Friday, November 22, 2013

On Gym Bros



I was recently reading my good friend Jeff Ford's blog Mindsilt, and he posted this:

http://www.mindsilt.com/2013/11/what-is-wrong-with-these-gym-bros.html

Go read it.

Come back.

Okay, are you back?

Cool.

Okay. So I was just ruminating on Gym Bros, and Gym Bro culture.

Now close your eyes (and read this through your closed eyelids) and we will ruminate together. Picture it- you have finished your warm up, and stepped into the free weight area of your local gym. You are seriously ready to crush some squats and lunges because you have been reading up, and you know that those two exercises will help you build TONS of functional strength. When you get to the free weight area, you notice that all 3 of the squat racks are occupied. In one, you see someone squatting to half depth. You vaguely remember an article you read that says that this is kind of a bad thing, but you think maybe this fellow has bad knees or something. You see another squat rack is occupied by a woman who is five feet tall, and very quietly, without drawing much attention to herself, squatting like, 250 pounds to full depth multiple times. For some reason, this is the only woman in the free weight area.

On the third squat rack, you see a pack of wily gym bros. The gym bros have pulled a bench up to the squat rack and converted it for bench pressing. You hear one gym bro say something about blasting his pecs to another gym bro before "discretely" flexing his arm at a nearby mirror. Then, after loading up some weights, one gym bro lies down on the bench. He shouts SPOT ME BRO! And one of the other bros, who is wearing a t-shirt that says "SWOLE" on the front, and has a picture of Jesus on the Crucifix on the back runs behind, and gingerly puts his fingers under the bar. The bench-bound bro lifts the bar off of the rack, and cranks out five reps. Each time he does a rep, he screams like someone kicked him in the nuts. It is a deep guttural scream that shakes the gym mirrors. Everyone in the free weight area turns, and watches as the gym bro blasts his pecs.

When he finishes, he jumps off the rack, fist bumps his bros, and then starts talking very loudly about women who they would like to "Bang." They are somehow able to engage in this discussion despite the fact that they have mothers and sisters. This continues on for a full hour. The gym bros never do any other exercises. They just do reps of bench press, and say horrible things about women, and scream. Sometimes they take a swig from a blender bottle filled with protein drink- probably Muscle Milk, because that shit is delicious brah.

As you stand there watching this scene, it occurs to you that this gym culture is not for you. Perhaps you will try yoga, or go use a treadmill for an hour. Maybe you will just go home and watch four episodes of "Breaking Bad" before falling asleep on top of an empty pizza box. I mean, if this is what weightlifters are like, why would anyone want to be a weightlifter?


Okay, open your eyes and let's talk.

It kind of kills me that this is probably a relatively common scene in gyms across America. Many people in the U.S. will never lift a weight because they feel intimidated by Gym Bros. They believe that the free weight areas of most gyms are dominated by sweaty dumbasses who peaked after scoring the winning touchdown in their high school football championship game back in 2003. I mean, Planet Fitness, which is a really crappy chain of gyms, has made insane amounts of money by advertising themselves as being a gym that is devoid of gym bros. People are so intimidated by these knuckleheads that they will willingly sign up for a gym where you are not allowed to do deadlifts. So, yes, Gym bros are a problem.

I want to take a moment to point out a few things, and maybe encourage you to stick around in that free weight area the next time you're in the gym despite the Gym Bros.

Some points:

1. In any free weight area, there are going to be Gym Bros. This is a simple fact of gym life. Even the best gyms with the fewest douchebags have one or two of these guys walking around at any given time. However, they are the MINORITY of people at the gym. In fact, they are generally the MINORITY of people in the free weight area. Those screaming idiots in the scenario above? They're just three guys. There were probably like, 15 other people in that free weight area who were mostly being very quiet, keeping to themselves, and doing their routine.

2. I think a lot of people are intimidated by gym bros because they assume that they know what they are doing. Usually they don't. I mean, sometimes they do. Sometimes. But usually Gym bros are the guys who never train legs, think curls are somehow important, and down products with names like "ANABOLIC RAGE" before working out. The lady doing squats in the above scenario is the person who clearly knew her shit. Not the gym bros.

3. Generally speaking, gym bros will leave you alone. Yes sometimes gym bros will come up and say something critical, or if you are a woman, sexist to you. You can ignore them. Or tell them to fuck off. This will usually make them go away. If not, you can complain to the desk at your gym. But generally, they keep to themselves even if they are clearly yelling in a way that is meant to attract the attention of everyone in creation.


I guess what I'm trying to say is don't let the bastards grind you down. Please don't think that Gym Bros are somehow indicative of everyone who lifts weights. They aren't. And please, PLEASE don't let the presence of Gym Bros dissuade you from lifting weights. Lifting weights is great for you. Yes, they are loud, and take up too much room, and are generally obnoxious, but they don't own the free weight area. And they shouldn't dissuade you from doing something awesome for your health.

It's there for everyone. Now, go do some squats.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Welcome to Welcome to Night Vale

Is this blog post real? Are blog posts even a thing?

I'm going to make you all listen to "Welcome to Night Vale."


"Night Vale", if you've never heard of it, is a comedy podcast. Not ONLY is it a comedy podcast, it is currently the MOST popular podcast in the United States. It's more popular than "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me." It's more popular than "Radiolab." And I assume you never heard of it. I hadn't.

So first, let's talk about why I like "Welcome to Night Vale" so much. The premise of the show (Created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and voiced by Cecil Baldwin) is that there is a town in the Southwestern United States called "Night Vale." In Night Vale, every conspiracy theory, monster story, and science fiction you have ever heard of is true. The show itself is essentially Night Vale's local radio news broadcast. Cecil's task is to report on things like school board elections and sporting events with crosstown rivals Desert Bluffs (we all hate Desert Bluffs so much....). Except if Cecil is reporting on the school board elections, he's probably explaining to you that the only person elected to the school board is the mysterious glow cloud that's been floating around on the perimeter of the town. If Cecil tells you that it's street cleaning day, he's offering you a grim warning to get off the streets because...it's street cleaning day. 

And that's Night Vale in a nutshell. The show is really funny. Cecil's delivery is deadpan and recalls both NPR's milquetoast broadcast style, and old horror films. However, like good improv, the show is at it's best when it's grounded in something real, and deals with the relationships between the characters who live in the town. For instance, we know that Cecil is in love with Carlos- the scientist who moves to Night Vale on the first episode. The relationship between Cecil and Carlos is, in many ways, the bed rock of the show. The somewhat grounded relationship between the two characters gives the show the emotional heft it needs to make some of it's more ridiculous elements, like Hiram McDaniels, the seven-headed dragon who is running for mayor, not only plausible, but utterly enjoyable.

Also like a good long form improv show, Night Vale revels in taking a looong time with a good bit- allowing it to build piece-by-piece, episode-by-episode, before letting it explode into a crescendo of hilarity. For instance, early on, we learn that there is a subterranean city under the bowling alley. 20 something episodes later, we learn what the deal with that is.


Besides the fact that it's so great, the other thing that is fascinating to me about "Welcome to Night Vale" is the method by which it has become so popular. I heard about it through Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher) and Hank Green's (of vlogbrothers fame) tumblr accounts. The creators of the show aren't particularly famous. They don't have a ton of connections. The show wasn't featured on any popular TV shows, though there is now a PBS special about it. "Welcome to Night Vale" has taken America almost exclusively via good word of mouth. Basically, the creators made a really good, high quality product, nerds on the reddit, and tumblr shared it with their friends, who shared it with their friends, who shared it with their friends, communities were built, fan-art was drawn, fan-fiction was written, and now Night Vale is a thing.

If you like nerdy things, funny things, or nerdy funny things, you should listen to Night Vale. If you're a marketer, and you're trying to figure out how the hell things become popular on the internet (because I know for all of your bluster you digital marketers are still kind of flying blind) then you should study Night Vale's success. Regardless, I love it, and I hope you love it too.

Here is the internet place Night Vale calls home:

http://podbay.fm/show/536258179


Friday, September 20, 2013

A List of Nothing in Particular

The Internet is made of lists.

Here is a list to sate the eternal appetite of the internet for lists.

1. I hate the concept of swear words. I think that banning words from public use is a slippery slope. And think about the words that we consider "swears". They're mostly synonyms for bodily functions like pooping and sex. Why the hell aren't we supposed to talk about those things? We all do those things? Why are those swears? Why isn't the word "Murder" a swear? Why is "Murder" a fine word to use but "fuck" isn't? I think murdering is worse than fucking.

2. George Washington did not have wooden teeth. He also never chopped down a cherry tree. He probably did tell a lie at some point in his life.

3. A puppy in a grocery bag!

4. There are people who think the new Doctor should have been a woman. I am one of them. There are people who think a future Doctor should be a woman. I am also one of those people. There are people who think the Doctor should never be a woman. I think these people are huge sexist dipshits.

5. I can't stop listening to "Welcome to Nightvale". It's basically my favorite pop culture thing of the year. Listen to it here: http://podbay.fm/show/536258179. Also, ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD!

6.  Remember the 90's? Here is a thing that is so totally 90's: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosovo_War

7. This is my anthem for 2013:


8. I like sports but I think the fact that athletes are valued more by our society than scientists, doctors, educators, firefighters, and most other jobs is kind of silly.

9. #TeamOxfordComma

10. REMEMBER THIS 90'S KIDS?



Totally 90's.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Advice Column #2

Sometimes I get emails asking for advice. Sometimes I respond to them.

Here are a few:

Dear Sean,

I am a pumpkin. I was planted in the middle of the spring, spent all summer growing, and now that fall has rolled into town, I am ripe. I am large, and full, and orange. The sugars in my body are as sweet as they will ever be! I feel like I have finally entered the prime of my life! I am ready to start living. What do you think I should do? Should I travel? Do you know of any good restaurants I should try? I've never been to a baseball game. Will you take me to one?

Signed,

A. Pumpkin

Oh, Pumpkin. Sweet, delicious Pumpkin. Hmm? Yes, I did just lock the door. It's for your own safety. You see, Pumpkin, I am what some might call...a pumpkin eater. When fall begins, and the leaves drift to the ground, and the air cools, I develop an insatiable hunger for....flesh....pumpkin flesh. Ah, I see you scrambling for the window. I think you'll find that it's also locked. Also, you may have forgotten this but you don't have any limbs, or hands to use in the opening of said window. Now, Pumpkin, get in this pie pan and let's put this whole messy incident behind us.


Love,

Sean

Dear Sean,

I am a young wizard and I have recently been accepted to Hogwarts. My understanding was that you got sorted into a house based on what type of person the Sorting Hat thinks you are. However, I have recently learned from my family house elf Malomar that the Hat will sort you into whatever House you want if you just ask it to. So, you know, awesome. My question is, what House should I pick? I'm leaning towards Gryffindor.

Sincerely

Young Wizard

Dear Young Wizard,

First off, congratulations on getting into Hogwarts. I still remember the look of relief in my parents' eyes when that owl showed up on my door with my acceptance letter, knowing that now I wouldn't have to attend magic vocation school. Onto Houses- you have four choices- Slytherin, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff.

Let's look at the pros and cons of each:

Slytherin:

Pros: Lots of wealthy kids means you'll be networking like crazy. Tons of these kids are going to go into politics, and finacimancy. When you graduate, you'll probably be able to land a good job at a magical investment firm.

Cons: Lots of evil wizards.

Pros of the Cons: The world needs evil wizards. I mean, someone has to work in sales.

Gryffindor:

Pros: Gryffindor is like the Boston College of Hogwarts- great at sports, somewhat prestigious academic achievements, kids always seem to be having crazy adventures.

Cons: Gryffindor is basically the jock house of Hogwarts. They may be brave, but they can be huge jerks too (See James Potter, Sirius Black). Plus EVERYBODY wants to be in Gryffindor. Like, how many times do you think the Sorting Hat hears the phrase "Please put me in Gryffindor!" every year? A million? Two million? It's a very trendy house.

Pros of Cons: Eh, sports are fun.

Ravenclaw:

Pros: Ravenclaw is the nerdiest house. This is where your wizard tech billionaires all got their start. If you like books, math, and working hard, this is the place for you.

Cons: Maybe not the best place to be if you like to party.

Pros of Cons: I don't really like to party.

Hufflepuff:

Pros: This is where "all the rest" go which makes Hufflepuff a fairly diverse house. Loyalty is a huge Hufflepuff trait, so you're sure to make some lifelong friends who will stick with you through thick and thin here.

Cons: Hufflepuff is looked down on by snobs, just like non-wizard state colleges. Sure it may be a great house, with a great history, but it just isn't Slytherin or Gryffindor, right?

Pros of Cons: Screw those snobby assholes.

In conclusion? I'd say Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff all the way. Brains and loyalty beat deviousness and being too dumb to know you should be afraid any day of the week.

Love,

Sean

Dear Sean,

I am worried that Walt Disney will soon be unfrozen and will attack and eat me.

Signed,

Guy Who Believes Everything He Reads on the Internet

Dear Guy,

For the last time: Walt Disney was not cryogenically frozen. He was cremated, which is the opposite of cryogenic freezing. The internet, while it is a very useful tool, is chock-full of "unfacts". An "unfact" is a thing that lots of people believe to be true that is not true at all. Other unfacts include:

*Vaccinations cause autism
*KFC doesn't use real chickens to make its fried chicken
*Barack Obama was not born in the United States
*Evolution is not real
*Facebook comments can qualify as legal documents that prevent Facebook from sharing your pictures for commercial purposes

When you read something on the internet, assume it's not true. If you want find out if it IS true, there are these really useful places called libraries that are basically made of facts. Check one out.

Love,

Sean

Monday, September 9, 2013

Happy Cotton Anniversary, Chelsea

Chelsea and I got married two years ago on 9/10/11. Happy 2 years of marriage, and 12 years of being a unit. I love you, Bug.

Apparently, the traditional second year wedding anniversary gift is cotton. Meaning, for your second anniversary, you are supposed to present your significant other with a gift made out of cotton.

Chelsea and I chose to broaden "cotton" to "textiles" and "textiles" to "sneakers".

I got her a pair of Reebok Crossfit Nanos. She got me a pair of Reebok Crossfit Lifters.

I think that getting each other workout shoes as a gift is fairly emblematic of our relationship. Chelsea and I are workers. Our...family mission statement...if we have one...is "Stronger than Yesterday". Everyday, we get up, and we grind out a day. We each work 9+ hours at our jobs, go to the gym, engage in an (often grueling) Crossfit workout, and go home- make dinner- and I mean "make dinner"- like, from scratch. At the end of the day, we usually have exactly one hour of "casual time" which we generally use to eat dinner and watch an episode of some TV show (Breaking Bad right now). Then we go to sleep and do it all over again. On Sunday, our "day of rest", we clean the house top to bottom, go grocery shopping, and prepare a week's worth of lunches and breakfasts.

So our anniversary gifts to each other are basically....things to facilitate the process by which we are helping each other get stronger on every level. We are a team with common goals, and a focus on making those goals happen.

Plus they kind of fit the theme.

Cotton.

That's us now. Here are some fun little stories about the early days of our relationship.


-The first time I can remember thinking that I was in love with Chelsea: There was a bomb scare in the Fine Arts Center at UMass Amherst where, as theater majors, we basically lived. Because of this, all of our classes for the day were cancelled. Chelsea, Mike Carr, and a few other people went to the Hampshire Mall to go to the movies. We saw "Hannibal". Chelsea and some other people went to Orange Julius to get some...Orange Julius. I remember watching her order and thinking "Holy shit, I think I'm in love with this girl." I kept it to myself. We had been dating for one month.

-The first time we said we loved each other: It was November- about a month after I had first had the thought that I was probably in love. We were in my dorm room on the fifth floor of Van Meter- I had the best view of any dorm on campus. Van Meter was at the top of "the hill" and you could see the Pioneer Valley stretch on forever from my window. We were watching the Appendices on "the Fellowship of the Rings" Extended Edition DVD set. The moon was full. I'm not sure how we got on the topic, but we both said we loved one another. It was at this time we decided that if (when) we got married we would honeymoon in New Zealand. 9 years later, we did. We even visited the Shire.

-The first time I told other people that I thought this was it for me- Mike Carr, Beth Cartier, Ryan Murphy and I were driving from Amherst, MA to Manchester, NH to pick Andy Hobgood up from the airport. Andy had moved to Chicago a few months before and was flying home for Christmas. None of us had seen him for a few months, so we had arranged to be the ones to pick him up at the airport. On the way there, I mentioned that I thought Chelsea was the one. Like, "the" one, and that I was positive that I would marry her. Ryan, Mike, and Beth all told me I was crazy. It turned out that I was not.

-When Chelsea told me she would follow me halfway across the country- I had decided to move to Chicago in 2003. I figured this would be the end of my relationship with Chelsea, even after all of that other stuff. What I mean by that is I figured she would break up with me because 1000 miles (the distance from Massachusetts to Chicago, roughly) is a long way to go. Instead of breaking up with me, Chelsea told me that she would spend the next year in Amherst finishing out her degrees (she got two of them) and then would move to Chicago to be with me. Despite a very tough year apart, this is exactly what happened.

-Last story- the first iPhone came out in 2007 and Chelsea really wanted one. She knew that we didn't really have enough money to afford one- they were going for about $500 at the time, and we were young and fairly broke (or younger and broker than we are now. But I scrimped and saved and bought nothing for myself for a few months, and when Christmas rolled around, Chelsea had an iPhone under the Christmas tree. She was shocked and delighted. It's still probably my favorite gifting experience of all time.



And that's that. A few little stories. Chelsea, we've come so far, and I can't wait to see where we go next.

I love you.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Speed of Parody

Comedy is hard.

I know, I know, when you see a stand-up, or watch a sitcom, you're probably not thinking about all of the work that went into crafting the jokes- the hours and hours spent in comedy clubs to refine one punchline- making sure that you said three or four words in just the right way to get the maximum reaction from an audience- or all of the lines of dialogue that were written, and deleted, or crumpled up and thrown in the garbage because they "just weren't funny enough."

You're especially not thinking about the years that most comedians spend getting good at their craft, going to improv training centers, watching shows, performing shows for 6 people in a dive bar on Chicago's North Side so that maybe you might get a shot to audition for Saturday Night Live, or the Daily Show. Not to mention the sacrifices you make- working a shitty job at Starbucks or in a Call Center so you can have the flexibility to go on auditions during the day and perform at night.

So just trust me when I say that comedy is hard.

One of the interesting developments in the last few years, something that has, seemingly, made comedy easier, is the internet (specifically video sharing web sites like Youtube), and digital video editing tools.

It can be very, very hard to establish yourself as a comedian. Normally, you have to get noticed (in a positive way) by a "gatekeeper". A Gatekeeper, traditionally, was a TV casting agent, a comedy club owner, or someone like that- someone who owned the means of comedy distribution. Again- this was, traditionally, not an easy task. Usually you had to move to LA, or New York- where the entertainment gatekeepers live- to get their attention.

The internet has made "getting noticed" somewhat (and I really stress the word "somewhat") easier. Now, you can produce a pretty decent comedy video with relatively little money from anywhere in the world. And you can produce a comedy video very, very quickly. It is no exaggeration to say that you can produce a professional looking comedy video in an afternoon if you really put your nose to the grindestone, and know what you are doing. This process used to take days, or weeks in some cases. And then you had to find someone in the TV or Movie industry who actually wanted to distribute your content. Now, you can upload your video to youtube and distribute it yourself. Oh sure, you still need to get the attention of a web site like Buzzfeed, or Funny-or-Die to get your video to go viral, but believe me- this is way easier than getting a video on TV. Way, way easier. Seriously- college kids with 0 industry knowledge have done it.

This has led to a kind of interesting phenomenon. Now, if a non-comedy video becomes very popular- I'll use Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" as an example- it will get parodied a billion times by people on the internet. Not only will it get parodied a billion times, but it will get parodied a billion times within days of achieving popularity itself.

So, on Day 1 you'll have the actual video. You'll see the song itself in your Facebook, twitter, tumblr feeds, etc.:

 

On Day 2 you'll get some amateurish parodies- videos made by people with iphone cameras and editing software that came built into their laptops. You'll see these in your feed as well. You may even see comments like "Here's a video I made with my friends LOL":

 


The on Day 3 all hell breaks loose as professionals with production budgets get in on the action:


It's about when the corporate people get in on the action that you'll see comments like "Ugh, I'm SO SICK of "Call Me Maybe" parodies, why won't people do anything ORIGINAL?"

Here's why:

Like I said, it's easy to make a comedy video. It's easy to distribute a comedy video. We're at this point where EVERYBODY thinks they can do youtube comedy videos. Parody songs are also really easy to make. There's very little creativity that goes into them- most of the time. I say "Most of the time" because there are people out there who make AWESOME comedy videos- like Weird Al. But most people aren't Weird Al.

Watch that second video again. It's terrible. Like, really bad. The guys in the video just took the tune from the original song and subbed a bunch of nonsense words in that make no sense in context with each other. Then, they filmed a video with basic recording and editing equipment.

That video has over 3 million views. OVER 3 MILLION!

This is why there a billion song parody videos online. They're easy to make, easy to write, and because people are familiar with the properties, they already have a hook.

"It's Call Me Maybe, but with Cookie Monster!"

"It's Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind, but they're singing about New Hampshire!"

"It's Macklemore's "Thrift Shop", but they're singing about smoking pot!"

These are all descriptions of real parody videos that really went viral. It's not like all parody videos go viral, but people make them by the boatload because they're a low effort, high reward comedy endeavor. To use some business terminology, the return-on-investment from making a parody video is relatively high.

This can kind of suck for professional comedians for a couple of reasons. For one, it's very frustrating to watch a really crappy, not particularly funny, poorly made video go viral. Second, most comedians want their original, non-derivative material to take off, to get noticed, but it gets flooded out by people making "easy comedy" song parodies. So many comedians make parody videos just to get noticed- using those as a hook to get you to notice their original material. I don't begrudge anyone this, at all. You do what you have to do to succeed.

But the third frustration comes when, as a semi-professional, or professional comedian, you get your own idea for a parody of a song (or anything really), like say, I want to do a parody of "the Fox" (which is a song that went viral this week) called "The Lox" about food at a Jewish Deli (Comedy gold!) and you do a google search for parodies of that video the day after a song went viral- and you see someone already made that parody, with the same concept you had, and it's already gone viral.

What does all of this mean? Well it means that as someone involved in comedy, you might want to make a song parody at some point, even if song parodies kind of make you feel gross. They make me feel gross, and I have made some in my many years doing comedy. It also means that if you do want to make one, you have to be fast. Generally speaking, once a video goes viral, you probably only have a few days before the internet is flooded with parodies, and only a few weeks before everyone in the world gets sick of those parodies.


Oh, and then there's the weird thing where people make parodies of parody videos, which is basically the point at which the internet snake starts eating it's own tail. But that's a blog for another time.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Advice Column



Sometimes I get emails asking for advice. Sometimes I respond to them.

Here are a few:

Dear Sean,

Recently, my hometown has been beset by...well...I guess you'd call them zombies. After fleeing from the rampaging hordes (who spread their undead plague by feasting upon the brains of the living) my family and I have fled to the local mall. We have fortified our position, and the barriers we have constructed at the mall's various doors seem to be holding, but we are bored, and have only large soft pretzels to eat, and orange smoothies to drink. How would you recommend we escape from this perilous situation?

-Mary

Dear Mary,

Zombies are funny to me. See, they're not alive, but they still move around and stuff. Plus they hunger for the flesh of the living. That's what makes them scary, right? But when you REALLY think about zombies, they aren't scary at all. I mean, their flesh is rotting. So theoretically, if you hold out for a week or so, they're going to fall apart. Like, their arms and legs will fall off as the ligaments and tendons that hold them together fall off of their bodies. They'll fall apart even faster if it rains, or if flies lay eggs inside of them. Also, zombies are REALLY dumb. They possess, at best, the intelligence of a very hungry panda. And you know what's not scary at all? Pandas. Seriously, how are pandas not extinct yet? So if you get impatient, just remember that zombies are wicked dumb, and you could probably crawl out of an air-duct or something and they wouldn't even notice.

In closing- zombies- not scary, kind of dumb, will fall apart with time.

Love,

Sean


Dear Sean,

I am a sentient candelabra. Once, I was a man. I had a nice job as a steward in a large castle working for an annoying, but mostly harmless prince. However, the prince was rude to a witch one time (as teenagers tend to be towards elderly folks) and she cursed him! She turned him into a monster- a regular beast, and everyone in the castle into animate inanimate objects. 

So here is my question- as my body is now comprised of bronze and three wax candles, how do I move? 

-Lumiere

Dear Lumiere,

I can totally understand why a witch might curse a teenager. Frequently, when I ride the train home from work, I encounter teenagers listening to loud music, harassing elderly folks, and just generally being a nuisance, and I think to myself "Sean", I think "You should use magic to turn these teenagers into something unpleasant, like a frog or JJ Abrams". But I don't because that seems like an overreaction. So to turn a rude teenager into a beast, and to turn his servants who didn't hurt ANYBODY into appliances or whatever seems way out of line.

As to why you can move when the materials your new body is composed of are not malleable- I'm guessing that what appears to be wax or bronze is actually some sort of organic compound that merely resembles those materials. You probably have developed an exoskeleton- a carapace- like an insect, or a crustacean. Your insides are probably still organic- meaning you still have a brain, stomach, muscles, etc. This would explain why you can move, speak, and still feel sexual urges towards feather dusters.

Or you know, magic or whatever.

Love,

Sean

Dear Sean,

I am a Tyrannosaurus Rex and I am very concerned about how my kind are portrayed by the mainstream media. Frequently, in movies, and TV programs, T-rexes and other dinosaurs are portrayed as being slow-moving, and covered in scales. Don't the people who make entertainment follow paleontological journals? Don't they know that current fossil evidence suggests that dinosaurs like myself were warm-blooded, and covered in feathers? Don't they realize that modern birds PROBABLY evolved from guys like me? In fact there's evidence that chickens evolved from t-rexes? 

Really, I just want to see a t-rex like me on the big screen covered in beautiful, downy feathers. Is that too much to ask? I am gorgeous, and the world needs to know.

Truly Yours,

T-Rex

Dear T-Rex,

Seriously, right? Here's the deal- when humans (like myself) first started researching the dinosaur fossils we found, we were all like "Sharp teeth? Long tails? Must be some kind of ancient alligator thing". If you go back and watch REALLY old movies with dinosaurs, you guys basically looked like big iguanas. Because that's basically what we thought you were. But, as time has gone along and we've gotten better at science and found more fossils, we've realized that yeah, you guys are basically birds. However, humans can be really weird about stuff like this. See, when somebody draws a picture of a dinosaur with feathers, people get really pissed off for some reason. They say stuff like "That doesn't look like the pictures of dinosaurs I grew up with! I hate change! Don't change things! Make it like the dinosaurs from "The Land Before Time"", and Hollywood is all like "Marketing, marketing marketing" and science is all like "but science" but then Hollywood is like "EARLY TEST SCREENINGS AND GOOD WORD OF MOUTH AND TUMBLR" and science goes and plays in a corner with literature, art, and other stuff that is awesome but doesn't always sell well.

Basically T-Rex, I'm not sure what to tell you. I'd like to think that some day we'll live in a world where the folks who make entertainment get together with the folks who make science to create dinosaur movies with feathered dinosaurs, but for the time being I'm not hopeful. If I were you, I would go find a sickly triceratops, and eat it. That always makes me feel better.

Love,

Sean

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On Harry Potter and "Growing Up"

This is going to sound kind of impossible but....

...some people don't like Harry Potter.

I know, I know, how can you dislike Harry Potter? It's a wonderful series full of vibrant characters, a compelling story, great world-building, and important, but difficult moral lessons. It's helped millions of children around the world fall in love with reading, made billions of dollars, and in the long-run, made the world a better place.

Plus, books about kid wizards are just fun, as a general rule.

But some people don't like it, which is fine. You are allowed to not like things, even if they are wonderful things like Harry Potter.

I would like to comment on a few things that I've noticed about some of the people who hate Harry Potter, however.

First, when you start talking to them about it, and you say things like "Why don't you like it? Do you have a problem with JK Rowling's writing style? Or the themes of the books? Do you find Harry is an unlikeable protagonist?"

"Well, I've never read the books."

Okay, you just failed. See "Sean's Guide to Hating Stuff", then come back and let's have this conversation when you've gone through the steps outlined there.

Back? Now what do you think?

"It's juvenile. It's kids' stuff. I mean, here's what pisses me off: you have all of these adults reading what's basically a children's book- there are characters named "Longbottom" and "Higgldeyfidget*" and shit like that. So you have grownups obsessing over these books, paying money for them, paying money for the films, paying for merchandise. They DRESS up as the characters and go to events with other GROWNUPS who dress up as the characters. Look, I think these are fine children's books. But, they are children's books. Grow up, read some Cormac McCarthy, and move on with your life."

I want to note that this is a conglomeration of actual statements on Harry Potter I've had with actual people who are explaining why they feel such vitriol regarding the series.

I get pissed off about statements like this. I'm an adult. I am 31 years old. I have a job, and a wife, and an apartment. I pay taxes. I drink craft beer. I enjoy fine dining, and nice bowties, and  jazz. These are all things that most people who consider hallmarks of adulthood.

I also like spaceships, and hobbits, and dinosaurs, and superheroes, and lengthy series about the trials and tribulations of a group of kids who go to a school for wizards. Speculative fiction like Harry Potter has a very important place in our society. Besides the fact that it's fun, that it provides a release from the day-to-day monotony that makes up many peoples' lives, that it allows people to imagine worlds and lives that are beyond not only the world outside of their front yard, but outside of the WORLD in some cases, speculative fiction (including "kids' books") allows us to explore IDEAS and lets us look back in on ourselves. I am a better thinker because I have spent time in the imaginary worlds of China Mieville, and NK Jemisin, and Alan Moore. I am a better PERSON because I have spent time with Harry Potter, and Frodo Baggins.

So how do you respond when someone tells you that you are childish for enjoying Harry Potter?

Try this:

"Well, do you like sports?"

"Of course I like sports."

"Like football? Basketball? Baseball?"

"Yes, I have tickets to the Bears game this weekend. They're playing the Lions. I just got a new Walter Payton jersey that I'm wearing to the game. Oh! And this giant foam bear claw that says "Bear Down" on it."

"Let me get this straight- you are paying an obscene amount of money for a pair of tickets to watch grown men play a child's game (moving a ball from one end of a field to another). The two teams have each chosen a ferocious animal as their avatar. You are dressing up in a costume (your jersey) of your favorite player. When you get home, you are going to log on to the internet and draft players for your "fantasy football league" where you will be putting together a pretend team of kids-ball players. You will probably experience various states of elation and distress over the course of this season, because of a children's ball game. And I'm the one who needs to grow up?"

Chances are, this will not make the person change their mind about Harry Potter, but it should at least shut them up for a minute or two. And in the mean time you can apparate to another room.


*Higgldeyfidget is not a real Harry Potter character

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ben Affleck is Batman

I actually love Ben Affleck.

Good Will Hunting is STILL one of my favorite movies of all time, and Ben Affleck is great in it. He's also great in Chasing Amy which I still like, even if I've kind of fallen out of love with Kevin Smith movies as I've gotten older.

Plus, the guy can direct. When we look back at this period in film history, and we list the best directors of this era, Ben Affleck will be on the list. "Gone Baby Gone" and "Argo" are GREAT movies. "The Town" is also great until the last sequence when the robbers rob Fenway Park and the movie gets 15 kinds of ridiculous.

And speaking of 15 kinds of ridiculous, I GET why so many folks are upset that Ben Affleck is playing Batman in Superman/Batman. Because we're still thinking of Armageddon/Daredevil/Reindeer Games/Bennifer Ben Affleck. For some reason, after making a great little movie in Good Will Hunting, Hollywood, and Ben Affleck decided that Ben Aflleck was a "movie star". And why not? He's handsome, he's charismatic, in interviews he seems down to earth. But as we all discovered, Ben Affleck is no Will Smith. He is bad at being "that guy"; the guy who carries blockbusters and rides in limos and dates Jennifer Lopez. The movies of the "Blockbuster Ben" era were awful. Affleck went from being a breakout star, to a "movie star", to a national punchline.

For some people, he never stopped being a national punchline.

But guys, that's over. Affleck broke up with Jennifer Lopez, started dating Jennifer Garner, settled down, got married, and found what he's really good at- directing and playing lower-key, acting-y roles (like in Argo). "Blockbuster Ben" died like, 5 years ago, and emerged from his chrysalis as "Really Good Director" Ben Affleck.

With that said....

I don't really think Ben Affleck should play Batman.

You know what Ben Affleck is really good at? Playing best friends. He's GREAT when he's not "the guy". When he can just ease back, and play the dude who shows up with a six-pack when the main character just had his heart ripped out? Ben Affleck is really good. Affleck is a very solid supporting actor. 

He isn't Batman.

Batman is intense, and driven, and tortured by his past. He's obsessive, and charismatic, and kind of scary. That isn't a part Ben Affleck can do, and we know this because he already played a VERY similar role when he played Daredevil, and SPOILER ALERT, he wasn't that great.

Oh, and if you think Ben Affleck doesn't quite make sense as Batman? He REALLY doesn't make sense as Frank Miller's crazy, elderly, uber-militant, ultra-violent Batman. 

I mean, it's not like this isn't without precedent. Affleck is now joining a very elite club- pretty good actors who should never have been cast as Batman. In a few years, Affleck will be allowed to descend into the "Pretty Good Actors Who Should Never Have Been Cast as Batman" Batcave and have a drink with George Clooney and Val Kilmer (I will fight you if you try to tell me Val Kilmer is a bad actor #MadMartigan4Life). And that will be nice for him- being able to reflect on his shared experience of playing this big part that he just wasn't right for.

I guess the toughest part of this is that this was never going to be a very good movie. Zach Snyder is bad at directing movies. The movie is based on a property (Dark Knight Returns) that should never have been made into a movie. And now? Affleck is the Batman

It's so weird watching Warner Brothers make these movies and realizing that they just don't understand the properties they own. Like, Christopher Nolan made three awesome Batman movies, so that really gave us all hope that maybe they (WB) had finally gotten their heads out of their asses and realized why Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. are all so frakking awesome. Nope. Superman is a dude who lets innocent people get murdered before murdering someone himself. Wonder Woman is "too confusing" to be used in a film (seriously?!?!). Oh, and they cast Ryan "Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place" Reynolds as Green Lantern. Meanwhile, Marvel is releasing "Guardians of the Galaxy" which features an alien tree, and a talking raccoon, and will probably be awesome.

Sigh.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sean's Guide to Hating Stuff

I'm a nerd, and nerds are generally passionate people. Nerds love stuff and nerds hate stuff, and generally there isn't alot of in-between.

I don't like X-Men. I LOVE X-Men.

I didn't like Pacific Rim. I thought Pacific Rim was the best frakking movie I saw all year.

And I didn't dislike Star Trek Into Darkness. I thought Star Trek Into Darkness deserved to be cast into the fiery pits of Mt. Dhoom to forever break the power that it holds over the minds of mortal men.

So, yeah, passion.

It should be noted that loving stuff, and expressing love for stuff is way better than hating stuff, and expressing hate for that stuff. Like, I'd rather talk about how much I love the Star Trek: TNG episode "Tapestry" or, the end of the film "Iron Giant" than talk about how much Star Trek Into Darkness makes me want to stab out both of my eyes and feed them to a conspiracy of ravens.

The cool thing right now, is that the "light side" of the nerd force (loving stuff) seems to be winning out over the "dark side" (hating stuff and using homophobic/racist slurs to talk about hating stuff on internet message boards) of the nerd force.

In fact, I have read many articles, and watched many videos, and had many conversations wherein a nerd/geek extolled the virtues of loving stuff over the perils of hating stuff, and I think that's great.

However, we all hate some stuff. Like, I know how much we all hated Star Trek Into Darkness. And we should be allowed to hate stuff. Hating stuff is part of what makes us human. But there is a right way to hate something, and there's a right way to express an opinion about something you hate.

To help you learn how to better hate stuff, here is Sean's Guide to Hating Stuff.

Step 1- Actually consume a thing- You know what's maddening? When you talk to someone, and they say something like "I really hate Game of Thrones", and you're like "Well, that's interesting. Why do you hate it?" and they're like "Well, I've never watched it, but..." and that's exactly the moment I zone out. Because if you've never watched "Game of Thrones", but you've decided that you hate it, then the house of your opinion does not have a foundation. Generally, people who hate (or even like) things without watching/reading/watching/eating them are basing their opinions on hearsay. They've heard from a friend of a friend that the show is bad so they think it's bad. Or it just isn't the type of thing they would like. This is all dumb. If you want people to take your opinions seriously, make sure those opinions are informed.

Step 2- Really think about that thing- Have you ever had this happen? You're in high school, and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace comes out. You go watch it. Your immediate reaction is "That movie was frakking awesome!" You go home. You sleep. You wake up. You eat breakfast. You go to school. You come home from school. You're doing your AP US History homework, when all of a sudden you start thinking about the movie and you start thinking things like "Man, what a great movie. I mean, I guess Jar Jar Binks was annoying, and the bad guys were awful stereotypes of ethnic minorities, and I didn't really buy that little kid as Darth Vader, and Liam Neeson was kind of...wooden for Liam Neeson and the special effects made the whole thing look kind of fake and..." then you pause. You look at your homework assignment (writing an essay about the Whiskey Rebellion). You stare up at the wall, and you realize that you didn't love Star Wars: The Phantom Menace at all. Nope. You actually hated it.

This happens to me all of the time. My initial reaction to a thing ends up changing when I really give that thing some thought. You might love/hate something, and your opinion of that thing might very well change. It happens all of the time. Before you decide to rant about how much you hate something, think about it a little bit. Give yourself a few days and really think about it.

Step 2A- Expose yourself to other strains of thought on a thing- Consider a thing from all angles. Like, Star Trek Into Darkness is terrible, but before I wrote about it, and started drunkenly ranting to people at bars about it, I read alot about the film. I read interviews with the actors, and director, and writers. I read reviews- good and bad. I watched videos where people expressed their opinions of the film. Remember that by expressing a hateful opinion, you are setting yourself up for arguments. You want to win those arguments.

When I had really thought long and hard about my reasons for hating Star Trek Into Darkness, I let my scorn-filled opinion fly free.

Step 3- Does this thing hurt anybody?- Here's a big one. When I watch/read/eat something, and I find I don't really care for it, I consider WHY I don't like that thing. Like, is it just not to my taste? Or do I think that this thing is actually making the world a worse place? For instance, I think the television show "Law and Order" is very boring. However, lots of people like "Law and Order", and when I really think about it, "Law and Order" isn't hurting anybody. It's not making the world worse. You could argue that by making people happy, it's making the world better. Therefore, I don't really see any reason to walk around letting lots of people know that I think "Law and Order" is boring. It's just not worth my time.

On the other hand, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" actually made the world suck alot more. The movie featured racist caricatures, dumb jokes about robots with testicles, sexist portrayals of female characters, and a total lack of original ideas. And Bumblebee transformed into a Camaro instead of a Volkswagen Beetle. I'm still mad about that. Oh, and it's targeted at impressionable pre-teen boys, who are the LAST group of people who need to have stuff like that beamed into their brains. I hated that movie, and I will tell anyone who wants to hear it that I hated that movie. By providing an intelligent critique of the film I feel like I am improving the world in a small way. Therefore, my hate is constructive.

Step 4- Don't Make Your Hate the Focus of Your Life- Here's the big one. So you watched a thing. You thought about that thing. You realized that that thing was making the world a worse place. You let your opinion into the world. Now comes the most important part:

Let it go. Just let it go.

Don't let hate consume you like it did Obi Wan's apprentice. Even if it's something you're very justified in hating like Star Trek Into Darkness. Hate may be worth SOME of your time, but it certainly isn't worth ALL of your time or even MOST of your time.

It is worth just a tiny little bit of your time, and should only be expressed in the MOST constructive way(s) possible.

Now, get out there, and get hating.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Decade

I moved to Chicago, Illinois in August of 2003 from Newburyport, Massachusetts.

So, while I don't remember the exact date, I've lived in the city for roughly ten years.

In the last ten years I have:

-Been on 1 team at the Playground theater, Space Robbers.
-Been on six Harold teams at iO Chicago including Rumpus, Beelzebuddies, the Washington Generals, War Dove, Mike Helicopter, and most recently, Coup de Grace.
-Played in a variety of independent shows including Our Feature Presentation, the Halloween Show, Improvised Star Trek, and quite a few others.
-Coached a few teams including Party Shark, the Riot, and Thank You, Dr. Science (who are still one of my proudest achievements as an improv person)
-Did some time on the Harold Commission.
-Traveled the world- I've been to Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland.
-Been romantically involved with 1 woman.
-Got married to her.
-Had a Steampunk themed wedding.
-Worked for 4 companies- 1 of which was a temp company, so I sort of worked for 8 companies.
-Grew a beard.
-Attended Barack Obama's victory rally in 2008.
-Started doing Crossfit.
-Gained 30 pounds.
-Got two cats.
-Lived in 5 apartments.
-Watched the Red Sox win two World Series.
-Watched the Bruins win 1 Stanley Cup.
-Watched the Blackhawks go from being a laughingstock to arguably the most successful franchise in Chicago since the 90's Bulls.
-Became a morning person.
-Met some really incredible people. Improvisors, people who work at World Book, brewers, chefs, artists, actors, Crossfitters, politicians, activists- Chicago is home to some amazing folks.

Overall, it's been an incredible decade of life. I'm so grateful to Chicago, and the people who live here, especially the improv community, for filling my life with so many wonderful things every single day.


Monday, August 12, 2013

"I'm Not Really Much of a Reader"

When you meet someone, generally, the questions you ask them during the "getting to know you" process look something like this:

"What is your favorite band?"
"What kind of movies do you like?"
"What sports do you follow?"
"Who is your favorite living actor?"

Etc.

Now, imagine if you answered these questions like this:

"I'm just not that into music."
"I tried watching a few movies, but I just couldn't get through any of them."
"I only followed sports when I had to for school."
"I just think actors are boring."

You'd probably be fairly baffled if someone said ANY of those things, right? I mean, how can you not like ANY music? What kind of person doesn't have a favorite movie? Who only paid attention to sports for school? Who gets bored watching all TV/Movies (I mean, some TV/Movies, sure, but not all of them)?


Now imagine someone asked these questions:

"What kind of books do you like to read?"
"Who is your favorite author?"
"What was the last good book that you read?"

In contrast, think about how many times you've heard someone reply to any of those questions with an answer like:

"I don't really read books."
"I only read for school/my job."
"I'm just not much of a reader."

And how did you react? Probably like this was a pretty normal response, right? Because tons of people just don't read books! That's normal.

Why the hell is that normal? Who the frak decided that that was okay? We EXPECT people to watch movies, and TV and listen to music, but we don't EXPECT people to read books? Seriously?

So the next time you say to someone "what's your favorite book?" and they say "I don't really read books.", punch them in the shoulder and then take them to the library.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Superman is Going to Fight Batman and I Am Not Excited About It.






In 1998, Marvel Comics and New Line Films released a movie about a vampire hunting vampire named Blade. The movie was called...well..."Blade".

The movie was significant in that it was a superhero film (kind of) that didn't suck, and made some money. This was important because a few years prior, the film "Batman and Robin" had been released, and it was so terrible, and bombed so badly at the box office that it was decided that no one anywhere should ever make a superhero movie again because only NERDS like superheroes, and apparently nerds have no purchasing power even though, you know, Apple and Microsoft and Google and whatnot.

But "Blade" made enough money that Marvel Comics started licensing all kinds of it's properties to all kinds of film studios. 20th Century Fox made an X-Men movie. Sony made Spiderman. Sony made Fantastic Four. 20th Century Fox made Daredevil. Marvel made a whole bunch of money. Marvel made SO much money that eventually, they said "Screw these film studios who don't even understand superheroes ANYWAY and let's do this ourselves." So Marvel Studios was born. On top of bringing their film production "in house" Marvel launched a really grandiose plan- they would release four films, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk that would all exist in the same universe, and would culminate in one big movie "The Avengers", where all of these characters would meet, and Marvel would, hopefully, make all of the money.

Which they did. "The Avengers" made $1.5 billion dollars worldwide, making it the third highest grossing film of all time. And that doesn't count merchandise sales, and DVD sales.

Other comic companies have licensed their properties and caught some of that sweet, sweet superhero movie money too. Dark Horse made two "Hellboy" movies, and DC Comics, Marvel's biggest competitor, made a whole bunch more Batman movies.

And they were really good! DC made 3 really good Batman movies. And the Batman movies also made all of the money, but compared to the Spiderman, X-Men, and Avengers franchises, the money that the Batman films made was just a drop in a pond. Oh, DC tried to leverage their other properties into films. They made a Superman movie (Superman Returns) and Green Lantern, but those films were duds. Oh, and they made Watchmen, but the less said about that...movie...the better.

For some reason, DC just couldn't capitalize on it's properties (other than Batman) the way that Marvel did.

And by "Some Reason" I mean "DC did a really bad job making movies. They got shitty directors and mediocre actors, and writers who didn't really understand, or even care about the characters they were writing films about, and guess what, they made some shitty movies." As opposed to Marvel where they got AWESOME directors, GREAT actors, and writers who actually really truly cared about the characters they were writing about. Also, Marvel realized that they synergy that worked so well for their comic book universe would also transfer to their film universe. Like, hey maybe people might like seeing the Hulk and Thor hang out!

So DC took the note.

Over the Summer, they finally made a movie that was a hit that didn't involve Bruce Wayne. They made "Man of Steel".  Despite middling reviews, "Man of Steel" made all of the money. Why? Well, people really do love Superman. He's a popular character. Also, they marketed the movie really well. I mean, the trailers were awesome. Regardless, the execs at Warner Bros. (which owns DC) could finally breathe a sigh of relief because they could FINALLY say that they made a movie with no Batpersons that was profitable.

You may ask yourself "How will they follow up this box office success?"

And the answer is some Marvel style synergy.

They're making a movie with Superman and Batman...together.

That's right, Superman and Batman. In the same film. The world's finest team! Together on the big screen for the first time ever! Aren't you nerds excited!?!? Don't you want to see Zack Snyder direct a movie with the world's second and third greatest superhero?!! Don't you want to see a kind of adaptation of Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns"?!?! Don't you want to see Superman fight Batman?!?!

Well sure, I'd love to see a Superman/Batman movie. Those are two great characters who go great together. It would be SUPER neat (see what I did there) to see Superman and Batman team up to save the world from Lex Luthor and the Joker. Or Darkseid!

But here's what I DON'T want:

1. I don't want Zack Snyder to direct the movie. I kind of hate Snyder as a director. I think his films represent some of the absolute worst tendencies of nerd culture in film form. Like the 300 is a great action movie, but it's also super racist. And Sucker Punch is visually stunning but it's insanely sexist. And Watchmen...well don't get me started on Watchmen. I could write a book about how crappy Watchmen was. Watching Zack Snyder make a movie is like watching an internet troll at work in a message board. WOULDN'T IT BE KEWL IF SUPERMAN KILLED ZOD?!?! BECURSE Y WOODN"T HE? HE"S SPURPERMAN!?! HE"S THE MORST PERLWFUL SURPERHERER! ALSO BEWBIES! No, I don't want to see Zack Snyder direct this film. Or any films.

2. I don't want to see Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns" adapted for the silverscreen. At San Diego Comic-Con, when they announced the film, they read an excerpt from Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns". And apparently Frank Miller has been hired as a consultant for the film. Now, don't get me wrong, I...like "Dark Knight Returns". It's one of the most influential comic book series in the history of the medium. Along with "Watchmen", it helped the genre to grow up, and ushered in the "grim and gritty" comics of the eighties. But you know what? Frank Miller's interpretation of Superman is wrong. In "Dark Knight Returns", Superman is the ultimate tool of a fascist US government. When Batman goes too far, the evil government sends Superman to put him down. And because he's a good toadie, Superman does just what they ask him to. Batman then proceeds to beat the living bejeebers out of Superman. That's the comic. So Frank Miller's Superman isn't a beacon of hope, he isn't a champion of the weak, he isn't a symbol for us to aspire to- he's a jackbooted thug. I don't want to see that Superman in the movies. An "Elseworlds" comic? Sure. But an "in-continuity" movie? Oh, heck no.

3. I really don't want to see Superman and Batman fight. There's this classic superhero thing that happens where two superheroes meet, there is a misunderstanding, they fight, they realize the misunderstanding, and then they go fight some bad guys. I don't want that. I'd rather just cut to the chase and have them team up and fight crime, or an intelligent sun (Solaris4Life), or something. It's like in a harold (for my improv literate readers)- scenes are more interesting if two characters are working together towards a common goal rather than fighting each other and putting up roadblocks to each other's progress.

So...I'm less than excited about this film. Just like "Man of Steel", I am hopeful that it will be good. I mean, I want every superhero movie to be good, but with superheroes of the caliber of Superman and Batman, I want the film to be extra good. What I don't want is a dark, jaded, gritty movie where the two characters fight each other for 90 minutes. I'd rather they spend those 90 minutes punching injustice.


Friday, August 2, 2013

15 Years Later: a West Side Story


Prologue:

When I was in high school, I fell in love with theater. I was a small, skinny, unathletic kid from a family that worshiped sports. I was never happy in my own skin (like most teenagers, I now realize) and theater became my outlet. Onstage, I didn't have to be a small, skinny, unathletic kid. In a play, I could be anyone. I could be a larger than life hero, or villain. I could be strong. I could be smart. I could be whoever I wanted to be, or whoever the script called for me to be. Also, it turned out that I had some talent for acting, and for the first time in my life, I got that feeling of being really, really good at something.

My sophomore year of high school, for the annual Spring musical, we put on West Side Story, and for a high school show, it was epic. We had a policy in my high school that anyone who auditioned for a show got to be in the show, and for WS we ended up with a cast of over 100 people. The stage was too small to accommodate the show and we ended up performing on the gym floor. I played Baby John, one of the Jets. It's not a huge part, but I got a small solo (in "Officer Krupke") and at the time, it was the most fun I'd had doing a play.

That was 15 years ago. While I studied theater in college, I stopped doing musicals after high school (I'm a better actor, writer, and comedian than I am a singer or a dancer). After college, I mostly stopped doing plays to focus on improv comedy which is still my primary...thing (incidentally, come out to iO Chicago tonight at 8 PM and see Coup de Grace!).

Main Story:

About a month ago, Chelsea and I were on a bus driving around Ireland with my family and we got an email from our friend Adie. The 2009 Broadway revival of "West Side Story" had come to Chicago for a very limited run, and Adie had made plans to see the show with her mother. "West Side Story" was Adie's Mom's favorite musical. Except she didn't end up seeing it. Long story short, Adie's mom ended up in the hospital, and by the time she got out, "West Side Story" had left town.

So, Adie had an idea.

Why not put up a production of "West Side Story" just for her mom on her mom's birthday in her mom's backyard?

Realizing that to put on a show you needed actors, and musicians, Adie emailed her friends (Chelsea and I included) and asked if we'd like to be involved in the show. We would have 3 days to rehearse, memorize the lines and songs and choreography, and then we would put up the show.

Interestingly enough, when Chelsea asked me if I wanted to do it, my first inclination was to say no. It's been a very busy Summer between work, shows, and the usual Summer social events (weddings, vacations, bachelor parties, festivals, etc.) and adding one more thing to my schedule sounded like the straw that would probably break the camel's back.

But...but...I love a challenge. I especially love a creative challenge. Put up a show- and a musical at that- in 3 days...with a cast of random strangers...in a backyard...

If you ever watch Star Trek (and you should) the culture portrayed of the Federation has largely done away with money and capitalism. The humans of the Star Trek future are primarily motivated by the idea of intellectual challenge. There's something about doing something that's hard, something that stimulates the creative centers of your brain, of going out and doing something that seems relatively impossible (or at least unlikely) that gives you a feeling that is so much more satisfying than getting a paycheck.

So for that reason, the challenge, I said, "Umm, yes, let's do that". Also, it feels good to do nice things for people. For friends. For people who ended up in hospitals. For people you know. For strangers.

Plus, I already knew all of the songs.

Now, it should be noted here that my expectation was that this "play" would probably end up being more of a choral performance. I imagined that five to ten people would probably sing 3 or 4 key songs from the show while the instrumental music played on a radio or iPod?

Imagine my surprise when Chelsea and I showed up to the first rehearsal Monday night, and found ourselves in a crowded room with 20 other people, including seven (or so) musicians playing piano, bass guitar, and trombone amongst other instruments. Imagine my further surprise when I realized the scope of the project included fully choreographed dance numbers. And while we didn't do the WHOLE show, our half hour version of West Side Story included a narrator, a rumble, lights, a scrim, costumes, props- basically a small version of the whole shebang. You see, I wasn't the only person who got that email and thought "That sounds awesome". Many of Adie's friends, and friends of Adie's friends, thought the same thing.

Oh, and I should mention that in this version of "West Side Story", I got promoted. Instead of Baby John, I played Riff, the leader of the Jets.

So how did the show come out?

It was amazing. It was one of the most satisfying performances I've ever done in my life. The band sounded awesome, the singing was great, the rumble was thrilling, and in the end, Adie's parents gave us a standing ovation.

As a performer, what more could you ask for?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Playlist of Songs that Get Stuck in My Head All of the Time for No Apparent Reason

Do you have a song, or songs that get stuck in your head all of the time? With like, no prompting, or queues, or any external factors that cause them to get stuck in your head. Because I do. Here is a playlist of the songs that get stuck in my head all of the time for no apparent reason. I don't necessarily LIKE these songs (though some are great). I just can't stop humming, whistling, and singing the damned things.

1. The Theme from Pan's Labyrinth:


2. Every single song from "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut":


3. Lord of the Dance


4. The Theme from SeaQuest DSV:


5. Lukey's Boat by Great Big Sea


6. Hangin' Around by the Counting Crows


7. This...thing by Potter Puppet Pals:


8. Pinball Countdown from Sesame Street:


9.  We Didn't Start the Fire by Billy Joel


10. 99 Problems by Jay Z (NOTE- When I sing this to myself, I usually sing "If you're having mew problems, I feel bad for you cats, I've got 99 Problems and they don't wear hats" for some reason)


11. Manifest Destiny by Guster:


12. Nut Rocker by B. Bumble and the Stingers (yes, that is what this song is apparently called)



There are more, but those are the big ones. What does this all mean? Is there a common theme? Besides, you know, my subconscious is a weird place? Probably not.

Probably not.

Friday, July 12, 2013

"A Tiger Doesn't Lose Sleep Over the Opinion of Sheep" But Maybe They Should

I'd like to take a moment to dissect a phrase that pops up in my facebook/tumblr/pinterest/myface feeds quite a bit that I kind of hate.

That phrase is:

"A tiger (or sometimes a wolf or lion) doesn't lose sleep over the opinion of sheep."

Here are some points, in no particular order, explaining all of the reasons I hate this phrase:

1. First- Tigers (and lions) don't really eat that many sheep. They tend to eat wild animals like deer, and boar. Sometimes they will hunt and kill baby elephants. Once in awhile they will hunt domesticated animals but where they live (Asia) there really aren't that many sheep. So of course they aren't going to lose sleep over the opinions of sheep because for the most part, they probably don't even know what a sheep is. Saying a tiger (or lion) doesn't lose sleep over the opinion of sheep is like saying a whale doesn't lose sleep over the opinion of a unicorn.

2. I mean, do tigers even get insomnia? Are there any tigerologists out there?

3. But really here's my big problem. The central meaning of the phrase is basically that powerful, confident people shouldn't stay awake at night worrying about the opinions of other people. Specifically, they (the human predator) should not let the opinions of people who are beneath them (sheeple (I just barfed in my mouth after typing that)) cause them concern. Basically, the phrase implies, I am a superior human, and I don't care what you peasants think about me.

Isn't that just a LITTLE gross? The idea that ANYONE would think "I am a superior human. The things I do and think place me above other people, and therefore I should not concern myself with those people's opinions." I mean, what gives you the right to think you are "above" anyone else? Because you make more money than other people? Or because you think you work harder than other folks? Or because you think you're more creative than them? And how the hell do you know that you work harder/are smarter/whatever? Did you see a chart somewhere that shows that, empirically, you are better than other humans? Is there a universal ranking of all humans everywhere that tells us where we stand on the food chain of humanity? Can I see it so I can make judgements about the methodology that they used?

Oh, and as a "sub-thing" that I take issue with, maybe you shouldn't lose sleep over the opinions of "sheep" but it's generally a bad idea to banish all knowledge of those opinions from your mind. Knowing what other people (or what sheep) are thinking about gives you knowledge that helps you make better, more informed opinions. Like, maybe as a tiger you should spend some time in sheep chatrooms, or read a sheep magazine (like Sheeple Magazine (...and I barfed again)). Make some spreadsheets and charts that details what kind of thing sheep are thinking. THEN when you've really gotten to know some sheep you can make a better decision about how you approach them.

Look, I get it. The core of the phrase, what it should say, is "It's not healthy to stress out about other people's opinions. Just be yourself." But that wording is kind of boring. Talking about tigers and what they think they might want to eat some day is more dramatic. Saying stuff like that though? Stuff that implies that you're a predator, and I'm your prey, and you don't give a shit about what I think? That doesn't make you seem cool. It just makes you seem like an asshole.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Wheel of Time OR My Long National Nightmare is Over



"The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legends fade to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the third age by some, an Age yet to come, an age long pass, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings or endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning."

I just returned from a family vacation, and something fairly momentous happened: I finished reading "The Wheel of Time".



The year is 1997. The month is December. The gift-giving holiday is Christmas. I was 15 years old, and a sophomore in high school. I got two presents that Christmas that changed my life forever. One was a video-game: Final Fantasy VII. Final Fantasy VII is still  my favorite game ever and if I had never played it, I never would have realized how much I like RPGs, and I probably would have stopped playing video games when I was 15.

The other present was "The Eye of the World" which is the first book in Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time", a series of epic fantasy novels.

Now, I had read fantasy novels before the "Wheel of Time". If we wanted to talk about the origin of my fantasy fandom, you could go back to when I was in the fifth grade and I read Lloyd Alexander's "Chronicles of Prydain", or even further back in time to when I was in kindergarten and my Dad would read me stories about King Arthur and Robin Hood. But the day I went crazy for fantasy books? The day I walked down that path and never looked back?

That was the day I cracked open "Eye of the World".

In many ways, "Eye of the World" is a fairly typical, mostly unremarkable fantasy novel. In typical fantasy-fashion, the protagonist, Rand al'Thor, finds his small farm town under attack by monsters called Trollocs. Rand (and his friends Mat, Perrin, Egwene and the village wise-woman Nynaeve) is saved by Moraine who is a sorceress and her bodyguard Lan. Rand learns that he is the chosen one who is promised to save the world from the Dark One, an evil monster who was bound under a mountain thousands of years beforehand. Rand, Egwene, and Nynaeve all learn that they are wizards. Mat learns he has super-luck powers, and is a military genius. Perrin learns that he can communicate with wolves. I know this sounds alot like Lord of the Rings/Shannara/Prydain/EveryEpicFantasySeriesEver. I loved it. I read the whole 685 page book in about 3 days. Not only did I love these books- they took an iron grip on my teenage imagination and did not let go.

Then I bought the next six books in the series and finished them all in about a month. This is no small feat. A few of these books clocked in at over 1000 pages. I started drawing the characters in my notebooks in school. I wanted to be Rand al'Thor, even if he was kind of a dick most of the time. When I read book 7 ("A Crown of Swords"), and found out that the next book in the series wasn't due to be released for awhile, I was crestfallen.

Then a funny thing happened. Book 8, "The Path of Daggers" came out, and I read it and thought it was just okay. Then book 9, "Winter's Heart" came out, and I actually hated it. Not only did I hate it, it actually made me realize some big issues with some of the previous books. Specifically, I realized that after the first few books in the series, less and less actually happened in each subsequent novel. It seemed that Robert Jordan's epic series had gotten away from him. After 9 books, he'd introduced too many characters, too many plot elements, and too many events. There were books where the series' protagonist, Rand al'Thor, only showed up for one chapter while new characters (Faile, Cadsuane, about a million other characters) had whole sections devoted to them. Many of the characters would spend an entire book just going from one place to another place. Sometimes they wouldn't get to that place by the end of the book (Perrin). Reading started to feel like a chore. Also, I was getting older, and my tastes were changing. I went to college. I read many other books. I started to realize how books worked, what made them work. I started to realize that Robert Jordan was maybe not the best writer in the world. Like, he was kind of sexist, and even after writing thousands of pages, many of his characters didn't grow, and oh yeah, he was really bad at moving the plot forward.

But, I had invested many, many hours in "the Wheel of Time", and I was determined to finish it.  In 2003, when I moved to Chicago, I read book 11, "Crossroads of Twilight", on the cross-country train ride I took to the city. In 2005, I read "Knife of Dreams" on my commute to and from my first job. I was reading not for fun, not to learn, not to expand my horizons, but out of a sense of duty and obligation to the 15 year old boy who had loved these books so much, to whom they mattered more than almost anything in the world, to whom they were a life-raft of adventure and joy when he was wallowing in teenage depression. I felt like I owed that Sean.

Then Robert Jordan died before he finished the writing the series.

In some ways I thought this was an out. Now I could stop reading these damned things because no one would write them! But then, it turned out that Jordan had made preparations in case he passed away, and Brandon Sanderson took over.

And you know what? When the next book, "The Gathering Storm", came out? It was kind-of, sort-of good again. Stuff happened. Some of that stuff was fun to read about. I remembered, a little, why I had loved the books so much as a kid.

And now I've finished the last book "A Memory of Light". It isn't a great book. It won't change your life. But it was fun. It tied up all of the loose ends of the series, and as I read the epilogue, I started to tear up. I've been reading these books for a long time, and even though I was grudge-reading them for awhile, they all MATTERED to me. "Eye of the World" changed me. It was my rabbit-hole into Wonderland. If I'd never read it, I might never have read "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", or "A Song of Ice and Fire", or anything by Joe Abercrombie, or anything by NK Jemisin, or anything by China Mieville. "A Wheel of Time" was my primer, my base, my foundation for years, and years of reading- joyous, amazing reading. Roughly 50 percent of the books in the series were bad, but it started well, and it ended well, and it made my life better.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bruins/Blackhawks Stanley Cup Drinking Game

I have created a drinking game for the remaining Bruins/Blackhawks Stanley Cup finals games.

In order to play, you will need a Sam Adams Boston Lager and a Goose Island 312.

For all Bruins related items, take a drink from the Boston Lager. For all Blackhawks related items, drink from the 312. For items related to both teams, take a drink from either bottle.

Drink if:

-The commentators mention that Bobby Orr played his final seasons with the Blackhawks.
-The commentators mention that Phil Esposito was traded from the Blackhawks to the Bruins in one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history.
-The commentators mention that Ray Emery was 17 and 1 in the regular season, but hasn't played a single game against the Bruins in the playoffs.
-The commentators compare Patrice Bergeron to Jonathan Toews or vice-versa.
-The commentators compare Tuuka Rask to Tim Thomas.
-The commentators compare Brad Marchand to Andrew Shaw or vice-versa.
-The commentators use the phrase "Original Six".
-The commentators mention that Zdeno Chara is a large human.
-Mike Milbury says something kind of racist.
-Jeremy Roenick says something kind of stupid.
-Jeremy Roenick or Mike Milbury just starts kind of rambling about nothing.
-Don Cherry says something awful about French-Canadians or Europeans.
-Anyone uses the phrase "Big Bad Bruins".
-The commentators mention the period of time that either team went without winning a Stanley Cup.
-Someone mentions Dollar Bill Wirtz.
-Someone mentions Jeremy Jacobs.
-Someone uses the phrase "old time hockey".
-A Dropkick Murphys song plays (drink twice if the song is "Time to Go")
-The game goes to overtime.
-Someone says "Well, Sidney Crosby and/or Alex Ovechkin are sitting at home."
-Anyone says "Defense wins championships."
-Someone says "Patrick Kane" and "finesse" in the same sentence.
-Someone says "Patrick Kane" and "mullet" in the same sentence.
-Claude Julien makes a weird face and kind of looks like a sad walrus.
-Joel Quenneville's moustache looks impressive (limit to close up shots of his moustache so you don't die from alcohol poisoning).
-Someone says "if Jaromir Jagr had a child the last time he was in the Stanley Cup finals, that child would now be old enough to drink."
-Milan Lucic follows up a really impressive play with a really stupid penalty.
-Someone drunkenly sings "Chelsea Dagger" near you, but clearly doesn't know any of the lyrics.