Hi-Ho, the Glamorous Life: An Analysis of My Relationship to Comedy (With Jokes)

Brace yourselves for Marissa Skudlarek, comic genius.

September is Comedy Month on the Theater Pub blog, so it seems like a good time for me to parse my rather vexed relationship with the idea of comedy.

Simply put, I think I have a good sense of humor, but I don’t get excited about COMEDY! the way so many other people of my generation do. I remember reading a survey (which I am now unable to find on Google) that said that young people increasingly see comedy as central to their identity. Comedy festivals proliferate, and every Millennial seems to be working on a humorous web series. Stand-up comedians, who once upon a time were themselves subjects of mockery, are the new rock stars.

These days, being interested in or good at comedy means that you’re one of the cool kids. And I am inherently skeptical of cool kids.

It wasn’t always this way: for eons, tragedy was the most prestigious genre, and comedy was considered frivolous. But now that the tables have turned, comedians are reveling in their newfound power. And sometimes, I feel, they overreach – they make claims for comedy that it doesn’t deserve.

Comedians like to consider themselves truth-tellers, and at their best, comedy and satire can effectively cut through society’s bullshit to reveal radical, disturbing truths. But this doesn’t mean that all comedy performs such a noble public service. Some comedy reinforces stereotypes instead of smashing them. (In the case of “ironic racism” or “ironic sexism,” comedy tries to have it both ways, which is worst of all.) Sometimes people refuse to laugh at your offensive, taboo jokes because they’re uptight prudes who can’t handle the truth bombs that you’re exploding in their faces, man. But sometimes people refuse to laugh at your offensive jokes because you just aren’t funny. Not every fart joke is a truth bomb.

Because of this strong association between comedy and truth, people often fail to acknowledge that comedy can be just as artificial as drama. It sounds respectable to say, “I loved that play! It made me laugh,” but it sounds suspicious to say, “I loved that play! It made me cry.” Maybe the play didn’t make you cry for the right reasons. Maybe it was cheaply manipulative and sentimental; maybe it played on your emotions. But laughter is always considered above reproach – even though the art of provoking laughter is itself an art of manipulation.

I do appreciate how, in the 21st-century comedy renaissance, women get to join in on the fun. People once honestly believed that women aren’t funny, and maybe it’s true that traditional, stereotyped femininity doesn’t offer much opportunity for humor. Comedy is transgressive, loud, messy, and active; it assaults dignity and convention. And women finally feel free enough to take part in this.

But if I’m a feminist who feels ambivalent about comedy, what does that make me? Does it mean I’m secretly afraid of strong, funny, loud, messy women; does it mean that, deep down, I am a reactionary troglodyte? The Twitter avatar of popular comedy writer Megan Amram (who went to high school with me, incidentally) shows her making a grotesque face: caked-on eyeshadow, dead eyes, double chin. And we are supposed to interpret this as a bold feminist statement. Unlike other women, blushing flowers who bat their eyelashes and pray for male approval, Megan’s not afraid to look ugly for the sake of a joke. I admire her gumption while also knowing that I lack it: when I choose a Facebook or Twitter profile pic, I select an image that shows me at my best (or at least, not at my worst). Megan’s Twitter avatar is supposed to make me laugh, but instead it makes me feel ashamed. I feel that I am a bad person for wanting strangers to think I’m pretty, and that my desire to cater to the male gaze is, for all I know, single-handedly upholding rape culture in the United States.

So you see what I mean when I say I have a vexed relationship to comedy. (To feminism, too.) Furthermore, I think my problem might be that I draw a mental distinction between comedy and humor. I love humor – and I can’t stand humorless people. I often say that I could never write a play that’s devoid of laughter, because I don’t think the world works like that! Our foibles, the absurd things we do to get what we want… these are the basis of drama, and they’re also inherently funny. And even in life’s saddest or darkest moments, people will find things to laugh about (perhaps in a bitter gallows-humor way, but that’s still humor).

But at the same time, I am not sure that I could ever write a 100% comedic play. For me, writing humor means creating a world where funny things can happen. (It could, in fact, be identical to our own world.) Whereas writing comedy implies the creation of a world where only funny things happen – where anything that doesn’t provoke laughter is simply ignored. And I consider that a dangerously false outlook – just as wrong-headed as total humorlessness is.

I think that life teeters wildly between great joy and great sorrow – so isn’t it odd that there are thousands of aspiring comedians, but no aspiring tragedians? We would find it absurd (or horrifying) if someone said that they spend all day thinking of ways to provoke people to tears and catharsis, but we think it’s perfectly natural to spend all day thinking of ways to make people convulse with laughter. And that’s really kind of funny, when you think about it, isn’t it? It could even be the beginnings of a comedy sketch.

Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright, producer, and arts writer. Her Twitter avatar (@MarissaSkud) is a photo of the back of her head.

Cowan Palace: My Nightmare Audition

Ashley and her friends sit around the Theater Pub campfire and tell tales of horror…ible auditions.

Comedy Month continues here with the Theater Pub gang where we’re all about laughing at our errors! And since I love dishing out tales of my own awkward struggles in this theatrical world (remember when I wrote this blog?) I thought it’d be fun to dedicate this week’s entry to nightmare auditions!

Thanks to some Facebook pals, I managed to get a few great tales. But if you too have an audition horror story, please feel free to leave it in the comments section! Let this be a time to celebrate our mistakes and laugh about them together! Besides, when I used to try and sneak-read Cosmo in study hall, my favorite section was always the embarrassing stories. And some of these stories are sexy too – two of them involve boobs! But first, here’s mine:

I’ve had a lot of bad auditions. Luckily, I’ve had a few good ones too but eesh, some of the bad were just awful. The one that comes to mind first when I think of “nightmare audition” was my audition for URTA (University Resident Theatre Association) my senior year of college.

New England was experiencing a brutal winter that year and I was in tech week for my senior project, acting in The Fox, a play by Allan Miller based on D.H. Lawrence’s novella by the same name. I was getting ready to begin my final semester of college and I was absolutely freaking out. Beyond terrified. So I thought, hey, maybe I can hide in grad school for a few years while I figure things out! Genius! But, ugh, I don’t want to go into more debt, I’m gonna need a school to pay for me to go there. Cool! I’ll audition for URTA, where I’ll get seen by schools all over the country and then go wherever I get in, even if it’s in rural Alabama.

That was my big plan. So my cast mate, Dave and I boarded a train surrounded in four feet of snow to head to New York City for a few hours before having to rush back to Rhode Island to finish getting our play ready.

We arrived around 1am to our college budget friendly hotel and woke around 5am to prepare for our early call. I wore a cream colored sweater and a conventional black skirt because the URTA Suggestions Guide mentioned that auditioning actors looked good in light colored tops and dark bottoms.

We got to the fancy hotel where auditions were taking place to check in and I discovered the “headshot” I brought with me (which was just an enlarged passport picture I got the day before from Walgreens) had fallen into the snow and had been ruined beyond repair. I sucked it up though and was given my audition time. (My one proud moment of the day was being placed in the time slot with the auditioners with the highest GPAs – holla, theatre nerd alert!)

Finally, it was my turn. I faked some confidence and walked into the room with a smile, my plain skirt swishing behind! I started my Moliere monologue and then blanked. Like just the worst blank in the entire world. I even asked the panel of viewers what I should do and they were boggled. They looked pained for me. Finally, I just started in on my second monologue from The Rainmaker. I completed it. But it was nothing special. After that, in a daze, I walked out of the room feeling like the entire world was collapsing in on me. I had just ruined my future. I was lost in a cloud of despair when I passed Dave. He asked me how it went and I shook my head unable to even cry. “I need to go.” I told him and I wished him luck on his audition.

Then I walked out of the fancy hotel into foreign streets. I was unfamiliar with New York City and had only been there a handful of times on school trips as a kid. It was freezing and my shoes were soaked with snow. But I walked trying to put back the shattered pieces of my dreams until Dave called me.

“I lost it,” he said, “I just blanked.”

I hurried to meet him and within seconds of looking at each other like we wanted to cry, we were laughing. We were two idiot kids with no business being at that audition. We weren’t prepared, we just wanted the safety of a place to hide in a bit longer before having to try and make it in the real world.

We immediately sought to find solace in pizza. I didn’t yet know the type of magical healing powers found in New York pizza, but let me say, it can cure many woes. And while we sat shoveling feelings and slices into our faces, I caught the eye of a man outside. He entered the restaurant and sat down at a table near to us. He kept staring at me, which I assumed was probably thanks to my smart outfit, but after a few minutes he approached us. I was prepared to hear him ask us for money but he did not. Instead, he showed me something he had been working on while sitting in the corner. It was a drawing of a crowd. All different types of people standing tall and gazing out from the page. That’s when I saw it. I was there. He pointed to the sketched version of me and said in broken English, “I wanted to draw you too.”

Dave and me acting in The Fox. While we did not get a single callback for any of the URTA schools, we did get an A on our senior project!

Dave and me acting in The Fox. While we did not get a single callback for any of the URTA schools, we did get an A on our senior project!

Suddenly, through some very kind and thoughtful strokes (homegirl looked way prettier than the snow soaked Ashley looked that day), was a new me standing beside other New Yorkers. That’s the moment I knew I was going to move to NYC after I graduated. Perhaps I needed someone else to see me there, who knows, but that’s exactly what I did. The man quietly walked away and we finished our pizza. Simple movements that forever changed my life.

Dave and I moved to NYC together a few months later and ate a whole lot more pizza. And both of us auditioned for a play together right away… we got in it… only to learn it was an anti abortion play… ah, but I’ll save that story for another time. The lesson here is that nightmare auditions are going to happen to even the best of us but there’s always something to take away from them, even if it’s just being able to laugh at yourself for being an idiot. Who else would be stupid enough to put themselves through so much rejection and heartbreak? We need each other to commiserate with, to celebrate with, and to keep encouraging each other to laugh. So in honor of that idea, here are some tales of audition horror from some of my fellow actors and friends!

Dave Collins (the guy from my story!):

So, I’m not sure if this is my worst audition story or my worst audition story from LA but either way it was pretty awful.

I was called in for this Danica Patrick commercial and thought I was just going to be one of three or four guys basically drooling over this beautiful race-car driver. This is what I came in prepared to do, not a very big stretch. This was not the case. I get into the room in front of the casting director and she proceeds to tell me that the joke of this commercial is that they want to show three dudes watching a clip of this beautiful woman showering and then pan to a dude’s naked chest… that these idiots somehow mistake for hers… Then, the camera would slowly go back up to the dude’s face. What?!! So the casting director asks me to take my shirt off and squeeze my very masculine, hairy, breasts together to try and put one over on these unsuspecting dbags. It was weird, humiliating, and I did it. And I didn’t get the part. I guess my male breasts weren’t feminine enough. Gross. I need to go shower now.

Shay Wisniewski:

I moved to New York about 3 months ago and was ready to hit the ground running with auditions. So I went to a call for Peer Gynt by Ibson, it’s one of his lesser known plays. I headed to Brooklyn for one of my first auditions. I show up and start filling out my audition form. Pretty standard. They even asked how we felt about nudity on stage. At this point in my life, I felt I could show off my breast if needed for a show. No big deal. Also, I told myself I wouldn’t turn anything down since I’m new to the city. So in I went.

In the room was an older man. White hair and a pony tail, along with his daughter who was handling the music in the show. They had me sing, improvise some dancing, do a monologue. Things were going great. I even get a callback which was even better than the audition. Full of viewpoints and group movement work, Meisner technique. Everything was right up my alley. He sits us down at the end of the callback and says, “so, I want to clarify the nudity aspect of the show. I love women, I love sex and I think both are very important things in a man’s life. Mothers, lovers, sister and so on. So at the end of the play, I want the main guy, to be breastfed by all the women on stage.”

Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not nudity, that’s porn.

And one of the guys in the audition group even went up to the director afterwards to let him know he was okay with the nudity in the show. Of course you are! You’d be getting a titty parade in your mouth! Sucking on multiple breasts is way better than having some strange adult man breast feed when you aren’t even dating.

I ended up getting cast. No, I didn’t take it. I couldn’t have something like that show up on YouTube one day when I’m famous. Whenever that is. Oh, and it paid zero dollars. So, no, you will not be seeing my breast feeding premiere this fall in New York.

Alex Harris:

You know what? When I saw your post on Facebook I immediately thought of a TERRIBLE one I had on Wednesday! Have you ever had an audition where, like, you read what they wanted, you knew what they wanted, and then when you go in there, you do absolutely everything you’re not supposed to? Well, that was me at this commercial audition, yikes bikes!! I walked in and the taping happens right in the audition waiting area so while you’re auditioning, you’re being watched by the other girls who are there (BIG HELP TO THE NERVES). And I just like had a lapse of where I was. I did exaggerated expressions like I was on stage or doing improv, instead of understated looks and reactions for simple commercial shots, oh it is awful Ashley. Awful.

Natalie Ashodian:

I once auditioned a woman for the very serious part of a Planned Parenthood nurse. A woman (in her 50’s or older, mind you!) showed up in a sexy nurse uniform. You know, Halloween costume 1940’s pin up style nurse. Needless to say, please don’t over-do character auditions. Unless the show is, you know, inherently campy.

Lea Gulino:

My last on-camera audition in LA – a 3rd callback for a Visa ad and the 3rd time I put everything I had into bleating like a goat…

Christi Chew:

He said, “Well now we know you can sing. Can you do it again, but crawl around like a cat?” It wasn’t CATS.

Do you have an audition horror story to share? Come join the party and leave it in the comments section!

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Working Title: Dark Comedy and Skeletons!

This week Will Leschber takes a walk on the dark side of comedy.

As you may have noticed, here at Theater Pub, September is a month of comedy!

Looking for live comedy? Check out great suggestions by Allison Page.

Looking to laugh at someone else’s life? Check out Claire Rice’s “Comedy of Personal Errors.”

But if you are looking for something a little on the darker side of comedy, read on. Sad clowns are my favorite. It’s possibly more accurate to say that there’s something about the sad clown juxtaposition that has a greater draw and hits closer to home. The sound of sad clowns and dark comedy seems to me a resonating indigo bell. Maybe it comes down to the fusion of two spectrums of theater, or life in general for that matter. Comedy, tragedy, light and dark all at once. That is closer to my experience.

sad_clown_by_brandongroce123-d5uuwzy copy

We get everything all at once and have to juggle the mirth and the struggle simultaneously. Laughing around a hospital bed as you share old stories about a fading friend. Celebrating an anniversary while a close friend disintegrates towards divorce. Proudly graduating and then being forced to recon with uncertain futures. Moving away from home. Leaving a secure, steady job that you hate. Marveling at a beautiful sunset with no one to share it with. Experience is layered. Great comedy deals with bigger things than just getting a laugh. The best dark comedies may have an easier time straddling line because we give them room to grow beyond the mere joke. Fight Club, Fargo, Barton Fink, In Bruges, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Death to Smoochy, American Psycho… All these films are concerned with a layer of topics and still remain brazenly funny. They wrestle with Identity, finding your place in the world, materialism, the cost of creativity, definitions of success, commercialism, the meaning of repentance and also unconventional humor.

the_skeleton_twins copy

One of the best dark comedies of 2014 is in theaters now. The Skeleton Twins stars Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as troubled siblings who reconnect after a ten-year estrangement when one of them attempts suicide. Sounds dark, right? Well, it is. Darker than I expected after hearing the buzz and seeing the trailer. But the film also contains some of the funniest scenes of the year. I laughed so hard and so long at a sequence in which Hader’s character Milo attempts to cheer up his sister by lip-syncing Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” It may be the funniest 5 minutes of film this year. This is bookended with the lives of these characters falling apart. It’s a marvel of balancing tone. Moreover, the two lead performers are the what allow this film to elevate to a higher level. We seen comedic actors given the chance to do dramatic work before and when its done as well as this you should pay attention.

Theater Around The Bay: The Rise of Geek Theater

Sunil Patel returns in another guest blog.

Last year I produced a Theater Pub night of sci-fi/fantasy/horror theater called The Pub from Another World. In one night, we saw plays about superheroes, clones, unicorns, time travel, and monsters. Theater Pub was no stranger to genre theater, having put on Lovecraft adaptations, Love in the Time of Zombies, and a Pint-Sized Play about a genie, but I wanted to see more, being a fan of both SFF and theater. It seemed a rare beast to me, especially given that we owe the word “robot” to Karel Čapek’s 1920 play, R.U.R. I made it to my mission to bring more genre theater to the Bay Area…and then two days after The Pub from Another World, Shotgun Players premiered Lauren Gunderson’s cloning drama, By and By. Perhaps genre theater wasn’t as rare a beast as I thought.

As Hardison from Leverage frequently proclaims, it is the Age of the Geek, and geek culture and theater are intersecting more than ever before. In February David Dean Bottrell raised over $80,000 to produce the 1st Annual Sci-Fest, a science fiction one-act play festival in Los Angeles boasting actors from shows like The X-Files, Lost, and Supernatural. The festival alternated two evenings featuring works by sci-fi greats Ursula K. LeGuin and Ray Bradbury in addition to new works. I enthusiastically backed the project and was fortunate enough to attend one show in May, where I got to see Ando from Heroes give a hell of a nonverbal performance and Langly from The X-Files deliver philosophical monologues while floating in space. The festival received many positive reviews, and submissions are now being accepted for the 2nd Annual Sci-Fest!

The Sci-Fest Kickstarter declared that apart from Ray Bradbury, “few writers have ever experimented with presenting compelling science fiction stories on stage.” As if responding to that very statement, a couple months later Jen Gunnels and Erin Underwood launched a Kickstarter for Geek Theater, an anthology of science fiction and fantasy plays, and raised nearly $4,000. The anthology collects over a dozen plays of various lengths (and one monologue) from current playwrights, bringing more visibility to theater about zombies and robots. I’m only familiar with a couple of the authors, one from comics and one from short stories, so I’m excited to discover new SFF playwrights.

Jen Gunnels is no stranger to sci-fi theater, though, as in April she was the keynote speaker at Stage the Future: The First International Conference on Science Fiction Theatre, an academic conference focusing on topics ranging from Ancient Speculative Theatre to Performing the Non-Human and the Post-Human. “This conference is the first of its kind and hopes to raise awareness of the need for a new theatre that is already here; a theatre that has its roots in the past and its eyes on the future,” the description reads, echoing my own desires. And like the first Sci-Fest, the first Stage the Future found success and is now accepting proposals for its second year.

Like her co-editor, Erin Underwood’s passion for sci-fi theater also took her to England this year, as in August she spoke at the World Science Fiction Convention in London (also known as Loncon). Staging the Fantastic, a panel that also included Geek Theater contributor James Patrick Kelley, asked “Is this a golden age for genre theatre?” In fact, Loncon itself featured seven stage productions, including an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Anubis Gates by World Fantasy Award winner Tim Powers and a hilarious production of The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) with jokes about Babylon 5 and the Joss Whedon oeuvre.

While it’s clear that traditional geek theater is alive and well, recently I’ve noticed another form that truly marries a love of geekery with the power of theater: the live reading. This July at San Diego Comic-Con, voice actors from Adventure Time performed an original radio play written by current head writer, Kent Osborne. Although the Adventure Time panel in 2012 also featured a live reading, this event was both separate from the official panel and a ticketed event, speaking to the popularity and appeal of the performance. A few days later, Naughty Dog hosted The Last of Us: One Night Live, with live performances of the score and key cut scenes from the acclaimed survival horror game. While the idea was met with some skepticism, reviews of the event were positive—the music and voice acting were praised in the game itself, after all, and I’d buy tickets to The Walking Dead: One Night Live in a heartbeat—and attendees were treated to a special epilogue scene written and directed by Neil Druckmann (writer/director of the game).

No one has embraced the theatricality of the live reading quite like Welcome to Night Vale, however. The weird, surreal podcast about a radio show in the strangest town in America has developed a massive following, and last year they began doing live shows. These shows sell out in minutes, and I’ve been lucky enough to attend two, one at the Booksmith and one at the Victoria Theater. Creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor met via the New York Neo-Futurists, and lead actor Cecil Baldwin performs with the New York Neos (I also saw him perform with the inaugural San Francisco Neo-Futurists). The influence is evident in the live shows, which similarly pay no attention to the fourth wall and bring the audience into the show. For one night, the audience is in Night Vale and part of the story. At the Booksmith we collectively killed a man with our minds. In the Victoria Theater we feared for our lives as an escaped Librarian slithered in our midst. A live reading can simply be actors reading from a script or it can be a transformative, transportive experience.

Is it just me or is this an actual trend? Science fiction theater festivals! Science fiction theater academic conferences! Live performances of video game cut scenes! I can’t wait to see where the intersection of geek culture and theater takes us next.

Sunil Patel is a Bay Area writer and actor. See his work at http://ghostwritingcow.com or follow him on Twitter @ghostwritingcow.

It’s A Suggestion Not A Review: “It Looks Like (Pause) A Small Controversy. Bad Luck to It!”

Dave Sikula, king of controversy.

I ended our last meeting with a question from the estimable Eric L. of Oregon:

“How do you think this incident compares to the Beckett’s objection and legal action against Akalaitis’s production of ‘Endgame?’”

I’m glad Eric asked me the question, since I’d forgotten that particular incident.

Musing it over (thinking isn’t good enough, of course), I have a few thoughts and observations.

In 1984, Ms. Akalaitis was hired to direct a production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” for the American Repertory Theater in Boston. In spite of Mr. Beckett’s well-known insistence on his plays being done exactly as he had written them, Ms. Akalaitis determined that the play not only needed to be moved from its creator’s stark setting (“Bare interior. Grey light. Left and right back, high up, two small windows, curtains drawn. Front left, touching each other, covered with an old sheet, two ashbins”) to what the New York Times described as “an abandoned subway station, layered with trash as well as a derelict train,” she also added an overture and underscoring by minimalist composer Philip Glass (coincidentally, her ex-husband) that was, to quote the Times again, “peripheral but supportive, a fierce scraping, like the sound – to extend the underground imagery – of a subway car careening off the track at high speed.” Hardly the post-apocalyptic wasteland Beckett describes.

 ART's "Endgame."

ART’s “Endgame.”

It’s unclear from my research whether Mr. Beckett was asked in advance if the changes were permissible or learned about them by reading ART’s publicity — the Times, in the review linked to above, summarizes the production as “Nuclear Metaphor ENDGAME,” so the cat may have been out of the garbage can well in advance – but, regardless, when he found out what Ms. Akalaitis intended to do, Mr. Beckett hit the metaphorical can lid and filed suit to stop the production. A settlement was ultimately reached, and a statement from the playwright was inserted into the program:

Any production of Endgame which ignores my stage directions is completely unacceptable to me. My play requires an empty room and two small windows. The American Repertory Theater production which dismisses my directions is a complete parody of the play as conceived by me. Anybody who cares for the work couldn’t fail to be disgusted by this:

As the author intended.

As the author intended.

Beckett also objected to black actors being cast in two of the play’s four roles, which caused Robert Brustein, the then-artistic director of ART to bemoan the playwright’s apparent racism:

I was really astonished. Beckett was a playwright who we revered. We were shocked. We had black actors in the cast playing the parts of Ham and Nagg, and we were most upset about his objection to that.

Was Beckett a racist? Who knows? Given Beckett’s boycotting of apartheid-era South Africa and his concern for human rights, the charges are doubtful. Critic Thomas Garvey of the Hub Review defends him, noting:

Beckett always disapproved of productions of his plays that “mixed” the races (or the genders in ways not specifically described), because he felt that power relations between the races and genders were not a part of the artistic material he was trying to present, and so he wanted to leave them out entirely, as he felt they would inevitably draw attention in performance from his central concerns. He was happy, however, to see all-black productions of his plays – or all-female productions of single-sex scripts like “Waiting for Godot.”

"Waiting for Godot" in New Orleans -- heaven only  knows what Beckett would have made of this one.

“Waiting for Godot” in New Orleans — heaven only
knows what Beckett would have made of this one.

(At this point, I’ll just note the cross-gender casting in Alchemist’s “Oleanna.”)

It should also be noted that Mr. Garvey didn’t have much use for Ms. Akalaitis’s production, saying that she’d “pasted her usual dim downtown appliqué onto ‘Endgame’ – she dopily literalized its sense of apocalypse by setting it in a bombed-out subway station … it proved to be bombastic and, well, stupid).”

Now, with all of this in mind, two things occur to me – but, since I’m 600+ words into this – and am beginning to enjoy my reputation for taking forever to get to the damn point – I’m going to deal with them next time.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Comedy of Personal Errors

Claire Rice bumbles through life…and has the stories to prove it! 

I’m working on an ongoing series on what the theatre scene looks like in the Bay Area on any given night. While I continue doing research for the final article in the series I would like to present you with a comedic break: shit that went wrong a little wrong. You see, sometimes things go really wrong: “Well shit, now the curtain is on fire.” Sometimes things go kind of wrong: “OMG! I’m at the wrong theatre! Be there in five!” Sometimes things go wacky wrong: “Then I dropped a line and everyone was quiet for, like minute before the sound guy made the gun go BANG!”

But sometimes you have little personal comedies that don’t harm anyone else really. They are just publicly embarrassing or privately surreal. Sure, these moments are “teachable” but they are also the ones that stick with you in the middle of the night when you find yourself reexamining your life choices.

Teachable moments feel like shit IN the moment.

Teachable moments feel like shit IN the moment.

I didn’t take it seriously

This one isn’t funny “ha ha” sort of funny…sad. I went right from undergrad to graduate school with only a summer in between. During the long strange summer spent in San Antonio before the move to San Francisco I was alternately bored and anxious. I spent the time working at a strange job and writing. I also submitted my senior thesis, a short play about a Cambodian boy solder, to a prestigious theatre company in New York. I’d never submitted my work anywhere before and I picked this one because it had a famous name attached to it. It seemed like, maybe, they might like the play. But being so isolated in New Mexico until that time, I really didn’t know anything about the American Theatre scene. It was a shot in the dark. So when they called me back asking for the whole script I figured that is what happened every time you submitted a script. Of course, I didn’t put my phone number on my submission, I put my mother’s. By that time, though, I had moved to San Francisco and started school so they had a hell of a time reaching out to me. When they finally got a hold of me I was on my cellphone outside and the poor literary manager at the other end couldn’t hear me. We had to try several more times. When we finally connected I let her know that I had, in fact, sent her my full script and that there wasn’t any more to send. That was the whole play. There wasn’t more to it. She, surprised, said “oh.” And that was it. When I told someone later about this whole thing they looked at me shocked: They called you?! They actually called you!?! They want you to write more?! You TOLD THEM THERE WASN’T ANY MORE!?! YOU NEVER SUBMITTED TO THEM AGAIN!?!?!?!?! That’s right. I had a major literary manager on the phone with me who worked hard to talk to me and I didn’t do anything to further that relationship at all. See…funny sad.

I’ve seen everything you were in…or one thing…that I can’t remember the name of

I was holding auditions and an actor I had really been looking forward to seeing walked in. I’d seen him in a show and I had specifically requested that the casting director invite him. He looked happy to be there. I smiled and shook his hand. “Thank you for coming!” I said. Before my brain could stop my mouth I followed that with, “I’ve loved everything I’ve seen you in.” He followed up my line with “Oh, what have you seen?” My anxiety kicked in: Was it Shakespeare? He was funny. Wait, was he? No. Yes. It was at Theatre X…but I see so many shows there…shit. Wait. Was it there? Maybe it was at Theatre Y…CRAP! “Uhm…wasn’t it…Mid Summer?” He saw through my faux Hollywood-glad-handing-kiss-ass ways and his eyes glazed over and I could tell we were done here. There really wasn’t much of a need to go on.

No, really…please don’t make me see your show

Rob Ready has made a great deal about theatre’s late seating policies on his podcast. Most of his contention is with a “no late seating” policy. He feels that theatre has to work so very hard to keep audience right now, why are we turning any of them away? So what if they are ten or fifteen minutes late. They want to see the show. Let them see the show. The last show I directed had a no late seating policy for various reasons. The first three minutes where in utter darkness. The audience door was used as an entrance frequently. The audience door also faced the audience making it particularly distracting when it was opened or closed for any reason. I felt justified in the policy. I mean, sure. I was the one who directed it that way so I also ENSURED the policy had to be in place. Anyway, during the run of that show, Cutting Ball was showing “Communique” which I had been looking forward to. I bought a ticket for one of the last performances. I laughed, LAUGHED, when I got an email that was so hand-holding I thought it was ridiculous. (Read the following like a teenager who has a permanent eye roll in place.) A little history on the play was nice, but detailed information on when to arrive…I mean come on. I bought the ticket! I know what time the show starts! I’m not an idiot! (Teenage mode off.) But I am an idiot. The email was sent, in part, because the show started at 7:30pm…not 8pm. A follow up email also had that information. In bold. My ticket had that information. Everything had that information. Except my mind. My idiot mind. I showed up at 7:50. Rob Ready, you would have been proud. That theatre was bending over backwards to get me in. In hushed tones they welcomed me and told me not to worry. They called up the assistant stage manager on headset who picked out a seat. She was in communication with the stage manager over when a break in the action would happen so I could be seated. There were limited doors into the theatre so I would need to be guided into the house. I could see the actors waiting to enter where I would eventually be lead. Everyone was so nice. And I could see how much trouble I was causing. “You know, I’m sorry. I think I’ll just go.” No, no…they said…just wait a few more minutes. “I am so embarrassed, please…” No, really, it’s Ok. That house manager was so nice. Everyone was so nice. They wanted me to see the show. “No, please don’t make me go in there now.” I couldn’t I couldn’t be the late person. The late THEATRE person. After all the emails and the trouble. I couldn’t do it. I ran out of that theatre and went home and had a stiff drink.

I fell asleep during a show…while running lights

I was running lights for The Importance of Being Earnest. It was an easy job. The stage manager was good and I just had to hit a “go” button. The booth was warm…and full of bees. The theatre was having a problem with a wasp nest in the fly grid. The nest had been sprayed, which meant drunken wasps were flying around harmlessly everywhere. A large number of them found their final destination in the booth. Also, I had a crush on the young man playing Reverend Canon Chasuble. He was funny, handsome and very talented. The show was a great show all around. Beautiful set design, gorgeous costumes, and lively comedic timing. So there were a number of reasons I should not have been able to fall asleep. A drunk and disorderly wasp might land stinger side down. The handsome man might come up and see me during intermission. The show was worth watching. This is why I don’t chalk it up to “being tired.” Nope. I had to WORK at that nap. I let myself sleep. My heavy eyelids slipped somewhere in the first act and I let them go. Speaking of the word “go”, this word filtered into my dreams and acted like a shot of adrenaline. I heard it and snapped awake and acted. I hit that “go” button with as much force as I could. Of course, it wasn’t my go. It was a sound cue. I plunged the stage into the pink lights for the act scene change. It was at that moment the adrenaline, sensing no immediate danger after all, left my system and sleepy confusion returned. Where was I? What happened? Who are all these people? The stage manager yelled something in my ear and my fingers fluttered over the board. I hit the “go” button again and brought in the lights for the following act. After a furious moment of hitting buttons I was only vaguely familiar with, a short disco ensued onstage before the lights settled into their proper places. We all breathed a sigh of relief. The terror was over. And then a wasp landed on me.

My costume fell off

Matthew Lillard gave a great interview to the AV Club about his career. He talks at length about his experiences doing bad movies. He even goes so far as to say that if his name is at the top of a call sheet, you know it’s not a great movie. “And being an actor, when you sign onto a project—whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent— you kind of fall in love with it. You fall in love with the experience, you fall in love with the memories.” Keeping that quote in mind, know that when I say I was in a show where I was dressed in the Princess Leia gold bikini, standing next to Perseus, looking on at our fallen hero (a Teddy Ruxpin), and surrounded by the dead bodies of our enemies and photo copy clerk rivals when the bottom of my costume fell off…well…I’m in love with that memory. I love telling that story. If you’ve been at a bar with me late enough into the night, you’ve heard that story. I might have even already told it on this blog. I’ve told it so many times I’m sure the telling of it has colored the actual memories. As a director I tell my actors again and again that they should be human beings on stage. React when things happen. If your clothes were to fall off, don’t stare down at them stupidly and wish them back onto your body. Don’t stand in your nude underwear and suddenly hope that you shaved down there sufficiently. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. The audience laughed, as they should have. And when I caught the eye of an audience member she mouthed to me “You’re so brave.” It was all I could do to not bust up laughing.

Everything Is Already Something Week 41: Things And People That Are Funny

Allison Page knows what funny is.

September is comedy month over here at Theater Pub. Or it’s supposed to be. We do what we want. Anyway, I’m getting you back on the comedy course riiiiight now! And as the resident comedy obsessed eat-sleep-breathe-it blogger I deem myself worthy of this endeavor. (And comedy doesn’t just mean stand up, by the way.)

MARIA BAMFORD

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I have to mention her, and I have to mention her FIRST. It’s really hard for me to believe there’s anyone funnier than Maria on planet earth. I laugh harder and more consistently at everything she says and does than I ever have at anything. I know, that sounds like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t. She’s incredibly unique and wonderful. Watching her is like watching a majestic unicorn morph into 26 other animals right in front of you. I have listened to her albums over and over again and I never stop laughing (Check her out on iTunes. Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome is brilliant.) You can catch her stand up at Cobb’s Comedy Club October 28th and 29th. If you haven’t seen her before, I really cannot recommend it enough. She’s also a sweet and delightful person, so that’s a perk.

SHIPWRECK

“Good theatre for bad literature? Marital aid for book nerds? A literary erotic fanfiction competition for the ages?” Shipwreck is a monthly event at The Booksmith in the Haight involving 6 writers who are assigned one character each from a classic/great book, and are tasked with writing erotic fan fiction putting that character into places and situations they were never, ever, EVER meant to experience. Full disclosure: I have participated in Shipwreck once so far, for Catcher In The Rye. I got second place, just behind Maggie Tokuda-Hall who is now the FOUR TIME CHAMPION. She’s like a magician of hilarious filth, and you can see her and a bunch of other writers at Booksmith on October 2nd, destroying characters from Stephen King’s Christine. The best parts are the dramatic reading of each piece by Steven Westdahl, and the fact that the audience votes on their favorite nasty masterpiece.

MISSION CTRL

Mission Control is a sketch comedy group spawned from Piano Fight’s loins. They are consistently funny and completely insane. They’ve done at least one sketch that made me feel like I was on acid and I’ve never actually been on acid. People who think sketch comedy is just shitty theater are stupid assholes who don’t know what they’re talking about and should see Mission Control.

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When PF opens their fancy new space in the heart of the Tenderloin, I imagine the guys at Mission CTRL will be making a whole lot of smart nonsense. Whenever that happens, you’re sure to see news about it on pianofight.com or on Mission Control’s Facebook page which you can find for yourself. You know how to internet, I’m not going to teach you.

IVAN HERNANDEZ

Ivan is really funny. He runs a show called Give Me Fiction populated with comics, writers, and generally wonderful degenerates who read stuff they wrote and that’s it. There’s no winner, no loser, no end goal apart from just listening to some cool/funny/great new prose that someone wrote based on a particular theme. It’s a thoroughly good time in the Cynic Cave at Lost Weekend Video (Or is it Cinecave? I see both. Whatever, just go.) It’s also been turned into a podcast, which you can listen to here: http://boingboing.net/2014/09/09/give-me-fiction-the-podcast.html Ivan’s also a great comic and his Twitter is a solid place to spend your time. You can follow him @ivan_hernandez

SAN FRANCISCO IMPROV FESTIVAL

If you’re one of those “Uhhh…improv can be reeaaally bad” people, I hear you. Believe me, I hear you. But if you want to find some good ones, this is a great place to do that. Groups locally and from other reaches of the planet come crawling out of the woodwork to perform starting TODAY and lasting until September 20th. I’d go for Boom Chicago, Jet Eveleth and Scott Adsit, Speechless, Huge and The Vendetta just to start – though I’m sure there are lots of great offerings to get educated about at http://sfimprovfestival.com

Scott Adsit looking serene

Scott Adsit looking serene

JANINE BRITO

Janine is a former bay area comic who’ll be coming through again September 25th and 26th with Guy Branum and Kevin Shea. She’s most well-known now for being a part of the Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell team, but she’s very much funny in her own right and totally worth hobbling over to Cobb’s to see. W. Kamau Bell calls her “a sarcastic, snarky smart bomb of comedy funk straight from the 80′s,” and he’s not wrong.

Or you can say “Fuck it, what’s Allison doing?” and see Killing My Lobster at Cal Shakes’ Grove September 26th at 6:45pm before ambling over to see their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as bay area comedy goes, but I don’t have all day, Reader. I just don’t have all day.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/comedy maker in San Francisco, you can find her on Twitter @allisonlynnpage.