Thursday, April 23, 2009

George Clinton - Jannus Landing, St. Pete, FL, April 23, 2009

Few musicians have a greater impact on today's music than George Clinton. The number of George Clinton beats and songs used by hip-hop artists is beyond count. He is probably the most sampled performer outside of James Brown. And with the passing of the Godfather of Soul back in 2006, George Clinton has inherited the title of Funky Patriarch. Although it's been nearly 30 years since Clinton smoked the Billboard charts with hits like "Atomic Dog" and "Flash Light", he still manages to makes his presence known with cameos on TV shows (CMT's Gone Country 3) and albums (Wu-Tang Clan's 8 Diagrams, for example).

Needless to say, whenever I get the chance to see such a maestro at work and be in the presence of musical greatness I don't hesitate. Also, considering I recently bemoaned the commercialization of the funk, I needed my confidence in The Funk lifted by the man who made it famous.

It's late, so I am giving you guys the rapid bullet style:

- This was the second time I've seen George Clinton in concert. Back in 2001, I saw Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars perform in a club in Tallahassee. That was one of the best shows I have ever seen, so this show, nearly eight years later, had a lot to measure up to.

- George Clinton has one of the biggest, most awesome backing bands I have ever seen. I am not sure whether they were Parliament, Funkdelic, the P-Funk All-Stars, or just a motley assortment of talent. But they were awesome. And a majority of them were only used for a small selection of songs. It was difficult to keep track, but I think there were three rotating drummers; six different guitar players; eight back-up singers; two organists; one rapper; two hype-men; one trumpet player, trombone player, sax player, and bassist. That's 27 people if you include George Clinton.

- Best musicians: the two lead guitar players and the saxophonist. Awesome mind-melting solos. Perhaps the best was the guitar solo on "Maggot Brain".

- Clinton and crew played most of the classics: "Give Up The Funk", "Make My Funk The P-Funk", "Up for the Down Stroke", etc. No "Atomic Dog" or "Flash Light" though. And I was really surprised there was no "Chocolate City" or "Paint The White House Black". Most interesting suprise: a cover of Lil John and the Ying Yang Twins' "Get Low" (From the window to the wall ...).

- Another pleasant discovery was back-up singer Kim Manning. Wow. I don't what I was more impressed by: her voice, her appearance, or the fact that she rolled across the wire-covered stage on roller skates and never once tripped.

- Manning wasn't the most impressive back-up singer however, that title belonged to the woman George Clinton brought out for the last song. Absolutely amazing singing voice. Probably the best I have heard live since seeing Shemekia Copeland.

- This concert had possibly the most diverse crowd I have ever seen at any concert. There were black folks, white folks, young folks, old folks, preppy folks, and numerous hippie folks. Everybody was represented. And although a few people drank too much (crazy hippies!), I didn't see security get involved other than to tell a girl or two to get down off of a guy's shoulders. I'm not sure if the positive vibe was due to the music or the copious amount of weed being smoked by the crowd. Whatever works, I guess.

Overall, this show wasn't quite as good as the '01 show in Tallahassee. That show was an "A". Tonight's show only gets a "B+". For only $26, however, it was absolutely worth the money.

For those curious, my belief in The Funk has been restored. Though I am still violently opposed to any commercial that uses The Funk - especially when it involves goofy kids or credit cards pitched by Morgan Freeman.

(Note: That picture was not taken tonight. It is from George Clinton's myspace page. I forgot to bring my camera.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Interview with Brian Spaeth: Screenwriter, Producer, Writer

Within every community, there are people that stand out. People who take the norm and stretch it, flip it, bounce it, turn it on it's head, and make people question their own ideas in collective confusion. Anyone can enter a community, but it takes the gifted among them to make it interesting.

That said, I am not sure my latest interviewee does that. Actually, I am not sure what he does. He is a factory of ideas, although he sometimes makes people wonder if the foreman is permanently out to lunch.

Of course, I have my biases. My latest interview is someone I have corresponded with for a few years. An e-migo*, if you will. I first discovered Brian Spaeth as a lot of bloggers did, when he was writing for the unique blog YAYSports! NBA. As his screenwriting career turned into a leading role in his first film, Who Shot Mamba?, Brian allowed me and several other bloggers to blog for him at YAYSports. There are several of you out there who discovered me through my time as a substitute Yay blogger. Without a doubt, it was one of my stepping stones towards world domination.

(e-migo (n): “Friends you don’t really know but keep up with via email and Internet social Web sites”. Made semi-popular by writer Joe Posnanski, 2009.)

Then sometime last year, Brian pulled the plug on YAYSports NBA and started blogging over at Mad Props To Baked Potatoes. There he started a writing career, using the blog to promote his two books, Prelude To A Super Airplane and Brad Radby’s Brad Radby (The Complete Filmography 1999-2023). And that's where we are today.

So to conclude my trilogy of interviews, I decided to send Brian a few questions to try and find out what makes him tick and what's next for one of the blogosphere's most creatively eccentric personalities.

The Serious Tip: Define yourself. What are you? Blogger? Screenwriter? Actor? Writer? Social media philosopher?

Brian Spaeth: Well, my Twitter profile says I’m an actor/screenwriter/producer, but probably not in that order.

I’d say I’m actually a screenwriter/producer/actor, would rather be an actor/producer/screenwriter, but would probably function best as a producer/actor/screenwriter.

I’m definitely not a social media philosopher – I talk a good game, but barely function within that world. I do blog, but I’ve never considered myself like a “blogger” as some sort of profession or pursuit. It’s just something I do. The success of my third blog, YAYsports!, was largely an accident, and not something I would or could ever try and replicate.

TST: So why are you more interesting than the other Brian Spaeths, or should I have interviewed them instead?

The one who makes bionic limbs is probably the one you should’ve gone for. I’m the most interesting Brian Spaeth largely because I have declared it so, and for no other reason.

My biggest pet peeve is when people pronounce “pictures” as “pitchers”. I think this is common in the South – apologies if I’ve insulted anyone you know. I used to pronounce “pillow” as “pellow” until a girlfriend pointed it out, and now I go probably too far with my pronunciation of the “i” sound.

TST: What's new with Brian Spaeth?

My new book, Brad Radby’s Brad Radby (The Complete Filmography 1999-2023). It ties into my first book, Prelude to a Super Airplane, and also ties into my third book. All the books tie into each other.

The Radby book is largely movie parodies, with an underlying narrative that is actually quite intricate. It’s also completely free to download, or to read online in blog format.

In my personal life, there’s nothing new, but I taught my nieces to say EASTER IN YOUR FACE whenever anyone mentions Easter, and also that everyone in Michigan is sad all the time. They just turned three, so if you ask them about Michigan, they say things like “nobody’s car starts there” or “they don’t have toys in Michigan” in really sad voices. It’s all very cute and hilarious.

TST: What came first: blogger or screenwriter? And do they complement each other in any way? Or are they completely different?

I was a screenwriter long before I had a blog. My first blog actually came about because of my screenwriting, but that’s not an interesting story at all.

I’d say the latter definitely informs and feeds the former. A blog gives me the ability to throw a bunch of stuff at a virtual wall and see what sticks. All my best original ideas in recent years have come from my blog – sometimes this is in a big way, other times it’s just a little thing that inspires something altogether different later on.

TST: Why do you think you are so popular on these Internets? Especially considering your coup de grace has been seen by fewer people than Gigli.

I’m not popular at all – this is a myth I perpetuate in order to make myself feel good. Like I said, the whole YAYsports! thing was an accident. I have no clue how to market myself online. It’s largely a mystery to me how certain things become popular and others don’t.

TST: So do you think other bloggers should take a leap into other forms of media? Or do you think what you have done is just not worth the trouble for other bloggers?

Sure, if they want to, and if they can.

I mean, I didn’t really “take a leap” from blogging to something else. I just kinda do what I do. If you’d told me in November that I’d have written two books by the end of March, with a third one half complete, I would’ve been like, “Huh?”

If people want advice on life, I’m probably the worst person on Earth to listen to. I’m completely erratic, emotionally juvenile, and stubbornly refuse to do anything in the form or fashion that’s established as traditional. The twist is that I’m completely self-aware about this, which is the only reason I’m considered eccentric, as opposed to insane.

Here’s the other twist – people who meet me in person often feel a need to express their surprise that I’m pretty much a normal person to be around.

Seriously though – this is an amazing time for people in creative pursuits, because you can cultivate and reach your audience directly. Do everything you can do, and do it well, and do it today.

TST: What are the last five movies you saw, in order of worst to best?

5) Knowing
4) Watchmen
3) The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)
2) Red Dawn
1) Slumdog Millionaire

TST: Who are your influences in screenwriting? Acting? Writing? Comedy?

I typically find I’m influenced more by material than people, but just totally random off the top of my head: Steve Martin, Bruce Willis, Airplane!, the Pixar films, Back to the Future, my dad and brother, Scheller Harrison, and my biggest influence is probably Marvel comic books of the late 1980s and early 90s.

TST: Have you ever received a Christmas card from (Cleveland Cavalier's Head Coach) Mike Brown? Would you accept one from him? Why or why not?

Yeah, I’ve come around on Mike Brown. He finally got an offensive coordinator this year, which is what I’d been saying he should do since the second week of his first season. Congrats to him and Ferry and Gilbert for sticking to it and finding a way that works.

TST: If LeBron James were the Prime Minister of the World, and he met with extraterrestrial beings from the planet Hartoonia who just happened to visit Earth in search of LeBron Fatheads, what would LeBron say?

“Thank you for these gifts. In return, I shall give you my greatest secret, and that is my inability to count out loud past the number forty-six. This is now your burden, and I am free. Welcome to Earf.”

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Michael James Nelson: The Interview

I am always amazed by the lives of people I have known throughout the years. I am the type of person who is always curious as to what other people are up to these days. Who has an interesting job? Who is in a third world country saving kids from malaria? Who is still working at McDonald's? Of course, myspace and Facebook have made finding old peers, former classmates, long lost friends, forgotten relatives, unknown friends of friends, departed neighbors, neglected associates, and all other categories of people much easier.

A few months ago, I looked up ("Googled", searched for, etc) several of my former co-writers from my time at the Florida State newspaper. I found out one became a writer for defense news in D.C., another works for a public relations firm in New York City, and a few are no longer writing. Then there is Michael James Nelson, who is currently living in Los Angeles and working as a comedy writer, producer, and comedian (hence the title of the post). (He even has a Wikipedia page!)

After much cajoling, convincing, and sending of payments, I convinced Michael to do an emailed Q&A for The Serious Tip. Perfect timing too, as he will be making an appearance on The Oxygen Network's "Pretty Wicked" on Tuesday, April 14th at 10p.m. (yes, that's a plug). So read the interview and then check him out during the upcoming week.

So who is Michael James Nelson?

Michael James Nelson: I am someone that was in jail; actually, I was locked in a cage. I thought my life was over, but then a couple Dwarfs came by, they called themselves Nelwyns. Anyway, one of these Dwarfs was carrying a baby and he said that he had to return the baby to a “Dakini.” Whatever, I grabbed the baby and set off on adventure that would lead me to Nockmaar Castle -- along the way I become infatuated with this chick named Sorsha who had major issues with her mother, Bavmorda -- and then I found myself in Los Angeles doing comedy.

How did you get into comedy/comedy writing?

MJN: I have wanted to be a comedian every since I was in pre-school. But I was terrified at the thought of going up on stage and doing jokes. So, sometime around my first year of high school, I started writing stand-up material, but never even entertained the idea of presenting it to anyone. I was, to say the least, a very shy person. But one night during my senior year of college I organized a bunch of material and snuck away to go to an open mic night on campus. I told absolutely no one. I remember shaking violently right up to the point where they called my name and the audience started applauding. I even vomited in a trash can back stage. It was the scariest moment of my life. I then wiped my mouth and walked on stage and proceeded to do five minutes and I do not remember a single second of it. Afterwards, I think the audience gave me a courtesy applause and I wondered off stage, in a daze, trying to figure out what just happened.

I snapped out of it when a guy tapped my on the back. He introduced himself and said he was a booker for a show off-campus and he wanted me to headline a show that was to happen the following month. Now, I had no idea what headlining meant. I thought it might be the guy that takes the stage at the end of the show and does five minutes while everyone pays their check and leaves, so based on that false definition, I said yes.

Three weeks went by and I called the guy to confirm the show and he said we were all set. Then, I asked him how much time he wanted me to do, expecting him to say that the five minute set he had seen at the open mic would be plenty, but he said 50 minutes to fifty-five minutes would be just fine. I about fainted and vomited and cried and ran away at the same time. I had now idea the headliner was the main attraction. We hung up and for that week I scrambled to write anything I could that might get a laugh or even a chuckle. I even skipped my classes to stay focused. Then, that night came. The house was packed with hundreds of people and there I was back stage, having only done a five-minute open mic show prior. As each comedian went up, each doing around ten minutes, I started having a panic attack. I was totally falling apart. My shirt was already soaked with sweat. I was drinking so much just to kill my nerves. And then, my name was called, the audience applauded, and I walked on stage and did fifty minutes nonstop. I remember the entire show. I remember getting laughs the entire time. I remember the audience roaring with laughter. And I remember being up there and thinking to myself, “This is it. This is what I am supposed to do with my life. I’m a comedian.”

What are you doing professionally these days?

MJN: I am a comedy writer, producer and performer in Los Angeles. I have written for MTV and ABC and a bunch of networks. I wrote for National Lampoon for a while and I wrote a show for Nick Cannon. I do stand up every week and this April I will make an appearance on the television show “Pretty Wicked” on the Oxygen Network. I also write feature films, sketches, and hilarious bar mitzvah speeches.

Funniest thing that ever happened to you at FSU?

MJN: Hmm, funniest thing… that is a tough one. I had a blast at FSU. There are way too many hilarious moments to sort through and then to find “the one” is almost impossible. But, one that comes to mind is when my best friend fell of a balcony and hit his head and had to get stitches. We all dressed up in costumes and were partying on a balcony. We had been drinking since early afternoon. We started throwing stuff of the balcony and cheering. Then, he threw a huge sign over the side and ended up going over with it. We were only one story up, but he did fall and hit his head. So, we took him to the hospital (a whole separate story for another time about how we had to hitch hike to get to there) and while he was getting stitches, there were at least fifteen of us in the waiting room, all of us still drunk and in our costumes. Although a little scary at the time, now that I look back, all of us in the waiting room dressed in the most random costumes, I can’t help but laugh. What a long, funny night.

Are you the greatest comedian/comedy writer in FSU history?

MJN: Hahaha. I do know other guys that came out of FSU and they are very funny and they do comedy. But, when I was doing my sketch comedy show (That Show With Those Guys) while I was at FSU, we were always told that it was the funniest show to have ever aired on the network. And not only did they air old episodes of the show years after I graduated, but there were also spin-off shows. I have always been very proud of that. I don’t think I am ready to claim greatest comedian in FSU history, but that would be cool if that day came.

If I remember right, the Spring 2003 valedictorian gave you a shout-out. Did you know that was coming? How did you react to the instant fame that presented?

MJN: Hahaha. That was insane! I had been told before the graduation ceremony that I was going to be mentioned during the speech, but I didn’t think it would be to that degree. He practically made his speech about me moving out to Los Angeles and becoming a comedian. Hahaha! It was Jim Davis that put me in his speech and he was president of the senior class. I know Jim and there is no way he was valedictorian! But, he did his speech during that humongous graduation ceremony and he did talk about me and I have always thought that was so cool. I was happy that he could pull inspiration from the crazy dream I had in my head.

Who are your comedic influences? Why?

MJN: I would have to say that Bill Cosby has influenced me a great deal. I remember lying in bed, listening to his stories dreaming of having that ability to tell a story like he does. The characters, the humor, another reality, it is all there. I think I have always strived to convey a sense of story and comedy like he does. But, probably the most influential comedians for me have been Howard Stern and David Letterman. They are the reason I got into this business and I still watch them in awe. I remember being a kid and memorizing Letterman’s monologues. And when I was in college, Tallahassee didn’t have the Stern Show on any stations. So, I would have my mom record the show and mail me the tapes. I was obsessed.

Do you ever feel "not funny"? Like have you ever told a joke and no one laughed?

MJN: Hell motha f’in yes. There are days that I wake up and don’t feel funny at all. Cerebrally, I could be laughing my ass off - anything crossing my mind is funny to me. But, there are times that I can’t convey that comedy to anyone in anyway at anytime. Maybe it is because I am tired or stressed out or my mind is somewhere else… who knows. And as far as ever telling a joke and no one laughs… oh yes. That has happened many times and it will continue to happen for the rest of my life. It happens to everyone. I have seen Chris Rock bomb a couple jokes. There is no comedian out there that hasn’t bombed a joked. It is impossible not to bomb. And funny enough, bombing is where you grow the most and where you become stronger as a comedian and it is a very important part of the process.

Your Alicia Keys video is hilarious. Has that ever happened to you?

MJN: Hahahaha. That was a random idea I had when her song started playing in my car. I started free styling the phone call on the spot and when I got home, I wrote it out and shot it a week later. However, for the past five years I have been getting calls from some random corporation that thinks they are calling their IT guy. I guess my phone number is one digit different then the number they are trying to dial and I have learned that their IT guy has the same name as I and the first time they called me I answered and they asked for “Mike” and I said “speaking.” They then told me that at 2pm I needed to show a group of investors around the building and explain our computer network and explain how it is setup. They wanted me to put a power point together just so they could get a visual sense of how it all works. I was a production assistant at the time out on an office supply run. I started freaking out because I had no idea what they were talking about. I thought maybe I was supposed to know the setup of the network and started franticly wracking my brain for anything I might have been told about our computer network. I agreed that I would show the investors around and then hung up the phone.

I got back to the office and started putting together a power point presentation, guessing how the network was set up. I got about one page into the power point show and then decided to tell my boss that I had no idea how the network operated. She looked at me like I was insane. So, for the past five years, they have continually called me and left me messages about all the computer problems happening around their office. I have never returned their call to tell them that they are dialing the wrong number and have the wrong “Mike”, but I think that the next time they call I will finally break the news to them. That would be hilarious if my calling them back and breaking the news were to solve this gigantic company mystery that has caused people to get fired and investors to pull their funds. What if my not coming clean is the reason we are in a recession? Now I feel guilty.

So would you really turn down Alicia Keys?

MJN: No. I think she is hot and hopefully one day she will call me with any computer network issues she may be experiencing.

I have this theory about comedians. I think if I introduce you to someone and say "This is Michael, he is a comedian", that person will automatically think whatever you say is funny. They will laugh by default. True or false?

MJN: Ugh, no way. If I am introduced like that, people always say, “Say something funny.” It sucks. I decline and the conversation goes on and then, if I don’t say anything funny they will say, “You aren’t funny. How can you be a comedian?” I guess it comes with the territory. I guess people need to understand that being onstage and offstage are two different things that spawn night-and-day mentalities and emotions and thoughts and personas. And most comedians I know are quiet off stage and aren’t that funny when you just stand around and chat. I once talked with Robin Williams before a show and he was very reserved and not trying to be funny at all. Same with Dane Cook, I hung out with him and we talked for an hour and he was quiet and not that funny. But both were very nice people. In my dealings, comedians are usually pretty serious people that observe everything around them. I may not sit there and crack jokes, but I am always observing and breaking things down and thinking of ways to make stuff funny. I just might be quiet as I do it around you. To avoid all of this, when I am out-and-about, I just tell people that I am a plumber.

What does the future hold for you? What do you hope it holds?

MJN: I have no idea, but that is what is so exciting about this town. In Hollywood, one day can completely change your life and all of your dreams come true. But, you can’t really think about that or strive for that. You just have to do what makes you happy, enjoy life, stay grounded, and if that day comes, it comes. For me, my ultimate goal is to have my own television show… just like I had in college. That has always been my focus.

Where can people find out more about you?

MJN: People can visit or go to YouTube and search Michael James Nelson. Anything other than that would be considered stalking and shame on you.

Who would you like to give a shout-out to?

MJN: I would like to give a shout-out to Jim Davis… listen buddy, you didn’t make valedictorian, but damn it, we are all still very proud of you.