I’m Your Lobster

Gilda Doll

Being a part of the San Francisco sketch comedy community is an electrifying experience. Joyous energy surges through laughter. We’re getting better by the year.

I recently had the honour of appearing on Killing My Lobster‘s sensational podcast, The Alphabet. You can hear me on Episode B as multiple, well-written, perfectly-edited characters. I feel like Gilda Radner in her Lampoon’s Radio Hour Days. J’adore KML.

Come see Killing My Lobster live at SF Sketchfest on Tuesday, January 27th. The Lobsters are crushing it with stylish, witty pincers.

Of course, I’ll be flitting about Sketchfest again this year with enthusiastic abandon. Come see a show or three. The lineup is absolutely to die for.

xoxo
Your Friendly Giggle Wonk

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Isle at War: Good Luck, Everyone.

Laxey's WWI memorial -- one of nearly 200 scattered across the Isle of Man. Photography by Graham Richards.

Laxey’s WWI memorial — one of nearly 200 scattered across the Isle of Man. Photography by Graham Richards.

We’ve recently returned from an enchanted holiday on the British Isles, where we ran wild among ruins while I scribbled copious notes on index cards squirreled away in my flesh-tone fanny pack. Many of the notes belong to essays for my current book project, The Baroness and Fool, while others make better conversation pieces for the world at large.

Our arrival coincided with the Island at War events honoring the fallen and brave of The Great War. Now, being a gun-shy American I struggle with any celebration of war. I come from a land where war is endlessly perpetuated both in secret and broad daylight. Still, I was profoundly moved by the love poured into remembering a terrible time that forever changed the people inhabiting this breathtaking landscape. The Manx culture maintains a reverence for the losses of war, one that seems to render them impervious to the fear perpetuated in most other corners of the globe.

Inspired to learn more from the British perspective on WWI, I turned to my favorite history professor, The Black Adder. While I have watched the first three series at least a dozen times each, I’ve never sat down to go through all of The Black Adder Goes Forth. I clearly was not emotionally prepared to end my favorite television program, the single greatest period sitcom of all time. But I digress. The final episode, “Goodbyeee”, is available on Netflix. Once you’ve gone through the entire series for your own delight, grab your favorite sedative and saddle up for a jarring bolt of the reality of war. I was thunderstruck, which surprised me as Hugh Laurie had been wearing a pretty dress not two episodes prior. Biting hilarity is the most effective way to speak truth to power, to embrace satire as a weapon in the battle you know you’re going to lose.

Or, you can watch the last few moments here. Good luck, everyone.

 

 

 

A Brief History of Muncaster Castle

The Richards. Photography by Tiffany Black, Blackbirdphoto.com.

The Richards. Photography by Tiffany Black, Blackbirdphoto.com.

 

This week, I made a dispassionate decision to put the podcast on sabbatical in order to devote my life to telling ghost stories of my ancestors, the Penningtons of Muncaster Castle. This is a project I have been researching for 10 years — 30, if you count the endless hours of Blackadder I watched as a child or my own personal paranormal experiences, 800 if you count my genetic memory imprinted across the castle grounds.

The Baroness & the Fool began in earnest two years ago at Cicily JanusWriting Away mountaintop retreat. There at a cozy oak table in the company of literary lovelies, I realized my responsibility as “the Pennington with the pen.” Incidentally, that is the very same moment I realized I am in love with Graham. I called him up and said, “I need you to go with me to my family’s castle, and also I am in love with you.”

Since then, we uprooted our entire lives in order to be together and bring you these stories. Please enjoy this construction paper tale introducing the adventure at hand.

Follow along on our journey from the modern comforts of electronic mail.

 

Mark Twain’s Lasting Message to San Francisco.

Mark Twain came to San Francisco to "be a butterfly."

Mark Twain came to San Francisco to “be a butterfly.”

I was on the tail end of two homeless years when I tattooed Mark Twain across the inside of my arm. I temporarily became another casualty of capitalism, made well-aware of my corporate worth and relegated to the service industry where I could only earn $2.13 an hour slinging beer. Though the economy no longer recognized my intrinsic value, I knuckled down and worked smarter than ever before. I would clock in as many hours as I could get and spend every other waking moment scratching my way out of hell with my pencil. It was the dawn of my prolific Thirties.

I wrote my way home to San Francisco, the same city where Samuel Clements spent two painfully broke years subsequently becoming Mark Twain. “All things that go to make life happy, are present in San Francisco to-day, just as they are all days in the year,” Mark Twain wrote shortly after moving to the city in May 1864. While I thankfully have stabilized my way to the coveted middle-class bracket, there are approximately 7,350 homeless souls in San Francisco and another estimated 633,782 across this willfully-blind nation of ours. During my rooftop-challenged months, I was fortunate enough to have a carousel of hospitable couches to sleep on and only had to spend a couple of cold nights in my mini-van.

As I read Ben Tarnoff’s new book, The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature, I am reminded of how the dark nights illuminated the world to me and forever altered my empathic perspective. Mark Twain circulated city hotels until his pockets were emptied, scraping together a meager living as a freelance writer during San Francisco’s post-civil war literary boom, then later chronicling his Bohemian mis-adventures in his book Roughing It. As Tarnoff details, the Bohemians “shared a single purpose: to wage all-out war on mediocrity, materialism, and the middlebrow.” In America, “Bohemian” was once referred to a working writer. 19th Century San Francisco sustained more professional scribblers in proportion to its total population than any other American city, and gave writers plenty of opportunities to ply their trade. San Francisco provides a steady stream of suitable material for any artist. Creativity saved my sanity and now I am beginning to understand the transformative power of storytelling. In moments of despair, head in hand, I see the words of Mark Twain eternally imprinted beneath my skin: “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” Like Twain, I mine my misfortunes for material, and play them for laughs. What would he have to say about the sad state of affairs in our Beloved San Francisco today?

Mark Twain wrote “that while New Yorkers are burdened with banks and drifts of snow, Californians are burdened with banks and drifts of flowers, if they only keep their hands off and let them grow.” Twain reveled in the blend of Old and New World culture blooming in California and understood firsthand that the West offered a promising path forward for himself personally, and on a larger scope, for the war-torn nation ripped brutally along the Mason-Dixon line. Alternatively, Twain reflected the cultural divide between East and West. San Francisco deepened Mark Twain. Daily journalism gave him a swift education in this cosmopolitan social world, and plenty to stir his moral outrage. He met crooked officials and lazy, brutal cops, and watched society reward the strong and the shameless. As such, his work at The Californian marked a new stage in the evolution of the literary West. If Mark Twain had given up in the depths of 1864, history would have quickly forgotten him along with the other minor-league wits who enlivened the era’s newspapers. But Mark Twain stayed in San Francisco and more importantly, he kept writing. Tarnoff notes “the city humbled him often. It pushed him to the brink of bankruptcy and suicide, and inspired moments of difficult soul-searching. But in the process he grew more profound, more perceptive. His satire became more socially astute. His humor developed a lacerating moral edge.” We have much to learn from his immortal words, and even more from emulating his active creativity in these dire times. Pick up your pen.

As Twain boldly took on the Establishment, the moral dimension of his work began to mature. He told small, funny lies meant to illuminate large, unfunny ones. Fictions in pursuit of the truth enabled Twain to bridge the gap between how America saw itself and what it actually looked like. Twain hated hypocrites, snobs, and bullies. He would be the first to throw a rock at the Google Bus. Tarnoff explains the longer Mark Twain spent in San Francisco, the shrewder his analysis became. He criticized not just people but institutions; not just isolated cases of bad behavior but broader patterns of injustice. Twain gave voice to the conscience of the individual against the crowd. Twain was mischievous as ever, San Francisco gave him a discerning edge. At the end of Twain’s two year residency in San Francisco, he concluded with a sincere farewell lecture to the city he loved. He praised our generosity, our ‘good-fellowship.’ The country he once knew had become an ‘unknown land,’ wasted by war, dotted with premature graves. Channeling the rhetoric of legions of local boosters, Twain waxed lyrical about California’s prospects. “She stands in the center of the grand highway of nations,” he declared, adding “[s]he stands midway between the Old World and the New, and both shall pay her tribute. Has any other State so brilliant a future? Has any other city a future like San Francisco?” That frontier, anti-Establishment spirit still cries out from the streets. If you listen carefully, you can still hear Mark Twain’s echo for justice. Raise your voice, San Francisco.

Foreign Legion

On stage in The Legionnaire's upper room. Photography by Graham Richards.

On stage in The Legionnaire’s upper room. Photography by Graham Richards.

Legendary hip-hop duo Foreign Legion’s Marc Stretch and Prozack Turner join Crisman to discuss gentrification, community, and babies. Featuring beats by G Koop & O-man and the late, great, J.Dilla. Recorded at The Legionnaire Saloon in Oakland, California.

Produced by Crisman Richards.
Theme Music and Engineering by Graham Richards.

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The Militarization of Google

Photography by Graham Richards.

Photography by Graham Richards.

Our neighborhood spy mega-store, Google has been making a recent PR push to distance itself from some rather alarming partnerships with known mercenaries and intelligence agencies. This week, comedian-veteran Marine Rich Dreyling joins us to discuss the Eye of Sauron’s growing involvement with the military industrial complex. Consider it an apropos bedtime story for our sleeping nation.

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Read the full story on Pando: http://bit.ly/1mDP87W
Produced by Crisman Richards. Theme music and engineering by Graham Richards. Music by G Koop & O-man.

Tea with the Toxic Avenger

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The smog in Texas is thicker than I remember. Flying over on my broom, I saw the vast expansion of factory farms and the alarming murkiness of connected bodies of water, some glowing slick neon colors that have no business being in nature. The nearly 3 million beef cattle, 1.1 million hogs, 330,000 dairy cows, 90.4 million broiler chickens, and 13.8 million egg-laying hens on factory farms in Texas produce as much untreated manure as 430 million people — more than the entire U.S. population. Texas’ booming bullshit industry wrought havoc at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas, where an explosion on April 17, 2013 killed 14 people, left 200 others with injuries (including burns, lacerations, and broken bones), flattened houses and a 50-unit apartment building, destroyed a nursing home, damaged a local school, and left a crater 93 feet by 10 feet deep. This weekend, at least 170,000 gallons of oil spilled in the Galveston Bay, shutting down the waterways between contaminated Texas rivers and the Gulf of BP. The southern leg of the Keystone Pipeline that went into normal operation in January 2014 is bringing up to 700,000 barrels of oil a day to refineries in Texas, despite the years-long fight against this tar-sands nightmare. Environmentalists and residents of Parker County, Texas, were dismayed last year when the EPA dropped an investigation into complaints that hydraulic fracking by Range Resources was contaminating local water supplies with methane.

What happens when the People fight back?

The State of Texas boasts lax regulations and suppresses the outcries of the citizens victimized by the corporate greed controlling both media and legislation. Frustrated by the pervasive culture of silence surrounding folks in the direct line of industrial fire, I sat down with my dear friend, Phyllis Glazer, and asked her to share the story of the time she sued the EPA and shut down one chemical plant poisoning her small-town in East Texas. I pooped my pants a few times during the production, once from the story and then again from drinking Dallas water. Seriously, hydrate with Pellegrino and coconuts when you’re there. A gas mask might not be a bad idea, either.

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For more ways to increase public pressure, follow me on Twitter.

A Walk Through “Indian Summer” with Graham Richards

Instead of bragging on about my Renaissance Husband’s debut album release, I decided to interview Crisman Show producer and composer, Graham Richards. Listen in as he walks us through the creative journey behind Indian Summer, his first collaborative release on PJCE Records with friend-of-the-show, Dan Duval. I personally recommend this album for meditation, yoga, sleeping, or during turbulent flights when you think you are probably about to die. No matter the chaos surrounding you today, these sounds promise to rejuvenate your spirit and bring you in to this bittersweet moment.

Listen to this episode (includes music from album).

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Jazz Bear Nest

Jazz Bear Nest

Comedian Keith Lowell Jensen and Crisman Richards discuss atheism, jazz, and multiple arrests. Featuring music by Snarky Puppy (courtesy of Ropeadope Records).

Listen to episode: http://bit.ly/1cCpj4Z

See Keith‘s jazz/comedy experiment, Session at Punchline SF on May 7th.

Produced by Crisman Richards. Theme Music, Engineering, and photography by Graham Richards.

The Smartest Conversation in the World

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Sensai Greg Proops and I sat down at the Punchline in San Francisco before he recorded the Buzzers episode of his Smartest Man in the World podcast — imagine my delight when he quotes me on the air. I prepared three years for this interview. Notice how I don’t so much as look at my carefully constructed question cards. Here we bond over old radio, Southern oppression, and then casually debunk Christianity.

Read my essay, The Gospel of Greg Proops.

Stay tuned to Laughspin.com for more fantastic conversations betwixt yours truly and the intellectual voices of comedy.