Saturday, December 27, 2008

Revamping

My nephew Adam, who (thanks to the Wiggles and frequent 
encouragement and applause from his groupies) has the 
performer bug something fierce.


Good grief, it's quiet in here. 

After four days of hanging out with my family, I'm back to an empty place—and their feelings wouldn't be hurt to know it feels good, because I'm certain they felt the same way as soon as they got home. I don't have to work for another week and plan to take things verrrrrry easy, but there are two shows to promote (Exit 16/Fakers/alums) at the Corbin  and Tantrum at the Coffeehouse

The Corbin show is due for a revamp. Since we killed the idea of putting up two shows—On The Spot and the late show—last spring and brought in Exit 16 to play with the Fakers, audiences have been consistently better. But since we're playing for friends and family, we've let the shows get a little sloppy. We're not entirely sure who'll be in them, or what they'll do, or who will be sitting in the box office. 

Not good. And against pretty much everything I believe about putting on a show. Five bucks a ticket or not, the audiences deserve better.

So I'm getting together with Fakers next week to figure out how to make the show better. I really want to look to them for ideas, but I've got some initial thoughts (besides staffing the stupid box office):
  • Consistent framework—everything from the show and each act's opening/closing music to a regular host.
  • An actual technical improviser—someone with an announcer's voice and an eye for beats. As long as I'm in there, we're in mom-n-pop land. (Though I'm stuck there for one more show.)
  • More planning—troupes will know who's in the cast and what they're going to play in advance, so we can sell it and it runs more smoothly. 
  • Tighter focus—because we're not putting on a show in someone's living room.
  • Branded marketing—a consistent look and feel for posters, fliers, web stuff, etc.
This is no-duh stuff. 

And now, back to watching Independence Day, which is the best bad movie on my shame list. Bill Pullman rocks.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Still funny



Aron-2009, Garrett-2010, Chris-2010, Ian-2008, Andrew B.-2004, James-2006, Tim-2009, Stephen-2000, Andrew K-2007, Mac-2006, Danny-2007, Tommy-2000, Brian-2004, Steven-2011, Allie-2009, Claire-2009, Kay-2011, Amy-2009, Laura-2010, Kristie-2009, Matt-2008, Clay-2005 (Plus Elizabeth-2010)

This was the 10th year of Exit 16 alumni shows (because it's the 11th year of Exit 16). It didn't start in a particularly formal way—Rich (the drama teacher who started it all) just asked kids who were home for Christmas to hop up on stage and play a few games. As the number of alumni grew, the show became a bigger deal. Numbers still vary from year to year—last year there were about 30 kids, this time a little more than 20. 

We started doing two shows to hold the crowds, but the first show (which we almost ditched this year—risking the wrath of kids for whom it's become tradition—for a chance to move to a bigger venue) has become a trial run. (Next year, we should probably charge less.) I learn something every year; this year, it was "don't kid yourself about maintaining any sense of control—roll with whatever happens." 

So the plan was a first half of games big enough to hold a bunch of players, and a second half of longform. When the first half ran long, I just moved the remaining games to the second half, and it timed out perfectly. I hosted the first round to see how things went, which meant no sound and lights; the kids handled the second show so I could tech. 

And it was a blast. Fun scenework, great teamwork, tons of physical and intellectual play, and solid performances by the old and new kids. (Kids. Right. The oldest ones are 27 now.) The early show was a great warm-up, and the second show worked perfectly from start to finish. It would be so easy for this show to be just a chance to screw around onstage with old friends, but every year the content gets stronger. The smallish group was nice, because they all got to play more. And watching them support and heighten each others' work was...well, it was what improv is all about. 

The Tantrum guys did a private show down the road tonight, and I'll admit the oldest child in me haaaaaaaated being left out—and it was as much (or more) about the chance to road-trip with the group as it was about doing the show (which apparently went great—thanks for the update, Nikki).  

But I got over that in the parking lot of the high school. The first "kid" I saw was Stephen Parish, one of the charter Exit 16 members. He heard about the show on Facebook, drove in from Manhattan wearing the second t-shirt the group ever made, and played as smart and funny and quirky as he ever did. Seeing and catching up with the older alums (which we can now do in a bar) is one of the best parts of the alumni show. 

Another is watching the newbies raise their game. There are two times during the year when the first-year members have growth spurts. The second is during auditions, where they go from being the n00bs to the experienced players. 

But the first is during the alumni show, when they stop being the new kids—they're just Exit 16 members. Which, as it turns out, is a pretty cool thing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We made puppets

Bottomish row: Rob, Michael, Josh, Kim, Megan.
Toppish row: Dennis, Trish, Nikki, Pete.

Also, we did a show. With the puppets. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This one goes to 11

OK. It's a bit of a force fit: This is Exit 16's 11th year, and 10th alumni show. 

As usual, I have no freakin' clue who or how many will show up, which doesn't make planning a show the easiest thing in the world. The first half of each show will be short form—and I'll throw it together in the 45 minutes before the show starts while the kids warm up. For the second half, I'll probably do some version of the living room. I'm thinking I'll divide them into clumps—one clump will have a conversation, another clump will do the scenes, and we'll just rotate around. 

The current group hasn't had rehearsal in two weeks because of the weather. Not ideal, but it doesn't hurt this show as much as some. We worked on edits the last time we were together, so they should be montage-ready. 

Tantrum has our first holiday gathering tomorrow night at Megan's. On the agenda: Watch the last show, do a little wine tasting (Josh and the Red X have elevated our sophistication level), and draw names—then make a sock puppet of the person whose name you draw. (This last idea was conceived—and stoked—over a couple of beers after the last Pretty.Funny. show.) If there's anyone left in the group who doesn't think I'm a hopeless, helpless geek, the new-poster-inspired sugar cookies I made tonight will fix that. (They looked better in my head—I haven't quite perfected a good, shiny confectioner's sugar glaze.) 


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Good? Bad? Both?

There's always more to do. 

Marketing and PR for shows used to be pretty straightforward, because everything was printed—so it was finite. Once you copied and mailed your press releases, printed and distributed posters/postcards/coupons/whatever, and bought any advertising you could afford, you were done until the next round. 

Now you're never, ever finished. You're not limited by how many reams of paper you can afford to print, or how many stamps you can buy. You can always find another calendar to submit your event to, another web phenom to capitalize on (facebook? myspace? hell, how do you use twitter?), more people to e-mail to...and you could spend the rest of your life creating and maintaining a website. 

Because you don't have to decide, it seems like it makes it more important to. Right now, Tantrum uses blogspot to maintain its website. We've bought a domain name, but until we have time to come up with content, UI, wireframes and design, we feed it blog updates. Which for now is fine, because our readership seems to consist primarily of...us. Not surprising. So how much effort should we put into it?

It's amazing how even big companies have a hard time figuring out an online strategy. Pure content or commerce sites have it eaaaaasy. But what if you don't sell anything or offer information—or if you do both? Tantrumkc.com exists primarily because we used to not have a schedule, so we needed somewhere to send people until we figured out when our next show would be. It's purpose hasn't changed dramatically; it's there if people want to know more about us. 

The discipline comes in figuring out, bit by bit, how deep people really want to go. As we create our site, we can figure out where visitors spend their time (thank you, google analytics). Do we have stalkers? Then the bios get richer. Are they just checking the show calendar? Great—everything else is bare bones. If we add video, do we get more hits? Terrific—every show means we upload a new clip. 

It's tempting to do everything. You could spend your whole life promoting your show online (especially if your house is messy and you don't feel like dealing with that pile of laundry just yet). Ideally, this marketing plan we've come up with will help us prioritize. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Getting a head start

Michael and I—the appointed marketing people in Tantrum—got together tonight to hammer out a plan for next year. We start monthly shows January 9 (eep!), so there's just a LITTLE BIT OF A SENSE OF URGENCY, MAYBE, to get the marketing effort underway. 

(Can I just say how cool this divide and conquer thing is? We have a list. Everybody has jobs. And they're doing them, because we're grown-ups. It kicks some ass.)

Because we are Comfortable With Structure, we:
  • figured out our target audience, 
  • broke our mission into a couple of high-level objectives, 
  • blew those out into some smaller goals, 
  • then mapped out strategies and tactics for each one. 
I feel like we got to some ideas beyond the stuff we've been doing, and am pretty sure when the other guys see the plan they'll have more to add. 

During the course of our meeting at the Town Tavern (which I highly recommend if you need beers and stromboli), we ran into a friend of Michael's who gave us her e-mail address so we could tell her about shows, and my next-door neighbor (a regular audience member) who bought us a round. 

So we actually marketed the show from within the marketing meeting. This seems like a good start.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Too much

I woke up in a weird mood today—moody and angsty and annoyed. Which, thanks to The Wonderful World Of Modern Anti-Depressants, is fairly rare these days despite wicked SAD.  (Pissy, yes—pensive, not so much.)

Ever want/need to do so much it's immobilizing? 

On the list now: 
  • Be better at my job—the real, I-9-requiring, mortgage paying one. Put more insight into strategies, more passion into the creative, more empathy and compassion into the management part. 
  • Figure out how to take Exit 16 to the next level. Upcoming challenge—the biggest alumni show ever. Last year had 30 people. How the hell am I going to make sure they all look good and have fun and entertain the audience this year? 
  • Ditto with the Corbin shows. We've got the audience now—and it's nearly effortless. Exit 16 is in. Fakers are in. We played our first show with a third troupe—Rubber Biscuits—last night, and it worked. So what makes this a destination show for improvisers who don't know the kids on stage?
  • Help turn Tantrum into the troupe to see in KC. Yeah, it's an audacious goal. But this cast is crazy-experienced. Michael and I are heading up the marketing effort (everyone will be involved, but we're on point to organize it)—how do we go beyond the usual to not only keep our base but build a new crowd?
  • Forget about improv for the majority of the time and get better at being a real person. This pops up every now and then. Honestly, I think this is the one that gives me the most trouble. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Second- (and third- and fourth- and fifth-) guessing the work

So as much as I can shoehorn improv theory into my corporate life, there are times my 9-5:45 world exists on a completely different plane.

Nowhere is that more true than in the Wonderful World of Focus Groups.

It doesn’t matter what we’re testing—products, services, marketing campaigns—the intent, from the very beginning, is to second guess. You create something, squeeze it through layers of internal approvals, polish it until you can see yourself through it, and throw it in front of 4-8 groups of 6-8 consumers, who go from friendly, well-meaning civilians to jaded, ersatz marketers in less than 2 hours.

I’m not saying it’s not helpful—focus groups are great for disaster-proofing. You don’t want to let consumers do the creative work (and not just for the sake of job security), but getting gut reactions from people who’ve never seen the work before can tell you what resonates and what absolutely, positively should never, ever be printed, produced or packaged.

Kinda makes you appreciate the whole improv = toilet paper thing.

No matter how brilliant—or how shitty—a show is, it’s over when it’s over. Yeah, you can peck it to death in notes, replay it in your head, or obsess over a video. But your creation—good, bad or mediocre—exists only in the moment. Once you’re finished, there’s no changing it.

In my grown-up life, I’ve only worked as a “creative”—first as a greeting card writer, then an editor, then a copywriter, editorial director and creative director. I don’t know what it’s like in other fields, but creative jobs require a whiplash-inducing combination of zeal and dispassion. You have to love an idea enough to champion it and be coldly analytical enough to kill it. Sometimes in the same meeting. Sometimes in the space of 5 minutes.

So it’s nice to have one place where an idea is gone before you have to make a decision about whether to love it or hate it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Last show of the year

Dang, that was fun. 

Michael was missing, which meant there was a Junior-sized hole in the funny. But Friday's Tantrum+The Union was a fun show—and holds up on video, which always feels like a good sign. Tom was a fantastic monologist, and Corey & Mo's set was terrific—smart, funny and disturbing in a very good way.

I tend to watch videos of the shows kind of a lot. Like, sometimes more than a few times in a row. Over several days. To the point where I can parrot entire scenes. That way I can obsessively pick apart and second-guess my performance. (If I can get that far. I got so annoyed at the way I was standing at the beginning of the last library show—hunched over, with my arms folded—that I haven't gotten past the first few minutes yet. See? Obsessive.) So, from this show:

The good: 
  • MUCH better posture.
  • I mostly fulfilled my goal of coming in and just reacting to my partner—except for a couple of quick adds, which went fine. 
  • In the first scene, I remember very specifically letting go of my original idea for the scene and following Megan, who had a better one.
  • I had some good edits—without (I hope) being overly aggressive.
  • I played cancer as "sexy," and my scene partners could tell I was playing cancer as "sexy." I see both of these as major achievements. 
The bad: 
  • All my awareness of the Viewpoints stuff—gone. Shape? Topography? Spacial relationships? Duration? Repetition? GONE. I need to practice it more.
  • I tell my kids to cheat out. And yet, I directly face my scene partner and turn my butt to half the audience.
  • I treat "um" like it's an actual word.  
  • Two very unconvincing make-out scenes with Josh. I mean, not even good pretending. It's just...I've never been able to fake a make-out scene with a girlfriend, fiancee or wife in attendance. 
  • If I'm saying, "It's just that..." it's a very clear sign that I'm not letting the scene advance.
  • Am I seriously that whiny? Good GRIEF.
  • Would it kill me to play a fucking character every once in a while?
Yeah, yeah, yeah...I pay attention to (and learn from) the other players, too. I just don't spend as much time pulling them into tiny pieces.

(Jill, if you're reading this: The "bad" is not self-flagellating. I had fun and am mostly OK with my performance. But it can use refining.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankfulness

OK, then.

I'm thankful for a kind, funny, supportive, loving family. For parents who are still best friends and crazy about each other after being married for 43 years (though the installation of a new hot-tub everywhere they move is...a little unsettling). For the best, most thoughtful and generous, most hilarious sister anyone could ask for—and a truly kick-ass brother-in-law. For the smartest, funniest, most talented 2 1/2 year old nephew on the planet—and the one who'll get here in March.

I'm thankful for a job that lets me do what I'm best at—but still challenges me and frustrates me and teaches me something new every day. For coworkers who work hard, ooze creativity and laugh—loudly—countless times a day. And for the opportunity to work for a company that does something I unreservedly, unabashedly, unapologetically believe in. 

For friends who get who I am—and for every chance I get play, talk or goof off with them. For Tantrum and Spite and Poke and Improv Thunderdome. For the kids in Exit 16, who give me more than I could ever give them. For that feeling you get when you create something from nothing—and realize it wouldn't exist without those people in that moment. 

For health, comfort, time...all the big things it's so easy to take for granted. For goofy things...like good wine, cats who curl up under the covers during the winter, Texas and Georgia football, The Daily Show, wireless internet and MacBooks, and the occasional Strawberry Frosted Poptart. 

And for a new leader who inspires hope and optimism instead of fear and cynicism. For the feeling that things are really, finally going to change for the better...in ways we haven't even begun to imagine.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Over the meh-ness

Tantrum had our "business meeting" on Monday. We had "wine," drank "beer" and made "decisions." 

And I, for one, am pretty happy with all of them—but even more so because it felt like, as different as each of our goals are as improvisers, we want to get the same thing out of Tantrum. 

Which is: We want to do good shows, make people laugh and be proud of what we’ve done. (I didn't have to work that hard, Pete—it kinda turned itself into a mission statement.)

Next year should be a busier year for us than this one—we'll know more about dates in the coming weeks. 

For now, we get to focus on our last public show of the year: A split show with Corey & Mo's The Union and a chance to work with Tom Farnan as our monologist. It's Friday night at 8pm at the Westport Coffeehouse. (We'll do a short, get-to-know-you rehearsal with Tom tonight.) The Pitch put in a nice plug for us—especially nice because our shows have been consistent enough that we got an unqualified, poster-quality blurb: "daring, scene-based improvisation of one of our best local troupes."

So, you know, come see it. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Meh

The complete lack of any desire to write is probably a result of how little I've improvised lately. And the fact that I'm just getting over a cold. And this stupid, dark, grey, cold weather. 

With the Tantrum library series over, we haven't been rehearsing. And I was out of town last Tuesday, so I handed the Exit 16 kids off to Andrew, the alum who directed them in Thunderdome.  

Gah. I miss it. I want to play more. 

Fortunately, Tantrum has a show with Corey and Mo this Friday. We'll rehearse with Tom Farnan, our monologist, for a bit on Wednesday night—just running the format. (Which is fine—it'll be fun—because it's always nice to get a sense of how someone new will tell stories. It's just not the kind of rehearsal I find the most helpful. To grow, I need to work on technique—like the Viewpoints stuff, or relationship work, or editing, or movement, or SOMETHING besides just doing scenes.)

Tantrum meets tomorrow night to figure out what's up for next year. We've got some preliminary dates penciled in, but our players are starting to commit to other projects, so we need to nail down some dates to plan around. After that, Nikki and Megan and I can put a little more focus on figuring out what's up with Spite. 

So that's two troupes, which you'd think would be plenty. But it's two troupes full of busy, busy people who perform with other groups, so the likelihood we'll play and rehearse enough for me to feel like I'm staying on my game is...slim. 

I've talked with a few other folks about short-term projects—once Tantrum's schedule is locked down, I can start taking that more seriously. My goal: At least one rehearsal a week, and at least two shows a month. I've been wanting to take one of John's classes out at Roving Imp, so I'll do that after the first of the year. Belly dancing classes are closed until January...I should probably look into getting a DVD to make sure I don't lose the little bit I learned in the three classes I took.

So yeah.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Regrets?

So Jim, who now counts as a true improviser, having been through a show, a post-show business-type meeting, and post-show beer, asked this: "Do you ever have regrets after a show because you can see so clearly what you should have done?" Or something like that. 

Oh, hell yes. 

Tonight, for example, I regret that I got so swept up in the richness and the fabulousness of the stories that I primarily played with my brain, and not my gut. (I had a great past blog link for that. But I don't index.) Dammit, dammit, dammit. I am too easily seduced by narrative. Two potential plot points, and I start connecting dots in my head instead of walking in with an emotion. 

I've forgotten to remind myself not to do that. 

Also: 
  1. We could have done a parallel scene about what it means to be a woman. 
  2. I would love to get to the point where all of our scenes don't have to be funny. Baby steps. 
  3. Jim was perfect.
It was a good show. People had fun. The library is happy, and we're talking about what to do next year. 

But yeah...I got me a few regrets. The difference between me now and me a few years ago is that I let them inspire me instead of torture me. 



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

About vulnerability

We talked about this a lot when I worked with Jill and Dave, and I think it's fascinating. 

So, you know, bear with me. 

A few random thoughts: 
  • Del Close said once that people get into improvisation because they've been told they're funny. And there's a good chance they developed the sense of humor to deal with some perceived character flaw or insecurity. And the only way to succeed in improvisation is to reveal your deepest, darkest self and shames. So the thing  you're drawn to forces you to face your worst fears. 
  • Jill Bernard says (I'm paraphrasing here, and won't do it as elegantly) that the only way to succeed in a solo show is to be willing to 'break your own heart."
  • Consistently, the improvisers who are most fun to watch are the ones most willing to be vulnerable—emotionally, physically, personally. (Without, you know, DRASTICALLY OVERSHARING.) They show themselves in their work. 
Tonight with the Exit 16 kids, we played New Choice and Blind Line. In both, you insert fairly random lines and have to let them affect the scene. (New Choice—every time a bell rings, the player must immediately change his/her line/activity; Blind Line—players must randomly pick up lines of "dialogue" suggested by the audience and written on pieces of paper and use them as dialogue.*)

I've started to like "affect the scene" must more than "justify the line." Justify means explain—make it make sense. Being affected means everything changes.  In one scene, a guy on a computer at a coffee house said, "We've only got four minutes to save the world" (song lyric).

Holy crap. If anything should change a scene—relationships, action, behavior, feelings—shouldn't a line like that change everything? But instead, we justify—we make it make sense within the context of the scene. 

If we're truly vulnerable, a line like that makes a difference. Changes our day. Makes us rethink our priorities. Maybe we try to help. Or deal with the potential End Times. But with an intellectual approach, it's just another laugh line. (And then, only because the audience recognizes it as something they said first.)

Which is why the idea that our President-Elect might be willing to show vulnerability is so exciting. For eight years, it's kinda felt like nothing mattered to the people in charge except accomplishing what they already believed. Everything went through their filter—everything was shaped to fit their idea of the world and how it should be. People were labeled (Conservative Christian, Godless Liberal). And stereotypes—if they weren't perpetuated—were reinforced by the media. 

Things were decided, and we went from point A to point B according to plan. 

Being vulnerable is being open. It means you can be affected by things that happen to you—feelings, ideas, information, opinions, acts, events. Being vulnerable means you admit you're not perfect. You know there are parts of  you that can be improved or completed by other  people.

I totally reject the idea that it means weak or defenseless. 

To have enough confidence in  your own ideas, knowledge and strength to put them out there—and be open to hearing something that might change them—is one of the bravest, most selfless things you can do. Because you're opening yourself to the chance that you'll head into very dangerous, very scary territory, and you're saying you're willing to go. 

It'll be interesting to see how big a scale this theory plays out on—or if it does.



*I am a HUGE SNOB about how these games are played. 
New Choice: Change the line dramatically—not just the noun or verb. Take a complete turn. Or use it as a chance to make your choice better. (The person on the bell can ding you for questions, wimpy initiations, conflict, etc.)
Blind Line: Do not preface. Do not talk after. After someone else says a line, PICK UP THE FREAKING LINE, SAY IT AND SHUT THE HELL UP. I hate watching troupes who set up the line ("It's like my grandpappy used to say..." or justify it away "I'm going to add something after the line to explain why I said it.") and it makes this game almost unwatchable.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

No, I do not have a poster on my ceiling...

But I admire our President Elect more than I've admired anyone outside of my immediate family. In a long time. And here's a reason (from an article on body language on election night):


Here's the number one body language moment they discuss in the article:
1. Power, Joy, Grief And Fatigue = One Whole Person
When Obama took the stage, we saw a man embodying a complex array of feeling. He looked tired, of course, and who wouldn't be? A ten-year-old in the room, who hadn't heard of the death of Barack's grandmother, said "He looks sad." It takes a deeply integrated person to let his grief be visible on a night of overwhelming victory. This is a key to his personality, and bodes well for the future of his presidency. It takes enormous strength to let your vulnerabilities rest so comfortably in yourself that they can be readily seen.

There was one emotion we're glad was missing from Obama and the crowd in Grant Park: any sense of triumphant glee. We couldn't help wondering if it would have been present in McCain's supporters had the tables been turned. John McCain had to silence a few boos and jeers from his audience, but by and large they just looked sad, tired and meek.

Finally, we were deeply moved by Obama's body language at the end, in the easy way he brought forth the other members of his and Biden's family to share the stage. He seemed to melt into them, as if he knows deep in his bones that none of this is really about him as an individual ego. There's a huge difference between needing to be the center of things and simply being in the middle of things. Somehow, despite all the adulation and glory (as well as the relentless attacks mounted by the other side) Obama still knows what he's known all along: he's one of us.
After eight years of swagger and bluster, vulnerability is an appealing, human alternative.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Annoying

There are things that piss me off. 

And one of them is being one person in a small crowd of people watching an improv show that would change people's minds about what improv is. 

My Hallmark pal Bess* and I saw the Loaded Dice/Rubber Biscuit show tonight. Rubber Biscuit did a great job in their first show ever. And Loaded Dice (Clay, Charlie, Rob and Jonathan) did the best set I've ever seen them do. It reminded me a lot of a Beer Shark Mice show, with fast tag-outs, seamless transitions and a complete mind-meld. 

And dammit, the house was small. It was the kind of show that makes $10 seem cheap.  The kind of show that makes you want to tag into a scene SO BADLY you have to hold on to the edges of your seat so you don't rush the stage. And I was the only improviser in the crowd. 

WTF, people? 


*Besides the improv, here was the fun part: "Do we have time to pound a beer during intermission?" And a short run to Kelly's and $6.75 plus tip later, we answered with "Hell to the yes." I would have enjoyed the show EVEN WITHOUT 16 oz. of Miller Lite in 3 minutes. 




Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Insanely happy

And here's why: 

 Jim Howard + Tantrum. On the way out of John's (where we drink beer if CRAZY PEOPLE aren't following us) Jim commented about how lucky I am to have two very fun groups of people to hang out with: my Hallmark friends and my improv friends. Most improvisers are the funniest person at work—even if they're not always "on," they've got the point of view and the skillz to make anything fun. I work with writers—lots of them trained humor writers—so I'm not the funniest one in any room. (Hell, even with my family. My brother-in-law David and my nephew Adam are way funnier.)

I am lucky. 

And tonight, the two worlds in which I enjoy the Kool-Aid (Hallmark and improv) came together, and lo...it was good. Jim may be the perfect monologist. He tells great stories. And he goes from serious to moving to funny and back again in one sentence. He says what's true. And there's nothing more wonderful to play with than that. 

I like it when my friends get along. 

No more cynicism. I am a willing drinker of the Kool-Aid. My natural state is happy and optimistic—I'm very comfortable there. (I. WORK. FOR. HALLMARK. It's not an accident.) But for a long time, I've felt gullible and stupid if I believed anything anyone in politics said. 

Barack Obama is a politician. 

But if you listen to him and are not struck by the underlying authenticity in his message, I am convinced you don't have a soul...or have one, but have maybe misplaced it. His being elected brought out the best in John McCain. (And boy, did I miss that McCain. I've been wondering where he's been since the GOP convention. He's a statesman and a good man...just not the right man at the right time to be president.)

Here's what seems different: Barack Obama believes what he's saying. He believes we can do better. Be better. He believes we are better. 

He drinks the Kool-Aid, too. And I think right now, when we're asking so many men and women to sacrifice for America, we need someone who believes in the best we can be.

(And even if I didn't believe it...the optimism and hope his election win have inspired in almost every segment of our society AND AROUND THE WORLD might just be enough.)

Also, because I am this gooey, hopeful, marketer of greeting cards, you know what I loved? this line:  "You have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."

Yes. When I'm at my best, I'm an improviser. And enough of a geek that, for me, it's hobby, philosophy and religion. I don't always do it well, but what I want to do is build up rather than tear down. To agree instead of negate. To go forward—not stand still or step back. 

So the idea of "Yes, we can," resonates to my core. 

Oh, and....Between the death of the Evil Empire, the worldwide partying in the streets, and the CNN holograms, it's feeling a lot like Star Wars. 



Things just...feel good. 

Monday, November 3, 2008

In other news...

My good friend Jim will be the guest monologist at the Tantrum show. 

A couple of glasses of wine and some of Jim's blog-reading has made me a little sentimental. So here that goes. 

Jim (and our friend John—back then they were Jim and John or John and Jim, and you just always saw and talked about them together) walked in on my job interview at Hallmark in the late summer of 1989. I had driven my un-air-conditioned Mazda GLC to the interviews, sweated all the way down the back of my Steinmart dress, and—because I got to Hallmark 2 hours early—immediately drove back home, blew the dress with a hairdryer, and drove back from Nieman and Shawnee Mission Parkway to Crown Center without letting my back touch the plastic seat. 

I was a little tense—and I was only half-way through Hallmark's day-long interview gauntlet. When John and Jim walked in with their ponytails and BDU jackets and hilariousness, I tried very, very, very hard to be cool. 

Starting with that interview, Jim (and John and Jim's wife Penny) have been around for almost every milestone in my life. Penny found (and first lived in) the apartment I called home for 14 years. Jim won $40 in a pool in which he guessed the exact date of a Significant First in a Romantic Relationship—and had the decency to buy me a beer with his winnings. They sat in the audience at Lighten Up's first performance, at Starker's on the Plaza. I celebrated my 30th birthday at Penny's house, and they were all there for my 40th.

I'm an Army brat. Before Facebook, I'd completely lost touch with anyone from college or earlier. To know and feel so known by someone for 20 years—is rare and wonderful.  And most wonderful is the thing I learned from John, Jim, Penny and the rest of the writers we drank beer with: The only way to be cool was to be completely, horribly, humiliatingly vulnerable and open. 

In other words, I got maybe the most important rule of improv from them. 

It usually happened sitting around the brainstorm table at work. Or over beers at Charlie Hoopers, beginning stories with "I can't believe I've had enough beer to tell you guys this..." We said anything and everything to each other. Your deepest shame? Share it with the group. It stays there. Never gets turned against you. And probably makes them like you more.

Anyway, I get to play with my friend Jim. And Penny will probably be there with their not-so-little boy, Jonah. That makes me happy.