Monday, August 27, 2007

Lucky One

Last week I participated in the first round of HBO's Lucky 21; a nationwide comedy competition to win a chance to perform at The Comedy Festival this November in Las Vegas. While I was not chosen be one of The 21, I still feel very lucky.

First, the folks at Morty's Comedy Joint in Indianapolis gave me a lot of love. Two very special fans out did themselves. Meka and Tasha came to the show sporting "Girl You So Funny" tee-shirts with my picture! Game over. I win! Now, of course I'm sharing these ladies with fellow comedienne Mel Fine who's face was on the back but I don't mind.

Ironically, I’m also glad that I didn’t win and advance to the next round. Why? I read the contract. Pesky little habit of mine I picked up out of necessity (no attorney on retainer) and the disturbing tendency of the entertainment industry to legally sodomize talent whenever it can. It’s nothing personal. Just business. Actors have SAG, AFTRA and Equity. Musicians have ASCAP. Standup Comics? We don’t have a union, unless we also happen to be actors or musicians; so we fall through the cracks.

Contracts are rarely written in an artist’s favor. There are always intimidating phrases like, "promise to indemnify," "in perpetuity," and "throughout the universe" which promise in some vague but sure way that not only are you getting screwed, but that it’s going to hurt. And later on in your career, when you least expect, it’ll pop up and hurt some more.

In The Lucky 21 Contest contract, the Grand Prize section reads:

"Winner will have the opportunity to meet with network and industry executives selected by the Sponsor, participate in a television appearance and receive $10,000 cash."
To a trusting person this sounds great, but it becomes a little less glamourous when reread with a more critical eye. What’s to stop the Sponsor from simply introducing you to the head of accounting? That TV appearance could be a back ground part in a non union commercial, that when edited only shows your elbow.

Okay, but you still win $10,000, right? Take the money and run, but before you mentally spend it all in one place, the contract goes on to say:

"If, for whatever reason, sponsor is unable to provide any prize element, no compensation or substitution will be provided; however, remainder of prize package will be awarded and sponsor will have no further obligation to Winner."

In other words, if for whatever reason, Sponsor is unable to provide you $10,000, they don’t have to give it to you. Your recourse? None. You signed the contract. Are you feeling lucky yet?

The good news is, you don't have a lot of time to fret over these contractual ambiguities. It’s industry standard to give comics a contract on the day of, usually a few hours before your performance. They don't expect you to actually read it or make any changes. What they do expect is that you will just sign it, no questions asked.

And most of us do, because we hope. We hope this opportunity will be our big break. We hope that it will bring us the success we’ve been chasing. We hope this will be the last inequitable contract we’ll ever have to sign.

It’s like dating. No matter how many times you get burned, you still put your best foot forward and go out again hoping this will be The One.

It wasn’t for me but I feel like I won something more important: fans. And fans don’t need a contract. We go on a handshake, a laugh and a tee-shirt. (Thank you, Meka & Tasha! You made my year!)

Join My Email List & See A LIVE Show

Monday, August 20, 2007

When Slim Ain't In

I came across an interesting theory recently that gave me pause: "Big Black Women (BBW) in entertainment are destined for success because America loves the mammy image." Normally, I would have dismissed such an inherently racist, sexist and ignorant notion out of hand, but then as a Small Black Woman (SBW) I began to wonder.

The first Black woman to win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel in "Gone With The Wind." Who didn't love Nell Carter in her 80's sitcom "Gimme A Break?" Would Medea be as successful if Tyler Perry portrayed her more like Ru Paul? And who can argue with Monique's amazing success as a comedian and actress? Not I. I begrudge my sisters in the struggle nothing. But does this preference, real or imagined, put an SBW at a disadvantage?

To complicate matters there are quite a few sisters I can think of who's careers took a dive when they slimmed down. Remember Mother Love? When she began to lose weight, they replaced her with Robin Givens. The show was ultimately cancelled, of course, because who wants advice from an SBW with an attitude.

Was it really a contract dispute that led to Judge Toler replacing Judge Mablean on "Divorce Court?" Or perhaps Mablean’s days were numbered when she did a stint on "Celebrity Fit Club." Maybe she started looking a little too good underneath her judge's robes.

Before the talented Jennifer Hudson tackled the role, Jennifer Holiday brought the house down every night with her heart rendering rendition of "I'm Not Going" in the Broadway run of "Dream Girls." What happened to Miss Holiday? With a voice like hers she should have been a superstar. But she, like Judge Mablean, slimmed down and disappeared.

I hear you saying, "But wait Leighann. What about Tyra Banks?" What about her? While she still looks great, she is no longer in tip top runway, super model form. In fact the press has had a field day over her weight gain. But if Tyra subscribes to the BBW theory, she’ll carry those extra pounds right into a lucrative syndication deal, taking a page out of Oprah’s book.

Oprah took a lot of flack for her very public cycle of weight loss, weight gain. What made people so angry: that she had trouble keeping the weight off, or that she had the audacity to lose it in the first place? But Oprah's a genius. She didn’t begin the weight loss process in earnest until her media empire was firmly entrenched.

Does the average BBW in the public eye, slim down at her own peril? Americans pay lip service to the benefits of weight loss, but when it comes to Sisters, maybe they do prefer the image of the BBW. It's comfortable and familiar; the epitome of strength and stability. Is there nothing a smothering hug can't fix?

What's that? Oh, yes. The Weather Girls. No, I didn't forget about them. "It's Raining Men" is one of my all time favorite songs. Given the BBW theory they should still be topping the charts, right? But I think this may fall under the category of too much of a good thing.

Now that Starr Jones is taking up less space in the universe, it will be interesting to see if her career will suffer for it. Will people still be as anxious to hear what she has to say? God, I hope not. Sorry. I’m just not a fan.

But the bigger question is: in a media culture where the BBW image seems preferred, what's an SBW to do? Have I inadvertently harmed my comedy career by working out and slimming down even more? Thin doesn’t seem to be in for Black women unless you want to dance in music videos. Then the world is your oyster. I don't want to be a video vixen. The microphone stand at a comedy club is as close to the pole as I ever want to get.

Maybe it’d be different if I could sing. But then again, these days singing ability isn’t really all that necessary. If you can shake your hips and move your lips, the sound techs will take care of the rest.

I always knew a career in entertainment required sacrifices, but I wasn’t expecting anything like this. I’m left to wonder: is my weight, or lack there of, really what’s holding me back from super stardom? Will I have to bulk up like Barry Bonds and eat my way to a sitcom? I’ve always been heartened by the success of shows like "Girlfriends." But now I have doubts. Maybe in the public subconscious four SWB’s equals one BBW. Oh dear. Bring on the carbs.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Friendly's Almost Pushed Me To the Dark Side

I hadn't eaten at Friendly's Restaurant in ages but after a morning of traipsing through the mall with my Mom, we were hungry. Friendly’s seemed like a step up from the food court. The waitress came and took our order promptly enough – turkey clubs all around -- but she was a bit brisk and dare I say, not very friendly. Small grievance. Maybe she was overwhelmed. I've never waited tables. I don't think I have the temperament. But my spidey senses began tingling when she snatched the menu from my hand so fast I'm surprised I didn't get a paper cut. This is what we call in the literary trade a foreshadowing of worse to come. And come it did, or rather didn't.

My Mom and I sat and talked. And talked. And talked. And we watched people who came in after us get their food. What the deuce? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy conversing with my Mother. I don't get to do it as often as I would like, but I was also hungry. Now it wasn't distended belly Red Cross hungry, but I was ready to knosh.

How long does it take to make a club sandwich? Bread, meat, lettuce, tomato. I'd even ordered mine without tomato so it should have been easier and faster to make. What could the problem be? Did they run out of turkey? Were they growing the grain for the bread or behind on churning the mayonnaise? I have no idea how mayonnaise is actually made, and I don't want to know. A little mystery in life is a good thing

Sensing my growing disquiet, the waitress swung by and assured me that our "ticket" was the next one up. I discovered, however, that she was working with a more liberal interpretation of the word next than I was used to. Not only was our order not next, it wasn't even second or third. Now her assurances – there were two – were nothing but hollow platitudes. I came to the inescapable conclusion that "Tiffany" would not be getting a tip. In fact, it was becoming ever more likely that what she would get was cussed out.

I have a very active imagination. As we sat there, stomachs growling, I fantasized that at the 30 minute mark the manager would come over and explain what was going on. Maybe while trying to corner the turkey it teamed up with some renegade chickens and they were fighting back with the coordinated tactical precision of a Special Ops team. Due to an unexpected quantum flux, our order had been delivered to an alternate universe. Right now in some other reality I had already finished my meal and was enjoying a dish of black raspberry ice cream. Or perhaps, more mundanely, the cook had suffered an unfortunate mayonnaise churning accident. But alas, these are champaign wishes and caviar dreams. No explanation was forthcoming, fanciful or otherwise.

When the next plate of food came out that wasn't ours I was done. At this point, I don't know if that table had come in before or after us. It no longer mattered. I had reached a dangerous point where irrational thoughts began to bubble up from the dark side of my mind and sound plausible. My hand wrapped menacingly around my glass of ice water -- the only "food" on the table -- and I had a strong urge to throw it at the waitress.

First of all, that kind of behavior was only cute on "Dynasty." Who didn't love it when Alexis slapped the crap out of Crystal? Blunt hair cuts and shoulder pads flying; it was fabulous. Second, some my best friends are waitresses. If a customer did that to one them I'd be ready to put my hair up in a pony tail, take off the jewelry, grease up and roll.

When you're having an ethical quandary conventional wisdom suggests you that ask yourself What Would Jesus Do? As evidenced many times in the bible (changing water into wine, the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the last supper) Jesus likes to eat. I think he would have wanted his turkey club in a timely manner or know the reason why.

Besides, I think What Would Jesus Do?, is not a fair question. I know we're all God's children, but it's pretty safe to say Jesus is God's favorite. No matter what he does, God is gonna cut him a little slack.

A much better question to bring oneself back from the hunger induced brink is What Would Judge Judy Do? Given the facts she would agree that, yes, the service at Friendly's was bad, but it didn't excuse me tossing plates like frisbees and lobbing cutlery at the register like it was a dart board. It's moments like these when I miss my terrible twos. Those heady, free wheeling days when I could throw a tantrum without legal repercussions. Ah, youth.

Besides, you never know. Maybe the waitress had skills. Given the right set of circumstances, I might be willing to kick ass over a turkey club, but I'm pretty sure a reciprocal ass whipping would not be as pleasant. And if the rest of the staff jumped in too, some serious injury could be in the offing and not just my pride.

And so eschewing the dark side, and potential legal problems, we left. Walked out sans meal. I'm sure by the time I got home, cooked, ate, and cleaned the kitchen, our order was finally ready, complete with tomatoes.

I have since emailed the Friendly’s website, which seemed eager to know my comments, but I have yet to hear back. So what I thought was anomalous bad service is really emblematic of the wider corporate culture. Well, at least they’re consistent, or would be if they changed their name to Unfriendly’s.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Does Sexy Ever Go on Vacation?

Yes, But Be Careful With It

Feminine hygiene products have come a long way. Back in the day, women had to make their own sanitary napkins out of rags. "Ewww." Too primitive for the kid. I'm just not that crafty. But now we have choices. We have pads for heavy, light and overnight. The newest thing – new to me – are pads we can wear with a thong. A thong – which by itself sans pad – can restrict circulation, cause irritation and lead to infection. Gee, combined with cramps, cravings and mood swings, how can a girl resist? Hooray for progress. Thank you, Carefree.

Oddly, when my cycle starts I'm relieved because it means I can wear regular, comfortable underwear. Yes, the much maligned granny panties. I don't wish to seem ungrateful to Justin Timberlake for bringing sexy back – thank you, Justin – but sometimes sexy needs a breather. Just a day or two off to relax, regroup, and come back refreshed. Besides, if tight clothes and a thong are the only things that make you sexy, you’ve just got surface sexy. I would hope that my sexy runs deeper than that.

I can remember a time when the thong wasn't quite so ubiquitous; when panty lines weren't a mortal sin. To the contrary, they were proof that you had the decency to wear underwear; that you weren't going commando.

I have yet to figure out why "going commando" means that you're not wearing any underwear. Are the men and women of our armed forces not wearing anything beneath their uniforms? Or is it yet another thing like body armor that the government can't afford to supply the troops? Maybe "going commando" makes them fiercer fighters. If so I'm not cut out be a soldier. I feel way too vulnerable with no undies.

I can't even sleep commando. It gives me nightmares. Once I dreamt that Frank Sinatra was making me pancakes. I was furious because I had asked for waffles. I showed Frank the order pad where he’d neatly written down waffles, but he just went making pancakes while singing, "I Did It My Way." Creepy.

This is probably why I'm not a big fan of the thong. It's so skimpy that it's damn near like going commando. I can’t bring myself to wear it when it’s not absolutely fashionably necessary. Sleeping in a thong is out of the question. The last time I did, I dreamt that the sales people at Victoria Secret were trying to give me a colonoscopy. Yea, that’s how my subconscious mind works: Fall asleep in my bra and I’ll get the mammogram dream every time.

Curiously, there are women who always wear thongs and I don't mean professional women in the trade. I mean regular, every day women and to the most unlikely of places, like the gym. This can't possibly be comfortable. Why would you want to work out with a wedgie?

Men don't do this, although it would make professional sports way more interesting. If Oscar De La Hoya stepped into the boxing ring in a thong, my abhorrence to physical violence for profit would evaporate. Tom Brady or A-Rod in a g-string? Excuse me, I think I need a moment.

Okay, what was I talking about? Oh right, thong shaped pads. Admittedly, the sanitary napkin industry is in crisis; under assault from science. Seasonale, a new birth control pill, reduces the number of periods women have from 12 per year to four. Naturally (or rather unnaturally) fewer periods reduces the need for sanitary napkins, thong shaped or otherwise. Cool. That’s if you don’t take into account the side effect of increased "bleeding and spotting during the three months between periods" according to Not cool.

What could possibly go wrong with having only four periods a year? I guess we’ll find out when the law suits start rolling in. If you’re keeping score at home, the last latest and greatest birth control product for women – Othro Evra, better known as The Patch – caused blood clots, stroke and heart attack. That’s why instead of seeing ads for The Patch you now see ads for the lawyers looking to represent the women who wore it. Good luck, Ladies.

It’s worth noting that neither of these birth control methods are recommended for women over 35. I guess they’re just supposed to sit down somewhere and wait for the hot flashes and brittle bones.

I have no desire to go back to the dark ages of McGuyvering pads out of old clothes, but after going through all the trouble of bringing sexy back, why would you want to put it at risk? I’d like to keep mine off the injured, reserved list.

Join My Email List & See A LIVE Show