Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Childhood in a Bag, A Not So Trivial Pursuit

© 2011 Leighann Lord
A close friend recently hosted a “Game Night” and all of us who attended were charged with bringing our favorites. Rising to the challenge, I brought a goodie bag full of old school: dominoes, cloth and wire jump ropes for Double Dutch, and a sack full of classic metal jacks. You heard me. Jacks! Yeah, I took it there. You can’t get metal jacks anymore. You see, now we care about children choking on small metal objects, in my generation not so much. I’m not saying parents ate their young back then, but they didn’t see the need to over protect us from toys made with lead, asbestos, mercury or depleted uranium.

Listen to this Episode on Podbean
Subscribe to The Urban Erma on ITUNES

When I sprinkled my bio hazard jacks out of their black suede pouch my comrades “Oooed” and “Ahhhed” like I had just whipped out a handful of non-conflict diamonds. When the original hard, high bounce balls tumbled out too, the consensus was I could probably get a bundle for them from the guys on “Pawn Stars.” (We later checked and learned that except for the memories, my jacks are worthless.)

One day when I was about 11 years old my Mom’s friends saw me playing jacks and asked to join in. I said, “Yes,” because I was happy adults wanted to play with me, but I was also thinking, “What do these ‘old’ ladies know about playing jacks?” Well, these superannuated sistahs got down on their haunches and with breathtaking hand-eye coordination proceeded to wipe the floor with me. It was like the familiar scene in a pool hustler movie where The Mark let’s The Ringer shoot first and then spends the rest of the game watching them literally call every shot. If we had been playing for money, I’d still be paying them off.

The Ladies – who were ancient only in the eyes of an adolescent – had to change positions more frequently than I did to accommodate older hips and knee joints, but any aches and pains they might have felt were eclipsed by the fun they were having. They laughed and trash talked like the girls, rumor had it, they used to be: 
“C’mon! You know you touched that jack!”  
“No, I didn’t!”
There were no husbands, kids, or jobs. They were all skill and concentration handily making it up to their tensies and back.

When I was a kid, I spent hours on my Parent’s kitchen floor playing jacks. But now that me and my friends are grown with homes of our own, I knew we were not hardly thinking about putting scratches on our freshly laid linoleum floors. So, in my bag of old school I also had a deck of Uno cards, Dominoes, Monopoly, and Trivial Pursuit. That’s right, son. I’m an OG Gamer. In addition to my original, friends had brought the 80s and pop culture versions of Trivial Pursuit as well. 

The night was young, the wine was good, and we were feeling fine. “Trivial Pursuit it is!” we agreed. But we soon realized why this game has declined in popularity. It tells you things about yourself that you may not want to know. Since graduation, I’ve been laboring under the delusion that I am a smart woman. No. Apparently, I’m a dumb ass.

After playing Trivial Pursuit for 45 minutes I wanted to remove my college degree from the wall, return it to the Bursar's office and get my money back. After playing for two hours, I was afraid my alma mater was gonna come and take it back. As the evening progressed I became convinced that I’d go home and find an empty spot on the wall where my degree used to be, a sticky note in its place saying: 
“And you call yourself a college graduate. You disgust us.”

I don’t know how we got here. The game had started out with such promise:

“In which war did the most Americans die?”
“The Civil War.”

Yeah, baby! I knew the answer to that. You know why? Because that wasn’t my question. One of my questions was:

“Who was the first African American to coach a major league sports team?”

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not Ernie Hudson. No, I didn’t really think the Black guy from “Ghost Busters” was also a major league coach, but I was grasping at straws since the answer also wasn’t Denzel Washington in “Remember the Titans.” For the record the answer is Bill Russell. (Mr. Russell, if you’re reading this, I’m very sorry. I should have known that.) 
“What two numbers are evenly divisible into 17?” 
“Ernie Hudson?”
“No? Oh my god, who’s writing these questions? Stephen Hawking?”
But in Trivial Pursuit you’re not allowed to answer a question with a question. You’re also not allowed to use a life line, phone a friend or surreptitiously use your BlackBerry to lookup the answers on Wikipedia. Ridiculous, right? Your resident former English major was regretting not taking her math classes more seriously.

I’m a very infrequent drinker so I’d like to say that my intellectual faculties were impaired by the wine. But it was probably the lead from my vintage metal jacks still lingering in my system. Apparently, my childhood had a half life. I bet if I ever get cocky enough to play Trivial Pursuit again, my question will be:  “Who’s the Black guy from Ghost Busters?” And I’ll say, “Bill Russell?”

Next game night, floor damage be damned, I’m playing jacks.

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 @ www.VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.  Listen to The Urban Erma on Podbean and iTunes!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Caramel Macchiato, Now with Extra TMI

© 2011 Leighann Lord

I walked into my local Starbucks and a there was a man who had transformed an entire section into his own personal corner office. He had several tables and chairs arrayed around him topped with books and papers. Every available outlet in his vicinity had been commandeered to power a seemingly endless number of gadgets: laptop, cell phone, iPod, portable printer. I’m not sure, but I think I saw a humidifier. If there was an electrical fire, he would have been the first to go. 

Listen to this post on PODBEAN
Subscribe to The Urban Erma on ITUNES

Corner Office Guy looked so relaxed and comfortable I felt as though I was invading “his” space. I was reluctant to sit down but then I remember I had overpaid to be there too. I don’t complain about the price of coffee at Starbucks because that’s not all I’m there for. When I just want coffee, I go to Dunkin Donuts. When I want ambiance, I go to Starbucks. It has comfy chairs, good service, nice music, and an air of safety and serenity. It’s not just a coffee shop. It’s a cool meeting place, and apparently, an impromptu office space.

With his face illuminated by the glow of his super-sized laptop, and a blue tooth ear piece plugged into the side of his head, Corner Office Guy looked like he was all about taking care of business, but looks can be deceiving. I soon realized why the seat closest to him was open and available. He was talking on his cell phone using his outdoor voice. Cell phones have obliterated the line between convenience and courtesy. We should seriously consider bringing phone booths back. Just because you can have a conversation anywhere, doesn’t mean you should.

I don’t think I would have minded if he were on the phone wheeling and dealing. If he had been negotiating a low interest rate on a business loan or tracking down a missed delivery from Fed Ex, I would have respected that. But the intimate details he revealed in what should have been a private conversation transformed him from Corner Office Guy to Too Much Information (TMI) Guy.

He regaled us all in Starbucks with a story about a recent sexual affair he’d had with a married woman in the Hamptons. They “saw” each other no less than four times a week. Things were fine until her husband got suspicious and decided to test her fidelity by insisting that she – his wife - sleep with him. She did. And this was too much for TMI Guy. As he explained to his friend on the phone (and to all of us in Starbucks) he had to break up with her. He simply couldn’t stand the idea of his girlfriend, sleeping with her husband. Classy.

Why do I know this? I shouldn’t know this. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has its place. I think it’s Starbucks. If we bring back phone booths we should also seriously consider bringing with it other things so severely lacking in our culture like boundaries, discretion, shame.

I expect this kind of shenanigans at Dunkin Donuts. But Starbucks has standards, an unspoken code of conduct. I don’t expect us all to sip our latte’s in silence. But if we’re going to spend a few hours together we should at least agree to use our indoor voices, share the electrical outlets and not inflict ourselves on each other. Starbucks might start charging for coffee and the show.

Oddly enough I went to Starbucks to write this week’s blog. I don’t remember what it going to be about, because TMI Guy’s story took its place.

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 @ VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.  Listen to The Urban Erma on Podbean and iTunes!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Surrounded by Spandex, My First 5K Run

© 2011 Leighann Lord
I’m a comedian, a writer and an actress. I am no stranger to weird. But when I showed up for my very first ever 5K run it was clear that the Running Community has completely out-weirded all of us. There was a young lady who showed up to run wearing a neon pink tutu. I felt undressed. I wanted to ask her, “Hey, what’s with the tutu?” But I was afraid she’d give me a perfectly plausible answer that would push me way closer to weird than I wanted to be.

Listen to a reading to this post on Podbean

Subscribe to The Urban Erma on iTunes

A casual observation revealed that being A Very Serious Runner involves wearing a lot of spandex. I wasn’t sure if I’d shown up for a run or a casting call for “Flash Dance.” I’m no spandex zoning expert but I’m reasonably sure these folks were way over the legal limit. Clearly, I am not A Serious Runner.

No tutu? No Spandex? What the hell was I doing at a 5K run? 
To be honest, what I do is less than running but more than walking. On a good day you can call it jogging. On a bad day it’s agitated shuffling.

The main reason I began running is because of my Husband. Last year he had a heart attack scare. It turned out just to be a torn rib cage muscle from epic amounts of snow shoveling, but apparently staring a casket in the face was the impetus he needed to finally get in shape. Under the guidance of a personal trainer he’s been swimming, golfing, lifting and toning. He’s lost a significant amount of weight and I am more proud of him than words can say. 

Then one day he texted me and said he wanted to start running. “Great” I texted back. Then he said, “Do you want run with me?” 

“Hell no!” I thought. I hate running. I got an “F” in my high school track and field gym class. Running is not an activity one does for fun.  It’s what you do when you need to employ the latter half of the Fight or Flight response.

For the past three years my preferred work out has been mixed martial arts. For six, sometimes eight hours a week I was taking classes in kick boxing and submission grappling. I loved it. There’s nothing like knowing how to kick a little ass or how to defend your own should flight not be an option. However, this past year, a heavy comedy tour schedule has made regular training impossible. And truth be told as fun as it was, after three years, I was tired of hitting people. I was also tired of getting hit. 

If I wanted to stay in shape though, I needed a workout I could do anywhere. And although I was loathed to admit it, running seemed to fit the bill. So, to my Husband’s amazement and mine, I texted back, “Yes, I’ll run with you.” Six months later, we were at our first Run, thanks to the Couch to 5K program, which incidentally didn’t mention anything about spandex or pink tutus.

My training consisted of running on a local track, and on the treadmill at the gym when the weather got too cold. This did not prepare me for running in Prospect Park with uneven ground and Hills. If I’d known about The Hills ahead of time, I might not have signed up. Now, the treadmill at the gym has a handy, dandy incline button. I used it once, by accident I’m sure. I didn’t like it. I turned it off and never used it again. But you can’t turn off nature.

The thing is I didn't even see the hill coming. I was jogging along, enjoying the scenery and then gradually became aware that my calves were on fire. I looked and saw a hill sloping upward to infinity. “Where are those damn petty cabs when you need one?” I’m not A Serious Runner. Pride is not an issue. I would have jumped in the cab and said, “To the top my good man!" 

I thought going downhill would be easier. And in a way it was. Instead of praying for death, I prayed for a medically induced coma. Going downhill engages a slightly different set of muscles that from the feel of it would rather have remained anonymous. Those muscles weren’t interested in doing a 5K. They wanted to get back on the couch. Perhaps then it was no coincidence that this 5K was for the benefit of NYU’s Physical Therapy Research. Thanks to The Hill, I might need to avail myself of their services.

So no one was more shocked than me when I looked up and saw two young ladies holding a “3 Mile” sign, yelling, “You’re almost there!” I am? I crossed the finish line at 42 minutes and 43 seconds! I felt exhilarated. I felt like I could do anything. Well almost anything. Now, I have to do my taxes. I'd rather run. And if I don't do my taxes, I'll have to.

The only thing more exciting than finishing my first 5K was the unexpected, post-run bagel buffet, T-shirt and goody bag. I didn’t know we got food and parting gifts. Sweet! The pain in my hips, calves and feet notwithstanding, I can’t wait for the next run. Maybe that goody bag with have a tutu in it. 

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 @ www.VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wistfully Watching Wisconsin

© 2011 Leighann Lord

The proverbial red flag went up when The Booker said, “Please don’t tell the other comics on the show what you’re making.” In that moment I realized that I may have more in common with the government employees in Wisconsin who are fighting to retain their collective bargaining rights, in the face of budget cuts, than I’d previously realized.

Listen to a reading of this post on PodBean
Subscribe to The Urban Erma on iTunes

Many performing artists enjoy union protection. Musicians have ASCAP. Film actors have SAG. TV actors have AFTRA. Comedians have nothing. There have been unionization efforts in the past (The Professional Comedians Association, The National Comedians Association, and more recently, The New York Comedians Coalition) but in the end they’ve been of little or lasting consequence. As professionals, we’re still largely on our own. Those with agents and managers are a bit more fortunate. It’s in their best interest to make sure their clients are properly compensated. Everybody wants 15% of more.

ut usually, The Booker gives you a number and if its not outrageously low — or suspiciously high — you take the gig. If you’ve done it before, then you know what it pays. Actually, you only know what YOU’VE been paid in the past. Without talking to other comedians, you have nothing to compare it with. If you’re dealing with a new venue or a new booker, you’re trusting them not to financially sodomize you.

I don’t wish to imply that all bookers are unsavory charlatans, but without knowing the budget for a show – which few comedians do, there’s no transparency in comedy – bookers are certainly in a prime position to take advantage, keeping the lion’s share of the budget for themselves, talent being none the wiser. Well, actually we are – or at least suspect we are – but there’s little we can do about it. 

There’s no office in which to file a grievance. There’s no agency negotiating minimum pay. There’s no on-site union rep making sure the green room, if there is one, is clean and stocked with blue M&Ms. And even it was, I wouldn’t eat them.

All comedians have is each other. Scary thought that. We’re not exactly a “needs of the many” type of people, but silence is the enemy. If we don’t share information about what a gig pays we will continue to be at a disadvantage. Bookers know this, thus the behind the hand, whispered injunction not to share. It appeals to our ego. We assume we shouldn’t say anything because we’re making more than the next guy. Though possible, it’s more likely a quick comedy confab would reveal how much we all might not be making.

ut I have a hard time talking about money. I was raised to think that money is private. In my family telling people what you make, or asking what they make is as rude as purposely walking in on them in the bathroom, mid squat, and striking up a conversation.

Fortunately I’d done this particular gig before. I was actually being paid more that the last time, but I still knew it too be less than what other comics had recently earned. How do I know? They told me. The other comics were men, so I chalked it up to The Fallopian Tube Tax. Signed equal pay legislation be damned, lady comics occasionally can and do make less than their male counter parts. But who you gonna call? 

What’s the alternative? You either take the gig or not. Sure you can haggle and harangue The Booker into paying you more but it’s a short term gain. He’ll pay you what you want on this gig and then probably not use you again. You’ve won the battle, but lost the war. And as long as I’m tossing out worn but fitting cliches, no life’s not fair.

Why would anyone put up with such shady business practices? Every industry has its dark side, but it’s not all bad. There are some great bookers who are professional, ethical, honest and a joy to work with. I won’t embarrass them here, but I am proud to know all three of them. 

A comedian’s union, empowered to collectively bargain, might help but it’s unlikely we’ll ever have one. That’s why I wistfully watch Wisconsin. The Governor needs to close the budget gap, but stripping employees of the right to collectively bargain doesn’t seem the fair way to do it. Businesses band together all the time in associations, alliances, collectives, committees, consortia, and leagues to further their own aims. Why shouldn’t workers have the same right?

However, with no CBA on the horizon for comedians, the best recourse for some of us is fame. We all (and by “we” I mean “me”) have a List. A la Madame Defarge from Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities,” we keep a running tally of folks who cheated, shorted, double dipped, double booked, baited and switched, check bounced, or just flat out colluded to keep more of the budget for themselves than they were honestly due. If you’re lucky, it’s a very short list. The idea is that when you “make it” you either never work for these people again, or you do and make it very, very expensive. Why? Because payback’s a very funny bitch.

Happy Women's History Month.

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 @ www.VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

“If You Ain’t Sharing, People Ain’t Caring”

© 2011 Leighann Lord

I was recently asked to lend my emcee-hosting talents to an event for a Local Community Group, cool. On a Saturday night, not so cool. For most people, Saturday is their time off. For me, it’s my time on. I work nights and weekends. In fact, Saturday is usually when I can and do make the most money. Giving up a Saturday night, is like asking a nine-to-fiver to give up a Wednesday. Which, by the way, for me is wide open.

Listen to a reading of this post on PodBean!
Or subscribe to The Urban Erma on iTunes!

As a professional stand-up comedian I am often asked to volunteer my talent to various nonprofit organizations and charities. I am honored and I wish I could say “yes” to them all, but I can’t. I am extremely fortunate that I get to do what I love for a living. But that’s means, I do what I love For A Living. I can’t afford to do free shows at the expense of paying ones. I enjoy donating to good causes, but personal solvency, food, clothing and shelter are causes that are near and dear to my heart as well.

So, for as many times as I’m able to say, “yes,” to a benefit show, I also have to say, “no.” Human beings have a strong aversion to the word no. We probably don’t like it because it’s the first word we hear and the one we hear the most. Although it’s the nature of a question, people are never really prepared for a “no” and don’t deal well with getting it. Sometimes it makes us angry and resentful with the person who didn’t give us the yes we were looking for. That’s only natural. We want what we want when we want it.

Between you and me, that’s why I prefer texting and email to talking on the phone. “No” is easier to type than say, or so I thought. When I respectfully turned down the above-mentioned gig, via email, they tried to guilt me into it. I guess “no” only means “no” when you’re in a relationship.

gotta say, attempting to make me feel like a shitty human being because I’m unable to grant a request didn’t work when I was dating. It isn’t going to work now. Besides, I’m a former Catholic. I am used to disappointing people.

And for the briefest of moments, the experience made me feel like Oprah. Oprah helps a lot of people and they adore her for it. And why wouldn’t they? She gave them a “yes.” But if you’re still waiting for your piece of the pie, then you’re probably not feeling the love. I think Wyclef Jean said it best, “If you ain’t sharin’, people ain’t carin’.”

I’m sorry The Group couldn’t graciously accept my “no.” I’m sure their economic realities rendered them oblivious to my own. I hope someday, when I achieve uber fame and independent wealth, I won’t have to say “no” to any worthy cause be it college scholarships, homeless puppies, or disillusioned liberal democrats. But I’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to say “no,” then to say “yes” and renege. And when you work for yourself, with no corporate safety net, paying gigs trump free gigs almost every time.

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 @ www.VeryFunnyLady.com. Join her on FaceBook. Follow her on Twitter.