Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Check out my Stand-Up Comedy Commercial

Here is my commercial for the Artie Fletcher Comedy Class Crack-Ups showcase show.

Six Degrees of Separation with a New Hall of Famer

When word spread that Bert Blyleven was finally voted to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, there was much celebration in the baseball blogosphere. The hard work of a small group of online writers had successfully shined light on one of the most underrated careers in baseball history. They proved Blyleven's career was much more than his win-loss record or the reputation of the teams he played for, it was a collection of the effects he could control, such as strikeouts, innings, and runs allowed.

Leading the charge in the pro-Blyleven camp was baseball writer Rich Lederer, one of the main voices for The Baseball Analysts. Starting way back in the pre-historic blog days of 2003, Lederer campaigned for Blyleven, seemingly winning over supporters one at a time. Of course, the effort worked, as votes for Blyleven increased every year to the point where he finally made it over the necessary threshold for induction.

For his tireless efforts, Lederer was finally able to meet Blyleven and play catch with his new Hall of Fame hero.

On a much smaller note, in honor of the pitching great's eventual induction, I have my own Blyleven story I would like to share. It's not really directly about Blyleven, but more about the effects of his teachings and the only bus leagues player I faced in the Eau Gallie Little League system.

From the late 1970s to the 1990s, the Minnesota Twins had a trainer by the name of Dick Martin. Martin was one of the best in his field - so much so that Baseball Prospectus named their Training Staff of the Year Award after him. A little known fact however, was that Dick Martin lived in Melbourne, Florida, home of the Twins' minor league training facility from 1964 to 1989 and coincidentally, the same town I grew up in.

Although I couldn't tell you anything about Dick Martin, I had a few encounters with his son, Tyler. During my heyday as a soft-tossing left-handed control specialist, my little league was dominated by the younger Martin. He was a flashy shortstop/pitcher with a golden arm and the most natural swing in the county. He was one of the few switch-hitters in the league and the only kid who could regularly hit the ball to the fence, if not over. But the most impressive thing about Martin was that he knew how to throw a curveball. While the rest of the league's moundsmen, myself included, learned the basic concepts of a changeup and struggled to control our erratic fastballs, Martin was breaking off 12-6 curves and forcing opposing coaches to teach their kids how to hit a pitch they themselves couldn't even hit, no less throw.

And who taught Tyler Martin this great equalizer? Rumor has it, it was Bert Blyleven. During the summer months, while young Tyler Martin filled in as a batboy for the Twins, he supposedly learned numerous tips and tricks from the ballplayers, tips that helped him destroy the confidence and smash the big league dreams of dozens, if not hundreds, of Melbourne-area little leaguers.

After wrecking havoc on our league, Tyler Martin played baseball at Mississippi State University, where he was part of teams that made the College World Series in 1997 and 1998. He would eventually also be drafted and toil for four seasons in the Rangers' minor league system before calling it a career in 2003.

Although nowhere near as cool as Lederer's story, playing in a league with Tyler Martin is my connection to Burt Blyleven.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Learning Comedy Part 8 - Dissecting Family Circus

Continuing my analysis of the usual residents of the funny pages, today I'm looking through the archives of Bill Keane and his "Family Circus".

1) Billy's view on Breakfast

Subject/ Target: Kids and their point of view

Why it's funny: Keane has effectively captured a kid's point of view in this comic. Adults or readers familiar with Oliver Twist know gruel to be disgusting or poor in flavor, but because Billy read that Oliver Twist wanted a second serving, and Billy himself only wants seconds when something is good, Billy assumes then that gruel must be good. An adult understands the context of Oliver Twist in a way a child wouldn't and also understands how a child could make that incorrect leap. So Keane shows humor in the knowledge and comprehension gap.

2) Telemarketer Trouble

Subject/ Target: Modern communication

Why it's funny: This comic pokes fun at the need to get to the phone, especially in the days before answering machines, voice mail, caller ID, and cell phones. Back then, every call may have been important. So the mother hustles into the house, just to answer a sales call. Many readers have been in similar situations, and although they might not have found it funny when it was happening to them, they can relate. It is another example of the audience laughing at the misfortune of the character because either they have been there, or the character's situation is much worse than their own.

Bonus Discovery: Jersey Circus - a mashup of Family Circus and quotes from Jersey Shore. Absolutely hilarious.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My first commercial for

Check out my first ever commercial, an ad for an upcoming disco show at Gasoline Alley in Largo, Florida.

I've seen Disco Inferno a few times and they are good. Good music to get your boogie on.

The commercial was done by - an entertainment company out of Clearwater, Florida.

Not bad, huh?

Monday, January 17, 2011

By The Time I Get To Tucson

Breaking from the funny for a brief editorial on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I'll resume the lighthearted posts tomorrow.

By The Time I Get To Tucson:

At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds. - President Obama, January 2011

This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I can almost guarantee hip-hop fans, civil rights advocates, and people who believe in fighting the power will be viewing, linking, liking, or sharing Public Enemy's hip-hop masterpiece "By The Time I Get To Arizona". In the wake of the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, I say watching PE this year is the wrong answer.

The American media has spent the last week preaching the need to increase civil discourse. Analysts of all ideologies have proclaimed that we must stop the yelling and try to talk out our issues. Arguing and belligerence is not the answer, and neither is violence.

The first reaction after Rep. Gifford's attempted assassination was to blame Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the rest of the right-wing media for the actions of Jared Loughner. Right-wing phrases such as "re-load" and "2nd Amendment solutions" made Palin and her ilk the target of intense national discussion. Whether or not Loughner was influenced by these phrases was irrelevant, but the fact that there could have been linkages was the point of debate. Yet those same violent innuendos permeate the video for "By the Time I Get To Arizona". Within the first minute, we see Public Enemy frontman Chuck D leading a posse of people carrying M-16s, practicing karate, and shooting in a gun range. Even Chuck D's lyrics advocate violence as a political solution.
Until we get some land
Call me the trigger man
Looki lookin' for the governor
Huh he ain't lovin' ya



The cracker over there
He try to keep it yesteryear
The good ol' days
The same ol' ways
That kept us dyin'
Yes, you me myself and I'ndeed
What he need is a nosebleed

Of course, supporters say "By The Time I Get To Arizona" is political art, not unlike Ice-T's "Cop Killer". It tells the story of a person fed up with being disrespected because of his or her skin color and their desire to see the sacrifices of their heroes acknowledged in by the Government of Arizona. I completely understand that, and the freedom to create art - no matter how it could be interpreted - should never be infringed.

However, celebrating Chuck D's message, especially in light of what happened in Tucson last week, is not the way to go. If "rap is the black CNN", as Chuck D once said, then "By The Time I Get to Arizona" is The Glenn Beck Show. For the impressionable, Chuck D's lyrics and images are no different than the words of any political shill who drums up ratings by spouting off controversy. Repeated daily in a medium that promotes itself as a provider of news and educated opinion, these words are not art, they are calls to action. And unfortunately action words - those of anger and emotion - sell more commercials than voices preaching calm and discourse.

(Of course, rap voices are persecuted more frequently in the media than other form of communication, as Davey D of writes in this post. Although back in the day, music was how the black community communicated it's message of frustration - through rap, blues, or spoken word poetry.)

Just because the song's subject matter is about Martin Luther King, Jr. does not mean it should be played every MLK Day. It's meaning was important and relevant when it was released in 1991, and it should be remembered and respected as a voice of dissent during a very difficult time, but today, in the words of President Obama:
"let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together."

Let's leave a farewell letter on the door in Arizona and move on to higher ground.

(Interesting note: The classic country song "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" starts with the image of a man leaving a note on the door of his lover. Martin Luther posted the "Ninety-Five Theses" on the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenburg, Germany, beginning the Protestant Reformation in 1517.)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Learning Comedy Part 7 - Dissecting Ziggy

Next on my list of favorite comic characters is Ziggy. Did you know Ziggy has been around since 1969? I'm surprised, but at the same time Ziggy is such an institution in the funny pages, I wouldn't have been shocked if Wikipedia said 1929. Although many Ziggy comics are topical, he is a timeless character. Although he doesn't have huge effect on people's lives, I'm sure if Ziggy ever stopped running, there will be a lot of sad people. He is an institution. A quiet, lovable institution.

Anyway, I picked out two comics that show the humor in Ziggy. This was actually tougher than I thought, as I never realized there were that many inspirational Ziggy comics.

1) Ziggy at the bank:

Subject/ Target: Modern life, customer service, banks.

Why it's funny: This comic shows a depiction of what people could face in a worst case scenario at a bank. Although it is not normally this bad, there are certainly people who could relate to poor Ziggy. For people who have not been in this situation, they look at Ziggy and are glad there life is better than his. Ziggy is an empathetic character because people have had a touch of his misfortune, but writer/illustrator Tom Wilson takes Ziggy's situation to the extreme and makes Ziggy's dilemma unwinable, which makes people laugh.

2) Ziggy at the Doctor

Subject/Target: Medical treatment

Why it's funny: Here Ziggy is the victim of the health care industry. The reader identifies again with Ziggy, as many of them have also been faced with costly medical procedures. If they have not been in that situation, the reader feels fortunate they are not Ziggy, as Ziggy's life is far worse than their own. This comic is both an "us versus them" and a "tragedy" comic.

"Ah, Ziggy, will you ever win?" - Montgomery Burns, "The Simpsons"

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Learning Comedy Part 6 - The Far Side

The next part of the first lesson in the first chapter of the 2nd edition of "Comedy Writing Secrets" says to find 10 to 15 comics or comic strips that I find funny and analyze them as I did for the comedians. Easy enough.

One of my favorite comic strips of all-time is The Far Side, written and drawn by Gary Larson. Here is an old classic from the Larson vault:

Subject/ Target: Traveling

Why it's funny: Larson uses aliens from another planet and puts them in a very human situation. The couple has veered way off course and has to ask for directions on their way. Because the alien on the right is staring down the alien on the left, the reader is made to assume the alien on the left is the driver and the one of the right is the passenger, who probably warned the driver that they were lost.

Here is another Larson classic:

Subject/Target: Common excuses

Why it's funny: Larson again puts non-humans in a human scenario, but this time he plays off the common "dog ate my homework" excuse. Larson takes the excuse and stretches it into his own world where dogs are like humans. In Larson's world, dogs still retain their habit of eating their homework, so of course, none ever get their homework done. This comic is funny because it plays off the fantasy of the dog universe and realities therein.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Learning the funny from Garfield

Over my Christmas holiday I was watching a lot of children's programming, as someone does when in the company of a 3-year old. One of the shows that came on between viewings of "Nightmare Before Christmas" and episodes of "Word World" was an animated Garfield movie entitled "Garfield's Fun Fest".

Although at first I wasn't interested, this computer-generated Garfield movie quickly caught my attention when they introduced a magic lake where creatures go to learn to be funny. By dousing themselves in this mystical water their sense of humor heightened to an exemplary degree and they could laugh and joke and entertain anyone.

Of course, being that I am trying to learn the art of stand-up comedy, I quickly started paying attention. Although I'm pretty sure no such lake exists for humans, maybe there would be some small nugget of information that I could take from Garfield's quest and apply to my own journey to comic greatness.

I was surprised to find that hidden in the movie was every basic instruction I learned in comedy school. From knowing your audience, to stretching your imagination, to making fun of yourself, to having confidence. It was all there. I didn't need to go to comedy school at all. Where was this movie months ago?

And so, for your entertainment, here is the greatest comedic tutorial I know of - so far. And years from now, when I win the Grammy for "Funniest Person in the Universe" and thank Garfield, you'll know why.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Learning Comedy Part 5 - Dissecting Dave Chappelle and Brian Posehn

I have finally reached the end of the first part of the first exercise in the first chapter of the 2nd Edition of Comedy Writing Secrets. Today I am going to look at two newer comics, Dave Chappelle and Brian Posehn.

9) Dave Chappelle
They got a character on there named Oscar, they treat this guy like shit the entire show. They judge him right in his face, "Oscar you are so mean! Isn't he kids?", "Yeah Oscar! Your a grouch!", its like "BITCH! I LIVE IN A FUCKING TRASHCAN!"

Subject/Target: Children's shows and child wonderment

Why it's funny: Chappelle took a common perception, that Oscar is a grouch and hence should be treated as such, and broke it down. He applied realism to the world of children and questioned that world with an adult perspective. He viewed their culture through the eyes of his own. He also attacked the behavior of adults who encourage children to behave in a way that they think is innocent, but could have long-term societal effects.

Bonus discovery: Early Dave Chappelle

  10) Brian Posehn
If I see a beautiful woman walking down the street, a pretty lady, I'll yell, 'Homo!' She can't get pissed, and I still get the pleasure of yelling at her.
Subject/Target: Male-Female relationships, Societal norms Why it's funny: Posehn is one of my favorite "self-depreciating" comics. Here he is creating his own norm because he doesn't fit in to the norm of society. He is afraid of the response of a normal cat-call, so he makes up his own, a safer version, just for him. The audience laughs at his awkwardness and either relates or is glad they aren't him - another "glad I'm not that guy" joke.

  Bonus Discovery: Brian Posehn in Montana


  Tomorrow I start with the second part of the first exercise! Joy!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Learning Comedy Part 4 - Dissecting Chris Rock and Adam Sandler

Continuing with the first exercise from "Comedy Writing Secrets, 2nd Edition".

Today, I'll be looking at my 7th and 8th favorite comedians, Chris Rock and Adam Sandler.

7) Chris Rock
People are starving all over the world, what do you mean, "red meat will kill you"? Don't eat no red meat? No, don't eat no green meat … if you're one of the chosen few people in the world lucky enough to get your hands on a steak, bite the shit out of it!

Subject/Target: Warnings in America

Why it's funny: With this joke, Chris Rock points out the hypocrisy of Americans and the ridiculousness of a small group's message and how it has permeated American culture. What is important to the health conscious in America is not important to the hungry across the world, who also outnumber Americans. Rock illuminates how over-the-top these people and their message are. Yet, this is the also the accepted message in America, where we take for granted that food is always there.

Bonus discovery: Chris Rock on how to deal with the cops

  8) Adam Sandler
My name is Adam. My father’s name is Adam. Having the same name as your father, it’s alright until your voice changes. My friends would always call up, “Is Adam there?” My father would say, “This is Adam.” My friends would say, “Adam, you were so wasted last night.”
Subject/ Target: Family traditions/Growing up Why it's funny: Sandler reveals a simple truth about sharing the same name with his dad. It is not one that is obvious to most people who don't share a name with their parents. When revealed, they laugh at how bad his life must have been because of that situation, at least they are not "that guy". People who were in that situation laugh as they can relate to it - they are "that guy".

Bonus discovery: Sandler on Letterman in 1991


  Tomorrow: number 9 and number 10.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Learning Comedy Part 3 - Dissecting Eddie Murphy and David Spade

Continuing my series of lessons from "Comedy Writing Secrets - 2nd Edition". Today I will take a look at jokes by Eddie Murphy and David Spade, numbers 5 and 6 on my favorite comedians list.

5) Eddie Murphy
Brothers act like they couldn't have been slaves back 200 years ago. It's like the motherfuckers LIKED that shit. "I whish I was a slave, I would fuck somebody up! Shit, tell ME to bale some motherfucking cotton! I would been on the street and shit, would've come up and say, "Ay, yo, nigger, bale this cotton!" I would say, "Suck my DICK, massa!""

The first nigger who tried that shit... Somebody said, "Nigger, bale this cotton" and he said "Fuck you, Massa"...

[sound of a whip]

The other motherfuckers said, "All right, we'll bale the shit, all right. Just keep that fucking shit away from me."

Subject/ Target: Black attitudes in America

Why it's funny: Like Pryor, Eddie Murphy used race humor to his advantage. Here he gives a comparison of black machismo. He places the societal norms of the 1980s in the slavery times, presumably of the 18th Century. By juxtaposing those images, he can then pit the norm of the 80s versus the obstacle of the 18th Century. Then, in the punchline, he claims the black machismo would fold, which humbles the 1980s black ideals.

Bonus discovery: Eddie Murphy on McDonalds from "Raw"

  6) David Spade
In grade school I was smart, but I didn't have any friends. In high school, I quit being smart and started having friends.
Subject/Target: High school stereotypes

Why it's funny: Spade takes a common perception - that smart kids aren't popular - and continues it. He also plays on the audience's perception of him, that a small, nerdy-looking guy couldn't possibly be smart enough to outsmart the social hierarchy of his school years so quickly. Spade also makes the audience laugh at what is more important: having friends or "being smart", because looking back, most people would probably say being smart, as it would lead to a good job, money, etc. But not for Spade.

  Bonus Discovery: David Spade - earliest television appearance