Friday, June 30, 2006

the fame game

An actress turned radio host I know used to get uncomfortable with her place in pop culture history. She never knew if people liked her for the person she is now or for the character she once played on television. When I think of her, I first think of her in the present, not the past. I had never heard of the band Southern Culture on the Skids until meeting her. She was the first to tell me about a group of West Coast pranksters called The Cacophony Society, who pull off great stunts similar to what Improv Everywhere does in New York. I got an email from her the other day which was amusing.

She and a group of her friends have started gathering regularly at a Bob's Big Boy restaurant. They call themselves the Church of Bob. After filling up on Bob's food, they go do something like bowling to burn off the calories. Each member of the group has a nickname. My friend calls herself Mother Fluffer and says hardly anyone uses her original name anymore. She wrote to say that the nickname was partly inspired by a jar of Marshmallow Fluff that I gave her about five years ago. She now displays the jar on her mantle but the contents had started to separate. She wondered if I had any advice. I suggested storing the jar upside down for a while. Like me, her friends email her whenever Marshmallow Fluff is in the news.

The jar of Fluff doesn't get all the credit for her nickname. It also came from her name in an online role-playing game. One of the games she used to play was Toontown Online where she was known as Fluffy Pickleface. She currently plays World of Warcraft. I have no idea what she's called there. She wrote that she liked role-playing games because the other players did not know who she was in real life. The games helped her resolve an issue. Her place in the artificial societies was the same as in the real world. She is now less suspicious of people who want to be her friend. She is not as worried that these people want to be friends with the character she played rather than her off-camera reality.

I chose not to mention my friend's name in this posting. The person I know has eclectic tastes which are all the more interesting in contrast to the role she played on television. But when I have mentioned her name in conversation, many people think I'm doing it just to name-drop. I shouldn't have bothered. Her personality is much more fascinating than her name.
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Thursday, June 29, 2006

shaking hands and kissing babies

Voting for the ESPY Awards may not be at the top of your to do list. Supporters of George Mason University want your vote this year in two categories: Best Coach and Best Moment. One of the emails I received today contained the following line:
We need help. For Best Moment, we're up against the autistic kid who shot all the 3 pointers in the final minutes of their game. I hope it doesn't make me a bad person for voting for Mason in this one.
It's probably best that I protect the identity of my anti-autistic friend. He or she wrote to me after reading all the stuff I posted about GMU during the run to the Final Four.

Another friend is launching an online business on Saturday. Check out when you can. By coincidence, I chose to wear my GMU Final Four t-shirt to a swim meet tonight. I didn't get the emails about the ESPY Awards until I got home.
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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

easy as 123, simple as do re mi

Two guys from The Fixx performed on last night's "Jimmy Kimmel Live." One of them was wearing a 1982 Knoxville World's Fair shirt. My sources tell me that he also wore the shirt while performing here a few weeks ago. And of course by "sources," I mean the band's official website. I emailed Jimmy to see what he thought and he replied, "Didn't even notice. I wasn't paying attention." Okay James, Here's another chance to see it:

By the way, Jimmy's show is a great source for comedy about Star Jones' departure from "The View." It should be no surprise that the official ABC website for the gabfest has been cleansed of all references to Star. Her photo and bio are gone and no mention is made of yesterday's announcement in the show recaps for this week. By contrast, Meredith's departure was included in the recaps.
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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

my oh my

Dick Stack, the founder of Dick's Sporting Goods must be proud of his name. He could have changed the name of the business to Richard's Sporting Goods but he didn't. I've mentioned before that there used to be a sign on Kingston Pike at Peters Road that listed three retailers in the following order: Joann Staples Dick's. The Dick's part of the sign was eventually removed.

I bought a couple of Grey Elephant brand shirts at Dick's recent clearance sale. When I was checking out, the clerk invited me to enroll in their ScoreCard Rewards program. I got a card for my wallet and a couple of those keytag things just like the supermarkets give you. There's a special website for members of the program. Rather than go to the regular site, members are encouraged to visit Shouldn't someone have advised them to use a different word as a prefix?
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Monday, June 26, 2006

play misty for me

The logo on the t-shirt I wore today caught my eye in the mirror. Could it really say something backwards as well as forwards? Is it a subliminal message? At a previous radio job, I did a bit centered around the subliminal arrow hidden in the FedEx logo. The great side effect of the bit was having listeners be subliminally reminded of my radio show whenever they saw a FedEx truck.

At my son's swim meet tonight, I asked my wife to use my camera phone to take a picture of my subliminal t-shirt. For some reason the phone takes normal photos when flipped open but it takes mirror-image photos when closed. As you can see, my shirt reads "Sierra Mist" forwards. The word "Mist" becomes "Rim" in reverse. One of the other team parents let me borrow a bottle of Sierra Mist Free for the photo. Maybe the company is changing their logo. On the bottle, the S and T are separated and no longer look like an R in reverse.

They had a bake sale at the swim meet. Get a load of these hamburger cookies. They're made from 'Nilla Wafers, Peppermint Patties and some red icing.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

a reptile dysfunction

Another really old tortoise has died. Over the weekend, I received a couple of emails from blog readers who wanted to make sure I had heard about the passing of Harriet, a tortoise believed to have been brought back from the Galapagos Islands by Charles Darwin. You might recall that an even older tortoise died in England three months back. I hope we don't have to wait for the inevitable bad news to find out which tortoise is now holds the title of world's oldest.

In other tortoise news, a blog reader who works at Comcast was kind enough to send me a promotional keytag in the shape of one of The Slowskys after reading my blog entry about them. It may not be something I need as much as a t-shirt but the keytag makes a very nice addition to my collection. I have a small tortoise-shaped lamp in my office and a few other tortoise toys and figurines around the house. Not to mentioned my freeze-dried pet tortoise, which is on display with my other memorabilia, or as you might call it "clutter."
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Saturday, June 24, 2006

echolocation, location, location

There must be something in the bat-mosphere. Sure, "Superman Returns" is getting all the hype this week but Batman will not be forgotten! My good friend Bean devoted a good chunk of his blog entry today (thanks for the name check, by the way) to an art exhibit and sale by TV's Batman, Adam West. Coincidentally, TV's Robin is selling his autograph in Knoxville this weekend. Furthermore, this weekend's "Access Hollywood" included a segment about "Batman" on its "TV Retro Hour."

In other bat-news, my kids and I had some fun watching a pair of the winged mammals this evening around dusk. The bats were dive bombing for bugs while we were swimming. We splashed some water droplets into the air, which the bats chased after. The last bat-sign came inside a large envelope my mother sent me in the mail. It was a 29-year-old photograph of my parents taken at the Bacardi Corporation headquarters in San Juan.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

anywhere, Beth, is fine

The power was out at our house for a while today following a heavy thunderstorm. As a result, tonight's post will be a brief follow-up to something from earlier in the week. The members of Einstein Simplified were invited to appear on Tuesday's "Live at Five." The video has been digitized and is now available online. There's a nice group photo taken outside WBIR and some action shots from that night's performance at Patrick Sullivan's available online too.

In the segment before ours, co-anchor Beth Haynes drove a smart car around the parking lot. When we came on, we played a game of Animatronics with Beth and Russell Biven. Their suggestion was that Paul Simmons and I pretend to be traffic cops. At the end of the game, Paul referenced the vehicle from the previous segment. I then joked that Beth was a bad driver. I'm concerned that she might have thought I was talking about the way she played the improv game rather than the smart car segment like I intended. Oh well, there are no do-overs in improv.
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Thursday, June 22, 2006

read between the lines

Horoscopes have always seemed silly to me. How could a bunch of random people follow the same advice just because they were born during the same 30 day period? Most newspaper horoscope columns also have a paragraph just for people celebrating their birthday. On the surface it seems more specific, until you think about the number of other people born on the same day. Here's what the Chicago Tribune had for today's birthdays:
You'll do very well this year when speaking to large groups of people. Be careful what you say. You might be elected to office.
Now let's check the Los Angeles Times:
Knowing your purpose will be the genesis of your success this year. This month and next are for exploring, deciding and changing your mind -- all part of the growing process. Be patient with yourself. Ultimately, you'll know when you've struck "gold." A windfall in August is one big clue! Your relationships with Libra and Aquarius people bring much joy. Your lucky numbers are: 3, 20, 11, 33 and 39.
There are plenty more columns, each with optimistic advice. Here's what the New York Post had to say:
A Jupiter-Saturn aspect on your birthday suggests this is a make or break time in your life. Whatever it is you most dream of doing that is what you must focus on to the exclusion of everything else. Don't let money worries hold you back: the important thing now is that you find an outlet for your creativity. You'll soon be swimming in cash.
So who can expect a windfall? Here are some of the people having birthdays today:
Oh yeah, Freddie Prinze and the great Billy Wilder would have had birthday parties today if they were still alive.
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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

pennysavers and ballsavers

Preservation campaigns need a celebrity to give some weight to their cause. Years ago, Jackie Onassis led the charge to save Grand Central Terminal. Does the size of the project correlate to the size of the star? Here's part of a press release I got the other day:
The 76 Ball has a new champion in actor Michael Madsen, star of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Kill Bill." Madsen told the BBC, "There seems to be this driving force to tear down everything that's a little old. These are things that were landmarks, it's a symbol that I remember from childhood. What's the point of smashing them and putting up flat signs?"

Next month, cartoonist Bill Griffith will turn his incisive eye to the threat facing the 76 Balls. Readers of more than 200 daily newspaper comic pages will see Zippy the Pinhead communing with one of the classic "meatball" signs, just as he did with the threatened Doggie Diner signs that have since been preserved.

Visit to learn more about the campaign to preserve one of the 20th Century's most successful and enduring design icons, and to see films of threatened 76 balls hard at work in Hawaii and California.
Meanwhile today in New York, a campaign to save the penny got a celebrity endorsement. As a believer in the cause, I was hoping they could find somebody better than Kevin Federline.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

break a leg

Newsweek had a cover story about the Living Web back in April. I re-read it yesterday in the waiting room of my chiropractor's office. The article covers websites full of user generated content like MySpace and YouTube.

Meanwhile, blog reader Willem sent an email that asked:
Can you put a short clip containing some footage of your improv show on your website? Some of us were looking at your site and the Einstein Simplified site, and we were curious if perhaps you have a little footage you can share.
Well, now that you mention it Willem, Paul Simmons has recently posted some video of the group on YouTube. The first clip he posted is funny but it's from a night when it was my turn to emcee, so you don't get to see me play a character other than myself.

Maybe Paul (the computer programmer) or Greg (the television editor) can digitize our appearance on today's Live at Five. I hope I don't jinx the show by mentioning it before it happens. The pressure will be on during a pair of four minute segments. "Whose Line Is It Anyway" used to edit three hours of footage down to a 30 minute show. We will be on live. Since improv is a team sport, there's no guaranteeing which of us will get camera time. Sometimes it's me and sometimes it's not.
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Monday, June 19, 2006

mourning news

A local car dealer died last week. My sympathy goes to his family and friends. They are certainly filled with grief, as are his many loyal employees. The American Flag at his dealership was flying at half-mast over the weekend.

On Flag Day, I mentioned the website for the National Flag Foundation. I went there to look up the criteria for displaying the flag at half mast and found that it takes an order by the president or a governor upon the death of various government officials. Car dealers aren't mentioned in the list but they are not expressly excluded either.
The Green Bay Packers ignored some similar concerns after the death of former UT Vol Reggie White.

Another website about the flag contains the following paragraph:
Unfortunately, many city, business and organization leaders are half-staffing the flag upon the death of an employee or member. Instead, it is suggested to half-staff (if on a separate pole) the city, business or organizational flag. The federal flag code does not prohibit this type of half-staffing.
Perhaps the employees of the auto dealership could wear black armbands, like in the olden days. Or they could fly a flag with the dealership logo at half-mast instead of Old Glory. Chances are they will continue to lower the American Flag. Right or wrong, I'm sure they mean well. Besides, who's going to stop them? The flag police?
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Sunday, June 18, 2006

low and slow

There are times when I wish I could have back all the money I spent on foolish things as a teenager. For example, I joined the Mystery Guild, the Literary Guild and the Columbia House Record & Tape Club. Some of the books and tapes were pretty good but I bought a lot of stuff I didn't need.

One of the better cassette tapes I bought comes to mind every year on Father's Day. It was a recording of an elderly Groucho Marx doing stand-up at Carnegie Hall. During the show, he sang about Father's Day.
I taught the song to my own children so that they would sing it to me every year:
Today, Father is Father's Day
And we're giving you a tie
It's not much we know
But it's just our way of showing you
We think you're a regular guy

You say that it was nice of us to bother
But it really was a pleasure to fuss
For according to our mother, you're our father
And that's good enough for us
Yes, that's good enough for us!
This year we are celebrating Father's Day by smoking a pork shoulder on the Pitmaster Deluxe. It will be my first taste of pork BBQ since joining LA Weight Loss. Now that I've reached my goal weight and the maintenance phase of the program, I'm allowed to eat some fattier foods. The portion size will still be a lot smaller than what I would have consumed a year ago. We'll freeze a bunch of the meat and save it for a few weeks so that I don't eat the leftovers on consecutive days.

I've lost 60 pounds and my wife has lost 56 so far. She's going to lose another 14 or so. I recently wrote that several friends and blog readers have asked to see a current picture of us. For the sake of comparison, you might want to look at my October 30 entry to see us in our Halloween costumes. We had been losing weight for about a month and were pleased with our progress. At that point, we could only dream of getting to where we are today:

To prepare the pork, my wife used a basic dry rub recipe from Kent Whitaker's "Smoke in the Mountains Cookbook." She substituted Morton Lite Salt and Splenda Brown Sugar for their more fattening counterparts. She also made a mop using an old bottle of sparkling grape juice, applesauce and some Big Bob Gibson's BBQ sauce that she found marked as a close-out item at Food City. Once we can't find any more Big Bob Gibson's locally, we can buy some Stubbs or Williamson Bros. sauce which are a little thinner and spicier but still very tasty. Here's a look at my pork shoulder and my wife's chicken cutlets just before their final mopping:

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

obvious place to look

As an anti-smoker, I have no idea where to buy cheap ashtrays. That is, until now. While at the supermarket, I saw some ashtrays that put me in mind of Ellen Barkin's character from one of my family's favorite movies, "Drop Dead Gorgeous."

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Friday, June 16, 2006

'cause you can look right through him

The multiplex lobbies are full of big cardboard promotional pieces for this summer's movies. The piece for "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" lets you have your picture taken with Will Ferrell's title character. It struck me as funny that the face you replace belongs to the great character actor John C. Reilly. The man who isn't there is perhaps best known for playing the subject of the song "Mr. Cellophane" in "Chicago."

Ferrell is scheduled to come to Knoxville
for a charity screening of the film, much like last year's "Dukes of Hazzard" screening.
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Thursday, June 15, 2006


Kathy and Keith went to Florida on vacation last week. After Mass on Sunday, they told me about going to the Kennedy Space Center, Disney's Animal Kingdom and a beach in Jacksonville. On the way home they visited the new aquarium in Atlanta.

While they were at the beach, they saw something unusual and wanted to share. They said their conversation went something like this: "Get the camera, we should take a picture of this for Frank." To my eyes, it appears to be a sand sculpture of Heather Mills McCartney.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

happy Flag Day

Tammy Bruce did a segment about Flag Day on her radio show yesterday. She spoke with Joyce Doody, executive director of the National Flag Foundation, about the right way to display a flag and how to retire one. They also talked about the history of the flag. Ms. Doody didn't go so far as to suggest that someone other than Betsy Ross sewed the first flag but she did say that Francis Hopkinson may have designed something similar around the same time. Tammy made an excellent point during the discussion. She said that our flag represents the people instead of the government. The flag doesn't stand for any one political party, but for all of us.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

an elephant in Denmark eating grapes

Okay, who am I describing? Two guys. From Europe. They do magic tricks. With white tigers and other big cats. They performed at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas during most of the 1970s. They appeared (and probably disappeared too) on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," "The Merv Griffin Show" and "The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon." Best of all, they will be performing in Pigeon Forge this summer. Huh?

Who is it? Why of course, it's the Fercos Brothers!

Yes, the Fercos Brothers. I had never heard of them until now but I know that I must plan a trip to Dollywood to see them. Their show opens Friday and runs through August 6.
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Monday, June 12, 2006

uff da

When the weekend box office figures were released, I was glad to know that I had contributed $5.50 ($16.50 when you count the tickets for my wife and daughter) toward the $4.7 million earned by "A Prairie Home Companion." I wanted to support a film about radio on its opening weekend. The movie only played in 760 locations and had a per screen average of $6,146, which they say is pretty good.

Before we went, we automatically checked the listings for Knoxville's art house theater and were surprised that it wasn't playing there. Locally based theater giant Regal Cinemas didn't book "A Prairie Home Companion" on any of the screens in its hometown. Instead rival Carmike booked the film into two of its multiplexes.

The movie is more about the death of a radio show than about the radio show itself. Death is a theme throughout the film. Lindsey Lohan's character writes poetry about it. Virginia Madsen's character is well acquainted with it. Several other characters have to react to it. "A Prairie Home Companion" especially resonated with me because I've been through the deaths of radio stations in Washington, Los Angeles and Knoxville. The movie brought back a hint of the sadness I felt but it was quickly tempered by the humor in the film, especially the song "Bad Jokes" which was sung by Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly.

It made perfect sense that Ebert & Roeper would be split on "A Prairie Home Companion." Ebert enthusiastically gave it "thumbs way up" while Roeper put his thumb down. Watching the movie is like watching an actual radio show. There's not a lot of action. Roeper thought there were too many songs (which is the same thing a lot of radio hosts think about their own shows). He didn't care for the folksy music or the corny jokes while Ebert loved them. After watching the movie, I would agree with Ebert that it was a good time.

People who have never listened to Garrison Keillor's radio show will not be converted into fans by the movie. The film is best appreciated by those who are already familiar with the weekly broadcast. I don't get to hear it that often, but I usually enjoy it when I do. The show reminds me of my father, who was a regular listener in the '80s. I've always wondered if they keep an archive of older shows that I could access. I would like to hear a story from Lake Wobegon that had an effect on my father. It must have aired a month or two before he died. I vaguely remember him telling us about it. I think the story had to do with a guy who thought he was going to freeze to death and kept repeating the phrase "God is good."

To paraphrase Keillor, the actors are strong, the actresses are good looking and the movie is above average. He must be about as happy as he can get.
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Sunday, June 11, 2006

tough cut for the mohel

In a Reuters story over the weekend, "Superman Returns" director Bryan Singer refuted the theory put forth by "The Advocate" that the man of steel is gay. The theory is partly based on the way Superman stands with his hands on his hips and seems to ignore Clark Kent's longing for Lois Lane. Singer told Reuters that Superman is probably the most heterosexual character in any movie he's ever made. We can get a good idea if the S really does stand for straight on Monday night when A&E airs a special about Superman which will have a sneak preview of the film.

I thought that David Waters was going to weigh in on the debate over Superman's straightness when I saw his article in the religion section of yesterday's paper. Instead, he brought up a new debate. Is Superman Jewish or Methodist? I didn't see that coming.

Waters' article mentioned a website that lists the religious affiliations of all the superheroes. I immediately looked up Batman and found out that he is either a lapsed Catholic or a lapsed Episcopalian. That theory is based on a storyline in the comic books that looks into the future and shows Bruce Wayne's Christian gravestone. Of course, I should have guessed that Batman and Robin were fairly religious people by Robin's overuse of the word "holy."

I kept reading the site and found a list of famous Catholics. I clicked on Gregory Peck's name because of a
(kind of) close encounter we had with him two years ago during a family vacation in Los Angeles. We went to see the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, which had opened in the time since we moved away. When we went downstairs to see the mausoleum, one of the first crypts we saw was Gregory Peck's.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

no business like show business

One of the AM stations in town runs an interesting program on Saturdays. The Green Room Radio Show is about acting and filmmaking in East Tennessee. I listen for about ten minutes while I'm driving to work. The segment I usually hear has a listing of upcoming auditions. I should try tuning in earlier next week to hear more of the show.

Today I heard the hosts plug a film festival in which the films will be written, shot, edited and shown all in one day. Then they mentioned two websites where you can find audition listings. has listings for Atlanta, Nashville and other large cities. has listings for reality shows. I have long believed that East Tennessee is a hotbed for reality show contestants.
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Friday, June 09, 2006

the camera adds ten pounds

A few e-mailers and comment posters have asked that I post a picture of my wife and myself now that we've each lost over 55 pounds on LA Weight Loss. Our daughter came with us to the radio studio last night to watch us record next week's endorsement commercial and was kind enough to provide this picture:

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Thursday, June 08, 2006


The face of the victim looked familiar. My wife and I were watching the local news last week when we saw a photo of a missing woman. The woman's mother was putting up "missing" posters and said she was not optimistic about her daughter's return. There was blood in the young woman's apartment and her eyeglasses had been left behind.

A day or two later, the news was worse. Christina Eubanks' body had been found. Her face in the photos still looked familiar, although her hairstyle did not. By the time an arrest was made in the case, we realized that we did, in fact, know her.

Christina used to come to see Einstein Simplified perform. She was friends with some of the other audience regulars and went to a few parties thrown by Paul Simmons' wife. My wife went the parties too and remembered how Christina's hair was much shorter at the time and how she was very close to her late grandmother.

My thoughts and prayers go to Christina Eubanks' friends and family and to the friends and family members of other senseless crime victims like Tiffany Souers and Johnia Berry.
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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

geek chic (part two)

And the winner is... anonymous! On Monday, I showed you the front page ad from a recent issue of Variety. The ad targeted Emmy voters without naming the television series being promoted. It consisted of nothing but excerpts from rave reviews. To find out which series was so highly touted, I had to load the DVD that came with the ad.

I tried to get a screen capture to show you the DVD's menu page but all I kept getting was an image of the Windows Media Player with a blank spot where the DVD image was supposed to be.

I invited you to play along and guess the show. The most serious guesses were "House" and "Big Love." Somebody guessed "South Park" and somebody else guessed "Underdog." But the winner was a person who posted anonymously. He/she knew that the series must be "Battlestar Galactica." Congratulations Anonymous! Next time, make up a fake name.
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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

the cheese stands alone

The second season of Kathy Griffin's reality show, "My Life on the D-List" premieres tonight. I set the TiVo for it as soon as it showed up in the listings. I also recorded the season 2 preview that Bravo ran last week and both her stand-up specials. I think she's funny and I enjoy her biting stories about celebrities. My wife and kids sometimes watch with me, which apparently makes me very unusual. The following quote from a Newsweek article about Kathy explains why:
Her days of being the darling of only the gay subculture are over, too. She's packing 2,500-seat theaters nationwide. These days, the only group not in her audiences is white, middle-aged straight men. "It's the one demographic I cannot crack," she says. "I have nothing to say to them. They don't care that Gwyneth Paltrow named her kid Apple. They're not even sure that Gwyneth Paltrow is a different person than Nicole Kidman."
If this blog has proven anything, it's that I'm the one WMASM who does care.
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Monday, June 05, 2006

geek chic (part one)

When two airlines offered me the chance to redeem some frequent flyer miles that were about to expire, I used the miles for several magazine subscriptions. A recent issue of Daily Variety came with a front page advertisement that had a pocket with a DVD in it. The two-page ad had nothing but lines like " of the best shows on television..." and " of the richest dramatic enterprises on TV..." Nowhere in the copy or on the disc does it say the name of the show. Of course, if I looked up the names of all the Peabody Award winners, I would be able to figure out which show they were promoting for Emmy Award consideration. Rather than hog all the fun myself, I'll let you post your guess in the comments section. Tomorrow (or the next day) I'll pop the screener in the machine and we'll find out what show is using this stealth marketing technique.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

interrogate all the Thompson Twins fans

A News Sentinel box in the Old City had been defaced when I saw it the other day. Either somebody is expressing their anger with the mainstream media or there's a new type of gang tag in town.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

roll over and play dead

When this website first went online in 2001, I learned about several other Frank Murphys in the world. I created a link from my bio page that showed some of them. When I get an email about a real estate deal, I forward it to the Frank Murphy in Santa Cruz. When I get an email about a factory order, I forward it to the Frank Murphy in Tulsa. So far, I have not received any emails intended for the NFL player or the late Supreme Court justice.

One NFL season, I videotaped as many Tampa Bay Buccaneers kickoff returns as I could. I wanted to have the play-by-play audio when that Frank Murphy ran back the first kickoff return for a touchdown in team history. He never did and as far as I know, neither has anyone else.

The ears of all the Frank Murphys pricked up last night during the show "Close to Home." The episode opened with the violent abduction of a character named, you guessed it, Frank Murphy. My wife noticed it first and called me into the family room to hear it. I went back upstairs to record any more namechecks on my laptop (listen to an example by clicking here). Although I missed the first few minutes of the episode, I still got five audio clips about the fictional Frank Murphy's disappearance and the search for his decomposing corpse. Given my interest in the Body Farm, it seemed somehow appropriate.
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Friday, June 02, 2006

cause you're wanted by the police...

Junior Brown was the headliner at last night's free Sundown in the City concert. The weather didn't cooperate and as a result the crowd was smaller than I expected. I took a picture with my camera phone from the roof of the World Grotto.

It's been several years since my family and I saw Junior Brown perform in Los Angeles. He was on the same bill as The Mavericks at a theatre in Hollywood. Junior got up early one morning to plug the concert and perform in-studio on the Mark & Brian show.

My family and I were getting rained on last night but we didn't want to leave without hearing "My Wife Thinks You're Dead" (listen to an audio clip here). When Junior made that the third song in his set, it looked like we could be home earlier than planned. We listened to a few more songs and then went downstairs to street level. As we walked across Market Square, the band started playing "Highway Patrol," our second favorite Junior Brown song, also from the "Guit With It" album.

As we got closer to the stage, we bumped into our friends Jacene and Clay. Jacene had a real camera with her and I asked if she would be willing to share a photo with the readers of my blog. In her photos, you can get a good look at both halves of the famous guit-steel in action:

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

in comedy, we trust

Today is the 4th anniversary of my audition to join the comedy improv group Einstein Simplified. Being in the group has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I look forward to each and every show (like the one this Saturday at 6pm at The Comedy Zone).

The City of Burbank Park, Recreation and Community Services Department offered several recreation classes each year. I couldn't afford the cost of classes at the Groundlings but I wasted no time sending in my $10 check for the improv class offered by the city. The course was for ages 13 and up. There were several other adults in the class, enough that the class could be divided into a group of adults and a group of teens. The instructor was Steve Saracino, a drama teacher in the Burbank public schools. He taught us the major rules of improv: agree and add; avoid questions; and that the most important person on the stage is the other person. To this day, I feel that I owe a lot to him.

When I was considering moving to Knoxville, I searched the Internet for local improv shows. I attended an Einstein Simplified show at Manhattan's while I was in town for my job interview. Shortly after I moved here, the group's website had an announcement about open auditions coming up on June 1. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I showed up that Saturday at Patrick Sullivan's. There were about 15 other people trying out, all of whom had taken Paul Simmons' improv class through Pellissippi State's personal enrichment program. The five Einstein members had us try several improv games. I didn't know as much as the other auditionees but I must have shown some potential because I was one of five to get invited to practice sessions. Of those five, three of us (Brad Bumgardner, Justin Benoit and me) were invited to join the group. Our first performance was on June 25, which happened to be while my wife was making her first visit to Knoxville on a househunting trip.

Over the past four years I have grown more and more comfortable performing. My wife has noticed that I have gotten a lot less inhibited on stage. We are sometimes asked how we can act so foolish. Most people have a tremendous fear of public speaking. When I'm onstage with the rest of the group, I get a feeling of safety, not fear. The group creates a safe atmosphere. I know that the other members "have my back" and I have theirs.

Part of the safe atmosphere is the knowledge that you won't be attacked by other members of the group. However we still occasionally make that mistake ourselves. We're soon reminded that jokes about another member's weight or hairline are usually met with groans or silence. Those type of jokes seem to only work if they are self-deprecating.

The book "Truth In Comedy" describes the feeling of trust we have developed with each other.

When an improviser lets go and trusts his fellow performers, it's a wonderful, liberating experience that stems from group support. A truly funny scene is not the result of someone trying to steal laughs at the expense of his partner, but of generosity -- of trying to make the other person (and his ideas) look as good as possible.

What kind of an improviser goes for the quick joke at the expense of his partner and the scene? Usually someone who is weak, insecure or egotistical. It is an act of desperation, done to control the scene or to try and look better. A player who chooses this road finds few players will work with him on stage, because they know they will be sacrificed for an easy joke.

One of the rules of our group is that each member takes a turn serving as emcee. Nobody loves doing it because it means not being able to play any of the games that night. But it is an important exercise. Being emcee teaches us to recognize the punchlines of others. We listen for the right time to end a scene, usually on a big laugh. It reminds us that we cannot be selfish.

Of course, selfish people can be funny but they need to be funny alone. "Truth In Comedy" cites Joan Rivers as an example. In the early days of Second City, Joan went for the quick laugh at the expense of a scene and lost the trust of her fellow player.
Selfish comedians cut others off at the knees. They feel the need to get the last line even if it isn't as funny as a line delivered by somebody else.

Standup comedians work alone. Improv can only be done as a team. There are times during fast games like "World's Worst" or "185" that we "take one for the team" and just say the first thing that pops into our head so that the others have an extra couple of seconds to think of something funnier. In our recap meetings, we thank the person who delivered the stinker line. We don't berate them.

I love the feeling of "group mind" that comes during a successful improv show. As you try to make the others around you look good, they are doing the same for you. It's the golden rule.
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