Friday, March 19, 2010

without a net

Skydiving and bungee jumping will never appeal to me. I wonder if the rush that you get from surviving is similar to the feeling I had last night when I stepped off the stage at the benefit dinner for Catholic Charities of East Tennessee. Event chair Tami Hartmann asked me to auction off an expensive bottle of Beaux Frères wine and then auction off dinner for ten with Bishop Stika right there in front of Bishop Stika.

photo by Cynthia Moxley; used by permission Cynthia Moxley and Alan Carmichael were seated front and center. I joked that I might finally rate a mention in Cynthia's Blue Streak blog, which was recognized by the News Sentinel's readers last fall. She wrote about the dinner and included a photo of me in full auction action.

At the time, I thought my anxiety came from doing shtick in front of the Bishop and so many priests and people I knew from church. In hindsight, I realize that my jokes were no worse than the things I said at the roast for Fr. Ragan Schriver. For example, I said that whoever bought the pricey Pinot Noir should share it with Bishop Stika because it was heart-healthy. I also said that I hoped someone from my parish would buy the dinner and once everyone was relaxed and in a good mood, they would lobby the Bishop for an additional priest to be sent to All Saints, which now has only two left. However, I can't remember most of the things I said. Fr. Christian Mathis, who recognized me from my blog, posted one of my jokes on Twitter. If you were there last night and can help me fill in the blanks, please leave a comment here.

The Bishop graciously accepted my wisecracks and afterward asked if I had previous auctioning experience. I told him it was actually my first time and that I had tried to copy Bear Stephenson, the great auctioneer at the March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction. I still have a lot to learn. I think my case of nerves happened when the bidding for the dinner at any Connor Concepts restaurant slowed and eventually stopped at $3,500. I guess I was hoping for more.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

stealers wheel

The preseason hype for the very funny "Modern Family" got me to create season passes for ABC's Wednesday comedy lineup but it is "The Middle" that has won me over. I'm not taking anything away from "Modern Family." It's got a great combination of clever dialogue, outrageous characters and uncomfortable Phil moments. I just find "The Middle" to be more relatable.

Sometimes it's as if the writers of "The Middle" have a hidden camera trained on my family. They had a Christmas episode about the mom's solo with the church choir that hit close to home. As my wife and I were watching "American Idol," I got a text message from my daughter that said, "make sure Mom watches 'The Middle' tonight!" I was recording both shows, so I paused "Idol" and switched to "The Middle."

For the first ten minutes or so, we wondered what had prompted my daughter's text message. The episode seemed to center on Brick's participation in a spelling bee and Sue's overlooked birthday. Once the Hecks began their road trip to Chicago, we knew.

A few years ago, at a big birthday party for my mother-in-law, my wife got our kids and all their cousins to sing the same song that the Hecks sang in tonight's show. It's something about an Austrian going yodeling. That wasn't all. Their side trip to the World's Largest Oak Tree Stump was slightly reminiscent of my family's side trip to the World's Largest Ball of Twine. I suspect that the writers based the oak stump on the World's Largest Sycamore Stump in Kokomo.

I wrongly assumed that people who missed the show tonight could watch it online tomorrow. A message at says that full episodes are unavailable. The best I could find is a one-minute scene about the tree stump.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

nock nock jokes

The voice cast alone would have been enough to get me to watch the new adult cartoon "Archer." The outrageous comedy material has me hooked on the new FX series. I was happy to learn tonight that the show has been renewed for a second season.

I have been a fan of Aisha Tyler since she first showed up as a guest on the old Comedy World Radio Network. A year later, she went on to success as the host of "Talk Soup." I spent a memorable night barhopping in the French Quarter with Aisha and three of her fellow Morning Show Boot Camp panelists. Aisha provides the voice of curvaceous spy Lana Kane.

Two cast members of the late, great "Arrested Development" are regulars on "Archer." Jessica Walter plays Archer's mother Malory and Judy Greer plays Cheryl Carol. Jeffrey Tambor turned up as a guest star in at least one episode.

Chris Parnell plays Cyril. My wife and I saw him sing a song about Ohio at The Groundlings before he was ever on "Saturday Night Live."

I was late coming to the "Archer" party. A short item on Twitter last Thursday inspired me to sample the show and I'm glad I did. A couple of times I have thought about recommending the series to my son but then an offensive joke comes along and reminds me of my parental responsibility. So, I will not be advising my son to catch up with the episodes on Nor will I suggest that he watch the four-episode mini-marathon on Thursday night. He'll have to find the show on his own, without any help from me.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

is my soul prepared

Yesterday's Ash Wednesday post generated some reaction in my email box from a local mom:
I read on your blog about Beth's problem with the public school's attendance policy. I worked with a public school as the attendance secretary, which required entering the tardies, absences and excuses. I was told that the absence or tardy was black or white. You either were or you weren't. The excused or unexcused piece is where the religious holiday allowance would come. In other words, going to the orthodontist in the morning still makes you tardy but it is excused and not held against the child. Most perfect attendance awards do not take into account tardies. When my daughter took part in the Bishop's installation, all three of my children were excused from school -- but they were still absent.
After I had uploaded the blog entry, I watched the beginning of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and noticed that both Guillermo and Cleto Sr. were proudly wearing their ashes on national television. Too bad Joe Biden's priest merely put a thumbprint on the vice-president's forehead instead of a bold cross like Guillermo and Cleto got.

My Facebook friend count dropped by one on Wednesday. A friend from church had posted that she was giving up Facebook for Lent. I didn't realize she was going to deactivate her account.

Fr. Ragan Schriver did not give up Facebook for Lent. He is fairly new to the social networking site and has been adding friends rapidly. It's not surprising to me. Whenever we meet for dinner at Trio Café, it is impossible to walk across Market Square without meeting several people who know Fr. Ragan.

I saw a post on Fr. Ragan's wall that is worth sharing here even though it involves one of my least favorite songs of all time. When I was general manager of the student radio station at George Mason University, it was a running joke how much I hated "King of Pain" by the Police. It was overplayed by the volunteer deejays who picked their own songs.

Someone shared a link to a "King of Pain" parody called "This Time of Forty Days." Obviously the comedy stems from the line "There's a little black spot on your head today." I was amused and will look for more material online from Catholic comedian Nick Alexander. Had I known about it, I could have used his "YMCA" parody a year ago when I sponsored a friend into the church.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

laugh factory

On the trip to bring him back to school, one of the many things my son and I talked about was my blog entry about "Ed Gein: The Musical." I was pleased that the film's producers had seen my post and left a comment. They liked my idea for a parody song called "You: Suede Shoes."

I explained to my son that I didn't feel particularly funny when I was writing that post. Most of it was fairly standard but I thought it needed some jokes to close it out. Since comedy comes in threes, all I had to do was make up three quick punchlines. To do so, I used a comedy technique that I call "one from column A and one from column B."

In this case, column A would be a list of easily recognizable Elvis songs. I've been to Graceland and worked at an oldies station, so I knew plenty. If I didn't, a list is only a click away at Wikipedia. Column B would be anything Gein-related, like body parts or heinous crimes. Then it's just a matter of finding matches.

I suspect that certain movie companies in the San Fernando Valley use the same basic concept to name their movies. Last month, I used it to make up a bunch of "Avatar" jokes on Twitter.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

cold turkey

After playing holiday music for the last month, or in some cases two months, the all-Christmas radio stations across America will cut us off tonight. For one station in Knoxville, it's a good thing. For another, it's too soon for me. I even went so far as to suggest via Facebook that Love 89 keep Christmas hymns on the air for another twelve days, mixed in with their regular playlist. It might keep more seasonal listeners around for their "30 Day Challenge."

For Catholics like me, Advent, the season of anticipation, ended yesterday. The Christmas season started last night and runs until the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord. When the choir at All Saints Church wanted to repeat last year's Christmas Cantata during Advent, our pastor said no, it had to be during the Christmas season. You can come hear it for free on January 8 at 7:30 p.m. and January 10 at 2:30 p.m.

Love 89 normally plays Christian light rock. During Advent, they mix in a lot of secular tunes by Christian artists, which is how I discovered that I loved "Sleigh Ride" by Relient K and "Jingle Bells" by Denver & the Mile High Orchestra. Starting tomorrow those secular songs will get a rest until next year. I wish Love 89 would continue playing their versions of some traditional carols like a new favorite I heard for the first time this year, "O Holy Night" by Point of Grace.

Nationwide, Christmas airplay is dominated by non-religious songs. It's been that way for years. The list that ASCAP releases annually changes very little from year to year. The only religious entry on list of the top holiday songs of the decade is "Little Drummer Boy."

My love of Christmas music is connected to my enjoyment of cover songs. It's fantastic to hear an artist improve upon a previous recording. Even "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" can be re-done brilliantly, as it was by Poe. The Brian Setzer Orchestra regularly updates Christmas classics. The one good cover song I "discovered" on our local commercial holiday station this year was "Feliz Navidad" by Jon Secada. Yes, Mr. Deejay, that was me calling on the request line to ask for the artist's name.

Unfortunately, cover songs can also go horribly wrong. One of my favorite songs, "Baby It's Cold Outside" was ruined by the clash of Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton's voices. Porky Pig's version of "Blue Christmas" might be funny once but it does not hold up to repeated airplay. Because of the atrocious lyrics, I doubt any artist could salvage "The Christmas Shoes." Only Patton Oswalt's hysterical but very R-rated deconstruction is worth a listen.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

man of the hour

When the parish council started planning a farewell reception for Fr. Ragan Schriver, he said he hoped that it would be fun. It was more than fun, it was hysterical. This afternoon's event at All Saints Catholic Church, was inspired by the old Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.

I was asked to serve as roastmaster. In addition to the guest of honor, the dais was populated with three other priests, a local news anchor and me. Fr. Tony Dickerson and Fr. Michael Woods talked about the craziness of life in the rectory with Fr. Ragan. Former pastor Fr. Chris Michelson gave a different perspective on the story of hot candle wax spilling onto Fr. Ragan's head at the Easter Vigil. John Becker of WBIR often plays tennis with Fr. Ragan. He told a funny story about the priest's car smelling like a locker room because of all the sweaty workout clothes tossed into the back seat.

Like at the 2007 Adult Social, I did some of my own material before, between and after the other roasters. In honor of the three points in each of Fr. Ragan's homilies, here are three of the stories I told about him. I deviated from my script slightly but two of the stories are completely true!
Fr. Ragan has been at All Saints for a long time and maybe it is time to move on. After 12 years and 600 plus Sunday masses, he has officially run out of "3 Things." I hate to bust you on this but the sermon about the baby in Walmart? Heard it! In fact I heard it again last week when I went to Mass at Holy Family. I did a little research and found out that the little baby… is now 13 years old!

Last year there was a big tennis event at Thompson-Boling Arena called Rock N Racquets. They had Andy Roddick & Serena Williams plus entertainment by rock singer Gavin Rosdale. Gavin is well known in the music business for the alternative rock band he used to be in and he's fairly well known in the People Magazine world for being married to singer Gwen Stefani (she sings Hollaback Girl and a bunch of other songs you might know). Well Fr. Ragan doesn't know any of those songs. He's backstage waiting to meet the tennis players and finds himself standing next to Gavin Rosdale. He's trying to make conversation and the only thing he can think of to say is "so… you're married to Gloria Estefan?"

Fr. Ragan is well known in the community. It seems like everywhere you go, at least one person has a Fr. Ragan story. I was recently at a function with several local TV reporters. Two of them said they had interviewed Fr. Ragan in the past. One is a married woman with two kids who talked about how impressed she was with the work they do at Catholic Charities and how impressed she was with his enthusiasm about getting to know his new neighborhood in Seymour. The other reporter is a bit younger and single. She said "Oh Fr. Ragan! I could go CATHOLIC for him!" She went on but I'll stop there. Suffice to say, the phrases "if only" and "not celibate" were involved.

After the five roasters, Fr. Ragan made some remarks and thought we were finished. At that point, we told him to cut a cake that turned out to be an iced cardboard box. Under the lid was an assortment of fruits and nuts. The two ladies who organized the party closed out the festivities by singing a tribute to the tune of "We Love You Conrad" from "Bye Bye Birdie." During the song, Fr. Michael displayed props like a cup of yogurt and a box of Fiber One cereal. At the end of the song, all the roasters sprinkled soaked Fr. Ragan with some dish-washing sponges on wire handles, much the same way he overdoes it with holy water during the Easter season.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

okey dokey, lazy bones

As shoppers head to the stores early on Black Friday, I am reminded of a Saturday Night Live sketch. One of Kristen Wiig's more memorable characters is the Target Lady.

I think the character may have inspired the current advertising campaign for the actual store. Listen to this spot and tell me that the woman doesn't sound a lot like her.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ober reaction

Comedian Ken Ober, best known as host of "Remote Control," was found dead Sunday. I had the good fortune of knowing Ken when he worked at the Comedy World Radio Network.

In the mid '90s, Ken co-hosted a show on KLSX with Susan Olsen. A few years later, they both worked at Comedy World although on different shows. While most of the programs needed time to find their legs, "The Ken Ober Radio Hour" sounded good from day one. He surrounded himself with funny people like Lou DiMaggio and Charles Zucker.

When news of Ken's passing first started popping up on the Internet, some debunked it as a hoax. Sadly it turned out to be true. My friend Susan was distressed by the conflicting reports. After the death was confirmed she wrote several things on Facebook, including: "Most agree it seems Ken Ober was in a good place in his life before passing. There's some consolation in that. He was a great guy to work with, I'm so glad I saw him recently." A little later she posted: "Well maybe Kenny is having a cocktail with Ed McMahon and busting his chops for introducing him on Star Search as 'Can Opener.'"

On the day of the O.J. Simpson verdict, Susan brought a camera to work. She put together a 9½ minute video of what went on in the KLSX studios and hallways. Like most of us, Ken's reaction was pure outrage. His language on the tape is definitely NSFW. In our current times, it is amazing to see that so many people once worked at a single radio station. You might recognize the Regular Guys, Kato Kaelin and Mother Love.

There are many comments on the web about how Ken was as nice as he was talented. I can tell you from first hand experience that it was a genuine pleasure to be around him.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

champing at the bit

"Seinfeld" fans like me are ecstatic about the cast appearing on "Curb Your Enthusiasm." In the show, Larry David suddenly changes his mind about a reunion show when he thinks it will get him back together with his estranged wife Cheryl. Some of the best moments occur when Jason Alexander describes the character of George to Larry. For the uninitiated, George Costanza was based on Larry David. The HBO website has plenty to read and watch about the episodes.

I have been in a "Seinfeld" state of mind lately after seeing some episodes on TV. In the years since the series ended, I have generally avoided watching the syndicated reruns. My DVRs are always full of first-run shows to watch instead. I also keep flipping when I see a "Seinfeld" rerun on local television because the picture quality is poor. When I came across an episode on TBS recently, my remote-pushing thumb stopped dead in its tracks. The picture looked like real HD, not the stretched out garbage that I've seen on other TBS shows before. I think they zoomed in and cropped the edges but it looked a lot better than the few minutes I've seen of "Sex and the City" or "yes, dear" on the same network.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

body farmville

There's no room at the Body Farm. The shocking news was in The Tennessean this week. The Vanderbilt School of Medicine has also stopped accepting cadavers. The increased demand is attributed to a larger number of people who can't afford a traditional burial or cremation.
A publicly funded burial isn't the only option for families faced with insurmountable funeral expenses. Donating a body to scientific or medical research is free and, in the age of forensic-sleuthing shows like CSI, somewhat glamorous.
The forensics program is attempting to raise $400,000 to build a new research building and add another acre to the Body Farm, which would allow space for even more cadaver donations in the future.
Until the expansion, what should they do with all the people who want their bodies to skeletonize naturally? Here are a few comedic suggestions to get us started. Add your own funny ideas in the comments section.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

dynamic utilization of the audio medium

One of the first things I did this morning was to ask the following question on my Twitter and Facebook pages: "Other people seem to be a lot more excited about 09/09/09 than I am. What am I missing?"

Johnny from Wise Brother Media replied that I must be "missing the idiot gene." A former WAVA engineer wrote that today is negative day in Germany: "Nein, Nein, Nein!" Richard from Academy Ballroom said that 999 is the emergency number in the UK, similar to 911 here.

My daughter sent along a news story about all the people getting married in Las Vegas today with the comment "they must have all had a dose of Love Potion # 9/9/09." One reader pointed out that today Apple finally came out with an iPod with an FM tuner in it. I had been griping about the need for that just this past Sunday.

All this "nine-sense" reminded me of a Mylar balloon that I saw at Patrick Sullivan's last night. It was in the shape of the number 9. It inspired me to start telling some of the guys in Einstein Simplified about the famous parody of Top 40 radio called "Nine!" which was created by Howard Hoffman and some others.

WVWA, Pound Ridge is a fictional station that evolved the same way many stations of its era did. A tribute site has links to the audio and to an actual engineering website which made the station its "Tower Site of the Week" on April Fool's Day in 2004.

I don't know Alan Furst but I can tell you that he sure knows what he's talking about when he compares my favorite station, WLNG, to Nine Double O Radio and the Nine! format to modern day Portable-People-Metered stations. WLNG sounds exactly like Nine Double O Radio with its flagrant disunity of programming elements and abundance of unnecessary sound.

Without further ado, here's the audio history of Nine! Any real radio guys and gals will laugh heartily at the legal ID heard at 5:28 into the clip.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

down by the schoolyard

It was a Julie, Julie and Julia weekend for my wife and me. On Saturday night we laughed a lot at the very funny Julie Scoggins. She performed at Side Splitters Comedy Club. It would be well worth your time to see her show the next time she's in town.

On Sunday, we saw the terrific new movie "Julie & Julia." I really enjoy watching Amy Adams in just about anything. One of my family's favorite films is her first, "Drop Dead Gorgeous." The real Julie Powell's blog is still online. If you had the time, you could go back to the beginning and read the whole thing.

Once again, it was loads of fun to hear Meryl Streep's voice. Certain syllables rang especially true. The only thing missing for me was the John Morris theme song I remember from later episodes of "The French Chef." The theme music used in the movie was the same as in a black and white 1964 episode that PBS has posted online. They had time for Dan Aykroyd's memorable "Saturday Night Live" parody but not the music I wanted to hear.

Julia Child came to KLOS once. Around that time, we had a string of food experts on as guests on the Mark & Brian show and I was looking for ways to set their segments apart. When Debbi Fields came in, I had her book publicist send along a food stylist who set up little Pyrex dishes with various ingredients. While she was being interviewed, Mrs. Fields mixed together a batch of cookie dough. Emeril Lagasse was also promoting a book. I arranged with a nearby IHOP for all of us to show up and have Emeril surprise some patrons. He added some "Bam" to their breakfasts while broadcasting live.

Before Julia Child's visit, I thought about what would be the most intimidating thing when meeting a famous chef. She would be promoting a new "Baking with Julia" cookbook. I challenged Mark and Brian to each choose a page at random. They had to prepare the dishes at home and serve them to Julia the next morning. Either the food tasted good or Julia played along. She was nothing but gracious to us all.

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Friday, July 31, 2009

it's Harry Potter day

When Jo Rowling made up a birthday for Harry Potter, she gave him one that would be easy to remember, her own. Happy birthday to them both!

On the night before "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" opened, I had great fun at the Einstein Simplified show. In one improv game, I played a video store clerk who was overly excited about the new film. Since today is a Harry Potter day of sorts, here is the video of that scene. The first time you watch, try skipping past the first 2 minutes and 17 seconds. During that time, the audience suggests three movies while I am outside in isolation. If you start watching when I re-enter the room, you can try to guess what the customers want to rent before I do.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

dot comedy

The guest on "Fresh Air" this afternoon was Judd Apatow, the writer and director of "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." His new movie has an Internet component that piqued my interest.

Terry Gross and Apatow talked about the fictional websites that were built for the characters in "Funny People." The site for George Simmons has well-made clips from parodies of cheesy movies. Be sure to watch "Merman" and "Re-Do." They also played a clip from a fake sitcom called "Yo Teach!" It was uncomfortably bad on purpose, which made it hysterical.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

mr. everybody

Shows like "America's Got Talent" and "Last Comic Standing" provide a showcase for two art forms that were more popular when I was a kid than they are today. Ventriloquists and impressionists also each got a tongue-in-cheek tribute week on the "Late Show with David Letterman."

Impressionist Fred Travalena died on Sunday. He appeared on Letterman's show a few years back. While on the surface he appeared to be one of those cheesy "luv ya babe, I mean it" celebrities, his actions proved he was a genuinely good guy. I always enjoyed seeing him when he would stop by WAVA to plug a gig in D.C. He was a gracious guest who managed to not step on the toes of co-host Mike O'Meara, who is a talented impressionist himself. Fred even came by the station when he had a private gig that didn't need any radio promotion.

At some point yesterday, they removed the "upcoming appearances" from Fred's website. It had previously listed gigs on July 31 at the Hoover Auditorium in Ohio, an Alaskan Cruise in September and a concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Florida on December 14.

I got the feeling that Fred would have liked to be in the Rat Pack but he was about 25 years too young. Instead he did impressions of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. among others. A lot of Fred's other impressions were of his elders, like George Burns and Groucho Marx.

The sad news about Fred's passing was announced by his long-time publicist, Roger Neal. Roger is a good guy too. When I was between jobs, he would have me do some odd jobs around Hollywood for him. I will always appreciate his kindness.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

hard to hide the kid inside

College students like my son are dealing with the stress of final exams this week and next. He told me something they did to loosen things up in his dorm. The story begins at the end of the fall semester when a girl on his floor ate an entire package of Oreos during exam week. She felt guilty about it and confessed to all her floormates.

When school resumed in January, my son and his friends began plotting. They used their extra meal plan points to buy packages of Oreos from the campus convenience store. At first they planned to leave a small pile of America's favorite cookies outside the girl's door. Momentum started to build and more students got involved in the plot. The idea changed from a pile to a pyramid. Each week, they bought more Oreos and hid them inside their empty suitcases. All the while they kept their purchases secret from the victim of their prank.

As the number of Oreo packages grew, tasks were assigned to each individual. When my son described it to me, I thought it sounded like the first season of "Prison Break." My son and another engineering student were to design a plan for stacking 144 packages. Someone else would be the lookout while somebody organized the transfer of cookies like a reverse bucket brigade.

A date was chosen for the denouement. The girl in question would soon return from track practice. While she was in the shower, the Oreos would not be stacked in a pyramid. Instead they decided to wall in her doorway. They figured out how to leave space for the door handle. When the girl opened her door and saw the blockade, she used that space to deliver a one-finger greeting to her friends.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

piercing wit

People of my grandparents' generation had a joke about a brand of pipe tobacco. They would call a store and ask if they had Prince Albert in a can. The clerk would say "yes" and the prankster would say "well, you better let him out!"

With the passing of time, that joke has run its course. I may have found a product at Publix that could take up the slack. An Arnold Palmer is a lemonade and iced tea drink named after the famous golfer. The country club staple is now available in cans.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

hold the pickle, hold the lettuce

A restaurant that I plan to visit in Florida later this week has brought back some old memories and I haven't even been there yet. The restaurant is Cheeburger Cheeburger and the memories are from high school.

"Saturday Night Live" was a favorite of mine while I was in high school. I still watch it today, thanks to the invention of the TiVo. There were many years in the middle that I missed. Back then, it seemed that everyone knew the latest catchphrase by the time school started on Monday morning.

One such phrase was "cheeburger, cheeburger" from a skit set in the Olympia Restaurant. John Belushi would tell his customers that they had "no Coke, Pepsi" and "no fries, chips" before shouting out their cheeseburger order to Dan Aykroyd on the grill. The burgers and the grill were real. I know because I smelled them.

My father used to play tennis with NBC announcer Bill Wendell. Mr. Wendell arranged for my wife and me to attend a taping of "Late Night with David Letterman" during our honeymoon. Years earlier, I had asked Mr. Wendell for tickets to "Saturday Night Live."

A couple of factors came into play. I was only in high school and there may have been an age limit for attending the show. Plus, at the time, SNL was a hot ticket. Mr. Wendell said he couldn't get me any tickets to the show but he could get me into the next best thing, the dress rehearsal. The dress rehearsal was held about three hours or so before the live show. It would be recorded and could be used all or in part if something went terribly awry later that night. Also, skits that didn't get a good enough reaction could be cut or rewritten before 11:30 p.m.

I just barely got up the nerve to ask a cute girl from a neighboring all-girls high school to go with me to the dress rehearsal. I figured that the hot ticket and the earlier showtime would guarantee a "yes" from her. They didn't. Instead of just saying no, Margaret Finneran turned me down because she planned to go to a father-daughter communion breakfast the next day. I ended up calling Ed Gough, my friend from seventh and eighth grades, who met me at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. By the way Margaret, I was home in time to watch the 11:30 telecast. And I made it to church in time the next morning.

That week's
host was comedian Robert Klein. The musical guest was a newcomer named Bonnie Raitt. In that episode, they introduced some new skits and characters that would turn up again in later shows. Bill Murray and Gilda Radner played nerds Todd and Lisa for the first time that night and the Olympia Restaurant opened for business with its real "cheeburgers" on the grill.

During "Weekend Update," there was a joke about giant lobsters headed toward Manhattan. The show concluded with the lobsters attacking 30 Rock. Comedy writer Al Franken came up into the audience during a break and sat next to Ed and me. He informed our section that we would need to react in terror to the news of the lobster attack. The director was going to superimpose an image of a giant lobster coming toward us. Franken said that if we got it right, they would repeat the process with the live audience. If we messed it up, the bit would get dropped from the show. We must have done well enough because the shot stayed in the actual broadcast.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

absolut gouda-ness

Today's mail had something my wife knew I would appreciate. Mixed in among the bills and catalogs was a padded envelope from our friend Richard Cheese. He sent along a copy of his new CD, "Viva La Vodka: Richard Cheese Live." It goes on sale in April however fan club members can get it earlier.

Dick's shtick is incredibly useful to parents. He takes popular songs and sings them lounge style, often making the unintelligible intelligible. Perhaps, like me, you never knew or cared exactly how filthy the lyrics of "Me So Horny" actually were. I can't un-ring that bell, but at least I got a laugh out of it. One of the best tracks on the disc is the Pussycat Dolls' song "Don't Cha." During the performance, Richard slips into vocal impressions of Bob Dylan and George Takei. TV tunes fans will like hearing the themes from "Three's Company" and "WKRP in Cincinnati" and KROQ fans will get a kick out of hearing a cover of Weezer's "Hash Pipe," which was recorded live on the Kevin & Bean show. By the way, check out the great lineup for Kevin & Bean's April Foolishness comedy show.

Most of "Viva La Vodka" was recorded at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC. I remember going there back in the days when the club was actually at 930 F Street. Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine return to the 8:15 Club 9:30 Club on April 15.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

fat Tuesday

Comedian Pat Godwin wrote a note on my wall Sunday that asked "who is that thin guy in your profile photo?" It was a callback to our conversation at the old Comedy Zone a year and a half ago. I wrote back that I might dare to post a "before" photo that he would recognize. The inspiration to do so came during lunch today when I chose a sauce for my chicken.

When my wife and I went to the fancy Kroger this weekend, I noticed that they carry the delicious Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce that I love. They sell the 15.75 ounce bottles for $7.49, which is more than the $6.87 I used to pay for a 40 ounce bottle at Sam's Club.

The word chipotle caught my eye on another label I knew. Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q has a new Spicy Chipotle B-B-Q Sauce that I wanted to try. I bought a 16 ounce bottle for $2.99. It's noticeably spicier than their regular sauce, which I've used in the past.

The message from Pat and the bottle of sauce combined to make me flashback to a trip my family took to Atlanta in May, 2005. We ate at the Williamson Bros. restaurant in nearby Marietta. It was still four months before I started the weight loss program that changed my life.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

out in the hall his whole life

Comedian Billy Gardell had the crowd in hysterics tonight at the new Side Splitters Comedy Club. I had only seen him as an actor on "yes, dear" and "My Name Is Earl" and not as a comic. His stand-up act is extremely funny. He mostly riffs on marriage and parenthood, telling stories that my wife and I could easily relate to. We didn't mind his salty language although we know people who might be better off watching an edited version of his routine on TV. Billy has four more shows this weekend, two on Friday night and two on Saturday night.

One of Billy's bits is about wanting to kill whoever came up with the idea for the DIY Network. After the show, I had chance to tell him that the network's headquarters was just a stone's throw from the comedy club. We also talked briefly about former WAVA intern Greg Garcia.

Promoter John Hodge had invited us to check out the new Side Splitters. It is a definite improvement over the old Comedy Zone. The evening started with an announcement of upcoming performers including a couple of my favorites, Leanne Morgan (April 30 - May 1) and Ralphie May (July 16 - 18). Club owner Bobby Jewell did a set before Gardell. Afterward he told me that he had been using one of his jokes for twenty years. The punchline is even painted on the wall in the lounge area: "If you're gonna drink and drive, don't take our matches." Since Side Splitters is delightfully smoke free, it might be time to update the line.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

the best medicine

The Christmas gift that my friend Bean gave me is the companion book to the PBS miniseries "Make 'Em Laugh." The first two segments aired last Wednesday but I didn't get to them until the other day. Make sure you set your DVR to catch the rest of the episodes.

The series runs for six hours. There's another half hour available online, appropriately titled "Teh Internets." They also link to five classic viral videos. If you haven't already seen all five, you should have your Internet access revoked.

Last week on TV, they did an hour on "Nerds, Jerks & Oddballs" followed by an hour of "Breadwinners and Homemakers." This week's topics are "The Knockabouts" and "The Groundbreakers," which are about slapstick and freedom of speech respectively. The TV episodes are arranged in a different order than the chapters of the book. Some excerpts from the book can be found online, including most of the section on early radio comedy.

For someone like me, the show is fun piece of nostalgia. As a kid, I watched a lot of famous comedians from well before my time, so I was already familiar with Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and the like. "Make 'Em Laugh" shows clips that remind me of the movies and shows I've seen throughout my life. I'm not sure that I would be as entertained if I didn't know the source material. I find it interesting when they dissect the humor, but like frogs, the jokes get killed in the process.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

guaranteed gasoline fail

"Have you seen the Censored Count?" asked my kids. Over their Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations I truly enjoyed talking with them about their current favorite websites. We watched the great "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog" and scrolled through okay sites like I Can Has Cheezburger and better sites such as Totally Looks Like. After getting Rickrolled by the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, we got a chuckle from the Barackroll.

We were passing laptops back and forth in a flurry of Internet activity as each of us brought up various viral videos and other content to share. The site that kept coming back into our conversations was the very funny Fail Blog. For example, as the family was decorating Christmas cookies, Frank Jr. cracked us up by making the Gingerbread Man Fail that you might have noticed in my December 25th post. While we were in St. Louis, I spotted a real-life example that could have been on Fail Blog. I snapped these pictures at a QuikTrip and added the text myself.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

gifts received

The Christmas gift from my friend Bean is perfect for me. The book "Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America" by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor is filled with chapter after chapter of my favorite comedians. The first random page I opened to had a picture of the Marx Brothers on it. A second flip fell open to a photo of my radio idols, Bob & Ray. My luck held when the third page I saw had Jerry Seinfeld's picture. Thanks Bean! I'll continue to enjoy this for a long time to come.

My lovely wife was thinking of my desire to listen to more podcasts when she got a good bargain on a Sony Walkman. Not only does it hold plenty of audio, video and picture files but my friend Sandy will be interested to know that it has a built-in FM radio too. I listened to a podcast of last week's "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" while eating dinner tonight.

My kids were thoughtful and generous with their gifts too. My son gave me Stephen Colbert's book, "I Am America (And So Can You!)," which looks like it will be a fun read. My daughter knew that the DVDs of the old "Mission: Impossible" TV series were on my wish list. She also knew that while I would probably be most interested in the episodes with Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, the completist in me would need to have season 1 with Steven Hill as Dan Briggs also. That's why she got me both the season one and season two sets. I'm watching a season two episode as I type this. I love that show. Too bad Tom Cruise defiled it with his movie version.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The countdown clock to the digital TV transition reads 90 days and 38 minutes as I type this. Most of us won't be bothered by the switch because we get our television via cable or satellite. During our last trip to St. Louis, we stayed at the condo that belonged to my wife's late aunt. My mother-in-law was there too. She asked if I could get the TV to work even though the cable service had been canceled some time ago. I found a piece of coaxial cable in another room and used it as an antenna that picked up most of the regular broadcast stations. We were able to watch "Saturday Night Live" and some NFL action the next day.

My mother-in-law was thrilled that she would now be able to get the local news and weather during her visits to St. Louis. I tried to explain that my temporary fix would only work until February 17, 2009. When my wife and I asked her if she planned to get a digital converter box for the condo, we realized that she was not familiar with the concept. She subscribes to cable at her home in Virginia and had no concerns about the switch until now. I'm not saying that her reaction was exactly like that of the lady in this hysterical parody video but I will say that there is some truth in comedy.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

light bulb factory

Maybe this week I can clear out a few things that have been sitting in my drafts folder for a while. The clever blog called We Have an Idea and Then We Write It Down came to my attention back on September 27 when they used the words comedy and improv in the same sentence. I have a Google alert for that phrase. They were hoping for a live comedy radio station, just like we were trying to do at the Comedy World Radio Network, which as I've said before, was ahead of its time.

You could spend hours scrolling through the archives at We Have an Idea. I like that they spell idea with an r in their URL. That's the way my dad's old boss, Nelson Rockefeller, pronounced the word. The idea bloggers want a button to bookmark songs on the radio for later download. My friend Sandy recently wrote on her blog that such a thing is on the horizon. I especially liked their ideas for pressure sensitive brake lights and model roller coaster sets.

Tonight's post has me thinking of two different tangents, one about improv and one about radio. You might recall that the members of Einstein Simplified were cast in a partially improvised horror film called "Fish Bait." Our co-director Darby Totten was recently cast as an FBI agent on three episodes of the Fox series "Fringe." And, of course, our live show happens on Tuesday nights at Patrick Sullivan's. Come see us before we take time off for Christmas.

While looking for a link to include with tonight's first paragraph, I discovered that the Internet Archive Wayback Machine has much of the old Comedy World site online. The page that they saved for my show mentions some of my favorite interviewees including Miss Yvonne, the Armenian Comedian and Billy Bob Thornton.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

unequal time

Although the late-night comics would seem to favor the Democratic ticket, I think several of them must secretly hope for a Republican victory. They get much more material from the GOP. Their jokes about McCain and Palin outnumbered their jokes about Obama and Biden 475 to 69 according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. The Center's website keeps a tally of the people targeted by some of the TV comedians.

While out of town over the the weekend, I saw a political yard sign that attempted to make a joke about Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney. It shows Cheney with pit-bullish lipstick and says that Palin would be "more of the same." I disagree. Palin shot a moose, Cheney shot a lawyer.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

you betcha

The real Sarah Palin was on "Saturday Night Live" last night showing a good sense of humor about herself. Although both of her sketches turned out okay, they started with similar unfunny premises. In the show open, Palin was backstage with Lorne Michaels while Tina Fey reprised her impersonation of the candidate in a press conference setting. Palin finds out that she will not get to perform the "30 Rock" spoof she had supposedly written. It finally got funny when Alec Baldwin showed up and repeatedly addressed Palin as Tina.

During the Weekend Update segment, Palin said she didn't want to do the bit they had rehearsed because it might reflect poorly on the campaign. Seth Meyers asked Amy Poehler if she "remembered" what Palin was supposed to do. Poehler then rapped a song about Alaska, McCain, Obama and the like while Palin bobbed her head in rhythm.

In the first sketch, Palin's thunder was stolen by Mark Wahlberg, who showed up to complain about Andy Samberg's portrayal of him on the October 4th show. They could have had Palin and Wahlberg show up simultaneously and skipped the part about Palin writing a "30 Rock" skit. In her second appearance, I would have preferred for Palin to have been given some way to introduce the rap song other than pretending that she was originally going to perform it. How about a simple sketch where she was auditioning rappers to help her reach a younger audience?

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

the dead zone

Has laughter fallen victim to the economy? Knoxville's only stand-up comedy club appears to have closed. The big sign on the front of The Comedy Zone has been taken down. Their schedule shows nothing after October 4th, although I think the sign may have actually come down before then. Their phone has been disconnected and their website now redirects you to their parent company in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before it occurred to me to try calling the phone number myself, I searched unsuccessfully online for verification of the closing from the News Sentinel's Bottom Line blog or any other website. I did find that they were behind on their city business taxes. Maybe the reason they closed is because I'm the only one who even remotely cares.

Einstein Simplified used to perform at The Comedy Zone once a month. Even though we had a bad timeslot, we would draw a decent crowd when the manager included us in their weekly Metro Pulse ad. Unfortunately for us, that manager got promoted and moved to another city. His replacements were not as diligent about advertising our shows. When the staff seemed surprised to see us show up for our monthly gig, we knew it was time to end our arrangement.

Nevertheless, I thought the Comedy Zone was a good room. About a year ago, my wife and I went to see Pat Godwin there. We had previously been there to see Ralphie May and a benefit show full of headliners. When a small fire broke out at the club, I thought it was hysterical that it happened to be during a hypnotist's show.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

some less

The plan was to go see an improv performance while in St. Louis. The Improv Trick is run by Bill Chott, who worked in the trailer next to mine at the Comedy World Radio Network and has appeared in "The Ringer" among other films. I emailed Bill to ask about his performance schedule in August and chose a night that fit my itinerary.

After a few wrong turns and much map consulting, my wife and I found our way to The Playhouse at Westport Plaza. It's among a cluster of restaurants, nightclubs and hotels in an office park just off I-270. I thought it unusual that there were restaurants named after local sports legends Albert Pujols, Ozzie Smith and Dan Dierdorf & Jim Hart all in the same complex.

We could hear peals of laughter coming through the doors of the Playhouse. However the box office clerk didn't know what we were talking about when we asked for tickets to the improv show. The performer inside was a comic named Sommore. The clerk suggested we try our luck down the hall at The Funny Bone comedy club. The guy at that ticket window knew the improv show was normally at the Playhouse once a week. They had gotten bumped for Sommore. My wife and I went back to the car, comedy-free.

Whenever I travel, I like to seek out a local improv show for inspiration. I often try to bring back some of their games to Knoxville and add them to our repertoire. I had especially hoped to see a show this week. This coming Tuesday, it will be my turn to emcee the Einstein Simplified show celebrating the group's fourteenth anniversary. Last I heard, recently retired members Todd Covert and Bill Slayden are planning on attending and performing. If any other former members (like Doug McCaughan) show up, I will bring them on stage for at least one game. C'mon out and see us on Tuesday night starting at 8:30 p.m. at Patrick Sullivan's. We're going to extend the show until 10:30, so plan accordingly.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008


If Branson is the Las Vegas of the Bible Belt, then Jim Stafford is the Wayne Newton of Branson. The "Jim Stafford Show" is mostly made up of Jim's comedic monologues with some musical interludes and a couple of dance numbers mixed in. My wife and I went to the show on Monday night. The 64-year-old Stafford shared the spotlight with his 15-year-old son Shea and his 11-year-old daughter G.G., who showcased their talents on the piano.

Jim's voice, cadence and breathiness into the mic all reminded me of Garrison Keillor, which I found surprising. My wife watched Jim's TV show as a child and was more familiar with his delivery. I kept thinking that the whole stage show had the feel of a slightly Southern edition of "A Prairie Home Companion."

The Stafford staff passes cards out to the audience before the show begins. Guests can write down a joke or embarrassing story from their lives. Jim reads a few aloud after intermission. There's a space on the card for the respondent to give permission for the submitted anecdote to be published in a book of "Jim's Gems." The back of the card has room to write the name and address of someone you want to nominate to be included in "Jim Stafford's Knuckleheads." The card says it's a network special that Jim plans to tape at his theatre. Or maybe he already did and the card is out of date.

I think we were close to being the youngest ones in the audience. If not for the people who brought their kids, we would have been. It didn't matter though. The show is appropriate for all ages. It isn't tailored for the retirement crowd except for a few jokes about age. Maybe his kids keep him young. Jim even has a MySpace page. A more typical bit revolves around a cow patty. Jim sings a song about them and then tosses some brown foam flying discs into the audience. They sell the patties in the gift shop. And they put Jim's name on the bottled water at the refreshment stand.

Cow patties and water bottles aren't the only moneymaking opportunities the show creates. You can also buy harmonicas that Jim has played for $24.95 and harmonicas that he has played and autographed for $35.00.

We were only in Branson for one night. If we ever get back, I would like to see the guy who was on TV during my childhood, Andy Williams, assuming he's still performing. One of my wife's aunts said that the show to see is that Shoji dude.

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