Thursday, January 22, 2015

Completely 110% Real New England Facts

So I know you know that I don't care for football (handegg) with its caught-in-traffic style stops and starts and I've written and talked about that ad nauseam.

But who cares! It's Big Game Season! No, not the Pro-Bowl! The other Big Game! No, not Puppy Bowl! The other Big Game!

That's right. The Super Bowl.

In this year's Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks are playing the New England Patriots, and from my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I have determined that a lot of you non-New Englanders have had it up to here with New England's smugness about winning so many championships in all non-soccer sports (sorry, New England Revolution) over the course of the last decade.

I have to tell you- your anti-New England smack talk? It could use some work. Fortunately, I lived in New England for 21 years, and I am here to help! Here, for your use in all anti-Patriots smack-talk, are some true facts about New Englanders that NEW ENGLANDERS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW!

1. Every single house in New England is haunted. Okay, so this is embarrassing. New England was first colonized by Europeans in the 17th century and in the last 395 years, lots of people have died there. I mean, the whole region was basically built on an Indian burial ground. They named a town, and two colleges after Jeffrey Amherst whose main life accomplishment was killing off a ton of Native Americans with smallpox laden blankets. Add a Revolutionary War, a Civil War, a great Molasses Spill, and a tendency towards emotional repression that can ONLY lead to alcohol abuse and you have New England- a commonwealth of ghosts. Every house has at least one ghost, and not the fun Casper kind. Oh no. These are like full on make-the-walls-bleed-speak-in-dead-languages-through-a-newborn-horror-movie ghosts. Want to talk smack to a New Englander? Say something like "Well at least I can go to sleep without my bed being levitated by the restless spirit of Jack Kerouac every night."

2. Fenway Park only appears during the summer and is only visible to the pure of heart. When Manny Ramirez left Boston, he cursed the city so that only those whose hearts were pure would ever be able see the Red Sox play a home game again. Manny's curse can only be broken if Red Sox owner John Henry finds true love before the last petal of the rose that sits atop Pesky's Pole falls to the ground.

3. Lobsters are sea-bugs whose diets mostly consist of garbage and other shit from the ocean floor. Mmm, lobster rolls.

4. There is actually only one Kennedy. JFK, John John, Robert, Ted, Jackie O.- all are merely aspects of the one-Kennedy. Understanding of each facet of the Kennedy will one day allow us to attain true higher-consciousness and understand the secrets of the universe.

5. There is no such thing as a Boston accent. Whenever someone from the Greater Boston area talks to someone from outside the area, they put on a fake accent where they drop their r's and say wicked before every third word in each sentence. This is done to lure unsuspecting out-of-towners into a false sense of security. "Oh listen to the dumb Bostonians and their silly accents." Well, underestimate New Englanders at your own peril because with one of the world's best education systems, healthcare systems, tech sectors, and a robust literary tradition, New Englanders secretly run nearly every aspect of your life while you're making fun of the way they say "park your car."

6. We just made up Rhode Island. You thought there was really a place called Rhode Island? With a capitol called "Providence?" That sounded plausible to you? Yeesh, a sucker is born everyday.

7. Texas is secretly part of New England. In 1953, Tip O'Neill from Massachusetts and Sam Rayburn of Texas met late one warm July evening under the Capitol Rotunda to sign the NewTexEnglandas Treaty, secretly making Texas the 7th New England State. Should New England ever enter into war with New York (WHICH WILL HAPPEN SOME DAY) Texas is sworn to reveal its true colors and come to the defense of their Northern brothers and sisters.

8. Everyone in New England plays all sports with deflated balls or pucks. It's a tradition that dates back to when John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams invented football in the early 19th century in Braintree, MA. They deflated the ball as a way to screw with Jacksonian Democrats.

9. In New England, if you bring a tomato within 100 feet of a clam, the penalty is death. While Massachusetts doesn't have the death penalty for murder, it DOES have the death penalty for preparing or eating Manhattan Clam Chowder. Anyone caught making or eating "Wrong Chowder" as it's called in the suburbs of Boston will be drowned in a tub of rum.

10. The Seattle Seahawks are actually the New England Patriots from an alternate timeline where the Nazis won World War II. In 1974, researchers at MIT tore a hole between our world, and a grim, alternate timeline where FDR and Churchill were never born and the Nazis won World War II, leading to an alternate world where Boston was called "Seattle" and its football team was called "The Seahawks." In closing the portal to this awful hellscape, the scientists accidentally pulled Seattle into our world. They attempted to isolate it from the rest of the world by placing it on America's desolate western coast, but in the 90's, Seattle emerged as a cultural powerhouse through the use of coffee and grunge music. And now, the Patriots of Earth II are playing our Patriots in the Super Bowl.

So there you go. Now that you know all this, smack talk to your heart's content.

Friday, January 16, 2015


So I hate to post two sad/angry posts in a row, but here goes.

Last week, I got a call from Matt Young at 11 PM to let me know that Jason Chin died. It didn't register emotionally. I laid in bed thinking about it. Thinking about death. I didn't know how he died at the time, so I started thinking about the most likely things that could've taken his life. I briefly entertained the possibility that he hadn't died and this was all an elaborate bit, because like most of the people I know, Jason was a comedian. It's weird to me that I can't have a friend die without thinking that the whole thing might be some kind of joke.

In the morning the emotions hit me as I read the comments on Jason's Facebook page and started writing some of my own. I cried into my coffee cup. I got to work and cried some more. Friday night I went to iO Chicago where Jason was a teacher, performer, coach, one-time-training-center-director, and a nearly literal part of the walls to toast my friend and mentor with his other friends and mentees. It was wonderful, but I have to tell you I've never been in a room with so many funny, overly verbose, wickedly intelligent people who were at a nearly complete loss for words before and I may never be in a room like that again.

Saturday I sat in with Whirled News Tonight, as I have from time to time for 10 years. That was Jason's show. He produced many shows in his life, but that one was his baby. It was a great show. Jason's mom was there.

Sunday was the opening night of Improvised Star Trek's latest live run. Before I got the news about Jason, this was kind of the all-consuming beast of my mind. I was stressed out about it. Really, really stressed out. Then Jason died and it suddenly didn't seem very important. But the show went great. I stepped off the stage and thought that even though Jason wasn't involved, he would've been proud. Well... if he could get over the fact that somebody ELSE produced a successful nerdy improv show. Jason was a great guy, but he was kind of petty and jealous about stuff like that. I loved him for it.

They did a roast/memorial Monday night and I didn't go. I was exhausted. Physically I was exhausted. I fell asleep on my couch around 9:15. I was emotionally exhausted. I genuinely didn't think I could take it. I thought I would breakdown if I went. They broadcast it online. I didn't watch for a few days. The whole thing was magnificent.

I've felt a lot of things in the last 8 days.

-I felt a cold, intellectual fascination with grief. It was genuinely fascinating to me to see the different ways that people reacted to grief and suddenly being faced with their own mortality. I actually got mad at myself for reacting like this. Feel something, you damned robot.

-I got mad that I'd never tell Jason all of the things I was mad at him about. There were some fights I still wanted to have with him. Now I never will. That's weird right? Getting mad about never getting a chance to express anger?

-Grief. Sadness. A dull, hollow emptiness inside. Loss. The last time I saw Jason was two days before he died. He was walking down the street and I was on the other side of the street. I was in a rush so I didn't wave or say hi or acknowledge that I've seen him. I wish I had. Jason and I had been emailing back and forth about "Dragon Age: Inquisition," a video game we were both playing. Jason had just beaten the game and was going to start a new playthrough. He told me he was going to play as a necromancer. That was the last thing he said to me.

-Anger at how he died. Jason died of hypertension. Which is completely preventable. I just... If in the coming days, I say something to you like "You should really stop eating so much crap, or you might drop dead unexpectedly in the night," this will be why.

-Sadness for iO. Recently my beloved iO Theater moved into a gorgeous new building. It's beautiful but it's not... it's not the house I grew up in. And now Jason won't be there. There's so little I recognize there now. iO was my second home and Jason was a big part of that feeling and now... so much of that is just gone.

-Determination to do better, for Jason. I could be a better performer. I could be a better mentor. I could be a better producer. I could be a better friend. I could be a better nerd. I want to do all of that so that some small part of the good things that Jason did for me can carry on to other people. I'd like to be to other people what Jason was to me.

So that's what I've felt, and what I'm feeling.

If you're wondering who Jason Chin was, this was his roast. It will tell you a lot more about him than any obituary you'll read:

If you're wondering who he was to me, here's a story:

Jason was my level 5 coach at iO's improv training center. Level 5 was, at the time, where you learned improv forms besides the Harold. We were learning Armando where you use personal monologues to inform scenes. I was doing a monologue about how growing up, every kid loved the X-Men, but how much it used to piss me off that everyone loved Wolverine because he was so fucking boring, and Cyclops was actually the best X-Man. Jason just cackled the whole time.

Jason was a kindred spirit for me. He believed in me.

I miss you, Jason. I hope that they have "Dragon Age: Inquisition" wherever you are now.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On the Paris Shootings.

I don't often post about tragedies because statements like "My thoughts are with ______" or "Pray for _____" just feel empty and hollow to me. It also seems that sometimes when people post social updates about tragic events they are... really trying to make that tragedy about themselves. Like "look how sympathetic I am! Love me for my sympathy."

I sound like I'm being really harsh towards people who post stuff like this, and I'm not. If that's what you need to make sense of an often confusing world, then please post away. What I'm saying is this is why I don't post stuff like that. This is how I feel.

But the Paris shootings, as physically far away as they are, hit close to home because the shooters killed satirists. As someone who thinks of humor as a tool for problem-solving, and telling deep, sometimes painful truths in a way that makes sense to regular people, I am truly, deeply saddened. And I feel like I should say SOMETHING.

Have you ever heard the phrase "When all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail?" It's a statement explaining why violence happens and condemning that violence. Many people all over the world are raised to believe that problems can only be solved with fists or guns. They are incapable of imagining a world where problems can be solved in any way that doesn't involve injury or death. Yet in the end, not every problem is a "nail." Most problems are not "nails." The actions of the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo solve nothing and will only perpetuate more violence. The only thing violence does is perpetuate itself, making the world worse for every single person who lives on it.

Humor is another tool, like I said. Music is another tool. Diplomacy is another tool. Economics are another tool. There are so many better ways of viewing the world than through a lens of fear and hatred. There are so many better tools to solve problems than violence. When we equip ourselves with these tools we enable a more peaceful, nuanced understanding of the world that makes life better for everyone.

So I'm angry. And I'm sad. I'm sick of reading about violent, unnecessary deaths.

But here's how I'm going to deal with it:

I'm going to make jokes. I'm going to write satire. I'm going to punch up. I'm going to be funny. And I hope that in a very small way I can leave the world just a little bit better than I found it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Thoughts on Multimedia and What it Means to Put on a Show in 2015

If you've read this blog for awhile or if you've ever talked to me for more than 3 minutes you are probably aware that I spend a lot of time thinking about podcasts. So you probably wouldn't be surprised to find out that earlier today I was looking through a list of the most popular podcasts in the United States trying to figure out WHY they were the most popular podcasts in the United States.

I'd noticed some things I'd noticed before. Like, many of the most popular podcasts have celebrity hosts. That is, the person who stars in the podcast is famous for something other than podcasting. Joe Rogan was a somewhat popular stand up comedian who was on TV. Tyler Oakley is a huge YouTube star. Kevin Smith directed movies that teenaged me loves/d.

I also noticed that most of the really popular podcasts are also part of large, popular podcasting networks like EarWolf, NPR, Carolla Digital, or Nerdist. These are organizations that can leverage their existing influence to make something new or relatively new more popular than it would've been on its own.

I noticed other stuff. Lots of shows hosted by standups. Lots of educational content (hooray!) Lots of nerdy stuff (double hooray!) Not enough diversity (reverse hooray!)

Then I noticed something, or thought of something, I hadn't really thought of/noticed before.

Many of the most popular podcasts are part of shows that exist across different types of media. Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast, but it's also a book, and a stage show. If you follow their Facebook and Twitter accounts, their social media presence also feels like an integral part of the story that they're trying to tell. Those aforementioned standup hosted podcasts are in many ways just an extension of said stand-up's routine/stage show. Lots of those guys also make video blogs and web series. A podcast is just a piece of the puzzle, even if it's THE piece of the puzzle.

A lot has been made of the fact that we're entering a period with no gatekeepers. That is to say, artists now have a lot more power over their future. You CAN go to Hollywood and get famous, or you can sit in your house in Montana and build a successful video blogging empire (I'm looking at you VlogBrothers.) The tools and infrastructure are there if you're willing to hustle and catch some lucky breaks here and there.

But, if you're going to do that, you need to be willing, and it appears lots of people are, to build things that exist on multiple platforms. You COULD just do a play, but you could also do a play with a web comic that serves as a prequel or a podcast set in world from the perspective of one of the characters, or whatever. Or WHATEVER. I'm not saying that to be dismissive. I'm saying that because technology means the possibilities for small-scale entertainers to build their worlds are potentially endless. That is so neat! I'm genuinely excited that so many people are building things that exist... across worlds wherein the experience becomes richer as you delve across platforms.

It's possible to be in too many places, so it's important to note that you don't have to be everywhere. You just need to be in the places where it makes sense for your story to take place.

There's a whole "so what" conversation to be had here which goes like this:

"So what? Who cares. It's just going to get buried under all of the other stuff out there. And even if it's not, how do you monetize it?"

And those are valid points! And I have opinions about them! But not today. I'll talk about those in future blogs. Today, I'm just going to enjoy all of the cross-media goodness the world is sending my way.