Monday, September 28, 2009

Crank Out the Funny or...You're Fired!

So who else caught the season premiere of SNL this weekend? UGH. So disappointing.
It's still the "BE ALL, END ALL" dream job, however it's irritating to watch again this season.

The sketches that drag on for days. The hosts that bring nothing to the table. The boring musical breaks. Pretty much anything Kenan Thompson does (are there honestly NO OTHER funny black guys to replace him???? Come on! And while we're at it, Lorne Michaels, please meet Amber Ruffin, Dionna Griffin, Claudia Wallace all extremely talented black women).

The current pace of the show is exhausting. The scenes go on so long - why isn't head writer Seth Meyers editing anything? If the writers and cast could learn to edit themselves quicker, we'd always be wishing for more...instead of wishing for the end.

I know they have some new blood in there (specifically some intense writing talent via Second City), but unfortunately, the premiere didn't offer anything fresh, except for a couple of new faces that only stood to embarrass the cast and show.

And here's a question, WHY the new faces? Why did Casey Wilson and Michaela Watkins get fired? I liked Casey Wilson, I just think she needed to invent more opportunity for herself to be seen and she'd still be around. (Not sure if the rumours about her having to lose weight to stay on are true or not - and this should NOT be an issue's SNL not Melrose Place!) Michaela had some great characters...not sure at all why she was booted. Age?

Here's the thing about comedy. Age = Life Experience. Life Experience = Funny. And is replacing curvy or older women with fresh-faced idiots that cause FCC problems, simply an effort to get a younger demographic? And is aiming for a younger demographic really going to help SNL? Don't young people prefer to make and watch their own videos as opposed to some old tired sketch show? Really, who is at home on Saturday night watching anything on network television? Probably an older demographic that would appreciate a cast that looks more like them.

As a person involved in the comedy scene - I it not enough to just be funny? I am just about exactly the same size as Casey Wilson, and only a little younger than Kristin Wiig. However, as long as I can keep creating new characters, writing things that make my fellow castmates and I laugh, and keep getting cast, I'll never stop! And I hope Casey and Michaela keep going too.

But the thing that remains true whether you are on SNL, an improv troupe, a traveling company or just trying to be seen, if you're not regularly bringing the funny, you're not a factor, and likely fired. It's a high pressure, high stakes life. Every opportunity you have in front of an audience is an opportunity to strike gold...or to fall flat on your face. The key is to keep inventing. To stand out at places like SNL, Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade you have to bring the funny. And I mean, really funny, not just slightly amusing. And you have to be a machine. The funny needs to be cranked out by the yard and on a regular schedule. Some people only have a handful of funny ideas in their entire life...the people that succeed in the SNL pressure cooker have endless ideas. And these are ideas that work. Perhaps Casey and Michaela had a shortage of ideas. Or maybe it was something more arbitrary like demographics and appearance. In any case, you can bet your chances of survival are much higher if you can be counted on to bring unique, interesting, and memorable characters and scenes to life. And all the better if they only last three minutes or less.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This Year's Emmys - Still nothing interesting comes to mind.

So it's been a few days since the Emmy's aired and to be honest I have been brainstorming as many ideas as possible to give some sort of opinion on the whole thing and all I can come up with is that I have none.

Sure, NPH was good, but didn't meet my high expectations. Kristin Chenowith was incredibly annoying regardless of the sincerity of her excitement. Tina Fey looked beautiful in black. Again (yawn). Jessica Lange should lay off the Botox. And the Moet. Seth McFarlane's date looked like a runner up in the Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest (Myrtle Beach). A telling choice that shows it's not just his humor (which I love!) perpetually stuck in seventh grade. The whole night was so boring that in fact the most shocking moment to me, was laughing at Jimmy Fallon. That short sketch was funny - and I don't always enjoy him.

The whole thing felt a bit like watching junior varsity football. Which is always what television is to the movies. During the reign of the Sopranos, television nearly surpassed movies in coolness (nearly). HBO and other cable networks were pushing some seriously edgy material and the public ate it up like hotcakes. Now, the edgy thing is overdone, and the shock value has faded. This year's Emmys reflected that dullness. Not to mention that Leno taking on the 5 night a week spot historically dedicated to "appointment television" drama series, the NBC has all but flown the white flag.

Hulu, YouTube, TiVo, OnDemand - they're all taking share away from the traditional networks. And the big advertisers did not get the memo 5 years ago to go out and hire a bunch of social media marketers to get in the game early and are now scrambling to make their case online, while still sinking megabucks into tv ads that aren't being seen.

But the biggest reason the networks are in trouble is that they're putting out crap - and with other choices people aren't forced to watch. Lots of people are creating their own entertainment and spending their free time marketing themselves...not watching whatever is put in front of them. The successful shows found that by being niche, they can pull socially savvy audiences. The stuff I like, Lost, Mad Men, 30 Rock, The Office, pull so-so ratings but have very vocal fan bases. I've never seen one episode of Two and Half Men. Apparently that pulls unbelievable numbers, but I've never seen anyone put anything on their Facebook page about it.

Today's consumer is very self-reliant. We are very "i" focused. We can customize everything we use in our daily life to compliment whatever personal interests we have. There are very few things we are stuck with listening to or watching. We have Sirius radio in the car so we can listen to all 80's Alternative all the time and never know what new music we're suppose to be downloading. We never set foot in a bookstore anymore because we can buy new books for $9.99 and read them on our Kindles. We can block spam, banner ads and popups, and if we don't, they're so cleverly selected for us based on the other stuff we have online that they actually present the one and only item we would ever need or want to buy.

Your new spokesmen?
I can think of only two places left in the world where media decisions are limited and that is in doctor's offices and hospitals where you cannot use your iPhone to watch whatever you like because "cell phone use is prohibited". So best of luck to the advertisers in Good Housekeeping, Better Homes and Gardens and Highlights for Children magazines. You have the burden of carrying the entire weight of the survival of traditional media on your shoulders. Here's a couple of tips for you. The pull out postcards still don't work and free perfume and makeup samples do!

Your product here???

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When the Going Gets Floating...

So I'm seriously well into my "sabbatical" and have remained busy doing all of the things I promised I would. But, it's an odd feeling - floating between the projects of my choice. Of course I do not miss going to a job everyday and having to postpone my own personal projects, but I have not felt very grounded. Still, the experience has been incredibly life altering, even if I haven't outwardly changed that much. I still set daily and weekly goals for myself. I still keep a detailed status report on all my projects (old habits die hard). I'm still really busy.

At the same time, I feel comfortable and happy in this ongoing purgatory of uncertainty, opportunity, and "TBD" status. It feels like something really amazing is just around the corner. I just have to be on the look out for it and ready to pounce. It's like being next - which is really better than it being your turn. Anticipation is one of life's most enjoyable creations. I currently am Mayor of Anticipation Station.

There have been lots and lots of job postings in my "day job" field, and I have been compelled to throw my hat into the ring for some of the more appealing and fruitful opportunities. However, I think there must be something in the universe that is deciding a few things for me...and so up to now, the old life has not moved back in.

This whole experience has actually changed a lot of things about me. I am a better person in some ways. I'm definitely a much better wife. I'm able to do things for him that I never did before. And I'm also able to support him in a new way, that I hope makes him feel important and valued. Weirdly, I don't know if I'm as good of a friend anymore. I just feel really focused on my own projects right now. I see my old life as not just being a slave to the job, but also to all of the social commitments I ended up getting myself into and then resented later. I'm learning to say no more often, and letting go of some of that guilt.

I'm also a completely different consumer. I was an avid shopper to say the least, and the fall has always been my absolute favorite clothes season, ever since my mom took me to Belks for new penny loafers. Although I still look through some of the catalogs I get, I don't feel as compelled to buy the latest trends. Plus, I spend most of my time at home writing, or at rehearsals, neither of which require anything more than jeans and a shirt. I also am getting comfortable with not being as generous as I have been in the past. I would spend thousands and thousands of dollars on lavish gifts for my family and friends every year, and I'm not really sure why. I fear it's that I felt I needed to do this to retain their love or friendship. Now that this type of giving is no longer possible, I feel liberated. Now I don't have to try to one up myself. I'm especially looking forward to the holidays and reverting back to a more "normal" level of generosity. It will be rewarding to make or buy items that I can put more thought into, instead of just paying more. I also wonder if people thought I was a little too generous, like maybe I made them feel uncomfortable, and maybe they thought I was a little pathetic. I always felt like, if you have it, spend it, I'll make more - and you could get hit by a truck. Now that I have very little and live on a very, very tight budget (about $20 a week for "spending money"), I have found that I'm actually happier. I feel smarter. I feel healthier. And I resent my debt so much more. If I didn't have that - I would really never be worried! I have nothing to show for those three payments I have to make every month. I didn't use them to pay my college tuition or to pay for life-saving surgery. I didn't use them to fund a film or a play. I just bought crap. Crap that is currently sitting in three huge garbage bags by the back door waiting to go to Goodwill. And in three smaller carrier bags waiting to be evaluated for consignment. ROI? A truckload of regret.

So now I enjoy a slower pace and grocery store shopping. I rode my bike to the grocery store this morning - because I have the extra time - I don't have to drive anywhere anymore. I noticed a nice side effect of the bike riding is that whatever I buy I have to carry, so no superfluous items ever make it into the basket. This saves money and calories!

I hope you find your moments of anticipation to savor today - and hope you can find ways to simplify your life and time to realize your dreams.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Mind Your Manners - and General Peeves

Okay - so I'm going to go ahead and say that I might just offend some of my readers. Hopefully not, but with all of this stuff being said about having general courtesy and manners in light of the Kanye and "You lie!" incidents, I feel I have a couple of things to add.

In regards to general behavior and decorum, when did it become okay to celebrate your birthday for longer than the actual day? I would say about 50% of my friends take birthdays to the extreme. January is not just a month anymore - it's "Karen's Birthday Month". Telling people it is your birthday and announcing your plans and how special you are was once frowned upon. Doesn't anyone else remember their mother whispering in their ear that this is obnoxious? Sure, the casual email - it's my birthday - let's eat, drink or whatever is completely fine. It's the full blown multiple day celebrations that I find ridiculous. And these aren't milestone birthdays either. They range from say 27 to 43. Here's the deal with birthdays, everyone has one, and it's a birthDAY not a birthMONTH. Obviously there are exceptions for people who have something a little more to celebrate on a birthday (surviving cancer is one), but generally, could we all just tone this down a little?

This brings me to the general shift in the way people talk about and perceive themselves. It use to be that people who said things like "I'm awesome" were conceited jerks. What happended to that? Self-confidence is one thing, complete self-adoration another entirely! If you're truly awesome, the world will let you know.
The Facebook Status is the best way to measure this about yourself. I update my status often (mostly to market shows I'm in or producing, but also to share the occasional injury or odd circumstance). However it can get ugly in a hurry. Read it out loud and measure how high it is on the brag scale. If it makes you giggle, please post, if it makes you cringe even a little, it's back to the drawing board.

And whatever happened to thank you notes and real "in the mail" invitations??? I host a holiday party every year and spend HOURS handwriting and addressing the invitations. It's kind of replaced our Christmas cards and isn't it so nice to get something in the mail? I'm not too opposed to the emailed thank's still the gesture that counts the most, but saying nothing is really, really, bad behavior people. E-vites are cute to replace the at work email blast to grab a drink, but for a real, bonified event? No way.

Eating on the run has impacted table manners. I was recently at a wedding and one of the people at our table had not received her entree yet. Everyone except for say 3 of us at the table started - now this wasn't going to be a "it will get cold go ahead and eat" situation, her meal was on the way. And anyway, it's polite to wait, or at least wait until the person who has not yet been served says, "Please, go ahead and start." Not only that, they looked at us waiting like we were crazy.

Things just seem to be getting out of hand. Let's all try to just be nicer and quieter. Softer, and less braggy. Maybe it will spread like an uncovered sneeze. Which, don't even get me started on the disgusting things I've seen people do on the train...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mindless Junk for a Friday Before a Holiday Weekend!

Greetings! It's the Friday before a holiday weekend, and if you haven't already left work, you're farting around the web before you get that awesome email from "HQ" letting you know you may leave early today.

Here's some mindless junk to enjoy and pass the time before you get out of there.

1) Michelle Dugger has finally updated her hair. Jesus is real. Just in time for baby 19. I think perhaps I should pray more - I mean 19? I wouldn't mind just the one! Anyway. I like the Duggers. Those kids are amazing. They built their own house, then took those skills and built a huge addition to another giant family's house. What did YOUR kids do today? I'm just saying. Weird, sure. But they seem pretty normal in their interviews...I mean they have a sense of humor. And I really don't care if they're brainwashed, a well-behaved child is a beautiful child. Also, there's no denying that (I mean aside from the 19 babies) that Jim Bob and Michelle have some serious chemistry. I think that's refreshing. Especially since a lot of couples act more like Jon and Kate.

2) Labor Day Pains. It's the last weekend of the "summer" so end of season parties and sales abound. It's an odd place to be when you don't really see any "end in sight" to your current situation (more on that later). I've noticed that a lot of people are quite depressed (well, those who do not have school age children). It is sad, especially when you live in Chicago and the doom and gloom of winter will be upon us too soon. I happen to like the Fall (I know - that's crazy talk), it's my favorite season - I love the chance to finally throw on jeans and a long-sleeve tee shirt. I love the sound of crunching leaves underfoot. I love the non-sound of children playing during the day because they are off to school. It's not the fall and winter I dread, it's the March-May time here when the weather is snowy, slushy, rainy and the rest of the world is warming up and green.

3) Sabbatical Update: In the running for a couple of things - all very different. It's a wait and see situation, and one that I am more than happy to wait and see on. I've been very busy with my sabbatical activities and kind of dread having to make the inevitable decision on where and when I will return to the rat race. (And if I will have to). I have completed my manuscript for Louisa and the Circle of Hugs...and will be sending that off to potential agents/publishers next week. I got new headshots which I am absolutely thrilled with...we'll see if that gets me anywhere. I feel like so many things are on the brink, yet so far I am still firmly planted on the edge of change. I imagine the next several weeks will be very interesting for me and will (hopefully) present a lot of choices. It's a good place to be...but also I feel more pressure than ever to make the right choices for myself. I am proud that I have actually succeeded in getting myself into this position in the first place. I feel like I've taken full advantage of my time and really focused on my own wants and needs. But, the dwindling savings account causes a little bit of discomfort (still have 4 months saved), but does not yet lead to panic.

4) Anybody else getting tired of this lady?

She's EVERYWHERE! Don't get me wrong. She's got that "girl next door" thing going selling us everything from KY Warming Gel to Blinds to Pepto...but seriously, how will I ever break in if they only use the same actresses over and over???? A few years ago it was this blonde chick with a flippy haircut? She hosted While You Were Out for about 2 shows and disappeared for a bit. She was everywhere, but then poof gone. This Erica Shaffer person has proven to have some serious staying power. Good for her, I guess, but I just wish advertisers would open it up for a little more variety. Like chubby red-headed people who make weird faces???? (I'm available!)

5) PLUGS! If you're in the Chicago area, come see some really good improv this weekend. (Redeye, Reader and Yelp Recommended!) Visit and click "Who's playing". I'm up twice tonight (both the 8 PM and 12 AM shows and next Friday for the 12 AM show.)