Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Birthday Thoughts

A poem for those of us  with
Birthday’s Today and
who are manic/depressive bipolars. 



It’s my Birthday, 
Happy Birthday to me,
I am as happy as can be,
A happier man nowhere exists,
I think I’ll go and slash my wrists. 

Just a reminder that depression has no logical reason behind it.  It is neither normal sadness nor confusion. You can’t just “Get over it” if someone tells you too. In today’s world the very President of the United States sows ideas of fear and intolerance into the fabric of everyday life, so depression has a  universal echo chamber.   
Be aware of the signs for depression in yourself and in those you know.  
If they apply to your life, get help from professionals, just like you would if depression was the common cold.  
Enjoy 7/11
As you were,
Jay

Friday, June 29, 2018

Justice Winks



We claim to be a country ruled by law.  The concept of  “rule by law”  means that justice is blind.  This concept is built on the fact that truth is immutable and the truth for one person is the truth for all.  Determining the truth should not be influenced by age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientations and certainly not wealth.  Unfortunately this truth in justice is being parsed out by humans, who are not blind at all but full of opinions and bias. Just as unfortunate is the fact that the easiest influence on a justice system that “peaks” is money.  
When the highest court in the land is staffed by partisan, political hacks who shill for one side or the other makes a mockery of Justice and spits in the eye of truth.  
The concept of Supreme Court judges being appointed for life is the attempt to keep politics and political influence out of the rule of law, each judge has a job for life and will never face election. On the surface it would seem such an independent court could make a decision based upon the Truth, no matter which side their opinion benefited.  
This is not good enough for those who want to exercise control over the vast resources of  the American people.  A control freak is not a gambler, he will only bet on what will be a sure thing.  A control freak is not willing to let any decision be examined by the truth especially when that truth would not benefit said Freak.  So with the use of money and influence (influence is now-a-days a relationship bought and paid for) they populate the courts, not with people who will rule with blind justice, but with judges who will bend laws to help their benefactors.  
Donald Trump is a narcissist. By definition a narcissist is a control freak. This is why he demeans the American Justice system in every way he can.  He is not willing to let the truth rule nor does he want the truth to be known, (he also hates the free press).  He doesn’t understand the rule of law nor due process, he is simply a spoiled child who has always gotten his way.  The rules do not apply to him as he thinks he is above the law.  He will do whatever he wants and will either lie his way out or buy his way out of any transgression he has committed.  
Recently in a rambling,  unintelligent ego rally,  Trump  claimed that the Dems wanted to send 5000 judges to the border to speed up the immigration. Although this is a lie (and the number made up) we are now numb to his inablility to distinguish the truth from his own narcissistic view, that is not the most telling part of his comment.  His statement was this:
“They want 5000 judges on the border. 5000. Can you imagine the kind of CORRUPTION that would cause?”  
Yes, the President of the United States equated more judges with more corruption.  It is the only way he understands the American Judcial system.  His moto, “If you get in trouble... lie about it and if that doesn’t work buy them off.”  
So as there is a rush to fill the Kennedy vacancy on the Supreme Court, not with a neutral judge, nor an impartial judge, but a judge that will make decisions good for the rich, in Trumps words, “For the next 40 years”.   Take the blindfold off the statue of justice and replace her sword with a bank statement.  
Since there is a great possiblility that the Supreme Court will ultimately decide if Donald Trump is above the law, I suggest that any judges that HE appoints recuse themselves from sitting on cases that involve Trumps fate.  That would be the fair thing to do so I doubt it will happen.  Fair is another word for justice and truth, words that don’t mean much to this government. 
As you were,
Jay


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Advice from Harry Anderson



It is the day of the second line tribute for Harry in New Orleans.  Most of the out -of -towners stayed at the same hotel and I did not know any of Elizabeth’s family except a brother I met the night before.  Needless to say the second line eve was filled with toasts to Harry who’s departure from this world  brought us all together for this event. I mention this to say that because it was the morning after in New Orleans, it was a staggering march to find coffee.
Certainly not the best coffee in New Orleans, but the most convenient, was waiting for us in the lobby of the Hotel. What I remember most about the evening was Elizabeth saying her folks were driving in that morning and she would be getting them settled.  I also remember talking to her brother for a short time.
So as Sandi and I stagger to the lobby there are two men sitting on the couch close to the table with the coffee. One of the men says “Good morning, how are you doing today?”  At first I thought it was the Morgan brother that I met the night before so I answered appropriately.  At the first sip of coffee it comes clear that this is not the brother I met, but thought they might be other members of the clan.  
“Are you guys here for the celebration?” I said as a way of identifying them as family members.  One of the guys answered, “Oh yes, the folks went on some sort of tour this morning, but it was too hot so we came back to the hotel.”  Knowing Elizabeth’s parents were coming in that morning it made sense. We introduced ourselves with first names and there was basic small talk about nothing very specific.  
My friend Turk Pipkin appears in the lobby and goes for coffee.  I introduce the two guys to Turk and say, “Turk and Harry and I were partners in a couple of companies and television shows.”  They were properly impressed as Turk said, “I think Elizabeth is in the restaurant”. The restaurant is what the hotel called a couple of tables off the bar.  So Sandi and I go into the bar/restaurant to find Elizabeth.  
There she was with her folks and other family members, and introductions went around the tables.  Since there was no more seating at this location, Sandi, Turk and Christy and I decide we will find breakfast some place else.  
As we exit through the lobby the two guys I was talking to were standing up getting ready to leave the hotel also.  Still assuming they are brothers and family members I say, “The restaurant is full of Morgans.”  
The more talkative of the two says, “Actually, we are not part of your group, we are here for another reunion and thought you were part of our celebration.”  Now here is where the Harry Anderson advice comes to fruition. 
Instead of just saying, “Well it was nice to meet you.” And moving on,  I decide I could defuse our mutual embarrassment by continuing to talk.  
“Oh my, I thought you were Elizabeths brothers, I thought I saw a family resemblance.”  Here again it would have been wise to end the conversation but being it was a day of celebration for Harry, his admonition kept ringing in my head.  
I say, “I guess it was just your family resemblance... I mean you are brothers right?”
There was a pause and then, “No, we are not brothers... we are actually.... uh... a couple.”  The next thing out of my mouth should have been ‘Have a nice day’ but since the man had struggled to say the word “couple” I wanted him to know that I was perfectly okay with all loving life style choices.  
“I guess it’s like they say, the longer a couple is together the more they start to look alike.”  I say this in the most liberal minded voice I can.  
“We have only been together for about a year.....” was the answer.  I was dragged away by Turk, Christy and Sandi.
Harry’s advice?  
“When you dig a hole for yourself, keep digging, you might find a way out.”  
As you were,
Jay
 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Memory

This is a shot of Harry Anderson, Peter Scolari, John Ritter and me.  It was taken on the set of a CBS Television special Harry, Turk and I wrote and produced called “Tricks of His Trade”. There was no way to know then that John and Harry would leave us so quickly after.   I have always loved this photo but now even more. 
Life goes on but not ever in the same way again. Thank God for memories.

Which reminds me of a story that happened just the other day. Sometimes things just happen in the course of going about your business. This is one of those cases where I got to take credit for a funny joke that I didn’t know was... a funny joke.  My friend Harry used to say, “Never assign brilliance to what can explained by  simple stupidity.”  But I have admitted too much already.

Sandi and I were walking the dogs, yes we have two dogs. We got a dog for our dog so she would have a pet.  Mostly Boo sees Izzy (the new dog) as an interloper not a friendly companion.  As we were walking past a pharmacy Sandi said, “I need to get something here.”  Since I was carrying my wallet and Sandi was not carrying hers, I was chosen to go inside and get what she needed as she stayed outside with the dogs.   She said she was out of “Previgen”, which should have been all the information I needed to make the purchase. However, after looking for time enough to find it I had not located the needed Previgen, so I asked a clerk.  She said that although it was not a prescription drug it was only available behind the prescription counter. 

There were two “window” counters where people were being helped. When it was my turn I stepped to the young lady pharmacist and said, “I need some Previgen.”  She repeated, “Previgen?” I said, “Yes, Previgen”.  She looked below the counter and on the shelves at her back, but did not seem to find it. 
“Previgen?” She repeated again.  I answered (again) with the same affirmative. “Yes, Previgen.”  There was more searching and more looking but no product yet.  Finally she said, “What is that for?”  

Well, I wasn’t sure. It was something that Sandi took and I had to think about it for a minute. As I recall my reply went something like this:
“Oh, uh, it’s for.. uh.. let me see...uh... it is for your... memory.... I think”.  The lady getting her prescription at the next window burst out laughing, when I realized how she heard it, rather than laugh at my own unintended joke, I took smug credit.  The girl behind the counter giggled and said, “Oh course, here it is, I think I might need to take it myself.”  

I paid for the Previgen, but in my mind I was taking a bow telling the audience to remember to tip the waitresses and that I would be here all week.
It was a comedic take on the philosophy of Magic by Harry Anderson.  It the unintended works to your advantage always take credit.  Chance is a difficult method to ever figure out. 
As you were,
Jay

Saturday, June 02, 2018

My Friend Robert Mandan

It was with great sadness that I heard  my friend Bob Mandan had passed away.  I don’t have the words to fully express yet another loss of a good friend, so I will just repost a birthday blog I wrote six years ago. Rest peacefully, Mandan.   


I repost this article I wrote about my friend from his birthday in 2012, preceded by this editors note written today.

There are friends, there are people you have worked with and then there is a person like Bob who is both. I recall so many fun times together when we roamed with a group of actor/publicists/writers called the "Terrible 10".  We got that name because we were a terrible table of ten if you were sitting next to us at a restaurant.  We laughed the entire time and were not quiet about it.  If you were looking for a quiet evening's meal we were not the table you wanted to sit close to.
Happy Birthday Mr. Mandan. I cherish your friendship.
Nothing has changed in the way I feel about you since I wrote the blog below.

It's GroundHog Day
On my top ten list of movies "GroundHog" day is near the top.   And here it is in real life, Groundhog day 2012.  But I think the Punxsutawney rodent gets too much attention today.  It is a special day for other reasons.

Robert Mandan, Bob Campbell, Jay Johnson, Jay Sandrich
Opening night of "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only"
It is also the birthday of my friend Robert Mandan: "Better Dressed!" 
Only a true SOAPY will get that reference, but it is how I know my friend Mandan. He is better known to some as Chester Tate on SOAP. 

Robert Mandan
I remember when I moved to Los Angeles I was with my  vacationing folks having dinner at the  Toulca Lake Marie Callendars. Although I didn't know his name at the time Robert Mandan was also waiting for a table.  Mandan is one of those actors I had seen in many staring roles. Bob was my first "celebrity siting" in my new home town.  Bob received the ultimate compliment my Father had for working actors when he whispered to me, "That guy has been in a gillion films." Indeed my friend has been in a "gillion" things. Take a look at his IMDB - Robert Mandan. That impressive list is only the film and television roles. There is an even more impressive list of stage productions that Bob has done, including an Ovation Award for "The CareTaker" and a critically acclaimed portrail of "King Lear", not to mention three Broadway shows. 
 I had no clue that soon I would be working with that "guy who has done a gillion films". We became friends almost immediately.  For a time we had the same personal manager, the same publicist and hung out with the same group of television actors.  We were known as the "terrible ten" because of fun we used to have at various Los Angeles restaurants. The members of the social group changed but Bob and I have remained friends all this time. 
Bob and his wife Sherry have been impromptu godparents to both my sons.  My oldest son will say, "How is Mandan?" even today.
Robert Mandan in "Barney Miller"
Chester Tate and Benson
Bob is an actors actor.  He never stops studying and learning how to better deliver his gift. He is funny and smart and yes, as piss elegant as Chester Tate sometimes. If you're lucky a working relationship turns into a real friendship in this town of huge openings and quiet closings. I am grateful to have friends like Bob and Sherry in my life. On a day like GroundHogs day when the talk is about the weather, I will be thinking about my friend Bob Mandan, certainly not a "fair weather friend".  
Note to Mandan: You are not getting older, like wine you are getting more valuable.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Mandan. We shall celebrate with a bottle of "HOOP DE HAH".

As you were,
Jay
Bob Mandan on "Three's a Crowd"
Bob Mandan on "Star Trek,The Next Generation"

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Good Night Harry



Note: (I wrote this the day after I heard that Harry had passed away.  It has taken me more than a month to feel like I could read it again to correct it and publish it.  I hope this is part of the healing process from grieving.  Mostly it just makes me realize that some things take much longer than 30 days)

Back in the early 80's It is what they called a suite at the Sea Sprite Motel in Hermosa Beach.  Basically it was two adjoining rooms,  one with two beds and the other with a couple of desks and couches.  In that "other" bedroom Harry Anderson and I had two identical Mac Computers... 512 version, the big beige toaster model, and two identical work stations side by side an arms length away. We are writing a show for NBC called “Halloween Night - Live”.  It was a lampoon of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”.  Between the two computers were a couple of glasses, ice, a bottle of Vodka, cold orange juice, a pack of Camel unfiltered cigarettes and a zippo. As we started to write Harry said, “This is great. Let’s get a little smoke filled room going here.”  It fit Harry’s  Dashiell Hammet vision of what a writers room should be, a poorly lit smoke filled beachside motel.
It wasn’t just any motel at the beach, the Sea Sprite was across the street from the Comedy Magic Club.  Harry and I were introduced by Mike Lacey, the owner of the Comedy and Magic Club. That club is and will always be our favorited place to perform.  Harry and I wrote and produced an April Fools show and a Halloween show at that club every year.   Harry figured when we knocked off from writing we were across the street from a great place to eat, drink and see a funny show.  It was a good plan and we took advantage of the legendary Mike Lacey hospitality.
Harry embraced personal computers with a bear hug.  I remember the day he got his first Mac. He bought it for Eric his business manager at the time.  Before  I got to the house to see this new wonder of modern electronics, Harry had already decided to keep it and buy another Mac for Eric.  Harry saw right away that the future of creativity was digital.  Mac had created a visual interface which was more logical and approachable to dyslexics like Harry and me.  Harry knew so much about the Mac,  the Genius Bar at the Apple Store would say Uncle. He was my computer guru.  I got all his hand me down computers.  He went for the newest and the fastest and at the time they were getting newer and faster every 16 months.  So I had the next latest computer every 16 months.  The thing was they came loaded with Harry’s software but absolutely no documentation. No manuals for the operating system nor instructions for the software.  My family will tell you that instructions are the last thing I ever look at for a project. So in an odd way this Anderson approach to this new computer age fit my learning skills to a tee. 
It was prehistorically simple at the Sea Sprite.  To work on the same file we came up with a system.  Harry loved a program called “Think Tank”. It was an early outlining program. So we both had “Think Tank” our Macs, we divided the show in half and worked on our sections independently.  Midway through the day we would exchange discs and I would edit his stuff and Harry would edit mine.  
Harry was an excellent writer. He was an excellent editor.  He encouraged me to write. I am a writer because of Harry.  He always had his shows and his patter written down in script form. He couldn’t believe that my routines were just in my head.
While we were writing this show, most of the times unless I had a better joke or thought I could clarify a scene, Harry’s stuff was really good.  The next time I got my rewrites back it was trimmer, cleaner and well just funnier.  Harry’s take on a scene or story was always well crafted.  
One night after coming back from the Club we were settling in on the separate double beds. They were both more my size than Harry’s.  I don’t know why but one easily forgets how tall Harry Anderson was. 
As we were going to sleep Harry said, “I have to tell you, the Milk Bottle sketch you wrote is one of the best things in the show.  I think it might be the best thing you have written.”  
I said, “Thanks. That means a lot to me,  Good Night Harry.”
Harry does not bull shit.  He will tease and satirize but he will not bull shit.  So if he thinks one of my sketches is good, I knew it wasn’t some obligatory compliment.  I remember sleeping well that night. 
The next morning when the sun was barely up I hear the familiar boing of a Mac 512 being turned on.  This was followed by the distinctive hum of Mac reading a disc, and after that the clicking sound of a Mac keyboard.  Finally the smell of coffee and Camel cigarettes got me up. I stumbled into the already smoke filled room. As my sleepy eyes awoke I focused  on  Harry in his underwear frantically typing on his Mac.  
I said, “What are you working on in the middle of the night?”
He said, “I am rewriting the Milk Bottle Sketch.” 
So began my collaborative association with Harry Anderson.  The last thing we collaborated on we wrote while I was in LA and Harry in Asheville, NC.  We emailed files of Final Draft back and forth.  I was never more creatively challenged than when I was working with Harry.  Harry Anderson made me a better artist, writer and performer.  His premature exit has created an massive hole in many people's lives. Not the least of which is mine. I doubt that I have time to meet another person like Harry in my life.  Perhaps there will never be anyone of his kind again.  
Good night Harry,
Jay

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Sometimes a Snake is just a Snake

I am getting ready for my show at the Uptown Theater in Grand Prairie, Texas.  (Shameless promotion). I think there are a some tickets left for the June 2nd one night only performance.  If you are near, love to drive or own a private plane please come and see the show.   Here is an easy way to get your ticket.  Uptown Theater.    And now we return you to the blog already in progress.

As I check out all the characters that will be in the show and prep them for travel, I am flooded with a range of emotion.  One of the joyful yet poignant moments came today when I was packing Amigo the Snake.
Amigo is pictured at the 4 o'clock position. 

Amigo is a puppet that my Mom made for me when I was in High School.  It is the oldest puppet that I still use.  My Mom was a genius with a sewing machine.  I have a sewing machine in my office to this day because of the magic I saw my Mom do with such a device.  The line from my show is: 
“My Mom made me this puppet so I could take it with me to High School. She though I might have trouble fitting in.”   That statement is very true.  Although I didn’t always bring a puppet to school Squeaky’s case was too big to fit in my locker.  So Mom made a soft hand puppet Snake that could easily fit into my back pack.  
As I checked out Amigo this morning I remembered the first time that I ever laid eyes on the little guy.  Mom had designed a hand puppet mouth with a long body that wrapped around my arm. The wrap around kept it from looking like just a puppet on my hand and more like I was holding a snake.  She made Amigo out of a pair of dancers tights that had a snake like pattern.  Because they were meant to be worn by a dancer the undertone was a flesh like brown color. It worked great as cartoon snake skin. 
The only problem of design was the end of Amigos tail, the part that hung over my right forearm. Mom had just rounded it off, more like a worm than a snake.  She might have been thinking that the character I had come up with was more worm like than snake like.  But to me it had a way more familiar look.  It looked for the world like a flaccid but still impressive penis.  
So here I am a 15 year old boy holding a puppet trying to tell his Mother that with this design he was not Amigo the Snake, nor Amigo the Worm.  I was trying to be professional and say that the puppet tail needed to come to much more of a point without saying the words: peter, dick, johnson, member, weiner, schlong or trouser lizard. Some how I got the point across and she made the correction.
We lost Mom last October after too many years of being unable to sew magic anymore.  It is just one of the reasons I miss that wonderful and imaginative Mother.  As a testament to her genius a letter from her to me about her thoughts making puppets for me hangs in the Vent Haven Museum.  I did not know the letter was among a puppet donation that I made to that great place.  The curator Lisa Sweasy found it and recognized the importance of her thoughts and talents and framed it with the puppets I had donated.  
My show “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only” is in some ways a valentine to my Mom and my mentor Art Seiving.  They both hold a unique place in my heart as teachers, imagineers and personal puppet makers. I am so glad to get to tell their story again on stage.  It will be a very special performance in my home town.  
As you were,
Jay

Monday, April 16, 2018

Friends are family you get to Choose

What's a BFF?


Once in a lifetime you connect with a person who becomes your Best Friend Forever. 




It was a chance meeting at the Circus Circus Reno showroom with a guy who was hired to be my opening act. I don't know what draws a comic magician to a ventriloquist, but it was an instant connection.


I became the "roper" to the "wise guy", the pitchman to the carnival lifestyle of Harry Anderson. Before the two weeks were up at the Reno gig we had hustled the pit bosses, played on the trapeze and cuffed the head of security with his own handcuffs. They closed the showroom after we left and turned it into a Keno parlor.


It was the crest of "Soap" for me, but Harry went on to become the star of "Night Court", "Disney's Absent-Minded Professor" and "Dave's World" as well as several network and cable specials, most of which I participated in either by producing or performing in or both. We co-wrote scripts, acts and I even wrote the introduction to a couple of his books. For a while we were developers for Macintosh software, and even converted a Mac program into an application we sold to Disney. 


But live shows were where we really excelled. We did annual Halloween shows and April Fool's shows and New Year's Eve shows at any venue that would let us do our thing, mostly during the rock and roll days of the Comedy Magic Club in Hermosa Beach. We would spend more time and energy in producing those shows than we did for NBC or CBS. 


After his series ended Harry moved to a Green and Green mansion in Pasadena. We converted his basement into a "walk through" spook house that took months to construct. For a party of special invitees one Halloween we tricked, amazed and scared a group of friends with every illusion we could come up with at the time. It was special enough that David Copperfield flew in, before we took it apart, for a command performance. After we tried to establish several companies together we realized that having fun together was much more interesting to us than trying to make a buck. My wife says, "Jay and Harry play together very well." It was Harry who coined the phrase that became the title to my Broadway show, "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only."


Harry moved to New Orleans where he opened a magic shop and nightclub called "Oswald's Speakeasy" dedicated to Lee Harvey Oswald. There was a drink called the "single bullet" and a "grassy knoll". The men's room was papered with the Warren Commission report. Harry's act was the main attraction. We made a deal that I would come into the club and do my act several times a year so he could go on vacation. The club was going strong for several months, and I was ready one week end to come down and survey the club for my show. I never made it. That very weekend the airport closed due to something called Katrina. The town was never the same, Harry closed the shop, sold the club and moved to North Carolina.


After 30 years of friendship it is not so surprising that he would fly across the country to celebrate my birthday a couple of week-ends ago. There were other friends there, but we could have had a great time just the two of us. As usual his toast was the highlight of the evening. His funniest line, "You have to remember, I knew Jay Johnson before he was what he no longer is today." 


My Buddhist friends say we are friends now because of our connection in a previous life. I don't know about that, but I hope we find each other in the next one. Harry always says, "Friends are the family you get to choose". I am godfather to his kids and he is godfather to mine, so I guess we made it official. 


I don't know why I feel compelled to write about this in the blog except to say this. Hold your friends dear, friendship is one of the great gifts we humans have been given. Don't let friends slip away even if they move across the country. In today's high tech world distance is no barrier. Make sure you tell the people close to you that you value the gift of their very existence. 


BFF is thrown around on the Internet like it was a :) or "sincerely" attached to a letter. Not to me... if I use it, I want to mean it. In this case it could not be more accurate, to me my BFF is a BFD. 


As you were,

Jay


Friday, April 13, 2018

Words Matter-

I am preparing a lecture that I am giving in Portland next month and the subject is Words Matter.  It is something that I believe in strongly and feel words have been weaponized and ill-regarded in the Trump Era.  As I look at the daily news coming from this adminstration, I can find way too many violations of what I consider common decency.  Manners and diplomacy went away the day Trump announced his run for the Presidency.

Usually my advice to people tweeting, posting, commenting or speaking is: Think before you speak and always edit and rewrite everything except a grocery list.  Perhaps the leader of the free world could find a words better than “Slimball leaker” to discribe someone.  There is a dictionary full of word on the web that could accurately discribe your feelings without personal thuggish bullying.  Usually by thinking about your words and trying to come up with the ones that are specific to what you want to communicate does the trick.  Re-reading your post only to see if auto correct has miss guessed your word before you press the send button is communication 10.  

However, after hearing the “prepared remarks” from Sarah Sanders regarding 45’s use of the term “slimball” today, (the above video) I realize that re-reading and editing is not enough.  She obviously prepared the hatchet remarks carefull and thought about what she was saying.  So... rather than re-reading and editing my advice to her is choose better. 

Language, particularly written language, can be less than clear just because English is so confusing.  Words can be verbs one minute and nouns the next, they can mean what they mean or have a street definition that has the opposite meaning.  Great writers spend hours finding just the right word that communicates exactly the image the writer wants us to visualize.  A writer (Press Secretary no less) doing a job that is supposed to clarify the decisions and in this case Tweets from the President of the United States has to be extremely careful in her choice of words.  Sarah Sanders has shown time and time again, like her boss, she does not choose words wisely nor even intelligently.  Leaders, Responsible leaders, do not use the words of a low class mobster. A legally delivered search warrant is not an attack on America.  Attorney client priveledge is still alive and well, and if you call people out and insult them in a Tweet, expect someone to write a book calling you a thug.  

I have tried to avoid blogging politics lately, but when the very subject you are doing research on is so blatantly abused almost daily, I just had to get it off my chest.  
As you were,
Jay

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Eye to Eye

As a side bar, I once interviewed a lady who lost her vision ( went totally blind) at 15 years old. Through advances in technology, and 50 years later she had an operation to give her vision back when she was 65.  I remember that interview very well, and now I understand a little more clearly what she was feeling.

My right eye has always been extremely myopic. I could see things up close but not things farther than an arms length away.  I have had glasses and contact lense since I was 16 years old.  For many years hard and soft contact lense were a miracle to me, I could put them on in the morning and see great all day long even read with the contacts. I was an excellent patient for daily wear soft lense.   However, age causes everyone to lose short vision over time, and I was slowly developing a cataract in that right eye.  So even with glasses, readers, or contacts the short vision was dicey with flares and halo’s around lights in the night time becoming increasingly problematic. If I wanted to see a stage play clearly I had to wear contacts but to read the Playbill I had to have reading glasses. It was just one of those things you just get used to over the “snail’s pace” of time. Friends had radial keratotomy and laser surgery to correct their vision, but I was never sure it was right for me although my “prescription”seemed to be perfect for the operation.  
For the last decade I have been using contact lense for stage work, but for everyday I just had my distant correction glasses which I took off to read or do work close. For me that was easier than using readers with my contacts.  But the glare of lights at night time was really getting to me... with nothing that glasses or lenses could do to correct it.  

I have a great optomologist who noticed the cataract developing in my right eye, causing most of the problems of light and glaring.  That was the bad news, the good news: with new developments in eye surgery a patient did not have to wait until cataracts are really bad before getting rid of them. The best news was that while they were extracting the cataract they could implant a lense to make me see distance more clearly.  And it is an outpatient procedure which meant I was less than two hours in the hospital.  It was simple and virtually painless.  The IV for the procedure was the worst part. 
I feel like the lady who got her sight back. I have never seen so clearly in my right eye.  In fact the biggest problem I have had all week is adjusting to more light and more color in my perception than I have had in a long time.  I am almost over loaded with new colors and a new sense of distance.  I wake up in the middle of the night and can clearly see what time it is on the cable box clock.  This may not be a trill to some, but it is very exciting to me.

The funniest thing that happened to me during my procedure happened at the prep. I went in early in the morning and was escorted to an exam room before taken to a hospital bed.  There a nurse put a series of drops in my “surgery ready” eye.  These were in addition to the three sets of drops I had put in that eye at home already.  She would matter of factly tell me what the drops were for, i.e.  “this will dilate your eye” .... “this is an anti-inflamitory”.  Then she put a drop into my eye that started stinging like crazy, and said, “This is to numb the eye.”  I said, “It stings, than’s an oxymoron.”  She paused for a moment and said, “No it is just a mild anesthetic.”  

The lady I interviewed said that, after her surgery, if she got lost in the house she would just close her eyes so she would remember her way around. For me I just close one eye to remember. 
Happy St. Patricks day to all the Irish and wannabes.
As you were,
Jay 

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The Ape and Jay

To comply with some self emposed decorum of disclosure, Charles Peachock sent me an Audio Ape some years ago just to see if I would like it.   I used it,  loved it and gladly paid for the 2.0 Upgrade. He asked me to review the Audio Ape and this is what I came up with.





Jay Johnson and The Audio Ape


On stage, a ventriloquist controls all the voices, movements, timing, jokes and sounds coming from a puppet while pretending not to be responsible.  Some might say that’s a classic case of a control freak in denial. Well,  I‘m a ventriloquist...  Here’s my story, you decide.

Music has always been a part of my act. Over 45 years the delivery format has changed exponentially.  I have traveled with full orchestra charts, 5 piece band charts,  cued up cassette tapes, CDs, mini disks, MP3’s and thumb drives.  There is one thing, though, that hasn’t changed: Whether it is a conductor, band leader or sound person, someone has to know my act and execute the cues at the right time. 

Because of this,  over the years, my cues became simple, few and hopefully “bullet proof”. I joke that they are easy enough to be “done while mixing a Margarita”. (It’s true. I once worked a comedy club where the Bartender doubled as the audio man with the sound board behind the bar. If I heard the blender going I knew I had to wait for my cue.)   

For me, the timing of my sound cues is as important as the timing of my jokes. If you have ever experienced that “eternal stage wait” between calling for a sound cue and NOT hearing it, you know the nightmare. There have been remote control systems designed before; but, the problem with most old remote control sound systems in the past is not just their large size and short range, but you still had to travel with some sort of music player that the remote could control. Short of hiring a sound man to learn your show and travel with you, is there another way?  

Finally there is. It is a digital solution, The Audio Ape. The Audio Ape is a remote control sound system that’s small, easy, effective and controls the sound on my iPad which already travels with me.  By using the music function, programming and display capacities of the iPad (or iPhone), Audio Ape is a sound designer and audio programmer in a package that’s not much bigger than a deck of cards. 

Audio Ape interfaces with several great sound apps, my preference is GoButton.  It allows me to fade, edit, cut and stack sound cues without destroying the original tracks. I can reprogram different cues easily and control them with a touch of the Audio Ape Remote button about the size of a zippo lighter. I even modified a remote to function as an ankle switch. Now instead of trying to limit the number and complexity of my sound cues, I am looking for ways to expand them. It has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for my live performances.  With Audio Ape I can directly control, underscore, tag and orchestrate my performance with music and sound effects.

As a ventriloquist my bottom line is this: I don’t trust anyone to control the operation and timing of my puppets on stage, why would I want someone to control the operation and timing of my sound cues? Is that a control freak in denial or a professional entertainer who wants to do the best show every time? You decide.

As you were,
Jay

Friday, February 16, 2018

Guns are not the Problem

So another school shooting and another predictable response.  Thoughts and prayers from the politicians who get lots of money from the NRA.  Other gun supporters  say, “not the time to talk about gun legislation, let the families grieve.”  The best response was a Right wing pundit saying it wasn’t a gun problem but a “Mental Health” problem.  Really?
One of the only things that this President has done in his volital year in office is to resend an Obama amendment restricting the mentally ill from purchasing guns.  So clearly the Trump adjenda does not agree that school shootings is  a “mental health” problem.    
 
If we will not restrict the manufacture of guns nor prohibit their distribution, then let’s levy a license on guns. Guns should be regulated and taxed in the same way automobiles are regulated and taxed. There is a license for the vehicle and more importantly a license for the operator.   The operator must show competence, awareness and maturity to drive/operate a car.  How much more competence is needed to shoot/operate a gun. 
A license can be denied because of a low score on the written test, the eye test or the shooting test.  The gun itself must be insured against accidental discharge and there will be checks to confirm proof of insurance on every gun owned.  The NROA, National Rifle Owners Association reminds you there is a senseable approach to licensing gun ownership. 
Remember:

Guns don’t own people, People own guns.  

There are now more guns than cars in the United States. In terms of public safety guns and cars kill an equal number of people each year. However, automobiles are highly regulated, licensed, and more importantly insured. There is no probation period for owning a gun as there is for a driver.  How does a gun owner show responsibility.   Why is a drivers license test so much harder than a gun license test.  Oh that’s right, there is no such thing as a gun license test.   

Obtaining a drivers license is an accomplishment of physical and mental skills so worthy as to be accepted as a legitimate source of identification. Why isn’t a gun license recognized as a form of identification. Oh that’s right,  there is no such thing as a gun license. 

So it is not a gun problem nor a mental health problem, it is a licensing problem. 
As you were, 
Jay

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Day Off or Off Day


For some reason flying into the past is a litle more confusing for me than my flight into the future two months ago.  I have no idea what day it is and although I arrived yesterday, it was the end of two days of journey.  In my mind yesterday should be today but I doubt I would be any less tired.  Also what is this odd accent that everyone seems to have.  English speaking people who use the letter “r”.  

I took no photographs once I left the Mantra Hotel in Perth. It was necessary to “zen” into the 28 hours of flights, lay overs and plane changes to get home. It wasn’t that I thought photographs would stop time, I was just in mental travel zone with my game face on.  Besides it was not the part of the tour that I wanted to remember most.  

After traveling all night from Perth to Sydney on a red eye, I had 6 hours turn around to catch the flight from Sydney to LA.  So by the time I got to the plane home I had been traveling 12 hours. I was excited to see an American Express Lounge close to my connections gate. It was a nice place to pass the time.  Free food and booze with nice chairs and electrical charging outlets at each place.  It wasn’t a large but it was sufficient for passing some really long down time. 

There were two things that made me realize I was leaving Australia. I exchanged my Australian dollars for American and I changed out the SIM card on my phone. Good bye funny plastic money and goodbye Australian phone number.  I really never got used to Australian phone numbers, but finally was counting out Australian money like I was a pro. The Aussie money is made out of some almost indestructible plastic, and has transparent spots on each bill.  The denominations are all different sizes and do not hold a crease very well.  I had to readjust the organization of my money clip.  I like to clip my cash with the smaller demominations on the outside.  For some reason the Austrailian bills would not behave if that was the desire.  Until I discovered that the larger bills would hold the smaller in a clip, I was forever watching my Australian money spring open and jump out of my hands like a magic trick every time I tried to pay for something.  

It will be a few days before I realize that I am not currently in another hotel waiting to open at yet another theater with a great group of friends.  Once my body recoups from being in a pressurized flying tin can for two days I will become aware of the fact that it is 7:30 in the evening and I am not waiting the call for “Act one beginners on stage please”.  It will dawn on me that no one has posted plans to the Cast Facebook group in a few days, and that I have not heard Circus English spoken in a while.  That is when time will catch up with me and the reality of not doing the show will be obvious. 

To any of my Unbelievable friends who might be reading this today or anytime in the coming future, I miss you. I think I was able to say a proper good bye to each of you before we all went our ways.  However,  the words of any language are insufficient to describe the space in my heart that you all now occupy.  We will all be telling our grandkids about the time we played the Sydney Opera House as part of an Australian tour, for some of us that time will come sooner than others.   No matter when the story is told I will recount the wonderfully talented people I was surrounded with for several months, and how our lives were interconnected for a time.  From Tamworth to Perth to all places and travels in between I was honored to be a part of this adventure. More later,

As you were,

Jay

Saturday, January 27, 2018

And then they were done.

Jay and Bob in Perth
Bob Mugging to the camera
Every theater that we worked in for this tour had a required “safety introduction”.  For example we were not allowed to go into the theater of the Sydney Opera House without first attending the safety lecture.  It took about 10 minutes and basically told us to find our nearest exit in case the fire alarm sounded.  They said the fire alarm would be the sound of a loud horn.  My dressing room had windows facing the harbor and the Cruise ships made exactly the same noise when they blew the ships horn for their safety demonstration. That issue was never addressed.

 At the Crown theater we had to have a safety speech the first day before starting the first run through.  The stage manager for the theater addressed us on our set while we were sitting on the stage. It was much less formal than Sydney.  He told us where the exits were and the meeting place outside.   He said, “Mainly we want you to be safe back stage.  It is dark back there and with cables and road boxes everywhere it can be dangerous.  We have tried to shore them up as much as possible and light the dark corners.  But please, if you see anything that might be a hazard let us know immediately and we will fix it.  We don’t want you tripping on anything... so let us know.”  With that he gave us a thumbs up, turned and immediately tripped over one of the gobo lights that was on the stage. Only his pride was hurt which is a good thing because we laughed uncontrollably. There has been a wealth of laughter doing this show, not much that is translatable out of the context of the show, but funny to the company at the moment.  

 There is an old show biz chestnut that is bitter sweet. It goes like this: “We opened, we played, we loved we left.” No matter how long the show runs it always closes. By now, I should have adjusted to the fact that nothing goes on forever, but I haven’t. My family says I don’t like change and they are mostly right.  I am rarely part of a large cast and this is such a different world of performers than I have ever had the privilege to know; so for me, saying bye to friends who have have shared this common emotional experience is extra difficult.  I don’t know when our paths might cross again.   We had to say goodbye to Alexandria the aerialist acrobat the early part of the week.  She was not able to recover quickly enough from a muscle tear to do the Perth run. And before we flew to Perth we had to say goodbye to “Deadly Games”.  Anna cracked her ankle and was not able to continue dodging the axes and knives that Alfredo threw at her (on stage). Saying goodbye to a few cast members at a time does not make it any easier.  It’s like cutting your hand off a finger at a time thinking that it won’t hurt as much.  

 We only have a few days left on this adventure. I will be glad to be back home, but will soon be looking for the next adventure. I’m not ready to simply relive old stories, I would love to continue to experience new ones. Touring Australia and playing the Sydney Opera house will be tough to top.
 As you were,  
 Jay   

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Koko Black

Koko Black is where I am writing at this very minute.  It is a lounge/restaurant near the hotel. I am having a very nice latte wondering if I will order something to eat or go right for some of the chocolate they have for sale. Koko Black is only in Australia, and this is the first one that I have  the pleasure of hanging here.   Koko Black offers confections in long black elegant glass cases sold as a piece or the gram by lovely ladies wearing black.  The clerks can describe each chocolate creation like a sommelier pitching an expensive wine. It is not hard to eat $32 worth of chocolate in a couple of bites. The decor is black and dark wood and the smell is that of coffee and chocolate. While See’s candies in America has the same product, their decor depicts the clinical sterility of Mrs. See’s white kitchen and a retail store functionality,  Koko Black displays the decadence of a softly lit perfume store and a romantic lounge to pass the time.  I have to say, when I think of my chocolate obsession, my fantasy goes to this setting.

To fit the mood I am in,  I am wishing my current window view was the twinkling lights of the San Fernando Valley from Mulholland Drive on a clear night.  Unfortunately that can only exist in my imagination right now.  It is summer time in Australia and very hot outside in the rush of the Perth CBD.  It is in stark contrast to the world of Koko Black. I will be performing at Crown Theater when the Australian evening starts to turn on the lights.  Koko Black is not open late into the night.  
Except for the weekends most of Perth goes to sleep by 10:00.  We went to a wonderful Sushi bar last night on our day off.  At 8:30 they told us it was last call.  After a week day show we tried to get some food but even though the bar section of a restaurant stays open, the kitchen is usually closed by 9:00.  That may be one of my best memories of New York, especially when my show was at the Atlantic Theater in Chelsea.  After the show we had our choice of really good places to eat, sit, dine and unwind. The New York places would be still be bustling at 11:00.  It is a show business vampires paradise.  
There is a homeless problem in Australia and since it is summer the street squatters are very noticable.  This coupled with the fact that the drinking age is 18 in Australia, navigating the pedestrian areas after dark is an obstacle course, particularly on weekends when the restaurants do stay open later. The panhandlers are a little more aggressive here in Perth than in Melbourne or Sydney.  The street people in the other cities seemed to take a subservient posture.  Most on their knees in a quasi-prayer pose bowing their  heads toward their change collection.  In Perth there is more of a “Hey mate have you got some change” approach.  There are no single dollar notes in Australia only coins for a dollar and two dollars.  They also round up to the nearest penny since that denomination does not exist.  The result is a very heavy pocket full of coins by the end of the day.  I usually separate the silver 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins which are bigger than the dollar  and two dollar size bronze tokens and distribute them to street people accordingly.  
My other observation about Australia and Perth in particular involves the women.  The young women are attractive even it they don’t use the letter “r” to communicate, i.e. “su, ah ye goin’ by ca?” (Sir are you going by car?)   But, attached to their bodies are collectively the worst arm and leg tattoos I have ever seen. To be totally candid, I am not much for tattoos, and only rarely do I think it makes an attractive woman more so, and these are big carnival mistakes, in my opinion.  I would think that a major decision like that would involve more than just an etch-a-sketch pattern.  I have come to the conclusion that at my age I will never understand this millineal custom but probably should invest in high quality tattoo removal studios here in Perth. 

I will hate to see this tour come to an end. I have made some friends who will forever share a special time and a fantastic memory of an adventure to OZ. I like Australia. The people are friendly, the audiences are lively and it is just enough different from the US that is is a great vacation where they speak the  same language (minus the letter “r”) Most refreshing is their conversation, news and discourse is not dominated by politics, especially not American politics.  I am not ready to return to the frantic madness of 24/7 coverage of  our corrupt system and idiot representatives in Washington.  Here they simply laugh at our situation but do not hold that against the individual American.  We need to get our shit together pretty soon so they don’t start. 
As you were,
Jay

Monday, January 22, 2018

Opening of the Closing

I am not good with small talk at cocktail parties of people I don’t know.  It’s work to converse and it feels like I am having to perform. It is not the fault of the party or the people, it is just an old deep seated insecurity and shyness from childhood.  I have developed copping mechanisms that help me get through these stressful times but employing those methods makes it seem even more like performing.  
We opened the show in Perth last Friday night to a very enthusiastic audience and a lot of invited VIPs. There was a champagne party at one of the theater Bars after the show.  This time I remembered to bring a new jacket that I bought in Melbourne so I felt a little better dressed. But for me it was still awkward.  I watched Harrison and Brett waft through the crowd like swans in calm waters.  They did not shun the contact but sought it out and there would occasionally be busts of laughter coming from the groups they occupied at the time.  

There was a ten year old  boy who came up to me with this family and wanted to say hi.  I am usually pretty good with kids since they relate to me on their own level, or maybe it is me who does that.  Nonetheless, I found out from his family he wanted to be a ventriloquist.  When I tried to engage him in conversation about it he replied without moving his lips. I really didn’t understand what he said with his mouth closed, but I said, “Very good. Looks like I have some competition.” The family giggled, the boy did not. He insisted on continuing the conversation with out the use of his lips.  The noise of the party, his lack of projection and the inability for me to read his lips, made any substantive conversation impossible.  I turned to his folks and with a compliment (perhaps a cautionary tale) toward their son’s ability I was able to slip away.  It was not a clean break however.  More than half a dozen times through the rest of the evening this kid would show up intently staring me in the face and mumbling something inaudible and inarticulated.  

There was a Scotsman  in his late 70’s, friend of the producer with a very striking (read obvious and old) hair piece who appeared from the crowd.  He was very complimentary of my act as he not so subtly sneaked in his own performing and producing credits.  It went something like this, (Poetic license taken)  “Your act would be great at the Beesworth Liaman Laugh Festival.  It is one of the highlights of the Farthington region.  Of course you have heard it... the one held in Bemington every other August?”
It doesn’t matter what you say in response. It is not a question just a pause so he can take another breath.
“I started that festival back in 1961, when my partner and I did a black face comedy act with hoopla hoops and rope.  Yeah those were the days. The days when you didn’t have to worry about what they call ‘political correctness’. In thoses days if got a laugh it was funny, you didn’t worry about it. Everyone went home with a smile on their faces.    Your act would kill at the festival today....if you want I can call the guy who runs it. He would be thrilled to have you there.... now they don’t pay anything, but you get into all the shows for free and  Bemington is such a charming place.....(etc etc)”
As this point the lighting designer/set designer walked by.  I quickly grabbed him and said, “Here is someone you would like to meet. This is the lead designer for the production.” When Scotty’s attention went to the designer I faded into the crowd like a Ninja..  As I got out of range the last thing I heard was “Braveheart” telling him what he thought was wrong about the set.  Later I apologized to the designer for leading him to the lions den.  He said, “No problem mate, the old guy just mistook me for someone who gave a fuck about his opinion.” 

It was like running a gauntlet to get to the bar for a taste of the champagne I had earned. By pretending to be deaf and not making eye contact with anyone other than the bartender my mission was accomplished.  Unfortunately I had not made an effective exit plan.  As I turned  with glass in hand, an older woman in an odd red dress blocked my path.  She said, “I saw the show.” She paused like I should be surprised that a person standing in the theater where we just did THE SHOW half an hour before would have actually seen it.  She had one of the big color souvenir programs under her arm.  Inside is a well crafted comprehensive bio of my career printed for all to read.  After what seemed to be a longer pause than even her age would require she said, “So what other things have you done.”  There was another pause as she looked at me intently. There was a vacant look to her eyes which I did not perceive as intoxication. 
“Pretty much all the things in that bio of the program.”  
Quickly and without much of of a pause this time she said, “Oh, surely you have done more things than just that.”
To give her the benefit of a doubt, for no reason at all, I think what she wanted was some funny story about my time in the theater like I would tell on the couch of the Tonight show. This time I waited a long time before I answered; like I was thinking it over, remembering the funniest road story in the world.  I waited, took a couple of sips of my champagne, thought some more and said, 
“No, that is pretty much it...”
As the comedy gods would have it suddenly the mumbling 10 year old appeared waist high to my right and I was able to bend down as if actually trying to listen to what he was saying. Conversation over. 

Perth is fun.  I like this theater the best.  It does not have the bragging rights of the Sydney Opera house, but for me the production has finally gotten it all together, video, staging and sound to make my job the easiest it has been.  Everyone is talking about their next booking and their next tour.  The host travels directly to Dubai, and the arielists have been signed to six month contracts in Reno.  As for me.... I have never had a schedule where I knew what is next.  Next for me is just the next show when ever that might be.  I am looking forward to getting home to be with Sandi, hoping that my dog Boo will still remember me. And I think it is time to buy that Mini Cooper  I have been looking at.
As you were,
Jay


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Perth- ect.

The set had  to be trucked to Perth which gave us a couple of days off before we had to get back to work.  On one of the first day off  most of the cast went to Rottnest Island.  It is a ferry ride from the coast of Perth.  No way to describe it but from their stories and the pictures it was very close to being in Paradise.  There are only a hundred people who live on the island and sixty-five beautiful beaches.  Just about anyone can find a beach practically to themselves.  
I did not get to participate in the adventure since I was called in to do publicity. It is just as well.  At one time I had the body to hang out at the beach without grand children, but right now I have neither so... it’s just as well I remember what I was when, back when, disco WAS as well.  Anyway,  the group text messages were filled with plans and pictures of their adventure.  There is a generational gap between me and the cast regarding social media.  It seems that their experiences are so much more enjoyable when documented by pictures, texts and videos sent to Instagram with the occasional share on Facebook.  It would appear their good time depends on letting other friends, who are not having as good of a time,  know the great time they are missing.   

So while I was answering questions about why people should come see a show named “The Unbelievables” my phone was pinging like a Chinese table tennis match.  I kept seeing pictures and video’s of dancers and acrobats in bikini’s on deserted beaches being chased by sword swallowers and comic magicians.  I finally had to silence my phone and explain to Cassie,my interviewer,  what the deal was with the rest of the cast.   I came up with this idea to film a bogus interview with my camera where the interviewer asks me about the cast.  This was the result.  I intended for only the cast to see in on a private Facebook group, but somehow it ended up on “my story” of Facebook. It  just goes to show you that you never know what will show up where when you post something.  If you didn’t see it here it is: 


The next cast outing was to explore Northbridge.  That is a trendy section of Perth north of the Bridge (obviously).  I was available this time.   Perth is about a week away from the Fringe festival which looks to be spectacular. Several pop up theaters and venues have already begun to take shape.  There are three Spiegle Tents erected in the park. The term was new to me, but they are traveling theaters that have been around for centuries.  They are German in origin and basically a round tent with hard sides.  At first I thought a Cirque de Sole tent had propagated and procreated itself.  It really did turn an ordinary park into a spectacular wonderland.  

We eventually ended up at a pub/indoor mini golf place called Holey Moley.  There are three different 9 hole courses that are all themed with artistic fantasy.  There is the music themed course, with an Elvis hole.  You have to hit your golf ball into the drain of a  shower  (it is golden by the way), which sends it to another part of the Presley bathroom where a live size Elvis is standing behind a microphone in his open legged stance.  You have so shoot the ball around the mic stand through his legs up a ramp and into a golden toilet where the hole is.  



I think the best was the final hole on the last course.  It is called “The Ass Hole”.  You have to putt through a small chiseled hole in a large border wall,  around some junk food wrappers, a twitter bird and through the legs of a Mexican burro.  The ass of the Donkey is the sculpted likeness of Donald Trump.  Your ball drops in a hole with a sign that says, “Make Golf great again.”  We went back to that bar twice in one day.


The opening night is tomorrow.  We preview the show tonight. So this will be the first show in this massive theater.   Not as tall as the other theaters, but maybe twice as wide.  More on that later.  
There is not piano in my dressing room this time, I will miss that, but I will try to put up a tour of back stage with other background music.
As you were,
Jay