Monday, September 28, 2009

Gaddafi Needs a Nap

© 2009 Leighann Lord


Everybody needs their beauty sleep, even vilified world leaders. It was obvious to me as I saw Libyan President Muammar al-Gaddafi speak in front of the United Nations – puffy eyes, rambling speech – that at the very least, he needed a nap.

Muammar may not be sleeping well here in the United States since it’s so difficult for him to obtain lodging. There is no room at the inn or even a place to pitch his tent. Hostilities aside, you’ve got to admire a world leader that has his own tent. Now he probably doesn’t carry it himself, but it’s still very impressive.

As a former girl scout I have all my badges except for camping. I’ve never known the "joys" of sleeping out doors, under the stars at the mercy of creepy, crawling creatures of the night. I didn’t even survive the church parking lot simulation. I abandoned my buddy burner and said to my scout leader, "Look, I’ll sell the cookies, but sleep in the woods? I don’t think so."

Granted a world leader’s tent might have few more amenities and a few less bugs than an old Girl Scout tent, but Gaddafi is no great outdoors man. The scoop is, he prefers to sleep in a tent because he’s afraid of elevators. I’ve stayed in many hotels over the years and I don’t recall Motel 6 or Super 8 even having an elevator. But at least the latter will leave the light on for you in case you’re afraid of the dark.

This lack of welcome and safe place to catch some shut eye might explain the long, angry diatribe Muammar gave to the United Nations. Slotted for 15 minutes, he clocked in at 95. In stand-up comedy we call that "going over the light." Where’s the Sandman when you need him?

I might be a little angry too if nobody knew how to spell my name. According to Wikipedia, there are more than 30 different spellings for Muammar al-Gaddafi. I chose to go with the modern CNN version, as opposed to the classic network spelling that used a "Q" instead of a "G."

Perhaps Muammar was tired, cranky and over compensating. President Barack Obama is not an easy act to follow. He’s a dynamic, inspiring and a charismatic speaker, very likeable. Muammar? Not so much. He started by complimenting Obama, wishing that he could be president "forever" and then – speaking from notes like it was a junior high speech class – he proceeded to be Bitter Betty about everything. It reminded me of the title of a popular Off Broadway play, "I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change." Well as least he started off with something positive.

Much like a bad Open Mic Night, Gaddafi "walked" most of the audience. As he droned on, they strode out. Not many people have the fortitude for a 95-minute monologue. But they should have. They should have stayed, listened, took notes and planned accordingly. Sometimes people give you the gift of saying what they mean and meaning what they say. That 95-minute speech could have been a warning that the rest of us shouldn’t be sleeping well either.

Sweet dreams, Earthlings.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

I’ve Seen the Writing on the Wall and It’s Not Pretty

© 2009 Leighann Lord


I’ve always wondered about people who write on bathroom walls. What takes hold of them when the stall door closes? Why are they compelled to express themselves in the medium of ink and tile? What’s their inner monologue sound like? "I gotta take a leak. Where’s my Sharpie?"

It’s hard to imagine someone getting dressed for a night out on the town and their checklist including keys, money, and magic marker. But it must. Perhaps an epiphany struck at an inopportune moment and with no writing implement at hand to capture the thought, the cure for cancer was lost. A bathroom Wall Writer was born.

Porcelain is well known for its inspirational qualities, but people who write on bathroom walls are not just jotting quick note to self. They are writing to be read. Like a forerunner to FaceBook, wall writers are making declarations, posing questions and assassinating characters all in the same stroke. Let’s consider this deceptively simple but scintillating three-party political exchange:
Writer #1: "Bush Sucks!"
Writer #2: "No, you suck!"
Writer #3: "You’re both gay!"
Since this entry was not dated, it is unclear whether Writer #1 was referring to George Bush Senior, Junior, Jeb, Barbara, Laura or perhaps even one of the twins. I was, after all, in the ladies room and women can be catty.

Regardless of to whom Writer #1 was referring, no proof was provided of said suckery, the author obviously assuming it was self evident. Writer #2 with equal eloquence and brevity responded in-kind. Note here that Writer #2 either came to the bathroom prepared or, provoked by Writer #1, dashed out to Staples, bought a Sharpie and returned to pen a proper response. If that’s not dedication to the art of public discourse and debate I don’t know what is.

Writer #3's response, while following the trend of assuming facts not in evidence (it is highly unlikely she was privy to the sexual orientation of Writers #1 and #2), is most telling. While it’s plausible that the first two are engaged in some random base level political discourse, Writer #3 is all ad hominem attack, bringing nothing to the conversation. She might as well have penned "Your Mama!"

It would be disingenuous to condemn the act of bathroom wall writing, while simultaneously cooing over every newly discovered prehistoric cave painting. Is the etching of an early human hunting party pursuing a wildebeest really all that different? What is truly disturbing, from a former Catholic School girl’s point of view, is the breathtakingly poor penmanship. I’m not looking for calligraphy, but legibility is not too much to ask.

In a night club setting you could argue that perhaps wall writers are too inebriated to be neat. I disagree. If you’ve got a pen, you’ve got a plan. Have the stones to execute it with some style.

The problem is that schools don’t teach handwriting anymore. How are we supposed to figure out who our future doctors are if everyone has horrible handwriting? MCATs, schmcats. In the days of yore, if a medical school admission’s committee couldn’t read your application, you were in.

If kids today aren’t being taught to write cursive, how will they ever learn to read it? Will the original hand-written version of the United States Constitution be as baffling to them as hieroglyphics? Is this the plan or a case of unintended consequences? Perhaps this is the real writing on the wall to be worried about.


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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jerry Springer Comes to Congress

Where Was the Sargent at Arms?
© 2009 Leighann Lord


I figured if President Obama could speak to the nation’s school children he could speak to a joint session of Congress. I guess I was wrong.

I watched the President Obama deliver his health care speech and it seemed like things were going good for a while. But with each passing statement, fewer Republicans applauded. More of them began staring stoned faced as if in homage to Mount Rushmore. Was House Minority Whip Eric Cantor texting?!? Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Mr. Cantor. He looks to me how Harry Potter would have turned out had he gone to Slytherin instead of Gryffindor.

And then it happened. When President Obama began clearing up the misconceptions about the current health care proposal, saying that it would not pay for illegal immigrants, Representative Joe Wilson suddenly shouted out "You lie."

For a moment I thought I had been transported to the floor of the British Parliament or the set of "The Jerry Springer Show." Sitting behind the President, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi stared in disbelief. Vice President Joe Biden hung his head in shame. Clearly Representative Wilson had not read his handbook on Congressional etiquette. Way to go South Carolina. The Palmetto State’s standards might be a little skewed, with it’s own Governor Mark Sanford refusing to resign after an extra marital affair and political misconduct.

Where oh where was the Congressional Sargent at Arms? Finally, an opportunity to do more than just look official and he blew it. If this isn’t censure worthy behavior I don’t know what is.

To Mr. Wilson’s credit he did apologize. "This evening, I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president's remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the president's statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility."

According to CNN, "Wilson also called the White House to apologize and spoke with Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who accepted the apology on the president's behalf." Wilson had to call the White House since he’s probably not on the BlackBerry short list. I imagine that President Obama wanted to take the call himself, if for no other reason than to kill him with kindness but Rahm Emanuel said, "No, Mr. President. I’ll take this one."

Nobody wants to talk to Rahm (I eat puppies for breakfast, kittens for lunch, and blue dog democrats for dinner) Emanuel.

Demonic Lackey: "Excuse me? Mr. Satan, Sir? Rahm Emanuel’s on line one."

Satan, suddenly looking nervous and less sure of himself, says: "Oh God. Tell him I’m in a meeting."
With inappropriate behavior like this, I certainly hope the nation’s school children weren’t watching.


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Monday, September 7, 2009

What I Wish I Knew My First Year Doing Stand-Up

Advice From An Aspiring Comic Laureate


© 2009 Leighann Lord

I received an email from two gentlemen teaching a stand-up comedy class to high school students. They asked me for some advice to share with their aspiring young comics. I asked if it was too late to urge them to choose a different career? Something safer like a fireman, easier like a brain surgeon or more stable like a mortgage banker?

Perhaps hoping to head off a bitter comic rant, the teachers asked a very specific question: "What do you know now, that you wish you knew your first year doing stand up?" I replied:

"I wish I had known that when stand-up became my career, my life would run on a very different schedule from the rest of the world. I work almost exclusively at night and on the weekends. I also travel a great deal. This means I tend to miss a lot of important functions: weddings, baby showers, family dinners, picnics, BBQ’s and holidays. (Unlike many comics, I do have friends and actually like my family.) Before I got married (to a comic, of course) my "Date night" wasn’t Saturday, it was Monday."

"Even with advanced notice I have to choose: go out with my friends and not work, or work and not be with my nearest and dearest. Remember, performing artists are essentially self employed freelancers. There is no pension plan (other than one you create for yourself), no sick days or vacation days. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. This can potentially be problematic if you like eating on a regular basis or having a nice place to live."

"I manage these things as best I can. I am very lucky to have the love and support of my friends and family. I try my best to "be there" and they try to understand when I’m not. I do not say this to dissuade anyone from pursuing stand-up as a career. It’s just something to keep in mind."

"On a more general note, being a comic is a full time job encompassing more that just the time spent on stage. At any given moment within the development of our careers we play the role of writer, producer, performer, director, manager, agent, publicist. It’s rewarding work, but it’s hard work. Sometimes the easiest and best part is being on stage. If your heart is not truly in it, if you’re going into it looking for the "easy" money, please don’t. As with anything you choose to pursue in life, stand-up should be your passion, otherwise you’re taking up space in an already over crowded, competitive and sometimes heart breaking industry."

"That said, I enjoy what I do. There is no other art form quite like it. At the end of the day I’m proud to say that I’m a working professional stand-up comedian. It’s not running into a burning building, saving lives or financially ruining them but I love it."

As soon as I hit "send" I remembered the other thing I wish I’d known my first year in stand-up: that no one will ever take you seriously again. Even in casual conversation they’re always waiting for the other funny shoe to drop. When I go to the bank, my regular bank teller looks at me expectantly. I don’t know what to say. "Um... this is a stick up? No, no, I’m just kidding?"

I could be having a deep dialogue about the real world moral, ethical and political implications of The Prime Directive and eventually the conversation will turn personal. My palaver partner will wonder what it is I do for a living that allows me to be so witty, sharp and engaging. They’ll ask, "So, what do you do?"

For a split second I always consider lying, and saying something cool like, "a college professor." But then the next question would be, "Where and what do you teach?" And I just haven’t thought the lie out that far. So I tell the truth: "I’m a stand-up comedian."

Almost instantly they are intrigued. How many comics does the average person get to meet? On some level they are also awed. Most people who enjoy stand-up comedy would never have the courage to get on stage and do it themselves.

But as impressed as they may be, I can almost always see their opinion of me changing. All my cogent points about quantum theory and man’s inhumanity to man are forgotten, and I am relegated to the little box in their brain labeled – at best – "Entertainer" and – at worst – "Court Jester."

Then there are the odd times when the making of funny is downright illegal. Post 9/11, security at the nation’s airports is no laughing matter. An innocent little bomb joke can get you fined and arrested even if you’re a professional. Are we sure the terrorists haven’t won? Honestly, after skulking away from an airport security checkpoint clutching my jacket, belt and shoes, I feel dirty not funny.

I think my professional status should make a difference. I agree, you can’t have lay people running amok making reckless jokes about security or lack thereof. As a police officer identifies herself before making an arrest, perhaps I should identify myself as a professional stand-up, badge in hand from The Office of Homeland Comedy. Don’t try this at home. I think President Obama may need to appoint a Comedy Czar. A cool job, for sure, but I think Comic Laureate is more in keeping with my character.

Alas, every profession has its occupational hazards and it could be worse. I could have one of those really weird jobs where if you’re getting laughs, you’re doing something wrong.


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