Viewing entries tagged
Improv Olympic

[NP] I'm Goin Back to Cali PLUS new video!

What it is yall?

I just got back to Boston after a week in nearly every American timezone! My Portland, Oregon vacation was muy perfecto with additional brief stops in Minneapolis, Cedar Rapids and Chicago. I was last in Chicago for my improv summer program and spent all Thursday night back at the Improv Olympic taking in the talent. If you live there or will go, check out The Reckoning.

Now, an exciting and fun-filled NewsPhlash for ya.


THIS WEEK'S WINNER

is Charles in Clinton, Louisiana!!

Charles had, hands down, the best answers. Here's a sample:

Q: When did you first see Baratunde perform or read his work, etc.? What do you remember?

A: I was in this weird blog link exploration fuque. I was surfing buzzflash, which lead to patriotboy, which lead to only God knows and among my many stops I came upon the blog goodcrimethink. Loving Orwell and Brother's with Glasses (We need a sex symbol for the ocularly impaired, Urkel isn't cutting it)I immediately began to devour this site as if in a fever dream. Then I blackedout. A few days later I remember reading some blog on the net, looked it up, and have been here ever since.

Q: Please provide a contact at a club, theatre or college you think would dig Baratunde's comedy
A: I live in effing Louisiana, Clinton louisiana. My next door neighbors have more shotguns than they do family members, and they're a family of 8. I can't jog at night for fear of getting shot. Please don't come here, I'd be so sorry for being respondible for what happens.

Q: This is your chance to say anything else you feel the need to get off your chest right about now.
A: Free stuff from comedy sites is how I maintain my sanity. If give aways like this did not exist, I would be forced into a life of crime to be able to afford my insatiable comedian habit. I don't want to rob an old lady to get my Baratunde fix, but I will if it comes to that. Don't let it come to that. I love my Grandma.

Thanks so much Charles. You're hilarious. Now, stop it! To everybody else. We're doing this giveaway EVERY week until April. You can win t-shirts and books.

Just fill out this questionnaire to enter.



I'M GOIN BACK TO CALI, STYLIN, PROFILIN

I was just notified that I've been accepted into the Bay Area Black Comedy Competition and Festival! Past contestants and winners include Don "D.C." Curry, Mike Epps, D.L. Hughley, Mark Curry, Jaime Foxx and Chris Tucker. It happens from February 16-18 in and around San Fran, so thanks to my northern Cali people for your patience. I know I haven't been out there in a while. Hopefully I'll get a chance to swing through SoCal as well but no promises just yet.



MOJOS (MOMENTARY JOKES) ARE BACK

I know I've been a bit behind on sharing these, but airplanes + USA Today = new jokes, so enjoy.

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Despite the warnings of meteorologists, absolutely no hurricanes made landfall in the US this year. Scientists explained that a late El Nino pattern was responsible, but the truth is that since the destruction of New Orleans, there was simply a lot less gay sex in 2006.
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A new study finds that most of the funds used to support Iraq's Sunni insurgents comes from Saudi Arabia. After hearing the news, President Bush cuddled with King Abdullah, and the US government doubled its 2007 order of Saudi oil.
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A Mexican woman gave birth on a flight from Mexico to Chicago shortly before landing. That's a mother who takes her illegal immigration seriously!
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and finally, a bonus VIDEO MOJO that I wrote, performed, recorded and uploaded all in the past 48 hours!

Walmart's New Strategy.



STAY IN TOUCH

MYSPACE: http://www.myspace.com/baratunde
FACEBOOK: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2244
YOUTUBE: http://www.youtube.com/baratunde
FLICKR: http://www.flickr.com/photos/baratunde/
MOJOS: http://www.dailycomedy.com/baratunde_thurston/home/
YELP: http://baratunde.yelp.com
BLOG: http://www.baratunde.com/blog

NewsPhlash Aug 28, 2006: Your Boy is Back (sexy, sexy...)

Wadup NewsPhlasherinos, Blog Readers and MySpace Junkies. So much has been happening and I have so little time to chat right now. Here's a quickie rundown of my time in Chicago, return to standup and the status of my media empire. Yes. Empire. Bow your heads!! 1. MY CHICAGO IMPROV SUMMER WAS OFF THE HOOK!! I spent five weeks this summer studying at the renowned Improv Olympic in Chicago. It was intense. It was strange. It was fun. It was hard! I've been blogging my daily notes over at my blog, GoodCRIMETHINK. Read from the bottom to the top for the full experience. I'll have finished up all the notes within the next few days. 2. I HAVEN'T REALLY DONE STANDUP IN TWO MONTHS I did one lil open mic in Chicago for about five people. Woohoo! Now that I'm back, there's a lot going on. It will be strange transitioning from improv back to standup. I'll either have brilliant new takes on my material, or I'll have lost all competency. Check out some of these shows in the near future ----------- Tonight, August 28th Laughing Liberally Returns to NYC at the 45th Street Theatre in Manhattan 8pm. Tickets $15-30 featuring ME, Dean Obeidallah, Julie Goldman, Scott Blakeman and Lee Camp Tuesday, August 29th I return to my co-hosting duties at Drinking Liberally This is a social, political drinking event No standup but lotsa comedy Nahmean?? at Middlesex Lounge, 315 Mass Ave, Cambridge starts at 7pm Friday, September 1 Cutting Edge at the Campfire at Club Passim in Harvard Sq. Cambridge 8:30pm, $15 Friday September 1 Comedy at Ten at Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway Somerville, Mass. 10pm, $5 I think. Saturday, September 2 Private house party in Philly (sorry, if you didn't get the invite by now, you're not invited! but I will perform at your private party if the price/crowd is right) September 7 Stand-Uprov at The Improv Asylum in Boston I do standup, and improvisors improvise based on my words Further down the line we've got
  • Me hosting a political debate for a seat in the Massachusetts legislature (sep 28)
  • MC for the Harvard Black Alumni Weekend (sep 30)
  • Way more shows all over NYC and Boston
  • Performer in the NYC Underground Comedy Festival (sept 8 -16)
  • Online TV appearances and possible show courtesy of the Sweet Mother Project
  • Another showcase for Comedy Central (sept 17)!!!
----------- as always, see my official gig calendar or MySpace profile for full show details ----------- 3. STATUS OF MY MEDIA EMPIRE Ok, so I now have 698 MySpace friends versus about 500 of you on the NewsPhlash email list. Because of the sons of Nigerian dictators and Viagr0, email is becoming less and less effective. You've probably noticed I hardly use my email list. Here's wasup.
  • The blog is my most active place right now. I try to post daily and have a huge backlog of Chicago notes in the queue
  • Much as I still hate MySpace, the thing is effective. I eventually cross-post most blogs there and send out bulletins to hype special shows and projects. I also have some videos up there that aren't even on my main website. Wha??
  • The podcast has been on hiatus since May. This keeps happening. I'll keep it up, but the podcast will be more like TV shows, with seasons. There's just no way I can keep up a weekly radio show with everything else that's happening. Stay tuned for Season 3 of the Front Porch Podcast to start within the next few weeks
  • YouTube is being kept pretty fresh with video of standup posted regularly
  • I post mad photos to my public Flickr photo account
  • My main website remains the hub of most of this activity
  • Last is the NewsPhlash email list for reasons I've already explained
Aight mi gente. That's all for now. That's for supportin, and remember, if the FBI asks you about me, you don't know jack sh*t!!!!

Chicago Improv Summer: Level 2

So now that the car burglarization story is behind us, let's get back to sharing my Improv Olympic experience. This week we got a new teacher and moved up to Level 2, which is all about character. We said goodbye to Teacher Jessica last week and welcomed Teacher Rachael. She's not quite as cuddly, but maybe we've outgrown the cuddly stage. Rachael is sirrus, yall! And we're learning a lot. Rachael's Rules We're spending time this week on tools to develop and create characters. What kind of players are we when we do this? Cerebral thinkers or gut instinct folks? The two-man scene is the best way to explore it. Also being given a genre (e.g. Western, Space Adventure) can inform our movements and dialect. Rachael's teaching style is pretty different from Jessica last week as I hinted at above. She likes to take a lot of time in lecture and Q&A mode in between the games, exercises and scenes. She also lays down a lotta rules that we'll someday have the skill to break with purpose. Here are the five she threw down today:
  1. Agree. Don't Argue. Two characters arguing is not interesting to watch. With agreement, you can build an actual conversation.
  2. If You Don't Know What to Say, DO Something. We are not just talking heads on stage. We can use the space, our bodies and objects in the environment we've built (e.g. ironing, sharpening a blade whilst (shoutout Jessica) saying "I love you")
  3. If You're Not Having Fun, You're the Asshole. Always, always have fun. This rule is about judgement and avoiding it. Avoid judgement of your own moves in a scene and those of your scene partner. Accept it and move forward. Rachael: "JUDGEMENT IS THE ENEMY OF IMPROV"
  4. You, The Person, is Incredibly Important. Invest in yourself. Read. See movies. Know what books are on the NY Times Bestseller's List. This will contribute to what we can bring to our scenes and characters. I'm so glad she mentioned this one. I've found this helping so much as a comedian who talks about current affairs so much. I will watch crappy TV because I know my audiences do, and I need to relate. Pop Culture is a language (as is Science, Art, Etc)
  5. Don't Beat Yourself Up Over the Last Shitty Improv Scene. Related to #3, the show is much bigger than your last scene. Move forward. Someone else might pick up what you thought was shitty and turn it into something beautiful.
Some other points to highlight
  • Our characters have lives before and after a scene. They have secrets and emotions. Bring this information into the scene. It makes things more interesting. Give yourself the gift of this knowledge or trait
  • Try out accents. It makes things fun.
  • Ask questions about your character: young v. old, Barry White v. Barry Manilow
  • Try not to lock in on your own idea going into a scene because no scene is ever fully your idea since you also have a scene partner who doesn't think like you.
  • Don't play stereotypes or archetypes. Just play types. A scene with two gay men should not be flamboyant. Make it about a real relationship. I'd add that a scene about black folk doesn't have to be about Hip Hop or gangs (stereotypes) but can treat the characters as real people having relationships. Are the gangster's studying for a tough final exam?
Exercises for the day We did some pretty cool exercises including mirroring our scene partners. We started by just looking them in the eye, then mirroring their movements, then words (first very slow sounds, then regular speed sentences). After this we played a game called, and I'm not kidding, "The Double-Mint Twins Get Fucked Up the Ass." Here we played a two person scene with four people, two folks paired as one. It was great to see how you have to be in sync with your twin in order to present a single character, just as you have to be in sync with your scene partner to present a single, coherent scene! See, I learned from the exercise. GOLD STAR FOR MEEEEEE!!! We danced. We actually put together a 14-person dance in about five minutes, and for a group with 13 white people, it was hot!! :) Seriously though. Everything we had been learning was building to a point where we could carefully watch and listen to the other team members and present a solid dance number on the friggin fly! We also revisited the Armando Diaz Experience, which I talked about in one of the blog entries last week. This is the format where one person does a monologue, then the improvisors create several scenes which somehow comment on the monologue, then the monologist returns to tell more, and so on. Our monologue coaching focused on keeping the piece short, deliberate and VERY SPECIFIC. Don't just say, "when I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at home." How about, "From age eight to 16, I spent most of my time in our one bedroom ranch house on the Gulf of Mexico with my five sisters." One of the things I found interesting was that the monologues we did all referred to a personal childhood experience. The monologist is fed a suggestion from the audience, and each of us got different ones, but we all talked about something in childhood. Rachael said that's normal. One, it's a period of our lives where we can recall a lot of detail and where our minds were very impressionable. It's also most likely to be common across a wider group of people. We aren't limited, however, to a first-person memory as the monologue format. She said some people like to tell stories about their friends, whose lives might be more interesting than that of the monologist. That's day one of level two. The recap on what we learned: Trust, Listen, Watch, Commitment, Don't Just Act. Fully REACT, Patience/Pacing, Let Go, WE CAN DANCE!!!!

User Error, Gentrification and How I Got Jacked in Chicago

sign from the universe

photo by me via Flickr (click on pic to view more)

I've been in Chicago for one week now and, for the most part, it's been really positive. The day I arrived, George W. Bush left town. That's always a good sign. Maybe I should move back to D.C.? My studies at the Improv Olympic are going great. I figured out the El and have made a bunch of new friends.

Of course, I've got my share of small complaints. It's hot as heyall; the six-way intersections have got to go; and, while it's true that Boston has really bad drivers, Chicago has really deadly drivers. People here treat red lights like ideas they just don't happen to believe in.

The low point, though, was last Friday at 1:30am when I found my car broken into. As is my custom, I can't just tell you the details of the incident. I need to touch on urban development, gentrification, class transcendence and common sense. Prepare yourself.

I have been to a shit-ton of American cities over the course of my life, but especially over the past seven years. Boston (obviously), New York, San Francisco, Portland, LA, Tacoma, DC, Lansing, Austin, Chicago. Even the cities I haven't seen recently, I've experienced through college friends who landed there post-graduation. Almost all of these cities share a major storyline: urban (re)development. The slums are getting a makeover, becoming home to high-priced condominiums.

After the riots of the 60s and 70s, white people left cities. After the crack wave of the 80s, the few remaining bounced too. They fled to the suburbs which became the ex-urbs. Commuting time grew from 30 minutes to and hour to sometimes two hours in each direction. Meanwhile the innercities were largely underinvested and left to decay. I'm not sure what turned the tide -- maybe the excessive commute and distance from a city center became too much or land got more expensive outside the city -- but in the late 1990s, people started talking about the return to the city.

My own neighborhood in D.C. bears this out. My mom packed me and the dog up in the summer of 1991 after the beating, shooting and dealing became too stressful for a single mother with a teenaged black boy. For a few years later, things in the old hood didn't improve, but I've gone back in 2000, 2005 and just a few months ago, and there are now two nice white people from Iowa renting a renovated version of our old basement for the price of the mortgage payments my mom was making.

When money comes back to the city, however, it's not a simple binary transfer from hood to neighborhood. See the recent Americablog post about how the tension between old school and new school can lead to disastrous and deadly consequences.

gentrification of west bucktown - 4

The Chicago Version

I forgot all these things when I came to Chicago. I'm staying with a friend who lives in West Bucktown (2600 W, 1700 N for those who know the lingo), on the edge of Humboldt Park. His landlord was telling me that 10 years ago, the neighborhood was maybe 20 percent black, 70 percent Latino and 10 percent white. Now it's 10 percent black, 50 percent Latino and 40 percent white. Walking around, it doesn't feel dangerous at all, but it just feels a little hood-ish. Anytime your major retail options are no-name groceries that end in "-Mart", check cashing places, auto body shops and laundromats, you're in something more on the hood side of the neighborhood-hood spectrum.

gentrification of west bucktown - 9

There are plenty of boarded up homes and abandoned lots around too.

At the same time, people are selling condos for $200K and even $300K+, and you can't pass a block without seeing some sign promising a new condo unit "Coming Soon" right across the street from the check-cashing spot. The trend isn't limited to pseudo-hoods like west Bucktown either. I got to see some of the South Side, and it's starting to happen there too.

gentrification of west bucktown - 7

So what does this have to do with my car stereo getting jacked? Well, I let my guard down. I haven't lived in a hood in a really long time. I left DC in 1995 and left the place with the shootin in 1989. My friend Glenn said I got soft. I had a removable faceplace on my stereo, but did I remove it? Noooooo. I was no longer living in a world where I assumed people were assholes. I assume politicians are assholes, but not my neighbors.

Why didn't other cars get broken into? Because I was the new car, I had out of state plates, and I had a cheap but nice looking head unit.

at least they broke the cheap window

What Did They Steal?

Oh, and I had let the car sit in the same spot, un-accessed from Sunday through Thursday. So here's how it went down. They broke the rear passenger side fixed window (thanks for breaking the cheapest one guys!) and unlocked the door. Then a thorough search of the car revealed the following must-have list:

  • must break window to enter car ($40)
  • sony head unit ($130)
  • portable TomTom GPS 300 ($600). I know, if it's portable, why did I leave it in the car? to my credit, I hid it in a seat pocket, but I acknowledge the dumbness of that,
  • car chargers for iPod and cell phone ($45)
  • roll of quarters ($10). for laundry? tolls?
  • $10 bill ($10)
  • Tupac CD I hadn't ripped to iTunes yet ($10)
  • the cover for my spare tire with a Deval Patrick for Governor sticker on it ($10). They were trying to take the spare but gave up

All told, that's $865 worth of stuff I lost, but the only real things of value are the stereo and the GPS. The stereo I consider acceptable. The GPS I had disabled by the company that made it.

They left my EZ-Pass/Fast Lane toll booth billing thingy, laundry detergent and most importantly, THE CAR.

They also broke the cheapest window and did a clean job of removing the stereo.

bye bye stereo

Basically, I forgot where I was. I can't just be stupid happy guy with his cool, political, pink t-shirt and iPod blocking out the world and car not moving and valuable shit exposed to the world. It was an expensive reminder but also one that I needed.

So thank you burglars. Oh, and if you mess with my car again, I'll firebomb the whole goddamned neighborhood. :)

Chicago Improv Summer: I'm Gonna Wear Your Vagina as a Hat

the whole class! Photo by me via Flickr (click on photo for more) I know that provocative title will get the right wing upset and my regular readers confused, and I promise to explain by the end of this post. Bear with me. Day 4 of my Improv Olympic summer intensive was beautiful. We pulled off a mini-Harold! Improvisors make no money We started off Thursday with a positively inspirational lesson from Professor Jessica: improvisors make no money. Great. Now I'm pursuing two forms of comedy that don't pay! When improv teams perform at the iO, for the most part, they're not being paid. Here's how the improvisor maketh the loot:
  • Start your own show, rent the theatre space, negotiate a cut of the door and pray
  • Do corporate gigs. The Improv Asylum in Boston is a good example
  • Perform on the Second City Mainstage (oh, ok! that's all??) since those players get paid
  • Go on tour with Second City (again. knowing this makes life easy)
  • Teach improv
  • get a job, any job
The Doo-Wop Opening I've already explained the concept of the Opening. We first learned "The Invocation." Yesterday we got some singing in with the Doo-Wop opening. As with all that we're learning, the initial seed is an audience suggestion. The goal is the "find the meaning of the spatula" so you don't create a whole show about actual spatulas. In this case, we use the magic... of song. The improvisors line up in a row, and one person starts a repetitive chorus. In the one I was in, the suggestion was "childhood." I kicked off the chorus with, "I fell off my bike" in a bass voice. Then other players came in with "I like to play" and "New Jersey has no parks" and "Nerd!" until we had a vibrant thing going. After than, each person steps forward, one at a time, to sing a verse expanding on their chorus line. When the soloist starts singing, the chorus line lowers their volume until he's done. Everybody gets their shot, then all the players return to the chorus, and somehow, figure out how to end it. This was a lot of fun. I love making up little meaningless songs on the fly. I'm such a dork because I do this all. the. time. in my free time, but I previously had no outlet. I need to rock the doo-wop opening! More two-person scenes After that, we played with more two-person scenes after being given a setting (eg. 100 years in the future) and character roles (e.g. real estate agents). In that example scene, the improvisors had purchased England, which turned out to be a horrible decision. In my own scene, I was running a sewage treatment plant. In another scene I was in, we had to use the soap opera genre, and I was twins with a white female improvisor. My need in the scene was to keep her from knowing that we'd made her albino to improve her job prospects. I failed, BTW, and just told her. We performed a mini-Harold! After lunch, we spent our time doing mini-Harolds! The idea of it was so intimidating, since I'm still figuring out just what this Harold thing is, but Jessica had us do just the first part, a bite-sized Harold, if you will. And we did great! The Mini-Harold consisted of an opening and Beat One (which is three unrelated scenes that all connect to the original suggestion and themes raised in the opening). Our group's suggestion: pipe cleaner Our opening was the Invocation, and we had hella fun with that one, using a LOT of energy to explore the IT IS (brissley, long, yellow, etc), the YOU ARE (what I use to brush my teeth when no one is looking), the YOU ARE (the cleanser of the pipes that deliver my water) and the I AM (confidentiality, cleanliness, etc). Our scenes: I feel bad that I can't quite remember the first one. I was busy absorbing our opening and trying to catch snippets of scene 1 without getting too involved, leaving enough mental space to conjure my own character. I did scene 2 with Leanne. I decided to be an architect building a bridge between Chicago and Toronto, uniting the two countries at last. Leanne said she was excited, and in a moment of complete non-thought, I asked her "Why?" It was hilarious because that was my inside voice trying to figure out who she was in the scene and thus who WE were, but I didn't mean to say it out loud, and the audience new it and laughed it up. Leanne jumped right on it. She was so excited that "after seven years, you want to know what *I* think." So at that point, I know that she's worked for me at this architecture firm for seven years. Apparently, I thought she was ready to step up, but there was more going on between us. It turns out that we were in love, and I had been too afraid to broach the subject. By the end, we discover that we're not only building a bridge to Canada but also a bridge to each other's hearts. The scene was actually beautiful and full of anticipation for that close, but neither of us knew that at the start, and who could have thought that the suggestion "pipe cleaner" would lead to true love? Dang. I can't remember scene three right now either! That's what I get for waiting so long to post this. Whatever it was, it turned out great. The other group (our 15 person class (oh yea, forgot to tell you we added one dude named Gabe on Wednesday) was split into two mini-harolds) had the suggestion: pillow. Before they started, Jessica asked that they try to make things more positive. Almost all of our scenes had focused on conflict and negativity. There's one scene from the pillow mini-harold I will never forget. It was between Amy and Nick. Nick starts off the scene really excited to perform in an upcoming rock concert. Amy is supportive and agrees things will only get better for his music career. Not only that, she can't wait to be with him through it all. They are happily married, and she'll go along with anything. Nick pushes the limits. Yes, he agrees, she'll be with him through it all: the shows, the travel, the high life and the Nick-sleeping-around-with-groupie-chicks. At this point, Amy wants to say no, but Jessica's "keep things positive" kicks in, and she agrees: "Yes, I'll be with you when you're bangin other chicks." Nick tags on, "of course, because we have an open relationship." Amy raises him: "Yes, and I'll be sleeping around with the boyfriends of all the chick's you're sleeping with." Nick raises: "yes, your vagina will be so worn down, I'll wear it as a hat." I'm paraphrasing, but the moment was hilarious. Anyone from class want to add stuff or correct things, do it in the comments. Whatever the exact words, Day 4 was the hotness. We're all gonna miss Jessica a lot. For many of us (including me), she's our first improv instructor, but we get a different teacher for each level, so Monday we start level two with Rachael. Classmates Leah and John were nice enough to bring celebratory beer and cupcakes. Oh, and we've named our improv team: Team Lawyer Money!

Chicago Improv Summer: Confidence

4707338 A51968D6Ab photo by *Jake via Flickr Today we started putting the pieces together and went on a little emotional low-high streak. We learned an opening called "The Invocation," did a 30 minute version of "The Armando" and played a cool game just before the end of class that tested all sorts of coordination. After three days of intensive, all-day improv, we've done "six weeks" in real time terms. Well, there went our confidence Day 2 was all about us reporting on how we felt after our scenes, and most of us were really critical. Jessica actually complained about it, saying we were doing amazing work and should be more confident. Last night, several of us joked about showing up this morning and just being a bunch of arrogant bastards, but by lunchtime, we lost all that bravado. The structure the long form improvisation done at the Improv Olympic is called "The Harold." The shows last about 30 minutes and consist of several parts, starting with a theme, word, place or some other such input from the audience. Step one for the players is to build a three to five minute "opening" which is designed to take that word (let's say it's a "spatula") and get at its full meaning. As teacher Jessica would say, "it's to turn that 'pebble' into The Universe... to turn 'vibrator' into Women's Lib." Improv groups use all sorts of methods to explore the meaning of the spatula, from songs to weird contortionism. Jessica taught us a method called "The Invocation," and it has four phases.
  1. IT IS. In phase one, members of the group describe what they see in response to the word/object suggested. The description is precise, and it builds cumulatively. So, if the word is notebook, and person A says "it is a three ring binder," person B says, "it is completely red," person C is NOT allowed to say it's a blue Dell "notebook" computer. The group builds a common, physical definition together.
  2. YOU ARE. In phase two, we each make a personal connection to the suggestion. These do not have to build or be consistent across the players. I might say (to the object itself), "You are where I kept my life goals."
  3. THOU ART. This phase is similar to "YOU ARE" but rather than being personal, it's meant to be metaphorical or philosophical. For example, building on the personal YOU ARE, I might say (to the object), "thou art a dreamcatcher."
  4. I AM. Finally, we become the object. With I AM, we look for one word or phrase that captures the essence of the suggestion. "I am hope," I might say as the notebook.
Again, the point of the exercise is to avoid having a show that spends 30 minutes talking about a friggin notebook, because no one wants to see that. The would, however, be interested in a story about a GM line employee who kept a secret file with plans for improvements to the company's cars that he plans to sell to Toyota, for example. We played around with the invocation, and worked up to building actual scenes based on our inspiration, but the scenes sucked. We got trapped within certain themes way to easily, and Jessica sent us off to lunch with a pretty heavy and on point set of critiques encouraging us to push farther. In my own scene, I know I walked into it having forgotten the wants and needs lesson of Day 2. I was fixed on a character who was homeless, but he had no motivation or desires, so the scene went nowhere. Others in the class had different challenges, but the point was that our scenes were not nearly as inspired as our opening invocation had set them up to be. There must have been something in my meatball sub because I and the rest of the class returned and, man, we killed the second half of class! The Armando Diaz Experience Armando Diaz is a real man who lives today in NYC, running his own theatre at The Magnet. He has a longform improv style named after him, referred to as "The Armando." Like the Harold, you build scenes based on inspiration, and Jessica explained that "the Armando" is just another source of inspiration. Rather than having an opening (in the form of an invocation, perhaps) and all the other structures of the Harold, the Armando is built around a monologue.
  1. Audience provides suggestion
  2. A monologist (referred to as the Armando) tells a TRUE story related to the suggestion. He stops after a minute or two
  3. Players create scenes inspired by the audience suggestion and the story of the Armando. They comment on the story
  4. When the scenes feel exhausted, the Armando returns with another story, possibly integrating themes from the previous scenes
  5. More scenes
  6. Another monologue
  7. this could go on forever, but it doesn't. Eventually, the Armando gives a final monologue which tries to touch on many of the subsequent themes raised in the scenes.
Some important points: The monologues need to be true, maybe a bit exaggerated, but not just made up. It's really hard to just make up a story on the fly. That's the job of the players in the scenes. Also, the scenes that are built, should not just be a visual replay of the story. This isn't Charlie Murphy stories on Chappelle. Like with the Invocation, we explore what the real meaning of the story is behind the actual words used. I told a story of my constant running in middle school. One day, I was chasing a friend of mine and he leapt over a chain-linked fence onto a steep hill. I followed but didn't quite clear the top chain, clipped my right foot and busted my ass in front of a whole bunch of friends and cute girls who all laughed at me. That story isn't about jumping over that fence. It could be about many things, though. It could be about embarrassment. It could be about not finishing something you started. It could be about the price of trying to be like someone else. We did this for thirty minutes, with multiple monologues and scenes and didn't realize at all how much time had passed. We were inspired, and that was the point. Jessica's bomb ass quote of the day: "We can get inspiration from anywhere. Be inspired by everything." That reminds me. On September 7, I'll be taking part in a show that follows this theme. It's called Stand-Uprov, and will be a the Improv Asylum in Boston. New York has it's own version called Stand-prov. The premise is the same, though. A standup comic performs his set (or MONOLOGUE :)) and the improv players build scenes around that story, commenting on what was really being said. I don't have time to describe the closing game, but it was mad fun. Today was another incredible improv-y experience. We sort of sucked in the morning, but we killed in the afternoon. Thanks Jessica and all the cats on the team! I'm off to find Drinking Liberally in Chicago.

Chicago Improv Summer: Ok, this is scary

photo by aphasiafilms via Flickr Day 2 of my Improv Olympic summer intensive focused on interactive monologues and character wants and needs. Today went by so very fast, so I know it was a good one. A Scene is Like a Road Trip In the morning, we spent almost the entire time doing what are called "interactive monologues." In this case, three people sit on stage in chairs facing the audience. They're lined up in a single row, and are supposed to begin a conversation with a non-existent person based on an audience suggestions which are different for each speaker. There's no chosen order to speak, so the first person starts whenever, and the second one begins when it feels right. The second speaker's one-sided conversation is inspired by the audience suggestion and the first speaker. The same is true of the third who is inspired by both prior speakers and his own audience suggestion. Then our fearless teacher Jessica has the three speakers turn to face each other, continuing their disparate conversations but this time interacting directly with the other speakers on the stage as if they were involved in a direct conversation. Everyone thinks they are talking to the people on the stage, but we all interpret the words a bit differently based on our own personal conversations. Here's an example. I was given the term "Rocket" to build my conversation. I made the conversation be between me, a night club promoter, convincing people to come in and see the headlining band, "Rockit!" The club was in the Sahara Desert for some reason. Later, when the three speakers turned in to face each other, another woman was having her conversation about her baby and said something to me about how she didn't want her kid to die. I explained that I was saying the band, Rockit, was "KILLER." I'm not doing the exercise justice, but it was amazing to see how a group of people talking about very different things could 1) use themes from others' conversations to enhance their own and 2) talk directly to each other without quite talking to each other. On some level, we were all talking about the same thing. Jessica also passed on a great advice from a talented improver named Joe Bill. It's about exploring the nooks and crannies of a scene but making sure you somehow stick to the underlying plot line. His take was this: A scene is like a road trip. You need to leave the road occasionally for gas, food, etc. But you have to remember where you were going and eventually get back on the road. Good advice. The second game we played was a twist on a more common one. The common version has you focus on your pet peeves with "I hate X because..." Instead we played "I love X because..." Show. Don't Tell. The final game was mos def the illest! The setup was two people who each has a want/need/desire to be fulfilled by the other. The trick is they can't just tell the other person what they want. Their characters need to communicate it be creating a relationship and showing the other, such that person two figures it out and gives it to them... or chooses not to. Two people got on stage reached to pull a piece of paper from a cup. They would then turn those papers over to Jessica who sent the to the bathroom. She clued the rest of the class/audience in on what their secret wants were, then brought the two players back out. The matchups of secret wants was hilarious at times. In one case, person A wanted to be talked out of suicide and person B wanted someone to confide in him. In my own case, I wanted a hug and my partner, Leanne, wanted to know the meaning of life. Each pair was given a location as well. Ours was a weight room. This exercise was the height of my improv experience so far. I felt very lost within the scene, having a hard time balancing my attention between listening to Leanne and figuring out what relationship we had that could make her want to hug me. By the end she was expressing complete sympathy and we had moved really close to each other. I put on one of the saddest faces ever, with Jessica saying it was a high moment in HER improv experience, but I didn't get the hug. I also wasn't really sure I knew what Leanne wanted. When the scene was over, the entire audience was pretty amazed because we both had essentially gotten what we needed, if not in a literal way, a very close approximation. I got an emotional hug from Leanne who did everything except wrap her arms around me. And in talking with her, she got from me some deeper understanding of the universe and energy. I had, apparently, come quite close to satisfying her need as well. Watching and being a part of this game honestly scared the hell out of me because it shouldn't work. We demonstrated that humans communicate with one another on a subconscious level, to say the least. What we can't put into precise words, we put into body language, emotion and indirect words. Somehow, we are able to connect with others in a way that builds mutual understanding. If this had happened one or two times, I would have thought it was neat, but it happened seven times with different needs and different people. This work is so inspiring.

Chicago Improv Summer: "She promised me her lawyer money."

photo by strzelecki1 via Flickr As many of you know, I'm in Chicago this summer, primarily to study improvisational comedy with the good folks of Improv Olympic. I'll try to blog a lot about what I'm learning, what's cool, what's weird and whatever else I can think of. As always, if you have comments or questions or things you want to hear about, hollaback in the comments. Day 1. I'm seven minutes late. I don't know what made me think that I could visit any government office and be out in 10 minutes, but I assure you, that will never happen again. I spent Sunday night researching the best way to get around town. It was my plan to keep the car parked as much as possible and experience the L. However, I still had to decide what sort of pass I would get. I settled on an unlimited 30 day joint called the Chicago Card Plus, and headed downtown because you have to buy these in person. There were about 15 people in front of me in line, and the workers behind the glass (I'm SURE it's bullet proof, and after waiting 40 minutes, I'm SURE I know why) had absolutely no focus. They would deal with someone in front of them for a minute, then take a call, then talk amongst themselves and repeat that cycle. I waited in the actual line for maybe 20 - 25 minutes. When I got to a window, she gave me some paper form to fill out. Why weren't those available to fill out why I was waiting?? Because that makes too much damned good sense, that's why! So I filled out the form, handed it to the attendant, only to have her type in exactly what I wrote down. Yo, I could have done that myself! I finally got the card at 10:45, and class starts at 11am. I was downtown, and class is up by Wrigley Field. I took a cab. $20. Thus negating MUCH of the savings of the pass I had just bought. Day 1: I'm a genius I rolled in a few minutes late but in time to hear the last part of iO co-founder Charna Halpern's kickoff speech. "Improv is a thinking man's game. It's like chess. You are all geniuses." I like this gig already. You should read a little more about the iO over here or here, but the basics are that this school focuses on improv just for the art of it, not as a tool to create sketch comedy, for example. Some notable alumni include Tina Fey (oooh la la), STEPHEN COLBERT, Tim Meadows and Chris Farley. There are between 40 and 50 people in the summer program, divided into three sessions. I'm in session one with 13 other people from all over the place. Steve is from London. Karen is from Boise, Idaho. Eric is from Holland. Sarah and her brother, Nick, are from Ottawa. There are even a few New Yorkers. Our fearless teacher for Week 1 is Jessica. We spent the day doing what I can only describe as playing, and it was mad fun. Jessica gave us increasing amounts of freedom in our two-person scene work throughout the day. In the beginning, she told us who our characters were, and she told us when to stop the scene. By the end of the day, we were deciding both all on our own. Day 1: Highlights The day focused a lot on connections and character relationships. We did exercises that forced us to eavesdrop on others' conversations while being engaged in our own so we could learn to pay attention to what's happening on stage and integrate it into our own actions. We were thrown into alien situations with a scene partner and had to instantly demonstrate a history and explore the meaning of that relationship. here are some of the cool, weird, funny and interesting things I remember.
  • I was thrown into a scene where me and a guy named Jeff were showing up at the same house to pick up the same woman for a date. Jeff's first statement to me: "are you here to deliver something?" "Yes I am. I'm here to deliver flowers for my date tonight." Later in the scene, Jeff mentioned that he saw our date (Laura) in line at the unemployment office. "That's disappointing," I said. "Why?" "Because she promised me a lot of her lawyer money." "What's that?" "Well, Laura works at a pretty unique law firm. They have clients and documents and stuff, but they also have a big pile of lawyer money, and she was going to give some to me." I have no idea what I was talking about, but it was fun!
  • An election for president of a sixth grade class led to riots in the school and chewing gum in all the kids' hair
  • A daughter was forced by her overly stringent mother to fax her mom the pizza order from downstairs so her mom could review it
Alright. I'm tired, and you know what? You weren't there, so this might read really dumb. The point is, I learned a shit ton, including the fact the people actually SAY "shit ton." I'll report more from My Chicago Summer as soon as possible. Stay tuned.

[NP] Final Big Boston show of the summer - Laughing Liberally

Yo people,

Sorry I've been so out of touch, but with no intern, it's hard to keep up with everybody. The blog is WAY more up to date than this email, so visit www.baratunde.com/blog for more timely goodness on the regular.

For example, you wouldn't have missed my recent post titled, "I hope Rick Santorum gets AIDS." Visit the blog to see the rest.

Most importantly, I'm off to Chicago for most of the summer, studying improv comedy in that great city with the folks at the Improv Olympic.

But like a good movie burglar, I've got one last, big gig before I bid farewell.

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LAUGHING LIBERALLY COMES TO BOSTON

This week.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday night at 7:30pm @ Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway Theatre

255 Elm Street, Davis Sq, Somerville MA (next to the Burren)

I will be on all these shows.

visit www.baratunde.com for more info.
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Prices range from $11 to $30 depending on if you're a student, show up on Thursday or have only one testicle.

I've performed with Laughing Liberally on Broadway in NYC and in Vegas this past weekend, both for about 1,500 people. I called General Wesley Clark a short, tiny, adorable general TO HIS FACE on C-SPAN. Ambassador Joe Wilson (the one whose CIA wife was outed by the cowards in the White House) thinks I'm hilarious. The show also hit up LA last weekend for over 1,000 people.

These Boston shows will feature incredible comics from New York City, including Julie Goldman, Dean Obeidallah & Scott Blakeman -- folks from Saturday Night Live, Comedy Central and many other places I only get to visit on my TiVo.

I'm serious. If you've been wanting to see me perform, THIS IS THE SHOW. I'll be doing about 15 minutes on each show, and have a lot of new material.

There are several other shows in the series I'm not doing, because liberals hate black people. See www.jtoffbroadway.com for more info, and go to those if you can't make mine, you racists.

That's about all.

Come to the show. Seriously. You'll regret it. Notice how the ticket prices to my shows keep going up. At this rate, it will cost you $500 to see me next year. Save money. Do it now!!!

Vegas was hot. Check the blog for more updates than that.

www.baratunde.com/blog
www.myspace.com/baratunde

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