Sunday, December 26, 2010

Just Suck It Up!

Is There Vacuum Cleaner Out There Worth a Damn?

© 2010 Leighann Lord
I really thought I'd have a housekeeper by now. I’m not talking Mr. Belvedere from “Mr. Belvedere” or even Alice from “The Brady Bunch,” but somebody to come in once or twice a week (off the books, of course) to help tidy up the place. At the moment that somebody is me. And rest assured, I’m not trying to be down to Earth or keep it real in any way. Given the opportunity and the ducats, my hired help would need hired help.

I don’t love cleaning but I’m good at it. I’ve even read books on cleaning to improve my technique. (“Clutter Control” by Jeff Campbell of The Clean Team is my favorite.) For serious cleaning, I gear up like I’m about to fight. I take off my jewelry, tie my hair back, slip on the gloves and start swinging. It’s damn near a dirt pogrom.

But a fighter is only as good as the tools in her arsenal and the weakest in mine is my so-called vacuum cleaner. I've run it over visible debris multiple times succeeding only in sliding it an inch or two down the hall. As a dirt mover its fabulous, actually sucking up said dirt, not so much.

It didn’t start out that way. In the beginning, my vacuum cleaner worked well and I was giddy. I’d vacuum the rugs, detach the cup and show my Husband the deluge of dirt that had accumulated inside of it. I was as proud as a hunter stalking and bagging big game. My Husband, a brilliant man, had the good sense to “ooh” and “ahh” over my cup of dirt. “Wow, look at that!” he’d say, perhaps to distract from the fact that if a crime scene investigation team ever came to our house, they’d find his finger prints everywhere but on the vacuum cleaner.

But soon the dirt cup yielded less and less, the vacuum cleaner becoming nothing more than an expensive air blowing, noisemaker. It’s not just about the money, although I’ve made no small investment in subpar appliances. I’d like my vacuum cleaner to work as advertised and expected because I have a Dog who sheds with willful purpose. We have a ritual, He and I. I vacuum a rug, and then He rolls around on it with great enthusiasm as if to replace and grind in the fur I had the temerity to remove.

Now, you might be thinking, “Leighann, like your Husband, I’m very impressed with your cup of dirt, but have you tried cleaning the filter?”

“Why, yes I have.” As a matter of fact, I lay down pages of old newspaper, remove the vacuum’s filter and gently brush away the excess dust and dirt with a cheapy tooth brush bought specifically for that purpose. And for good measure, I show off this dirt to my Husband as well for another round of “Wow, look at that!”

But this shabby performance is not just from my current vacuum cleaner. It’s every vacuum cleaner I’ve ever owned – I'm on my fourth — each one more disappointing than the last. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable when I expect a brand-new-out-of-the-box vacuum cleaner to last longer than six months.

My parents have had the same vacuum for the last 25 years. I kid you not. AND IT STILL WORKS. When I was a kid, I hated it. The Beast was big, heavy, loud and probably powerful enough to clean up Congress. But at this point, I fervently hope my parents leave it to me in the will. And my chances are good since I’m pretty sure I’m the favorite.

In the mean time, I’m still hoping to have household help someday. I want someone like Roberta from “Two & a Half Men”: a no nonsense Viking of a woman who comes equipped with a sharp sense of humor, a strong work ethic and, if I’m lucky, she’ll bring her own vacuum cleaner with the suction power of a black hole.

Maybe my life will be more like a sitcom when I actually have one.

Listen to the new podcast of this blog!
Now available on itunes!

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy."mart, sexy, savvy, funny. If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Lexus Christmas to Remember or A Transmission Under the Tree

© 2010 Leighann Lord

Ok, the Lexus “Christmas to Remember” commercials are getting to me. Who wouldn’t want to have a new car for Christmas? But you have to live in the right neighborhood for that. If you don’t, that shiny new car under the big, beautiful red bow might become the sad, dirty bow laying car-less in the street.

A brand-new car is always more exciting than the day-to-day banality of car ownership: gas, tolls, insurance, maintenance. This was on my mind as I took my 2005 Honda Civic in for an overdue inspection and tune up. There’s nothing like sitting in a chilly garage waiting room to make you think seriously about getting a new car, if not a Lexus then maybe a BMW or a Mercedes. I’m intrigued by the cars that can park themselves. I’ll be really excited when they start paying for themselves. When it can hide itself from the Repo Man, call me.

My dream car is a Volvo C-70 coupe, convertible. Now that’s a sexy whip. In my fantasy it never runs out of gas, needs repairs, or gets stuck in traffic. And while the wind blows through my hair as I zip around town, it still manages to look perfectly coiffed when I stop at very rare red light lights. (Lest you think I’m completely shallow and self absorbed, I also dream about world peace, space travel and free cable.)

Chatting with my mechanic about possibly buying a new car, he reminded me that upkeep on high end cars is expensive. “More features? More problems,” he said. Last week he had just done a transmission oil change on a BMW: $700. Yikes! Where’s the black market when you need it? Bottle for bottle, I know transmission oil is more expensive than motor oil (actually I only recently learned this from my Mechanic, nodding in agreement when he said it so as not to look like an idiot) but good grief.

Another lady in the shop received the news that the left axle on her 1999 wagon needed to be replaced yesterday. “Do I have too?” She said. “Well,” the mechanic said gently, but firmly, “You can replace the axle or use the money for bus fare.”

Suddenly my five-year-old Honda didn’t seem so basic and boring. It’s my third. My first was a 1989 Accord. I road-tripped the hell out of that car, may it rest in peace. It got totaled in an accident. My favorite Honda, the one I miss the most, is my 1992 Civic: red, two-doors, sun roof. Sigh. You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t cute in that car. I remember being parked one Summer night on the Belt Parkway – yes, I said parked – and I opened the sun roof to sit and look at the stars, while listening to a news report that assured me the parkway was wide open and traffic free.

I might still have that little cutie car too if not for the intervention staged by my family. “I can get one more year out of it!” I said. But at the point you’re thinking about replacing the engine, again, it’s time to let go and move on. But in a world where cars start losing value before they’re finished being built, Hondas are – in my humble opinion – one of the few that are built to last.

“You have to do a lot to kill a Honda,” my Mechanic said. “If you take care of this car, it will take care of you.” Today, “care” cost me $288.51. At the dealership it would have cost me double. But like people, the older a car gets the more care it needs.

Next up on the preventative maintenance list is the dreaded transmission oil change. Given the price, I may have to slip it onto my Christmas list. It’s not quite a Lexus but I still want it wrapped up in a big pretty red bow.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." Smart, funny, sexy, savvy. If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Barefoot Stand-Up?

© 2010 Leighann Lord

When I’m going on stage to perform, I like to dress up. Nothing ostentatious just neat, clean and stylish. But I'd been traveling all day and I was tired. The outfit I put on was nice, but when it came time for the shoes I just couldn't face putting on a pair of pumps. The heel was a respectable two and half inches high, but cramming my toes into a pair of black satin, pointy-toed sling backs seemed like cruel and unusual punishment.

I've often fantasized about performing bare foot. I saw Sade do it in her 1993 PBS concert and I loved it. She looked both classy and earthy standing there in a slinky, white, Morticia Addams style gown, her perfectly manicured toes peaking out from the bottom of her dress. Glancing at my own toes, I saw that my week old pedicure still looked decent. Was tonight the night? Was I brave enough? Could I walk out on stage barefoot and tell jokes?

And then my eyes fell upon my slippers, a brand new pair recently purchased, price tag still attached. These weren’t of the big pink bunny variety, complete with nose, whiskers and floppy ears. These looked like ballet slippers. All black, top and bottom, they blended in perfectly with my pants. And, best of all, the slippers were foam padded. "Oh yes," my feet seemed to say. So, I slipped on my slippers and yes, my feet felt fabulous, the best thing short of a full on foot massage.

“No, this is crazy,” I thought. “I can't wear slippers on stage! It's unprofessional.”

"Who says?" my tired toes chimed in. "They look good. No one will mind. No one will even notice."

I took a gander at myself in the full length mirror to see if my eyes could settle the argument between my head and my feet, and it became four against one. To the casual observer it looked like I was wearing black flats.

My mind — finally on team comfort — even reasoned that I'd give a better performance if my feet didn't hurt. Weather wasn't a factor either since I was performing on a cruise ship. The showroom was just one deck down. And so I walked out of my room, my heels left behind like bewildered sinners after The Rapture. In fact, my shoes remained packed and untouched during the entire trip. I relished the compliments I received on my “cute shoes” as women seductively stumbled around the Promenade Deck in strappy stilettos while the ship swayed from port to port.

For my next cruise I may not bother packing shoes at all, which puts me one step closer to performing, Sade style, in my bare feet. The stage, of course, will have to be foam padded.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Singapore is Keeping it Real: Real Clean

Singapore - A Fine City

© 2010 Leighann Lord

My work entertaining the troops recently took me (and the New York Underground Comedy Festival All-Stars) to Changi Naval Base in Singapore. Who wouldn’t want to visit the country that's featured in almost every episode of National Geographic’s Locked Up Abroad? "Tune in next week when an American goes to Singapore and does something stupid. Again." Do you remember, Michael Fay, the American kid who got caned for vandalism back in 1994? Singapore isn’t exactly soft on crime.

The customs and immigration form I filled out on the flight said, in big bold letters, “DEATH TO DRUG TRAFFICKERS!” Not a lot of wiggle room. They don’t care why you’re dealing drugs: Death! They don’t care about what kind of childhood you had: Death!; What kind of medication you may or may not be on: Death! There’s no plea bargain, reduced sentence, or time off for good behavior from Death!

Singapore is called a “fine” city not only because of its commitment to cleanliness but because of the myriad of seemingly innocuous offenses for which one can be . . . well . . . fined.
Eating and drinking in public? Fine!
Jaywalking? Fine!
Spitting? Fine!
Gum Chewing? Fine!

Singapore is sweating the small stuff.

It was tough to refrain from jaywalking, the birthright of everyself-respecting Native New Yorker, but no gum chewing? That was really difficult. I chewed gum all through Catholic school and never got caught. But I’ve been out of school for a while and have grown accustomed to chewing at will. If the nuns caught you in the act of mastication, they made you put the gum on your nose. Yeah, that’s exactly what Jesus would do. Singapore is a bit more punitive with a $1,000 fine and possible imprisonment. You’re not even allowed to bring gum into the country. The penalty for gum trafficking: Death? No, but the $10,000 fine is rather killer.
So unwilling to risk a “Locked Up Abroad” episode, I divested myself of my gum stash. I considered hiding a pack or two in my suitcase, but I worried that they might have gum sniffing dogs at the airport. My dog, Rolie, could easily do that job. He’s the reason that I don’t leave my purse on the floor. On more than one occasion I’ve seen him neck deep in my bag like a pig rooting for truffles. And yes, he’s figured out how to work the zipper. He’s a crafty little cur.
Even if I had managed to smuggle gum into Singapore, I would have been too afraid to chew it. Are the cops on the look out for people with minty fresh breath? Does Singapore have chew cams strategically placed around the city to catch careless bubble blowers in the act? I just couldn’t risk it. And besides, Altoids aren’t so bad once you stop wondering why they’re so “curiously strong.”
But I half hoped, half feared that I’d be approached by an illegal gum dealer: "Hey Girl, whatchu want? I got Bubble Yum, Bubblicious, Hubba Bubba! I'll hook you up, Boo!" But just my luck, he would’ve been an undercover cop.

To be clear, Singapore isn’t run by fascist dentists. They’re more like over zealous neat freaks. The No Gum Chewing edict preempts those who would spit out their gum in the street rather than throw it in the garbage. But it just goes to show, “weapon of mass destruction” is a relative term. Perhaps Singapore never considered sending troops to Iraq because Saddam Hussein wasn’t stockpiling Juicy Fruit. He didn't have any weapons either but that's another story.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Can Explain, Officer

© 2010 Leighann Lord

Air travel is convenient but not always enjoyable. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, flying used to be fun. It was like going out on a date. You got dinner and movie. Now it’s like a one night stand. You slink away from airport security with your clothes in one hand, your dignity in the other thinking, “I have got to stop doing this.”

I guess I’m what you call an expert frequent flier. I know how to play the Airport Security Theatre Game. Post 9/11 my liquids are less than three ounces and placed inside the requisite one quart plastic baggie. For this I’m sure the folks at Ziploc® couldn’t be happier. Just when the Green Movement was about to put a real dent into their business, National Security stepped in and boosted their bottom line.

My lap top is out and placed in a separate bin. Legacy of the Shoe Bomber, my shoes are off and placed on the conveyer belt, though this seems to be a strictly North American measure. Other countries not only do not ask you to take your shoes off, but they have big signs asking you, in fact, to please keep them on. Trained and confused American travelers ignore this and persist in shambling through security in their stocking feet. And I’m sorry, but not removing my belt gives me a deep feeling of satisfaction ever since I bought a plastic buckle just for the occasion.

I have yet to experience the latest device devised to violate my privacy in the name of safety: the airport scanner that can see through your clothing and snap a picture of you in your all togethers. We travelers are assured that the images are viewed by an officer of the same gender. Don’t ask, don’t tell right?

I suspect that The Powers That Be are woefully and wilfully ignorant on matters of gender and sexuality. Do I have the right to ask the sexual identity/preference/proclivity of my screener? I, of course, think people should enjoy their work, but only up to a point. If I were a Lesbian, would I have the right to ask that my screener be male? And what about Transgender travelers? This could get hairy in a hurry.

We are also told that our screened images will not be saved but immediately deleted. Hmm, like the finger prints a police department keeps on file when it shouldn’t? Like cases that are sealed by the court but are conveniently opened when it suits the "proper" authorities? Am I saying I don’t trust my government? No, of course I trust my government. I don’t trust the fallible human beings who are running it.

If I opt out of a body scan I can look forward to the physical search. The only thing worse than being touched by strangers, is being touched by strangers in uniform. The former know they’re wrong, the latter feel they have a right.

And so I do everything I can not to be touched, talked to or looked at too closely by Airport Security. But this is not always possible. On a recent trip I realized that I have things in my carry-on that might, out of context, look suspicious to the hyper-vigilant, security-conscious observer, thus attracting the attention I so desperately try to avoid. But to be fair, if I didn’t know me, I might be suspicious, too. I mean, why would anyone travel with duct tape, rope and a flashlight?

Hold on. I can explain.

I’m always cold. The first thing I do when I get to my hotel room is check the thermostat and set it to what I believe is a livable level. Ideally this is 78 degrees, 80 if I’m particularly chilly. In some places though, the thermostat is just for show. You can fiddle with it all you want, the temperature’s not going to change. Calling the front desk doesn’t help either. Despite assurances they’ll send someone “right away” to fix the problem, I’m never sure if they mean me or the thermostat. I prepare for this by packing duct tape. A few strategically placed strips over a vent, blocking off an arctic blast and voila! Thermostat be damned.

And what about the rope? I can explain that, too. People aren’t the only ones judged by the company they keep. Inanimate objects are too. Duct tape by itself is a useful household item. So is rope. But in close proximity they conjure up every stereotypical -- and yet well deserved -- image of The Young Serial Killer about town. Rope can’t be seen in the company of tape without causing eyebrows to raise, hearts to pound, and cops to be called.

But I’m not carrying killer rope. I’m simply carrying a jump rope. It’s an easy portable work out that I can take with me anywhere. Unlike a yoga mat, a jump rope fits into my carry-on bag instead of being counted as one. Besides, female serial killers usually tend to favor poison . . . or so I’ve seen on "C.S.I."

Flashlight? To find my secret bunker in the woods? No, of course not. The Girl Scouts’ motto is “Be Prepared” and the “X-Files” motto is “Trust no one.” Savvy travelers can’t go wrong keeping both in mind and a portable flashlight in hand; for the road less traveled is sometimes very dark.

I guess what I don’t have an easy answer for is why I also have a Teddy Bear in my bag.

Together with the duct tape, rope and flashlight, my gender is the only thing keeping me from fitting the pedophile profile. But Linus had a blanket, Ford Prefect had a towel, and I have a Teddy Bear. His name is Bear and thoughts of traveling without him lead to mild panic attacks, so there’s always room in my bag for him. He's my little bit of home. Bear makes the going . . . well . . . bearable. But thankfully, Airport Security has never asked about him.

I work a lot on cruise ships so it’s worth noting that Seaport Security, while not as streamlined as Airport Security, is no less intrusive. Without the fancy scanning equipment I’m treated to a pat down (that feels more like a rub down) and a hand search of my carry-on.

Last time, to my horror, the officer who went through my bags did so sans gloves. The germaphobe in me was nauseated. The last straw was watching him put his unwashed paws on my Teddy Bear, but it taught me a valuable lesson. Next time I'll be ready with a second Ziploc® baggie containing a Handi Wipe and pair of gloves that I can offer the officer for our mutual protection.

A little much? Perhaps. But I don’t know where he and his hands have been, and he lacks that reciprocal information about me. My hometown (New York City) is currently in the grips of a serious bed bug epidemic in my hometown. Who’s to say they don’t love a man in uniform? More to the point, would you trust a total stranger roaming around with rope, toting tape and a Teddy Bear? I sure as hell wouldn't.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Don’t Touch Me!

You Can Take the Girl Out of New York....

© 2010 Leighann Lord

When I was a junior in high school, I got an opportunity to do a Summer program at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It was an amazing experience getting to meet kids from all over the United States with different styles, habits and accents. It was easy to tell the Southern kids because of their drawl. The Midwestern kids said pop instead of soda. And I learned that we New Yorkers have our tells too. We talk fast, we’re in a hurry and we’re constantly looking at our watches. Apparently we live at light speed.

Since then I’ve traveled extensively and I’d like to think I’ve toned down my overt New Yorkiness. I don’t view unsolicited cordial greetings from strangers with suspicion. I understand that the rest of the planet doesn’t power through its to do list like it’s an Olympic sport. But we New Yorkers still stand out. Our noses are perpetually glued to our gadgets du jour. We’re still not big on idle chit chat. We wear a lot of black as if to be ready for an impromptu funeral. And we have very clear ideas about personal space.

New York City is big and congested. We’re not as bad as Tokyo, but it gets tight on the subway during rush hour. We tolerate this invasion of our personal space by a temporarily redefining it. This allows us to be crushed together for a finite amount of time with the understanding that the moment extra space is available we will make use of it by moving as far away from each as we possibly can.

This is why New Yorkers are reluctant to car pool. (Contrary to a popular stereotype New Yorkers do have cars, particularly those of us who live in the outer boroughs or Long Island.) Your car is both an extension of and protection for your personal space. Seating is limited, the guest list is tight and it’s by invitation only. In my car I am queen controlling the temperature, the radio and the route.

It honestly never occurred to me that my idea of personal space could be regional.

I was recently working on a cruise ship out of Miami. With a few hours in port I and another comedian left the ship and went to the near by Bayside Marketplace. As I was window shopping, I walked past a man in front of a table selling massagers in the shape of a vibrating hand. (I shit you not, a vibrating hand.) He mistakenly thought the best way to make a sale was to reach out and touch me with it.

I saw it happening in slow motion. My inner New Yorker instantly became my outer New Yorker. I leaned away from him, "Matrix" style, and said, "Don’t touch me!" The pushy salesman said — to my back, because I never stopped moving — "Somebody, got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."

That stopped me. I suddenly felt like Marty McFly in "Back to the Future" and this Troglodyte had just called me chicken. I had to defend myself. I turned around and said to him, "No, I woke up just fine. What you did is a violation." He seemed truly surprised by both my reaction and my reply, but he was way out of bounds. Accidental touch among strangers is tolerable. Deliberate touch is an act of aggression.

Not 15 minutes later a young woman wanted me to come to her makeup table, so she could show me what amazing things her mineral cosmetics could do for me. She reached out to grab my arm, and I quickly pulled back out of her reach. She had the nerve to look stunned and hurt. I turned to the other comic I was walking with, who happened to be from Florida, and said,
"What’s with all the touching?"
"I guess we’re friendlier here,"
he said.
"But I don’t know these people!"
How many fewer missing persons would Florida have if it wasn’t so "friendly"? Stranger danger isn’t just for kids.

Upon cooler reflection (getting the hell out of Miami) I still don’t think I’m wrong, but I will concede that I may be operating under a different set of social rules. Where I come from touching sans proper introduction is a no-no. You don’t assume a familiarity you don’t have. I think it’s safer and more respectful no matter what region you’re from, to keep your hands – vibrating or otherwise – to yourself.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. She's George Carlin if he'd been born a Black Woman. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What I Learned Reading* Steve Martin’s "Born Standing Up"

© 2010 Leighann Lord

Everyone said I should read Steve Martin’s book, "Born Standing Up." And by everyone I mean comedians I love and respect. They said they’d gotten a lot out of it and I would too. But I really didn’t want to read it. Why? I’ve been angry at stand-up and haven’t been in the mood to give it any more of my time and attention.

Even the best of relationships have their disappointing moments and unfulfilled expectations. And yes, not counting my parents, stand-up comedy is my longest relationship. For the amount of time I’ve invested I should have a Ph.D., or at the very least the title of comic laureate.

Sometimes I think about quitting comedy, but I don’t know where I’d go or what I’d do. I’m ruined for "regular" work. But even if other areas of my career blossom – TV, film, best-selling books — I can’t picture myself leaving stand-up. But Steve Martin did and I have to admit it bothers me. If he could leave it without ever looking back did he really ever love it or just use it?

I also wasn’t keen on reading Steve Martin’s book because despite a few earnest years in college, I’m just not a wild and crazy girl. I’ve always been more partial to writers than flamboyant performers. Sometimes I wonder if the real reason why Rome burned is because a prop act set himself on fire and it got out of hand. It has taken me a while to learn that physicality can enhance a joke, making it clearer, stronger, better and more memorable. It’s not always just a cheap trick to counteract the effect alcohol has on the audience.

My own shortcomings play a big part of my bias for pure monology. I came to comedy as a better writer than a performer. Better is, of course, a relative term. Most comedians, if we’re honest, are horrible when we start. Like a hooker trying to quit the business, some nights the goal is just to suck less than you did the night before.

I finally decided to read the book for selfish reasons. I wanted to know if there was something in Steve Martin’s stand-up comedy experience that would make mine less painful? Surprisingly, yes.

It resonated with me when he said, "Comedy death is worse than regular death." That’s because you can relive it over and over again until you really die. When he recounted doing so horribly at the Play Boy Club that he bailed on the gig I felt as though I were right there. Although if I had been — given the times — it would most likely have been under a pair of bunny ears.

It was a poignant reminder that comedy shows can be the ultimate blind date. The comic and the audience show up not knowing each other, yet hoping it will be the start of something wonderful. But sometimes it doesn’t work out. The chemistry isn’t there. Then the happiest part of the evening is the knowledge that you’ll never see each other again.

"Distraction is the enemy of comedy," he said. I’ve never heard it phrased so perfectly and succinctly. Comedy is so delicate, I’m amazed it ever works at all. What do we need besides funny material and courage? Proper sound, lights, and the audience facing the stage would be a nice start. What can mess it up? Almost anything: a chatty audience, a ringing cell phone, loud wait staff . . . a big gapping dance floor between the audience and the comedian? Awesome! There is, of course, no guarantee that a show will go well even if the set up is physically and technically perfect, but as the saying goes: I can do bad all by myself.

I was surprised to learn how meticulous Steven Martin was about his act. Every word, gesture, and nuance meant something. It was precise. This spoke to the perfectionist in me, the comic who writes down everything and arranges her set book categorically with a color-coded table of contents.

I think every comic can nod their head in understanding when Steve Martin talked about what it was like when people met him and expected a performance. "The performance is just that," he said, "a performance and that’s on stage." I’d like to put that on a T-shirt. I’m not a misanthrope. I don’t mind talking with audience members after a show. If something funny comes up organically in the course of the conversation, that’s great. Hell, that’s ideal. But if it doesn’t, can’t we just be happy with the pleasure of each other’s company?

I am ever grateful that he dispelled the legendary and deeply believed myth that "one ‘Tonight Show’ appearance can make you famous." In fact Steve Martin’s career, though stratospheric, was not meteoric. It was a progression. Each gig built on the one before it. There was a good deal of trial and error, persistence, disappointment, luck, hard work and self doubt.

After reading "Born Standing Up" I understand why he quit stand-up comedy, but I find myself wondering what an older, wiser and perhaps even funnier, Steve Martin would be like on stage today. And in the end it doesn’t matter if you leave stand-up or have the mic pried from your cold dead hand, on some level we’re all wild and crazy for ever having the stones to stand-up at all. Ain’t love grand.

* In the interests of full disclosure I listened to the "Born Standing Up" audio book, read by the author. Now, any audio book lover will tell you that "read by the author" can be disastrous. Not all writers are meant to be readers (Stephen King) but I really enjoyed listening to Steve Martin. It made perfect sense, of course, for him to read his own story. And he did so with a sweet sincerity that made it an easy listen.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. She's George Carlin if he'd been born a Black Woman. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Boobies in Belgium

© 2010 Leighann Lord

I’m not a buxom babe and I’m at peace with that. I wasn’t always. Puberty was a trial. Despite reading Judy Blume’s “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” and faithfully executing its famous exercises – repeat after me if you remember: “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!” — my little cupcakes seemed genetically preordained to be modest. They’re a respectable 34B instead of the sought after 36C or dare I dream, D.

I once went to Victoria Secret to get measured, to make sure I was wearing “the right bra.” I was secretly hoping they’d find something I’d missed. The good news? Yes, I was wearing the wrong size bra. The bad news? It was too big for me. According to the evil Victoria Secret measuring tape, I’m a double A. Stand back everybody. I’m packing batteries. I’m an academic. Going from a “B” to an “A” is supposed to be a good thing. What can I say but, “Fie on you, Victoria, and a pox on your secret!”

Let me be clear. I’m not flat chested. But I know, from a purely esthetic point of view, my bust is not the main attraction, but an integral part of the total package. I’ve got a couple of good team players.

So it was with total surprise when I caught a man in the act of full-on ogling my boobies. I was on a tour in Europe with a day off in between shows. Our hosts were kind enough to take us to Liege in Belgium to shop at the open air market.

As I walked past an older gentleman sitting at an outdoor cafĂ©, he casually looked me up and down and then his gaze fell abruptly to my chest, and stayed there, riveted. It was so far out of the realm of my personal experience, and it happened so fast that I wasn’t sure it happened at all.

I would have dismissed it completely had a friend not been there to witness it. I turned to her with my, “Did that just happen” face and she responded with her, “Yes, it did” face. She too seemed surprised but also oddly impressed. There was a hint of, “You go, girl” in the arch of her eyebrows. I was content to let the incident pass, filed away under random acts of reckless eyeballing when one block later it happened again.

What the deuce? One’s an anomaly. Two’s a pattern. But why? I wanted to ask but didn’t have the nerve to say, “Excuse me, Sir? Why are you staring at my boobies?” I have no idea how to say “boobies” in French, Dutch or German, the three main languages spoken in Belgium.

Perhaps Europeans just don’t share the American fascination for freakishly large breasts, preferring instead more natural proportions. This could correspond to the smaller food portions Europeans mysteriously seem capable of surviving on. Apparently, they don’t super size their food or their women. Now that’s refreshing. Let’s hear it for European sophistication.

It would be fair to say that I was both tickled and offended. Well, according to my inner feminist I “should” be offended but this was clearly at odds with my inner adolescent who, at the age of 18, was clinically depressed when a much hoped for last-minute growth spurt didn’t materialize. “Fie on you, Judy Blume!”

But the older I get, the more real life resides in undulating shades of gray. Yes, yes, yes, objectification is wrong, but may she who has not gazed appreciatively upon the chiseled male models on the Abercrombie & Fitch billboards cast the first stone. Is there a time and place to openly appreciate what is pleasing to the eye? Any random afternoon in Belgium.

Note to self: Check on the status of my dual citizenship request.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. She's George Carlin if he'd been born a Black Woman. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Learning From A Living Legend

© 2010 Leighann Lord

There are almost no words to describe what it felt like to watch my comedy idol, Franklyn Ajaye, take the stage Sunday night at the Laugh Lounge in New York City. I’ve been a fan of his even before I became a stand-up comedian. Most people remember Franklyn from the movie "Car Wash," but I recall his comedy album, "Don’t Smoke Dope, Fry Your Hair."

I recommend his book, "Comic Insights," to young comedians all the time. It’s a useful compendium of his advice coupled with interviews with other stand-up icons like Richard Belzer, Bill Maher, and Ellen DeGeneres discussing the craft of comedy.

While I didn’t get to see George Carlin live, I did see Bill Cosby at Radio City Music Hall. He sat down in an easy chair, center stage, and the next two hours flew joyously by. I’ve had a chance to meet and work with a lot of great comics such as: Tommy Davidson, David Allen Grier, Chris Rock, George Wallace and Kathy Ladman, but Franklyn is different.

When people ask me who my comedy influences are, Franklyn Ajaye’s name is said in the same breath with George Carlin and Rita Rudner. If I may be so bold, I feel as though Franklyn and I are cut from the same comedy cloth. He is known as The Jazz Comedian. I’ve had my peers refer to me as the Maya Angelou of Comedy. (And still I rise.) I’m not exactly sure what that means, but it sounds better then being called the Snookie of comedy.

I was convinced more than ever of our common comedy lineage when I watched Franklyn close the first show on this year’s New York Underground Comedy Festival. Unassuming in dread locks that are now more salt than pepper, dressed in a Bob Marley T-shirt and blue jeans, he was the epitome of smooth, and confident. His performance was effortless, unharried and unhurried. He is not the comedy snack our palates have been ruined by. He is the full course meal.

Franklyn began doing stand-up in the 70s. He cites Robert Klein as one of his influences (of course). He’s from a generation when comics didn’t just tell jokes. They crafted routines. Back then, they got seven minutes on "The Tonight Show." Seven minutes! Today we get four.

In an all too brief set he talked about getting older, the American and Russian economies, being a Columbia law school student, doing undergrad at UCLA . . . all to an audience that had already seen 90 plus minutes of comedy. And yet they sat riveted, hanging onto his every word. (And I’m not just talking about the other comics who crowded into the room to watch a master at work.)

I can’t speak for all my peers, but for me Franklyn Ajaye’s performance was validating, empowering and instructive. I saw the elder statesman of bring-your-brain comedy. It was inspiring to watch my comedy hero remind me of the type of comedian I want to be when I grow up.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." She is performing with Franklyn Ajaye on the Attention Span Comedy show at Gotham Comedy Club on Wednesday, August 18th. For tickets go to or Check out herother upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Sisters of Schinnen

© 2010 Leighann Lord

One might get the impression that I travel around the world not to do stand-up comedy, but to meet and be photographed with adorable dogs. Alas, that’s just an extremely cool bonus. I was on tour to entertain military personnel stationed in Europe. The folks at USAG Schinnen set the bar pretty high, not just with Jazzebelle, but with their warm and generous hospitality. On our first night, MWR Host Melissa made us two huge pans of delicious lasagna.

We devoured the first and put the second in the refrigerator on our tour bus. Oh, did I mention we had a tour bus? Just when I thought the military couldn’t top travel by Black Hawk helicopter, they broke out a tour bus for us to roam around Europe in. My diary entry for that day: “I feel like a rock star!”

he bus had four beds, one bath, refrigerator, sink, comfy seats, a couch and a driver; a young man with from East Germany with blond dread locks named, Ricko. While not hard on the eyes, Ricko strongly favored one of the bad guys in “Taken.”

Our first show was a blast. It was my honor and delight to meet the two folks in command (at the time) at Schinnen: Lt. Colonel Fern Sumpter and her right hand, Command Sargent Major Mary Brown. I am in awe of military women. I feel a kinship with women who choose to work in a male dominated arena. I would’ve loved to have talked to them about their careers and the challenges they faced rising through the ranks, but I contented myself with making sure I got a photo. There’s just something about a woman who knows her way around an M16.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. She's George Carlin if he'd been born a Black Woman. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Meet Jazzebelle
© 2010 Leighann Lord

Although I’m a dog lover, I have to confess Chihuahuas are near the bottom of my list. It only takes one dog to mess it up for the entire breed and for me the culprit was Chico. When I was a kid, Chico the Chihuahua technically lived across the street from us but he roamed the neighborhood with impunity, terrorizing everyone. Most people look both ways before crossing the street. We looked both ways before crossing Chico.

This dog was beyond the help of Caesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer. Chico would have ripped his heart out and peed on it while it was still beating. I remember riding on the back of my mother’s bicycle, Chico in hot pursuit. And I was very well aware that if my Mom didn’t out pedal him, I’d be the first one he’d sink his terrible tiny teeth into. That sort of thing scars you for life. I won’t even watch reruns of "Chico and The Man."

And then I met Jazzebelle.

I was at U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen in The Netherlands, the first stop on my recent European tour with Armed Forces Entertainment. As my tour mates and I were walking on base, my doggie senses started tingling. A short distance away, romping through the grass, was a white ball of fluff so small I thought it was a Tribble. My friend Carole (tour mate and fellow dog lover) and I were both instantly smitten.

"Awwwww! How cute! How adorable! She’s a what? No way!" Three-month-old Jazzebelle is a long-haired Chihuahua? "Say it ain’t so." She looked nothing like my memories of the Terrible Chico who had the body the Taco Bell dog and the disposition of Charles Manson. Jazzebelle was sweet and friendly.

Jazze’s parents, Bianca and Richard, were two of our MWR (Morale, Welfare & Recreation) hosts. They were very patient with us as we took turns holding Jazze and acting like puppy paparazzi.

I have a beautiful dog at home. A rescued Cocker Spaniel named, Rolie. I love The Old Man, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I wished we’d had him from a puppy. I fantasize that starting out in a loving home might have alleviated some of his neurotic behavior (separation anxiety, lack of interest in toys, morbid fear of German Shepherds, a steadfast air of entitlement; okay the latter might be my fault) but maybe not. All the same, before we found Rolie I was hoping we’d get a puppy, a small dog; not a pursed-sized pooch but something that weighed less than a cranky American toddler.

Jazzebelle was very tiny, a scant three pounds. I was very nervous the first time I picked her up since she was smaller than any baby I’ve ever held. I was terrified that I’d drop her but I learned once you picked her up you never wanted to put her down.

But watching Jazzebelle run was just as much fun as holding her. She’d get a good gallop going and be nothing more than a blur of fur. Reminiscent of Chico, but in a good way, Jazze seemed to have no idea that she was a small dog. A fearless explorer, she climbed up – unaided and catlike – into the back window of Richard and Bianca’s car. It was there that Carole snapped one of my favorite pictures of the tour: me and Ms. Jazzebelle in the mutual admiration society.

My image of Chihuahua’s stood redeemed.

I don’t know what happened to Chico. His family eventually moved but no one assumed that Chico would be leaving too. He was a free range dog who did as he pleased. His family was probably moving to get away from him. Come to think of, I think they relocated to Europe.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. She's George Carlin if he'd been born a Black Woman. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hanging with Hugo in the Former Yugo

The Best 4th of July Ever
© 2010 Leighann Lord

It’s easy for the Fourth of July to go by in a blur of beer, barbeque and fireworks, but I never thought I’d have the best Fourth ever 4,625 miles away from American shores. My recent tour for Armed Forces Entertainment culminated with a final show at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. If you’re wondering where that is think The Balkans, or for you history buffs, The Ottoman Empire.

Currently, Kosovo – comprised largely of Albanians – is one of the poorer countries of the European Union. On the 45-minute drive from the airport in Prishtina (the capital) we saw a lot of houses without windows making the country look like a nation under renovation. “People live there,” said our MWR (Morale, Welfare & Recreation) Host, Jay DuBouse. “They have to start paying taxes when the windows go in.” So, if you hate doing windows and paying taxes, this may be the spot for you.

Be warned though, the commute’s a bit rough especially if you fly Air Berlin, or as I like to call it, The Greyhound of the Skies without the charm. The boarding process was Carribean flavored. Instead of calling passengers row-by-row they simply said, “on your mark, get set, go.” At least that’s what I think they said. I can’t be sure since the one and only announcement was made in German. I took Spanish in High School, so my knowledge of German begins and ends with schnitzel and Hitler, and too much of either is not good for you.

So I and my tour mates* took our cue it was time to leave when the boarding area erupted into a marathon with carry ons. The running of the bulls in Spain now seems tame by comparison. (*Dave Parker, Carole Montgomery and Mark Riccadonna.)

The next day, however, was July Fourth and MWR at Bondsteel put on an absolutely fabulous Big Ass Barbeque. Although far from home, the menu was full of familiar American fare: hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, ribs, potato and macaroni salad, bratwurst . . . Okay, bratwurst isn’t very American, but no complaints from moi, not when there was also sweet tea. Wunderbar!

Festivities included volley ball, vendors, music, a base talent show and of course, comedy. I was a little worried about the show since Bondsteel is a mixed base of both U.S. and NATO soldiers. Much to my delight though, the Danish soldiers enjoyed my Swedish massage jokes.

After the comedy show we were treated to the wrap up of the Camp Bondsteel Talent Competition. I’m not a flag-waving xenophobe, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up when Specialist Raul Sanchez opened the show by singing The Star-Spangled Banner. What a voice! And he wasn’t even a finalist! The three soldiers who were took the stage with a level of talent and showmanship that put American Idol to shame. Respectively, the men sang, Hello, Pour Some Sugar on Me and the winner did a rendition of Sexual Healing that would have made Marvin Gaye um . . . gay.

The only things missing from the BBQ were alcohol and fireworks. I know I just lost some you hard core swillers, but Bondsteel is a dry base. The good news was, you could have all the non-alcoholic beer your bladder could handle, which was jokingly referred to as “Near Beer,” tasting no where near it at all.

I missed seeing fireworks, but I could certainly understand – on a base sporting posters of what to look for in a land mine – why explosions as entertainment weren’t such a good idea. Besides, the combination of alcohol and fireworks usually doesn’t end well, as I’m sure you cherry bomb amputees out there will agree.

Psycho Dog Lover that I am, I really enjoyed meeting, Hugo, one of three members of Camp Bondsteel’s K-9 Unit. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but the Handsome Hugo is eight years old. That’s geriatric for a military dog, but I think Camp Bondsteel is Hugo’s retirement gig. Clearly the camp favorite, he couldn’t walk more than three feet without someone coming over to chat, pet him, or give him a treat.

As we dined at the BBQ with our other MWR Host & Camp Mom, Renee Favors, we watched her share pieces of chicken with Hugo. When she wasn’t feeding him fast enough, he barked loudly as if to say, “Hurry up, Woman! I’m not getting any younger!”

Hugo came to the show and sat right in the front row, or rather napped there. I didn’t take it personally. He’d had a really busy day. Who wouldn’t need a nap after all that chicken?

After the show, the Base Commander called all the comedians back out on stage to thank us for our service and gave each of us a plaque of appreciation and a set of commemorative dog tags, my first ever. It was a lovely bonus considering that they had me at sweet tea. Hugo was alert for this part of the presentation so I’m guessing the dog tags were his idea.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. She's George Carlin if he'd been born a Black Woman. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bad Customer! No Lipstick!

Different Xtremes

© 2010 Leighann Lord

I’m a Girlie Girl who loves shopping. I married a Manny Man who loves sports. If I tell him I’m going to Ann Taylor, he thinks I’m visiting a friend. If I say, I’m going to the M.A.C. store he thinks I’m buying a computer.

I actually did go to the M.A.C. store recently because I was out of my second favorite lipstick: Photo. It’s a rich, beautiful brown. A great day color that looks good by itself and mixes well with others. It’s my second favorite because Xtreme, my first favorite, was discontinued by M.A.C. a few years ago. [INSERT UNLADYLIKE GROWLING AND TEETH GNASHING HERE]. Xtreme was an eye catching, ruby-reddish-burgundy that wasn’t too red, or too purple. It was perfect, so of course they discontinued it.

I’ve been on an unsuccessful hunt for a replacement for quite a while now. And while the wonderful world of lip color has been awash in glosses, tints and stains, the perfect Xtreme equivalent has been elusive.

I’m not simply going by price. It’s not necessary that I plunk down $15 for a tube of lipstick. I’ve unashamedly trolled the makeup aisles in Wal-mart, Target and K-Mart in search of the right shade. Okay, I am ashamed about going to K-Mart, since the one in my neighborhood is consistently horrible, but I’m desperate.

I’ve even ordered a couple of promising colors from Avon, but their lipsticks do not agree with me. After a few hours wear, the skin on my lips begins to peel like dried Elmer’s Glue. Very sexy.

So, I’m at the M.A.C. store buying my second favorite lipstick when the sales clerk said, “Do you need anything else?”

“No,” I said, “Not unless you’ve brought back Xtreme.”

“Ooh, no. That was a good color.”

“I know! Does M.A.C. make anything similar?” I said.

“I’m sorry, no.”


“No, not really.”


And then I had an epiphany. I often write and rail about bad customer service. And yet there I was being a bad customer. I was haranguing this poor salesman as if he were in charge of making executive level product decisions. I asked the same question multiple times in the irrational hope that he’d say, “Yes, they brought it back just for you and I have a case of it in the back. Where have you been?”

Bad customer. No lipstick.

To his credit though he was very patient with me. I guess he deals with product junkies on withdrawal all the time. Or maybe he drinks on the job to dull the pain.

At least I had the good grace to be embarrassed and apologize. I pride myself on not being a pain in the ass, at least not with strangers. That’s the kind of thing I like to save for family; people who can appreciate it and use it against me later.

Somewhat dejected, I guess I was pouting when I got home because the Manny Man said, “What’s wrong?”
“They still don’t have Xtreme.”

“Yeah, I know. The only thing on ESPN now is The World Cup.”


“Um . . . ”
he said, “We’re not talking about extreme sports are we?”

“No,” I said. “Lipstick.”


“There’s ‘extreme’ lipstick? What does it do?”

“It’s the name of the color.”

“What color is extreme?”


“That doesn’t sound very extreme. Why don’t they just call it ruby-reddish-burgundy?”


“I’m going to watch The World Cup now.”

“I’ll be at Sephora’s.”

“Oh, ok. Tell her I said, ‘hi.’”

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. She's George Carlin if he'd been born a Black Woman. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What's Wrong with Whoopi?

Making The Hater’s Hit List
© 2010 Leighann Lord

When I was a kid, my Dad told me that there are people in the world who aspire to mediocrity. I didn’t understand what he meant until I grew up and realized that he’d sugarcoated it. Not only are there people who do not aspire, but they don’t want you to strive for anything either. For whatever reason, they don’t seek to accomplish anything and belittle those who do. I met a couple of folks like this recently after a show; two old men who put me in mind of a Black Statler & Waldorf (from "The Muppet Show").

"Statler" asked me what I felt about Whoopi Goldberg. I sometimes get asked this question because people assume we are both comedians. We are not. Whoopi, is a comedic actress. This distinction isn’t very important to the general public, but it is to me. While the goal is the same – to entertain – they are different jobs with different skill sets. (Not all singers are musicians. Not all musicians are singers.) That said, I am a fan of Whoopi’s work, and have been since her one woman show. Hell, I sat through "Jumping Jack Flash."

I could tell, however, by the way that "Statler" asked the question that he didn’t want to hear my opinion as much as he wanted to share his own, so I said, "What do ‘you’ think of Whoopi?"

"I don’t like her," he said.

"How come?"

"Why does she have to look like that?"

Like what: comfortable, confident, content? The lack of quotation marks on the previous sentence means that’s what I thought, not what I said. What did happen was a noticeable arch in my left eye brow, which said, ‘What’s wrong with Whoopi?'

"All the money she has, why she can’t fix herself up?"

Right back atcha, Sunshine. Look in the mirror much? Why is it that people who judge others only by their appearance are often so very lacking in theirs? If fixing oneself up is so simple why don’t they do it? Cosmetic surgery is very affordable but I’ll settle for good hygiene. To this lot, a woman’s professional accomplishments are not nearly as important as how stylish her clothes, how perfect her hair or how high her heels. I mean really, why pick on Whoopi when Larry King is disintegrating right before our eyes?

Then "Waldorf" said, "What do you think of Oprah?" Wary I said, "What do YOU think of her?"

"I don’t like her."

I kinda saw that coming but I wasn’t sure why. If we’re judging on appearance, then Oprah is very well put together. I was afraid to ask, but I had to know, "What’s wrong with Oprah?"

"She tells all her business," he said. "Why she got to tell it all? She don’t know how to keep anything private."

No. No, she doesn’t, which would be really problematic if she worked for Homeland Security, but she’s a talk show host. Salacious stories and tales of woe are valuable currency in our culture. In a weird way it’s almost admirable that Oprah’s not asking her guests to reveal any more or less then she does about herself. Show me yours and I’ll show you mine seems fair.

Of all the reasons not to like Oprah, I’m not sure that loose lips would have made my top 10. At the end of the day, she’s not dishing my dirt, and I don’t recall ever seeing "Statler" and/or "Waldorf" on the show.

I should have brushed off their curmudgeonly comments, but I didn’t like the direction of the conversation. Were there any single, successful black women whom they did like? Who was next on their haters hit list, Condoleezza?

But the human brain is amazing. Sometimes it shuts off or reinterprets experiences that it deems too painful to deal with. My brain did me this solid by offering up the possibility that these Black men – either of whom could have been my Father or Grandfather – weren’t really disparaging successful Black women while talking to a Black woman. No. They ... just ... didn’t like famous one-named people. Who knows, maybe they also disliked Prince or Buddha or Hitler ... Oh, wait. Hitler was single.

I know it’s impossible to please everybody but you’d at least like to have "family" in your corner. But not everybody gets that. Maybe that’s why some people aspire to mediocrity so as to keep peace with the ne' er do wells around them. But to quote another successful sister, Mary J. Blige: "It doesn’t matter if you go along with their plan. They’ll never be happy because they’re not happy with themselves."

I’m not one to go looking for ill will, but I’m actually hoping I make it onto "the list." Maybe it’ll mean I’m doing something right.

Leighann Lord is a stand-up comedian, who's style is best described as "Thinking Cap Comedy." If comedy were music, she'd be Jazz. She's George Carlin if he'd been born a Black Woman. Check out her upcoming shows @ Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.