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Friend a Day – Rob Callahan

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CONvergence week continues!

Rob and I run in many of the same circles and yet it seems that we typically only connect at CONvergence.  Consequences of busy lives.

Rob is one of those people who is always relaxed and comfortable.  At least he looks that way.  Striking up a conversation with him is easy because he’ll happily talk about almost anything. He is open and honest and if you want his opinion, you will always get it.

As a storyteller, he has the same relaxed personality.  There is a lived in quality to the way he presents himself.  He looks comfortable and confident with the material but never cocky.  He doesn’t oversell his work but instead he inhabits it.

His blogging is very socially conscious but I don’t feel he comes across as preachy.  It feels kind of like a dinner conversation where he is laying out his thoughts and you are nodding because you can’t think of anything to say that runs counter to his point of view.

His wit is dry, clever, and delightfully sarcastic.  His jokes don’t feel forced.  They feel natural.

In a lot of his writing, he has been a strong advocate for the geek community.  A lot of articles in the press will tend to focus on the “look at the freaks” nature of science fiction conventions.

Rob works to counter that with writing that says “look at these people with different hobbies and interests, wouldn’t you like to grab a coffee with one of them?”

He is a geek himself, sure.  But he recognizes that every community has their quirks and he’d rather celebrate and elevate the quirks of his community.

The convention is nearly upon us and, once again, I will likely find no more than fifteen minutes to chat with Rob.

That’s a shame.  If it is only fifteen minutes, though, I’m still looking forward to them.

I almost forgot!  You should read his blog!

Friend a Day – Stephanie Zvan

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CONvergence week continues here at Friend a day headquarters!

I met Stephanie when we were in the same play in college.  I was nearly killed by a piece of scenery on opening night.  That’s a different story.

After that show, I hardly saw her for years.  It was only through the Skepchick/FreethoughtBlog events at CONvergence that we re-connected.

Stephanie is devoted to supporting social justice issues through her Almost Diamonds blog.  She has become a target for a lot of internet hatred because she’s not willing to back away from an important fight.  She’s openly critical of well known members of the atheist community like Richard Dawkins.

I can’t imagine how exhausting the abuse can become and yet Stephanie faces it with a sense of humor and, I think, the conviction that she is right.

When there is an issue that has me upset, I find that Stephanie frequently is commenting on exactly the thing that has me frustrated.  Her thoughts are well researched and detailed.  Certainly you can disagree with her but you can’t disagree with the effort she put into presenting a cogent argument.

She was a guest on Geeks Without God our first weekend and was one of the people who helped set the tone.  We’ve had her back since to play the horrible Left Behind Board game.  You have to have a little extra helping of respect for anyone who endured that game.

I remember working with Stephanie on that show all those years ago and even back then she had a ton of confidence you knew would get her through a lot.  It is that strong sense of self that helps her keep saying things that make her a target for a lot of petty stupidity.

And that is something I don’t think the petty, stupid people have figured out.  Being an asshole on the internet is easy.  Fighting against the assholes is a lot harder.

I’m really proud to know someone who is fighting the assholes.

 

Friend a Day – Harry Knowles

Photo by Brett A. Hart

Photo by Brett A. Hart

It’s CONvergence week and that means all my Friend a Day posts will probably have something to do with the convention.

Harry was a Guest of Honor at our first convention back in 1999.  He’s returned a couple of times since then and I’ve been fortunate enough to go down to Austin almost every year since then for Butt-Numb-a-Thon.

Through that, I’ve gotten to know Harry as well as anyone who only sees him once a year can really know anyone.  I love going down for the movie festival but I’m even happier to spend time with people I hardly ever see.  Like Harry.

The thing about Harry is he is living the dream all of us geeks had when we were young.  I’m not resentful of that fact because he is completely aware of how fortunate he is to live that dream and he is always doing his best to share it with others.

Sitting with Harry talking to him about movies is sort of like film school every time.  He knows so much about the film industry and film history it kind of blows my mind.  And he is so fucking smart, he can take all of that information, process it, and draw intelligent conclusions.

When he introduces you to someone, he will then probably spend at least twenty minutes telling you everything about that person.  He doesn’t talk about that person’s faults.  He tells you why he likes them so much.  I think he just has the ability to see the best in everyone.

His sense of humor is mildly sadistic.  If he pokes fun at you, it is because he likes you.  He also expects the same in return.  He is completely capable of taking as much as he’s been given.

I’m glad that we asked Harry to come to the convention all those years.  If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t have ended up seeing him once a year.  Once a year isn’t enough, but it’s better than nothing.

 

 

Friend a Day – Christopher Robert Cargill

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Photo by Eugene Hsu

I’ve known Cargill since I met him in a kitchen in Austin, Texas.  We were both trying to stuff 200+ bags full of SWAG for Butt-Numb-a-Thon.  Actually, I think I was mostly in the attic rolling posters.

I’m fairly certain I thought he was loud and obnoxious.  I was an idiot.

He is loud.  But he’s not obnoxious.

Fortunately, it only took me about 24 hours to figure that out.

Cargill is better informed about almost any topic than anyone I know.  I may not always agree with his opinion (though I usually do) but I can’t argue with his facts.

I’ve gone to him for advice on several occasions as there are very few people whose opinion I value more than his.  He has a way of cutting through all the bullshit and getting right to the central issue that has to be addressed.

He’s also one of the most gracious hosts I know.  When Butt-Numb-a-Thon rolls around, he and Jess open up their home to a parade of out-of-town guests.  I’ve never felt unwelcome in their home.  They make you feel like you are one of the most important people in the world for the time you spend there.

In the years of doing panels with him at CONvergence, he has shown he is up for just about anything.  If we are doing a comedy panel, he is funny.  If we are doing a panel about movies, he knows a lot about movies.  As a writer, he knows a lot about writing.

He doesn’t use a panel to sell his work.  I assume that he expects being an intelligence and informed speaker can do more to sell his work than trying to talk about his work every second.

Cargill is going to be a Guest of Honor at the convention this year and that has been a long time coming.  His resume certainly means he is worthy of the title.  It is his personality, however, that makes him perfect.

He is loud, yes.  He is also generous, intelligent, funny, and creative.  I can’t wait for CONvergence attendees to get to know him better this weekend.

Friend a Day – Hal Bichel

Photo by Damon Thrift

Photo by Damon Thrift

I’ve known Hal for a few years now as she has gone more involved with CONvergence.

Hal has always impressed me with her ability to use social media.  She’s been working with Christopher Jones to help increase his visibility on Twitter and Facebook and it has, I think, made a big difference in his visibility to his fans.

She can seem a little quiet when you first get to know her.  I assume she is just sizing people up because once she knows you a little better, she is opinionated and passionate.  When she has an opinion on how to improve something, she is not quiet about that opinion in the least.

I like that she will push her agenda to others.  She isn’t shy about making her position known and trying to affect change.

As the picture of her Klingon Dr. Who costume would indicate, she’s also an imaginative cosplayer and she really seems to get a lot of pleasure from that activity.

When it comes to her involvement in fandom, I think she is really all in.  She is always looking to immerse herself in the experience.  She goes to a lot of conventions, cosplays, works with CONvergence, and really seems to embrace the community.

Working with her on the convention, one of the things I appreciate is her ability to be direct and succinct.  When she asks for something, she does so clearly.  She doesn’t try to sugar coat a request.  She also understands if a request can’t be accommodated.

Her dealings with others are a lot more professional than one will find in a community of volunteers.  She treats the volunteer position like a job.  I think we could all learn from that and strive to be a bit more professional in our dealings with one another.

I’m pleased I’ve gotten to know her better over the last few years.  Hal is, in a word, awesome.

Friend a Day – Jody Wurl

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I’ve known Jody from my earliest days at the Renaissance Festival.  She started – I think – two years after me.

Jody has such a wealth of knowledge about books especially.  I think at least half of the speculative fiction books in my home are here based on her recommendation.  When we were younger, I’d read any book she put in front of me because she always made good suggestions.

She has always struck me as someone who is searching for joy in her life, even when there is sorrow.  She strives to find the best in life and even when she stumbles, she finds a way to return to that place of happiness.

I’ve watched her do so many things well over the years, it is staggering.  She is a great dancer, a great librarian, a great street performer, and now she is working on improv and I’m sure she is going to be great at that.  She probably already is – I just haven’t had a chance to watch her.

Family has always been so important to her.  She is always talking about her sisters and her nieces and always making time for them.  I can tell how much it means to her that her family is part of her life.

When it comes to details, she is so much better than I am.  When I talk about her wealth of knowledge, I can’t even believe how much information she just remembers.  The two of us work in the same department for CONvergence and thank goodness for that because if it was only me, none of the information would be retained.

She’s told me some hard truths over the years.  They weren’t always easy to hear.  I didn’t always react to them well.  But the sign of a good friend is someone who tells you hard truths.  They tell them to you because they care about you and they want to help you grow.

Jody has always been a friend who helped me grow.  I’m lucky that we have remained friends for so long.

Friend a Day – Bill Stiteler

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Photo by Peter Verrant

Bill is another connection made through CONvergence. I feel like I should have known him sooner than that since we both know most of the same people.

Almost every time we see each other, Bill tells me about some horrible movie that I need to watch.  I end up watching far fewer of his suggestions than I should which is too bad because they are all worth the time.  Too many movies, too little time, I guess.

When it comes to obscure trivia about all manner of 80’s popular culture, Bill is probably the best source I’ve ever met.  He knows more obscure facts about just about any 80’s television show than I know about all of them.  It is truly amazing.

He takes all this knowledge and can turn it into some of the funniest writing I’ve seen.  That he is able to mix obscure pop culture references with comedy that will appeal to everyone is something I admire because it is something I try to do in my own writing.

Bill (along with Melissa Kaercher) also produces one of my favorite shows in the Twin Cities, Powerpoint Karaoke.  I’ve never been disappointed when I’ve gone to a show because he can get such a diverse array of talented people and because the slides he and Melissa produce are so inventive and silly.

He has a sarcastic wit that is always active and always sharp.  It surprises me how quickly he can come up with the best angle on just about anything.  I don’t think it is ever in an attempt to impress anyone with his cleverness.  Rather I think it is because he is simply that clever.

I like spending time with Bill because I know that I’ll always end up laughing and I’ll also probably end up learning something.  He is a wealth of information and he is always willing to share.

I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to work with Bill over the years and I always look forward to what he will do next.

Friend a Day – Jerry Belich

1509831_10152065714182091_8784472753110327539_nI don’t know how long I’ve known Jerry.  I’m fairly certain I was aware of him long before I got to know him.

He’s one of those ubiquitous people who floats through my friend cluster and we finally managed to get caught in each other’s gravitational pull.

Jerry is a wonderfully inventive person. Whether it is his Choosatron or coming up with ways to do special effects for an epic Sweded version of Dune, Jerry just manages to come up with clever ideas and he executes them with imagination and style.

He collaborates very well with others.  When we work on a project together, he is very clear about what he can bring to the table and what he can’t.  If I’m the director, he only injects his opinion if I ask him to (of course I always do.)

In addition to his other talents, he’s also extremely funny.  As a participant in the Stop Talking shows that I’ve done at the Minnesota Fringe, he is almost savant like in his ability to play the game.  He’s also wickedly funny even while he is managing to play the game better than anyone else.

We are both exploring the freelance path at the same time.  I’m dipping my feet in the pool while he dived into the deep end.  It makes him a valuable person to talk to as we are having somewhat relatable experiences.

The biggest challenge we face together is we both have a lot of good ideas but we don’t have a lot of time to execute them.  The reason that is a shame is because they are really good ideas.  Making those good ideas with someone like Jerry is a lot of fun and I think we are both frustrated we haven’t had the time to get them done.

When they do happen, they will be amazing.

I’m very happy that Jerry and I have managed to slip into each other’s orbits.  He’s one of those people who makes life a lot more interesting.

 

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 – 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!