The Apple Of…

April 6, 2012

I eat apples now.

Walking around New York City in the all-encompassing want-to-eat after Yoga, meandering between classes, rehearsals and such, I want something sweet.

The chocolate “bark” I keep in my bag for dessert-y things is quickly depleted through sharing and late-night, mid-day and other cravings. I want something portable and I don’t crave anything sugary due to the calming effects of the dark chocolate.

So I go for apples. A new development in my life.

But I find myself needing one to eat.

As referenced by friends and even in the New Yorker not so long ago, this is not as easy as it might seem. For some reason, between childhood when I ate apples enjoying their simple sweetness and the current moment, skipping over the many years when I did not eat the fruit (who would eat an apple if you could eat a Candy Center Crunch from Good Humor?), apples seem to have either vastly declined in quality (a talked about rumor) or my taste buds have changed significantly (true as well). Now, unlike the daily banana that with a piece of Babybel cheese consists of my breakfast, I cannot just pick up an apple anywhere.

Myst has to be made about finding an organic store, sifting through or discovering the right kind of apple (Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, the list goes on) and then spending the 1,2,3 dollars just to try to get to something that tastes like it’s sweet and edible as opposed to mealy like the Red Delicious or Granny Smith has been reduced to.

It’s a strange task, but one suited to me.

After all, I’m a chaser.

To make the obvious metaphor, I chase around girls, trying to find the balance. For all the roller-coaster highs and lows of comedy, I feel like I’m getting a lot of attention in my small corner of my small community for the work that I am doing (despite how much I still beat myself up for not being good enough or getting it right, in a direct proportion of about 3-4 bad rehearsals shows-to about-2-3 good ones). My therapist continues to compliment me on my looks, as does the old woman Marie who wakes me up every morning grunting up the stairs (“You’re beautiful.” she tells me, when I see her on the doorstep). I had someone text me for a date last week out of the blue that seemed fun and fine. I even have people tell me at the bar come up and say they “like my face” which is pretty cool, but in flirty situations, I still don’t know who I am.

As I try on being mildly aggressive, it’s like putting on a character in a scene. When you touch my arm, are you touching it because that’s the way you are or you want me to touch you back? How much contact is too much? Or how do I even gauge how you feel about me? Now that I’m not so hung up on crushes (or am I?), I can be better about backing off, not hanging my hat on one thing. But then if I’m just flirting, how do I read your mind or confidently make moves when I don’t know how much to put on, how little?

I feel like I get kind of creepy when I talk about this stuff and, of course, I assume it is something I will learn at some point (bringing things back to yoga, I didn’t assume with that I’d be a prodigy over night, much to my aid) but it goes to life and improv and everything. In situations of comfort or elevated status we can be comfortable and otherwise not.

An improv example: this past week I did a rehearsal with my friends Teddy and Sebastian. Both of them are incredibly funny, talented people who have had a lot of opportunities thrown their way because of how good they are, how hard they work. Our coach is Louis Kornfeld, an improviser I have amazing respect for and I get into the room and I just choke and choke repeatedly. My friends are being hilarious, getting tons of laughs, making nice, natural choices. I am talking quickly, unnaturally, sounding worried. Telling people who they are. It takes me all the way until the end of rehearsal to get out of this place of tension.

A counter example: I go into the class where I big brother (read: T.A. the class) and help teach the students exercises and I do great, feel super-natural and when I make mistakes I don’t sweat it. I got to do a show last night on the Magnet mainstage, that I was so tired and burned out for, I had just had a class I had done terribly in right before it and had no rehearsal and destroyed it. Everyone at the bar was talking about how funny I was, coming up to me, shaking my hand. It’s improv so that show is gone forever, but for that night, it was mine.

When I find myself in a place of comfort or not, when a girl stares into my eyes and tells me “you know people really like you around here” or grasps my hand or something, or when I just have no idea who someone is to me and so act naturally, without as much self-regard, I tend to do better. The same as improv, dating, life, job interviews, god… But when I feel that pressure to perform, whether it be on track to team auditions, or just in a room full of people I respect (or a girl I have a crush on) it can be easier to find myself in that place of self-doubt, of instant self-judgement. Crippled.

This happens often. As I’ve said, I’m a chaser of things, formerly dreams (replaced by “doing the work”), sometimes girls, still constantly: approval.

I still seek it out and even in that seeking, find myself lost (a cliche, but…)

In a great speech Michael Delaney gave to my improv class two weeks ago, he talked about people auditioning for Harold Teams at the UCB theater and talked about the priorities of these people in comedy:

“They all want to get on Saturday Night Live, right?” He said. “I think that’s honorable, that’s an honorable goal. But I think it’s a shame when people miss the opportunities they could find along the way while they’re hurtling so quickly towards their goals.”

Because isn’t that the trick of it? Just slowing down and noticing. Seeing what happens, being open, even as you have a want?

In improv, pretending you don’t know you’re funny, that you have no idea what you’re doing, so that you can accept and give laughter?

In acting, “pretending you’re not pretending”.

In dating, seeming like you’re not needy for long enough for you to both admit that you are, in a way that’s hopefully mutually manageable?

I’ve walked around New York City a bunch. I’m less worried about my weight.

I’ve eaten quite a few apples.

Maybe it’s just fun, finding my type.

Or having a show.

Or going with overwrought metaphors.

For one post or two.

***

I feel like for most of my food discoveries, they could just all be chalked up to: “What can I say? I was hungry.”

I had noticed a hole-in-the-wall called “Meatball Obsession” a few times, sticking up near the PATH train on my way/walk up toward the improv ghetto from down near my house.

The proximity to mass-transit along with the specificity and tinyness of the location all contributed to my interest and one semi-hungover morning before class I decided to just sit at a Starbucks waiting, waiting for it to open.

It claimed to be the home of the “meatball-in-a-cup” and indeed it was, with various balls retrieved from crock pots with toppings administrated liberally.

There was a sandwich option which I did not avail myself of, but I was happy to report that the cup was full and nourishing.

I got the turkey meatballs in a “double” which were great (though my mother’s remain the gold standard), filled with bread crumbs and light with thyme for flavoring. I also opted for the Genoa topping at an extra buck which added toasted pine-nuts, shaved parmesan and some nice extra virgin olive oil I saw to the top of my meatballs coated with “sunday sauce”.

The dipping bread was delicious, dangerous, unexpected. Strips of parmesan-coated Foccacia already placed swimming in the sauce. I ate only one before throwing the other one out in a task that took too much willpower and a lot of fear.

Apparently they had opened that week so I felt pretty cool.

“You are.” They told me, looking me in the eyes.

And then I made out with the cashier.

***

MEATBALL OBSESSION

Double Turkey Meatball Cup w/Genoa Toppings (Shaved Parmesan, Pignolis, EV Olive Oil)- $8.71

6th Avenue bet 13th and 14th Sts.

123FL, PATH to 14th St.


Neil Casey Advanced Study Harold Notes Day Five

April 4, 2012

Ah man, I killed it this class and this show.

Coming off last week where Neil was sick and everybody was so depressed about him not liking us that they wanted to form a practice group just out of desperation, it was nice to have a week where I felt good about my performance.

But a note about that, even before.

My friend (and excellent improviser) Jed Teres recently re-posted an article he read about a frustrated writer working in publishing. (EDIT: realize not all of you may be able to see this link, so here is a picture of the page) He talked about how much the writer hated his job seeing these shitty manuscripts in his pile and how it eventually gave him writer’s block too just being in that place of anger. He only was able to get through when he was able to realize that there was no reason to be angry at these people and that in fact he was externalizing his own insecurity on to them.

In improv and in life, we judge other people harshly because we are very hard on ourselves. As long as we do the work and are trying and we see others do the same, there is no reason for harsh judgement (probably even not then).

So regardless that I felt awesome after this show or that Neil praised the fuck out of me, I should get to that place where I’m happy having a shit-class, maybe not immediately, maybe not even the next day, but I’m happy for that place to grow from. I don’t go and blame my fellow improvisers or blame myself, I show kindness to all involved. I thank myself and others for doing practice in this body at this time.

When that day comes I will know that I am a better improviser and probably a better person, in that power to be ok and learn.

Anyway, here are the notes for week five, as always, abridged, incomplete, often incorrect, abbreviated, scrawled hastily.

Use them for what they are worth.

I’ve also bolded a few things this week, looking over them.

-n

***

Today we are working on the idea of who gives a shit while we are improvising and digging for “because” in our scenes.

You can phone in a game you’ve done before and get away with it but why?

The good stuff is when we are not just playing a funny/not funny pattern in a vacuum (you’re the guy who loves buttons, but who cares?)

The question is how do we avoid the instinct to play empty patterns

Answer: always bring things back to emotional core or philosophy of a character.

Maybe guy loves buttons because he loves campaign buttons, middle school political involvement

Way we get from boring to interesting is by getting to personal involvement

Which gives me the right as a director to ask who gives a shit during your sets if we get into those pointless conversations

Because we don’t want to see people juggling robotic concepts between us, it fails as theater, a bad bit, no heart or meaning.

We play patterns that could pass for game but instead end up being nothing.

We will play Harolds today where everything has to be justified

Chicago calls us jokey and we call them based solely on performance and there are truths and fallacies in both. They place faster than even us now and we have some shows that play slowly.

But I will miss Let’s Have A Ball. It’s nice to do two person scenes, really dig in to the relationships and know no one will walk through the door.

I think 4 is perfect size for an improv group. Twoprov you need a lot of balls, group mind. The things that nice about improv is surrendering to group mind by checking your baggage, but in two-prov the amount of effect that any little thing has on you will be brought to the show.

I only feel two-prov that I am comfortable with is someone I’ve worked with for 5 years (i.e: Ryan Karels)

How do you play with honor when this is the only time you get to perform? How do you play nobly when you know this is the one time you’re in something in a month? How does the selfish bastard not come out when you’re putting in cash?

Answer: It’s like being in a relationship or a family, you’ve got to be willing to just play support of that’s what the group needs.

I don’t think that our whole system of getting together and being the sum of our parts  works well with most two prov.

8 person thing is artificial, based on class size, but works. I still think 4 is perfect number.

Neil Casey- “Indie foursomes. I endorse them. Let’s see more of them on our stage them. Blog that.”

I do twoprov with people I don’t know for bar sets but it would be easier rolling with another person.

In your improv, you’re always going to fall short of the ideal, get easy/cheap laughs, you just have to do the work and keep trying 

Its when people settle into it that’s hard. It’s that you never stop the effort. It’s impossible to do the perfect thing, but it’s when people are satisfied with that, that it’s disappointing.

I totally reject improv as therapy or melodrama

But what we do does mean you have to tap into memories/emotions

Because if you be fake or impression then it will ring false

As actors or performers we have to be willing to remember instead of invent

A good improviser has to be able to pull from emotion, we develop an intolerance for people who do weak civilian bits as part of their personality

A lot of people get away of being full of shit but when you put that on stage it rings extremely false

Rather than playing a left brain pattern or an imitation of another scene, invest with the emotion of a memory, imbueing it with that, will give it that voice that you have that no one else could give.

I remember buttons as running for president because that’s what I have.

It’s not therapy, that’s bs, but being as much of yourself to the table. If you’re being broken up with, remember the last time you got dumped or whatever.

True-story invocation- you imagine whatever is closest to you about this object

Improv is not therapy, but how you play believably is recall things that are true to us

Those scenes where impenetrable characters argue about nonsense, I want to avoid

If a kid is being annoying, react emotionally. Everyone has their breaking point. Sometimes, our instincts are to be nice to play it real, but if a line is asking for anger or annoyance, play it truthfully, show the emotion you might suppress in real life.

We want our character to play realistically while we want to be funny.

The template I always want to avoid, is when we are in one of those scenes when we are discussing nonsense as if it was something, acknowledge it is nothing.

Don’t treat something as important when it is not.

Your philosophy doesn’t have to be great as a justification, just what you can get

I don’t care until you drill down until something that interests and what interests me is the truth

When you have a strong emotional choice that doesn’t make sense, the game will be rooted in how you make it make sense.

When you find yourself in a scene when things don’t make sense, keep asking yourself why and you’re more apt to get to something.

Don’t let people stand out there running out of lyrics in hot-spot, same thing in Harolds.

How we express ourselves via specifics is an interesting pattern/game. It’s not robots and zombies, it’s slice of life. People constantly express their real emotions through proxies. People can’t be honest so they talk about money, where to eat, et cetera

How many times do I say I want something to care about? A dead dog?

I’ve never had anyone told me I have a small dick or saying that they are getting fat, because people in relationships are much more cruel to each other.

There’s a Louis CK video where he’s talking about George Carlin saying I did the same act for 15 years and it sucked because it was his little observations but then he started throwing them out every year and if you do that your cute observations go away and eventually all you have are your balls, things that are attached/true to us. 

We get to be that special class of people that gets to replicate a reality most people don’t have: talking about real emotions that are true.

Del- the smallest emotional discovery is better than the best invented idea

When you start bringing up things that are true real, people respond

Bill Hicks- If you get on stage then you have supply and demand covered, but I’d you’re trying to be something else then you’re trying to be a commodity, if you’re yourself no one else can give me that. 

If my game is that I’m apathetic it’s incumbent on the backline to give you more and more to be increasingly apathetic about.

Lessening the strangeness of other people’s behavior, while giving the same emotional reaction can be a good second beat

Why Grandma’s Ashes is so good if someone initiates a second beat dumbly we all get on board to support someone’s ideas

I hate to watch shitty scenes where is whiny people complaining about nothing.

I’d rather see a scene about an abusive domineering relationship than another scene about bickering talking about nothing.

One of my favorite things about improv are the moments when we earn making up nonsense. Be sure to seize them.

***

I won’t share the group notes because I try to leave personal notes out of here but I did a very silly run of scenes about a guy who wanted a piggyback ride very seriously and Neil pointed to it as being great because it was a super-dumb (but real ala R. Crumb) idea played with super emotional-commitment. He also talked about the important of emotional commitment in the Invocation as an opening to bring that same level of emotional commitment to our Harolds. I’m sure we will keep working on that.

One last note from the end of our Harolds, from Neil:

***

I have one souvenir, for you.

Michael Delaney- Connections, Callbacks at the end of a Harold: It’s all dessert. You can have a great meal without them. Don’t force them if they don’t come naturally or aren’t earned. I’d rather see new scenes or unconnected third beats than false connections.

For second beats, clear simple game should move you, don’t out-clever yourself!

You’re all clever enough to do analogous, but why do it unless necessary, there’s no greater glory in them.


Feel The Burn

March 28, 2012

I talk a lot about yoga nowadays, which I still believe firmly makes me into some sort of douchebag but that said:

Often times in my life, it feels like improv, yoga, dating, living, just walking around on the street, is all just a journey towards self-acceptance and the accompanying tension and struggle of that journey.

Put in a different way, by the great improviser David Razowsky (among others), denial is the source of all suffering.

The way we want to be or imagine ourselves versus seeing clearly where we are and are surrounding, being present in the moment, is the tension of existence.

And it’s painful and difficult to notice how aware you are, how present you are, and to try to make yourself more so.

Some of us are tighter than others, I can’t even do a decent downward-facing-dog because my hamstrings are too tight or are decent chair pose, because Frank thinks I’m too weak and my teacher thinks I might have too much tension.

Or, to pull backwards, It can be difficult for me to be confident in improvised scenes because I’m often not confident in life and my choices, it can be difficult for me to “be in the moment” listening to people and absorbing what they have to say (in scenes, life, dating) because it’s not a skill I’ve always used, it’s a “tight” muscle.

All of this is fine, we all have our limitations as humans, our own stretching to do. But not being present, wanting to be somewhere else, being desperate, judging or hating ourselves, is a slippery slope to despair.

And all of this is too vague. Some examples:

This past weekend, I auditioned for Harold teams over at the UCB. Those of you who know me know it is sometimes a place of stress for me (I still get rejected for even classes there all the time, take that reality-star pseudo-fame). I had decided long ago that the Magnet was the place that I loved and getting to work with Christina Gausas in her classes and shows, learning her style. Harold teams weren’t a priority for me, heck I didn’t even like Harold Night for the most part (Neither did they apparently, since they broke up most of the teams while I was writing this). But, the thought is you’d be crazy not to audition, at least to get the experience. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre has a lot of exposure and can be a good place to perform and there is much to be learned from any performance opportunity. I decided I would be fine with the auditions, because I didn’t want it, unlike some people in the comedy community, for whom getting on a team there is the be-all end-all next-step for them in their ascendance to greatness. I told myself I was ok.

But I wasn’t. As the audition came up, I got gradually more stressed. I wasn’t too stressed before the audition and even going in felt like I did fairly well. But after the audition as I talked to friends and they seemed overjoyed, I felt overwhelmed by failure. Even if we didn’t know who made teams, I wasn’t as good as them. Who was I here? Why did I care so much when I told myself I didn’t care, when I didn’t even love all of UCB, this stressful place for me? The truth, as my father told me over a turkey burger before the audition, was “that you do care so you should just stop lying to yourself about it”.

And what I realized, walking back down along lower 6th avenue to write this blog post, was that I did care because I wanted their approval BUT even more than that (explain the explanation!) I wanted their approval because still in me there is so much that isn’t ok with myself, so much that isn’t self-confident, that wants someone to tell him that he is great and that everything will be ok.

And what’s more than this and this is the most difficult thing to say of all:

THAT. IS. FINE.

Ultimately, do I want to be an insecure person? No! I would like to be less of one, at least. I have girls constantly telling me how much they hate “weakness” or “men with no balls”, just for instance. But we all have our own places we are tight, our own places to stretch, our own progress that can be made from where we are. If I have a core of insecurity and I know that, guess what?! It’s the fist, million-time-th-better-step to being less insecure! Just knowing where you are and then stretching from that place, trying on more confidence, little by little. Doing the work and being satisfied.

At the end of my Neil Casey Advanced Study class yesterday I had a terrible class where I couldn’t make choices, another player on stage didn’t understand my move and we sat in the shit we had collectively taken on stage and I just performed generally poorly. And yet I knew I had done the work so I tried to feel good, I knew I had identified weaknesses and stretched them.

When we are practicing yoga, or working out or running or whatever physical activity we do to strengthen our bodies, we know we do well because our bodies literally thank us through releasing endorphins telling us that we are helping them, physically MAKING us feel great! But when we work our minds, our souls, there is no accompanying flow of endorphins, no hints to make us be okay with the stretch, the tear, the weakness we have endured, so insted of thanking ourselves, I judge myself and make myself feel bad, or I can.

I walked out of a rehearsal for the show I have that I was cast in that Christina Gausas is directing that I am SO honored to be a part of, that meshes with my values and background and how I love to play and knew I was worse than the other people there, knew I had fucked up repeatedly in rehearsal, knew that only in the very last moment of rehearsal did I begin to grasp myself and my skills and have a breakthrough. I moved already from a place of weakness to a place of strength in such a small time. As my yoga teacher, Chrissy Carter says, do not think of the body you are not in right now or wish you had, thank yourself for the practice you are doing in this body at this time.

But as I walk out, I am consumed with worries. Will I not be good enough and be dismissed from the show? Am I being too weak in scenes, in that struggle to be in the present? What about my habits and quirks that I try to suppress, picking my nose, or scratching my scalp or just my insane gestures from the audience (a fun sight for those of you who know me to behold). It is a struggle to not judge one’s self for one’s mental work because WE CARE. I care! We all care about our lives and our passions and so it is difficult to see them as practice. It’s good to be emotionally invested in things, to feel things. My friend Jon Bander said last night in rehearsal that “it is so wonderful to see people feel things on stage, because frequently as stand-up or sketch comedians, we are not allowed to feel something on stage, only comment”.

But I also have to recognize that note that Ashley Ward gave me over a year ago that, “you are where you need to be”.

I didn’t get on a Harold Team at UCB. I didn’t even get a callback.

I didn’t have a good class with Neil Casey and impress him, so I could get petted and stroked and told how brilliant I am.

I wasn’t up to snuff in my rehearsal with Christina, whom I admire and adore, and it breaks my heart.

But today, I feel happy and I feel fine.

Because wherever I am in my life, I’m doing the work. As my friend Sebastian told me as we were walking down the street, quoting another great improviser and teacher of mine, Michael Delaney: “If you want to do this, see that you are working the hardest out of all of your friends.”

Because today, I look at myself, I see where I am in the present moment, I forgive myself, I love myself and know there is nowhere else that I could be.

Whatever happens, I do not control. I don’t control what others think of me, whether I am cast or not, admired or not, nothing.

Only if I am in the moment, the present and I’m okay with my own weakness.

Which I guess, you could call, a kind of strength.

Oh yoga.

What the fuck have you done to me?

***

My friend Frank, who is now the big brother/probably partial-dad (his pops is in his early 60s) of one Charles Orio, tells me I obsess too much about my weight.

This is true.

When I went into my therapist’s office, I described a night of regret where I got drunk ate two “Kooky Brownies” (Brownies that had a chocolate chip cookie top to them), bought too many drinks and let other people buy me some and woke up 3 pounds heavier.

(I also saw Kiss*Punch*Poem that night, an improv show inspired by and involving poets, which I highly recommend, as it currently is I think the only show that elevates improv to art in New York City that is running right now.)

My response, which calmed her down, was that I just ate normally that day. Had some nuts and coffee for breakfast, chicken salad for lunch, a Fu Man Chew from Better Being Underground (aka my secret sandwich shop) for dinner and this taco for a late-night snack.

My couch-crashing roommate Teddy and I were walking down Greenwich Avenue on the sort of long-stroll from the Magnet back down to Soho we occasionally get to indulge in on a nice night when we noticed a lone taqueria standing open on the late-night street.

We went in to discover it was “Taco Happy Hour” at Oaxaca as exemplified by an open tall-boy of Modelo Especial at the counter and a dude who was willing to talk about why he was not willing to join the co-op in Park Slope.

The taco itself though was fragrant and delicious, mounds of picked onions, spicy salsa verde and a light sprinkling of cotilla cheese on two light corn tortillas with some chewy, salty chicken for an umami core. At 2 bucks, it made me more okay that the taco truck wasn’t out on a weeknight over on 6th Ave.

Teddy and I headed home after he even talked about applying there for a job and our conversation was complete.

The next day I weighed less, I told my therapist.

And all was right in the world.

Until I woke up 2 pounds heavier, this morning.

***

OAXACA TAQUERIA WEST VILLAGE

Pollo Taco- $2.00 (5-7pm or after 10pm)

Greenwich Ave. bet. 6th and 7th Avenues.

123L to 14th St-7th Ave. ACEBDFM to West 4th St.