The Second Time I Met Obama

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In May 2008, Senator Barack Obama returned to Dallas for a festive round of fundraisers.  I had the honor of hosting an event at the Palladium Ballroom on the South Side of town.  It had been just over a year since the last time I had met Mr Obama.  More people knew his name this time.

Millions had arisen from the grassroots of the country.  We were a mighty army, working together in a common goal that defined the community at large.  I had a deep appreciation for the women on the campaign, in particular.  They instilled within me a bravery I had not known.  New skills came into play as we all worked together to coordinate the ever-growing number of volunteers reporting for duty.  It was a very exciting, very exhausting time.

Secret Service had a greater presence in 2008.  Nothing puts stars in my eyes like well-dressed bodyguards  — especially if they are posted up specifically to make sure I’m not up to any funny business. Naturally, I took this as my cue to adopt the performance duties of a USO Girl, entertaining them with a tap dance and some jokes.  Thusly we passed the time until the Senator arrived, twirling and asking how I looked.  The fringe around the hem of my dress tickled my knees, making me look like a hyperactive lampshade below the waist (I would make a good Leg Lamp, come to think of it).  By the time Mr Obama arrived, we had all been lined up like the nice ladies and gentlemen we were all hoping to be.  Before I knew, I was walking right up to him with an extended hand.

“Lovely to see you again, Senator.” I said, exactly as I had rehearsed for Agent Jenkins for the last half hour.

“I like that dress!” said Barack Obama. “You look like one of those girls from the Twenties.  What do they call them?”

“A Flapper.” I said.  We had been shaking hands for over 8 seconds.

“Yeah, you’re like a Flapper.”  He said.

I burst into giggly shoulder work as we continued shaking hands.  The photographer cleared his throat.  Mr Obama put his arm around my shoulder.  We smiled.

After his speech, I went immediately to a gay cabaret — being the only other place in Texas that would appreciate my sensational politico pictures.  The next week Michelle fussed at Barack on Oprah about putting his arm around everyone in the country.  Miss Edna on the campaign called me “Marilyn Monroe” in a most unflattering tone, and now Mr Obama is the President of the United States.

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The First Time I Met Obama

Perks of early campaigning, 2007

The idea hit me while I was scraping a dirty plate into the dish pit at work.

“I’m going to meet Barack Obama.” I told my fellow waitress, Alicia.

“Who?” she said.

This was the first time I’d been possessed of the notion to get involved in politics.  There was something about Senator Obama that sparked activism in thousands of Americans — even before he formally announced his candidacy.  In the days before Obama for America was established, supporters found each other through Meet Up groups.  Dozens of North Texans crawled out from under our rocks and met in a hotel ballroom to find out what we could do to make Senator Obama the next POTUS.  It was the first time I felt a deep sense of responsibility to my community.  When the veteran activists organizing our grass roots group asked leaders to come forward, I stepped up.  My primary responsibilities included introducing the elders to social media — this was back in the day before Grandma was on Facebook — and coordinating various campaign events.

I was deeply inspired by the people I met on the campaign.  It can be difficult to find other liberals in Texas.  We’re outnumbered and personally speaking, often ostracized for our progressive beliefs.  (Have you ever been bullied by a Christian?  It’s weird).  The women I worked alongside had marched with Dr King.  My mentor, Molly Hanchey, told encouraging stories about 1968 protests.  These Civil Rights activists were moved by the wild, frustrated looks in our young eyes.  We worked together and shared tried and true ways to bring the national tension to the surface.

“It’s time to get to work.” Molly would say.  It was abundantly clear at every level of the campaign that we were not depending on one man to snap our country into shape — the change we need is on all of us.  We are responsible for making this better for our children, for ourselves.  We had hope because for the first time, we had each other.

One Sunday afternoon in April 2007, I got a call from the campaign.  They needed another volunteer to work Senator Obama’s fundraiser the next day.  For the next 24 hours I existed in a sort of ethereal haze.  Even though they could not guarantee I would meet the Senator, I knew I was about to meet Obama.  Hello?  I wished upon the dish pit!  Hard working American dreams come true.

I was standing in the ballroom of another downtown hotel when the energy shifted down the hall.  Through the modest crowd of politicos and rich Dallas democrats, I could see Senator Obama smiling and shaking hands.  One or two cameras flashed around him.  Here was a defining moment.  It had been less than three months since my dish pit prophecy.

After handing out place cards to the campaign donors, I was able to slip in and listen to him speak.  There were about 13 volunteers working that day, and perhaps a handful of official campaign workers — all openly gracious and careful to thank us for our hard work.  Finally, we were told to post up in the hall so Senator Obama could thank us himself.

Being tall, I was shoved to the back of our photo-ready volunteer cluster.  This meant I got to lurk awkward behind everyone while they shook his hand, waiting to tell him “You’ve inspired us to great things” as I had rehearsed in the car all morning.  Lucky for me, Mr Obama is also tall.  Once he shook all of our hands, he swaggered  strode over beside me and said “I’m going to stand over here for the picture” and put his arm around my shoulder.

Not wanting to betray the frozen nature of my brain in that moment, I put my arm behind his back and muttered some incoherent nonsense about this being just like Disneyland.

I’m sure there was more after that.  But I can’t remember a thing.

Plenty About Dick

All the Queen’s men are at it again.  I haven’t been this wound up about the English since Closing Ceremonies!  Heartthrob Eric Idle will release “What About Dick” as digital download on November 13.  A raucous play (with songs) featuring Russell Brand, Eddie Izzard, Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Jane Leeves, Tracey Ullman, Jim Piddock and Sophie Winkleman.  I may faint.

“These people are people that live for laughter.  They are dangerous people to be around.  They’ll do anything.”  — Russell Brand

Please do not confuse my transparent preference for English culture as anti-American sentiment.  Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert keep me patriotic enough, and I shudder to think where the world would be without Chicago Improvisation and Harvard wit.  I just like the English more.  Anglophilia is in my blood.

Interview with Jesse Thorn

Jesse Thorn

Photo by Noe Montes

Today is #MaxFunDay in podcast land, and we are celebrating with this extra-special interview with Maximum Fun creator, Jesse Thorn.  The San Francisco native has carved out a delightful niche of pop culture and unbridled creativity — from podcasts, to blogging, and a summer camp for grown-ups — Maximum Fun delivers.  They’re listener supported: listen and support here.  
How did growing up in San Francisco shape your comic sensibility?
I think that people think San Francisco is a very politically correct place, and it is, but usually in the good way. People can tell if you’re respectful of other people, and if you are, you can really do anything. We got to be peripherally part of the amazing stand-up scene there – folks like Al Madrigal and W. Kamau Bell and Brent Weinbach and Jasper Redd – and I also idolized the SF-based sketch group Culture Clash as a kid. They were (and are) amazingly funny, and also lived in my neighborhood. That meant a lot to me.
What drew you to radio?
It’s cheap and easy to manage, logistically. I loved This American Life as a teenager, and have always loved public radio. I grew up listening to baseball on the radio all the time. When I tried it, it felt right.
Where do you go for a laugh in the Bay Area?
Real answer: We just got back from the San Francisco Comedy & Burrito Festival, and I used to work at SF Sketchfest, and both of those are totally amazing operations. And the Punchline and Cobb’s are as good as mainstream comedy clubs get.Fake answer: Berkeley! LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

Where should comics new to the Bay go to earn their stripes?
Get your ass to an open mic and meet some other comics. Do as many sets as you can and get good. That’s pretty much all there is to it, from what I understand.
What is your favorite podcast (outside the MaxFun Universe)?
99% Invisible, a show about design by Roman Mars. And Never Not Funny. (I know, that’s two, sue me.)
What is your research process in preparing for an interview?
I watch or listen to or read all of the person’s stuff. Then I read all the articles and especially interviews with them I can find. Then I sort of let it marinate. Usually they suggest things I wonder about, and I try to note that when it happens.
How do your listeners inspire you?
Sensually.
What is the driving force behind MaxFunCon?
We wanted to find a way to bring our community together physically, and reinforce the values we have – basically making stuff and laughing. At first we were going to do a more con-like con, but I couldn’t figure out how to make that good, and then when someone at UCLA suggested the Lake Arrowhead conference center, I knew immediately what it was. Summer camp for grown-ups.
How did Prank the Dean come into existence?
Jordan (Morris) and I invited the brilliant, amazing sketch group Kasper Hauser on our show when we were in college, and they asked us if we had a sketch group. Jordan told them yes (we didn’t), and they offered to book us a show. So we formed a sketch group and did the show. And it was great. We had a great run – lots of festivals around the country, lots of local stuff. It was a blast.
What’s it like to have Marc Maron as your podcast baby?
Marc’s so gracious, it’s been wonderful. He probably gives me more credit than I deserve, because it feeds his origin myth of how incompetent he was. The truth is his producer is a brilliant guy, and Marc is a brilliant guy, and I just helped Marc set up his mics.

Special thanks to Jesse Thorn for inspiration and quick response emailing!

G Koop & O-man Season Two: Come on Down!

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This priceless episode is yours!

At long last, my dear friends G Koop & O-man have launched Season Two! I’ve been waiting for this and premiere episode: “Price is Right” proves worthy of my impatience. G Koop & O-man are joined by Bobby Ozuna (Raphael Saadiq), Dave Richards (when Hollywood needs a horn, they call Dave), and Foreign Legion. They’ve come a long way since Season One launched in 2010 (although I thought they were great back then).  A new studio, more cameras, and a consistent push to dig deeper into the underground hip-hop realm culminate into noticeably sexier episodes.

For more episodes and a free mixtape download, check GKoopandOman.com

Read more about the history of G Koop & O-man in this article I wrote for MTV UK.

Everyday Theatricality by Dr Tobias Funke

Dr Tobias Funke

“All the world’s a stage…  And one man in his time plays many parts.”

-William Shakespeare


Methinks the greatest role of the actor plays out on the stage of Every Day.  It is the player’s responsibility to invent moments of theatrical opportunity.  A true actor must answer the divine call of performance; one cannot wait around for casting directors to out the actor within.  How will the world know of your closet theatricality unless you reveal the actor has been inside you all along?

There are four simple ways to bring theatricality into the savage banality of everyday existence:

Enter the room with flourish.  
A commanding stage presence is as good in the kitchen as ‘tis in the grandest auditorium.  Treat every dinner party invitation as a callback audition.  Intimate gatherings are the perfect opportunity to stretch wide your stage legs.  Reach around the mundane to arouse excitement.  Wild gesticulation tells your audience they are in for an unforgettable ride.  Strap on!

Pointing.  Punctuate the air.  Pointedly.

Don’t settle for one word when 15 are due.  The Bard never shied away from pedantic vocabulary and neither should you!  Consider the dinner party.

Any pedestrian could ask “Is this a vegetarian lasagna?”  An actor leaps at this fortuitous moment.

“Perchance, sweet wench, this noble feast is free of fowl?”

Keep the audience in suspense by increasing voice modulation.  The longer you remain in a room, the louder you should project, thus escalating every conversation to a dramatic conclusion.  Before long, the audience will anticipate — even demand — your Exeunt with flourish.

Submission by Sarah Crisman

My Happy Place: Conan’s Studio

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When I meditate I find myself beneath a bright paper moon.  To my right appears a twilit bay while golden flecks of starlight reflect the warm glow of homes tucked into the hills along the horizon.  I swivel in the office chair fit perfect to my leggy frame: from ass to knees to floor, this is the most unassumingly comfortable desk chair imaginable.

“This is your future,” Rob said, shooing me onto Conan’s stage. “Embrace it.”

I took a deep breath and a step up.  I had been practicing deep breathing since arriving earlier that day.  My friend, Nikeita and drove onto the Warner lot with unbridled enthusiasm not seen since the Animaniacs escaped the water tower.  We huddled in the wet parking garage waiting to be bused over to Conan’s studio.  We’d been working our fingers to the bone covering NAMM, somehow managing to juggle a dozen interviews, multiple studio visits, and exhausting Hollywood drama llamas inside of one weekend.  A day at Conan was our grand prize.

Nearly 20 years I imagined being on Conan’s stage. I was extra careful not to hyperventilate during the taping, lest I miss a single moment of the show.  This was no time for paramedics or blinking!  Not now.  Now is the time to absorb everything.

As soon as we climbed the stairs into TV Land (rather TBS Land), I could feel every atom surrounding me, waiting to teach me something.  Anything.  Turn of your cell phone!  Pay attention to your guests!  Tune into TBS tonight at 11!

Conan’s sound stage is proof that everything I want to be exists somewhere.  I want to be Conan when I grow up: goofy and gangly and smart.

The band played a rousing version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.”  Comedy idol/gentleman, Jimmy Pardo warmed up the crowd (I did not yell “Never Not Funny!”).  Andy Richter came out on stage (I did not launch into my best “Stacy” impersonation).  Conan walked on stage (I did not burst into confetti).  Though my energy was perhaps out of control, considering he split his pants for the first time in 19 years during the monologue.  Whoops.  My wizarding skills strike again!

By the end of the show, I was a better listener.  I saw how Conan interacted with his guests, the audience, and his crew.  I learned a lot about communication just watching him listen.

Soon the audience had gone.  Conan and Andy disappeared behind the curtain.  The Basic Cable Band vanished.  Producers and crew shuffled around in the darkness.  I stood blinking at my dream office.  Rob nudged me toward the desk.  I hesitated in deciding between the host and guest spot.

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The next thing I knew, I was sitting at the desk.  We have the same dimensions, it seems.  From ass-to-knee-to-floor, the chair was a perfect fit.  It took everything in me not to lick the mug.  I did not lick Conan’s mug.

Here I am.

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For in-depth analysis of my nerdery, listen to my public radio commentary: Here I Stand, a Comic.

Follow me on Twitter to really get into my head.

In Praise of Old Time Radio Podcasting

Artwork by Tom Fowler

 

Like most homeschoolers growing up in 1980s suburban Chicago, I learned about comedy listening to 40-year old broadcasts of Jack BennyBurns & Allen.  Since my first willing audience was comprised of grandparents, vaudevillian routines went over well in our living room comedy club.  This behavior continued unchecked for years.  You can imagine how popular I was in public high school (hint: my bullies were theater geeks/teachers).

Still I clung to the Golden Days of Radio to make sense of the world.  Sure, the better dancers shoved me into my gym locker after tap class — but Fibber McGee & Molly were waiting to keep me company after school.  The Golden Age of comedy was anytime I could sit beside my bright pink tape deck.  In those days (way back 20 years ago), WBBM aired my favorite serials late at night.  I’d stay up late Saturday nights listening to The Shadow or Little Orphan Annie, then catch a nap on the way home from (during) church the next morning.  My funny bone was shaped through my ears.

Today, my favorite podcast is, naturally, in the style of old time radio: Acker & Blacker’s The Thrilling Adventure Hour features numerous serials and a multitude of hilarious characters that could make NBC roll in its grave.  My personal favorite is “Beyond Belief” — the adventures of Frank and Sadie Doyle, two drunken, happily married mediums played brilliantly by Paul F. Tompkins and Paget Brewster.  A spitting image, I might add, of my grown-up home life.  Yes.  We see ghosts!  Rather, I see ghosts while my other half humours me with fine craft brews.  Here’s to us!  CLINK.  

Have a listen, or better still, go see a live recording in Hollywood.  If you are as old at heart as I am, you’re in for a real treat.

Cheers!