Comedy Devil

There is one thing about comedy that makes my skin itch. Neutrality. Like khaki pants and dry turkey sandwiches, I just gotta ask why.

This could be my Berkeley brainwash, but I think the mass rewards of formula and structure lead to a lot of mass boring (i.e. almost every buddy cop comedy, except for the one with Jimmy Fallon and Queen Latifah because what). I would say that all the people who have had the largest impact on me as a writer and performer are very unapologetic about the lens in which they view the world. I find that so refreshing, inspiring and captivating. Hubert Selby Jr., Lucille Ball, a scientologist wanting to give me a stress test. All fascinating. May we never settle!

Crushing It: Learning to Love The Grind

Crushing It: Learning to Love The Grind

I am two months shy of two years pursuing being an actor and all I got was this lousy picture of me crushing Jim Rash’s head at the coffee shop by my apartment. Strangely enough, he is sitting at the exact table where, in a moment of absolute grace, my computer received an Americano to the keys. I’ve come a long way since then — I now use a desktop that I cannot take to coffee shops and drop and/or spill things on. You guys, prevention.

This past month since I graduated iO (Formerly known as Improv Olympic), has been intense, and weird and a total beginning of another act in my journey. I had this clarity moment the morning of house team auditions where I ended up at the farmer’s market by my house, which I never go to, and I saw someone with a delicious looking burger, which I never eat. It was one of those places that gives you a sheet and you check off what toppings (condiments? what’s the right word for burger accessories? Burgessories, let’s go with that) and the very Venice, very hippie guy interrupted his conversation with someone about how purple potatoes are the only non-genetically modified potatoes to tell me that they also had Strawberry BBQ Sauce.

My immediate response was “I’ll make my own box, why spend life living in other people’s boxes?”

I got a lol and a right on, but all I was thinking about was how auditioning for a house team was auditioning to be in someone else’s, albeit a great, beautiful and tasty, box. iO is like the caramelized onions of burgessories and I think I am more of the quirky and maybe a little less universally pleasing Strawberry BBQ sauce. I also have red hair, so …

I am sort of in that “what next?” period of my comedic life. I moved out here wanting to be a writer and a performer, like IDK, Jim Rash. Or Mindy Kaling or Lena Dunham. I’d also like to be like Peter O’Toole. Peter O’Toole meets Mindy Kaling. Peter O’Toole meets Mindy Kaling in Venice Beach, CA and they decide to take up contemporary jazz dancing together — the buddy comedy. I’d like to write/act on/for TV, because sitcoms are the short stories of the silver screen.

Eventually, I would like a stranger to take a picture of themselves crushing my head, if only because one of the main points of being an artist is trying to tell as many people as you possibly can that you’re weird. And if I am going to expose my weird in a big way, I want to do it in my own box. It’s uncomfortable to write about wanting big things, but I work really hard, and that’s the best that I can do to get there. My goal for the next year is to finish my 100ish-page work and get more experience with scripted acting in addition to keeping up the auditions. Push forward in an effort to be propelled up.

Show Girl

Or at least I am one, technically. 

See me tonight at iO West in The Loft at 8pm with my baller 3-(wo)men team, The Heathers. If you’re busy tonight, that’s OK because my very talented and quirky improv team, Richard’s Kittens has a show tomorrow night (Sunday 5/26) in the DCT at iO West.

Let’s do some make’m’ups and make’m’lol. 

Also, just full confession, I have never seen the movie, The Heathers, but I was totally OK with the name because that was the name of Raja’s power clique in RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’ve seen a lot of movies, but I have notable holes in my movie education. See also: The Godfather. But, at least I’ve seen just about everything Peter O’Toole has ever done <3 <3 <3

To those of you not in the LA area, I love you and I am sending over some magic to make your BBQ taste extra good on Monday.

Anybody doing anything cool this weekend? I miss you guys, I will be coming back with a real post before the weekend is done.

Hugs///

AJ

Surprising Yourself

Hi, my name is Ashley, and I love validation. Let’s not front, almost all of us vie for validation in some manner, and it’s totally fascinating, but I am also totally trying to wean myself off it.

There are nerdy boys vying for validation from prom queens, interns in cheap suits vying for validation from men in expensive ones, writers vying for validation with book deals and Facebook fans.

Show me the actor whom is 100% in it for the art of acting. You can’t because he is doing community theatre in Portland, Maine. And heck, even he has a back-pocketed dream of being on Broadway.

Right now he chants “just the chorus! just the chorus!” but only because he is too afraid of feeling crushed when he doesn’t get the starring role. We back pocket dreams because being an adult kind of sucks, paying rent sucks, working sucks, but making the jump away from that suckage is terrifying. This post may not apply to trust-fund types.

This is vain, but I will admit it. I think I write and do improv because I want to be brilliant at something — and be recognized for it. As my celebrity dream father Steve Martin once said, I want to be so good at something that I can’t be ignored. I think it comes from my deep-seeded fear of being perceived as boring.  To me, brilliance seems like the antecedent to an interesting life. I know it’s very celebrity dream crazy uncle Bill Murray of me, but I want to see what brilliance unlocks once I achieve it.

I think I am only willing to admit these things publicly because I work so hard at bettering myself. I do comedy four+ nights a week, I study it another 1-2 and I try to write one short story a week all while holding down a full time job. I imagine it’s a similar workload to being a mother, but replace a husband and children with comedy. As celebrity dream awkward neighbor Will Ferrell said, it takes 10 years to make it overnight. If there is one thing my celebrity dream crew has in common it’s hard work and cultivated talent. Full disclosure: celebrity dream older sister is Kristen Wiig and celebrity dream dog is Yoda.

The point of this post being, I made it to callback auditions for house teams at iO last week, and that’s a huge deal for me because I haven’t been on my journey for that long. I felt like I killed it in my first audition, but I still really wanted to know what everyone in the room thought about it, which is kind of gross, but comedy is so hard so any good feedback can keep your fire going for awhile. I did just OK in my callback, but in my first audition, I was so good I don’t think they could ignore me.

Isn’t it weird that it’s so hard to admit that you were good at something?

So my comedy debut to the overlords of iO went well, and it feels so good to have a small victory every once in awhile. Now back to the comedy grind, come see my team, Spaceman’s Promise, tonight at The Middle Theatre in Hollywood at 10pm!

Harry Houdini, Improv

I was reading an essay written by Harry Houdini called “Helpful Hints for Young Magicians Under Eighty” and as someone who only thinks about comedy, I’d say most of the hints apply to improv. See below:

  • “In winning your audience, remember that ‘manners make fortunes,’ so don’t be impertinent.”
  • “An old trick well done is far better than a new trick with no effect”
  • “Never tell the audience how good you are; they will soon find that out for themselves”
  • “You may think your trick is old, but it is always new to members of your audience”
  • “An old trick in a new dress is always a pleasant change”
  • “Don’t drag your tricks, but work as quickly as you can, bearing in mind the Latin Proverb, ‘Make haste slowly.’”
  • “When your audience is far distant from you, pantomime work will be well appreciated”
  • “Well-chosen remarks on topics of the day are always in order.”
  • “Walk right out on stage, and tell your tale to your audience, and perhaps many will believe it”
  • “It is far more difficult to give a trial show to a house full of seats and one manager than to a packed house and no manager”

///

AJ

p.s. Just read about how Houdini died …

The Stabbing

Yeah, I like to wear clothes made in my neighborhood, but there is still something very satisfying about yelling “I am gonna stab a bitch!”

Yesterday was my level 5 class show at iO, and I did not get out on the team I wanted. Don’t worry, this is a post about getting over my own ego. It might even be less of an ego thing than it is a thing about doing improv with people who don’t think comedy their everything.

That lack of fire really translates poorly to scene work and stage. Sure, passion isn’t everything, but damn if don’t help. Also, people lacking in the skills department can be a challenge to play with, but I’ve been improving at not letting that get to me too much.

I wasn’t having the best day. I was on a team I didn’t love. I was at the brink of a “fuck this, I’m leaving” moment, but then my teacher came out and I am such a goody two shoes, guy, that I could not leave.

I got to yell, “I’m gonna stab a bitch” about a dozen times to someone who was clearly feeling very similarly about the whole thing.  I am telling you, it is a great way to get to that holy “screw this, I am just going to have fun!”  attitude that I always strive for. Another recommended phrase is “pussy juice cocktail!”

Team Bald Eagle, technically team Team Bald Eagle, went on to make art. And not to have a big ego, but we had the best show of the night.

Vulnerability Olympics

The jump, the flip, the uncertainty of the landing. Also, the overuse of Olympic metaphors during the past few weeks. The point being, when you post your work on the Internet, you hope for the best, but have idea how it will go down. Also, if you take the metaphor of writing and olympic training too far, it doesn’t work out because you age out of  one with puberty and injuries and one you age in to with life experience and shit. You can be a young prodigy at either, but I would love to see a reverse prodigy at gymnastics. Semantics, semantics, senior gymnastics.

Sharing your written words is a jarring shift to a vulnerable place inside yourself. I feel more vulnerable sharing a short story than I do performing on a stage. I’ve been lucky enough to study with the legendary wise man of improv, Craig Cackowski, who is always adamant that when the audience comes in, they are on your side and they commend your bravery for just being up there. That gem applies to writing too — people come to your blogs/to read your manuscripts/poems and admire that you do it, and hope that it’s good. I allow myself more leeway in improv because I’m making a show up on the spot, I have the support of my teamates and I am making art with the ultimate goal of just having fun. Also, “wise man” makes Craig seem way older than he is, but it doesn’t make it less true.

To paraphrase Robert Hass, writing isn’t fun, satisfaction only kicks in having just written. I feel a sweet 30-seconds of satisfaction after writing a blog post before it turns into a bit a fear after pressing publish. I try to ascribe to the philosophy that it’s OK not to love everything you write because not everything can be the best thing you’ve ever written. If you want to get into the semantics, only one thing can be. Semantics, semantics, small picture, dramatic. The big picture is this: when you put your writing on the world’s biggest stage (looking at you, the Internet),  you are exposing the thing that might be the most honest reflection of yourself to the connected world. That includes strangers on the Internet, and if you’ve taken the brave step of sharing your work with people you know, it might also include your friends, your family and someone you met the first week of college and never saw again. And that’s absolutely terrifying, and that’s absolutely beautiful.

Good People

I’ve always tried to not ascribe to cliches,  and I usually roll my eyes when people say them and spend the rest of the conversation retweeting Nietzsche.  Well, that’s what I would do if I had a smart phone and if improv hadn’t made me a better person. Guys and gals, improv making people better at empathizing with the human condition is a cliche I can super get behind. I almost never write about what I spend a majority of my free time doing, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Improv made me realize we, as humans, are all pretty weak in the listening department. I’m not just talking hearing words, but also feeling them via body language, eye contact and subtle inflection. Listening is asking a friend if they are stretched too thin because you noticed they’ve been drinking a lot of Red Bull. That might sound creepier than it is, but truly listening and empathizing with people is a beautiful thing because it shows that you genuinely care and are actively trying to understand and support the people in the world around you. It’s also an act of just being present.

One of my go-tos in improv scenes is a hug because I feel like it shows the vulnerability of the characters we are playing. Plus, there is so much comedy in hugs. I did a scene with two hunchbacks who were tired of being rejected. Sad, but little is more funny than the tension the audience experiences when they are watching two severely hunched over players trying to hug and maintain their physicality. Can they do it? Yes, but it might be the most awkward hug you’ll ever see. That point being that Improv taught me to be so attuned with other people that I know when a completely made up character needs a hug, which really helps you figure out when your real friends might need one with utmost accuracy.

I have so much more to say on this topic, but I’ll save it for another time.

In other news, I was watching Bill Cunningham: New York last night and I found it very touching to see someone dedicate his life to his passion without thinking twice about the things he might be missing out on. His confidence in feeling like he is doing the right thing for him despite his unconventional lifestyle is the most beautiful thing i’ve seen in awhile. I also respect anyone with that strong a sense of ethics and humility. It reminded me that art is at its most powerful when it’s actually about the art and not the artist.

Awkward Hugs///

Ashley

Hair Shows

Summer Hair:

Image

First Half of Summer Shows:

Team: Spaceman’s Promise coached by Bob Ladewig

Shows:

  • First Tuesday of every month at The Neon Venus; 10:30 pm
  • 6/25 at iO West in the Loft: 10:30pm
  • 7/8 at iO West MAIN STAGE: 11 pm
  • 7/10 at iO West in the DCT; 10:30 pm
  • 7/22 at iO West MAIN STAGE: 11 pm

Team: Art Dicko coached by Mike Leffingwell

  • First Tuesday of the month at The Neon Venus; 10:30 pm

Who Are Your Favorite Authors?

Hope everyone is having an amazing holiday weekend!

I’m finally caught up on the books I’ve bought, or close enough to it. I’d appreciate it a whole lot if you could recommend me your absolute favorite books/authors. For what it’s worth, my favorite authors are all people with really specific voices and points of view. My three favorites at the moment are Hubert Selby Jr. (by a lot), Paul Auster and I love me some good ol’ Kurt Vonnegut.

Oh, and also, one of my improv teams is an official selection of the LA Improv Festival! My teammates are all super talented and I would be willing to bet good money that at least one or two of them will be household names in the near future. You can buy tickets here: Spaceman’s Promise

 

Hugs///

Ashley