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July 28, 2012

Sit ‘n Spin @ The Comedy Central Stage – Nuremberg on Ice

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1961 was the breaking point for two creators of mass fantasy: 20th Century Fox and post WWII Germany.  Whilst the last gray brick was laid in the dreaded, highly symbolic and literally divisive Berlin Wall, ten thousand miles away, in the highly appointed office of the head of what was once the most important film studio in the world, facing a board unceremoniously honored with a stinging run of recent box office failures (most notably Cleopatra) studio president Spyros Skouras convened his finest army of architects and charged them with a desk-pounding master plan to create a “city within a city,” which would be partially funded by Fox’s new owners, The Aluminum Co. of America, more commonly known as Alcoa.  And, thus, like a futuristic set going up on the former famed Fox Lot was born Century City.  An aluminum Oz in the foggy distance from Beverly Hills, and with equally incredibly flippin’ high parking rates.  Century City.  Home to HBO, Comedy Central and Ronald Reagan’s former private office.  Century City, where Fox HQ doubled as Nakatomi HQ in Fox’s 1988 mega-hit Die Hard, which if came out today, would sound like a Will Ferrell film about a mortician on Viagra.  Three years ago, after coming back to LA after living in London for nearly twenty years, I had the unique experience of staying in Century City for more time than I care to remember.  London is full of parks and people walk the street and life is everywhere.  Not this industrial park.  Well, there was a little bit of life in the near distance.  The Coffee Bean at the base of what can be considered the Sphinx of Hollywood: the Creative Arts Agency HQ monolith. 

The hustle-bustle of robotted suits made way every morning, when I’d grab my favorite stool, open my laptop and sip on a nice cup a joe.  One day, I ventured my way there and saw that there was a long line, thought to myself, “Hmmmm,” perhaps I’ll travail elsewhere this morrow,” which is clearly odd behavior to me now, considering having lived in London for 20 years, I finally learned the art of patience via the “queue,” the cornerstone of British Civilization.  Nonetheless, I was now playing an American.  I’m not gonna stand for a line!  Who do they think I am!  Don’t they know who I think I am?!!!!  Pirouetting on the heal of my Nick Ashley motorcycle boots, I suddenly found myself face to face with an overly-perky young lady, who beamed eyelash to eyeball with me, blurting out enthusiastically as if she were a paramedic shouting, “CLEAR!”, “Are you Sam?”  I just smiled, nodded and whimsically said, “Who else?”  (Subconscious here:  This just might not turn out to be just another adventure-free day.)
   
Part of the reason I came back to LA was to tend to my then very ill mother, the late great Gloria Green.  She was an incredible lady who survived all kindsah shit you wouldn’t believe, turned her life around with a vision and helped tens of thousands of other people turn their lives around too.  I’ll write about her one day, but she always talked about “a wrong number” which became the serendipitous key to her incredible success.  I have a nephew.  Sam is his name.  My grandfather’s name was Sam and my initials being “SAG,” my nickname is sometimes “Sag,” as given to me in the early eighties by Comedy Store cover girl extraordinaire Marianne Basford.  My mother loved my nephew so much and she loved me so much and being the youngest of three children in my family and my nephew being both the youngest and oldest in his, she would what often who confused was saying she.  (see how I did that?)  We were in New York once, staying at The Plaza, my mother says, “Steven, get me a yellow.”  I had no clue what she was talking about.  What, was she Elvis?  What gives?  She meant, “Call me a cab.”  Flashback forward, so there I am, completely out of the blue being called, “Sam” by someone who didn’t know me.  The proper thing to do would be to say, “Excuse me?”, but ever since moving to England, I found that “Excuse me,” no matter how inflected, can indicate a challenge to an argument.  “We” say, “Sorry” over there.  In any case, that’s not what I did. 

Without missing a beat, I pumped up my newfound American enthusiasm to match hers and said through my huge nightmare clown-like grin, “And, you are….?”  “I’m Cindy, your new agent’s assistant!  I’m so excited to meet you!  Let me buy you a coffee!!”  (WTF, right?)  So, we get to the cashier and I order an iced latte, not anything hot: I had a plan.  So, I ask her, “So, you say you are a fan of my work, what’s your favorite..uh..of….my….work?”  Immediately she chimed back, “I think my favourite book of yours….”  (Oh, I thought to myself: she is confusing me with a book writer, not a screenwriter.)  “…My favourite book of yours is Utopia.”  I thought and thought and repeated “Utopia” under my breath like I was searching for my car keys.  “Yes, Utopia.  Yeah, I really liked writing that one.  Thanks.  You know, there’s more than one Sam…are you sure….”  And before I could finish, she said, “There’s only one Sam Miller!”  Okay, it’s starting to come clear to me.  I’m a book writer named Sam Miller who wrote a book called Utopia; and she’s my new agent’s assistant at CAA.  Cool.  It’s a book, and this is CAA, so it must be about movie rights.  I have a screenplay or two…No.  I must put an end to this folly immediately, come clean, apologize and maybe – who knows – make a connection for my own writing or not.  The iced latte arrives and I ask her to hold it for me, explaining she’s gonna want to pour it over me in a second when she realizes what’s going on.  Completely ignoring me like the good agent’s assistant she is, she said enthusiastically, “Oh, don’t be silly!  Let’s go outside, grab a table. I’m such a HUGE fan of yours!”  Sitting at one of the little metal tables in the CAA plaza like I was in The Bourne Mistaken Identity, she then asks me if I’m alone or is my writing partner coming.  I revealed to her, “Look.  I’m not who you think I am.”  Acting completely shocked, she said, “You mean you’re not Sam Miller who wrote Utopia?!!!”  Extending a friendly hand, I said, “No, my name’s Steven Alan Green, I’m a writer and comedian and have been working with an Oscar winning….”  She jumps up and as if she were screaming rape, “AND YOU MADE ME BUY YOU A COFFEE!!”  She ran off, complained to building security, who laughed, giving me the thumbs up once she was gone.  This is what Sit ‘n Spin is all about.  Having a funny true personal story to tell that involves awkward embarrassment, farcical randomness, fantastical tangents, dashed dreams, ironic positioning and mostly of all, that extremely rare commodity in Hollywood: Authenticity.  Maggie Rowe and crew have created a literal cathedral of authentic story-tellers, in fact, story-writers (scratch that: story-livers); and the whole thing convenes every other Thursday at The Comedy Central Stage in Hollywood.  Sit ‘n Spin is the grandmammy of the LA story-telling circuit, and yet she’s a granny in a hiked up mini-skirt, breast-line exposed, thumb out, ready to hitch a sexy and dangerous ride with the smelliest Hells Angel she can find.

The stage is simply set, with flats, a table and a microphone stand.  The audience is gallery perched and you know straight away, this show must be good: they don’t charge to get in.  Unlike 90% of the shows this reviewer has seen, Sit ‘n Spin actually started reasonably on time.  8:10pm start for a 8:00pm advertised start is pretty damn good.  Compare that to most shows I see, which can start as much as an hour late.  That can’t be good for audience or performers.  I know why this is.  The venues want to sell as many drinks as possible and they “don’t want to disturb the show”.  But (and I’m gonna write extensively about this another time), take a cue from England.  The comedy clubs over there use the Interval System.  A break or two breaks, between every other act.  For the audience to get up, stretch their legs, have a fag (a smoke), take a splash (go for a piss) and buy a drink (buy a drink).  Anyway, a delayed start is a big annoyance that Sit n Spin fortunately doesn’t offer.  Off to the right of the stage, Franklin Bruno, a single man on electro-guitar, sang a little ditty narrative of a woman buying cheap sunglasses and moving onto Faustian misadventure; the lesson learned: Live life like a pair of cheap sunglasses you don’t care if you lose.  I like that. 

First up, was Ilyse Mimoun… Oh, can I interrupt myself and point out there was no emcee, no introductions of any kind, the entire show had a certain “parole board” feel to it, which for this writer, was quite nostalgic.  So, where, oh yes.  Ilyse.  “The word ‘vagina’ gets bandied about these days…”  (I can see why there was no introduction.)  Ms. M then begins to explain her purpose of focus, by establishing herself as a sort of Ludwig Wittgenstein of pussy.  Harping, as it were (British readers get the joke), on the fact that that what most men call “the vagina,” is in fact, “the vulva”.  I didn’t quite see where this was going at the beginning; but in due time it served as metaphoric prologue to the main plot of her story: fashion choices.  “I reject the notion that a woman should be appealing,” “I think men are not as shallow as we think,” and “I try to get this outfit together; I don’t want to die alone” are her inner narratives, defending her against her best friend Rena, whose interventionist sage fashion advice includes, “Underwear can work for you!”  Postulating Loser-ville Hell is wearing skinny jeans to Trader Joes, Ilyse Mimoun brought it home with irony from men; her next boyfriend confirming for her what she knew all along: “Belts are for suckers!”

Danielle Bernabe was next up at bat, and I mean “bat”.  “So, four of my friends have planned their own deaths,” was her opening salvo; and let me tell ya’, nothing like going from fashion to death to make you question your own sense of Life’s priorities.  Explaining more carefully than she needed to, Danielle clarifies the fantasy stems from her own insecurities.  “As a narcissist, I wish people would talk about me like that now,” referring to common-place all-bets-are-off eulogizing.  She muses on her own funeral, trying to reassure the audience – who sat like individual tombstones – that “I’m not planning my own death, just the party after.”  Meeting with her After-Life Coordinator, post-life use of Facebook, and demanding that all pallbearers wear ties, Danielle carried on with detail after detail of what dying really means in terms of what we all pay attention to all the time in life: vanity, confirming that, much like the soul, neurosis carries on.    The Martha Stewart of Death suggests how horrifying it would be to die in her apartment; seeming her day job would prohibit anyone finding her body for a day and a half and that the first dance at the after party would have to be either Sweet Caroline or Don’t Stop Believing.  Again – not to be rude – but one thing I definitely learned in England is that, Woody Allen being the exception, Americans have a problem connecting death and humor.  Should Danielle Bernarbe ever play the UK, they would love her.  To death.

Michael Feldman, a blurry visual cross between Jessie Eisenberg and Howard Stern, opens with, “I first learned about the word ‘nigger’ by accident.”  Oh my.  So did just we.  Trying to wind out of trouble with his mom, Michael explains to his family that he thought a video game he was playing used the term.  Soon enough, he developed the unconscionable habit of beating the side of his head exactly three times, saying to himself, “No, no, no!,” thus was his OCD born.  Perfectly neurotic and practical, he apologies to god before masturbation, winging his way to a delightful little number of his toilet-sitting ritual of singing a little song.  Insightfully noting that, “It’s much easier to believe in rules than randomness” actually touched deeply upon the theme of not only this evening of story-telling, but all of personal story-telling.  The one defacto rule I’ve noticed in story-telling is that everybody’s protagonist are themselves and that’s not just an “LA Thing,” that’s the world we live in.  Or should I say, “I” live in. 

Julie Lynch (the only one to sit down at the table) starts her story in mid-conversation; how she met “Ted” at a bar, giving us a unique eavesdropping quality.  Looking like she was just brought in for questioning, made the audience feel like the parole board at Shawshank.  “Give me the fucking dollar!” was part of her casual parlance as a professional stripper; replacing it with “would you like fries with that?” were she doubling the late-shift at Taco Bell, would be merely a lateral employment move.  Julie sinks her very sharpened teeth into it, as she tells us of Ted, a regular customer at The Satin Dolls Club, whose weekly encroachment put to shame and erased the imaginary Gaza Strip border between Titty-Shaker and “Gentleman”.  Like an obedient dog, Ted brought Julie weekly gifts: cash, a whip and handcuffs, as a sinister prologue for giving her the most disturbing of gifts: his business card.  A weekend gig at The Palace arrives with Ted giving her a heavy hat box containing a massive vibrating dildo was the breaking-point.  In Ted’s mind, they were in a relationship, culminating with a hotel room sexual soiree, where Julie at long last realized, Ted didn’t give two flippin’ cents about her feelings; something she reminded herself she still had, ending a very scurrilous story with just a tincture of required dignity.

Keith Blaney took the back-alley evening in the completely other direction, with his fourth grade recount of getting on The Skipper Chuck Show, populated by First Mate Scrubby and Officer Freddy “teaching us to walk our bikes and not be assholes”, “jungle juice” and Yoo-Hoo Sponsors.  This TV kids show – with chimpanzees dressed as train engineers – got him through Catholic School.  Peace, Love and Happiness was his mantra and ultimately, even though Keith never knew what kind of navy Skipper Chuck ruled, he knew he wanted in.  We follow Keith in his firsthand adventure to the big city and into the television studio with the same kind of “you know this world” quality in Wes Anderson films.  Returning to the show and winning the big contest, affords Keith and his crazy fighting family the worst of all possible inflicted punishments: a Disneyworld vacation together.  His mother throws up on the Mission to Mars ride, his father vehemently insists on having ice cream on Main Street are only two of the reported neurotic infractions the Blaney Family accrued – their actual crime (according to Keith’s subtext) was that his controlling family cannot live and enjoy life in the moment – and how Keith himself seemed to be randomly caught up in their cosmic comeuppance, as the aeroplane they were all on suddenly loses an a propeller, forcing them, for the very first time, to get along.  We never found out which was more disappointing for him: Skipper Chuck or his family surviving, but beyond a doubt, Mr. Blaney has a clear grasp on comical narrative, which is a difficult Olympic event to begin with, but to add being an unwitting player, makes it unquestionably the more difficult of all tasks; and this is why Keith Blaney is a master story-teller.  He knows his opinion is all that really counts in entertaining us.  And in this, “Who am I to judge?” modern world we live in, Keith Blaney proves, that even though he’s still that kid who never got over the Skipper Chuck let-down, he’s the man.  And, speaking of survival…..

Suzanne Whang (a TV presenter and comedian who has survived breast cancer) resets context for us all with a great story of her paternal Grandfather, the honorable Rev. Chai Kyung Whang, being more famous than her own House Hunters fame.  Making for a very rich cultural stew, he was funny in church, played multiple musical instruments and made it clear to her from the start, that you only have one grandfather in this life who is a minister and plays the musical saw.  Communicating the simplest emotions to his favourite grandchild often got chopped up along the way from Korean to English; “I’m impressed” transposed to its bang opposite, “I impress you,” mirroring exactly what is Hollywood’s number one problem.  Language awkwardness unwittingly scribed a birthday card to her Hadabuji (Korean for “grandfather”), which she mistakenly misspelled as “Hadaboji,” (which means grand vagina) literally ending up with “Happy Birthday Vagina”, and yet he became an important spokesman for the modern zeitgeist of the Korean people, appearing on The Voice of America, being asked the secret of eternal life, raising a finger to his head, then suddenly dropping dead then and there from an aneurism, living and thus dying by his own life’s motto: Always leave ‘em laughing.  Suzanne implored us to know that she is brave only because of him, triggering many in the audience to emit challenging sniffles amongst the rest of us cold-hearted cynics.  Ultimately, Ms. Whang underscored with a truly breathless, “I am funny because of him,” leaving one and all to venture on the notion that indeed, like it or not, we are mostly made up of our ancestor’s DNA.   

Sit ‘n Spin was created at the HBO Workspace by Jill Soloway in 2001 (with producer Jaclyn Lafer in tow) and moved to The Comedy Central Stage in 2004; with Maggie Rowe joining production in 2002, Anderson Gabrych as second mate and successful TV writer/producer (and formerly of the funniest comedy duo since Bush Cheney, The Funny Boys) Jim Vallely as the show’s respected mascot.  There is no better piece of live entertainment in Los Angeles, and at zero ticket cost, I recommend making your reservations now.  You never know what you might learn about yourself through other’s lives.  Especially, if they lived to tell about it. 

I give Sit ‘n Spin a grand 9 out of 8 Menorah’s!

Enjoy the veal,

Steven Alan Green
7/28/12

Sit ‘n Spin

FACEBOOK TWEETS OF THE WEEK:

The American sprinting team has been caught planning on cheating in London. Olympic officials confirmed a plot was unearthed which would’ve exposed the US Sprinting Team to images of Jerry Sandusky just prior to the starting gun.

How come a guy with a shaved head looks tough, but a bald guy looks like an accountant?

The Golden Rule does not apply if you are a masochist.

I’m tired of seeing that guy on television with orange hair. And, I’m talking about Regis.

In the first reported copy-cat crime since the tragedy in Colorado, a man broke into the new Woody Allen film, and complained to the crowd.

New Enjoy the Veal feature…

THIS WEEK’S COMEDY RECOMMENDATIONS:

UNCABARET - Sunday July 29: Brian Finkelstein, Jen Kober, Karen Kilgariff, Wayne Federman; and just added, Jennifer Coolidge

DYLAN BRODY on KPCC Offramp (archive)

And finally….

Caleb Medley is a local Aurora, Colorado stand-up comedian who was severely wounded in the recent Batman shootings.  As he lays in hospital, uninsured, his medial bills mount up.  Let’s help Caleb and his family by contributing whatever you can to the fund set up by the Medley Family.  Thank you, Steven
Help Caleb Medley

To contact Steven Alan Green email sag@thelaughterfoundation.org

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