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Putting it Together – Where’s that Line?

Top GunI’ve been writing a bunch of things lately and fell far behind on my blog projects.  If you were reading and missed my posts, I’m sorry.  If you weren’t reading, I don’t know why I brought it up.

Today, I’m re-starting my Putting it Together blog.  I’ve been using this blog series to share thoughts that arise from creative projects, like the Fringe Festival.

For the Minnesota Fringe this year, I wrote a show called “Top Gun: The Musical.”  The show was very successful and my writing got an amazing assist from a talented cast, great choreography, and really good music co-written with Chad Dutton.  Most of the feedback was positive and I felt like the audience really enjoyed what we put on stage.

When I was writing the show, I spent a lot of time watching the film and as I watched, I was taken with all of the homoerotic subtext.  I mean, there are dozens of Youtube videos on the topic but I hadn’t watched any of them.  Yet.  To me, the romance between Maverick and Charlie was not at all interesting and there seemed to be more chemistry between Maverick and Iceman.

When I wrote the script, I wrote it with those thoughts in mind.  I told the actors that as far as I was concerned, every pilot in the show was a closeted gay man.

The serious subtext was the idea that in the 80’s, you couldn’t be an openly gay man in the military.  It was hard to be an openly gay man at all.  It is remarkable how far we’ve come in such a short time.

Now the show wasn’t at all serious and the idea that these characters were in the closet was played for laughs.  That made me nervous.

Because while I wanted to make fun of the fact these characters were in the 80’s closet, I didn’t want it to come off as making fun of the fact that they were gay.  I wanted it to be very clear that it was OK they were gay.

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Friend a Day – Ben San Del

Ben San Del

Fringe week continues!

I’ve known Ben for a few years now.  I think I was introduced to him when I first mounted a show at the fringe in 2007.

Ben, like a lot of my comedian friends, is always thinking about the philosophy of comedy.  It isn’t enough to write a funny joke.  It is more important to understand the nature of what makes jokes funny.  We had him on Geeks Without God earlier this year and he talked about how one approaches telling certain types of jokes to certain types of audiences.

While Ben has written some very good plays, he primarily identifies himself as a stand-up comedian.  He did a stand-up show at the fringe three years ago with a lot of material about being an atheist.  The way he was so open about that part of himself got me thinking about how writers and performers integrate their beliefs into their work.

Ben is in Jumpin’ Jack Kerouac with me and I think he views it through a similar lens.  We both feel completely out of our element as dancers but we enjoy the challenge.  We are both also very happy that we are only going to be doing this once.

In rehearsing the show, I’ve gotten to hear some of Ben’s writing about being social.  The thoughts that go through his head are similar to mine.  He lives in his head all the time.

Whenever I talk to him, I get the feeling there are two layers of conversation.  One is the actual conversation we are having and one is the internal dialogue he is having with himself about the conversation.

I guess we all do that but with Ben, I can actually watch it happen.

All of this analysis results in one very important by-product.  It makes Ben a very funny and insightful writer.

Ben also once told me that he thought I was in my mid 30’s and not my mid 40’s.

For having said that, I think he is one of the best people ever!

In addition to Jumpin’ Jack Kerouac, you should check out Ben’s other Fringe show: Fiddlestick Conundrum!

Friend a Day – Joseph Scrimshaw

1491355_10203168806974326_5021579959808376726_oI’ve known Joseph from somewhere around the beginning of CONvergence back in 1999.  At that time, his career as a comedian was just starting to develop while I had no idea that I might one day be looking to do the same thing.

For the last several years, he has been a terrific sounding board for me.  He’s walked a road I’d like to walk and what makes him great is the fact he’s willing to talk to me about the journey.  He is extremely generous with advice if you ask for it but he doesn’t offer it unless he thinks you are interested.

Joseph is one of the hardest working comedians I know.  He is always writing something and the diversity of what he writes is staggering.  He has written some of the funniest and most successful plays at the Minnesota Fringe.  He writes a very funny blog.  He’s written a book.  And so on.

When he’s on stage, he looks confident and comfortable but never cocky.  He is in his natural element and he likes it there.  When he is clearly enjoying himself, the viewer can hardly help but to do the same.

We have had many conversations over the years about comedy and he takes it very seriously.  He spends a lot of time thinking about what makes comedy work and how he can make his comedy better.

Recently, he moved from Minnesota to California, which is a big risk.  If I know anyone who can make the move successfully, it would have to be Joseph.  Sure, there are a lot of random factors involved but he is talented and an extremely hard worker.

For someone as talented as he is, he shares the stage with others extremely well.  His Obsessed podcast could easily be much more about his cleverness than about his guests’ obsessions but he does a terrific job of using his questions to bring out the comedy in his guests rather than worrying about providing it himself.

Life is full of comings and goings but I’ll admit that when the Scrimshaws moved to California, it was a going that made me a little more sad than most.  I definitely miss their presence even as I celebrate what I hope will be great success.

Joseph has a comedy blog over at www.josephscrimshaw.com.  You also can (and should) support him on Patreon.

Also, he’s doing a performance in Minneapolis on Saturday at the Comedy Corner Underground.  If you haven’t seen him live and you are in the Twin Cities, you should go!

Friend a Day – Sharon Stiteler

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Photo by Bill Stiteler

I’ve known Sharon for about five years now.  We aren’t super close friends but I enjoy what time I spend with her because she is ceaselessly interesting.

Sharon is well known as a birder.  Heck, she’s written books and stuff.  However, most of my experience with her is in comedy shows and I find her about as intimidating as they come.  She is one of those folks who is effortlessly funny.  When I’m on stage with her, all I think about is how much funnier she will be than me (and everyone else on stage).  She makes it look easy. It never feels like she’s trying at all.

Confidence is one of her best qualities.  It really feels like she knows what she is doing all the time.  She believes in her own capability to do it right.

When it comes to birding, I think that she enjoys the process of sharing that passion with others.  She writes, she blogs, she podcasts, and she gets together with other birders.  Yes, it is her career so she needs to do those things.  But I have to think that she gains a lot of pleasure from sharing her knowledge and experience.

She can talk for a long time on just about any topic because she knows a lot about them all.  I admire smart people and she is one of the smartest.  I don’t think that I would ever want to get into an argument with her because I’d probably be wrong and she would sound far more interesting than me even if I was right.

Sharon is a great communicator, as evidenced by all of her writing to be sure.  She organizes her thoughts well and she organizes them rapidly.  She doesn’t try to be interesting, she simply is interesting.

While being around Sharon may intimidate me a little, it’s well worth the effort to get over it.  I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to know her a bit better.

You can read her blog over at birdchick.com.

Comedy Blog – Road Bison

132731_10203995383115087_6808394502384122125_oAs you may or may not know, I just spent a week in Yellowstone National Park.  I learned a lot about geothermal features while I was there.  I’m sure you are aware there are several such features in the park including Old Faithful and a lot of other features that aren’t Old Faithful.  Nobody ever talks about those other features.

Another prominent feature of Yellowstone National Park is the bison.  There are, at last count, somewhere around twelve billion bison within the boundaries of the park.  After five days, you get a little blasé about them.

On our first day, we stopped for a picture whenever we saw a black lump in a field that might be a bison.  By the time we left, we wouldn’t even slow down unless there were playing hopscotch or whist or something else that went beyond the typical behavior of standing in a field and chewing on grass while surrounded by two hundred other bison.

I’m not saying I never grew tired of seeing bison.  Because I didn’t.  At some point, however, seeing bison became the equivalent of watching Adrian Peterson play for the Vikings.  Sure, it’s impressive.  But is it really making much of a difference?

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Comedy Blog – Understanding Wyoming

I’m currently on vacation in Wyoming.  We’ve been visiting Grand Teton National Park for the last few days and today we are traveling to Yellowstone.

If you are going to use this information to rob my house, please be aware that we have a house sitter, a burglar alarm, four attack cats, and a house full of shit you probably don’t want anyway.

Since we’ve arrived in Wyoming, we’ve found there are some things that are a little different out here in one of only two states that lacked the creativity to shape their state like something other than a rectangle.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that FOX News isn’t just a news station.  It is the only TV news station there is.  I looked up MSNBC on my hotel room directory it was listed.  When I tried to punch in the numbers, however, the remote just laughed at me.

I don’t think everyone in Wyoming is a conservative.  I just think everyone in Wyoming assumes that everyone else in Wyoming is a conservative.

Another concept that is different is the definition of “back yard.”

I have a back yard and it is quite small.  Even when I’m using “back yard” to reference something close to my house, like say Cub Foods, I’m talking about someplace that is less than a mile from my home.

We ran into a family from Idaho having a picnic yesterday.  They told us that the Grand Tetons were “in their back yard.”

The Grand Tetons are in a completely different state!

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Putting it Together – What to Write?

I have a half-dozen writing projects going on right now when you consider blogging, Fringe shows, Big Fun Radio Funtime, Vermin, and random other sketches I said I would write.

I’m overwhelmed and at the same time, I’m pleased to have my life filled with what I want to be doing.

Sometimes, though, I have the hardest time figuring out what to put on the page.  Take my comedy blogging, for instance.

Writing a comedy blog is, I think, very important for me.  I’m a comedy writer and that means I need to write comedy.  That makes sense.

Every week, though, I have the hardest time coming up with a topic for the comedy blog.  I end up putting it off until the last minute because I don’t have any ideas.  The term “comedy blog” is pretty broad.  It means I can write about anything as long as I’m (trying to be) funny.

I’ve finally settled in to just asking myself what has happened over the last week and trying to come up with something funny to say about it.  Have I been playing a video game a whole lot?  Write a post about that!

Have I been thinking about my cats a lot?  Write a post about that!

It never feels good enough to me, though.  I fell like I’m crapping out on the whole idea because I’m not writing comedy about bigger and better things.

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