Saturday, July 15, 2017

Getting What You Wanted

Last night I performed a show with Los Improviachis.  We opened up for our friends in Pimprov and we did a very good, fun show.  Afterwards we took pictures with different people and I had someone come up to me say, "Did you host a show opening for such-and-such about a year ago at Second City?"

I thought for a minute.  "Yes," I responded. "Yes I did."

"I saw you that night and you were amazing," she replied immediately with a twinkle in her eye and genuine enthusiasm.  "You did such an amazing job hosting that I've wanted to tell you that ever since!"

I was dumbfounded.

I've spent a better part of the last 10 years trying to get some respect and some light-weight fame from doing improv/sketch comedy.  I dream of the day when I walk outside my cozy home and local people recognize me for the things I've done on stage, film, TV, and in the community.  Companies would try to reach out to offer me all kinds of incredible opportunities to raise their profile and mine because I've earned the privilege to do so.  People would start wanting to pay beaucoup bucks for the chance to see me in a show let alone try to get an opportunity to talk to me.  All of these things are big goals for me.

So, when I finally got a little recognition from this lovely lady for something I did artistically a year ago, I all of a suddenly got really warm, started blushing, put on a silly grin, and profusely thanked her all the while holding onto a feeling of hubris mixed with a bit of embarrassment and insecurity.  "This is what you wanted," I kept telling myself.  So, WHY DO I FEEL SO WEIRD?!!

How To Be Humble
In a segment on NPR's All Things Considered, Keegan Michael Key, an actor that I look up to and admire, made an interesting comment while promoting his new Netflix show "Friends From College" that really resonated with me:
On never believing he deserved success, and how that reflects a broader American tendency
I'm from the Midwest, so I always assumed: Well, I have to think badly of myself, because that's being humble. And where I'm from, you get points for being humble and you get an extra special big house in heaven. That's the rule, right? Now, you have these dirty dreams in the back of your mind: ... What if there was the first black James Bond, and it was me? You're going to hell. You're never allowed to dream that big.
Cot damn.  He's right.  I find myself trying to ruining these type of moment with my insecurities because I feel that if I fully enjoy them, I'd become a big-headed, arrogant jerk and start doing stupid things.  I was trying to be humble but I really just wanted to lose my head right there and start babbling like an idiot.  That strange governor that I enacted on my reactions was in full effect.

I'm gonna work on staying humble by being humble versus hating on myself. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Post Op Blues

It's been a few days after my lingual hernia repair operation. The procedure went well but the post-op recovery has been more problematic than originally anticipated. I had to deal with the mechanics of determining whether or not my kidneys were working properly as a result of a mishap when inserting a catheter for the original procedure. It's been 5 days since that issue got reconciled (I'm fine) but something weird happened tonight.

I had the uncontrollable urge to cry.

I decided today I would try to go without medication and let my body get used to functioning without them.  I was able to work, run errands, and even audition today. I got home and after s few hours, a freight train of emotion hit me inexplicably. I couldn't regulate my emotions. I just felt very useless, alone, and vulnerable. I wasn't "sad" per se - more just "wounded"than anything else.
So for half an hour I cried. Not bawling or sobbing. Just cried quietly on my bed with my wife beside me. I couldn't stop. I wanted to. I used the mental gymnastics I've built over the years of how "men don't cry"and they were useless. I just rode the waves of emotion the best I could.
While this read happening, I wondered if it was a reaction to the lack of medication or maybe I was having an anxiety attack. I look them up and tried self-diagnosing. Neither one came back with much. I then asked if this was a normal reaction to coming off general anesthesia. I then learned about the "post op blues".

It turns out that it's not uncommon for people to sense a bit of depression after surgery. Granted, the more intrusive the surgery, the longer the recovery, the deeper that depression can go. My operation was an outpatient procedure; however, I believe that it messed me up more than I realized. The recovery process didn't totally start until 8 days afterwards due to the kidney-related problems. So, I couldn't focus on what I sent in for until later. I think all of the stress of the operation, being bed ridden for quite someone afterwards, and the fact that at times I felt completely useless to people because I couldn't do my normal activities got to me. It just found an emotional outlet tonight.

I decided to write about it because I want to remember this. I want others to know that his they may be feeling is normal. Hopefully it's just a short-term thing and I can bounce back to where I was after giving myself more time to rest.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

It Takes Two To Ruin A Classic

Target put together this travesty:

Don't tell me this song or video is a good remake or brings something original to a hip-hop classic. 

First of all, it's put together to promote Target.  Now, I know there's a lot of commercialism in hip-hop as it is but this is so blatant, the entire video reeks of sanitation by executives who have no clue as to what hip-hop is all about.  Whatever good there is artistically in the shot (dancing, choreography, visuals), it's washed out by the fact that it's just a really long Target commercial.

Secondly, LIL YACHTY and CARLY RAE JEPSEN???!  Neither of these clowns grew up on 80s hip-hop.  Lil Yachty famously couldn't name any Biggie or Tupac songs let alone an obscure gem from Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock.  Carly is to hip-hop what Yachty is to rock n' roll - unrelated.  There is no artistic contribution or validity either one of them bring to the song.  Yachty raps like all other mumble rappers out there - tons of Auto-tune and slurred speech.  The original song requires a little bit more diction and inventiveness to perform and his performance on the remake sounds uninspired, contrived, and strained - as if he never really studied the original.  Carly feels like she's there for eye candy in the video and to sing the hook.

Lastly, I dont get the whole idea of what "it takes two" to do in Target.  Why do we need two people to make Target awesome?  Nowhere in the song do they actually go into depth about what two people would do at a Target.  Shopping is better with two people?  Consumerism is better with two people?  What?!!!

Pull The Cord!

I logged onto Twitter this morning and saw the following Tweet in response to a #POTUS45 tweet:
With that statement, I dug a bit further into his timeline and found this gem:

Uhhh, unless you're a Congressman or a member of the Oval Office, their ain't jack you can do.  I had to ask myself, "What makes him think that he personally can invoke the the 25th Amendment, Article 4?  Does he even know what it is?"  I decided to educate myself quickly on it:
Section 4 of the 25th Amendment stipulates that a president who "is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office" can be removed from office. The vice president and either a majority of Cabinet members or members "of such other body as Congress may by law provide" need to communicate that wish in writing to the Senate president pro tempore and the Speaker of the House in order for the sitting vice president to become the acting president. However, if the president resists and deems himself capable of fulfilling his duties, the matter heads to Congress: A two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate within 21 days means the vice president remains the acting president; a lesser vote returns the powers to the president. 

Are You Mental?
Does this guy feel that he has any direct influence on his Congressman to what he wants (unless of course he has donated heavily in their campaigns and now owns them)?  Does he actually believe it's easy to go through the mechanics of removing a sitting president with an unprecedented maneuver like invoking the 25th Amendment?  Does he think #POTUS45 will just roll over and not fight it?  If invoked, I fear it'll tear the country apart.

Don't wait for Congress to deal with an out-of-control problem with your leadership.  #Resist

Friday, February 17, 2017

Your Anee, Uhm...?

#POTUS45 during his recent press conference deflected questions regarding his reponse to Russia's recent military provocations of the US.

The elevelant portion of the transcript of the conversation is as follows:

QUESTION: Mr. President, you mentioned Russia. Let’s talk about some serious issues that have come up in the last week that you have had to deal with as president of the United States.


QUESTION: You mentioned the vessel — the spy vessel off the coast of the United States.

TRUMP: Not good.

QUESTION: There was a ballistic missile test that many interpret as a violation of an agreement between the two countries; and a Russian plane buzzed a U.S. destroyer.

TRUMP: Not good.

QUESTION: I listened to you during the campaign ...

TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. When did it happen? It happened when, if you were Putin right now, you would say, “Hey, we’re back to the old games with the United States; there’s no way Trump can ever do a deal with us.” Because the — you have to understand. If I was just brutal on Russia right now, just brutal, people would say, you would say, “Oh, isn’t that wonderful.” But I know you well enough.
Then you would say, “Oh, he was too tough; he shouldn’t have done that.” Look, all of the...

 During this back-and-forth item, he mentions:

TRUMP: Now, again, maybe I’m not going to be able to do a deal with Russia, but at least I will have tried. And if I don’t, does anybody really think that Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Russia than Donald Trump? Does anybody in this room really believe that? OK?
But I tell you one thing, she tried to make a deal. She had the reset. She gave all that valuable uranium away. She did other things. You know, they say I’m close to Russia. Hillary Clinton gave away 20 percent of the uranium in the United States. She’s close to Russia.

Let's put some circumstance and sanity around this statement as briefly as possible.

A firm representing Russia's atomic energy program, Rosatom, bought shares into a Canadian mining company called Uranium One based in Toronto.  Uranium One owned assets in Wyoming, Utah, and other places.  From 2009 - 2013, the Rosatom firm AMRZ increased it's ownership stake from 17% to 100% of Uranium One after the Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) approved the deal.  As a result of the takeover, Rosatom control 100% of those form Uranium One assets which constitute 20% of the US' uranium extraction capacity NOT US uranium supply.

What the CFIUS?!!

The CFIUS is made of 9 government bodies including Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Commerce, Energy, and Homeland Security, and the heads of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  However, due to the proceedings being classified, there is no public evidence supporting or rejecting Clinton was involved in the decision in approving the deals regarding Uranium One/Rosatom.  Other committee members had stated that they never spoke with Clinton regarding CFIUS matters as a matter of practice the issues the committee dealt with wouldn't rise to auspices of the Secretary of State.  Ultimately, it took 9 agencies to sign off on the Uranium One acquisitions and the President to allow it through, i.e., not veto it, before it would take effect.  So, ultimately, Clinton alone does not have the power to hand over American assets like uranium production to a foreign body.

Isn't Russia Buying Up Uranium Production Assets A Bad Thing?
The US assets owned by ARMZ were mandated by the USNRC to remain under the control of US subsidiaries and did not grant formal licenses to the Uranium One nor Rosatom firms an export license; thus, no uranium mined in those areas can be exported out of the country without the involvement of USNRC involvment*.  None of the uranium can be used for building power plants, submarine engines, or even nuclear weapons except in the US.  Russia may benefit financially through this agreement but not with materials to pose a threat to national security.

Deflection Protection

What bothers me most about #POTUS45 in this scenario is that he deflected the question to what his response was by wanting to talk about Clinton's supposed involvement with Russia.  When pressed further in the conference:
QUESTION: Can we conclude there will be no response to these particular provocations?
TRUMP: I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don’t talk about military response.
So, in other words, we have no idea how he's going to respond if at all.  My money would be that no response will be given in public due to his compromised position with Russia (sex scandals, conflicts of interests, and impeachable actions).

#POTUS45 lied about Clinton and this uranium business.  If you don't believe me, do your own research and come to your own conclusion.

  1. Uranium One did export out yellowcake to Canada for procesing.  The company that facilitated the transfer, RSB Logistic Services, did have an export license.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Growing Up vs Growing Old

Tomorrow Salsation Theatre Company, NFP takes the stage at The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival (more commonly referred to as "Sketchfest") 2017.  We've put together what I consider to be a really good show and I am hoping the audience appreciates the hard work everybody has put into it.  As we're on the eve of Sketchfest, I'm reflecting a bit before going to bed.

Back From The Dark
Salsation has been pretty quiet over the last couple of years.  We had Los Improviachis keeping the name out there but it pretty much became its own monster of an improv team known for putting on really fun, audience interactive shows.  Salsation has been more known for sketch than anything else and as a group, we were tired.  Plain and simple.  The senior members of the ensemble had a lot of changes come into their lives and continuing on in the same manner we had been operating over the years was taxing us to the point that we couldn't continue delivering quality material.  We needed a break and decided to "go dark" vs. just abandoning it since Salsation does have a place in the history books of Chicago improv & sketch comedy for being the longest lasting Latino theatre company doing the art-form.

My break took me into new places within the improv community.  I began teaching, touring, and playing a ton more.  I got to run workshops, attend improv camps, start new teams, showcase my existing teams, and be featured in improv festivals.  With all of the unscripted joy, I knew at some point I would want to get back to doing original scripted work.  With the advent of Impro├▒ol and continuation of Los Improviachis, I also started mining more of my heritage.  I started speaking a ton more Spanish and having to incorporate it into my art.  The political season of 2016 made me face some realities about Latinos in this new era that I felt needed to be explored.  All of these things culminated in bring Salsation out of hibernation and into the light.

The Writing Process
One of the biggest changes for this show was that it basically started as a two-man show.  One of the other members of the group was jonesing to be more involved artistically and since I was feeling the pull of sketch comedy, I decided to take a chance on just having some fun.

Most sketch comedy shows are put together in the following way:
  • A group of people get together and want to produced a sketch revue
  • They might find a director or writing coach to start writing a bunch of scenes.  They also might go at it themselves for a bit.
  • They spend weeks getting those sketches up to par with what they find funny.  
  • They then get a venue to play and start blocking scenes, memorizing lines, and rehearsing.
  • They do the show for 4-6 weeks and then do it again at some point down the road.
I'm leaving out a lot of other things that happen but creatively I feel I've captured the gist of the process.  This takes typically 3 months to put together.  I didn't want to feel that weight on my shoulders because I've been there/done that with this process enough and its exhausting.  I decided to put on new rules for this endeavor:
  • Sketches will be written from improvisation.  All improv will be taped and posted for others to review.
  • If a sketch was brought in, it'll be table-read by everyone involved then we will immediately re-improvise it (aka known as "drop script").  Revisions will be written based on what major things were memorable from the table read and any new gems gathered during improvisation.  The process is repeated until the team deems it "good enough" to perform.
  • Sketches that are not fully completed are able to go into any show deemed fit.  The expectation is that getting these kinds of premises in front of people might bring some goodness out of the people acting them out.
This process isn't novel.  The Second City mainstage productions pretty much does this as their method of writing material.  I found this process to be totally freeing and very collaborative.  Too many times have I been part of shows where I am put in a position to write material only to have my 10-15 sketches completely ignored by a director or a group that doesn't see value in my voice.  This method  would give my material at least a better chance to make it viewable by an audience.   It also makes the process more organic and reduces expectations and disappointment because everything is much more collaborative.

The Results
We started with two people.  We then brought on another once they had heard of the process and the ease of expectations from me which was much more laid back and easy going.  Then we brought on another who was willing to just be a part of it.  With this group of people we were able to put up two shows at Second City with good feedback on the new material.  Then later to my surprise we brought on another person who I thought would never want to deal with another sketch show again after being in the trenches like me for so many years and feeling unheard.  After reconciling rehearsal dates and schedules, I found myself having a really good group of fun, smart people who put their all into putting together a great show for Sketchfest.

What I Learned
Improv (and age) has really helped me chill out on my intensity and need for control in the creative processes.  I've done so much improv that I see how much more fun letting go and going with things can be.  It doesn't mean I'm a push-over; rather, I see that when I don't force things to happen, magic normally occurs.

I hope you're able to join us for the showcase.  For more info, visit

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Literate Ape Is Just a Jackass With A Blog

I disagree with 99% of this jackass the Literate Ape's rant regarding how "thin-skinned" the Second City and its actors are regarding bad reviews on their shows and unruly audience members.   It's written in the beginning of the article to be a reaction to how Second City has responded to the reviews they received and how combative audience behavior has forced productions and its members to assert themselves in a way to try to ensure that the show is presented in a manner it's intended to be seen.  I found it pretty hard to read because the author (who remains anonymous) tries to be sarcastic and funny with questions posed every 3rd or 4th sentence in order to make his weak arguments stronger.  All it does is slow things down when reading it.

This Ape Missed The Branch
In the piece, the author's very much attached to the idea that when one performs "comedy" that there are certain occupational risks that come with it that are acceptable and are to be expected.  He asserts that heckling is one of them and if the production can't handle it, they shouldn't be up on stage.  What the article seems miss about what they do over at Second City is that the scripted art being staged and maybe even marketed as isn't "comedy" but rather "satire" - work looking at making fun of interesting social, political issues that patrons should have some cursory knowledge in.  The improv being performed isn't "comedy" but rather "unscripted theatre".   Since "theatre" is being presented, the rules of "comedy" don't exactly apply.

For example, there are comedic Shakespearean plays.  It would be rude and tacky to stand up in the middle of The Merchant of Venice and shout out, "YOU'RE NOT EVEN REALLY FROM ITALY, YOU JAGOFF!"  That might illicit some laughs at a 2 AM open mic in a bar somewhere but first and foremost, Second City is a theatre (with the "re" ending vs. "er") which means there's an implied level of sophistication required from the audience to recognize what they're watching.  It doesn't mean that a patron needs a P.H.D. to get what's going on on stage but rather they need to understand what they are watch has deeper meaning than what it looks like on the surface.

The Second City and its artists have every right to try to steer their to a place where they can present their work as intended and give the audience a chance to soak up that experience and interpret it any way they choose.  Placing signs in the lobby asking audience members to be respectful of the artists, the theatre, and each other - however sad that these rules even have to be explicitly stated - is perfectly fine.  If that offends your sensibilities, you shouldn't go see it.

The presentation of material is typically not a two-way street.  It's one way. I, the performer, get to tell you how I feel.  You, the audience member, choose to pay for the chance to see what I have to say in the way that I say it and absorb it.  That's it.  Your viewing dollar doesn't buy you the opportunity to talk back or become part of my show. 

Owning Up To Being a Performer
The 1% I do agree with is the notion that many improvisers/actors are unprepared for heckling unlike stand-up comics. Stand-ups deal with it way more often than we do and see working examples of how to handle it at open mics and shows. Improvisers tend to learn the art of the craft but not necessarily the skills needed for reading a crowd, changing things up when things when the crowd turns against them, and how to empower themselves to deal with a-holes messing up a good show.

I realize that I stated previously that what we do is "art" and "theatre".  However, our audiences think we're doing "comedy" which lumps us into a loose association with stand-up comics.  Many of us perform improv in less than ideal locations such as basements, bars, karaoke rooms, and personal living rooms which don't elicit the decorum of a traditional theatre goer.   That requires us to have to straddle both sides of "art" and "comedy" and be able to not only improvise well but also make sure our audiences are with us.

I myself still need to master these skills but having played with Los Improviachis over the last four years I learned these skills on stage since we do a ton of audience interaction. It's taught me to own my stage when I go out there. If you're going to be a dick, I will turn the audience against you. Does it ruin the show? Sometimes but more often than not all it does is change the show to be something unexpected. We just work with the new circumstances and move on. We did a show where I handled a dude getting crazy during one of our games:

After the show, the dude and his girlfriend came up and apologized and we hugged it out.  Everyone I spoke to who saw that show felt that dealing with that guy in the manner done was entertaining and succinct.  

What Can Be Done?
First, read the article and make your own decisions.  Go see the current Second City mainstage show and make your own decisions.  Go see more improvisation and stand-up and make your own decisions.  Most of all, keep your cot damn mouth shut until you out of the theatre.