Archive | October, 2014

Why I Quit My Job At Fox and Other Stories

30 Oct

I know I said I would write the day after my last post but it turns out I’m an unreliable narrator.

But also it was a weird day Tuesday. I went to my therapist’s office in Queens to finally get off the meds I was prescribed last year when I had a weird mental breakdown. Thankfully, I am much better today – not nearly as much anxiety plus the added knowledge that everyone has breakdowns/is on Zoloft/cries a lot, or so a lot of people have told me after i wrote about it last year.

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My poetry about it was not as well received.

I also had my first UCB Improv 201 class – which felt strange. Strange like the first day of 7th grade when you’re in a different homeroom and a different seat and you keep thinking the person next to you is someone else.

It’s a very energetic class, it’s no longer 101 “Hey – maybe I’ll try this improv thing out” it’s now 201 “I have a specific plan here,” – everyone seems a bit more intense. So far I have made “friends” with a girl from Turkey here on a student visa, a dude from San Francisco who works for Google and an Irish girl who just graduated law school. This class is also interesting because it’s about 4 guys to 12 girls, whereas 101 was almost the exact opposite. But even from just the first class I can tell that everyone’s humor is vastly different – so it looks promising, I’ll let you know how it goes.

So back to the me-quitting-my-job-thing. For the past 9 months, I have been working as a freelance acquisitions operator for Fox News. This basically meant that I fixed up and catalogued videos that go to air. It had a lot of great perks, such as I could kind of set my own schedule and all the free Swiss Miss hot cocoa I wanted!

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Not to mention the MILLIONS of Sweet & Lows

I also got a lot of experience cold-calling people since like 60% of the job is answering calls from affiliates or calling affiliates. I became proficient in pretending like I knew what I was talking about – also in calming down people who were angry at me. I also got really good at brushing off the angry ranting of the dudes (yes, all dudes) in the department. In the beginning I would feel like shit when I would accidentally put a video to the wrong aspect ratio or if I took an extra 5 seconds to think – by the end, it just rolled right off. I want to thank Fox for giving me a thicker skin in the face of unstable pugnaciousness.

But the hotheads who live in the control room I worked in would scream and yell, not in a constructive way like “THE ASPECT IS 16 BY 9!” but instead “WHY WOULD YOU THINK TO PUT IT ANYTHING BUT 16 BY 9?” which the only answer they wanted to hear was, “because I’m an idiot.” It was nine months of sitting in a dark, cold, loud room – watching Fox and Friends and getting berated. It was boring and repetitive – and even if there was some upward mobility, the only way up was Fox and I still wasn’t set on actively contributing to such a terrible news network (besides from Shepard Smith. I have fallen in love with Shep and I will never not love that sassy Mississippian). There were some quiet days and occasional friendly moments with my other coworkers but I’m not sorry to go, I don’t think I made the wrong choice by leaving and even if I didn’t know what I would be doing next, I would have left at some point very very soon.

Staying at Fox would have been safe, finding a job at a local Jewish newspaper would also be safe, I’m more than qualified. I became a journalist when I was 15. I wrote a small article for the Jewish Week calling for teenagers to not drink on the holiday Purim and instead have mocktails or play games (funny, this coming from a girl who just a few years later would have to be carried back from a party to her dorm room at 2 am on Purim 2010).

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Purim 2010: Wolverine seen here wearing a skirt and Uggs

For almost 10 years I wrote about artists and criminals and scientists and protestors. I love hearing people’s stories and I love writing about people in a way that is funny and honest. But throughout these years writing about others, a small part of me knew I was doing it because I would never be interesting enough to be the one to be interviewed. I would think “I love theater, I’ll write theater reviews” and not “I’ll create theater or I’ll act in theater,” it was “Who’s creating an amazing new invention or social justice program?,” and not “What can I make to help people?”

I’m not saying that journalists are not important or necessary – they are and I’ve met some amazing, noble and honest news writers. I’m saying that I’ve conditioned myself to believe that I only deserved to be on the outside looking in. It’s time for me to try being on the inside. It’s time for me to be the one taking the risks and not the one writing about others’. I might fail and it might be a disaster but at least it’s my failure and a new interesting disaster.

Either way, it has to be better than sitting in the dark and the cold, listening to Brian Kilmeade’s terrible laugh over and over.

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More like Brian Kill-me amiright?

My First Improv Show – A Play by Play

28 Oct

It’s 8:30 pm I am still riding high. High on STAGE LIGHTS. and DRUGS. Just kidding. Just the stage stuff.

My show finished at 6:31 pm last night and I still feel like my heart is beating overtime. I don’t understand much about our primitive brain system but I just wanna tell that caveman part like, Relax! The danger is over! No one boo-ed you or sat there in silent judgement at your terrible improv performance. Quite the opposite. It was a success. People laughed. And not just fake-laughed because I can tell that shit apart from real laughing.

But I’ll start from the beginning. Yesterday was Sunday and I spent all morning at work in knots. Literally counting down the minutes until I had to be at UCBeast theater. Thinking my classic pre-showtime thoughts such as “This would be a great time to get accidentally killed. They would say how much potential I had – how this show could’ve been the greatest but now I was dead and no one would ever know.” Ya know, normal thoughts.

My brother, Ari and I get to the theater 45 minutes early as per instructions. I tell the woman at the ticket desk that I was in the 5:30 pm graduation show. “Ok, a lot of your classmates are in the bar next door,” she says.

“Of course they are.”

4:52 p.m. – I leave Ari and Elie to go to the UCB bar which is called something ironic like the “Hot Chick’s Room.” My 101 classmates seem really excited. I was picturing we’d all be like my 11th grade class before finals, all nervous reassuring smile-cringes. But it’s not. It’s like we were all about to go on a fun and scary roller coaster. (This post might turn into a drinking game every time a simile is mentioned). Instructor Brandon explains how the show is gonna go, announces the two teams that would be going (“I divided the teams by attractiveness – just kidding! But seriously, you guys have been a really attractive class.”) and then we play some warm-up games and do a thing where we grab each other’s shoulders and say “I got your back.” It’s 5:21 pm and time to open house.

5:28 pm – Ari, Elie and my friend Mel walk in. They sit second row. I know from being on stage 3 min before that you can’t see anything past the tip of the stage due to the bright lights.

5:31 pm – Brandon opens the show – somehow I feel a weird kindergarden graduation flashback when he describes everything we’ve learned this year and how pleased he is.

5:31 – 6 pm – The first team (Named The Farmer and Adele) goes. The rest of us are in the front row and I’m sure we laugh the hardest. Mostly because they are genuinely hilarious people but also because they are making our whole class look good. It goes fast.

6:01 pm – Phil announces our team “Football to the Groin” (I didn’t get a vote on the name). Leon asks for a suggestion and the one that gets chosen is “sex.” I had a story in my arsenal ready for the possibility of a word just like that. I tell a story about my “sex-ed” in my Orthodox Yeshiva high school. It’s a pretty funny story and people laugh but I worry it’s too long, or too short, or not vivid enough and step back as soon as I decide it’s over. The first sketch is an eager kindergarden teacher for a Jewish school teaching sex-ed using a pop-up, scratch and sniff book. It’s a solid opening.

I’m not going to do a play-by-play of the actual show because improv should be seen not read. But the show goes fast, with scenes about a left-handed baby, grandparents beating the shit out of dogs and Al Capone getting syphilis. It’s not the unnaturalness I feel when public speaking. I have no lines memorized and I’m allowed to just say what I think is funny and it’s a weird freeness. Soon it’s 6:31 pm. We take a bow and Brandon closes the show.

6:35 pm We sit and pow-wow. Discuss how it went and say our good-byes. There’s hugs and pictures. We get our stuff from the green room and go back from where we came in – through Hot Chicks Room, where we can see our friends and boyfriends and daughters so they can tell us how amaaazzing we each did. We dissect the show in our own groups and then drift to other subjects. Some leave. I discover I’m in the 201 UCB class (starting tomorrow!) with Leon. So I’ll know one person at least.

7:03 pm I’m getting the “wrap it up” signal from Ari. I end my conversation with Logan’s boyfriend and make my rounds saying goodbye. I think I may have said something to Brandon about being a caterpillar turning into a butterfly – but I’m sure it was the cider. Okay, it wasn’t the cider. I said it. Because I can’t say goodbyes without ruining it with genuine weirdness.

Ari, Elie and I walk to Wild Ginger on Broome Street. It’s chilly but I’m too jazzed to put on my coat.

Today, 11:45 am, I quit my job at Fox News and decide to see if there’s something actually here with this performing/comedy thing.

I Wanna See You Be Brave

26 Oct

So to continue from my last entry – I did in fact survive going to the People’s Improv Theater show alone. I’ve noticed more and more recently that I don’t fear talking to strangers as I once did. I don’t know if it’s because I’m married and I don’t worry that people will reject me or if it’s because I’m out of a school setting where I need people to east lunch with. Either way I’m capitalizing on it before it flutters away and I’m back to texting fake people in the corner.

It was pouring rain Wednesday and I decided that me running was a better plan than me bringing an umbrella to the show. So I was mildly damp when I walked in. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the PIT in NYC but it’s essentially a bar in your face and then you realize oh right, it’s a theater too. (Also in other news, I’m quite sure UCB has turned me into a UCB snob). At first I texted my friend that I was here but she was doing busy comedy-show producer things. Then I thought I saw my friend at a table so I ran up to her and then discovered that it wasn’t my friend. Then I spent a minute trying to quiz myself on what my friend looks like in the event that I do see her. It has happened before that I don’t recognize people out of context. (Like my freshman year when I saw my roommate in the cafeteria the day after I moved in and was like “Why is that girl waving to me?”)

I saw two boys sitting on a bench and I walked up to them. “Are you guys here for the comedy show?” I asked. “Actually, we are the comedy show,” they answered. So I introduced myself to the comedians who would be performing later. I feel sometimes when I meet people in their professional setting my inner journalist comes out and I say things like “So tell me everything about your life – what are your next career moves and what advice would you give to people starting out in the business?” But they didn’t act like I was a nosy weirdo and actually turned out to be lovely, funny people. I wouldn’t recommend sitting in the very front row of a comedy show with only 12 people in the audience but it definitely could have been worse (such as the time I went to a comedy show in Queens Christmas Eve and was quite literally one of two people in the audience. It’s awkward. Also never do anything Christmas Eve if you’re Jewish. Just stay home and watch Must Love Dogs or something.)

So tonight is my show. T-minus 4 hours left. I feel nervous. It’s a weird nervous since it’s not like a speech one can go over and over until I feel mildly satisfied I’m ready. Or a quiz where I didn’t study and I’m like whatever who even cares.It feels like I’m prepared but ultimately unprepared because as much as you practice in front of your friends, a live audience is a whole other animal. Luckily, there are lights from blocking out the faces.

I once heard a quote that was something like do one brave thing and then for the rest of your life it will empower you to do more brave things because you can point to that thing and be like, hey I did that – I can do this too. Obviously that’s not the real quote because my version of it is kind of clunky and long but the jist is there. I think getting on stage for the first time can be both a new brave thing I can point to as well as something I can psych myself up for by thinking of other brave things. I wish I had stuff like, pulled a dying fellow soldier off a battlefield but most of my “brave” stuff is like, told a stranger in Michael’s that her zipper was unzipped.

Another quote I love (if you couldn’t tell I’m big on quotes) is “If you want something you’ve never had before, you have to do something you’ve never done before.” And I guess this is more simple because what I want is to perform improv on stage so I guess I have to perform improv on stage. Easy peasy.

Wish me luck! I’ll let you know how it goes!

Last Day of Improv 101

22 Oct

Whelp, today was the last day of improv 101 at UCB. Ah, I can hardly remember when just a scant 8 weeks ago I was shaking and nervous on stage in front of strangers. Now I was nervous and shaky in front of people I’ve grown fond of.

Last days are always a mess for me. It’s been like that forever. Last year at my internship at Capital News Service I made everyone take pictures together and lament the fact that we weren’t able to order the matching baseball T’s we had spend an afternoon designing on Customink.com.

I could be leaving a place that I wouldn’t give a half a shit if all the people I worked with were mauled by ravenous raccoons and still be like “Does anyone want to sign the autograph book I just made for all of us…?” It’s rough when everyone else is like “Uh sure, what’s your name again?”

Improv 101 felt different from the end of internships or summer jobs though. I feel like I really, I don’t know, ~*transformed*~ in the past 8 weeks. I feel as if I found something in me – a spark – that might affect where my life is going right now. I feel like I could look back at these two months in some autobiography I write later on and cringe about how inexperienced I was. Or maybe they’ll talk about it my eulogy when I get hit by a bus I wasn’t paying attention to while texting and crossing 5th avenue. Anything could happen! Life is great!

Today we ran practices for our show on Sunday (153rd East 3rd street NY @5:30 pm on Sunday if ya know, you’re in the neighborhood) and after, everyone was packing up when I said, “Would it be weird if we had a big group hug?” “Hahaha,” they all laughed. “I’m not joking,” I whispered to myself. Standard good-bye fare.

I was wistfully watching my teacher as he said good-bye to people at the end. He glanced at me. “Are you going to cry…?” he asked. “Can I have a hug?” I sniffed.

I wonder if these little scenes have firmly cemented me as an emotionally unstable student that they’re going to have to flag with security.

But it’s not fully over until the show’s over. So look for me. I’ll be the one sniffling in the back and forcing my hugs onto unwilling people and asking where the after- and after-after-party is.

Tonight, in my quest to expand my comedy network I am going to the Awooga Comedy Hour at the Pit that is run by my friend Tovah. I am going alone because it starts at 9:30 pm and Ari goes to sleep at 6:30 pm (not really but 10 pm IS BASICALLY 6 PM IN MY BOOK) and I forgot to ask anyone else to come. So I will be going alone and trying to meet people like a not-at-all-weird-and-alone-lady. It’ll be great. As Amy Poehler says, “Great people do things before they’re ready.” And I must be a super great person because I am never ready for anything.

A Book Review Plus Unadulterated Stream of Consciousness

21 Oct

Hello my little unicorn teacups,

I hope your days have been lovely – sorry for the delay, I have spent the last week or so in a wooden shanty or, a “Sukkah” as we Jews so adorably call it. During the holiday I don’t use any electricity, leaving a lot of sitting-around-and-talking time with people, which means I learn a lot. Such as: a friend of mine once punched a guy in the balls on the subway until he bled, also an old woman sitting next to me at a meal dyed her hair purple to support her fave team, the Ravens (“No, I didn’t sell back my Rice jersey! I don’t even have a Rice jersey but if I did I would never sell it!”), and if you make small talk with the founder of a California-based marijuana dispensary, he’ll give you free THC pills. Very enlightening stuff.

Also enlightening, is the book Poking A Dead Frog by Mike Sacks, that I read over the holiday. I took the book out of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade library last week. I had forgotten to bring my student ID card so I was worried they wouldn’t let me take it out but luckily I had offered the guy my last Red Wine Velvet cupcake I had brought to class and he let it slide. Another good lesson – always bribe everyone just in case you need them in the next 30 seconds.

So this book is advice and interviews with comedic minds, from Amy Poehler and Megan Amram to Mel Brooks to Peg Lynch. Writers, radio personalities, journalists (The Onion and otherwise) and comics etc. All fascinating interviews about how and why they decided to leave the cushy reality where one can get a nice job being a librarian or marine biologist to the harsh, upside-down world of trying to make people laugh.

Even though eels tell the most amazing jokes.

Even though eels tell the most amazing jokes.

My favorite parts were the end of the interviews, when the interviewee was pressed for any advice to give those who wanted to pursue a career in comedy. Most of them were like “Umm…why are you asking me? I don’t know what I’m doing. No one knows what they’re doing! Like, if you can do something else and be happy, do it. But if you can’t, just keep doing stuff, writing, editing, trying, NEVER GIVE UP, but like you can give up if you want to.” I think that pretty much sums up all the advice (but you should really read the book as well, as there’s a fascinating interview with Adam McKay).

A lot of advice was like “Start a blog!” and I was like “Hahah CHECK – next stop: Fame Town, USA. Bye SUCKA” (I said to my cat).

JK I forgot you're my agent.

             JK I forgot you’re my agent.

But obviously it takes a lot more to be a successful… something. It’s hard to have a goal in life when you’re not sure what you want to be. There’s no game of LIFE career card that says “Like, something creative but structured. Maybe screenwriting? But also maybe helping people.” That would be way too long. Your friends will have hilariously switched your pink and blue people pieces to both blue people pieces by the time you finished reading it.

All I know is that I have to keep moving forward, pushing myself and just fucking doing SOMETHING. Because before you know it, I’ll be getting the Grocer of the Year Award and complaining about my job and never following my dreams; even though I somehow afford a giant house in Philadelphia and put three kids through college on the sole grocery store manager salary of $75, 527 a year in 1994 (which, did you know has the same buying power as $121,216 today??? I just did a lot of research for this reference).

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Not to mention paying for those sweet 90s layers.

Ari suggested we watch Blazing Saddles, (which I had never seen), after I mentioned the Mel Brooks piece of the book. And as much as I WANTED to like the movie, I did – I think it was a little too wacky for me. A little too Bugs Bunny. I appreciated the idea of WE CAN DO WHATEVER THE FUCK WE WAAAANNTTT feel of the movie. Like someone was like “Wouldn’t it be funny if…” and everyone else was like YES! PUT IT IN. That was great. But as for laugh out loud, it didn’t happen. Sorry, Mel. Maybe I’ll have better luck with Young Frankenstein.

So if you were worried about my blog lagging, don’t fret. We’ve only just begun. Besides NaNoWriMo is coming up and maybe we’ll dabble in that together.

XXXOO

Why Journalists Would Make Great Improv Actors

5 Oct

I haven’t written about my improv class at UCB in a while. Mostly because I haven’t had any insights other than “Geez Louise this is mighty hard,” and “People in this class look like ageless beautiful gazelles who should be playing teenagers on Glee right now.”

Not that I think Glee is the highest shelf an aspiring actor can reach but because I’ve noticed that Glee likes to stock their fictional high school with upper 20-somethings who have the youthful exuberance and skin of a highschooler. Or at least they did when I watched it – and then abruptly stopped at the end of season three when Rachel was like “Yay we’re getting MARRIED!” and the Glee club was like “No you’re not! We’re kidnapping you and sticking you on this train to NY with NO books or magazines to read and we don’t care what you say – BYE BITCH.” Also Mike Chang graduated and life was just not worth living after he left.

 

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The face of America’s Next Doctor/Dancer

 

Back to improv. I would say that I am not a patient person. I don’t have time for my microwave to count all the way down to zero, if something takes longer than 6 seconds to load I’m onto something else, and I refuse to wait for society to hurry up and just be accepting of all different lifestyles and equalities. That being said, I really want to be good at improv and this whole practicing and learning from my mistakes and slowly getting better every day has been a real issue for me. Every gentle (and hilarious) constructive piece of criticism my teacher tosses at me sounds like, YOU’RE AWFUL WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING HERE YOU TALENTLESS LOAF OF BREAD? I have to actively tell myself to calm the fuck down because achieving your dreams isn’t going to take 3/4 of a 101 UCB class before you become successful.

Conversely, when I *do* do something mildly right I’m like psh, BYE ya’ll, I’m off to hang out with Amy, Mindy and Tina, my REAL friends. So, the struggle is real.

 

FACE RESERVED FOR FUTURE BEST FRIEND

FACE SPOT RESERVED FOR FUTURE BEST FRIEND AVIVA

 

But as I continue down the rabbit-hole that is learning the art of improvisation – I’ve noticed that a couple skills that I’ve learned from journalism school (PHILIP MERRILL – HEARD OF IT? No? OK) have come into play a bit. And the more I thought about it, the more I realize that journalists should be amazing improvisers and not just because journalists literally have a million things on their back-up job lists just in case this whole newspapers-are-not-a-thing-anymore trend decides to blow over.

Here’s why:

1. Journalists love to procrastinate

According to this scientific BuzzFeed article about journalism, all reporters thrive under the pressure of a deadline – and if you can’t hack making changes to your work up until the very last second it’s due without having a heart attack, you’re golden. In my own experience, one day to complete a 4 source article is basically a lifetime. We love/hate the rush of banging out a story at the last min.

In improv, you have less than that – maybe 5-10 seconds to figure out the 3/5 PRECIOUS Ws: Who What Where. The why and the when can go suck it cuz improv has no time for that. If you like feeling the heat to create not only a cohesive scene but also one that’s true and funny – get on that.

2. Journalists have to play at the top of their intelligence 

Something I’ve noticed during my time as a reporter is that sometimes I am called upon to write about shit I don’t know. Cover the Obama healthcare when I barely know what a copay is? To Google! Writing a story on the newest jobs report by the Labor Dept? Sure, just let me ask my dad first! To be able to report means to either to know a little bit about everything or to at least pretend you know what you’re talking about. Using the knowledge that’s already in your head plus confidence goes a long way to convince people you have one iota of an idea of what you’re talking about. Playing a doctor in a scene – just throw out buzzwords you heard on House (Ugh, I miss House you guys) – “Sarcoma!” “Lupis!” “Hodgkins Lymphoma!” “Turn your head and cough!” See, easy.

3. Journalists know how to prompt people

If your story has an angle, which it obviously does, you’re gonna need the people you interview to say what you want them to. You’re gonna need to finesse an answer out without telling them explicitly what to say. It has to be smooth. Having experience leading subjects on is a good way to also communicate to your scene partner where you want your game to go.

4. Journalists are good listeners

I have learned the hard way that if you’re not paying attention to what the person you’re interviewing is saying because you’re focusing on what you’re gonna ask next or worrying if your skin looks dry – you’re gonna look like a fool LIKE A FOOL. Or if you’re not prepared to deal with what people are saying and just have a nervous breakdown. Just ask these guys, Listening is important in improv because if your scene buddy is like “Well Joseph, we finally made contact with the aliens,” and you were thinking “Did I feed my pit bull today?” You’re gonna have the added bonus of looking foolish WHILST having people look at you disappointingly and/or sneering at you…especially all those bullies from 4th grade who are probably in the audience just to watch you fail.

5. Journalists are basically delusional 

Sure kid, be a journalist. You’ll *definitely* make it. If you don’t, you can always just drop out and try playing make-believe as a living instead.

 

stock-photo-little-girl-in-reporter-costume-holding-antique-camera-65019499

You can always just play one on TV

 

So good news for the people (me) who are journalists and are dabbling in improv (me) because someone (me) says it’s a good idea.

Always take advice from yourself and always be your own role model. Go team! (me)

 

 

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