Monday, July 30, 2007

Take My Parents To Work Day

Most comics I know wouldn't dream of bringing their parents to work but I do it all the time. Not only does my Dad come to my shows, but he's also my coach, critic, camera man, CD salesman, and my biggest fan. At one point, my Dad was so well known around the New York City comedy scene that he was invited to be a judge for the Urban Comedy Festival held years ago at the old Boston Comedy Club. It was funny watching comics apologize to him for cursing in their acts. He said, "Do your thing, son. I'm from Bedstuy. There's nothing you can say, that I haven't already heard."

My Dad is able to be so actively supportive because he's retired. We often joke that he works harder for my career then he did for his own. This is not true, of course. He and my mom -- the parental dynamic duo -- raised me in a beautiful home and put me through school.

Now that my Mom has finally retired she and I get to hit the road and go on the girly gigs, where the shows at night are incidental to the shopping we can do during the day. Some people go to sporting events, concerts or amusement parks. My Mom and I shop.

When I was a kid Saturday was Mall Day. We'd get up early in the morning like we were going to work and be at the mall when it opened. We'd shop, stash the stuff in the car, re-park the car (You can't be to careful. The mall parking lot is a thieves paradise.), go back and shop some more. I’m surprised my Dad never reported us missing.

Last year I brought my Mom with me to one of my favorite gigs in Amish country, Lancaster, PA. The comedy club there is nice, but the outlets are the real draw. We outlet shopped ‘till we dropped and then refueled at The Cracker Barrel. I take full credit and responsibility for getting my Mom hooked on Cracker Barrel’s Big Country Breakfast and their famous Chicken and Dumplings.

Although she doesn’t like to fly, I’d love to bring my Mom with me next time I play Minneapolis to enjoy the shopping Mecca: The Mall of America. I’ve been there many times and it never gets old. There’s a roller coaster in the middle, the top of which provides an excellent ariel view of the stores you might want to visit.

My Dad always said, do what you love and the money will come. Being a working standup comic tickles me because I’m not the funniest person in my family. My parents are hilarious. My Dad has never gotten on stage, but if he did, I believe the audience would love him. He's smooth, charismatic and irreverent. My Mom, the more reserved of the pair, would never get on stage but she is one of the few people who can catch me off guard with a wickedly well-timed aside that makes me howl with laughter. God forbid she catches me mid sip, I do a classic spit take that would make the comedy gods proud.

I’m grateful that my parents encouraged me to follow my dreams. I doubt standup comedy is the career path most parents would choose for their kids. To be honest, if I had a kid I don’t think I’d want her to become a comic. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but I’d want my kid to choose something more stable, with fewer demons (alcoholism, drug addiction, agents, managers) and more money. Lots more money. Something wholesome like medicine or law.

I enjoy bringing my parents to work with me because I don’t think I could ever bring a kid. Sure the theater and TV gigs are great, but most of my shows are still in night clubs. I’d feel a little funny perching a toddler on a bar stool while I go off to tell jokes. Even in a culture where children are encouraged to be hip and cool before they can walk and talk, that seems mildly inappropriate.

But the best part of bringing my parents to work, is the bragging rights it gives me. I’ve got married parents. Parents who are married to each other. What a concept! And get this, they were married BEFORE I was born. See what mean? They’re hilarious!

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Monday, July 23, 2007

What I've Learned From Paris Hilton

I know I'm a little late to the party, but sometimes I have to ruminate – the quaint past time of thinking before speaking – and Paris Hilton gives me a lot to think about. For starters, exactly what does one have to do to get disowned from the Hilton family? If not pornography or jail time then what? Murder? The bar is set a little higher in my family.

I broke a piece of my mom's good china once. I had to go live with my Grandmother for a little while. Oh they called it "spending the Summer" but I know what the real deal was. I was exiled for my own safety.

If I ever got the mind numbingly bad idea to make a sex tape with my boyfriend, people would be more interested in the sequel: surgeons desperately trying to remove my mother's foot from my ass. The director's cut of said sequel – showing how the aforementioned foot got lodged in my colon – would be a hit on You Tube.

When Paris went to jail, I was truly amazed that her parents went to visit her. I know my parents love me, but they would never come see me behind bars. From childhood, they made it clear that they were saving their hard earned money for tuition, not bail. You’re allowed one phone call when you get arrested, but I would be too embarrassed to call my parents. I would do my time and pretend I’d been on vacation.

If my family found out, they would never forget. My family forgets nothing. Even if I went on to find a cure for Cancer, I'd always be known as the ex-con porn star, and they’d find a way to bring it up every Christmas. The threat of perennial family humiliation is a great incentive to stay on the straight and narrow.

My bewilderment at Paris Hilton’s behavior tells me a lot about myself: my expectations of the upper classes are too high. I’ve always assumed that people with money would also naturally have class and propriety. Not having to worry about the basics of food, clothing and shelter, frees them to move up The Hierarchy of Needs towards self actualization and morality, doesn’t it? Then again, maybe not.

I see now these are my hopes and expectations. Naively I’ve put too much faith in the power of money. In Paris’ case instead leading to enlightenment, it has paved the path to self indulgence complete with video equipment, fast cars and an infuriating air of egotistical entitlement.

Money doesn’t confer standards and values. I may not come from money, but the self respect they instilled in me is measured in more than mere dollars. Don’t get me wrong, I still wish I was rich, but all things being equal, I’d be boring rich: no videos, no crashed cars, no jail time and no awkward Christmas dinners.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Age Is Just A Number On My Space

After A While, Age is Meaningless Except for the Milestones

On MySpace (the internet social networking website) you have to put your age in your profile. But on the net, you're only as old as you say your are. Most MySpacers lie about their age. Some lie up, some lie down. For example, if the profile says 15, they're probably eight. If it says 24, they're probably 15. If it says they're 30, they're probably 45. The only people who might put their real age on their MySpace page are folks in their 20s because apparently it’s cool to be in your 20s, but it's hard to tell them from teenagers so it doesn't count.

And then there are the people who lie way up. That's me. According to my profile I’m 96 years old. I’ll be 97 in September and I think I look pretty damn good for a budding centenarian. If I eat right and exercise I should make it deep into the triple digits.

Why 96? Well there are a few folks who visit my MySpace who don't get that I'm trying be coy. "Leighann, I think somebody messed with your profile. It says you're 67? Is that a typo? If not you look great." Thank you.

The manager in my doctor’s office saw my page and was so concerned, she called me at home. "Leighann, you’re not 52! I checked your chart." Really? That must mean you finally found it. It’s been missing since the turn of the century.

And so now I'm 96. Hopefully this leaves no room for ambiguity; a not so subtle way of saying, "I’m not telling."

The thing is I don’t have a problem with my age, but other people do. By other people, I mean "The Industry." In entertainment women have a very short shelf life. Telling people how old you really are is like putting an expiration date on your career. The rule of thumb is, you’re only as old as you look, and with the right clothes, hair and makeup I could be a high school girl or Miss Jane Pittman.

What does this have to do with MySpace? Well you never know who's visiting your page. It could be a fan, an old college friend or someone in The Industry. Most fans don't care how old I am, friends already know, and The Industry doesn't need to know. What they know can hurt me. If I look like I can play 18, but MySpace says I’m 29, they’ll no longer think I can play 18. I’ve decreased my opportunities for work. Is The Industry being unfair? No, they just don’t have the time to be open minded. The Entertainment Industry is a fast paced business with not a lot of room for imagination and creativity. These are very, very busy people.

I think after a while age becomes meaningless except for the milestones. At 18 you can vote. At 21 you can drink. At 25, if you’re a responsible driver, your auto insurance goes down. It’s worth noting that my insurance went down again when I got married. At last, a convincing argument for polygamy. A few more husbands and I might actually be able to get a nicer car. This also explains why gay marriage is such a hot issue. Shouldn’t they too receive the benefits of lower car insurance?

Thirty-six is an overlooked milestone. That’s when TV shows no longer care if you’re watching. The coveted commercial demographic is 18 to 35. At 36 you’re in the no man’s land between Comedy Central and AARP. In a real advertising sense you’re dead to everyone except bill collectors and divorce attorneys.

They say 40 is the new 20; maybe if you substitute student loans for mortgage payments, but I disagree. You can look good for 40, but you’ll never be 20 again. All the makeup, clothes, personal training and cosmetic surgery in the world can’t change your eyes. Most 20 year old eyes have not experienced the vagaries of adulthood: IRS audits, divorce, child support, ungrateful teenagers.

You can clearly see in a 40 year old’s eyes that sometimes life isn’t fair, things don’t always work out, shit happens and it happens hard and fast, for no reason. That’s why sun glasses are so much cooler after 40. They hide the simmering anger that you have at 20 year olds.

What’s more significant and yet overlooked about 40 is that you no longer have a place on a combination lock. Combination locks go from zero to 39. Go ahead, look. I’ll wait. See. Disturbing isn’t it? If a combination lock went up to 40 or even 50, wouldn’t it provide more security? But it stops at 39 perhaps in a partial homage to
"Logan's Run."

In high school I had a lock with the combination 19, 37, 15. To remember it I used to say to myself: "In 1937 my mother was 15." When I shared this wonderful memory device with my Mom she didn’t seem all that pleased. Now I know why.

At the milestone of 65 you can retire and begin receiving those lucrative Social Security payments I've heard so much about. Party time! At 72 you can enjoy the mandatory disbursement of your IRA, that is if you haven’t already tapped it to help supplement your social security windfall. At 78, you’ve officially gamed the system by exceeding the average life expectancy of an American Adult (by one year) and you've doubled the highest number on a combination lock age. (Thirty-nine times two is 78.)

Now if my real age is 78, what should my MySpace age be? I’ll have to start counting in dog years. Maybe then The Industry will finally be impressed with my range, but my dog's Vet may call and say "Leighann, you're not 9 1/2."

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Monday, July 9, 2007

Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles
Can Grease Bring Peace?

I regularly travel to Los Angeles on business, God help me. And no foray to LA is complete without a pilgrimage to the world renowned Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles. This may sound like an odd pairing to the soul food novice. I myself have wondered if Mr. Roscoe tried other combinations: Turkey & Pancakes? Ham & Bagels? Chorizo & Biscotti? But there’s nothing quite like Chicken & Waffles. If you’ve never had the pleasure, treat yourself. It will change you.

Once, on a three day trip to LA, I ate at Roscoe's four times. While back to back meals of fried chicken, waffles slathered in butter and maple syrup, with a side of collard greens, potato salad, a slice of sweet potato pie for dessert, washed down with a glass of sweet iced tea are not good for the waist line, it is good for the soul. It's comfort food, and in LA I need a lot of comforting.

Going to LA is like going to work in a big crazy office with back stabbing co-workers and ego maniacal bosses, where the rules and allegiances change faster than a game of musical chairs played in Dante’s "Inferno." At the end of the day, all I want to do is go home, but when home is a five-hour plane ride away, the next best thing is Roscoe’s.

On my most recent sojourn, I went to the Roscoe’s on Sunset and Gower. The Gods were smiling. The planets were aligned. The Force was with me. I found a parking spot close by and the meter was broken. Happiness is free on-street parking. The timing was perfect. I walked in, quickly got a table and chowed down with giddy abandon.

I later learned that the week before my visit, Cuba Gooding, Jr., also went to the Roscoe's on Sunset and Gower. He was getting some take out for his family. (Yes, that's the kind of town LA is. Even an Oscar can’t get you a table at Roscoe’s when it’s busy. And, no, they don’t deliver.) While Cuba was there waiting for his order, a young man was shot right in front of the restaurant. News reports were unclear as to whether or not this young man was trying to cut the line. The quick thinking Cuba went to the victim's aid and stayed with him until the paramedics arrived, presumably to pick up their order as well.

I was shocked. This was an unconscionable act of heresy. LA is known for gang violence, but Roscoe's is a safe space; a cross between the Romulan Neutral Zone and Las Vegas. Whatever happens at Roscoe's, stays at Roscoe's. I mean really; thugs gotta eat too.

But Roscoe’s isn’t just a place to eat, it’s also a symbol of unity. It brings together elements of dinner and breakfast, making a meal that anybody can enjoy at anytime. Therefore it’s the place where crips and bloods, celebrities and wanna be's can come together and raise their collective cholesterol. It is a sanctuary. The sanctity of Chicken & Waffles can not be violated by fisticuffs and gunplay. Unless some hapless fool tries to cut in line and then, of course, it’s on.

Indeed, the time has come to franchise; build a Roscoe's in Bagdad. That part of the world could surely use a little comfort food. Maybe a little grease will pave the road to peace. I mean really, terrorists gotta eat too. But we'll keep Cuba on standby, just in case. You never know when the help of an Oscar winner may come in handy.

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

It's All In The Jeans

"Hey! Ego! Leave Those Jeans Alone!"

A year ago I bought a pair of jeans that were too small for me. Well actually, I didn't buy them, my ego did. My ego said, "So what they're a little tight. You'll look great in them." But if you buy clothes one size smaller than you need, there's gonna be a struggle. Not a civil-rights-we-shall-over-come type struggle, but more of a tussle-type struggle that results in some bruising and broken finger nails.

Sadly, I can’t even claim ignorance. I knew they were too tight when I bought them. When it comes to clothes I'm a big proponent of try before you buy. I think if people spent more time in the fitting room, it would save a lot of money and hurt feelings. But alas I only half followed my own advice. Yes, I tried the jeans on, but didn't let the fact that they were a hair too small stop me from buying them.

At the very least I could have gone up a size. I could – and probably should – have walked away and bought nothing, but my ego wouldn't hear of it. In fact, my ego teamed up with my pride and my vanity and said, "Go for it! You're gonna look hot."

What I looked was constipated. These jeans were so tight and uncomfortable that I didn’t have a sexy walk, as much as a shuffling gate reminiscent of a cylon from the original Battlestar Galactica.

Well, if you've been reading my blog then you know that I just completed The 90-Day Fitness Challenge at my martial arts school and lost, in total, about 12 1/2 pounds. (Don't worry I'm not planning on losing any more. At 15 pounds I'd be put on the Ally McBeal watch list and forced to move to Los Angeles.)

The upshot is, I can now fit my ego-purchased jeans; no grunting, no groaning, no teeth nashing or crying. Of course, now, I won’t wear the jeans because I don’t want to give my ego the satifaction. I don’t want to give it permission to run amok and buy more clothes. I fear that would lead me down the dark road of thongs, clear high heels and spandex.

The experience wasn’t all bad. I learned that it’s possible to wear tight jeans if you follow six simple rules:
  1. Don't eat or drink water before or after.
  2. Don't take any deep breaths.
  3. Don't make any sudden or vigorous movements. (In other words, you can go to a party, but no dancing.)
  4. Don't sit down. (Doing so could put your life at risk by further restricting blood flow. On the plus side, if you faint and end up in the emergency room, they may have to cut the jeans off of you.)
  5. Keep saying to yourself: "I'd rather be cute, than comfortable." (Remember, this is not about comfort. If it was, you wouldn't be wearing tight jeans.)
  6. Control top panty hose are not optional.
Bonus Tip: Don’t let your ego do the shopping. To paraphrase a line from Pink Floyd’s 1979 Another Brick in The Wall, Part II: "Hey! Ego! Leave those jeans alone."