Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cheaper Than A Dozen

Spotted by my sister at a subway station in China:

Copyright violation has never been so appropriate.


Friday, November 24, 2006

World Premiere Video

The timing is apropos of nothing, except perhaps the fact that I just got a MacBook and am experimenting with iMovie, but here at last is a music video whose footage was shot years ago to commemorate Plan B Day (for those of you unfamiliar, Plan B Day is an anniversary of sorts) and never edited. This was back in the spring of 2003, when cobbling together video of yourself singing a popular song was not unheard of, but was not yet a common practice by every last person with access to the Internet. I think we had planned to shoot more footage, but never did. However, I did find more footage than I remembered shooting.

Now, please enjoy me, Lydia, Zack, and Stephanie, behaving in a lame and embarrassing fashion:

NOTE: It is entirely possible that this video is only enjoyable if you are one of the people in it.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Writers' Assistant FAQ

Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful for lots of things.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, I will respond to your many questions.

Q: What is a writers' assistant?

A: A writers' assistant is a coveted entry-level position in the TV writing field. It allows you a chance to watch and learn how TV writing works, while making connections with other writers. Depending on the showrunners (the head writers, usually also executive producers and creators), the writers' assistant may be allowed to occasionally contribute ideas in the writers' room, or he/she may be required to simply shut up and let the real writers do their work. In my case, I am allowed to occasionally pitch ideas, which is way more fun than not being allowed to, which I have also experienced.

Writing a TV show consists of a bunch of writers sitting around a room and pitching ideas to each other. Sometimes this looks a lot like funny people sitting around making jokes, riffing on things, and cracking each other up. Other times it looks like a roomful of people staring at the ceiling and thinking really hard. The writers' assistant sits in the writers' room and types all the ideas as the writers pitch them, so that later the writers can look at the notes and remember what they thought up. As a writers' assistant, I am also responsible for cleaning up said notes and making them presentable so that they can be read and understood.

Q: What show are you working on?

I don't plan to discuss the specifics of my job too much on this blog, since I hear that is an unwise thing to do on the Internet. So I'd rather not say here exactly what show it is that I'm working on. However, I will offer some hints: It's on cable, and you should watch this when it airs because I hear they might be making a series out of it.

Q: Can you really call it a FAQ when you're only answering two questions?

A: No.


Monday, November 20, 2006

A Sad Day For Seinfeld Fans

Well, since Kid Fabulous brought it up...

This makes me very sad. As most people, especially my high school friends, know, I'm a huge fan of Seinfeld. I only recently realized that Michael Richards performs stand-up. In fact, just a few weeks ago a friend and I went to check out some stand-up at the Comedy Store, in part because he was supposedly on the bill, and I was curious to see what his stand-up would be like. As it turned out, he wasn't there after all, which is a shame, since now he will possibly never perform stand-up again. (Except for when the Laugh Factory had him back on Saturday, before the story broke.)

Actually, I managed to find an older clip of his stand-up on YouTube. It's okay. The material is nothing special, but his delivery and physicalizations manage to make it funny.

The video of Richards' outburst is startling. If it were just about the N-word, as it initially appears when you see the headlines, we could get into some kind of debate over whether it's ever okay for white comics to use the N-word. (My stance would be: Sometimes, if it's funny, but if you're white, chances are it won't be, so make sure you know what you're doing. If you're a female comic, you have a better shot at making it funny, possibly because you can yourself claim membership in a victimized group, and/or you are inherently less threatening. I saw a white woman comic at the Store use the N-word and she killed, but her whole persona was about being mean-spirited and hating everybody.) But when you watch the video, it's clear Richards is not using racial slurs in the context of a joke. He is screaming them like a man who has lost his cool and clearly snapped. It is angry, hateful and out of control. It is, at the very least, an unprofessional way to deal with a heckler.

Camera phones, huh? Wow. You seriously cannot do anything anymore that will not end up on the Internet somehow.

I wish we had more of an idea of what the hecklers were saying. Not that it would excuse Richards' appalling behavior--unmistakably that of a man who has lost it--but it might at least help to explain what pushed him over the edge. Heckling is something that comics have to deal with, but it is also something that is rude, inconsiderate, and ideally, shouldn't be happening.

One thing that we can infer is that the hecklers had probably been disruptive for a while, long enough to work Richards into a rage, and long enough that the audience is initially on Richards' side. It's amazing that when Richards references lynching at the beginning of the clip, the crowd laughs and cheers, which says that the hecklers must have been pretty annoying. It's only when he repeatedly busts out the N-word in the voice of a crazy man--and it becomes clear that there is no punchline coming, that the lynching thing is maybe not so ironical--that a hush falls over the room.

One could speculate that the heckling had some racial overtones, because it would at least make Richards' jump to racist invective a little more logical, although we can rule out them having called him a cracker, because when someone says it later Richards reacts as though it is the first time.

Just before shuffling off the stage, Richards tries to play it off like, "Look at the power these words have." It's not the words that shock me, it's the attitude, the unsettling level of rage on display. When you've shouted the N-word in a rage, that's when you've really created something ugly.

If I had to explain it and give Richards the benefit of the doubt, I would say that it's more about narcissism than racism. He is, of course, very talented, but if you've ever watched or read an interview with him, you can see that he takes his work, and unfortunately, himself, very seriously. My guess is that he's in his own world, which makes him overly sensitive to someone, such as a heckler, who dares to disrupt that world, and less cognizant of the normal human boundaries that a civilized person ought to live by. I think he felt he could say whatever he wanted, not recognizing the consequences. Certainly not recognizing the possibilities of camera phones and the Internet.

Is there racism in that little world of his? Obviously. I think an especially telling moment, one that the write-ups haven't quoted much, is where Richards says something like, "You see what's buried beneath, motherfucker?" which seems to acknowledge that he's uncorked some pent-up racial aggression. It would be hard for Richards to deny having racist feelings, having said that.

But I think this was much more about his ego. Consider Richards' reaction when a voice, possibly the heckler, tells him that he's an unfunny reject and that's why he hasn't had a success since Seinfeld. This is the moment that hurts. Richards resorts to the thing you say in the schoolyard when you've got no comeback because you've been cut to the bone: "Oh, you've got me there. You're absolutely right. I'm just a wash-up." He's got that wounded voice that's trying to sound sarcastic and unfazed, and it's pathetic in the truest sense of the word.

On the bright side, if he's this blatantly racist, that means it's only a matter of time before he finds himself saving his black hecklers from a burning car.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Crowd Control

Did another stand-up set last night, which went over pretty well. But you know that girl comic with the guitar, the one that I wrote about, who bombed to dreadfully uncomfortable silence and appeared to be one of those un-self-aware lunatics that so often appear on the comedy stage? She was there again. But last night? She killed. She absolutely killed. Even her song got huge laughs, bigger than any that I got last night. I didn't catch her whole set, but she appeared to be doing the same material in more or less the same way. This time, though, the crowd went for it, and the experience was completely different. Set against roars of laughter, her insane screaming, horrible singing, and bad guitar playing seemed intentional, self-aware, and hilarious.

It was a really striking lesson in the importance of the crowd. Why was the response so different? Was it because she went up later this time, when the crowd was more warmed up? Was it because she herself did not have to follow a depressing, unfunny MC who wore out pathetic-woman humor before she got there? Was it because she instead followed another guitar comic with actual funny songs that built up the audience's faith in guitar comics? Was the crowd simply more on her wavelength, or just plain more responsive?

In retrospect, I think her biggest weakness last time was an inability to respond to the crowd. Apparently she knows what she's doing in terms of her act, but when faced with a crowd that didn't get it, she was unable to engage them in a way that would set their minds at ease. As a comic, this is one of the tougher things to do.

Ultimately, every comic is at the mercy of the crowd, the dynamics of which are mercurial and inexplicable. Hearing laughter matters. Maybe that's why laugh tracks have lasted so long.

Friday, November 17, 2006

By The Way

The big news in my life right now, and a significant factor in my lack of blogging lately, is that I got a writers' assistant job on a new show. I've been holding back on mentioning it, because apparently the way I express excitement is to act like something is no big deal, lest the source of the excitement somehow disappear and leave me feeling stupid and vulnerable. A simpler way of putting it might be that I am the sort of person who is afraid of jinxing things.

I think I also do this because for some reason I imagine it seems more modest, although I've been told that it actually makes me appear ungrateful and entitled.

But I've been working on the show for a week now, so I might as well admit it. While I hope and expect that the show will get picked up and continue, it's TV, so you never know, and I guess I should tell people about it sooner rather than later so I have more time to enjoy it.

It's a small staff, I like the people I work with, I laugh all day, and I'm free to pitch my own ideas into the ring. It's amazing how fun this job is.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

M Is For...

I have been thinking about buying a Mac. It is difficult for me because my computer is not all that old and I am not the sort of person who replaces things unless they are completely worn out and barely functioning. This is why, for instance, I wore the "cool" clothes I got in eighth grade right up through the end of college.

My computer is going on three years now. The fan sometimes runs loud and scaldingly hot, and the maximum battery life is something like a minute, but other than that, the computer actually runs fine. But it is constantly frustrating to me that I am hamstrung when it comes to working with video. A Macbook Pro would be a simple way to get some real video capability without fretting about specs and upgrades, and on top of that it is just so pretty.

I am hesitant, though. Aside from my loyalty to the computer that is mostly still pretty good, I actually rather like Windows. I'm used to it, I know the keyboard shortcuts, and I fear that acclimating to the Mac interface will be full of little annoyances as I discover various tasks that I know how to perform more conveniently on a PC. Example: Whenever I've used Blogger on a Mac (browser: Safari), I've noticed that it lacks the buttons to automatically bold, italicize, and most importantly, easily add a link. Instead I've been forced to type out links in html, which is a huge pain in the ass. Ryan, is this why your early posts were so ineptly formatted?

I'm also worried about software. They say that Macs can run Windows XP now, but does that mean I have to install it? I don't think I have it outside of a startup disc for my HP that's bundled with all sorts of other stuff. They say it can run Windows programs, but come on, if Windows programs run well on a Mac, why do Mac versions still exist?

Over the years, I have collected enough Windows software, legitimate and pirated, that replacing it all will be either expensive or time-consuming as I seek out Mac friends to steal it all from. Office/Word, Photoshop, and Final Draft are my primary concerns.

I would also, at some point, need to buy some cheap MiniDV cam to make it all worthwhile.

But then my computer started to give me a sign. I am having an issue with the M key. It's not broken, exactly, nor is it totally sticking. But it's not pressing easily. I have to hit it just so, or make sure to hit it a bit harder, or it won't register. When I do press it hard I can feel some kind of popping underneath the key, as if something is caught down there, something that won't come out.

It's really annoying. I think I need a new computer.

Also, I've started wanting a new digital camera. When I saw the videos my sister shot of that Chinese guy on her digital camera, I realized how far the mpegs on your average point-and-shoot have come. Imagine if cheap cameras could do that back when I shot the Squelch Documentary. It would have been watchable!

And then yesterday I try to turn on my camera and it gives me an error message and can no longer focus its lens.

So I need a new one of those, too.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Something For Everyone

In lieu of a real post, please enjoy the latest from The John Kerwin Show, now with two guests per show!

First, we have "Greg Brady" himself, Barry Williams, along with What's Happening!! star Ernest Thomas (who of late has turned up in a recurring role on Everybody Hates Chris)! And yes, Barry Williams does perform his Slim Shady spoof, "The Real Greg Brady."

And here is the episode before that, which features Jeff Conaway, from Grease, Taxi, and of course, Celebrity Fit Club, as well as Seinfeld's infamous Soup Nazi, Larry Thomas! (Another change in the show is that all of our second guests must have the surname Thomas.)

And for those with less time or a shorter attention span, here is a brief excerpt from the Jeff Conaway/Larry Thomas episode, featuring Creepy Superman and John's #1 Fan.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Wonders Of China

My sister is studying abroad in China, where she discovered that the man who delivers water to her dorm is a multitalented fellow. Growing up, he always wanted to learn musical instruments but could never afford them, so he taught himself to imitate them instead.

Traditional Chinese instrument (a qin, perhaps?):

A horn:

A more guitar-like stringed instrument, albeit still with a very distinct Chinese sound:

I realize these videos would be more convincing if the sound was synced properly. They fell out of sync when I uploaded them. I don't really know what to do about that.