Friday, September 29, 2006

Here a blog, there a blog, everywhere a blog blog

Like a lot of people attempting to consistently write an online journal, I often suffer from blogger guilt. I feel bad that I don't post more, don't post longer entries and wait too long between entries. Though the biggest obstacle is laziness, I also find it overwhelming to know where to blog. It seems that everywhere I turn someone is offering me a chance to setup a blog, I could set up a blog on my website. I could use the blog on Myspace. Of course, I also have this Blogger account for blogging. It seems that blogs are becoming so popular that they might soon be offered as an upgrade to you value meal at McDonald's. "Would you like a blog with that?" It all makes me a little anxious. I guess the most important thing is to simply remain consistent. However, when you wonder if you have any readers it can be tempting to set up a blog somewhere else. "I am sure people would love my blog on myspace!" If you do setup another blog, you might set yourself up for another kind of blogger guilt, that is, the feeling that you are cheating on your first blog. I am always tempted to write in the myspace blog, but then what would I have left over for this blog? There is one temptation I just don't think I could resist. If Dunkin' Donuts starts handing out blogs with their coffee, then I will most certainly end up with yet another blog to feel guilty about neglecting.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How I drew the ire of a Canadian mayor

I have spent the last few weeks in Winnipeg, Manitoba (middle of Canada, just above North Dakota). My girlfriend lives here and I also will be performing this weekend. Through my girlfriend I met mayoral candidate Kaj Hasselriis. Hasselriis has been an activist for many years, bringing attention to issue like transportation and immigrant rights. Kaj is a young candidate with some really exciting plans for the city of Winnipeg. The incumbent in the October 25th election is Sam Katz, who came to power largely on the back of his business contacts (that's nothing new, eh?). Wanting to somehow help Kaj and his campaign I offered to write a theme song. Kaj accepted my offer, we recorded the song and he even invited me to play the song at a press conference. The song does include some digs at Mayor Katz, such as the line, "You can't be a leader by dragging your feet, you can't be a mayor by buying your seat." The song was fun, it got the point across, I thought that might be the end of it. However, on Sunday morning I opened up the Winnipeg Sun and found that they had run a large picture of Kaj and me at the press conference, a copy of the lyrics and an aritcle in which Katz comments on the lyrics of the song. Needless to say, Katz wasn't a big fan of the song. He made some comments about how a kindergartner could have written a better song and how the lyricist shouldn't quit his day job. To hear the song, go to What makes the whole thing so funny is that if Katz hadn't commented, there probably wouldn't be a story. It certainly wouldn't have been featured on page 2. Rather than dismiss it Katz gave the song, (and Kaj's campaign) more crediblity simply by acknowledging it. As the incumbent, Katz has been doing his best to ignore Kaj's campaign and I am glad that he was irritated or upset enough or caught off-guard enough that he had to comment on the song and in doing so bumped the story up to page 2. The next day the Sun ran an article in which they said "the mayor seems a bit cocky" and mentioned that "Three weeks into the race toward the Oct. 25 vote, the incumbent has been all but invisible on the pledge and platform front..." Speaking of day jobs, Katz might need a new one on October 26th. Go Kaj!

Monday, September 18, 2006

How the Cosby Show taught me about my African Heritage

I saw a rerun of the Cosby show today and I got to thinking about what makes that show so great. First of all, what other show could make a little white kid from Wisconsin like myself (who up until the age of 10 had never even seen a black person) look at a black man as the ideal father. My girlfriend likes to talk about all the things she learned from the Cosby show, things like the importance of humor, the value of family and how to appreciate her African-American heritage. The thing is, my girlfriend isn't African-American, she's a white girl from Canada. But that's what I love about the Cosby show. It made you want to be African-American. I have heard people criticize the Cosby show for being unrealistic in portaying the experience of Black people in America. Sure, there are not a ton of black families (or families of any ethnic makeupg) that have both a doctor and a lawyer at the head of the household. But sitcoms have never been know for being realistic about things like that. What about all the white kids with unstable jobs living in their enormous apartment on "Friends?" In the sitcom world even the poor characters live in half a million dollar houses. It's par for the course. Besides, I think that the Cosby show helps show us what is possible and breaks open our perceptions. It reminds us that there is no reason why a black family should not be prosperous. Too often we see black people portrayed as poor, violent and helpless. But not on the Cosby show. And the Huxtable family became such a big part of our lives that their circumstances no longer seemed unusual. A family with a black doctor and a black lawyer (later a judge)? On the Cosby show it seems perfectly normal. That is the positive side of a show that is supposedly "unrealistic." It can make us rethink our expectations. In the episode I saw today, Theo wants money for a trip to Egypt. His friends tell him that since his parents are "loaded," surely they won't hesitate to give him the money. When Theo approaches his parents they tell him that yes, THEY are rich. Cliff then says, "YOU have nothing." I love that they actually address the fact that they have money. They don't pretend they are struggling, the way so many characters in sitcoms claim to (as they sit in their million dollar apartments). Instead of turning you off to the Huxtables their honesty only makes you admire them more. And the Huxtables were always honest, but not in that feel-good way that they were on "Full House." I remember a scene in which Theo shows his report card to Cliff. Cliff isn't happy with Theo's poor grades. Theo tries to guilt Cliff into letting him off easy, saying something like, "I'm doing my best and I just wish that you could accept me for who I am. Even if I don't get good grades, I'm still your son. " Then there is a pause. We wonder what Cliff is thinking. Might he let Theo off? Then Cliff says, "Theo...(pause)...that is the STUPIDEST thing I've ever heard!" And with that he walks out of Theo's room and shuts the door. That was part of what was so great about Cliff and Claire Huxtable. You always knew where they stood. They told they loved you, but they also told you when they thought you were stupid. Here's to the Huxtables for teaching white kids across North America about family, humor and for reminding us of why we are proud to be black (even if we're not).

Friday, September 15, 2006

"Jesus Camp" clip

It's hard to find the words to describe how scared and angry this makes me. Check out the Trailer for the movie

Article on "Jesus Camp" Documentary

Little terrors on rampage in 'Jesus Camp' By Sheri Linden LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Few personality-trait combinations are more obnoxious than narrow-mindedness and condescension - especially in children. The compelling documentary "Jesus Camp," which Magnolia Pictures opened in select cities Friday ahead of its New York and L.A. bows Sept. 22, demonstrates how those qualities are being cultivated in a generation of pintsize proselytizers. Beyond their deadly earnestness, these children of the evangelical Christian right are being groomed as soldiers in a self-declared culture war to reclaim America for Christ. Those who have been born only once might find it easy to laugh off Jesus-themed hip-hop numbers or Adam & Eve Barbie dolls. But filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who also focused on children in last year's poignant "The Boys of Baraka," provide a fascinating glimpse of kids' role in the evangelical movement's political agenda. Pastor Becky Fischer granted the filmmakers access to her Kids on Fire summer camp, a 5-year-old program in North Dakota where first-graders to teens are variously entertained, broken down and preached to. Wielding everything from PowerPoint to plush toys to illustrate the wages of sin, the impassioned Fischer has a clear-eyed view of children as malleable material, ripe for the inculcating. When they're not speaking in tongues, pledging allegiance to the Christian flag or blessing a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, the kids rally round to hear Fischer and others entreat them to "join the war," "fix the sick world" and fight abortion (tiny fetus dolls serve as preachers' aids). At the center of "Jesus Camp" are three home-schooled Missouri kids: 12-year-old mullet-haired Levi, saved at 5 and already preaching; 10-year-old soldier's daughter Tory, who loves dancing to Christian heavy metal, not always solely for the spirit; and the smuggest member of this brigade, 9-year-old Rachael, who breathlessly approaches strangers to talk about Christ. Perhaps she'll get that nail-salon job she shrewdly envisions as a good way to Bible-stump; perhaps grown-up life will temper her single-mindedness. Or maybe Rachael will end up as resolute as the "enemies" she's being trained to oppose - martyrdom for Jesus, she enthuses, would be "really cool."

The Burg TV is Hilarious My friend Bob McClure sent me a link to this show is part of on the internet called the Burg. I did the obligatory "I better check it out because he's my friend" click and it turns out that it's amazing. So funny and smart. It's a comedy about life in that hipster's paradise know as Williamsburg, Brooklyn. You should check it out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Battle of the Bulge: UK versus US

On my recent trip to Scotland I was not surprised to find that there were fewer obese people than in the US. Everyone knows that we Americans are fatter than the rest of the world. What did suprise me was that while there are less obese people there are also less people walking around with chiseled abs and defined biceps. In America we so often see overweight people and uber-fit people walking side by side. They seem to be more moderate on both ends in the UK. In Scotland you don't walk down the street in the morning and see the joggers and power walkers on every corner like you might in the US, but you also don't see obese people stopping at the corner to catch their breath like you might in the US. Maybe part of this is due to how young we are as a country. We're like a teenager on a crash diet. One day we are binging on fatty foods and sweets, the next we are renewing our membership at the gym. For myself, I would prefer to be satisfied with the middle ground. One thing is certain; all our focus on body image doesn't seem to be helping us stay healthy in the US.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Scotland Wrap-Up

I just recently returned from Scotland, where I performed "Pentecostal Wisconsin" as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I had planned to keep an ongoing account of my experience at the festival, but it was difficult to just find time to eat let alone to reflect and compose a blog entry. Now that the festival is over I have some time to do that. How do you describe the Edinburgh fringe? First of all, it's the largest arts festival in the world. This year there were over 1800 shows in the festival. It's quite hard to comprehend the size of it, even for someone who has seen it. The largest fringe festival in Canada, to give some perspective, contains less than 200 shows. The Ottawa and Victoria Fringe festivals in Canada both had less than 50 shows in their festivals this year. In Edinburgh, my venue alone had nearly 100 shows. The fringefestival in Edinburgh also lasts a lot longer than many festivals. This year it ran from August 2 - August 28, making it much more of a marathon than a sprint in comparison with a week long festival. In the month that I was there I performed the show 26 times. It was by turns exhausting, exhilarating, tiring, energizing, frustrating and inspiring. Edinburgh actually has several festivals all going on at once. There is the Edinburgh International Festival, around which the "fringe" of performers who had been rejected from the International Festival decided to make their own festival, giving rise to the now much larger Edinburgh Festival Fringe. There is also a book festival and a film festival as well as the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (a demonstration and spectacle of military groups from around the world). Together these events make Edinburgh festival central in August. One of the biggest surprises I had in Edinburgh was finding out how much money is involved in the Fringe there. There are many shows with big budgets and big producers. The festival is entirely open. You pay a fee to be listed in the official Fringe program and once you find a space you are in business. The openess of the festival is both a blessing and a curse. You see everyone from high school groups to famous or semi-famous actors performing. A couple years ago Christian Slater appeared in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" at the Edinburgh Fringe. For the more well-known acts there is a lot of money spent on publicity. One of the first surprises I had was spotting a taxi that had a huge ad for a fringe show plastered on the side. The other major surprise was discovering how popular stand-up comedy is in Edinburgh. If you are a comic, especially a comic in Europe, Edinburgh is the place to be in August. Stand-up seems to be the number one draw in the festival. The major struggle that nearly everyone faces in Edinburgh is getting an audience. As part of the Fringe you are competing not only with the other 1800 shows in that festival but also with the other events taking place as part of other festivals. The smallest audience I had was 3. The largest audience I had was 23. If you want my definition of "humbling," it would be performing for an audience of 3 people. Humbling is also the word I would use to describe the feeling you get when you are trying to hand out a few free tickets and people actually turn you down. It wounds the ego a bit when you find that, quite literally, you can't even give tickets away. That said, I was very encouraged to hear the response from the UK audience. Many people posted reviews of my show on the Edinburgh Fringe website and it was very rewarding to be able to see that though the audiences were small, they were also quite appreciative. I also managed to garner some good reviews from critics in Edinburgh. The List magazine and the daily Three Weeks both gave my show 4 stars out of 5. I also received some kind words about the show from Time Out London, The Stage and Broadway Baby. The New York Times even mentioned the show in an article they did covering the themes of this year's Edinburgh Fringe. So I guess the most obvious question is this: would I do it again? Yes, I would do it again. In fact, part of me wants to do it again just so that I can put to use all of the things I learned about doing Edinburgh this year. It would be wonderful to go into it not being the rookie. However, doing a show in Edinburgh is expensive even when you have a venue producing your show the way I did. It makes it difficult to project when I will have the opportunity and finances to make it there again. One thought really helped keep me going when I felt discouraged in Edinburgh. It's easy to be a performer when you have crowds lined up around the block, but it may be a truer test of your commitment to see if you can find a way to summon the energy to perform for a handful of people. At one point when my audience looked like it was going to be particularly small for the day's performance, someone asked me what my minimum number was to perform the show. As in, how many did I have to have in order to not cancel that particular performance. That was an easy question. I only need one person to perform for, not counting myself (or Jesus). I have tried to think through exactly how I feel about my experience in Edinburgh so that when people ask I have an articulate answer for them. So far an atricuate summary has alluded me, but I will give it another shot. Edinburgh was like a really long, challenging run. There were times when I thought I was going to tire from exhaustion and there were also times when I felt I could run forever. Now that it is over I am a bit sore and I need some time to rest and reflect, but, that said, I know that I am much improved for having completed the race. One last example (please forgive me for the following analogy from a man who will never face any pain anywhere near that of childbirth). I have heard women talk of promising themselves during labor that they will never have another baby, that they will never put themselves through the pain of giving birth again. Inevitably they also mention that once the baby is born and it's all over, they don't remember the pain so much as the pride they felt holding the baby in their arms and they find themselves willing to do it again. I am not sure what the parallel for me in terms of the baby, but I guess it's the pride I feel in the show and having had the opportunity to perform it overseas. I can also tell you this. As I was standing in line at the airport, ready to leave Edinburgh, I found myself already brainstorming plans for how I could come back in the future, making plans to have another baby. Hopefully next time the baby will have audiences lined up around the block to see it.