Earlier this week I tried something I hate.
A character monologue.
I’m always fascinated by some comedians I know who seem to come up with this plethora of weird and wonderful characters, for which they’ve created this fun universe and they bring them up on stage and speak to the audience in that character for upwards of ten minutes, and people love it. They tell jokes in character. They have funny accents. They dress up.
I just hate it so much.
Not when other people do it. I just hate doing it, myself. It if were to serve a sketch, in which there were several people, no problem. I’ll play a weird and wacky character. But on my own, just speaking directly to the audience? No thank you. Well, that is, outside of comedy school and this past Tuesday’s “Bombaes.”
I wrote and performed a character monologue inspired by something Kate Mulgrew said while promoting her book last month (was it last month?) at the Toronto Reference Library. It seemed to get very little response while I was speaking it, which is bizarre. As a stand-up comic, you’re used to getting a laugh at certain points in your set. But either it wasn’t funny, or it was just not good, I felt like I got nothing back from the audience, apart from polite applause when I was finished my bit.
Stand-up, fine. You’re telling jokes, and the audience responds in such a way as to let you know whether or not your jokes are hitting or missing. Improv, GREAT! No problem making people laugh there. But this? GAH. This is PAINFUL.
PAINFUL! AND DIFFICULT! AND SCARY!
That being said. If anyone has a solo-sketch/monologue night in Toronto, I’m totally ready for you to meet this gal. She’s a real something else.
First stand-up set in a while tonight at Yuk Yuk’s. I’ll say I need practice. I will say that. I will also say that people were NOT on board with my joke about how hard it must have been for conservative dudes to admit they felt a budge upon first glance of Caitlyn Jenner. Perhaps it was the delivery. Perhaps it was a room full of conservatives. Either way, I thought it was hilarious.
It’s insane how quickly 5 minutes goes by. When I was writing out my set, I prepared so much more than what I actually had time to perform. I need to practice more. I need more hours in a day because I love improv too much to give it the back seat.I need Hermione’s Time-Turner so I can do equal parts of both.Time Turner… too geek?Nah. No way.
If you’ve browsed elsewhere on this website apart from the front page, (or the article about the WWI brothel, which continues to get more hits than any other post,) you’ll know that my brother Nick and I have been working on a podcast over the past few weeks that deals with the ongoing struggles creative types face on their journey to accomplish their artistic goals.
This month’s episode is no exception as we delve further into overcoming rejection, navigating networking events and just getting it done!
Check it out:
If you like it, and you’re interested in sharing your creative struggles with us on an upcoming episode, feel free to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*** *Note: the books we referred to during this episode are:
Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, by Blake Snyder
Elephant Bucks: An insider’s Guide to Writing TV Sitcoms, by Sheldon Bull
The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life), by Chris Hardwick
I just wanted to write a little follow-up, albeit a late one, about the First World War themed improv show I held with co-producer Aaron Peever on Vimy Ridge Day, this past April 9th.
One of my huge concerns about the show was that people, especially the performers, would take it seriously. And, I know the reason I was concerned. I was met with a certain defensive suspicion whenever I mentioned the idea to people. I could tell the instinctive reaction was something along the lines of a “how dare you make fun of people who sacrificed their lives for our freedom?”-mentality, which I think is certainly reflective of the way we’re expected to feel about most military action nowadays. Either you’re you support the troupes, or you hate Canada, right? And making jokes about the War sure doesn’t sound like supporting the troupes!
Here’s the thing. I hand-picked the improvisers to play in this show based on one fact: their knowledge of First World War history. Some of the cast weren’t even improvisers, but were excited by the opportunity to give their knowledge of history a new platform. In fact, most of the improvisers I asked leapt at the opportunity to play in this world, to combine their knowledge with their amazing abilities to create realistic relationships, characters and scenes specifically within the realm of that era. I mean, some of them were pretty stoked to history-nerd out! (Myself included.)
The platform was wonderful. I chose this cast because I knew they would not mock the War. They would create characters and scenes within the very real context of the War based entirely on their historical knowledge of the events in question and their respect and appreciation of its history. The characters they chose were real. The scenarios, likely, given the context. The result; pure unbridled silly awesomeness. NOT mockery.
We’re all so sensitive to political correctness now, I felt like I was walking on eggshells producing a show based on events that took place nearly ONE HUNDRED YEARS ago! The more I thought about it, the more I came to wonder why people didn’t really get it. And here’s what I came up with.
1) People, in general, aren’t familiar with longform improvisation, or any improvisation for that matter that doesn’t follow the Whose Line Is it Anyway? model they’ve seen over the years on TV. This, to me, is tragic. Longform improv at its core is about playing real, honest characters and having them tell a story and transport you to a place and a time that, when done correctly, will have you in disbelief that it’s all made up on the spot, but also, in stitches. The scenes last much longer than what you’ve come to expect out of Whose Line, which allows for more time to create very realistic world right there on stage.
2) People have short memories. We’re certainly not the first people to make comedy about the First World War (or any war for that matter; look how many movies came out of Vietnam, and what about M*A*S*H, set in Korea? That show was on the air for over 10 years!)
But, specifically regarding WW1, how about the greats? Here’s some Monty Python for your faces:
Hell, during the Great War itself, Canada had its own group of comedians who would entertain the troops with their vaudeville act, which went onto Broadway after the end of the War!
The horrors these soldiers faced during the war are not something we want to mock. Quite the opposite. Why not use humour as a way to help people REMEMBER the war, rather than making people paranoid about even talking about it, lest they express some criticism that might make them seem unpatriotic?
If you still don’t catch my drift, come to Toronto on June 6th, and watch this amazing group of improvisers storm the beaches and pay homage, in our own special way, to the Canadians in WW2.
Tonight, I’m producing an improv show which brings together my love of improvisation as well as my passion for World War One history. For those of you who did not know me before moving to France, I was once (or twice, or four times) a Tour Guide at the Vimy National Canadian War Memorial, in France.
The whole experience had an extremely profound impact on my life and today, on the 98th Anniversary of the Four Canadian Divisions storming the ridge, all together in formation for the first time in our history, I and several of my hilarious colleagues, will be presenting:
All funds raised will be going to the Vimy Foundation and Wounded Warriors Canada.
It’s a worthy cause, so…
Confession time: I had a great Easter/birthday long weekend.
It was the perfect reset I needed to help me put things into perspective and refocus my goals, but also celebrate and reflect upon another year on Earth. And despite a slip and fall accident resulting in an incredibly bruised and sore coccyx, I’m doing that thing right now where I might be producing my very own Dopamine and Serotonin. Happiness, folks.
My birthday fell on Good Friday this year, which is great for sleeping in, and not so great for feeling the contemplation and sorrow that are typically aligned with this particular holiday. That being said, I have a commitment to Improv Game Show, a weekly comedy show I co-produce with Cassie Moes every Friday evening, and we typically go strong, even on holidays. This particular rendition was very well attended; the cast was excellent and Gillian English (my very darling friend and the show’s host this week) went so far as to invite my friggin’ improv hero, Rob Baker, to come play the set with us on account of it being my birthday. The following shot I think demonstrates how I felt about the news:
The evening continued with drinks and chats at SoCap, which is quickly becoming my home-away-from-home and then across the street for food and more drinks with members of the cast, other improvisers and friends. I’m so thankful to be a part of this awesome community. What a super swell birthday! 😀
Speaking of which, the following day, my monthly improv baby; Guess Who’s Coming to Improv? took place at Comedy Bar, and was filled with wonderful audience members and hopeful participants. I got to play a few good scenes, and to watch some that ended up like this:
I was so lucky/happy/ #blessed to have had Jan Caruana agree to be the Special Guest improviser this month, because she’s such a fantastic performer. She’s got such a great mind for crazy references, and it seems like her brain works so super fast to come up with really great scenes, so it was such a treat/joy to get to play with her, and to watch her play with those who were lucky enough to get their names pulled with hers! That show is so much fun and personally, I think people should make it a priority to attend. (Maybe I’m a bit biased…)
ANYHOO. I went back down to Niagara on Sunday for Easter proper. Spent the day with my family, who surprised me with a birthday cake, even though I’m twenty-nine again and so technically a grown-ass adult. (Whatever that’s supposed to mean.) It was so lovely to be surrounded by the whole fam-damily. I won’t go into too many details, because my personal life is MY OWN BUSINESS DAMNIT! But I will take the time to brag about how awesome my 94 year-old grand-maman is; she was singing songs from back in the day and dancing as best she could; enjoying her chocolate eggs like a champ and chatting us all up. Here look & tell me you don’t think she’s the cutest grand-maman in the world:
With the added benefit of getting Easter Monday off, because I sortof work for the government-ish, I got to get in an important meet/chat and a headshot shoot, both of which helped put my mind at ease on a number of different things pertaining to my life/career at this stage of the performance-game.
This was a wonderful long weekend filled with wonderful people, and I think this happy feeling is going to last a while; at least for the first five minutes of my administrative workload tomorrow morning anyway.
My butt still hurts. But I’m alive.
Thanks for reading. 🙂
I recently finished working as a production coordinator on a TV show, the first TV show I’ve *really* worked for. (ie. gots paid)
One of the tasks to which I was assigned in my last job was to collect the scripts and segment descriptions from the Associate Producers on the show and send them to the hosts. The documents they would send are referred to as “greens” in newspeak. Three times a week I would send out an email to the APs asking if their greens were ready. Eventually, in an attempt to make this process more interesting for them, and for me, I started doing stuff like this:
Right? That subject line makes you think!
Getting creative with Google Translate.
It’s true. Don’t go to Chicago for the fish.
Then I started to incorporate imagery to my silly emails.
I sometimes made them relevant to the people I was working with… (we did fashion segments)
I incorporated some of my own taste…
Briefly turned into a greeting card company.
…Got political. (Not shown, the email where I just directed all the APs to the Green Party of Canada’s website, I must have deleted that one. Or CSIS had it removed from my PC.)
…Used idioms to describe my feels.
Got market branding involved.
…and finally sent them all off with an epic psych-out.
I feel like a few are missing, (I most definitely deleted the one where I sent a picture of a nice, healthy crop of marijuana.)
The point of sending them wasn’t to make a blog post out of them all. That was never the intention. But because it brought me joy to take a second out of my day to think of some silly way to make my co-workers day a little bit funnier, or happier, or at least to distract them for a millisecond, I thought I’d share them with you. I was, after all, pretty lucky to get to work there.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! (Tomorrow)
It’s still cold, it’s still shitty out, but guess what? I went to Chicago.
That’s right, the Second City itself. I’m a little late to the draw at writing about this, but that’s because I had to spend a bunch of time putting together this cool collage:
I’m not going to sit here and tell you all about the trip in super-extensive detail or anything, as this isn’t a travel blog, let’s be CLEAR about that! But what I will do, is tell you that if you think there’s somewhere in the world that will inspire you, you should visit it, even in the dead middle of February where it’s equally, if not more cold, than your own crap-cold igloo of a town, because it probably will.
Inspire you, that is.
My buddy Sharilyn had mentioned she would be heading to Chicago in February to take a Second City intensive & I happened to be “dark” the week she was planning to go. (That’s TV talk for “the stars of my show had to go to a tropical place and work on their tans,” so we had to stop shooting for a week.)
Nevertheless, bit by bit, the plan came together and sure enough, we ended up in the Windy City, catching a different comedy show every single night we were there. (And bits and pieces of the SNL40 Special, which in hindsight, we should have just watched in its entirety.)
When I was asked at customs what I was doing in Chicago, and I answered “watching a whole wack-load of comedy,” it was a completely plausible answer. I feel like there aren’t many places in the world where you can tell a customs officer that, and not be thrown into some strange questioning cell.
Despite a bout of food-poisoning, the trip was a dream. An frozen, shivering, ice-cube of a dream, but a dream nonetheless. I imagine myself one day, holding a magical green card, actively avoiding some of the dodgier modes of transportation in the city when it gets dark, and performing every night on the various stages that launched the careers of so many of my heroes.
I wasn’t sad when I came back to Toronto. Because it just so happens that a bunch of my heroes started out right here too.
So now it’s back to work, a little more inspired.
Mmm. I’ve taken some time in for my writing this week and it feels wonderful.
I’ve even got some headway on the spec script I’m working on, which I wanted to have finished by the end of the month.
It’s still possible.
At least it’s the most progress I’ve ever accomplished in this particular career goal, which is:
“Write at least one goshdarn spec script, already!”
I’m doing it.