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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The secret "Yes, and... " trick

Amy Poehler

Don't you wonder where so many of our favorite comedians "cut their chops?" 

(Say Yes, and... )

Have you ever seen any of the improv comedy shows? That's where Amy Poehler and Tina Fey started... oh, and John Belushi and Steve Caroll and Will Farrell and Seth Rogen and the incredibly talented Canadian group from SCTV who brought us "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best of Show" as well as Monty Python and a good number from improv theaters around the country who became SNL cast members... and on and on.

Tim Conway
How did Robin Williams and Tim Conway and Johnathan Winters learn to make people laugh? Ok, so it's talent... I'll give you that. Oh, and a rich sense of humor... oh, and timing and imagination and on and on... but I mean, how did they practice their trade when they didn't know all the secrets?

That's where improvisation comes in. The good ones are quick on their feet and ready to be ridiculous at the drop of a hat. And here's one of their secrets--a four-lane expressway to the next best line:

It's referred to as the "Yes, and..." trick, never to be confused with "Yes, but... "

"Yes, and... " continues a thought, no matter how ridiculous, with an addition to that line of thinking but even more ridiculous. Someone starts:

"I had an aunt who thought she was a chicken... " 

Then you say "Yes, and she had drumsticks to die for."

And he/she says "Yes and did you see those silly little claw-like shoes she had on?"

And you say, " (Yes, and implied) They were the talk of the San Francisco Fricase-Fried Chicken Festival in February."

"Yes and she was especially popular around Easter... for the eggs."

Etc., etc.        

Get the idea? It's Yes and... until you have told the story for laughs or gotten booed off the stage... Yes and if you're new to the concept, you will be booed off the stage. But you get the idea.

Oh, there's lots more to comedy of course, but this shows how to keep a story going... and it works at cocktail parties too, though it comes with inherent dangers. Says one who knows, "You find yourself in a place where you're, like, how did I get here?" But nonetheless, it is a positive transition to whatever happens next. It could even lead to the next improve technique, "If, then..." and next thing you know, you are on SNL...  or the life of the party, or people avoid you like the plague.

Yes, and there is an improv school for you if you really care. Comedian Amy Poehler was one of four who founded the Upright Citizens Brigade, a New York 'cultural reach' for comedy where you can take lessons until you are good or run out of money, whichever comes first. An alum of the process said it is especially good if "you want to take the slow train to crazytown."

Yes, and the process is proving so helpful in boosting self confidence that it is sought by business men and women. Being comfortable in any communicative process is greatly enhanced by the confidence that is built over knowing you can always 'Yes, and...' Such confidence, those 'Yes, and' folks say has a holistic side for maximum feel good benefit.

All that is all especially complimentary if you are a comedian who's fortune is built on the next funny line. It's what you do if you choose to "be in the club." It's hard not to appreciate the many who make us laugh. And doesn't the world need more of that?

Yes, and... wait til you see my next exciting blog post.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Perfect day for Singin' in the Rain

... and a pretty darned fun movie, rain or shine. Released in 1952, Rotten Tomatoes today has it at its 10th best rated film. In 2007, The American Film Industry called it the 5th greatest movie of all time. And Entertainment Weekly names Singin' in the Rain it's highest ranked musical. Wow!

The reason I love this film is not only for it's title song but for Good Morning, the richest song and dance number I have ever enjoyed. Its opening line by Debbie Reynolds is still heard today on one TV network's morning show to open its broadcast.

Gene Kelly's script for the movie
And there is a rich backstory of the movie itself. It is set back in the 1920s when silent movies were transitioning to 'talkies' and the three principal characters were mirrored after real actors of the day, anxious about their future in this technical new world. (Sound familiar?)
Aspiring actress Debbie Reynolds was a newcomer in those days. When hired, she lived with her parents and had to leave home at 4 a.m. and take three different buses to get to the studio on time. She often slept on the set.

She had a good face and great voice but couldn't dance. Gene Kelly, who directed, choreographed and starred in the movie, was known as somewhat of a tyrant and was verbally critical of Reynolds inability to dance. The film's third star, dancer Donald O'Connor found Reynolds crying under a piano and promised her that he would help her learn.

Reynolds had gymnastic talent and, it was discovered, was a very quick study as the dance numbers will prove.

My favorite dance number started filming at 8 in the morning and concluded at 11 p.m. It required 40 takes before it was director-satisfied. Reynolds had to be carried to her dressing room after having ruptured blood vessels in her feet. She later said that having a baby and doing this film were the two most painful things in her life.

Filming was so demanding that several of the stars had to take time off after strenuous segments were filmed. In one segment, Donald O'Connor tap danced across the floor and up the walls before a backward flip.

Gene Kelly
He recalled,  "I was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day then, and getting up those walls was murder. They had to bank one wall so I could make it up and then through another wall. We filmed that whole sequence in one day. We did it on a concrete floor. My body just had to absorb this tremendous shock. Things were building to such a crescendo that I thought I'd have to commit suicide for the ending. I came back on the set three days later. All the grips applauded. [Gene Kelly] applauded, told me what a great number it was. Then Gene said, "Do you think you could do that number again?" I said, "Sure, any time". He said, "Well, we're going to have to do it again tomorrow". No one had checked the aperture of the camera and they fogged out all the film. So the next day I did it again! By the end my feet and ankles were a mass of bruises."

The first time they tried to film the famous "Singin' In The Rain" song and dance sequence, they shot it in the late afternoon. Unfortunately the homeowners in the area had just come home from work and had turned on their lawn sprinklers so there was not enough water pressure for the "rain" to work. They finally filmed the sequence the next day, early enough so that everyone was at work and the water pressure was adequate for the shot. And this is how it turned out.

Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly

Monday, September 12, 2016

Best dog book ever!

Aren't we suckers for dog books? Seems most 'must read' books about dogs are either instructional or touching tales, real or fictional... but I hate it when the dog dies in the end. By last count, we've more than 30 here and there, not counting what we've given away or 'rummage sold.'

But there is one that is a must. It has delighted every grandchild--17 in total--and every adult reader. And it gives a message so real and pure.

That would be Flawed Dogs: The Year-End Leftovers at the Piddleton "Last Chance" Dog Pound by Berkelley Breathed. It is probably the best dog book ever. It fancifully tells the story of every 'rescue' and how each got that way. Every ending will earn a smile and milk a tear. AND BEST, No dogs died in end.

The sign on the door of the Piddleton Last Chance Dog Pound, Piddleton, Vermont, Pop. 327 (People 243) reads:


So hurry lest you miss out.

It is whimsically drawn and told by Friends of the Piddleton Pound, Tammy Quackenbush, President (who is also President of the Piddleton Poetry Club, the Vermont Booster Broads, Vice president of Vegetarian Quilters against Land Mines and Bazookas and Treasurer of the Chicken Liberation Front.)

You'll read about flawed dogs Bipsie and Noodles, Tina and Lulu, Rollo and Titus, Jeeves and Pete, Pepe and Willie Wonker, Buttercup and Heather, iBoo and Ben, Sal and Barney, Spanks and my favorite, Sam the Lion. And here's the secret that's not so secret:

So in this world
Of the simple and odd,
The bent and plain,
The unbalanced bod, 
The imperfect people
And differently pawed,
Some live without love...
That's how they're flawed.

I promise you will fall in love with the story, the dogs, and especially the drawings. It is a richly told and illustrated tale of morality and kindness that applies to all creatures and touches humanity where there seems to be a need.

Ask for Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed (published in 2003) at your bookstore or electronically here where you can thumb through a few pages to see what I mean. Its cover may also look like this... but I like my cover best.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night...

That's a 12 cent stamp on her forehead
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from swift completion of their appointed rounds. The U.S. Postal Service has no official motto but these words, engraved across the front of the U.S. Postal Building in New York are familiar to most of us.


Smoke signals were probably our first 'expedited' method of conveying information rapidly a long distance. Then came The Pony Express followed by telegraph, telephone and beyond.

The U.S. Mail was founded in 1775 with Ben Franklin as its first postmaster general. It is legally obligated to serve all Americans, regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality. And they always did.

In the 19th century, much of the country was 'rural' and the Post Office deemed door to door, mailbox to mailbox, the mail must be delivered. Before this, most had to venture to the closest post office periodically to get their mail... often a lengthy trip over bad roads in horrible weather. To go with this, a new level of delivery--parcel post-- assured many things of different weights and shapes could be mailed at costs below postal expenses. And everything, up to 50 pounds, could be mailed.

And for a while, the United States Post Office delivered children. (Yes, really.) This photo (right) is real. The one above is someone's modern day recreation.

It was felt, at the time, that this was an accepted service to help parents get their children to grandma's house a few miles down the road, or in one Oregon instance, from Grangeville to Lewistown --70 miles for 53 cents. For just 15 cents, a 6-year-old was mailed 725 miles from Florida to Virginia.

Actually, the kids were treated like kids, not sacks of mail, often riding in mail cars and being given food and water on the journey.

It wasn't until June 13, 1920 when kids were officially taken out of the mail sack for good.

It was the giant mailers of that day, Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Company that drove the demand for parcel post to deliver their mail order goods to rural America that led to human cargo. Oh, and pets too.

Sears Kit Home
From 1908 all the way up to 1940,  Sears, Roebuck & Co. (today, Sears) sold and shipped 70,000 mail order kit homes, complete from instructions to nails and everything else needed to assemble and live in. The homes were  freighted but so much of everything else in the giant catalog was borne on the backs of the postmen.

One of the strangest (if you don't count a severed ear or and the slave who escaped by mail) was the shipment of 80,000 bricks from the foundry to a Utah building site 127 miles away. They were sent in parcel-post-package-limits of 50 pounds each. This was deemed the least expensive way to get them from point A to point B. That would be about 3,200 packages if my postal scale is correct. And I do hope you appreciate my fact checking but I'm out the cost of 80,000 bricks and now don't know what to do with them.

Bless the USPS for its diligence over the years but today, it cost lots more to mail less... and our postal system is loosing billions of our money every year. Darn that email. This, however, will be corrected when I complete my new teleporting booth and sell it commercially for less than the cost of an EpiPen. Hope I'm luckier than the guy in The Fly.