Thursday, August 22, 2013

And now for some Atheist Community Blah Blah Blah

Here is a link to JT Eberhard's description of an incident involving Bria Crutchfield and an attendee of the Great Lakes Atheist Convention.

And Jen McCreight’s response to JT.

Sounds to me like someone said some racist shit and Bria Crutchfield got emotional. Some reports even say that she had some tears and said she was sorry at the end of her emotional response.

I don't get why she'd need to be called out on this. I don't see any sign that it was gonna become a regular thing, people saying racist shit at atheist cons and other people getting emotional about it. Seems to me the first response should have been concern and understanding for Bria. If it were to become a regular thing, I'd want to address the people saying the racist shit to find a solution, not the people being most upset by it.

As for the woman who asked the ignorant question and got an earful, I think a-lot can be determined by how she responded to being called out. Was her response regret and remorse or defensiveness? How did she react to seeing that Bria was so upset by her comment? I don't know the answer. I'm not without sympathy for this woman who may have been ignorant in the true sense of the word. My hope is that the emotion may have jolted her into paying more attention to the words that were being spoken not less.
Analogy time; When a woman yells STOP at a man in a parking lot, a man who may have been innocently walking in her direction because maybe that's where his car is, the right response isn't, “Fuck you, I'm just going to my car.” it's “Oh, didn't realize I was scaring someone.” and stopping, and letting her get safely in her car before proceding. Because even though he doesn't assault women he knows that she lives in a world where women are assaulted and he's sensitive to that, just as the woman at this convention should be sensitive to the racism that Bria no doubt deals with daily.

Could Bria have responded better. Maybe. Striving to be calm and composed even in the face of idiocy is a noble goal, we could all be more like Mr. Spock, but I don't think it's my place (or JT's) to call out a woman of color for how she responds to racism (even if it was inadvertent racism). Obviously if Bria had been violent or threatening that would have to be addressed but instead she just responded a bit late, during a different speaker. I think that's quite understandable. I can imagine the emotions building and growing as she sat there and I can relate. I do hear JT saying that the anger was justified but how she dealt with the anger was inappropriate. I think that when we recognize that an emotional response is understandable, we should also be accepting that emotional responses tend not to be calculated and perfectly timed. 

All that said, I like JT. I like him a lot. I think he is wrong here. But, I think he is doing his best to be intellectually consistent and is acting with integrity. I will not demonize JT or cast him as a racist. I don't think that JT's motive is to silence minority voices even as I think his response to Bria may inadvertently have just that effect. 

And now, as many of the bigger names in the atheist movement get drawn into yet another noisy controversy, let me address the divisiveness concern. Woohoo! I've heard it said that infighting is the biggest weakness of the left. I've always thought it was our biggest strength. And with atheism this holds true also. What did we want/expect? A monolithic school of united atheists in lockstep? Lets fight, debate, divide. Our numbers continue to grow. We don't believe in god(s). That's enough unity for me. And we can rally when need be. We can come together in amazing numbers to fight for separation of church and state, just as fundamentalist Christians and Mormons had no trouble putting aside their considerable differences to fight to deny gay people equal rights. As I've said before, we can't slam moderate religious people for not calling out more extreme religious people while we ourselves put aside such self critique so as not to be divisive.

(Should the video of the exchange surface I of course reserve the right to revisit my thoughts on this.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Stand Up Comedy How To

This is a work in progress. I will share this with some of my students and friends who I've talked comedy with and try to get all of the helpful advice I can packed in here. So come back, and see more added until I decide it's done and remove this message.

Here are some rules and guidelines I have developed over a decade plus of writing and performing stand up comedy. Every "Rule" I've observed is broken by someone who succeeds wildly anyway. The rules are for when it doesn't work and you want to know why. Ask yourself what rules you're breaking and then ask yourself if you're breaking that rule on purpose and if it's stopping the bit from working. If you want to keep breaking the rule that is getting in your way, you'll have some work getting around it. So these aren't hard fast rules I expect anyone to follow, they're rules I think you'd be wise to be aware of and the have fun playing with and breaking.

"Brevity is the soul of wit."
Probably the best thing ever written about comedy. Keep it short, keep it efficient. Sometimes the efficiency itself is the joke. Hearing a complex thought explained succinctly can be a thrill.

There are long jokes that work great, of course. I like to think of it this way; every word in a joke is weight. The punch line has to carry that weight. The more words, the stronger that punch line needs to be. Little laughs on the way to the punch can also throw a bit of weight overboard.

Wait for it... wait for it...
Give your punch line a chance. You tell your punch line and then they laugh, if you wait for them to laugh. There is that pause before they start laughing, that pause while their brain processes what was just said, and/or makes sure you're done. That moment is when we face the terrifying prospect of them NOT laughing. Pesky self preserving instincts will often see a comic throw in some words here to cover their ass. Words that say, "No, I wasn't pausing. I didn't expect you to laugh there, ha ha, nah, that wasn't even the joke." Sadly this steps on the laugh and kills it. One MUST have the confidence to take that risk. And next up is a tool to give you that confidence

How To Bomb
Knowing what to do when they don't laugh helps a-lot in having the guts to risk them not laughing. Having a joke bomb can actually be a gift. I like the definition of comedy "Creating tension and relieving it in a surprising way." When a punch line doesn't get a laugh, there's your tension. It's a very real tension too and anything you do that says to the audience, "It's okay. I'm alright. We're good." will be a huge relief. When a joke bombs a line as simple as, "Yeah, that bombed." will get a laugh, every time. Of course, you should have some fun and come up with something better and more unique but you want to recover and give your next joke a fair show, so use that if you need to use that. I have seen comics win an audience over, really get the audience on their side, without a single joke working.

Homework: Watch the late night talk shows. The monologues they turn in are gonna feature a lot of bombs. Along with their writers they have to churn out a lot of comedy and they don't get a chance to test it at an open mic, and rewrite, and try it again, and do it at a showcase, etc. So, they bomb a lot of jokes and get the biggest laughs they get out of dealing with these bombs. Johnny Carson was the master of this, swinging the golf club, knocking on the microphone, blaming the writers.

Open Mics are Invaluable and Horrible
 If you're thinking of trying stand up comedy. Go to an open mic. Seeing people at all different skill and experience levels really humanizes comedy, especially if you've mostly seen the best of the best performing on television. And being there in the crowd, for me anyway, made it feel do-able.

Performing at open mics is the way it begins and mostly, it sucks. You get five minutes if that, and it goes by too quick and the audience is bored, or exhausted or just made up of other comics or all of the above. Do it. And do it again. And occasionally it'll be awesome. When at last you get to perform at a showcase or opening for a touring headliner you'll be amazed at how much easier it is to get over. So keep pushing through and build them comedy muscles.

The Notebook
 It's not just a sappy love story, it's also a comedians most valuable tool. Whether it be an actual notebook, your smart phone, whatever, write down every funny thought that occurs to you. Most every comic I know has that memory of that one joke idea that they were so sure was the best joke ever but by the time they got a chance to write it down... they'd forgotten it. All they remember is that it was gonna be the one that made them, the one that would make the whole world laugh so hard they'd forget to wage war, the one that would save us all and bring harmonic balance to the universe. The ghost of that joke will haunt them forever.
And be organized. I had a comic friend who was blowing important gigs because he was just doing whatever jokes he could think of in the moments before he went up. When he actually sat down and reviewed his years of notes and made a list of all his jokes he not only had a much better A-list set for auditions and big gigs, but he was surprised to find he has a pretty solid hour, at least 30 more than he thought he had.

Notes On Stage
 Better to have them handy and not need them than to need them and not have them. Better to use them than to try to go without them before you're ready. I see professional headliners stash a set list by their beer all the time. They tell a joke and while they give the audience a moment to laugh they step back, sip their beer and see what joke they wanted to tell next. Part of this working is giving your jokes a short name so the list can be efficient and easily read at a glance, and put your jokes in a logical order so you remember what triggers what.

The Punch Comes at The End
It's surprising how easy it is to mess up this seemingly obvious bit of formatting. Know your punchline. They're the words that make people laugh, the words that relieve the tension, the surprise, the twist. Make sure you've structured your joke so they are the last words you say. For the why of this one, see "Wait for it... Wait for it... " above.

We have no problem with Superman flying, outrunning bullets, being impervious to bullets, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and all that. What we have trouble with is Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane not recognizing him when his costume consists of a pair of glasses.
We're given a reason to believe those other things. He's from another planet. He's not human. We are not given a reason for Jimmy and Lois, two journalism professionals, being so clueless. And so we scoff.
You don't have to tell the truth, but you do have to be believable. Emo Phillips really stretches this, with his outrageous tales but they work largely because he presents such an outrageous character to begin with. We can suspend disbelief when we look at his hair, clothes, body and when we hear his voice.
I've seen really good bits get thrown off by an outrageous aside and more often than not, it can be fixed by just presenting the outrageous thought as a fiction.
Example: Um... hang on. I'm gonna come with a good example I promise.

Look up, not at your feet.
(Unless you're Mitch Hedberg, in which case you're dead.)

Anatomy of a joke (explaining tags)
Paranoid works well to illustrate this

How not to be an asshole
Who is the butt of the joke? Are you laughing up or laughing down? When doing crowd work, are you picking on the easiest target in the room?

Own it.
Woody Allen, Bob Newhart, Rodney Dangerfield all had a stage presence that was enhanced by them embracing their nerves, stutter, big ol' sweatiness. If you can't beat it, make it a strength. Be who you are up there because fighting it will be distracting.

Don't say car. Say Toyota Corolla. Try Acura, see if it gets a bigger laugh. Don't say some guy, say Bob. Don't say pet, say hamster, or better yet Dwarf Hamster. Be specific. It's funnier.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Be More Skeptical, Look Less Stupid

Below is an email I received and following that, my reply. 

"Recognize this guy?

And now you see the rest of the story !!

The Media in our country is agenda driven

No wonder George Zimmerman was scared for his life , 
I would have been too! 
Sure different than what we see on TV.

Recognize this guy?

Do you know who this is? 

It is Little Trayvon Martin !
At 17 yrs of age.

Don't know how much coverage this story has had in your area,

but, if it has, here's a new look at it!

For those of us who thought we were well informed
and weren't .... quite the realty check.
That old adage applies here: "there are two sides to every story."

We don't always get the truth from the media. 

One of my favorite rants - the media, television news,
newspapers, magazines, radio; all continue to show 12 year 
old Trayvon; 

NOT 17 year old Trayvon.

They continue to show the 5 year old picture BECAUSE 
it helps to cement in your mind the cute, little, hoodie-wearing youngster who was stalked by this monster.
In reality "little Trayvon" at the time of his death stood 
almost 6'2" tall and weighed 175 muscular pounds.
He had numerous run ins with authorities (both at school and local police), had been stopped and almost arrested
two days before his death for smacking a bus driver in the face
because the driver refused to let him ride for free. He was released because the driver was told not to press charges by the bus company and to continue on his route.

When "little Trayvon" was suspended at school it was not only because he tried
to bring a little marijuana in with him, he was in possession of wedding rings and other jewelry, watches, etc. that he said he "found"
along with a large screwdriver while on the way to school that day. 

The jewelry was turned over to the Police by the school.
I am not trying to say this was a good shooting.
I am not trying to say this kid deserved to die. I am saying the media
in the USA is controlled by those who twist and distort what you see and hear
in order for you to see things their way.

Not a single paper has printed RECENT photos of this kid, 
because it would not keep your interest in this case.
Not a single paper will admit that this kid was a marijuana dealer.
His friends on Facebook all say he had the "best plants". 

Not a single paper will show you any of his recent photos where 
he shows off a mouthful of gold teeth and all of his tattoos.

Not a single newspaper will tell the news like it really is...
and NOT how they want you to think it is...

The President looked at the FIVE year old photo the
media chose to show the Nation and said, "If I had a
son...he would look like Trayvon.." 

So from that comment should I assume you did not bother to
look for the facts in this shooting..or should I assume you want 
a son who is a 17 year old drug dealing, gold teethed, tattooed thug whose name
on one of his facebook profiles was "Wild Nigga" 
who 'finds" jewelry and burglary tools on the way to school?

A fair and impartial news media in the USA ? One that does
not follow an agenda? Is NOT looking to further
divide this already fractured Nation?

I didn't compose this. I'm only passing it on.
Never trust the news media for anything."

And, my reply:

That image is of rapper Jayceon Terrell Taylor, better known by his stage name The Game. Google him to see for yourself. 
His photo became linked with the story because he commented on it.

Now then, will you forward this again with the correction? Is the truth as important to you as forwarding your agenda is? Will you hold yourself to the standards you just claimed to hold the media to? I'm guessing no. 

Be more skeptical. You'll look less stupid. 


Friday, August 2, 2013

I can hear the fireworks going off from the baseball stadium and I thought "Hurrah, We're celebrating the very small chance that maybe we're not dying quite as fast as it appears."

Thursday, August 1, 2013


This past weekend I went to my first marriage of a same-sex couple. Congrats Jaye and Jo. I should specify, this was the first marriage of a same sex couple I'd been to since it became legal again. I'd been to several shadowy, underground weddings. Will we rhapsodize about the exciting days of illegal weddings?

I have a problem with the FB app on my Android phone. It keeps linking new posts with events even days after they've passed. So yesterday I remember that I'd snapped a selfie while sitting on the toilet and I decide to post it with the caption "Pooping" because I'm classy like that. Just a dumb Facebook joke. But my damn phone strikes again and...

I'm "Pooping at Jaye and Jo get Married."

I have a lot of friends from many different parts of the country and from many different political stripes and most of them are cool with marriage equality, otherwise we probably wouldn't be friends, but many of them don't actually know any gay people and aren't likely to be attending a marriage of a same sex couple anytime soon. So, they look at my posts and they get a peak at a world that is foreign to them, and now they associate it with pooping. Oops. Sorry. I'm a pretty poor choice for ambasador.

For the record. I did NOT poop at Jaye and Jo's wedding. They got married in a park and I'm not too big on public bathrooms but especially public bathrooms in parks. I pre-pooped. It was a lovely wedding though, and again, congrats to the couple.