I WILL NOT BE THE "LAST COMIC STANDING"
Last night I watched the fourth season premiere of Last Comic Standing, NBC's standup comedy competition/reality show/American Idol rip-off.
I know what you're thinking."Will, you're funny. Why aren't you on Last Comic Standing?"I guess if I had to come up with one reason it would be because I didn't audition for the show. I thought about trying out, but then I found out that you had to wait on line all night in the middle of the winter.That's where they lost me.Sure, I'd love to be on TV, and I'd love to be famous. But I don't want it badly enough to spend a cold winter's night on a New York sidewalk. Why does it have to be that way? Why does it have to be an endurance test, when it really should just be about how funny you are?I thought about paying a guy to wait on line for me, but I decided against it. That wouldn't be fair to the other comics, most of whom are so broke they can barely afford subway fare to get to the audition.I did my time as a broke standup comedian, counting pennies to buy hot dogs at Gray's Papaya. And now that I'm back at work, I've realized something: I'm funnier with money in my pocket.When I'm broke I'm nervous, anxious and worried and the last thing I feel like doing when I'm nervous, anxious and worried is cracking jokes. Anxiety makes me tense, which is not good for the relaxed, confidant vibe that people expect from a comedianBut back to Last Comic Standing. My biggest problem with the show is the amount of airtime they give to bad comedians. I like to watch somebody fail as much as the next bitter cynic. But if this show is supposed to shine a light upon the under-appreciated art of standup comedy, why spend so much time on people who don't know what they're doing?
I refuse to believe that bad standup comedy is more entertaining than good, regardless of how much of a train wreck it is. And I should know, I've spent the last five years enduring comedy open mics in bars and basements all across New York City. Unfortunately, I've become something of an expert on bad standup comedy.
I will keep probably keep watching Last Comic Standing, because I know a number of the finalists from New York. But I wish that the show would spend more time on good comedy and less time on schadenfreude.Then maybe I might consider breaking out my sleeping bag.
WHY I LOVE NATIONAL HOLIDAYS
The Memorial Day weekend is over and I am dreading going back to work.But not for the same reasons that you are.I dread the inevitable question that so many of my co-workers will ask me: So what did you do this weekend?
Nobody is happy about going back to work after a long weekend of fun and relaxation. But I don't really like to have fun, or to relax. So what I did for fun over the weekend will most likely differ from what my co-workers did.There's this tendency in New York City to want to get out of town on long weekends, particularly in the summer. New Yorkers are obsessed with going somewhere green or sandy or wet to escape the sweaty, concrete monotony.Not me. I never get out of town on long weekends. Holiday weekends like Memorial Day are the best times to be in the city.You might not know this but, there are a lot of people in here in New York. Too many people. Somebody really should put a big NO VACANCY sign over the bridges and tunnels.I think we should close off the island of Manhattan for a few years. Then, when some of the old people die, we can let in some new people. We could run it sort of like a dance club. We'll have a guy with a clipboard and a velvet rope standing in front of the Lincoln Tunnel.And if you want to make sure you're going to get in, bring a hot girl with you. That always seems to do the trick.Realistically, I don't think this idea will fly with the political bigwigs. So, for now, we're going to have to deal with an overcrowded city - except on holiday weekends.This weekend I practically had the city to myself. There was nobody at my normally over-crowded gym. I easily got great seats at a popular movie theater. And my favorite Sunday morning coffee/bagel/read the newspaper cafe actually had an open table for me. PLUS... The subways were full of empty seats. Cabs were easy to get. My Chinese takeout came in a lightning fast 14 minutes (vs. the normal, pokey 22 minutes) and there was no waiting at Tasti Delight!For three glorious days, New York City was mine! All mine!But when co-workers ask me about my weekend, I can't tell them all that. First of all, it makes me sound like a bad guy in an old Superfriends cartoon.I can't tell people that I pretty much did all the things I would normally do on a weekend, only faster and with fewer people around to annoy me. It doesn't really sound like as much fun as it actually was. I'm not a beach person, or a woods person, or a park person. I'm a city person. I don't love the great outdoors. LIke the t-shirts say, I love New York. Leaving here depresses me. And I don't really need any more things in life depressing me right now. So to all my co-workers I say, feel free to tell me in detail all about your 72 hour adventure out of town. And, while we're at it, feel free to leave again very soon!
I had a great time without you.
WHY I HATE NATIONAL HOLIDAYS
Everybody loves the long Memorial Day holiday weekend, right?Wrong. I hate it. I don't hate the brave American soldiers whose memory we honor on Memorial Day. Thank God those guys keep things safe for lazy cowards like me.
No, I hate not getting paid.As a freelancer, if I don't work I don't get paid. That's why I hate Memorial Day - and all other national holidays. Taking a day off on Monday is costing me about $500.Sure I need a day off. Who doesn't? But I need $500 a lot more. I've been a freelancer for sixteen years, so I'm used to the financial hit that I take every Memorial Day. But this year, something was different.The company for whom I have been a permanent freelancer (or permalancer) was officially closed on Friday. I say officially because a lot of people (including me) came to work.Here's the way it broke down: anybody who is on-staff stayed home. Anybody who is freelance came to work
.The receptionists were not there. The tech department was not there. The guy who fixes the copiers when they break down was not there. The cleaning staff was not there. It was just us poor little freelancers, left to fend for ourselves, in a dirty office with phones ringing off the hook and broken copy machines.
Maybe you are independently wealthy. Maybe you are fiscally responsible. Maybe you have a savings account, or a 401(k) or an IRA or mutual funds or a piggy bank that makes an "oink oink" sound every time you put a coin in.I don't have any of those things. What I do have, however, is massive credit card debt.At the end of the last millennium I left a seven-year permalance position as a producer of corporate video. I can't say I quit, because you can't really quit when you're not really employed. So I just sort of faded away, like an old soldier.I spent the next year or so trying to establish myself a truly freelance producer; the kind that goes from client to client, like a rolling stone.Turns out I'm not really a rolling stone. I'm more of a moss-gatherer.I soon settled into another permalance arrangement, this time at American Express, where I wrote and produced employee communication videos. (sample script copy: This month we're going to talk about increasing productivity using the techniques and principals called Six Sigma!)The high point of my tenure at American Express was a shoot at a corporate meeting in Bermuda. I stayed at a beautiful hotel on the beach and produced a video called The AmeX Files, based on the popular TV series The X Files.
The executive who played the character of "Agent Sculder" refused to learn the brilliant script I had written for him, so we had to shoot the whole thing with him reading off-camera cue cards. The final product made him look autistic. Not exactly what I had in mind, but nobody really cared. And the check cleared, so I was happy.My brilliant career at American Express Creative Media came to a screeching halt on September 11, 2001, when two planes made an unexpected landing across the street from our office.
Thankfully I wasn't at work that day. As it turned out, I would never work there again.
Around this same time I began to pursue my lifelong dream of standup comedy. In retrospect, it seems like an odd time in history to embark on a career of joke telling. But, laughter was a much-needed commodity in New York City back then, and I was just trying to do my bit for the cause.And now that I no longer had paying work to distract me, I was able to pursue my dream full time.For the next four years, I worked very little and spent most of my time telling jokes in basements and bars around New York City. This particular dream was financed by the fine folks at CitiBank, Chase, Capital One, MBNA, Discover and any (and every) credit card issuer who thought I was a good financial risk.Turned out they were wrong.Last summer, with a stack of threatening letters from law firms in hand and bankruptcy looming, I went back to work. Again, I wasn't on staff. I was once again permalance, but this time I was more perma. Now, almost a year later, I am beginning to raise my financial Titanic. I still have a long way to go. Credit card debt tends to mutate and expand like a killer virus, infecting you and everything around you.
I don't love working as a mouthpiece for Corporate America, but I do love what Corporate America pays me for my efforts.
If I had it my way I would sit in my beloved vegetarian coffee shop every day and write these charming little missives for your enjoyment. But I'm pretty sure that none of you will be sending me $500 checks in return for my efforts, so to the salt mines I must return.
So enjoy your barbeques this Memorial Day. I hope that hot dog tastes good, because it's costing me $500.
BITE YOUR TONGUE RITA COSBY!
I bit my tongue last night.I was eating a bowl of Dole Very Veggie Salad (the bagged one, with the sugar snap snow peas - yum!) And I was watching cable news, which I do just about every night of my life.At 8 PM I watched my favorite cable news show, Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC.
The best news program on cable.I flipped around from 9-10 PM. Then, a little bit before 10 PM, I made some of my homemade Russian dressing. Would you like to know how to make your own homemade Russian dressing?
Of course you would.WILL McKINLEY's HOMEMADE RUSSIAN DRESSING1) Place 1 tbsp of a Hellmann's Mayonnaise in a bowlshevik. 2) Add a squirt of Heinz Ketchup.3) Stir vigorously (while proclaiming your devotion to Communism).4) Add some Heinz Malt Vinegar (enough so that the content of the mixture is doubled)5) Add some salt and spicy black pepper (like Trotsky's beard)6) add A LOT of paprika (this makes it red, which is appropriate for something Russian)7) Serve chilled, preferably in a matryoshka (nesting) doll.
8) Enjoy, Comrade!
At 10 PM I sat down with a huge bowl of salad and my spicy, vinegary homemade Russian dressing. I was so excited! I love salad. But who doesn't?Actually, there's a homeless woman who hangs out outside my office who doesn't like salad. I walked out of my building late one night carrying leftovers to bring home. She asked me if I had any food that I could share with her, and I offered her my leftover salad."I'm sorry," she said. "I don't eat salad."Are hungry homeless people really allowed to turn down food? How much must she hate salad to be homeless and hungry and broke, yet turn down free food?Sleeping behind a dumpster on 15th Street? No problem!Eating a leftover Chicken Caesar from Chop't Creative Salad Company? No thanks!Anyway, back to the story.So there I am sitting there enjoying my salad and I flip to Rita Cosby: Live & Direct on MSNBC.
Who is this idiot and why does she have her own show?If you ever come across this show, turn the channel immediately.
Rita Cosby: Live & Direct should be pulled off the air and all the tapes should be burned. There should be no proof that the show every existed and Rita Cosby should be sent to live on a deserted desert island where nobody can hear her stupid, retarded voice ever again.So there is Rita Cosby talking for the ONE MILLIONTH TIME about Natalee Holloway, the poor high school girl who disappeared in Aruba about a year ago. And Rita has some sort of breaking news to tell the world, like maybe they found a guy who knows a girl who once dated a guy who heard second-hand from a cocktail waitress that Natalee Holloway was really drunk the night she disappeared. Or something like that.I don't know if you noticed this, but there's a lot of serious news going on in the world right now. I think it would be nice if a cable news show covered those stories a little bit more, and FUCKING NONSENSE a little bit less.So the minute I hear Rita Cosby's raspy, nasal, assaultive voice I take a bite of my Dole Very Veggie salad. And I am so disturbed by what is on my TV set I bite into my tongue. Hard. Soon, blood is gushing out of my tongue. Now I don't know if you paid attention to my Russian Dressing recipe (see above) but it is chock full of vinegar and spices. Vinegar and spices do not mix well with an open wound in your mouth. "Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow !" I yelled. "Damn you Rita Cosby! Damn you to HELL!"THE END
HAPPY BIRTHDAY "STAR WARS"
Twenty-nine years ago today, Star Wars premiered in movie theaters across the United States.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was not there on opening night on May 25, 1977, but I did see Star Wars six times during its initial theatrical release that summer and fall, and many more times in subsequent re-releases over the next twenty years.
I was seven years old when I first saw Star Wars, and the movie (and its first two sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) played a huge role in my life until high school.
I played with the toys, read the comic books, collected the trading cards, read the books, wore the t-shirts, hung the posters on my wall. I was all over anything that had anything to do with Star Wars.
I was even a charter member of The Official Star Wars Fan Club. I still have all my copies of the fan club newsletter, Bantha Tracks. (Actually, I'm missing issues 1 and 17 if anybody can hook me up!)
I have mixed feelings about the three recent sequels. I'm glad that a new generation of kids has been exposed to something that played such an important role in my childhood. In technological terms, the new films are pitch perfect, but in human terms, they are sorely lacking the magic of the original Star Wars.
There's a soulless perfection to Episodes I-III, only mitigated by the inspired casting of Ewan McGregor as the young Ob-Wan Kenobi.
After nearly three decades as a Star Wars fan, last May I was hired to cover the New York City premiere of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith as an entertainment reporter. From my position on the red carpet at the historic Ziegfeld Theater, I met and interviewed Star Wars cast members Samuel L. Jackson, Liam Neeson and Frank Oz (the creator and voice of Yoda), as well as the actors who portrayed Darth Maul and Boba Fett.
It was an exciting night. I had to do my best to maintain my composure, as the inner seven year-old child battled the outer 36 year-old professional for control.
The high point of the evening was my interview with Frank Oz. George Lucas has said that Episode III will be the final Star Wars film, so I asked Frank Oz if we had seen the last of Yoda.
"I doubt it," he answered. "George really loves Yoda."
"So do I," I replied. "May the Force be with you!"
"May the Force be with you, too," the creator of Yoda said, as he smiled and walked away.
And for a few moments, I was seven years old again.
Last night, the New York Mets beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the bottom of the 16th inning on a solo home run by center fielder Carlos Beltran.
The end of a long night. Most baseball games last between two and three hours. This game went on for more than five hours. As the game dragged on, announcers Gary Cohen and former Met (and Seinfeld guest star) Keith Hernandez emphasized how exhausting it was for the players to play in such a long game.
Boo-hoo. I feel so bad for them!
Before the 2005 season, Carlos Beltran signed a seven-year, $119 million contract with the Mets. That's $17 million to play in a full season of 162 games, which works out to $104,938 per game.
For a five-hour game, Beltran made about $21,000 per hour.
You'll excuse me if I don't feel too much sympathy for Carlos and his teammates, for their long night at the office. There are plenty of nights when I have to work late. I do it, but I'm not happy about it.
If my day rate was $105,000 I think I'd be okay with a little bit of O.T.
When I was a kid, I would play baseball all day long in the summer (and the fall, and the spring, and one time in the snow on Christmas Day when I wanted to try out one of my presents).
I lived for playing baseball. Playing baseball is fun. Doing something you love for five hours is fun. Doing something you love AND making $21,000 per hour to do it is an incredible opportunity.
If the announcers are going to feel bad for somebody, how about me? I watched that whole game for free.
Or my ex-girlfriend Maggie. I made her watch the last hour of the game with me - and she doesn't even like baseball.
Where's her standing ovation? Where's her kudos? Where's her $21,000?
I think if the fans got paid, more people would watch baseball games. Then baseball would truly be our national pastime once again!
After all, what's more American than bribery?
OUR EARS ARE SEALED
Friday night I went to see the Go-Go's in concert at the Nokia Theater in Times Square.
I love the Go-Go's.Okay, maybe I don't have the hippest taste in music. But I love the Go-Go's and I'm not going to apologize for it. And no, I'm not gay. We've been through this before. My taste in music might be considered by some ignorant and uninformed people to be gay-ish. But that does not make me gay.I don't even like to talk to other guys, let alone have sex with them. There were a lot of gay guys at this show, though. There were also a number of women that might be considered Rubinesque. I'm no stranger to concerts with gay guys and fat women. I've seen Morrissey live a few times.
By the way, if you ever have the opportunity to go to a Morrissey concert, you should really go. You'll finally get a chance to hang out with all those people who skipped the prom. Like me, for example.But back to the Go-Go's concert. I'm fine with gay guys and big girls. But there were children at this concert. I'm not talking about 16 year-olds. I'm talking about little kids. And they were in the mosh pit.When did it become okay to bring seven year-olds to a rock concert? I haven't been to a concert with little kids since I took my niece to see Carole and Paula from The Magic Garden. I understand that most of the people who were fans of the Go-Go's in the 1980's grew up, got married and had kids.But I didn't. I know that's not their problem. But it becomes my problem when I have to go to a concert with them - and their children.I'm not the kind of person who lets loose often. That's why I love going to concerts. I get to sing and dance and otherwise act like an idiot and I'm perfectly okay with it, because everybody else is doing the exact same thing.Of course, acting stupid is easier to do when there are intoxicants involved. But how am I supposed to get fucked up when there's a second-grader next to me, rocking out to We Got the Beat?I went to the show with my ex-girlfriend Maggie. Maggie and I have been to many concerts over the years, and we always like to bring along these special cigarettes that, when smoked, make the concert-going experience considerably more enjoyable.When it became obvious that we would not be able to engage in this activity from our standing-room location in the kid-friendly mosh pit, Maggie and I each headed to the bathroom. When I returned from the bathroom, I was nicely buzzed and ready for the concert to begin.A few moments later, a forty-something woman dressed all in black appeared on stage. I figured she was the opening act, but she didn't have a musical instrument or even a microphone.She started dancing and making gestures with her hands, and a bunch of people standing near me began to applaud. "Maybe she's a famous mime," I said to Maggie. But she wasn't a mime. She was signing. She was warming up the crowd - with sign language.Moments later the Go-Go's took the stage, opening the show with their biggest hit, Vacation.There are five members of the Go-Go's, but there were six women on stage. Five of them were singing. One of them was signing.From where I was standing, I could not avoid looking right at the sign-language lady. It was fascinating. Her performance of Vacation was a combination of sign language and performance art. I've never seen anybody simultaneously signing and doing The Swim.Her performance continued throughout the entire show. It was a good concert, and I was excited to see the Go-Go's. But for the entire show I sat there transfixed, staring at the sign language lady acting out each song with her hands and her body.I don't know who this sign language rock star is, but she deserves a Grammy.
After the final encore I yelled out "the sign language lady rules!"
I just hope she could hear me.
PICTURES FROM BREAST CANCER BENEFIT
MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM THE RED CARPET
On Wednesday night I worked as an entertainment reporter, interviewing celebrities on the red carpet at a charity benefit in New York City. Here are some of the memorable moments:MEMORABLE MOMENT #1I asked Elvis Costello what he would be if he weren't a musician.
"I'd probably be a landscape gardener," he answered. I can hear it now. What's so funny about peace, love and underbrush?
Sounds like a hit to me.
Elvis Costello really wants to mow your lawn.
MEMORABLE MOMENT #2
I asked Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, if she had an iPod.
"Yes!" she answered, surprised at my question. "As a matter of fact I do."
"What's on the Duchess of York's iPod?" I followed up.
"Jay Z!" she replied.
Then I asked the Duchess if her nephew, Prince William, would soon be marrying his girlfriend Kate Middleton.
"Oh behave!" the Duchess reprimanded me as she walked away.
End of interview.
When I thought the Duchess was safely out of earshot, I turned around to repeat her answer to the executive producer, who was standing behind our cameraman.
A moment later I felt someone tapping me on the shoulder. I turned around. It was the Duchess.
"Are you saying bad things about me?" the Duchess asked me, with mock indignation.
"Never!" I replied. "I was just, um, remarking on how lovely you look tonight."
A few hundred years ago I would have been beheaded for such insolence.
The Duchess of York likes hip-hop.