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Friend a Day – Salsa Sterling

Photo by Manna Jaeger

Photo by Manna Jaeger

I’ve known Salsa since the day he asked me if he could try out for Vilification Tennis.  He got up on stage that day and did…OK.  But he’s gotten a lot better since then.  In fact, I think he has improved with each passing year.

Salsa is always trying to get better.  He is very analytical by nature and that means he spends a good amount of time looking at what he is doing and trying to figure out how to do it better.  It also means he is very good at analyzing what others are doing well and doing poorly.

As part of Fearless, he is putting together some new shows and I really enjoy watching him work to expand what he is doing creatively.  He’s been doing that for a while now with the Fandazzi Fire Circus as well.  He’s got that bug to create new things and I think that’s great.

He’s grown more confident on stage in the last few years as well.  It has really made a big difference in his stage presence and in the audience’s response to his material.

He’s also completely willing to give something new a try.  When I decided I wanted to do a radio play at a Vilification Tennis show, he volunteered to do sound effects.  That turned into a regular gig with Big Fun Radio Funtime.

Why did he agree to do it?  It wasn’t because he had any experience.  It was because he wanted to try something new.  He’s been learning as he goes but it sure does seems like he’s enjoying the process.

Since I met him, Salsa has gone from a young guy trying to figure out how to be good at things to someone who is viewed as a leader and a mentor.   He has gotten there through hard work and careful thought.

It has been a pleasure to watch that process happen.

Salsa is a co-host of the Apropos of Nothing Podcast.  You should check it out!

Friend a Day – Jim Cunningham

Photo by John Gaspard

Photo by John Gaspard

I’ve known Jim ever since I started working at the Renaissance Festival.  He is well known to many as the master of the Feast of Fantasy now but when I first met him, he was a member of an act call the Comedy Troupe.  Every member of that act was supremely talented.

What I enjoy about working with Jim is how generous he is to the performers who come to work on his stage.  He is always conscious of our time constraints and always thanks us for our performance.  I can’t even tell you how enjoyable it is to work with someone that professional.

A few years ago, there was a decision to start doing Vilification Tennis themed feasts and we went in having a clear expectation that we were to be doing extremely blue material.  Unfortunately, the audience didn’t have the same expectation.  The results were less than spectacular.  I think the word “disaster” would be more appropriate.

We sat with Jim after the show and there was no anger.  No finger pointing.  Instead there was talk about how we were going to fix the problem for the second feast.  There was no question that we were partners in finding a solution.

Whenever I hear Jim on the Radio or at a Twins game, I smile because I know him and he doesn’t just sound like a nice guy, he is a nice guy.

Jim is one of the hardest working people I know.  I don’t know how many projects he has going at a time but there is always one more.  He is in demand because he is one of the best.

He’s relentlessly positive.  He always sees the best in others.  He never focuses on the negative.  To focus on the best in yourself and those around you is a talent that may be better than all the others he possesses.

I’m truly fortunate to have crossed paths with Jim.  He’s one of the great ones.

Friend a Day – Courtney McCLean

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Photo by John Robinson

I met Courtney at the Fringe Festival about five or six years ago.  She is probably the most energetic person I know.  And that is saying a lot.

Courtney is always excited about what she is doing.  It makes me excited too.

She has good reason to be excited because she does such awesome stuff.  Her stories are imaginative and clever.  Her music with the Dirty Curls is catchy and funny.  As exhibited in “Bump” at last year’s Fringe Festival, she can also bust a move.

All this, and she can play the banjo!

Simply put, if Courtney’s name is on something, it is something I want to see.

If it seems like she is running from one thing to the next, I think that is because she is always in the middle of doing something.  She has what seems to be dozens of irons in the fire and, of course, they are all interesting.

As a songwriter, I’m particularly impressed with Courtney’s music.  She writes a ton of songs are thematically similar and yet all very different.  I spent most of my time watching them play paying very close attention to the lyrics because they are awesome.

I’m really in awe of her storytelling ability.  It isn’t just the writing, which is exceptional, but also the personality she brings to the presentation.  It is a vibrant and expressive personality of someone who is completely in the moment.

I think that is why I enjoy her presence on the Vilification Tennis cast.  She is one of a few performers who walks on stage without a lot of prepared material.  That can be a very risky proposition but I think it helps her be more present on stage than she would be if she walked in with only pre-planned material.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Courtney as a collaborator and as an audience member.  She’s a truly talented person.

Friend a Day – Chrys Buckholtz

Photo by Kristin Thesing

Photo by Kristin Thesing

I’ve known Chrys since she became part of Vilification the old-fashioned way – by standing up on stage at the Renaissance Festival and trying to insult someone.  She started out well and has continued to improve since then.

She has a drive to write the best material possible.  She spends a lot of time working with her partner to refine the jokes she writes because she wants them to work the first time she throws them.  It may not be a 100% success rate but most of her new material hits the mark.

When she is on stage, she looks confident and prepared.  I’ve never seen her arrive at a show anything but ready to do her best.  I’ve never seen her at a loss for a joke.

Off the vilification tennis stage, she is a gifted costumer.  Her work has been on stage at the CONvergence masquerade and in the halls of the convention.  If you want a well made corset, I know who would be on the top of my list for a recommendation.

That attention to detail she brings to costuming is probably why she is so good in her job.  As a property manager she is clearly meticulous and attentive.  Those traits are a part of who she is and it makes her valuable.

Chrys and I share a lot of the same political views, which is not a reason I like her specifically but, like many of the people I know, she often helps lend perspective to a situation I’ve been thinking about.  She doesn’t arrive at an opinion without some thought and because of that, I find her opinions worth hearing.

Like most members of the vilification cast, Chrys has brought her personality to the mix and it has added something that wasn’t already there.  I think the diversity of who we are makes a huge difference in the success of our show.

I’m glad Chrys stepped onto our stage to give it a chance all those years back.  It means I’ve gotten to know a really cool person.

Friend a Day – Eric Thompson

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Photo by John Solberg

I’ve only known Eric for a little over a year.  He tried out for the Vilification Tennis and won the amateur show in 2013 and he’s been another one that surprised me.

Eric appears to be pretty laid back and I didn’t know if that would work on stage.  With the material he writes, it works tremendously well.

Since he joined the cast, he has proven to be an asset because he has good ideas for more than just Vilification Tennis.  He brought the idea for Double Blind Improv to me and it was clearly a great fit for Fearless Comedy.  Then he went through the trouble of setting up everything for the show.

It’s great when someone comes to you with a good idea.  It’s even better when they are willing to do almost all of the work to make it happen.

He’s got a dry, patient wit.  He will sit back and wait for an opportunity to be funny, which makes him dangerous because the audience loses track of him.  Then he says something wickedly clever and they fall in love with him.

Eric has a lot of irons in the fire.  In addition to working with Vilification Tennis and Fearless, he is also doing a regular podcast and, apparently also has a job.  I guess I like him in part because I’m a little bit reminded of myself.

Another trait that impresses me is his willingness to do just about anything.  He’s a cast member I can count on to just stand up and make something happen.  When we needed someone to handle challenges for Die Laughing, he was the person who stepped up and coordinated.

It was a lot of work.  But Eric is someone who will put in a lot of time when he believes in something.

I’m glad that Eric tried out for Vilification Tennis.  He’s a great guy and I probably wouldn’t have met him any other way.

Check out the High Five Guys Podcast!

Friend a Day – Nick Glover

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I’ve known Nick for a long time but really only got to know him after he joined the vilification tennis cast and became my podcasting co-host on Geeks Without God.

Nick is a huge comic fan and over the last few years, he has introduced me to a ton of new comics.  As a fan, he finds titles for me that go beyond the standard stuff that everyone has read.  I appreciate the depth of his knowledge and his willingness to find me interesting new reading experiences.

We agree on a lot of topics but what always amazes me about Nick is his ability to boil his argument down to one or two insightful and cogent sentences.  I’ll spend fifteen sentences to say what he says better in only one.

He has a relaxed attitude about working on stage that makes it easy to ask him to do just about anything.  You never feel like something makes him uncomfortable.  His response is always yes, and I can add this extra thing that will make it an even funnier idea.

When I have a complicated scenery item that I need, Nick is regularly the person who conceives of how to solve the problem.  He made the elevator prop for an adaptation of The Shining I did this month and, as usual, he made it look better than I had expected and he did it for no cost.  He loves solving those sorts of problems, I think, and he solves them well.

Nick has a very impish sense of humor.  Usually, he keeps a straight face but every now and again, you can catch him being pleased with a joke he made.  You catch him having fun with himself and it is charming.

I really look forward to recording new episodes of Geeks Without God and a big reason is the fact I get to hang out with my co-hosts before we record.  Nick is a great guy and I’m very happy to have had the chance to work with him so often.

Friend a Day – Jade Cook

Photo by Joel Brueske

Photo by Joel Brueske

Jade tried out for Vilification Tennis about five years ago now and she has continued to impress me with her desire to find what really drives her artistically.

For the last year or so, she has become focused on becoming a stand-up.  I haven’t seen every performance but I’ve seen her working out her act at Fearless Lab almost every month.  She has improved every single time I’ve seen her.  It is obvious that it is something she wants to do and something she wants to do well.

One of her biggest strengths as a vilifier and as a comic is her expressiveness.  The picture I chose for her is a great example.  Her face conveys a great deal and it makes her writing funnier.

She has a very calm demeanor to her.  Nothing really seems to get her wound up.  She might be nervous before she goes on stage but she doesn’t let it show.  I think it helps the performers around you when at least one member of the cast looks like they are saying “OK – let’s do this.”

Jade is open to just about anything that needs to be done.  If there is something that needs to be done for a show and it doesn’t play to her strengths, she doesn’t care.  She’ll do it anyway.

I’m looking forward to her continued improvement as a stand-up.  She has a lot of talent and if that is the direction she wants to go with it, I have to believe she will be successful.

I’m glad that Jade tried out for Vilification tennis.  It’s been a pleasure to know her.

Friend a Day – Lauren Brabec

10010462_10152151281443087_20079799456135677_oI don’t know how old Lauren was when she started coming to Dregs shows.  I know she’s turning eighteen today and that freaks me out a little bit.

For along time, Lauren was just a kid who liked our music.  Then she decided to try out for Vilification Tennis and I got to know her much better.

Think about this: she did an onstage tryout for an insult comedy show at the age of fourteen.  And she won.  That takes a tremendous amount of guts and no small amount of talent.  She didn’t win because she was fourteen.  She won because she did the best job on the stage that night.

Since then, she has continued to be a contributor to our cast.  She doesn’t just contribute on stage.  She helps come up with show ideas as well.  I think it’s important that she’s become a part of our cast in every possible way.

She’s played the Chad/Lauren rocks more game with Chad for several years now and as an impartial observer, I have to say she has Chad beat.  She regularly comes up with really original and clever ways to tell Chad he rocks more and all Chad can do is shake his head in defeat.

When someone is in a cast with a whole bunch of strong personalities who constantly give her crap for being the kid, it can be a challenge.  That’s a tough position for anyone and weaker personalities would have given up.  She doesn’t strike me as a quitter and that is a quality that will benefit her a great deal as she moves to the next part of her life.

Lauren is only eighteen.  She has a lot more growing up to do but I’m impressed at how much growing up she has already done.

I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to watch Lauren grow into the young woman she is now.  Lauren really does rock more.

Friend a Day – Emily Cook

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Photo by Manna Jaeger

Sometimes you take a chance on someone and it pays off in a big way.

Emily tried out for Vilification tennis a few years ago and she got eliminated rather early.  There was something about her, though, that made me decide to bring her into the cast anyway.  She was a little raw but I saw a lot of potential.

Over the last few years, it has been good to say that my instinct was, in that situation, spot on.  Emily has grown as a performer and it is good to see her moving in the direction of writing more both with Fearless and with some other projects.

Emily recently decided she was an atheist after a long time struggling with questions about her faith.  I’m proud of her primarily because she chose to come out and talk about it publicly.  Being an atheist wasn’t half so important as being willing to stand up and admit something that could have been painful.

In working with her on Vermin, I think her writing style is really starting to develop and she is very good at taking advice from the other writers on the team.  That ability to swallow her ego to work as part of a group is essential to crafting the kind of show we are all working on together.

Socially, Emily is sassy and confident.  She really manages to capture and hold your attention, which may have been one of the reasons I was willing to take that chance on her.

It is a treat to watch her grow into a better performer as she takes each step.  She grows more confident in her abilities but she has never lost that desire to get good feedback on how to improve.  She has just the right mix of cockiness and humility.

I’m glad I decided to give Emily a shot because the results have been great.  She’s a terrific addition to our cast and to my life.

Friend a Day – Bob Alberti

297657_10150840972680545_1247294558_nPeople surprise me all the time.  Bob surprised me more than most.

When people try out for Vilification Tennis, they fall into three categories.  The first category is people I know will be good.  They may not be a good vilifier but they are good performers.  The second category is people about whom I have no innate feel.  They could be great, they could be lousy.  I just don’t know.  The third category is people who I know won’t do well.  I’m almost always right about the third category.

At least I was until Bob came along.

Bob is so laid back, I just didn’t think he’d have what it took to succeed as a vilifier.  I was wrong in all the best ways.

He’s a good writer, a good performer and he constantly surprises with his willingness to try new things.

I like Bob because he’s an idea guy.  He doesn’t sit around and wait for the next show.  He thinks about it and offers ideas.  And he doesn’t just suggest things other people should do.  He’s always willing to do those things himself.

He’s passionate about his politics and more than willing to argue with anyone about his opinions.  That inner passion, though, is what I missed in some of those early encounters with Bob.  It isn’t hidden but it is subtle.

When Bob says he’s going to do something, he will make it happen even if he doesn’t know how to do it.  When he said he’d get streaming to work for Die Laughing, he made it happen.

He takes pictures, runs an art gallery and still has time to be a big participant in Fearless Comedy.  Whenever a call goes out for performers, he’s one of the first to answer.  Whenever a call goes out for some help, he’ll be one of the first people there.

I was wrong about Bob as a performer and I’m so glad that I was.

Bob has a lot of creative stuff going on.  You can read about all of it on his website.

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