Archive for January, 2010

The first rule about Book Club…

Friday, January 29th, 2010

I never really decided to stop writing this blog.  It just sort of happened.  But I’m back!  The plan is to have it up and running for when the fringe tour starts this summer (!), so my continuing travel adventures can be documented.  But before I actually start to piece together life events of the last half-year from pictures and agenda entries, I thought I would get things started again by listing all the books I’ve read since last I posted.  It’s kind of like Oprah’s Book Club if she only had a show every six months or so…and I think we can all agree that would be a far better world.  In order of reading:

Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissinger

Alright, so I’m a broken record.  But I finished this book, and it was great.  Probably mandatory reading for humanity.

How to Rig an Election, by Allen Raymond

I quite enjoyed this, but I live for this crap.  It’s an autobiographical retelling of a Republican operative’s rise through the party machine and all the dirty tricks he committed along the way, until he finally ends up being scapegoated and thrown under the bus by even more vicious tricksters.  (Spoiler alert:  He does time.)  Dirty politics and gamesmanship fascinate me, so if you’re like me and actually prefer when political operatives are upfront about and aware of their amoral (at best) behavior, then well worth the read.

Now I Can Die in Peace, by Bill Simmons

A series of articles by Bill Simmons put into book form, it’s about Bill Simmons’ experience as a Red Sox fan in the run-up to them finally throwing off the so-called Curse of the Bambino and winning the World Series.  I don’t particularly care about the sport, and as is often the case with books culled from articles, you definitely get more repetition of ideas than you would otherwise, but still a good read and definitely a good writer.  (He’s got a new basketball book which I’m eagerly waiting for the library to get a hold of.)

The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho

A little inspirational for my tastes.  But hey, millions of people can’t be wrong, can they?

The Corner, David Simon

More required reading for humanity.  Definitely for politicians.  It follows the life of a Baltimore street corner and its inhabitants over the course of a year, interspersed with essays on the realities of life in the American inner cities.  And yes, the David Simon of The Wire and Homicide.  I love that guy.

America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction, by the Daily Show staff

So brilliant.  It makes me sad that there can be a group of satirists so consistently brilliant and yet the fair and balanced forces of ignorance manage to be completely unaffected.  But at least it allows you to laugh about it and reminds you that you’re not alone. Medicine for my Parkinsonesque fist-shaking.

I’d Rather We Got Casinos and other black thoughts, by Larry Wilmore

Some very clever and funny stuff, but the individual pieces probably weren’t variegated enough for my tastes.  Or maybe I just shouldn’t have read it as fast as I did.  Definitely some gems though.

The Tenacity of the Cockroach: Conversations with Entertainment’s Most Enduring Outsiders, by Onion A.V. Club

Strangely, I felt the same way about this one.  At some point, the interviews seemed to bleed into each other.  After all, there are only so many ways for people to talk about their art.  But I enjoyed it, and it was fun just to see who they chose to interview.

Free-Range Chickens, by Simon Rich

Ant Farm: and Other Desperate Situations, by Simon Rich

This is why there are libraries.  Both these books were very funny, but so short I would never have allowed myself to justify buying them.  He’s definitely one to watch!  (See my upcoming post on my visit to New York for some Simon-Rich-and-me trivia.)

Make Your Own Damn Movie, by Lloyd Kaufman

The head of Troma sounds off on how to make the indie movie.  I’ve forgotten most of the actual advice (though I did make a point of jotting down how to make and spray fake blood), but I tried to draw inspiration from the DIYness of their approach.  And it was funny, though I wonder if I was to meet the cast of characters if I’d be too scared to be amused.

Bunny Bunny, by Alan Zweibel

Alan Zweibel’s tale of his friendship-plus with Gilda Radner.  Probably as close as I’ve been to crying from a book in a long time.  (Quite possibly I cried.  I can’t remember.  But you probably will, whoever you are.)

The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell

I fall in love.  Well, deeper, at any rate.  Mental note: Must think of a pickup line smoother than “Can I buy a Vowell?”

Shake ‘n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret, by Michael Kupperman

So weird.  So very, very weird.  As I discovered with the second book of his, it’s clearly meant to be read in the bathroom.  There, it’s gold.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich

More required reading for humanity, definitely for politicians.  This is my latest thing, ‘required reading.’  It occurs to me there should be a minimum threshold of knowledge to hold certain opinions and be taken seriously.  For instance, if you support “The War on Drugs,” you should at least have to read The Corner.  There are just so many things that have been disproved by study after study, like the efficacy of abstinence-only sex education and the deterrence effect of capital punishment, that continue to be used as justification.  So if people aren’t willing to take the time to read (or believe) actual studies or even do their own homework, they should at the least have to read some non-fiction prose on the subject.  I mention all this because I think someone should make that reading list, and I may just have to be the one.  And this book, with Barbara Ehrenreich taking on and describing the experience of working a series of low-wage jobs (waitress, housecleaner, Walmart, etc.) and living on those salaries, should be on it.  Which is my ranty way of saying I liked it.

Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls, by Matt Ruff

My least favorite Matt Ruff to date, though I do like my Matt Ruff.  I enjoyed the drawing of the world, but at the end of the day, I didn’t care that much what happened in it.  If you’re inclined to give him a try, I wouldn’t start with this one.

The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell

Don’t get me wrong, my love for Sarah Vowell remains strong.  But I will take some time here to state a problem I have with the library system.  Well, it’s actually my problem.  I’ll get enthusiastic about an author and put everything they’ve written on hold all in one sitting.  So I end up reading a ton of the same author’s work in a short period of time, which of course kind of ruins it.  So I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the previous one, but it did have the following passage, which I love wholeheartedly and expresses brilliantly something I’ve been trying to say forever but could never get into words:

“Protestantism’s evolution away from hierarchy and authority has enormous consequences for America and the world.  On the one hand, the democratization of religion runs parallel to political democratization.  The king of England, questioning the pope, inspires English subjects to question the king and his Anglican bishops.  Such dissent is backed up by a Bible full of handy Scripture arguing for arguing with one’s king.  This is the root of self-government in the English-speaking world.

On the other hand, Protestantism’s shedding away of authority, as evidenced by my mother’s proclamation that I needn’t go to church or listen to a preacher to achieve salvation, inspires self-reliance—along with a dangerous disregard for expertise.  So the impulse that leads to democracy can also be the downside of democracy—namely, a suspicion of people who know what they are talking about.  It’s why in U.S. presidential elections the American people will elect a wisecracking good ol’ boy who’s fun in a malt shop instead of a serious thinker who actually knows some of the pompous, brainy stuff that might actually get fewer people laid off or killed.”  (214-215)

Pretty please, can I buy a Vowell?!? (Oh, and for those of you who would counter that Obama’s election was some kind of “game changer,” it’s a pretty easy argument to make that America (and admittedly, this time, the world) once again went for the sexier of two evils.)

Tales Designed to Thrizzle, Volume One, by Michael Kupperman

As mentioned above, once I figured out that these off-the-wall comics were perfect bathroom reading, oh, the times I had!

Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell

The “too much of a good thing” observation still applies, but for whatever reason, I liked this one better than the last one.  Probably the greater personal narrative, plus there’s something about assassination that is just so quintessentially American, how could I not be captivated?

Clothing Optional and Other Ways to Read These Stories, by Alan Zweibel

Funny.  He’s a funny guy.

More Information than You Require, by John Hodgman

Also funny.  Also a funny guy.

Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Elliot Trudeau (Volume One: 1919-1968), by John English

Still reading this one, but I’m enjoying.  And I keep thinking to myself “Wow, would this guy not get elected today!”  But we’ll see.

And that’s what I’ve read.  I’m tempted to put all the TV I’ve watched, but that would just be embarrassing, so instead, I’m just going to list a few shows I’ve seen in that time that people should be watching:

Friday Night Lights: Still going, and I will never leave it.

Party Down:  Comedy gold.  Makes me and doesn’t make me want to move to L.A.

Sons of Anarchy:  The closest I’ll ever be to being a biker is watching this show.  But I’m going to keep doing it.

Metalocalypse:  I’ve been chastised for liking this one.  Probably rightly.  I don’t know why it gets to me, but it cracks me up.

Frisky Dingo:  Just funny.  And I think I know one of the voices.

Dollhouse:  I want to write “Joss Whedon is my crack.”  But it doesn’t sound right.  Sadly, the only writer I would trust to fix it is Joss Whedon, and that would just be awkward.

Coming up soon:  Details of my life outside the mind!

Continuity be damned!

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

Alright, so I genuinely intend to start this blog up again in earnest, and fill in a healthy amount of what’s happened in the interim, but since this is topical now and the link may go away, here’s an article with a healthy amount of me-content.  Enjoy!

Good head

Perfect couples and prorogued MPs clash at Bad Dog’s dead-of-winter improv contest, Globehead 2010

BY Sean Davidson   January 20, 2010 10:01

Whether by accident or design, Globehead shows often seem to start out slow before building, after the intermission, to the madness one expects from the month-long improv contest at Bad Dog.

Take last Friday, for instance, when the duo Dylan Goes Electric (Paloma Nunez and Kevin Whalen) faced off against the Robot Hard-Ons, also known as Kevin Matviw and Lindsay Grant. More of an overture than an opening act, really. Enjoyable to a point — but Matviw and Grant were clearly having a hard time with their scenes and seemed to keep getting stuck in the same characters (gruff, guttural and oddly stunned), leaving the Dylans to breeze through bits about foosball and Mexican weddings.

“I’m a big proponent of mild racism in humor,” said Sean Tabares, in character as recurring “celebrity judge” Evil Johnny Carson, upon handing the win to Nunez and Whalen.

Things picked up after the halftime when teams with a bit more personality took the stage. Beaming and giddy, and dressed identically, Dave Pearce and Dan Hershfield were fun to watch as a perfectly e-matched gay couple, while Ashley Comeau, Devon Hyland and Connor Thompson went with the always reliable tactic of ridiculing politicians — playing three MPs (from the Tories, the Greens and the Bloc Quebecois — the three parties with the most inherent comic potential) with time on their hands thanks to the proroguing.

It ended up going to the MPs, due largely to their sudden wrestling bout and a rousing musical number that saw Thompson give voice to a singing chainsaw, though Pearce and Hershfield kicked down the fourth wall when they did an entire scene perched on the lap of a young woman in the audience.

In a more just world a stunt like that would score points. But the tallies aren’t taken at all seriously at Globehead, and Evil Johnny Carson gave Pearce and Hershfield a goose egg for their bone-bending efforts.

Guess they shouldn’t have mouthed off like that about what’s going on with The Tonight Show.

Next week, watch for performers including Ken Hall, Trevor Martin and “Nug” Nahrgang.