Wednesday, March 31, 2010

the end zone

The newest Body Farm novel has been a topic of conversation almost everywhere I've been over the past week. At last night's Einstein Simplified show, a guy named Moose told me that his father had been at the Oak Ridge book signing. Moose was amused that I had signed page 359 of his dad's copy of "The Bone Thief." One of the errors caught by my proofreading got mentioned by Jon Jefferson in a great interview with Chapter 16:
Chapter 16: Do you ever have trouble keeping the two separate when you're writing?

Jefferson: In this latest book, The Bone Thief, there was one place in the manuscript, when I was writing along, that I actually wrote Dr. Bass instead of Dr. Brockton. And it wasn't until before it went to press that anybody caught that. So mostly it's not hard to keep the fictional Dr. Brockton separate from the real Dr. Bass, but occasionally it gets a little blurry in the wee small hours when I have been writing a long time.
My friend Brian Egan and his wife Jen were visiting from the D.C. area yesterday. We met at Patrick Sullivan's before the improv show. Jen was excited to hear about the books and plans to give them as gifts to a family member. Somebody, maybe it was Brian, shouted out "body farm" as a suggestion for one of our improv games.

While chatting about the Body Farm with some folks on Monday, I was reminded of something I heard Dr. Bill Bass say on Thursday. I did a little impromptu emceeing at the Oak Ridge event, by helping with the Q&A session. I asked the assembled crowd to indicate if they wanted to be buried, cremated or skeletonized at the Farm. One man approached Dr. Bass later to say that his mother had donated her remains to the facility upon her death last year. Dr. Bass said that the man could call the anthropology department and make an appointment to visit his mother's bones, once they had been cleaned and stored in Neyland Stadium. It was another fascinating fact that was new to me.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sedaka is back

The audience at tonight's Einstein Simplified show probably did not know that I have two autographed Captain & Tennille records in my possession. In fact, they didn't originally mean for me to reference Tennille at all.

In a game called "Hitchhiker," I was playing a guy with a glandular problem who was trying to get to Newark. The suggestion shouted out from the audience was probably "pineal gland" but the words sounded garbled by the time they made it from the audience to the stage. When one of my Twitter pals in the crowd shouted "Tennille gland," that was all we needed to hear. I had to get another actor to guess Newark and Tennille gland without using any of those words.

I made reference to already having had my Daryl Dragon removed. I said that my problem was originally discovered at the Smoke House in Encino and that I was now trying to get to a "secrete" location. There were several Muskrat mentions and even a "por amor viviremos" thrown in for good measure.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

ring in the new

There's a lyric at the beginning of a bad song by Britney Spears called "Circus" that resonates with me nevertheless: "There's only two types of people in the world, the ones that entertain and the ones that observe."

For the second year in a row, Einstein Simplified was invited to perform during First Night Knoxville, the family-friendly event in and around Market Square. We drew a standing-room-only crowd to an auditorium in the TVA West Tower despite competing with a Tennessee Vols bowl game. I find it much more fun to entertain than to stay home and observe "New Year's Rockin' Eve."

After the two performances, I did get to do a little observing. A pair of fire jugglers were doing their tricks on a street corner. They dropped their batons quite a bit and I probably wouldn't mention them at all except that I liked the effect of the slow shutter speed on the pictures I took with a used camera that I got from a reader in a pay-it-forward deal. I tried taking a picture of the jugglers' faces but they had spun 180° by the time the camera registered the push of my finger on the button.

First Night events throughout the country are intended to be alcohol-free. However as midnight approached, people who had been drinking spilled out of the surrounding bars and into Market Square. I think it would be impossible to prevent, even if you had a cop at every bar. Like us sober folks, they just wanted to see the ball drop and the fireworks rise.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

first you take a little bit of honey

Nine years ago, I hosted a weekly radio talk show with streaming video, audio and live chat. The concept of Knoxivi reminds me yet again that Comedy World was too far ahead of its time. Their studio is located in a storefront on Market Square. It shares space with The Lunchbox, and they hope people will come in, watch the show and grab a bite.

I was complimented to be invited as a guest on today's episode of Eleven o'clock Rock. The show is hosted by Lauren Lazarus and Brent Thompson. Since we would be live on the Internet, I used Twitter and Facebook to encourage people to watch. I appreciated the positive response I got from a Twitterer named Rusty.

The program was immediately archived and can still be viewed online. You may have to click on "Monday" and then choose today's date. I'm on the show twice. Brent and Lauren asked me to improv something with them for the cold open. It's on the feed at two minutes in. My interview begins at 40 minutes in to the show. I didn't know it at the time but my microphone failed within the first minute. Fortunately Lauren's mic picked up my voice reasonably well.

The segment focused mostly on my involvement with Einstein Simplified and our upcoming performances at First Night Knoxville. Don't forget to buy your admission buttons in advance to save $5 each!

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

with my little eye

People outside East Tennessee are often surprised when I tell them about the nationally known companies that are headquartered here. One such company held a corporate retreat today. They hired an Atlanta-based group called Laughing Matters to come in and run a two-hour team-building exercise. I got involved via an interesting email that arrived the other day:
Hi Frank, I have an uncle in Atlanta who is an improv comic. He is looking for several improv comics here in Knoxville because he is planning some sort of event. I thought I would pass your contact information along to him if you think you and some of your fellow comedians would be interested.
Laughing Matters performed at the Morning Show Bootcamp convention I attended in 2003, so I was somewhat familiar with what they do. I directed the emailer to the right page on the Einstein Simplified website. As it turned out, I was the only member of the troupe who was available for the gig. The other four slots went to local actors who perform in Oak Ridge and elsewhere.

Our job was to execute a very organized program called "School for Spies." After some improv warm-up games, the other facilitators and I each manned a different station. The six teams of co-workers had fun tasks to perform using children's toys such as Mr. Potato Head, Nerf pistols and a Twister board. They also had to solve some logic puzzles, word searches and other problems.

The event was held at the Capitol Theatre in Maryville, a fine venue with a neat little coffee shop. I was able to ogle their impressive dessert case and taste their coffee before exercises began. I'm interested in going back on my own time for a dance or a show.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

scene of the crime

The audience watching "Fish Bait" at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort surprised me. They laughed at different parts of the movie than the audience at Patrick Sullivan's did the night before. The folks at the saloon responded well to the scenes where four of us from Einstein Simplified were driving and talking. They've seen us do that on stage for years. The people on the boat dock responded well to the mishaps we encountered on the water. While the Knoxville crowd said "ewww" to a quick shot of a floating dead fish, the Speedwell viewers said nothing.

The staff at Flat Hollow went all out to celebrate the movie we filmed there last year. They made some large posters and redid the menu in their restaurant to include items like Chum, Chicken Parts and Fried Fungus. The restaurant was converted into a movie theatre for the night. Enough boaters and marina regulars showed up to warrant showing the film twice.

After the screenings, the cast members in attendance were asked to autograph several DVDs at the sales counter. While the others were using the Sharpie markers, Dave Snow and I amused each other with some tea candles. When all was finished, the cast and crew raised a toast on board one of the two houseboats where we would spend the night. Coincidentally, my wife and I slept aboard the White Lightning. This morning I woke up to a lovely view of the fall foliage.

After breakfast, the remaining cast and crew posed for a photo in front of The Lady, the decrepit houseboat that we used in the movie. I was wearing my new FBI Citizens Academy hat, which we joked now stood for "Fish Bait Inspector." The Lady looks even worse than she did last year. Some family members of the man who used to own the boat came to the screening last night. They were a little chagrined that the boat their relative lost to foreclosure was used to represent all that is janky. Some of the other audience members pointed out that shots of particularly redneckish houseboats were filmed downriver in Union County, not in their nice part of Norris Lake.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009


At last night's Einstein Simplified show, I handed out a flyer inviting the audience to join Twitter before next Tuesday. It will be my turn to emcee and I want to try taking suggestions from the audience via social media. I often find it difficult to hear the people in the back of the room, which gave me the idea to have them text their various nouns, relationships, locations and Scenes From a Hat directly to my computer.

At the end of the show, I went from table to table picking up discarded flyers. It made me think that not too many of the people there last night rushed home to sign up for Twitter. Instead of trying to convert the bar crowd, maybe I can persuade some of Knoxville's active Twitterers to "tweetup" at Patrick Sullivan's on Tuesday night.

At least I can count on my lovely wife. She signed up for a Twitter account with the express purpose of using it to submit ideas on Tuesday. Earlier tonight I was her Twitter tutor. I'm no expert but I was able to explain Twitpic, hashtags and retweets. I'm sure I left out more than I included. What else should I have taught her?

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

take the bait

"Fish Bait" director Jeff Joslin was burning up the phone, text and email lines from New York today. He had already made arrangements for a cast and crew screening of his low-budget horror film at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort on October 24. Today's mission was to add a Knoxville screening the night before.

Jeff was able to get the "great room" at Patrick Sullivan's, a location chosen because it is the home turf of Einstein Simplified. Most of the troupe members appear in "Fish Bait." Admission to the October 23 screening will be $5 with the money going to defray some of the costs of making the film. In addition to the movie, there will be live music. I was thinking it might also be fun to play a few improv games for the amusement of our regulars.

Please help us spread the word to get the tickets sold. Put something on your Facebook or your Twitter. You can either retweet like Berry Sensei did or write your own message. Best of all, you can show up yourself.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

fishy, campy

The big news in East Tennessee has been the announcement of a highly anticipated movie premiere, with some of the actors in attendance. Yes, "Fish Bait" will be shown on October 24th. In other movie news, two of the stars of "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" will be in Knoxville on November 17th.

Jeff Joslin has been working out the details for the "Fish Bait" screening at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort in Campbell County. I was one of several members of Einstein Simplified involved in the filming at Flat Hollow last October. We filmed some additional scenes in May.

The date of the premiere means I will have to decline an invitation I received from Sharky at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. The costumed mascot had asked me to come to Gatlinburg and do the "Thriller" dance on the 24th. They plan to close the street and participate in "Thrill the World," a worldwide simultaneous group dance which is an attempt at a Guinness World Record. Not wanting to miss out, I decided to organize a "Thriller" dance at Flat Hollow that night. Now all I have to do is learn the dance.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

upper class twit of the year

Because today was my first day with a new QWERTY phone, I was inspired. My wife and kids chipped in to buy me an LG enV3. It makes it much easier to exchange text messages with the kids and to post status updates to Facebook and Twitter.

A week ago, I used my old phone to post a couple of Twitpics during the Einstein Simplified improv show. I was eager to try out the better camera on my new phone during tonight's show at Patrick Sullivan's. This afternoon I thought about posting the pictures to my own Twitter account and decided that the group should be on Twitter too.

I created an account and sent the password to the other members. Unfortunately Twitter only allows 15 characters for its user names, so I couldn't get "EinsteinSimplified." Instead I settled on "EinsteinImprov." This is the same reason my personal account is "FrankMurphyCom" instead of "FrankMurphyDotCom."

Obviously, I haven't figured out how to use the camera yet. The three pictures I posted came out sideways. Mike Richardson got involved by posting two TwitVids, one before and one during the show.

For the bio line on our Twitter account, I typed "Relatively Funny, in Theory." I liked the way Paul Simmons accepted it and advanced it by changing it to Relatively Funny, in Theory, Hilarious in Fact."

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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, June 17, 2009

simplified complicated

The power came back on just as Paul Simmons unplugged the last of our three stage lights. It was as if that bulb had somehow caused last night's blackout in the Old City. The electricity went out at Patrick Sullivan's and other nearby businesses at 8:14 p.m., preventing us from starting the weekly Einstein Simplified performance. A full house of people waited patiently as the lack of air conditioning made the third floor room warmer and stuffier. After consulting with the saloon's management, we canceled the show and sent the audience home around 9 o'clock. The electricity came back at 9:04 p.m. D'oh!

When the blackout struck, I was standing by the stage taking a picture of dozens of Einstein bobbleheads from McDonald's. Last week, Brad Bumgardner suggested that we each go to McDonald's and buy as many of the "Night at the Museum" Happy Meal toys as possible. He got $15 worth. My wife and I got $25 worth. They'll be used as audience participation prizes in the weeks to come. Electricity permitting, of course.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

backstage with the Bible

Here's an email and my reply:
Hey Frank,

I remember some time ago you doing a little song about the Ten Commandments that was to the tune of Burger King's "Have It Your Way" jingle. I really liked it and I have been looking on your blog but could not find it. Could you send me the lyrics or a link if you can? That would be great. I want to use it at summer Bible school.

Anthony H.


Hi Anthony,

As I recall, I had posted the lyrics to the Star 102.1 website rather than my own. Unfortunately it looks like the station site doesn't have archives that old. I will take a look for it in my files.

Thanks for listening,

The segment Anthony wants to hear is from October 12, 2007. A news story about more people knowing the ingredients of a Big Mac than the Ten Commandments prompted me to say that it might be more evenly matched if the Commandments also had a catchy jingle. Marc & Kim challenged me to make one up. The Burger King Whopper jingle gave me more to work with, so I used it instead. They were surprised that it only took me an hour. I felt that Wayne Brady could have done better in a minute. Take a listen and tell me what you think. Will it be heard at Vacation Bible School?

Ten Commandments jingle
(to the tune of "hold the pickle hold the lettuce")

No false gods, no name in vain
Or you'll have eternal pain
All we ask is that you follow His holy way

Keep the Sabbath like no other
Honor your father and your mother
All we ask is that you follow His holy way

No killing, cheating, stealing, lying
You'll regret it when you're dying
All we ask is that you follow His holy way

Last of all you should not covet
Life's important, you should love it
All we ask is that you follow His holy way

Live it His way, His holy Way
Live it His way, His holy Way!

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Friday, May 08, 2009

hilariously obnoxious party guests

Lincoln Memorial University is not close by. Five of the members of Einstein Simplified made the trek to Harrogate last night for a performance at the DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, also known as DCOM. In addition to our weekly show, the troupe does private parties, corporate gigs. You can hire us for your next event.

We always urge potential clients to come see our weekly show at Patrick Sullivan's instead of hiring us sight unseen. Of course the barprov show tends to be more R-rated. Private parties can be G, PG or R depending on what they want. Our last New Year's Eve show was very clean.

When I got home last night, there was a Google Alert for Einstein Simplified in my email. Writer Greg Wood attended our April 28th show and wrote a very favorable review that appears in today's News Sentinel. Get a load of this lead:
The popularity of the Einstein Simplified abounds in Knoxville.

You or your friends likely have caught one of their Tuesday night shows at Patrick Sullivan's. If you bring up their name in a large crowd, someone's bound to speak favorably. Their audience members act like true fanatics, knowing every intricacy of the performance and every participant (even though it seems the members may not know them).

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

all natural

Tazy Phyllipz and his wife are visiting Tennessee this week. He and I worked together on the Kevin & Bean show. Like me, Tazy and his wife Maria enjoy looking for Roadside America attractions when they travel. I suggested they go to the Sunsphere and the Dolly Parton statue before heading west to Graceland. Last night they came to see Einstein Simplified perform.

In an unfortunate stroke of timing, Tazy will still be traveling when Weenie Roast tickets go on sale Thursday. He was an early supporter of many of the bands on the bill, especially Rancid. I hope he is able to find a way to get into the show. After KROQ, Tazy hosted The Ska Parade show on stations in San Diego and Orange County.

Tazy is probably going to write a book about his Forrest Gump moments. I didn't remember that he was involved in the argument between Jimmy Kimmel and Michael the Maintenance Man that led to the "Bleeda in Reseda." He also was answering the phones at KROQ when Adam Carolla first called in to offer his help as a boxing coach.

I do remember Tazy being the unintended victim of a practical joke that Jimmy tried to pull on Adam. On his April 2nd podcast, Adam said that Snapple was his beverage of choice back when he first started at KROQ. I had downloaded the show because several people emailed to tell me that guest Chris Hardwick mentioned my name as he told the story of his being hired as a deejay at the station.

One day Jimmy saw an unopened Snapple bottle in the office I shared with "Loveline" producer Ann Wilkins. He took the bottle and sat at Ann's desk, where he tampered with the product. Without going into too much detail, let's just say that Jimmy left a film of baby powder on top of the drink. I was recently reminded of that old prank when Jimmy had Guillermo do something similar but not exactly the same to the Marshmallow Peeps that Dane Cook stuffed in his mouth on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" just after Easter.

Jimmy and I waited for Adam to come out of the studio and swig his drink. Instead Tazy walked into the office and said, "Oh there's my Snapple." Jimmy and I were horrified that he had defiled Tazy's bottle, thinking it was Adam's. I emailed Jimmy yesterday and asked if he remembered Tazy Phyllipz. He replied, "not only do I remember him, LAST NIGHT I told the story about... his Snapple!" Over dinner at Patrick Sullivan's, Tazy erased some guilt I had been carrying all these years when he told me something I had completely forgotten. He said that I stopped him from drinking the tainted tea and made him put it in the trash. However I had every intention of watching Adam quench his thirst with the Jimmy-flavored juice.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

shine on

Two camels and some bison roam on the land next to the Pro-Anglers Shop on Route 63. Jeff Joslin told me to meet him there to shoot an additional scene for "Fish Bait," the low-budget horror movie we filmed last October. Three of the other members of Einstein Simplified and I only had to improvise a few seconds of dialogue that explained which of us was Paul. We ended up creating a fun scene in which the store owner chased Jaybo (Dave Fennell) while waving a .357 Magnum at him.

On the way through LaFollette, I saw a sign that amused me. It said "Crack A Tooth Cold Beer," which reminded me of one of my first blog entries. On the houseboat at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort, the label on the sinks also made me smile. They use a regional spelling of "spigot" to indicate which faucet dispensed fresh water. My wife and I spent the night on the houseboat. Thanks to the label, we didn't use lake water to brush our teeth.

At the marina, we watched the footage from last fall and shot some different camera angles on multiple scenes. When we were almost done filming for the night, Jeff Joslin and Darby Totten filled our wine glasses with a local delicacy. The apple-pie flavored beverage was poured from a mason jar with a cinnamon stick inside. I thought it would make me more tired but it had the effect of Granny's Spring tonic.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

should you choose to accept it

If there is an encore performance of "Star 102.1's Dancing With the Knoxville Stars" and if I can make it, I will study the video of last Thursday's show in an effort to improve. The footage is now posted on YouTube and the station website. There is talk of having an encore show on a date I am currently holding for a potential corporate gig with Einstein Simplified.

After Abby Ham jokingly wrote on my Facebook wall, "Can I be your dance partner next year? :)," I wrote back, "Sure, if you want to do a plodding rumba with elements of comedy thrown in." As I watched myself "dance," I realized that my steps were even more plodding than I thought when I wrote that to Abby. During the performance, I thought I was being graceful. Ha!

Thank goodness for Emily Loyless. She deserves the credit for all 26 points we received from the judges. Our strategy was to go for overall entertainment value rather than technical merit. Of the nine dance teams, we were the only one to have a story line. It was based on Emily's "Mission: Impossible" to teach me the rumba. I think they call it a "show dance" in the business. Or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.

Our efforts have so far raised $1890 for East Tennessee Children's Hospital. As you probably already know, the total take for the night was over $27,000. That amount will be presented on one of those giant checks at the upcoming Radiothon.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

second base

Six grown men huddled in a stairwell of the TRECS building only attracted a passing glance from the university employee passing through the space. It was about 7:30 yesterday morning and we were warming up for an Einstein Simplified performance at the UT Dance Marathon.

The sign by the door caught our eye. We were in an Area of Refuge, although the symbol they used makes it look more like an Area of Molestation.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009


It has been a big week for Jeff Joslin. First, he gets cast as an assistant D.A. on an episode of "All My Children." Then he and his crew finish a trailer for "Fish Bait," the partially improvised movie featuring most of the members of Einstein Simplified. I was complimented that they used several of my scenes in the trailer. The three-minute preview sets up the premise. We think we have reservations at the beautiful Flat Hollow Marina but are in fact booked into the decrepit Fear Hollow Marina. And there are giant catfish in the water.

"Fish Bait" trailer

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

clap on

The promise of free cake brought a crowd to Gay Street this evening. The city closed off a block to accommodate all the people. The cake came from MagPies Cakes, which has sent a competitor to a Food Network Challenge in the past. A chewy white fondant covered two layers of chocolate cake. The best part was the chocolate stuff between the cake layers. The cake itself was a bit too dry, like most wedding cakes.

While we were all there, the Bijou Theatre board threw the switch to illuminate their new marquee and vertical blade sign. Fans can buy a bulb and get their name on a plaque in the theatre as part of the "Light Up the Bijou" campaign. Einstein Simplified bought two bulbs to commemorate our performance at the Bijou on Friday at 5:00 p.m.

To me, it looked like all three television stations sent their own cameras to the press event. WBIR's story is already online. State Senator Tim Burchett and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam both read from proclamations honoring the Bijou's 100th anniversary. Burchett chose to fist bump everyone rather than shake hands while joking that he had originated the move. Haslam got a big laugh when he mentioned that throughout its history, the Bijou's building had housed movies, parked cars and ladies of the evening.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

jewel case

The Bijou Theatre's 100 Year Jubilee kicks off Wednesday evening and runs through Saturday night. The News Sentinel's weekend section had an pull-out section with interesting articles, pictures and trivia about the venue. The Jubilee schedule includes a comedy improv performance by Einstein Simplified on Friday at 5:00 p.m. The money from ticket sales benefits the Bijou while we get to keep any proceeds from merchandise sold, assuming we can find something to sell.

Jubilee chairman Larsen Jay was my guest on the public affairs radio show that aired this morning. I've known Larsen since shortly after I moved to Knoxville. I've written before about the toilet he put in my house for a TV show. I remember when he met his wife Adrian, who was a reporter for WATE at the time. My wife and I went to their apartment-warming party at the Sterchi Lofts. Larsen and Adrian now own Doublejay Creative, which is headquartered downtown.

Larsen is a good talker and made the time go by easily, especially since I was fighting a cold. He has plenty of stories about the Bijou's past and renovation. He also said that the Jubilee will be an annual event. Feel free to right click and download the podcast. Or try clicking the play button below.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

returning the favor

Several other bloggers have mentioned me on their sites recently. That Chick Over There was especially kind in her remarks. She says I remind her of her husband. That Chick and MDA are the most recent to say that they are coming to blogger night at the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. Earlier RSVPers included Rich Hailey, Barry Wallace, Rob Huddleston, Doug McCaughan and Byron Chesney.

More recently, Byron wrote that he was impressed with the amount of traffic that flows from my site to his entertaining Knoxville Trivia Blog. It makes sense to me. He writes about local news anchors more than I do.

Speaking of anchors, Stacy McCloud got a kick out of my post about her clown interview yesterday. But mostly out of the photo.

Cassie Kiestler was happy that I found something interesting about digital TVs in her blog. She was just as happy when I was amused by a clever comment she left on one of my posts. I hope she doesn't feel obligated to write about me mentioning her again.

Leeann Samples and her husband Don came to see Einstein Simplified at First Night Knoxville. They didn't tell me they were bloggers. My Google Alert did.

A former Knoxville deejay nicknamed The Greek writes a blog called Knoxville Radio History 101. He took my picture last week while he was in the building to be on a WKTI show called "The Voice."

In a sort of the same but different vein, my friend Rodney Lee Conover informed me that I'm briefly visible on his YouTube channel. The clip is actually one of the DVD extras for his movie "BachelorMan." The disc just came out in November and the film will turn up on HDNet Movies. I visited the set one day back in 2001. Look carefully and you can see me seated behind the director John Putch, who happens to be the son of Jean Stapleton.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

party quirks

More often than not, my wife and I stay home on New Year's Eve. One year we went over to the next door neighbor's house. Another year we went to the home of some church friends. We had three memorable New Year's Eves in California.

We rang out 1999 at a spectacular black-tie party for the film "Fantasia 2000." So many people were afraid of Y2K, that we got invited to fill out a table that had been purchased by a corporate sponsor. After a screening of the movie, there was live music by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Chicago. Maybe you've heard of them.

Another year we got tickets to see the Brian Setzer Orchestra at the House of Blues. Because the tickets had come from Setzer's management, we found ourselves seated at the same table as Brian's wife. I've already written about the New Year's Eve we spent in Pasadena, getting within smelling distance of the Rose Parade floats.

I had a great time saying farewell to 2008 on Wednesday night. I got to play improv games with my Einstein Simplified pals as part of the First Night Knoxville festival. The evening started early with an appearance on "Live at Five at Four" to promote our performances. Then we had dinner at The Tomato Head, which was packed with people. Despite the huge crowd, the staff found a way to seat our party of 16. I amused myself by ordering the vegetarian chef salad and then having them add free-range chicken to it. The words bacon and salad on the menu got me wondering if there is such a thing as bacon salad. It would have mayo and celery like tuna salad but with bacon instead of fish.

I was a little anxious about whether or not we would draw an audience. Our performance space was in a conference room in an office building across the street from Market Square. I said that I hoped ventriloquist Gene Cordova could draw a crowd. He had shows at 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. in the same room we would use at 9:00. When we got to the TVA West Tower, Gene Cordova had a standing-room only crowd that spilled out into the lobby area. Another conference room across from ours had musical performances by Bantry and Tennessee Schmaltz. They had a decent sized audience too, not Gene Cordova numbers, but decent. Most of the audience who filled the room for our two shows had never seen us before. I was surprised when a former WAVA listener in the crowd re-introduced himself to me. It was Don Samples, cousin of the late Junior Samples. Our shows went very well and I think more than a few of the people will come see us at Patrick Sullivan's in the future.

We ended our second show around 11:30 p.m. and went outside to see the "ball" drop. It was more like a balloon on a tether and not that impressive. Next year they should drop an orange construction barrel, as suggested by reader Cassie. A live band on the Market Square stage made the event feel like Sundown in the City, except for the bitter cold. Like the popular summer event, there were way too many cigarette smokers blowing their exhaust on others. We found a spot that was relatively smoke-free and watched the countdown to midnight. It was 25 seconds slow but who's counting?

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

drop it like it's hot

The concept of First Night (Name of Your Town Here) started in Boston in 1976. I don't know if it was on January 1, 1976 or December 31, 1976 but that's not important right now. It has since spread to dozens of cities nationwide. Knoxville climbed aboard the First Night bandwagon a year ago.

First Night's mission
is "to foster the public's appreciation of visual and performing arts." In addition to all the musicians and artists on the First Night Boston schedule, there are two comedy improv troupes performing, Improv Asylum and Improv Boston. First Night Knoxville has followed that model by booking Einstein Simplified for performances at 9:00 and 10:15 p.m. We go on after two shows by ventriloquist Gene Cordova in the TVA West Tower. Somebody from First Night Knoxville asked Paul Simmons if I could plug the event on the radio. Unfortunately I can't because a competing radio station is an official media sponsor. Last I heard, there's a chance we could be on "Live at Five at Four" on Wednesday afternoon to promote First Night Knoxville.

Three of the other First Night celebrations were included on Trip Advisor's list of the quirkiest New Year's events. First Night Bethlehem ranked #2 because of their clever and quirky Marshmallow Peep drop at midnight. An improv group from Philadelphia called The N Crowd is among the entertainers there. First Night Talbot in Easton, Maryland, made the list because of their crab drop. At First Night Raleigh they drop an acorn. Raleigh also has a performance by an improv group called the Transactors.

The Peep drop got me thinking about Knoxville's festivities. At midnight a ball will drop from a crane in Market Square. The ball is okay, I guess. It's good enough for New York after all and could be thought of as representative of our Sunsphere. But why not drop something that just screams East Tennessee? How about a couch? Or a women's basketball? Or a papier-mâché head of Cas Walker? What's your suggestion?

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

death by telekinesis

During a recent remote broadcast from a car dealership, a coworker told me that he was going to an "ugly Christmas sweater party" that night. Although the self-explanatory concept reminded me of a funny scene in "Bridget Jones Diary," I had not previously heard of it. As often happens once something shows up on your radar, I started noticing several pictures of "ugly Christmas sweater parties" on USA Today's Pop Candy Blog.

A few days later, that same coworker saw me wearing one of the Alpaca wool sweaters I received as a gift last year from my wife's brother and his family. They live in Peru, where he is a missionary for Globe International. I felt like I had hit the jackpot when they drew my name in the family Christmas lottery. The Alpaca sweaters are the warmest, softest and most comfortable I've ever had in my life. I wore a light brown one to the Christmas parade two weeks ago. Anyway, my coworker asked if I was going to an "ugly Christmas sweater party." He thought that the llamas on my gray sweater were reindeer.

On Tuesday night I wore the gray sweater to the last regular Einstein Simplified show of the year (not counting our New Year's Eve gig). I kept it on during one of my favorite games, "Story Story Die," but soon got too hot on stage and took it off. Paul Simmons' wife Michelle took pictures throughout the show. I asked her to send me one that I could post here to show that the llamas look nothing like reindeer. Feel free to add your own captions in the comments section.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

how to save $5

Tonight's Einstein Simplified performance was going to be our last for the year. The amount of time we take off for our Christmas hiatus has varied in length. Last year we were off for four weeks, which I thought was too much. This year's plan was for only two weeks off but something suddenly came up. I'm glad to report that we will agree and add once more before 2008 expires.

Don't show up at Patrick Sullivan's on the 23rd or the 30th looking for us. We will still be off those nights. However we have added a gig on New Year's Eve as part of First Night Knoxville. If you buy one of the First Night admission buttons, you can see us on December 31 in the TVA West Tower, adjacent to Market Square. The button gets you in to all the indoor venues affiliated with First Night Knoxville, not just our shows. We'll be slinging some improv at 9:00 and 10:15 p.m. Unlike our usual "barprov" gigs, First Night is a family-friendly, alcohol-free event. The buttons cost $10 in advance or $15 on the 31st.

I hope that you'll come out to see us tonight. We'll be in a good mood because we'll get our annual payout from everything that's been stuffed into the tip jar all year long. And then come see us at First Night Knoxville, and back at Patrick Sullivan's on Tuesdays starting January 6. And don't forget our gig at the Bijou on January 30.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

news centennial

The Bijou Theatre opened on March 8, 1909 in downtown Knoxville. It escaped the wrecking ball about 35 years ago and was beautifully renovated in 2006. The Bijou 100 Year Jubilee will celebrate the venue with four days of performances at the end of January, including an appearance by your favorite improv group!

I attended the announcement of the Jubilee this afternoon. WBIR sent a crew and News Sentinel reporter Amy McRary was there asking questions. Mayor Bill Haslam, Ashley Capps and Larsen Jay all made some remarks, followed by Marshal Andy who sang a little bit. The Marshal will recreate the Saturday morning children's shows of old on January 31. He plans to screen The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals during the hour-long presentation. In between films, he will sing, do some rope tricks and teach the kids in the live audience to yodel.

Of course, the highlight for me is that Einstein Simplified will perform on the main stage at the Bijou. We will do a one-hour set on Friday, January 30 at 5:00 p.m. Tickets are only $5, despite what it currently says on the Jubilee site. I am psyched about being on the same stage where the Marx Brothers once did a live show.

If you've never come to our regular Tuesday night show at Patrick Sullivan's because it runs too late or because you have to work the next day or because you don't want to be seen coming out of a bar, here's your chance. No excuses!

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

fertile crescent of imagination

Farragut High School was the scene of comical murder and mayhem this past weekend. My wife and I were invited to attend a performance of "Broadway Babylon" on Saturday night. We had gotten to know the school's drama teacher, Lea McMahan, when she used to come to see Einstein Simplified shows. Lea directed the play, which starred her talented students. She correctly thought that I would enjoy seeing the partially improvised production.

As the Farragut Press reported last week, I was asked to arrive in a limousine. What they didn't tell you is that my wife and I got into the limo in the loading dock area outside the backstage door. The car only drove us around the building. Students playing paparazzi photographed my wife and me as we got out of the limo and walked the red carpet into the high school.

Radio production whiz Gene Wooten did the sound for the production. He does an incredible job of hiding tiny microphones on the actors. They had flesh-colored mics on their foreheads, with the wire hidden in their hair or under their wig.

The play is an interactive murder mystery that the audience is encouraged to solve. The printed program had spaces to write down the clues uncovered throughout the night. They changed the ending at each performance to make a different character the murderer. The reviewer from the Farragut Press was there the same night as me. While they were changing the endings, I felt that they could have also changed a few outdated '80s references to Oliver North and Fawn Hall. However, the actors were great. Most of them were better than the cast of a college musical I saw recently.

I was surprised to find that they made me and another audience member suspects in the murder. We were brought up on stage and questioned as to our whereabouts during the crime. I said that I was in the fourth row, aisle seat when it happened. Later, the detective character suggested that I had reason to want the victim to be dead. I said, "I may have had motive but I didn't have opportunity." In addition to all the other fun, they had cake at intermission! Mmm... cake.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

ebony and ivory

A small crowd of country music fans found themselves in the audience for a Poetry Slam on Friday night. Of course they weren't there for the poetry, they were waiting to see Julianne Hough, the true star of "Dancing with the Stars."

I had tried to catch a glimpse of Julianne at the WIVK Fowler's Furniture Christmas Parade along Gay Street. The sidewalks were packed with people who had gotten there a lot earlier than me to reserve their spot. After barely seeing Julianne's float pass by, I made the tough decision to bail on the parade and head over to the World Grotto, where my wife was waiting with our Tele-buddy Terry Morrow. He had interviewed Julianne earlier in the day and joined us for dinner on Market Square. The three of us got good seats on the cushioned benches along the wall near the stage just as the Poetry Slam began. Others sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the stage.

The Poetry Slam is a regular event produced by Black Sunshine Arts and Entertainment. As we waited for Julianne, we heard recitations from local poets RheaSunshine, Dawg, Jump Drive and Black Atticus. We also heard the evening's featured poet Carlos Robson, who had traveled from Charlotte to perform. Most of the country fans listened politely to the poets' left-leaning monologues. However the woman seated behind me spent most of the time chatting with her friends both in person and on the phone. Carlos was quite good and was able to command the audience's full attention. The emcee, RheaSunshine, repeatedly entreated the crowd to stay for more poetry after Julianne's concert. On the whole, t
he experience made me think of an improv game called "Performance Art" and a new variation we've recently started doing at Einstein Simplified shows called "Beatnik Coffeehouse."

As Rhea began to wrap up their first set, I went to the bathroom, thinking that I might catch a glimpse of Julianne's entourage in one of the other Grotto rooms down the same hallway. Instead I saw County Commissioner Mike Hammond, who greeted me warmly and allowed me to step in to the area reserved for WIVK's meet and greet with Julianne. After Mike introduced me to Julianne, I spied Jimmy Holt, who I knew to be a good guy from my time working at WOKI. I offered to take a picture of him with Julianne if he would return the favor. I told Julianne that I used to work with her former dance partner Adam Carolla.

Julianne was in good voice as she sang selections from her self-titled album and her "Sounds of the Season" disc. I thought she sounded better than she did on the various television shows where I've seen her sing. We had a good view of the stage until Julianne sang "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and asked everyone to stand. Those who were seated on the floor were very happy to get up and stretch their legs.

I've been a fan of Julianne since she first danced with the stars. I now have both her CDs and have already programmed the DVR to catch her on the annual "Christmas in Washington" special on the 17th.

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