Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Congress could use an improv class

With all the political arguments and back biting going on lately something has become very clear to me. Congress needs to take improv classes.

No...this is not a joke. At Second City Communications (one of my other jobs) we use improv to help businesses and other organizations across the globe be more efficient, empathetic communicators. Doesn't that sound like something congress could use?

So what is the magic "improv formula?" It's pretty basic really...

Listen – really listen. Don't just wait for your turn to talk....LIS-TEN. Hear what others are saying and why they are saying it.

Don't interrupt – Let people talk. Let them finish talking. You might learn something. Too often we don't talk...we over talk. Just watch any one of a number of TV "news" programs and you'll see what I mean.

Yes, And – This is the basic notion of improv. It means "be in a space of acceptance". You don't have to agree....but you have to accept the validity of everyone's point of view. This allows you to see the potential of what ideas could be before you focus on what they can't be.

Be willing to change - Improvisors have a unique ability to separate themselves from their ideas. We know when to put aside our personal agendas for the good of the whole. Dave Pasquesi – A Second City alum and brilliant performer once said "True listening is just a willingness to change". You don't have to change....but you have to be willing to change. That opens the door for compromise and possibility.

We put up "Rush Limbaugh: The Musical" in 13 days. A bunch of different actors, from different backgrounds, with different ideas and different egos walk into a room and 13 days later have a successful piece of theater. We couldn't do that without using the tools I've talked about above.

So...Congress...don't think politicians. Think like improvisors. I'll bet you that you'd get more done...and help restore a good measure of respect and civility to the process.

After "Rush" is over I'd be glad to come to Washington and teach some workshops....just contact The Second City.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We're the judgment

So, we opened the show and it's doing well. Now, of course, the judgment comes in full force. By that I mean reviewers. It's a weird relationship that artists have with reviewers. We need them, in a way since they help spread the word about our shows to the masses. And, they need us. If we didn't do shows they would have nothing to write about.

But we don't do the shows for the reviewers. By that I mean that during the creative process we never stop and think "will the reviewers like this?" If you did that you'd drive yourself crazy. We do the show that we think is the best. We do the show that we think is funny. And, we hope that others will find it funny also.

Now...I'd be lying if I said I didn't read reviews. We all do. But I never take too much stock in them. After all it's only one person's opinion. Even the good ones are just one person's opinion. The only way to really find out is to come see the show yourself. This is especially true with comedy. Everyone laughs at different things. Something one person finds off putting or offensive you might find hilarious. For instance, several reviewers have brought up the gay related humor in the character Barney Frank of our show. Many of them have said the jokes are offensive, crude, or tasteless. That's fine...that's their opinion. But what they should also mention....but rarely do is that the audience laughs their asses off at virtually all of those jokes. Is it because they don't like homosexuals? No...I doubt it. It's probably because the jokes are funny.

There is a famous story regarding Michael O'Donoghue, who was one of the first writers for Saturday Night Live. As the story goes...O'Donoghue was at an event when a woman approached him. "I don't like your style of humor, she said I find it sophomoric". O'Donghue replied, "All humor is sophomoric lady, that's why it's funny."

So...don't just take a reviewers word for it. Come on out to our pageant and see for yourself.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I Love Rush Limbaugh

As this journey has gone along, one of the questions I get asked most often is, “How can you play someone like Rush Limbaugh?” That’s usually followed by things like…you two are completely opposite in your thinking, etc.

There are tons of “actor things” I could say about preparations and such. But one story stuck in my mind. Several years ago, I directed the awesome comedy actor Pat Shay in a one man show. It was called “In Their Own Words” and told the stories of Sir John Gielgud, Richard Burton, and Laurence Olivier. Below is an excerpt from that show regarding Olivier.

Olivier was fresh off of his big Henry V film and really thought he was a badass - then he goes back onto the stage as a character named Sergius in Arms and the Man, and gets panned.

So his good friend Tony Guthrie comes up to the second performance: "I dawdled about the removal of my makeup to give Tony plenty of time to come round and cheer me up with some advice on my problem, but he never came. I see, I thought. I see.

"On my way downstairs, Tony and Ralph Richardson emerged from the star dressing room - Sybil Thorndike's - and we all went out together.

"Then Tony separated from the others and turned to me. 'Liked your Sergius', he said.
" ' Oh Thank You Very Much'.
" ' What? Don't you love him?'
" ' Love that stooge? That inconsiderable - God, Tony, if you weren't so tall I'd hit you.

"Then he said something to me that changed my actors thinking for the rest of my life.
"' Well, if you don't love him,' he said, 'Then you'll never be any good in him, will you."

It’s Opening Night…and I Love Rush Limbaugh

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rush Limbaugh’s State of The Union Address

Below is the transcript of Rush's Address as taken from his website:

RUSH: So if Obama really is serious, here are some suggestions for a post-Massachusetts, post-New Jersey, post-Virginia "State of Obama" speech. Defund ACORN. Prosecute voter intimidation. Fire all the czars and end the practice of hiring them. Propose a bill that actually cuts spending 2% every year for the next ten years and veto every spending bill until the requested bill is passed. List your proposed cuts to achieve the 2% reduction in spending every year. Across-the-board tax cuts, individual two levels: 10% up to a hundred thousand dollars a year, 25% for over that amount. Corporate tax rate: 15%. Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, the death tax, and capital gains taxes. Just repeal them. Privatize General Motors and Chrysler, and that includes getting the unions out of ownership. End TARP and the slush fund. Cut off all slush fund and Porkulus spending that has not been spent. Lift all restrictions prevalent in interstate health insurance and real tort reform, and endorse Charles Krauthammer's proposal to scrap the current medical malpractice system.

Repeal Executive Order 10988, which gives federal workers the right to join unions and bargain collectively. Reserve constitutional rights for Americans: Treat terrorists as enemy combatants and not common criminals and US citizens, and return the right to interrogate those that attack us to the FBI and the CIA. And last, but not least, keep Guantanamo Bay open for business because we're going to need it. It's very simple. Those are my suggestions if you want to fix what Obama's done wrong. I know it's a pipe dream and it isn't gonna happen. Make no mistake. That's just my way of illustrating in another clever way what's wrong with what Obama has done.

So what's the problem with all this?? There are two things really.

  1. Like so many other pundits it's the "talk loud and say nothing approach." I could also list 50 things that the President "should do". You could too…anyone could. It's easy to come up with lists. I used to work with a guy who was just like this. He didn't have a lot of ideas…but he had a lot of "better ideas". No original thought or analysis…just blowing enough air to stir things up.
  2. Rush acts as if these things could just "be done". Some can...Fire the Czars for instance. By the way…the notion of "Czars" began with Rush's hero Ronald Reagan but Limbaugh fails to mention that…EVER. Tort reform…great idea. Let's see how all the lawyers (including several members of congress) feel about. I'm sure they'll let that one just sail through.

In Rush's world it's all so easy. Just listen to Rush. But in the real world it's not so easy. People are accountable. Rush is not accountable to anyone but Rush…so it's easy to solve all the problems of the country in his little radio vacuum. But in the end, it's as Shakespeare's Macbeth said-

" is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Monday, January 25, 2010

One week down…one to go

Hey everyone. It’s been awhile since the last post. There are two reasons for that…

One…I spent some time tracking down Richard J. Smith Jr. Now, I know you’re saying…”who is Richard J. Smith Jr.” I’m surprised you don’t know. Rush Limbaugh certainly knows. Richard J. Smith Jr. is a white, protestant, male from the Midwest. He is also a banker. And as Rush and I now know…Mr. Smith is the only non-Jewish banker in America. He also voted for McCain so he has no “buyer’s remorse”.

Two…The first week of rehearsal royally kicked my ass. For those of you who are not in this business we call “show”, let me share some inside info. At most theaters, when you put on a production you spend several weeks doing it. First you read the script, then you work on the scenes and blocking…that takes a couple of weeks. After that you learn the songs and rehearse them…that can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks. Then you bring in the choreographer (most of whom are sadists) and you dance and dance and dance until you awaken at night with leg cramps. That process takes another week or so. Finally you bring in tech and props and costumes and you put it all together…that’s another week. So..that comes to about 6-7 weeks.

We have done most of that is 5 days. How can you do it? By busting your ass and having so many incredibly talented people involved.

This show is going to be very, very good. The writing, the music, the dancing are excellent. Even if you don’t much like or care about politics…you will still enjoy this show. I can’t believe how incredibly lucky I am to be part of it. Now…as they say in comedy…I just have to not fuck it up.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"I've Been FOXED"!!!

Rehearsal starts today. I'm very exciting and ready to get going. It seems as though the show has been going for awhile and the cast hasn't even been in the same room together until today.

But the most exciting news of the weekend is that I got Foxed. What is foxed, you ask. That is the technique in which you say something in one context and Fox News takes what you said and puts it in a slightly different context to suit their point of view. **Disclaimer** Fox is hardly the only media outlet to do this...they all do (check out the great Paul Newman flick "Absence of Malice" for a great example of how it works)

In my first blog, I was having some fun with the rather aggressive responses to the show and quoted a random blogger's comment about propaganda. I, jokingly and sarcastically (I'm good at that) referred to myself as a cog in the Left Wing Propaganda Machine. That's what I said. Here's how it turned out on the Fox Website.

To quote from the aforementioned "Absence of Malice" - "It's accurate, but it's not true."

Yes...I said it. But I didn't mean it quite like that. the other big news...RUSH AND I AGREE ON SOMETHING!!

Thanks to Bill C. for his response to my last blog and the inclusion of the excerpt from Rush's website regarding Haiti, natural disaster, and poverty. I think Rush's thoughts are right on. I have long held the belief that you can't solve every problem by throwing money at it. Of course, this is not to say that this problem doesn't need money right now - but is to say that so many Aid organizations have a history of poor management...and poor thought. The excellent book "Dark Star Safari" by Paul Theroux talks extensively about how Aid organizations bent on saving Africa have mostly made the problem worse because they just dump money and run. They don't do the things that really help long term. So, Rush...wait for it...I AGREE. We need to rethink the whole notion of how we give aid to poor nations and what kind of help they really need.

Now...if you had just said that instead of all the inflammatory shit...people may have been more apt to listen.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The "Real Rush Limbaugh"

Well...we go into rehearsals on Monday and I'm still searching.

Since I started the blog, conservatives and dittoheads have challenged me, cautioned me, even beseeched me to find the "Real" Rush Limbaugh.

And I've been trying. But the more I try the less I find. Rush just doesn't show the "real" him very much. It's seldom Rush, or " that ol' Limbaugh"'s always RUSH LIMBAUGH!!!

And that Rush Limbaugh has been on fire of late. We've seen, in the last month alone.

-His ridiculous attempt to use his own hospitalization to bash a change in healthcare.
-His insulting comment about Ted Kennedy. Nice triple slam on that one...getting Kennedy, Clinton and "Negroes" all in one shot.
-And worse...far worse are his comments on Haiti and the relief effort. Which include:

  1. Suggesting that we already give Haitians enough aid. "It's called the U.S. Income Tax"
  2. Suggesting that the crisis was "made to order" for Obama so the President could boost his standing with "light skinned and dark skinned blacks". As though they are from 2 different worlds or something
  3. And this gem...

    Justin of Raleigh, North Carolina: "Why does Obama say if you want to donate some money, you could go to to direct you how to do so? If I wanted to donate to the Red Cross, why do I have to go to the White House page to donate?"

    Limbaugh: "Exactly. Would you trust the money's gonna go to Haiti?"


    Rush: "But would you trust that your name's gonna end up on a mailing list for the Obama people to start asking you for campaign donations for him and other causes?"

    Justin: "Absolutely!"

    Limbaugh: "Absolutely!"

Now, this exchange seems to suggest that the White House and the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES are running a scam on the American people to skim money sent in for earthquake relief.

The Haiti situation would have been a perfect time for Rush to say to his millions of listeners "Look...I'm an entertainer folks and I have a big following. Politics are one thing but this is people, and these people need help. If all my loyal Dittoheads just gave a buck to the Red much of a difference could we make.

But that would require being Rush Limbaugh....and Rush must always be RUSH.

He has spent years carefully crafting that persona and it's that persona that defines him. It's that bombastic, aggressive, character that he alone has fashioned into RUSH. He has made himself a lightning rod for controversy and contempt.

And one cannot fashion themselves into a lightning rod and then complain about when and how the lightning strikes them. comes the lightning.