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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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Comedy Blogging – Clash of Clans

We have a new obsession at my house.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the commercials for “Clash of Clans” but if you have and you want to know what the game all about, you should come over.  We have clans clashing all over the place.  If any of us can take a moment to put down our mobile device to talk to you, we’ll give you a guided tour.

Let me explain how the game works.  Basically, you have a little town that looks a bit like a medieval SimCity.  You can build and upgrade buildings and you can also train troops like archers, giants, Agents of SHIELD, rabid Chihuahuas, and Smart cars.

Your troops are used to attack other people’s medieval Sim Cities.  If you are successful, you make off with their gold and elixir, the two important resources you need to build and upgrade your town.  There is a third resource, gems, which I will describe in more detail later.

Buildings in your town have three functions.  The first function is to produce and store resources.  The second function is to produce more powerful and varied troops.  The third function is to protect your town from other invading armies.

Nobody in this town lives anywhere.  There are no houses or schools or stores or libraries.  The quality of life for your little SimClan is pretty much tied up in producing more and better troops so you can steal more resources so you can build and upgrade more buildings so you can produce more and better troops.  It is the digital equivalent of the circle of life but with fewer zebras.

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Friend a Day – Kelvin Hatle

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Photo by Bob Alberti

I met Kelvin during the early years of CONvergence when he was performing as a member of Soylent Theater.

Kelvin is a very quiet person when he is hanging out in a group of people.  He’s a lot more likely to listen to a conversation at a party than to join in with one.  You really need to spend some one on one time with him to have any real chance to know him.

He is a gifted improviser, which comes as a surprise if you know him only as the guy who is quiet at parties.  When he gets on stage for an improv, he becomes a different person.  Which is sort of the point, I guess.

Over the last few years, he has taken to producing one man shows at the Minnesota Fringe.  So far, each one has been a little bit better than the last.  He’s really grown as a writer and a performer through those solo shows.

I’d put him in everything I wrote if I could.  He always finds a way to make what I do funnier than it was on the page.

He’s also very good at trivia.  He worked with us on the GPS team trivia contest and he had the ability to write questions that were both challenging and interesting.  When he moved on from the contest, we lost one of our best writers.

When he joined the cast of Vilification Tennis, he brought an entirely different personality to the stage.  His dry delivery and his clever writing take a little while to catch on with the audience at times but with a little time to warm up, he gets them on his side.

There are several performers in the Twin Cities of whom I never tire.  Kelvin is one of them.  I will cheerfully go to anything in which he takes part because I know he will always be a lot of fun to watch.

I look forward to many more opportunities to work with Kelvin because he makes everyone around him look better.

Geeks Without God Talk About Atheism and Comedy

Geeks Without GodWhen we were off at Die Laughing, we snuck back to my hotel room for an hour to record an episode of Geeks Without God with Ben San Del.

Ben did a stand up show at the Minnesota Fringe a couple years ago and he spent a fair amount of time in that show talking about his atheism.  I found it interesting that a comedian was so up front about that particularly divisive issue and have been wanting to get him on our podcast for a while.

The stars finally aligned and we had a great conversation with Ben about how he tailors his show depending on where he is performing and when he uses the soft touch to introduce skepticism into his comedy.

It was a long time coming, but I think the episode was worth the wait.

 

Drunk Gaming

I was at a convention this weekend that has two major attractions.  Tabletop gaming and booze.

This leads to a lot of late night gaming with drunk people.  Because I don’t drink, I have the opportunity to observe the behaviors that make drunk gaming a great spectator sport.

Take, for instance, the game “Resistance.”  Players are either member of the resistance or spies trying to thwart the resistance.  Pretty much the entire game is spent fostering an atmosphere of fear and mistrust.  By the end of the game, everyone is basically shouting HE’S A SPY DON’T PICK HIM! I’M NOT SPY! THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT A SPY WOULD SAY!

It’s a great game to play with people you already don’t like.

Drunk “resistance” is about the same except the game starts with everyone shouting HE’S A SPY DON’T PICK HIM! I’M NOT SPY! THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT A SPY WOULD SAY!

That takes place before anyone even knows if they are Resistance or a Spy.

Once you deal the cards that identify the spies, you immediately prepare to re-deal the cards because someone is going to say “Cool! I’ve always wanted to play a spy!  Oops!  I meant Resistance.  I always wanted to play Resistance.  I’m not a spy.”

After this happens a third time, someone says fuck it and leaves to get another beer.  Someone else joins who has never played the game.

All eight players at the table loudly explain the game at the same time.  It sounds something like this:

THE RULES ARE SUPER EASY. WE’RE ALL SPIES ON A MISSION TO RESISTANCE A VOTE!  TEAM LEADERS DEAL CARDS TO THE SPIES AND THEN EVERYONE DOESN’T WANT ANYONE ELSE TO KNOW UNTIL THEY DEAL THEIR SUCCESS CARD FACE UP WHICH YOU CAN ONLY USE IF YOU ARE A SPY.  THE SPIES KNOW WHO EACH GUN MISSION DECIDES WHICH CARDS BUT WHATEVER YOU DO REJECT THE MISSION.  GOT IT?

New person drunkenly nods and the game begins again.

Eventually someone will say something like IF I PLAY THIS CARD WILL YOU BE ABLE TO TELL I’M A SPY?

Then everyone lets out a collective groan and they start over.  With another new player.

I’ve never seen a game of drunk “Resistance” played all the way to the finish.

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