in debt lived like a Prince of Bruni in Holmby Hills, California. For those who don't live in LA the people of Holmby Hills have so much money they look down on Beverly Hills as a ghetto.
The defense in the Murray trial will try to establish that Michael ingested and or injected the over dose of Larazapam and Propafal that killed him while Murray was out of the room. According to the defense the good Doctor was just trying to help the poor man sleep. We know that Michael was addicted to Dimeral and one of the side effects of that addiction is a sever interruption of the addict's sleep cycle. Propafal is not a sleeping aid, it just induces coma for surgery. The wear and tare on the body from being "out" on that drug is even worse than not sleeping. For many reasons a Doctor should have known what the drug's affects were and refused to assist in the ultimate destruction of a personal patient. He should have had the proper hospital equipment to administer the drug, and maybe he should not have left his high profile patient alone to call one of his three girl friends on his Iphone. If Jackson did administer the drugs himself the Doctor still seems to be culpable for leaving the room.
The main thing about the trial is Murray's face. He looks so guilty with a scowl that never leaves even for his close up. I wouldn't expect a man to be grinning ear to ear during such a serious situation, but don't scowl like LT. Warf from Star Trek. There is a middle ground between a grin and a look of doom. He should just look neutral. To me his own demeanor is playing right into the case of the prosecution. He looks like a guilty villian.
After the Casey Anthony not guilty verdict, I am done trying to second guess the 12 people who have the duty. I just think that however the trial goes, there was a major crime here. Not totally the Doctor's fault but a crime shared by every person that saw Michael Jackson as a commercial object instead of a man crying for help.
The defense will take over soon. Look for them to try to position Dr. Murray as the odd man out in a household of Islamic body guards and personal assistants. Each one was responsible in their own silence and guilty of not protecting the man they were hired to protect. It is easy to place blame on the person who was the last person there when the music stopped.
As you were,

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Left Overs....

I am going to leave out one fact in this story as I tell it. I think you will understand why once you hear it. However, at the end I will will tell you the missing ingredient and the story will take on a very different meaning.
My friend Harry says that political correctness is a modern obstacle to comedy. There are some jokes that involve an ethnic group that are not racist, just funny. In Texas you can hear an Aggie joke, go to Pensilvania and hear the same joke told as a Polock joke, and in Canada the same joke would be a Nuffee joke. Same joke, just as funny but requires the assignment of a localized group that everyone knows. Most of the time the ethnic group has nothing to do with the humor of the joke, but because of political awareness those jokes are avoided. But given that we live in a world when we need to laugh more than ever, we can not eliminate a joke just because it might contain an ethnic word. We need to find another way to tell them.
Harry suggests we *invent* a group to make fun of. A race that doesn't exist and won't be offended by being the butt of the joke. Then we will be able to tell all the jokes that are now off limits. The world needs a laugh. Harry said.... let's just call them Cleathens. There is no such thing as a Cheahen, so we can make them anything we want. So here is the joke he tells after that lengthy set up: These two Jewish Cleathens walk out of a Synagogue..... Okay that is not quite on point but, here is my story.
Tonight the producer of the show took me, John and some of the staff members of the theatre out for an evening dinner. It was an Indian Restaurant known for exotic dishes not normal to the Rochester bill of fare. It was "special Buffett" night and they featured dishes that are not normally on the menu. The food was very good.
One off the staff volunteers is a lady who takes her tiny dog with her everywhere. She has a purse that is big enough for the dog and she sneaks him into every place she goes. Most of the time the business don't know there is a dog in their store because the pooch stays hidden in the bag. There are ordinances against dogs in the restaurants of Rochester, but so far she seems to be able to circumvent the rules with the hidden dog. Predictably she brought the dog into the restaurant this evening, maybe she is a regular and they know and don't care. I don't know, but none of the waiters seemed to be concerned about the large purse that would occasionally wiggle in the chair next to her.
I forgot to mention that the restaurant is packed there are people waiting outside for any available table that becomes empty. I think in the food service business they would refer to that as being "slammed". The fact that a chair would go unoccupied by an actual eating customer was attention grabbing.
So we finish our meal and the dog lady decides she will take some of the food home with her. They provide a container and the ubiquitous white take out sack for her. She slings the dog purse over the same shoulder with the take out sack. And we exit.
The second we are out the door she opens the purse for the dog to stick its head out, finally. He is curious about the smells coming from the sack and sticks his head in to find out. There is a large group of people standing near the entrance waiting their turn to go in. The dog can't get to the food and gives up. Just then a member of a large party sees the head of a dog coming out of the white sack and says, "Look it's a doggie bag. She is taking the left overs home." They all laughed hysterically.
The part I left out is that the entire party laughing was Asian. I am unsure if they were laughing at the pun, or more about the idea of eating the dog later.
As you were,

Monday, October 03, 2011

Monday, Monday....

I remember the first time I was away from home for an entire summer I was working at Six Flags over Georgia. I way over-packed and had a foot locker of things I sent back home before the summer was over. I remember that I wanted to have some sort of music at the apartment I would share with David Wylie. It is not that I didn't trust Wylie to have some tunes, but figured it would be opera which was not what I was into at the time. I also knew that we would not have a television to watch.
It wasn't like today when you just take your Ipod and have hours and hours of music. Nor could you just go to Pandora and have all the music you like on a computer. The best that you could do back then was travel with cassette tapes. They were less cumbersome than vinyl records, but took up a lot of space nonetheless. You also needed a player which took up more space.
Just before I left for the job I found something called a "sound machine". It was about the size of a toaster and had speakers and a playback system for mini eight track tapes. Not the eight track tapes that were all over at the time, but a special smaller version of insertable cartridges. It was more expensive than a portable radio cost, but you could listen to the music *you* wanted to hear, not the lame choice of some Atlanta disc jockey.
By the time I spent my money on the player, I didn't have a lot of spare cash left over to buy the special cartridges. Of course it was just a paper weight without the music tracks. I was able to buy two "albums" and thought that I would get more as the summer went on. One of the cartridges was an album by the "Mamas and the Papas" which contained the song "Monday Monday". I played that album hundreds of times a day. Of course you couldn't advance to a particular song, you had to wait till it came back around again, but it was the only music I had. I understand now why Mackinse Philips turned to drugs if she had to listen to that music for her entire childhood. Instead of relaxing me during my time off it was starting to irritate me. It was time to buy some more music to play on my state of art player.
Unfortunately by the time I was ready too start my "sound machine" collection, the machine and all the cartridges had been discontinued. The biggest objection to the buying public was the lack of music available on that format. I was perhaps the only one to actually purchase the device, and there were no special tapes to be had any where. The toaster sized player became my nemesis, a repetitive machine that played the same tunes over and over and over. I started listening to Wylie's opera just to keep my brain from going into atrophy. I should have bought a radio. It was a great lesson in impulse buying. It has stayed with me all these years.
So today is Monday...Monday... can't trust that day....Monday, Monday sometimes it just turns out that way.....( it still haunts me.) and we have a day off. The forecast says it will rain all day. In Rochester the rain this time of year is just a dress rehearsal for the snow that is soon to come. There are no guarantees but I think we will be gone before then. We are starting our last week here.
It will be great to get some rest. For some reason the shows have been sapping my energy more than normal. The venue is a little tough and it takes more effort to move the story up the mountain. However, the crowds have been very responsive even when we have a light house. But I am beat.
So today on a rainy Monday, I will open my Ipad to Pandora, or download some videos to watch, click on IHeartRadio, listen to the the hours and hours of my own mp3's, play some computer games, draw on an art app, surf the Internet, write and publish my next blog, email everyone in my contacts file, post some pictures on Facebook or stream the Conrad Murray trial for entertainment, all on a device that is the size of a thin spiral notebook. For sure I will not have to listen to the same tune over and over again. If I get bored it is my own fault and not the fault of technology. This digital age is either coming to the rescue of us bored road monkeys or it is creating a generation of attention deficit syndrome personalities. About the only thing that my iPad can't provide is rest, but who has time to rest with everything there is to do on a black screen.
As you were,

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Theraputic Value of Humor

I think I can actually talk about it now. At the time I realized it was something important but could not see it in its true light until time has passed from the night my Dad died.
I wrote about how difficult it was to get through my show that night because of the many reference to my Father in the script. Each time I came to one of those references I found it hard to say without breaking down. They caught me by surprise every time.
I assume it is this way for every actor, but for me I have the script running in my head just a few sentences from actually saying the words The show is happening inside me and I am just repeating the lines with a mental time delay. It is like I am being directed in advance. I know that after the next line I will need to move over to a certain point of the stage and say the next phrase. The script is parsed out a line and a movement at a time and not as the entire performance. A good actor is trained not to play the ending of the scene before you get there. It is called "telegraphing" and it is especially true for comedy. You never want to play the set up for the laugh. The laugh has to be a turn and a surprise. If you tee it up like you are going to say something funny, the audience gets there before you do and it's not funny. So the show running in your head has to be only a sentence or two ahead or you play the punchline.
So it was the night of my Dad's death. I was especially trying not to get ahead of myself because I knew the ending of the show was going to be very difficult. The ending is all about the shock of finding out my mentor has died and it was much to real on this night.
Thirty minutes into the show I cross to a big trunk to sit and tell the story of Big Jon and Sparkie. Until this point the show is really the history of ventriloquism with very few personal references that matter. The Big Jon and Sparkie story begins what is basically the second act, my personal journey. The show in my mind stumbles as I sit there. I realize in the next few lines I will say, "On the trip home my Father says something that will change my life." The mental script stopped with the realization that my life with Dad had minutes ago been forever changed. I was off book now... the reality of saying those words derailed my continuing.
Internal show or not, on stage it was time for that very line. I had to look down at my lap to gain my composure to even utter it. I felt a burning in my eyes that signals tears. Then suddenly it was like a commercial interruption of a television show. Everything on stage stopped and I became aware of my pants. My eyes cleared as the burning stopped. I saw that my zipper was open. It had obviously been down for the entire show. It stopped not only my momentary grieving but the entire show. I looked up and said to the audience, "Are you kidding me?" and zipped up. There really is no subtle way to make that move on stage without calling complete attention to it. There was a nervous giggle from the audience. I said, "Has my zipper been down this entire time and no on said anything... Are you kidding me?" I yelled out at John in the booth, "Where is my stage manager when I need him? John?" John has a very infectious laugh and guffawed from the booth. It was enough to get a nice laugh from the audience. I think my ad-lib to a couple down front was, "No extra charge...." It was okay that the show stopped and we all recovered together. The laughter had taken the wind out of my emotions and I was able to say the difficult line and move on quickly.
There were other references that took me by surprise but that quick laugh let me get through the first one more easily. As tough as the others were the first one is always going to be the toughest simply because it is the first.
Part of my per-entrance ritual is to check my zipper before I go on stage. Some actors have a mantra or a superstition before walking on stage, mine is fundamental to wardrobe appropriateness. I guess the shock of Dad passing just moments before I went on stage distracted me from my process. In hindsight it was probably Dad way of helping me get through it. He would rather that performance be remembered not as the night he died but the night I did half the show with my zipper down.
I guess there really is nothing that laughter can't make a little easier. Since humans are the only species that can laugh it is a divine gift.
Here is to lots of laughs in your days to come... no matter what it is you have to face.
As you were,