Thursday, July 31, 2008

Final Note From Kansas City

Normally I don't reprint e-mails that I receive without first specifically receiving permission from the person who sent it -- but in this case I kinda thought, well, fuck it.

hey... you pieces of shit. that was the most fagasious shit i have even witnessed in my entire life. you call yourselves actors, ha, I call you fucking, faggot, china babies, whose use of arrogant words such as, nigger, are for shock value alone. You call your selves playwrights? who the fuck do you think you are coming to my city? seriously? You come here thinking your cool and then you call my city a ghost town as you drive into the distance... fuck you! seriously? why don't you fuckers go back to china where you belong and wright shit plays for them instead.


FUCK YOU! minnisota nigger cunts!

chink, gook, honkey, chinese piece of shit cong!

come back soon we miss you already!


Now, putting aside for the moment that the most wounding part of this missive is its utter butchery of the English language -- this is far from the first message of this nature that I've received, and I'm sure it won't be the last. I'd hope that it's self-evident that there's more going on in the play than shock value, but the accusation of carelessness in my writing is always dismaying. The true arrogance on my part, I suppose, is that I can write political satire -- containing much material that I know will be hurtful to members of the audience -- and not expect to receive any backlash from it.

That said, it's almost impossible to discern exactly what his purpose is -- whether he's someone offended by use of racist terminology (in which case his e-mail is either a case of failed irony or stunning hypocrisy), or whether he's a racist himself annoyed at having been shown up (in which case, well, I will cheerfully and unapologetically say "Fuck him").

Still -- good to be back in Minnesota, y'know?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Last Night

I have to confess, exhaustion is finally starting to get the better of me – we mostly spent the day in working (with a brief excursion out for one last rack of Kansas City ribs).

Our show tonight was finally a gratifying one: a packed house, with an incredibly responsive audience. Lots of laughter, and one of my soapbox speeches was actually greeted with cheers and applause.

Part way through the show, it started to hail outside, and since we were beneath a skylight, that meant we found ourselves shouting over the thunderous storm of hailstones on the roof. Then our set, um, kind of blew apart. The screen collapsed, though the cast ad-libbed around it nicely. At one point, I grabbed a piece of it, flung it backstage, turned back to face the audience, tap-danced, grinned, and spread my hands in a little “ta-da” gesture.

This got a laugh. And the thing that’s so interesting about that to me is that it represents a clear disconnect between myself and the character that I’m playing: the audience appreciated it because I allowed the mask to slip and peered out at them from behind it. That’s notable to me, because that distinction is one that I think audiences have struggled with in the past: I’m often accused of playing myself. I certainly write to my strengths, but I think that that confusion is something that often results from writers who perform their own material: the audience assumes that the character is you.

Penner isn’t me. He may have been at one point, when I first started writing him (whoa, nearly a decade ago now) – but he’s certainly by now evolved into his own entity. In this play, he functions primarily as a buffoonish figure, a kind of summary of everything that drives me crazy about left-wing pseudo-intellectualism. He occasionally stumbles backwards into intelligent ideas, but that’s more a case of a stopped clock being right twice a day than it is of any kind of real insight that he possesses.

That distinction is critically important to me as a writer. And it’s certainly possible that it’s one that I’ve simply manufactured to allow me to work – but the fact is that I’m not all that interested in self-portraiture.

The show we saw afterwards was appallingly bad, and I stepped out about halfway through. Went for a walk, and ran into another set of Kansas City locals.

THEM: So how are you enjoying our city?

ME: I dunno – we’re strangers here, so I think that we haven’t found out where everyone is hanging.

THEM: What, are you looking for more posh places?

ME: Actually, I think we’re looking for dives.

They nodded serenely, and recommended a place called the Lava Room. The next show we saw was absolutely phenomenal, and we invited the cast to join us there afterwards.

Our last night in Kansas City, and we finally had a positive experience – a laid-back bar, populated by locals, hanging out with other artists. It’s remarkable that it was so difficult for us to find this. I’ve kind of felt pretty isolated since we arrived – there’s no out-of-town coordinator, we haven’t really had much contact with any of the artists. It’s taken us this long to finally start making these kinds of interactions happen, and it’s a shame that the Festival doesn’t really seem to have the mechanisms in place to make it work.

I’m so tired I can barely keep my eyes open.


So we kicked off today with a visit to the Negro Leagues Museum. I was expecting this to be fairly tedious, since I don’t really give a fuck about baseball, but I found myself getting fairly into the subject.

Even in the single experience I had a few days ago, I was struck by the fact that the real appeal of baseball isn’t the game itself – it’s the *texture* of the game. I’ve been trying to lose weight, and found myself peering at the menu in search of a salad; and of course there wasn’t one, only a steady stream of hot dogs, beer, and, well, variations on those two items. It’s an environment that’s not interested in compromising, and that’s part of its appeal: the heat, the food, the music, the *culture* surrounding baseball, the aesthetic, is in some respects the most critical part of the experience.

Its refusal to compromise, its very refusal to appeal to a wider audience, is exactly the thing that gives it its appeal: it’s an unapologetically testosterone-fuelled entertainment, and it’s glorious.

So if you were a baseball fan in the time period that the museum was covering, you’d find yourself torn: as a lover of the game, you’d want to pursue the absolute masters of the field. And as you did so, you’d be forced to confront the fact that skill and discipline is not confined by ethnicity.

One of the things I find so moving about the story is the fact that it’s one driven by individualism. My favorite African-American intellectual isn’t Martin Luther King, but Zora Neale Hurston; one who asserted that the social liberation of the black intellect lay within, not without. I find something vaguely offensive about the very idea that black liberation is something that must be bestowed upon them by superior whites – and the philosophies of redistribution and affirmative action are couched within that idea, despite whatever its left-wing proponents might claim.

The social equity of blacks is something that must be achieved within the black community, if it’s to have any meaning whatsoever: it’s going to be achieved by the actions of extraordinary individuals, not by some kind of state-sponsored validation.

Courtney found herself choking up during the exhibit; but I found myself breaking down in the neighboring building, the American Jazz Museum. I’ve always been a fan of Duke Ellington, but I’d never actually heard his religious music before: every time I thought it was winding to a conclusion, he’d hit me with something else: a clarinet solo, or a shrill, soulful cry from his lead vocalist, or suddenly, impossibly, a chorus of voices wailing both grief and praise. I broke down sobbing like a child in the middle of the museum. We may live in a world of misery, slavery, and degradation; we may be only temporarily shielded form those horrific realities; but having lived in a world in which music like that existed? And in which I had the opportunity to hear it? Jesus.

Saw an excellent show in the evening, and went on to perform in yet another open-mike night, this time doing a piece from “Descendant of Dragons.” Managed to twist the collective arms of 3 Sticks into going bar-hopping with us, and found myself in yet another gay bar, in which the prospects of a heterosexual man getting laid are roughly equivalent to the spontaneous combustion of Tipper Gore. My tech cheerfully and loudly announced that his pseudo-girlfriend had granted him permission to have a gay experience, which resulted in at least one patron descending upon him like a starving puma upon a wounded gazelle.

A shout-out definitely goes to Charla, who’s stepped up to be our designated driver for the week: her repeated efforts to bundle a bevy of besotted buffoons into the van and get us all back to the motel are nothing short of heroic. The ride home rapidly degenerated into a belligerent, alcohol-soaked argument about abortion that left pretty much everyone ready to rip out everyone else’s throats.

I dunno: I guess it’s ironic for a political writer to have such an intense dislike of conflict, but I do – I’ve worked pretty hard to steer our rehearsals away from discussions of the underlying politics and to keep them focused on comedy, to let the text do its work while we entertain. In an odd way, in spite of how militant many characters in the play are, the script itself represents a kind of an olive branch – it’s a right-wing comedy for left-wingers. I’m afraid I don’t have much of a spark of revolutionary spirit: I don’t want to see another Civil War, and I don’t want my children to witness a revolution, and I don’t want to take arms against my friends, family, and colleagues. The day may come when it’s necessary: but it’s not something I yearn for.

I remember one drunken exchange with a colleague a few months back:

HIM: (for, like, the eight hundredth time) I really think we need a revolution in this country.

ME: Okay, dude – why are you always pushing for a revolution?

HIM: I don’t know. I think I just really want to shoot a lot of people.

ME: Well, yeah, but – you don’t need a war for that. You can just go out and starting shooting people.

HIM: Yeah, but in war it’s allowed.

ME: Oh, I see. So you want state-sponsored shooting of people.

HIM: I’m a liberal, phillip. It’s only allowed if it’s state-sponsored.

And that about sums it up, dunnit?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Various Kinds of Communion

I’ve switched over to Jack Daniels, since Jameson’s is apparently impossible to find here – we went to more than one place seeking it out. I finally found myself in a seedy dive where the liquor bottles were tossed haphazardly onto the shelves with a single clerk glowering at me from behind bulletproof glass. I sheepishly purchased my southern brand, not having the courage to ask “Say, do you carry any good imported Irish whiskey?”

(The reason why writers have such a high rate of alcoholism is simple: all writers are cowards, and alcohol is the most cowardly drug. Que sera, sera.)

I usually try to avoid talking about religion in this space, since, well – it’s one of those things that, if you’ve already signed up with it, it makes sense; if you haven’t, it doesn’t have much to say. But today, when I was praying before the show, the following words popped into my head:

“God, grant me the anger to strike against the enemies of strength and wisdom; but more importantly than that, remind me of the love that makes anger like that necessary.”

Had another show, with a much smaller turnout tonight – fairly unresponsive, but I no longer know how to interpret that, since we also had an unresponsive opening night crowd that left us several very kind reviews. Walkouts, however, are hard to misinterpret, and tonight we had three – including a member of the press. Yowch.

We crashed an open-mike night tonight to promote the show. Since I have a cast that consists almost entirely of strong solo performers, rather than doing a preview of the show proper, I encouraged everyone to perform individual pieces – thus allowing us to plug our show five consecutive times. I did a piece from “Warrior Needs Food, Badly,” which went over well (I haven’t slammed in nearly six months), Courtney did stand-up, Michael and Charla both slammed, and even Phil did a song cover. What a remarkable cast I have, in which any given member can stand up and entertain.

We were delighted to find that 3 Sticks had arrived in town, and were the other performers on the bill. Remarkably, the only Fringe performers on the bill tonight were us, the Minnesotans, so at least we had the opportunity to entertain each other.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Who Am I Rooting For?

So today I attended my first baseball game – well, ever. It was immediately preceded by a frantic ten-minute phone call in which I asked Liz to “tell me everything I needed to know about baseball.”

ME: So, who am I rooting for?

LIZ: The Royals.

ME: The Royals. Are they…good?

LIZ: Yeah, they’re a good team.

ME: No, I mean, are they, like…good, y’know, morally?

(long pause)

LIZ: Sure.

I quickly memorized the basics – three strikes, four balls, three outs, nine innings – got my beer and my hot dog, and settled into an American rite of passage. The game itself was…pretty uninspiring. The Royals got creamed, seven to one, and we all got healthy sunburns, which will undoubtedly cause us to look like a set of patchwork quilts when we do the underwear scenes in the show.

Turns out that we got a number of positive reviews on the local website – we’re number three in terms of ratings, and the most-reviewed show of the entire Festival thus far. So, that’s exciting – hopefully the taciturn response of our opening audience was a fluke.

Aside from my usual angst at being compared to Woody Allen yet again, one review said something to the effect (and I’m paraphrasing, since I don’t have internet access – this tour diary is being updated by one of my staff) that I needed to decide whether or not I wanted to be funny. I guess it was a pretty glib line, but it stuck in my head and struck close to one of the many things that I struggle with in this show.

Thing is – when I first started doing all this, I was very concerned about my ability to be funny, and all of my energy went in that direction. I’m not nearly so insecure about that anymore – I’m reasonably confident that I know how to hit the stage, work the crowd, and generate laughter – and yet, oddly enough, there’s now some weird level on which I kind of resent it. I hit a point where I get sick of the audience laughing, and that frustration has manifested itself in the script. So I lapse into preachiness or anger or ten thousand other things that seem to exist to get the audience to stop laughing, shut the fuck up for ten minutes, and respond differently. And I’m not entirely convinced that that impulse of mine is unhealthy.

It’s worrisome, because it’s dangerously close to the attitude that “I know better than the audience,” which rarely leads to anything worthwhile. But at the same time, my workmanlike approach to generating laughter in the audience has left me with a lot of resentment towards them, and a lot of questions about what the hell point there is to what I’m doing. Was Karl Marx right when he described the kind of entertainment I produce as “opiate for the masses?” Possibly, and possibly there’s nothing wrong with that – but I find it profoundly unsatisfying.

“Who am I rooting for?” seems to be a recurring question in all of the reviews. And of a lot of my career, too – I’ll never be a great comic, because I get bored with cracking jokes all the time. But I’ll never be a great tragedian, because I can’t seem to get through a serious point with a straight face. So when they ask which side I’m on, I guess I’m not really sure – and I don’t know that the play would be better if I was.

Saw a bunch of Fringe shows in the evening, too. At one venue, Charla leaned over to me and pointed at the ceiling. The room was lit by a brand-new electrical line and set of light bulbs, embedded into decaying wood. It was a largely abandoned building that had had the barest skeleton of a set thrown into it to create a theatre space.

And that’s so much of what I love about Fringe. I know that our tech was pretty intensely frustrated at our initial rehearsal – but complaints that we don’t have a light board seem to me to be largely missing the point. The sloppiness, the synergy, the spontaneity, are largely what this kind of work is all about. As far as I’m concerned, as long as I get to go to a place I’ve never been before, down some cheap whiskey, and tell a few bad jokes – that’s what this is all about. Everything else is just footnotes.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ribs, Royals, and Rednecks

I don’t consider myself someone who needs a lot of flash when it comes to lodging – but it would really be a pleasant luxury to wake up in the morning and not have to scrape insect carcasses out of every moist surface in the Motel 6. I’m just saying. I’ve ended up sharing a room with our tech guy (also named Phil), which prompted the following exchange:

ME: You’re about to see something awesome, when you go in to take a shower.

PHIL: If you’re talking about the bug carcasses, I saw them last night.

ME: We should probably pick up some roach motels or something, when we go out to run errands today.

PHIL: Yeah, but this is something we should really take up with the management.

ME: Dude. This is a Motel 6. Why? So they can spit on our towels in contempt?

We also ran into the problem of our door locks jamming shut, so that we couldn’t close our doors upon leaving them.

PHIL: I’m just going to turn on my iPod and pretend this isn’t happening.

ME: Yeah, but you’re our tech guy. I think this is exactly the thing that I’m paying you to deal with.

At this point, he studies the deadbolt, grabs a wrench, strikes it eight times – hard – until it retracts. Maximum Verbosity: the mark of quality.

We opened tonight, and actually had a decent audience, largely because of our preview last night, I suspect. They didn’t laugh much, which means that we either flopped or had a crowd of introverts. The former seems the only safe assumption, if only because I have no control over the latter.

There’s two things that I found really bothering me. The show is punctuated by musical interludes, written by cast members Neil Fennell and Mike Shaeffer. The first one in particular is pretty crowd-pleasing stuff, exactly the kind of topical material that the script proper works so hard to avoid: I’ve encouraged its involvement, both because I think that the left-wingers in the audience need something to engage with, and as something appealing to throw them in the midst of a very language-heavy script.

In one rehearsal, Courtney criticized the opening number, claiming that “The audience is going to be so into what they’re doing that they’re not going to be into the script.” And she’s absolutely right.

There’s also a sketch part way through – difficult to describe, but it basically plays out as an argument between Penner – who favors a more thoughtful, cerebral approach – and Max Verbosity, who favors a more crowd-pleasing, community-theatre approach to entertainment. Part of the gag is that the actual structure of the comedy shifts – in the beginning, it plays out as a Penner-esque comedy dialogue, and concludes as an action-comedy as envisioned by Max Verbosity. The latter half is, unfailingly, more popular than the former, thus proving the point of both its protagonists – and that fact drives me up the fucking wall.

I’ve claimed before, and I’ll continue to defend the point – I’m not Penner. But I do favor his more cerebral style, and it’s intensely frustrating to me that the more shallow material is more popular. For most of our audience, political comedy breaks down to little more than a kind of tribalism – they hear the phrases that they recognize, in the context of an ideology that they’ve signed up with. The actual *structure* of the joke means far less than whether or not they hear the phrases that are familiar to them.

I suppose the fact that I favor Penner’s position in this makes me something of an elitist – and that’s an unforgivable sin, in a context in which I’m supposed to be a populist. But, yeah, I favor those who are able to deconstruct ideas over those who simply respond to the ones that they already recognize. I don’t know how I’m supposed to build an audience with that philosophy, but it’s one that kinda makes me want to pierce my ears with a railroad spike.

The other thing that really bothers me is an exchange that I had with our techs:

TECH GUY: Yeah, I was laughing at the sketch, but you realize that you’re working in, like, the most segregated city in the United States, right?

ME: I guess. But the worst-case scenario is that I just get shot, right?

TECH GUY: You won’t get shot. Three blocks over that way (he points in one direction) is where all the beaners live, and that’s where you’ll get stabbed. Three blocks over that way (he points in the other direction) you’ll get shot.

Now, I recognize that it’s entirely possible – even likely – that they were simply fucking with me. But it’s still intensely disheartening. I know that – as a political comic – I operate in an occasionally dangerous profession – I’ve certainly received more than enough death threats in the past five years to cement that idea for me. But at the same time, I’ve come to realize that most of those threats are empty.

And still, it’s frustrating. Racism has always been a difficult concept for me, not least because I’m the child of an interracial marriage. It’s difficult because it’s so fundamentally irrational – there’s no real way to reason with it. ‘Tis in grain, sir; ‘twill endure wind and weather. I recognize that the fear of getting shot or stabbed because I use a racial slur onstage is nothing short of a kind of a terrorism, and I refuse to allow it to dictate my writing – not out of any kind of simple-minded nobility, but simply because I don’t know how to write anything at all with that many mental blocks on my brain.

The real challenge for me, I suppose, is that I have little hesitation about defending my text as a solo performer – I am, however, *very* hesitant about asking an ensemble to do the same thing. It’s a community of people who signed up to do a fun, silly comedy by a comic who is, for whatever reason, a flavor of the month – it’s absurd for me to ask them to then defend that text against the threat of physical violence.

I suppose that, at the end of the day, this whole line of thought is academic – nothing more than ink on paper. But then, words are important. Names mean something. And if Maximum Verbosity is about anything, it’s about that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Quarter-Life Crisis Plus One Year

I continue to express the same astonishment that I did one year ago today – that the vast, interlocking system of web networks have made the process of my continued aging one of public knowledge. Not that I’d like to devote *too* much space to this kind of angst – beyond noting the fact that, yes, I’m now officially in my late twenties, past the last major milestone of youth, and still nowhere near where I suspect that I need to be.

A couple of people who knew that it was my birthday expressed dismay that I would be on the road, instead of comfortably at home – and, y’know? In spite of how vocally I may complain, I wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, I’d like that to be a goal for the rest of my life – to be performing, somewhere on the road, on my birthday, from now until the day that I either die or reach a state of such drooling incompetence that I’m an utter embarrassment to everyone around me.

A year ago today, I hopped into a car, with nothing but myself, a music stand slung over my shoulder, and a bag full of props. As much as I admire and enjoy the rest of my cast, I can’t help feeling nostalgic for the days when I was only responsible for myself: there’s an incredible amount of time, money, and stress that comes with mobilizing a team of people. Again, not a complaint about the cast that I’m currently working with, who I consider to be pretty much top-of-the-line – but it’s a psychological leap, to suddenly have to be considering the actions of six individuals, rather than simply my own.

But I’m now in the land of ribs, Royals, and rednecks, and there’s nothing like the surge of adrenalin that hits on being part of another Fringe Festival. I won’t romanticize it – at its core, it’s just another drug, and I’m just another junkie. But I’m in a state that I’ve never been before, and there’s a whole community of artists who’s never even heard of me, and I’m right back where I started years ago, and that’s – incredibly exhilarating.

Our piece was fun, I think. Doing the ad-libbed introduction to it for the audience, I was viscerally reminded – in a way that I haven’t been for nearly a year – how dependent I’ve become on my audience already knowing my schtick in advance – the hand-wringing, the anxiety, et cetera. Minnesota audiences respond to it immediately with a knowing laugh when I play to it. But entering a new environment, I have to quickly sketch out the character in a few broad strokes, giving them enough information rapidly and efficiently to enjoy the acrobatics that he’s put through.

We did the same piece that we performed for the Fringe-For-All in Minnesota – but this time, it was to a crowd that I don’t know, and one that doesn’t know us. And one thing I’ve come to love about it – and out of context, I wonder if it isn’t even more effective – one character pronounces the word “nigger,” and you can feel the whole audience pull back. Then, a few moments later in the same sketch, he drops the words “honkey” and “chink” – and, unfailingly, everyone laughs. A-ha – it’s appalling if a white guy says “nigger,” but if he calls me and my family “chinks,” it’s funny. There’s a double-standard at work, and one that could only be so clearly evident in an interactive medium. I have no idea if the audience registers it, but it’s fascinating to play.

(Assuming, of course, that I don’t get the shit beat out of me. I’m not nearly so familiar with exactly how this environment works, and Missouri is a stone’s-throw away from the racial tensions of the deep South.)

Truthfully, I was worried about how our work would be received – I bit my tongue asking our coordinator if profanity was off-limits, because I was afraid he would say “yes” – but where some of the stuff we do is shocking in Minnesota, it’s downright tame down here. There were points where I felt that I was twisting arms to get actors to remove clothing, but at least two of the shows tonight were top-of-the-line burlesque. In fact, since it was my birthday, I think that Courtney probably has several pictures floating around the internet of me, drunk, with naked women hanging all over me. I’ll post them if it becomes possible.

One of the other previews also included a dancing bear in a fez. I don’t remember whose idea it was (Michael’s? I think?) – but I did extend him an invitation: if he shows up before any one of our shows in the bear outfit, we’ll throw him onstage for one of the scenes. I’m amazed that I still remember this in the morning.

After the previews, a couple of the musicians in my cast got together with musicians from other groups and jammed out front in the street while we handed out postcards. Minnesota represent, I suppose. It’s always strange, being in an environment where coming from Minneapolis makes you at least somewhat exotic.

I’m also lucky to have a cast that includes several marketing *machines*. Courtney alone is ridiculously aggressive when it comes to pushing the show onto new people, and that’s a gift of immeasurable value.

Late tonight, we met at the front desk a member of the Libertarian Party of Missouri (who had moved from Texas a few years back). She was very cute, and meeting a “friend” for tonight, and I’ll simply assume that she wasn’t a prostitute. But I had a reasonably interesting (if brief) conversation with her about politics in the area. Fringe audiences are notoriously left-wing, and I’m grateful for any sympathetic face I can find. In any case, I gave her one of our free comps, since I don’t really have any family or friends in town to distribute them to.

We open tomorrow, God help us. He should be keeping an eye on the place – we’re in the Bible belt, after all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fringe-For-All 2008

Fringe-For-All was a pretty wild time, as usual: a packed house of enthusiastic theatregoers, and a rapid-fire smorgasboard of various categories of lunacy.

I was actually pretty anxious going in -- a lot of the success of my show last year is due to the fact that I killed at this showcase. As I recall, I came up with my performance the day of -- a punk-jazz CD that a friend had recommended to me arrived that day, I popped it in, and -- click. I knew what I was doing. I threw out the old idea, rehearsed it a couple of times, and hit the stage.

Used a pretty similar process with this one, in that I didn't figure out what we were doing until pretty much the last minute. I spent weeks on several false starts -- including one that memorably involved an American flag and a leaf-blower -- before one of my actors joked, "Why don't we just do all of the scenes at once?"

That idea wouldn't work -- but something like it might. I whipped together a script overnight and away we went. The result was successful, I think -- not a big hit that people will be talking about for a while, but entertaining and interesting enough that we probably sold a few tickets.

But why listen to me theorizing about it? Judge for yourself. The Fringe has taken the initiative to put all of the previews on YouTube, and ours can be found at this link.

(photo by Scott Pakudaitis)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Profane Political Parables

So I've been having a lot of conversations with one of the members of my cast lately (because we hang out entirely too much), and one issue that's come up is that "this isn't really sketch comedy." And she's right -- it's not. It's something a lot like sketch comedy, in that it consists of a compilation of short pieces, which are (hopefully) funny, intended to get people relaxed and laughing. But structurally? Not quite.

And I made the comment (drunk and high at the time, as I recall, the state from which all truly profound realizations emerge) that the pieces aren't sketch comedy. They're fables. Structurally, they have a lot more to do with Aesop than Lorne Michaels. They all consist of broad, cartoonish characters tumbling out, having absurd arguments with each other that play out in ludicrous ways, that generally culminate in some kind of political moral or thesis.

Another comment she made, that emerged from another similar session, is that "we don't want to be preachy."

This also got me thinking. Is that true? I know that conventional wisdom right now is that preachy is the worst thing that you can possibly be -- how dare you try to inundate your audience with a message, et cetera -- but the fact that something is unpopular doesn't necessarily make it wrong. I mean, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is my favorite Twain novel, one of my favorite novels of all time -- and it's probably the single preachiest book ever written. It's also fucking hilarious.

And I go down the list of artists who I truly love, who have really deeply affected me -- Aristophanes, Moliere, Charlie Chaplin -- and every single one of them is obnoxiously, unapologetically preachy. It's one thing my character even complains about the show (probably preaching, as it were) -- that the currently acceptable approach to theatre is to turn inwards, to pick apart psychological states; plays that try to deal with broader issues are dismissed as pretentious. And personally, I kind of think that that's a sign of a sickness.

I'll keep calling the play "sketch comedy," because that's the only way I know how to market it. I doubt I could sell "profane political parables" to anybody. But, y'know -- I hope they still find an audience. And one that's willing to laugh, even if there is a moral floating through the story.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

It's Like the Inside of My Head Just Barfed Onto Your Screen

So one of the musicians for the show, in working on a song, compiled a list of topics covered by the text. It's too good not to share.

- underwear
- soldiers
- war
- killing
- cheesecake
- stripping your child
- "Why can't I stick that there?"
- verbal uncle abuse
- bloody spear
- desire for knowledge
- rotting corpse
- American television
- Green Party
- exposure
- hippies
- peace leagues
- pretentious peaceniks
- wannabe hippies
- the war machine
- government corruption
- "Give Peace a Chance"
- white guys
- shitty poems
- pacifists
- the KKK
- late night cable porn
- jerking off your brother
- zombies
- political debates
- politicians
- moderators
- soapbox speeches
- the electoral system
- "Christ on a minibike"
- homophobia
- boobs
- lesbians
- Max Verbosity
- chronic misanthropes
- Neil fucking Simon
- guns
- beer
- cheetos
- granola
- wine
- "the discipline box"
- rape scene
- bombs
- granola-crunching bleeding-heart liberal hippie bullshit
- Chinese ninja aliens
- confessions
- Catholic priests
- stabbing the baby Jesus
- Harry Potter
- Keira Knightley's nipples
- Michael Jackson
- suicidal tendencies
- rednecks
- Osama bin Laden
- Cinemax
- comic book discussions

He also compiled the following list of vulgarities, which, if read aloud, becomes almost poetic:

- fuck
- goddamn idiot
- shut the fuck up
- god
- you stupid fucking asshole
- bullshit
- fag
- faggot
- China baby
- bee-yatch
- half-retarded
- shit
- chinks
- ass
- fuckin' up
- fuckin' enough
- fuckin' the right people
- crips
- queers
- baby dispensers
- cock puppets
- niggers
- beaners
- honkeys
- colored people
- blacks
- whites
- bitch
- tits
- slut-whompers
- jew
- dick

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