Improv: Act Two

It’s been a while since I’ve taken to the blog, because it’s usually easier for me to write even long-form posts on Facebook.

So I’m saving this for things that are important enough to bookmark, I guess.  And what’s happening as this post goes up on my blog is pretty important to me.  It does require some exposition first.  You can skip the indented paragraphs if you realize you know the back story… 🙂

It started in January, when I finally made the decision to take an improv class instead of thinking about taking one.  I signed up for, and took, the Winter 2016 Improv 101 class at CSz Richmond.

It turned out to be a terrific experience for a number of reasons – my classmates are a fun bunch of people that I really enjoy spending time with… one of my favorite people from my first time around at CSz, Jenni Goldsby, came in midway through to play with us… and Christine Walters is a very patient instructor. 🙂

As is the tradition, the 101 class ends with a showcase show…

…and this is where we bring everyone back in.  A week before that showcase, Christine emailed the class and asked a question — would we be interested in a different path?  Ordinarily, at the showcase, the Minor League watches and extends invitations to those players they’d like to add.

Christine simply asked… what if…?

Well, we accepted.  All but one, and it was his schedule that was the problem.

As to the rest of us?  We went into the showcase without thinking about invitations to the existing Minor League.  That’s because we already knew we were going to be a new second Minor League.  And tonight’s our first practice.  It’s starting right about the time this blog hits WordPress.

Yes, that’s the headline, all the way down here — because our group gelled so well, we were given the opportunity to found our own Minor League Team (creatively named “Minor League Team 2” because what else could we do, really?).   Christine’s our head coach, Jenni is our assistant coach.

We are a while away from another show.   We have a lot to learn before we can put on a ComedySportz match — the structure and format, and most of the trademark games, to start… so I would think we’re not going to premiere as MLT2 for a few months.  Of course, I’ll keep you posted.

So this was the second act I hinted at all along.

If I’m being totally honest, my interest is more in refereeing (hosting) than playing — but one step at a time.  I had to establish my mediocrity as a baseball player before I went into umpiring 40 years ago… I can do something similar here.  I’m just going to enjoy my weekly get-togethers with my new team and see where it goes.

There’s something still a bit surreal about people I’ve watched (and whose talent I’ve admired) for some or all of the last… 13??? … years telling me they can’t wait to see me perform (or who came to the showcase and said all those really nice things).  Thanks to everyone who’s supported my first steps into doing improv — you can’t imagine how much that’s helped.

Time to go warm up, I think.  Practice is starting… 🙂


The most hungriest time of the year…

I’ve wanted to write about this each year, but figured “no, it’s too out there for most of my friends”.

Not this year.

This Saturday, for the third (?) year running, I’ll be taking part in my friend Scott Seal’s annual tradition, Breakmas.  It’s always held the Saturday before Christmas, in the morning, at a semi-randomly selected McDonald’s.

See, the idea is to get friends together over a Big Breakfast (pronounced, for reasons I won’t get into, “Big Bruffus”) and celebrate the start of the week before the holiday.  (I know the first half of that sentence is true.  The second half?  Sure, why not?)

The best part about it is that Scott encourages his friends to celebrate it anywhere that morning (of course, “anywhere” should be interpreted as “any McDonald’s”).  Then you post your Breakmas pictures, and you’re part of the day.

I think I like the idea of having a patently silly idea (I mean, do YOU think of McDonald’s and the holidays together?) work out as a way to celebrate friends, especially if it’s ones that you don’t see all that often.

So yeah, I’ll be at the Virginia Center McDonald’s on Saturday morning around 9.  I expect to see a couple of our mutual friends from wrestling, and a bunch of Scott’s friends that I don’t know.  At least, that would match up with the first couple of Breakmases I was part of.

If you happen to be near there, and don’t mind hanging with a bunch of new friends you don’t yet know, c’mon by.

If not… there are about a gazillion McDonald’s.  Find one, grab some friends, and have a Big Bruffus (and post your pictures!).

Or come up with your own offbeat holiday tradition.  Then write about it. 🙂  I’ll read it, I promise.

Do you have a slightly-nontraditional holiday tradition?

I’m still here?

I’ve mentioned this before – but it seems that I’m doing most of my “blogging” in real-time on Facebook.

However, I do plan to start putting more long-form material up here once I have material I want to write.  That would involve having time to write, which has been in short supply lately.

But I figured I should at least post something, since my last post was in July.   Do they take away unused blogs? 🙂

Numbers Sometimes Lie “Fewer than a million television viewers watched Miss USA [on Reelz] which was down dramatically from the 5.6 million people who watched Miss USA on NBC last year.

I’ve never been a fan of the ratings services.  Of course, that comes from working at radio stations where the margin of error was typically as large as the biggest shares in the market, meaning that the numbers were just shy of random.

But it’s not just a problem with the numbers.  It’s a problem with just what they measure.

Take the quote above, from the always-grouchy (in a good way) Scott Jones at FTVLive.  He makes it sound like it’s a bad thing that Miss USA viewership dropped… but he may be looking at the numbers the wrong way.

In 2014, how many of those TV sets were in front of people actively watching the show, and how many happened to be tuned to an NBC station as background noise?  We have no way of knowing.

In 2015, on an obscure cable channel that nobody would have known about two weeks earlier, you can pretty safely assume that those “fewer than a million … viewers” were actively watching the show.  They had to be.  They had to take time to find the channel on their cable guide, because really, how many TVs would normally be tuned to Reelz?

Which is better?  “Fewer than a million” engaged viewers, or “5.6 million” semi-engaged viewers?

Ratings services will probably never be able to answer that question, and I will continue to distrust ratings services because of it.  The fact that every TV show I like gets cancelled due to bad ratings in its first few weeks is, of course, just a coincidence.

An Open Letter to NBC on Our National Holiday

Dear NBC,

This may strike you as odd, but if I’m at home on July 4 and I tune into a show called “The Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular”, there’s a reasonably good chance that I want to watch THE FIREWORKS.

I appreciate that your director is clearly a frustrated artiste who’s angling for an Emmy, but I don’t care about his resume, nor do I particularly care about the random people looking in awe at the fireworks display that I can’t see because you’re calling up shots of the people watching the fireworks instead of shots of THE FIREWORKS.

There’s even a simple compromise. NBCUniversal owns about 103 cable channels. You can be as artistic and attention-span deficient as you’d like on NBC. Put a static high four-barge shot on one of your other channels during the show. I’ll watch. And I won’t be the only one. I put up with 90 minutes of faux-live music and patriotic interviews to see the show… which means THE FIREWORKS SHOW.  I’ll watch the first 90 minutes on NBC and the last 30 on E!, if it means I get the fireworks in their uninterrupted glory.

I’m willing to let you insult my intelligence by showing a “live” picture of a darkened UC-Berkeley campus at 5:30pm Pacific time.  I’ll put up with The American Spirit segments.  I’ll put up with Gloria Estefan’s brand-new patriotic anthem.  JUST SHOW ME THE FIREWORKS – only the fireworks, and nothing but the fireworks.  Is that so much to ask?

Yours in mild frustration,

SCOTUS 6/26/15

This is a repost from my Facebook feed, so sorry to those who are seeing it twice.

Some thoughts from a lifelong bachelor on today’s SCOTUS ruling…

1. I’m glad for my friends whose marriages are now going to be legally recognized in all 50 states.

2. But to start at the beginning, the seeds of this whole issue were sown when our officially-sectarian country took on the role of administering the religious rite of marriage. Once that happened, we started on a course that would inevitably end up with debate about what marriage is — state sanction of cohabitation, or religious rite tied to procreation.

3. Once it became clear that we couldn’t untangle the two, it now became an economic and social issue. Married couples gain certain legal advantages — power of attorney during illness and after death and tax rate differences come to mind — that could not legally be withheld on the basis of the genders of the members of the marriage.

4. And that leads us to today. It had to happen — basically, this is an extension of the idea that legal rights cannot be bound by gender. Just as interracial marriage laws were struck down because rights cannot be bound by race. Yes, we’ve been down this road before.

Do we now have a situation where some couples are married by law but not by church? Sure — and we always have, as some churches don’t recognize secular divorce. This is no different. And I would hope we never force churches to perform religious marriage ceremonies, or require couples to have a church sign off on their marriage (we are, technically, a secular nation, even if some politicians don’t know that).

The bottom line is this – if you’re opposed to gay marriage, don’t marry someone of your own gender. What other people do has no impact on your marriage. And what your god says about “them” doesn’t, either. We are not a theocracy yet.

Dusty Rhodes

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that I might have wandered away from pro wrestling as a teenager if Dusty Rhodes wasn’t part of the business.

Living in New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s, wrestling was the WWWF, later the WWF.  It was Vince McMahon’s buffoonish play-by-play and Bruno Sammartino’s garbled commentary.  It was the WWWF World Champion, Bob Backlund, a man with all the charisma of a wet noodle.  It was Saturday afternoon wrestling from faceless arenas with bored crowds.  Nothing happened.  I was losing interest.

Then, one of the two Spanish-language stations in town started carrying other areas’ wrestling shows at 11:30pm a few nights a week.  I watched several, but stayed with the Florida show.  That show centered around a tubby guy with messy bleached-blonde hair, always outnumbered by the bad guys and always coming out ahead.  That, of course, was “The American Dream”, Dusty Rhodes.

The TV was made better for its host, Gordon Solie, a man whose voice sang of cigarettes and whiskey.  His foil was the clueless ex-wrestler Buddy Colt, who anyone could slip any ruse by — this becomes important later.  They had a ringside reporter, the cute if utterly befuddled Barbara Clary, who may have been related to someone at the TV station in Tampa or something.

Anyway, New York got Florida wrestling just as someone started targeting the extended Rhodes family — Dusty, best friend Black Jack Mulligan (former NY Jet Bob Windham), Mulligan’s sons Barry and Kendall, Barry’s buddy Mike Rotundo (Rotundo later married into the Windhams), and a few second-tier regulars.  The seriously rotten Jake “The Snake” Roberts was bragging about getting some extra pay from someone called the Bonebreaker after breaking Barry Windham’s arm (I think).  Curiously, one of the good guys seemed not to be in the Bonebreaker’s sights — a short, stocky Boston-based wrestler named Kevin Sullivan.

Before long, though various machinations, we found out that Sullivan was the Bonebreaker.  And then things got nuts.

Sullivan began painting his face and body with odd symbols.  He invoked demons.  He “brainwashed” Roberts.  He turned Florida veteran Bob Roop into Abuddadein, with half of Roop’s head shaved and half of his face painted.  He made Aussie long-timer Mark Lewin into the mute Purple Haze, who destroyed anyone who looked at Sullivan the wrong way.  And he found a young lady named Nancy Daus.  He put her in skimpy clothes, a leash and collar, and called her his Fallen Angel.  In real life, he’d later marry her, then lose her to Chris Benoit.

And all of Sullivan’s gang had one simple goal: destroy Dusty Rhodes.

And it was compelling television.  If Rhodes would get the edge one week by taking out one of Sullivan’s hired goons, the next week, Sullivan’s gang would leave Mulligan or Barry laying in the ring after a 5-on-1 thrashing.  There would be grainy film footage from various Florida arenas of the latest Sullivan atrocities — the most memorable was the Christmas night show where Roberts dressed up as Santa and crowned Rhodes with his sack of gifts.

And then at last, Sullivan somehow succeeded, cheating his way to a win in a loser-leaves-town match where Rhodes was barred from Florida for 90 days.

The next week, Gordon Solie – with a bit of a wink in his eye – introduced us to a new masked wrestler arriving in the Florida area.  He was called the Midnight Rider, used the Allman Brothers track as his theme, and was shaped EXACTLY like Dusty (but in a sweatshirt and jeans to hide Rhodes’ identifying red abdominal splotch).  Colt, of course, was convinced this wasn’t Dusty.  Solie knew, but wasn’t saying anything.  And the putative sanctioning body, the National Wrestling Alliance, said it wasn’t THEIR business who was under the mask — but if Sullivan could prove that it was Rhodes, Rhodes and the Rider would be suspended from all of the NWA for a year.

And the chase for the mask was on.  Rider taunted Sullivan, who responded by pulling in manager J.J. Dillon and, finally, the NWA World Champion Ric Flair.  Flair was offended anyway, as he’d had a long feud with Rhodes and thought he’d finally be able to do his mandatory Florida title defenses without seeing Rhodes, but now the Rider picked up Rhodes’ dates!  Sullivan offered $50,000 if Dillon and Flair could figure out how to get the mask of Rhodes.

It all culminated in an NWA World title match.  Flair vs. Rider.  The NWA’s figurehead President, Bob Geigel, even turned up in Tampa for the match (a sign that something was going to happen).  February 1982.  After a long battle, the Rider was victorious.  Flair and Dillon had been defeated.  The Midnight Rider was World Champion!

Enter Geigel.  Geigel said that, yes, the NWA doesn’t care who’s under a mask.  Except that for legal reasons, they do kind of have to know who their World champion really is.  So it was simple.  Take off the mask and keep the title… well, as long as the Rider wasn’t Dusty Rhodes.

This was the moment Rhodes (who was writing all of this) had built to, and it played out for weeks on Florida TV.  Crushed, the Rider wordlessly handed the belt to Geigel and left the arena.

Before much longer, Rhodes’ 90-day suspension ended and he returned, sending the Rider “back to Texas”.  He’d get a measure of revenge, beating Sullivan in a loser-leaves-town match.  Sullivan would come back as the masked Lucifer (and was unmasked).

All of this — and there was more, like jobber Mike Davis being “hypnotized” by Sullivan into believing HE was Dusty Rhodes, giving us the insane Rhodes vs. Davis-as-Rhodes feud — was driven by one thing.

Dusty Rhodes had Championship Wrestling from Florida viewers in the palm of his hand.  Wherever he took the story, they came along.  The fans in the arenas loved this son of a Texas plumber who appropriated the ghetto as his own.  In anyone else’s hands, it could have been too heavy-handed a morality play or too light of a short-term story.  Dusty knew his audience, his abilities, his fellow performers… and he knew how to just edge up to the line.

For me in New York, it was wrestling as theater — something I’d never seen before.  I was hooked.

From there, I moved to the NWA Georgia shows on TBS (where Solie got to play off a young and borderline-insane Roddy Piper), then the Crockett Mid-Atlantic shows when Pro Wrestling USA brought them to New York (also on Spanish TV, and notable for Tully Blanchard yelling “SPEAK ENGLISH” at Hugo Savinovich in every local interview), and continued to follow the NWA (and WCW) until I wound up in Richmond.  That’s where I found independent wrestling, made some friends there, and eventually settled in to almost a decade as a ring announcer and authority figure from the late ’90s to the late aughts.

But if Dusty Rhodes’ war with Kevin Sullivan hadn’t found its way to Spanish-language TV in New York in the early ’80s… I’d have probably given up on wrestling about the time Hulk Hogan supplanted Bob Backlund as the WWF champ.  So thanks, Dusty… for the entertainment, for steering me back toward the business, and for the memories.  There have been many imitators, but nobody is ever quite going to duplicate your way with the crowd…