Comedy

The Book of Mormon on Broadway

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I’m a Scorpio, in practically every way. The most important way is that my birthday just recently passed. I love comedy in nearly every form. When we watch sitcoms on TV, and I laugh at everything truly groan-worthy, Lois always says: “You’re so easy!” It’s true, I am.

I don’t live under a rock (at least not any longer). I am aware that The Book of Mormon is the hottest ticket on Broadway (even hotter than my beloved Wicked). I was aware that it was by the creators of South Park. I was sure that it would be hysterical, irreverent and over-the-top (in particular in its use of foul language). I wanted to see it.

I knew that Lois couldn’t make it through the performance, so I never bothered to get tickets. Then Lois told me that I should get tickets for my birthday and take friends rather than her. Well, if I must (apparently, I must’ed, so I did). Winking smile

Three of us went last night. I went with an open mind, with no doubt that I would love it even more, without the guilt of thinking about Lois squirming in her seat next to me.

I was wrong. Not about everything. It is very funny (though not even close to hysterical or even consistent in the level of humor). It’s extremely irreverent, though not in the let’s poke fun at everything (but rather, let’s ridicule a group that isn’t likely to do/say anything in response). It’s over-the-top, but in making light of things that simply can’t be made light of (the very real, ongoing female genital mutilation in Africa is a non-stop riot in their opinion).

People laugh their heads off, even at those images. It feels to me like it’s more the shock value than an actual joke. When you see people around you laughing, and you’re at the hottest comedy for which you paid a small ransom to attend, you laugh too (or at least most people in the audience did).

To me, there were two separate shows (seamlessly integrated into one spectacle):

  1. A (very raw) comedy ridiculing every aspect of Mormonism. As a side dish, the plight of the poorest, most oppressed, AIDS stricken Ugandans is served up for our delight.
  2. A sendup (parody/skewering) of Broadway Musicals.

Let’s start with #2. I think The Book of Mormon nails it perfectly, in a funny way. Every single actor/singer is fantastic. The music is fine (nothing that I can remember even the next day, but it was all pleasant and professional throughout). The lyrics are often sophomoric, but they’re meant to be (or at least completely feel like that’s intentional). The dancers are very good and all of the exaggerated movements are precisely meant to parody the genre.

The sets are minimalistic on some level, but extremely creative. The transitions from one scene to another are simplistic, but work very well. In other words, the team that put this show together are incredible pros.

The female lead (character of Nabulungi) was a substitute last night (played by Asmeret Ghebremichael). She was amazing! That’s all the more impressive when I found out that the person she was subbing for, Nikki M. James, won the Tony for this role. If Nikki is better than Asmeret (and perhaps that’s true), I can only imagine how good she is!

The two male leads were perfect. Andrew Rannells reminded me of Jim Carrey at his best (physically as well as performance skills). Josh Gad was phenomenal.

To summarize, if #2 was the total target, then The Book of Mormon was as good as it gets.

The problem is that it was paired with #1. When I described it to Lois last night, she asked why they didn’t make up a religion, sprinkle in parts of every major belief system (including Mormonism)? Bingo (once again, Lois is typically more insightful than I am, even about things I’ve seen and she hasn’t!).

I’ve already said (twice) that the entire lighthearted treatment of the Ugandan people borders on the absurd (wow, Hadar, you finally get it, it’s supposed to be exaggerated to absurdity). Unfortunately, there’s no exaggeration, it’s happening, today, and it’s simply not funny.

How about Mormonism? Surely that’s fair game, right? Well, anything is fair game to the authors and that’s fine. They are equal opportunity skewerers. For that, I do applaud them (seriously), they’ve taken on some groups (at South Park) that got them heavily censored as well, so they don’t shy away from one group and only target another.

My problem is with the audiences (not just mine, but the ones who make this a runaway hit). First, let’s stipulate something that I had to check (I was not and obviously still am not an authority on Mormon doctrine). I looked on the official site of the Mormon Church where they describe the Book of Mormon on a single page. There is nothing in the show that contradicts what is on the official page.

In other words, the creators choose to present the material in a satirical manner, but from my perspective, they do not distort the teachings as far as I can tell. They deliver the words with a classic tongue-in-cheek and wink-wink nudge-nudge know-what-I-mean know-what-I-mean manner.

Does some of it sound unbelievable? Of course (to me!). But then are there any major religions that don’t have ample amount of hard-to-swallow stories that can’t be proven beyond the faith of their believers? If you’re not a disciple of the Judeo/Christian bible, do you really think the Garden of Eden existed and played out literally as the bible tells us? If you’re not a Muslim, do you believe that Muhammad memorized the Quran as told to him by an angel and then dictated to his followers from memory?

If you believe all of those things (or more importantly, any of those things), is the tale of Joseph Smith really so absurd? Yet, people have no trouble equating the beliefs of honest Mormons with raucous comedy. In fact, I would posit that in general Christians (of any ilk) are considered to be a fair target for any treatment in this country (unfairly and incorrectly, IMHO).

I further posit that if everything about this show were held constant, with the exception of swapping Mormonism for Islam, few (if any) would laugh at a single line, even devout atheists who think all religions are absurd. In fact, the show wouldn’t be made. On the off chance that I’m wrong about that, I’m sure it would close pretty quickly. In the end, some things aren’t funny (or aren’t allowed to be in our Politically Correct environment).

Thankfully, Mormons are a peaceful bunch who aren’t even likely to sue (unlike, say, Scientologists, when they are made fun of). So hey, let’s all take our best shot at Mormons, they’re obviously good sports!

It’s a funny thing about strongly held beliefs. Over time, they can change, either because they’re proven to be wrong, or because something else makes us rethink aspects of them.

The earth was flat, then it wasn’t (perhaps someday it will be again). Nothing can go faster than the speed of light, even in theory (except for warp speed in Star Trek). Oops, some neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light (man was Einstein a moron). Let’s not get started on our Food Pyramid (which minute of the day is it now, so I know which Pyramid to refer to?).

I started this out by mentioning that I’m a Scorpio. Well, am I? According to this article in Time Magazine (the most respected publication on our planet, can I get an amen?), I am no longer a Scorpio. In fact, Scorpio is now exactly a week-long phenomenon, and not a single person who was a Scorpio before is one now.

What? Is nothing sacred anymore? When you can’t trust your Zodiac Sign, it’s clearly an indication of end days, no?

I’ll finish this off by stating that it’s extremely rare that I agree with a review in The New York Times. Typically, when they love a show, I hate it. When they hate it, I at least enjoyed it, often loved it.

Ben Brantley wrote a very long and detailed review of The Book of Mormon in March 2011. I encourage you to read it fully. I think it’s actually very fair (at least 80% of it is), even though he’s clearly over-the-moon about the show. We don’t really differ in our description of most of it. We differ in the why of some parts (he loves it, and I believe that not everything that can be done should be done).

I still can’t wrap my head around some of his conclusions though:

Now you should probably know that this collaboration between the creators of television’s “South Park” (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) and the composer of “Avenue Q” (Robert Lopez) is also blasphemous, scurrilous and more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak. But trust me when I tell you that its heart is as pure as that of a Rodgers and Hammerstein show.

That last line, really? Really? He spends way too much time trying to prove the connection (to the Sound of Music and the King and I). When you can point out to me in either of those how Rodgers and Hammerstein work in anything even remotely pure of heart as repeating a single line that starts with F U, dozens of times in a row, I’ll stand corrected.

He ends another string of paragraphs that I felt like quoting in their entirety with this line:

And it uses this vocabulary with a mixture of reverence and ridicule in which, I would say, reverence has the upper hand.

If you saw this show and thought that reverence had the upper hand, then I want to shake your hand for having the sunniest disposition of anyone I can imagine. To be fair, since most of you who have seen the show (and read the review) will want to pinpoint Brantley’s comment as referring purely to their reverence of the Broadway Musical Genre, and not to their reverence of Mormonism, a true quibble/debate is possible on that.

I’ve rambled on long enough, so I’ll conclude with what happened after the show. Like with Friday night’s performance of Wicked, we’re still in the Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS (to repeat, twice a year, possibly lasting the entire year between the two times). The character of the shows comes through in the way they appeal for donations.

Wicked was represented by Glinda, who was charming in every way in making her appeal. The Book of Mormon was represented by Josh Gad, who was very funny, but at times downright vicious in his humor in trying to get people to donate. Aside from the mandatory F-bombs that he was required to throw (in particular at audience members who left while he was talking), he had to throw in the optional D-Bags to describe anyone who might not put money in the buckets. Nice!

I put money in the bucket last night as well, but I put four times more in the Wicked bucket. I’ll give Josh this. I might have put in zero, if he hadn’t pre-shamed me with the D-Bag comment, so mission accomplished Josh!

For the record, both of my friends loved the show, unconditionally. For the record, I love both of my friends just as much today as I did before I found that out. Winking smile

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at The Public Theater

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I am about to be pretty harsh in my review of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson which we saw last night at The Public Theater.

If you’re a fan of the show, you might want to turn away now. If you don’t like reading anything critical of anything or anybody, turn away now. I will only have one spoiler, and that has been covered in other public reviews as well.

In fact, if you want a balanced review by a trained professional that I largely agree with (in a purely artistic sense), please read The New York Times Review of the show instead of this one.

Final disclaimer before I dive in. I know that to many who read this I will come across as prudish and close-minded. For sure, I will come across as humorless. In fact, I have a completely puerile sense of humor. I laugh at the crudest jokes. Andrew Dice Clay used to kill me (as disgusting and misogynistic as he was/is).

Cursing doesn’t bother me. Bathroom humor cracks me up. In fact, I am the easiest target of most comedians, because I give full credit to whatever I perceive as the concept of the joke, even when the delivery/implementation flops.

So, what makes Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson the worst thing I’ve ever seen performed? Laziness and a general lack of creativity (though there are sparks of it hiding here and there).

The play/musical starts off with a bang. The first words out of the mouth of Andrew Jackson are a sexual vulgarity aimed at the specific audience watching that performance. Since it has no connection to the story, it serves two purposes (I will stop adding In My Opinion after this one, as I hope it is obvious that everything I say is my own, uneducated opinion):

  1. Shock the audience (possibly getting some titillating laughs in the process)
  2. Set the mood to allow an anything goes mindset for the rest of the show

It was downhill from there! Basically, the author has no idea what he wants to convey. That was poorly phrased. The author has no idea how to convey what was in his mind. The entire show is a disjointed collection of every known trick/technique for getting a rise out of an audience.

Every few seconds there is a vulgarity (not just garden variety ones, but some choice phrases that would perhaps even have Andrew Dice Clay blushing a bit).

Every few seconds there is some anachronistic device. Most are repeated until they have been beaten to death, even the ones that might otherwise have been clever. In almost every case, they add nothing to your understanding of the scene, they are merely gags.

Here is my one spoiler alert. It is fully covered in The New York Times review above, so if you read that, I’m not giving away anything. Even so, it has nothing to do with the story (though it is a setup for another joke at the end of the play).

There is a narrator for a part of the story. The narrator is in an electric wheelchair (one of the anachronistic devices). At some point Andrew Jackson tires of the narrator telling his tale, so he shoots her in the neck and she dies. Ha ha, we shot a cripple, aren’t we cool? No wait, I’m sure it was meant to show us just how Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson really was…

The anti-Indian humor is excessive and vulgar. Every person in the play is an overdrawn caricature. The majority of the men are portrayed as gay, or more effeminate than 95% of the gay male population is today, with our substantially more open attitudes.

Not to leave the women out of it, there is a very long kiss between two women on stage, just in case you weren’t titillated enough by the language and all of the pelvic thrusting throughout the rest of the show.

So, the playwright takes on disabled people, Indians, homosexuals, politicians, Spaniards, British, etc., all irreverently. If only it came across as irreverence, it might actually have been funny. Instead, it seems to be more of a stream of consciousness rant about Political Correctness.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the rant is meant to convey. Is it supposed to show us that PC is so deeply entrenched that we can’t help laugh (nervously?) when we abandon it completely? Or, are we meant to see how hurtful it is when we don’t practice PC?

Personally, I think that Political Correctness does more harm than good. It’s not used to educate narrow minded people about some of the hurtful things that they say (that would be great), it’s used to control and punish those who behave differently than what the people in charge determine to be acceptable.

If you spit on a Christian, burn the flag and ban Christmas, you’re exercising your right to free speech (you might even get a parade in your honor). Say one word about someone from Bora Bora and you’ll be sued, vilified, have your children suspended from school, etc.

Presumably, the ultimate point of this work is to make some strong political points about some very trying times during the early years of our Nation. That one may draw some strong parallels to some of the more difficult issues of our day (including the last decade or two) could also be interesting.

If you strung together those historical lessons and stripped them of the vulgarity, anachronisms and PC gags, the play might have lasted 10-15 minutes (no, I’m not kidding!). It would seem that a more effective writer could have taught some more lasting lessons by swapping the gags and history, still keeping a light-hearted sense of humor along the way.

To me, the story of Andrew Jackson’s rise was a plot device meant to loosely string together the most sophomoric, disconnected one-liners and sight gags ever collected in one place. Animal House is high art in comparison (yes, I think Animal House is a classically hysterical movie, so that wasn’t a put-down of Animal House!).

I have no idea how a play like this gets produced and put on for public consumption. I imagine that it didn’t start off this bad. In fact, in my speculative universe, I suspect that the first time it was seen in public, it received a rather dry reception (you know, history bores most people, since it happened so long ago…).

I bet that a few of the zingers got laughs. The next time the play was shown, they added a vulgarity or two. Enough people howled (shock value can’t be underestimated), and people around them were embarrassed not to be laughing, or laughed contagiously, so that the next time the play was put on, more of that had to be added.

At some point, the original intent of the play was completely lost, and it regressed to a crass commercial attempt to sucker an audience into laughing at things they would be crucified for participating in if they were on the street.

To repeat, if anyone said the things that were acted on the stage anywhere in the real world, the thought police would ostracize them and shut them down. Those same people have no trouble laughing out loud when hearing/seeing the same thing portrayed as art. It’s wildly hypocritical to me.

We have court battles over the names of football teams (Redskins, The Tribe, Seminoles, etc.). If the people who bring those suits see this play, I have to wonder whether they too wouldn’t be hypocritical and laugh their heads off, putting it all down to clever writing

After all, it’s the PC crowd that brings those kinds of suits, and those are also the people who feel that in art, anything goes.

So, is there nothing redeemable in this production? No!

There are a few very talented actors. I don’t blame them for taking the job, it’s not like even great actors (especially up-and-coming ones) can pick or choose jobs at will (even non-paying ones!).

I was most impressed by Lucas Near-Verbrugghe who played Martin Van Buren. While he played Van Buren in the most overtly gay manner of all of the performances, he had some brilliant flashes that showed tremendous range.

Kate Cullen Roberts had the best of the voices (a good portion of the show is delivered through emo rock songs).

Michael Dunn played a variety of roles (most of the actors played multiple roles, with the exception of Benjamin Walker who played Andrew Jackson). I was impressed with Michael and his range as well.

Jeff Hiller was another standout. His comedic flair in undeniable.

No one was bad as an actor, though a small number of those that sang would be better served never trying that again in the future.

Finally, and for some this will be the only important point, clearly, the play is provocative. Here I am spending a good deal of time writing about it. We went with a group of six people, and we certainly discussed it a bunch afterward.

That would be perfect, if we were discussing the concepts conveyed, even if we wildly disagreed. Unfortunately, we were mostly discussing how far off the mark it was. Still, better than being instantly forgettable…

Another theSetNYC Show

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Three weeks ago, we attended our first theSet NYC show, documented here. While the show was a little choppy, we really liked the place, Le Poisson Rouge (specifically, the Gallery Bar). We think the people behind theSet are wonderful, and we believe in their vision for showcasing upcoming talent.

So, when I saw that they had another show scheduled in the same place last night, and I knew that it was our only free night in an 11-day run of social commitments (all fun, so don’t feel badly for us), instead of using the one night off to collapse (a very tempting choice), I really wanted to support their efforts.

Oh, and the fact that the Kobe Sliders (Sloppy Joe’s) and Spicy Tuna Roll (and the Edamame for Lois) were beckoning to me, didn’t hurt either. 😉

While there was a nice crowd the first time we attended (July 6th), it was a holiday weekend (duh) so I shouldn’t have been surprised (pleasantly!) that there were probably nearly twice as many people last night. It will still comfortable in the space, but it was much closer to a practical limit than the first time.

There were also more performers last night (nine in total), but again, the host Kai Raziq (the only repeat from the last show) kept things moving along very nicely.

Since I’ll cover each artist separately, in at least one paragraph, this will be another long post. For those who are more interested in my overall impression of the night, and theSet NYC in general, I’ll get that out of the way now, so you can skip the individual comments, and my summary.

To repeat from my intro above, I really like what theSet NYC is doing. We thoroughly enjoyed last night’s show (more than the first one), even though there were definitely some lulls in the action (low points).

It’s not fair to judge or criticize any of the performers by the same standard you’d use if you went to see a full set by a professional comedian or singer, especially one you’d pay top-dollar for. The point of these shows is to see up-and-coming talent, hear something fresh (hopefully), and watch people try to hone their craft.

So, bottom line, a very entertaining evening that we’ll be sure to repeat again!

Last general note about theSet. They go out of their way to create a safe atmosphere for the performers. We love that! It’s OK not to like a performer or their material. It’s not OK to heckle them, be rude in other ways, disrupt their performance, or ruin other people’s opportunity to enjoy a routine you might not be enjoying. Bravo for that!

Normally, we put up at least one photo of each performer. For whatever reason, every picture Lois took last night came out so dark, that I decided not to post any, since each performer is  linked and you can see a ton of information about them (including photos). Sorry.

Last night there were seven comedians and two singers. I’ll cover the comedians first, in a block, in the order that we liked them (like last time), then the singers (so don’t assume that all seven comedians were better than either singer).

Harrison Greenbaum closed the show, but we both considered him the most consistently funny and polished. Tons of self-deprecating humor. Very comfortable delivery. Interacts with the audience well. He clearly already performs at a professional level.

He finished the show with a magic trick that was clever, engaging, funny, and left the crowd laughing hard (and a little amazed) as they walked out. theSet was correct to put him up last!

Dan Nainan bills himself as a 100% clean comedian. Lois prefers that greatly. I don’t mind stooping to a lower level, if the muck ads comedic value. Most often it doesn’t, so I admire Dan (and the likes of Jerry Seinfeld) who have to work a little harder to make us laugh, without having the shock value to work with.

For the most part, Dan was terrific. Like Harrison, he’s already a pro, no doubt. The difference in the ease in delivering the lines between a pro and an amateur is painfully obvious.

He took one trip off the rails (in our opinion only, as the audience was going crazy for it, so keep that in mind!). He did a George Bush imitation. He had it down pretty well, and the few lines were funny enough. But, because he’s an easy (and in our opinion a tired) target, Dan continued too long. Making fun of different words that Bush flubbed isn’t a new joke, so after a few, that’s enough.

He had an opportunity to be let off the hook. One of the security walkie talkies interrupted him in mid-routine, and he stopped to comment on it. Then he said “Where was I?”, and after a pause, jumped right back into the Bush routine.

As opposed to Harrison, to us, that meant Dan peaked earlier, and ended on a weaker note, which isn’t the way to leave your audience. Still, we’d happily go see him again. He’s funny, and has an excellent delivery!

Sam Morril has a completely self-deprecating style. For the most part, his material is fresh and funny. On occasion, his delivery is a bit inconsistent. Sometimes, total comfort to great effect, at other times, reasonably awkward. Even in the awkward moments, you can see the content peek through, but if Sam raises his game just a bit, he has what it takes material-wise.

Sean Donnelly was very different than Sam, but essentially as good overall. Lois’ instinct was to list him above Sam, barely, and mine was to list Sam first, barely. Sean opened the show, which can be brutal or great. You don’t have to be better than anyone else, yet, but you also don’t have a warmed-up crowd, and you have no clues as to what they like and don’t like.

From that perspective, Sean did an excellent job. He too is very comfortable on the stage, and has a quality delivery for the most part. Like Sam, a few times, he lost focus and had a little trouble getting back on track. He’s not afraid to engage the audience, and was reasonably adept at it.

For the most part, his routine was quite clean. So, when he launched into one vulgar joke, he got a little more mileage out of the f-word, since he hadn’t used it yet. The joke itself was reasonably funny. Ironically, while his use of the f-word was in context, and not gratuitous, it was also totally unnecessary.

There were many other words that would have substituted well (I think better), and added euphemistic color to the joke. Oh well, I don’t write ‘em, I just judge ‘em. 😉

Nore Davis is an inventive, comfortable comedian, who loses his way a little too easily. I’ll give two specific examples in a minute, but first I’ll make the generic point. Nore’s delivery is terrific. He has command of the crowd, and has a smooth delivery that was consistent. His content is pretty funny. So, what’s the problem?

When he came on stage, he had that quality that immediately grabs your attention. When he started his routine, he (and we) realized that there was a ton of reverb left on the mic, since he followed a singer. The person handling the sound (Pim, filling in for Leo) had stepped away, so Nore was on his own.

While waiting for Pim to return, he made a very funny, and very vulgar ad-lib (about feeling like he was trapped in a cavernous vagina). It was funny, so I’m fine with that. But, he couldn’t help himself (in my opinion), and he pushed the joke too far, and ended up saying and doing some over-the-top crude things to keep that one clever (and quick!) line alive…

One more example. He told an excellent joke about getting a portable CD player for his birthday (the very last one every sold, and he told that part really well too!). He said that everyone made fun of him because he could only carry around 12 songs at a time, all from the same artist. Even grandma laughed at him, telling him that she had 15,000 songs on her new iHear hearing aid!

Funny, right? Indeed! And, his delivery was flawless. We were laughing our heads off, until he couldn’t stop himself from immediately saying “what a bitch!”. He then cursed grandma a bit more. Bottom line, that is for shock value only, hearing someone calling their grandma a bitch. It didn’t add a single thing to the already wildly successful joke!

Anyway, not to beat it to death, but he overuses that specific word, along with other (potentially) equally offensive ones. Yes, yes, it makes me sound like a prude, but like I said already, the vagina ad-lib was hilarious (until he pushed it too far).

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Nore Davis become a very big name in comedy in the years to come (even if he doesn’t change his act), but, if he finds a slightly cleaner style, I’ll bet his appeal will be that much broader.

Brandon Greenspan has some clever material, buried in a consistently poor delivery. His style is self-deprecating, so it’s possible that he tries intentionally for a specific delivery style (like Woody Allen does, or Steven Wright), but in my opinion, it isn’t working (or it isn’t deliberate). He simply comes across as not self confident, and easily distracted on the stage.

Both he and the next comic had to refer to their notes a few times. That’s really not a big deal, but we’re talking about 7-10 minute sets here, which isn’t all that much to memorize, so either he/they aren’t working hard enough to prepare, or they’re overly nervous (I’ll have a bit more to say about that in my summary).

To repeat, I think he’s a clever guy, with some interesting comedic insights, which felt fresh (so he’s writing interesting material at home), but he needs lots of practice delivering it. For that, shows like last night are perfect. I would see him again, willingly, so I don’t want you to read this and think it was hard to take.

Scout Durwood was not originally listed on the schedule for last night’s show. On the other hand, two other comics were listed that didn’t show, so getting Scout at the last minute was good for their lineup, timing-wise. Unfortunately, as you see her listed last on our list, she didn’t add too much to the comedy…

I would have listed her above Brandon, but Lois felt more strongly about the order than I did, so I swapped them (like I did in the last review when Lois felt strongly about one of the comics).

Like Sam above, her delivery is inconsistent. On some jokes, she’s a complete pro (delivery-wise). On some, she comes across as a rank amateur. She too needed to consult her cheat sheet. Again, no biggie, but she looked at her sheet before telling a single joke! Really? Couldn’t she have snuck a peek right before stepping on the stage?

She told a few funny jokes, and quite a number that just lay there. She has the style to be a lot funnier, if she works on her consistency, but I don’t know whether she has enough material to fill more than these 10-minute slots.

On to the singers, then a summary.

Sarah Nisch sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. She did two numbers, both originals. She has a really good voice. Both songs were good (though both of us vastly preferred the second one, which Sarah described as a bit more uplifting, rather than the first, which she described as wrist-slitting inducing). 😉

Sarah plays the guitar reasonably enough (mostly strumming, straightforwardly), but, oddly enough, it didn’t work for me at all in terms of accompanying her voice and lyrics. In other words, her guitar playing was more of a distraction.

Still, she’s a talented singer/songwriter, and I’m sure Lois and I would be happy to catch her again at one of these shows.

Jamie Alimorad sang, backed by a CD playing through the speakers. Before I cover the performance, I want to compliment Jamie’s stage presence. Since Leo wasn’t there to operate the laptop and the sound system, there was quite a bit of trouble getting the background CD to start, and when it did, it was a whisper in the background. Jamie never lost his cool, and even though he isn’t a comedian, he handled himself and the situation well, and kept the crowd relaxed and interested.

Unfortunately, I don’t have all that much else to say that is very complimentary. He has a pleasant enough voice, but he did two covers, starting with Bryan Adams Summer of 69. If his voice were spectacular, OK. But, everything about his performance was more Karaoke than professional singer. Good Karaoke, to be sure, but compared to all of the other original works (Sarah included), it felt completely out of place. Sorry Jamie…

I realize that many (most?) who get this far will simply label me/us as prudes, and say that we simply don’t get the humor in raunchy jokes. If you knew me, you’d know how ridiculous that is, but I totally get how I’m coming off.

One of my all-time favorite comedians is Buddy Hackett (I can recite dozens of his jokes verbatim, including some very long routines). They are mostly filthy (dick jokes, etc.). Not only do the jokes kill me each time I hear them, I love telling them, so I have no trouble delivering those words. But, they are integral to the jokes, not gratuitous.

A number of the comedians we’ve seen at the two theSet shows used their words as crutches. What happens in that situation is that the audience is focused on the crutch, not the joke, or the person. If a person walks into the room on actual crutches, you’re less likely to remember other things about them, because it steals your focus. The same is true in comedy.

So, while I’m but one voice, I’ll continue to hammer away to these very talented up-and-coming comedians, that they need to hone their craft better by concentrating on the actual joke, not on using vulgarity for the pure shock value of it. Follow my advice or not, it’s your careers. 😉

As for theSet, one of the things that the host (Kai Raziq) has done at both shows (repeatedly) is attempt to get anyone from the audience to come on stage and tell a joke, a story, anything. His point is that it’s harder than it looks, even for 30 seconds, and of course, he’s right!

In the first show, no one took him up on the offer, even though he tried hard. Last night, no one took the bait either, for the first few times that he tried to get someone on the stage. Then finally, one woman got up for 30 seconds. She had no idea what to do, but turned it into an amusing physical bit. We all appreciated her courage and effort nonetheless.

I don’t really have a need, nor even an interest to try that out, but out of curiosity, one of these days, I might just have to find out how awful/hard it is to stand up there, and perhaps I’ll be a bit less harsh on the real comedians after I do that. 😉

theSet NYC at Le Poisson Rouge

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A month ago, I posted about a wonderful weekend that included catching Altar Boyz at New World Stages. As a result (I assume) I received an email from Pim, a member of the team that founded theSet NYC.

theSet NYC is a great idea. Collect a group of talented performers and promote a show featuring a bunch of them on the same night. The idea is to give these people an alternative to the grind of a pure open mic night. Pim used to do standup comedy (and might again in the future), so he was well aware of the difficulties of getting the appropriate breaks.

For the performers, it typically means a slightly longer set (roughly 15 minutes each) and a (hopefully) friendlier crowd. For the audience, it typically means a (slightly) more vetted group of performers (no one who just mustered up the courage five minutes ago to get up on the stage), and also a friendlier atmosphere (not oriented toward heckling, etc.).

theSet NYC aims to put on a show once a month. They use a number of venues, one of which is the lounge at New World Stages, which is how I guess Pim ended up finding me.

One of Pim’s roles is blogger outreach. Once he connected with me via email, he invited me to attend their next show, which was last night, at Le Poisson Rouge (LPR), in the Gallery Bar (downstairs, they also have a more traditional club upstairs). The show fit with our schedule, so we decided to attend.

Pim

Pim

Most of the shows have been free to date (including last night), though there’s no guarantee of that in the future. We arrived at 7pm (the show started at 8pm) because we intended to eat (and drink) at Gallery Bar first.

You can check out the menu to see the eclectic range of food and drink offered there. Lois had the Edamame. She raved non-stop while she was eating them. I had the Spicy Tuna Roll (absolutely incredible), and the Sloppy Kobe Joes. Folks, I do believe that this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Not quite a hamburger (because it’s not pressed together in a patty, since it’s a sloppy joe), and with a sauce that’s spicy (not hot, flavorful!) and fantastic.

If theSet NYC did nothing else for us, it introduced us to a place that we will return to for the food alone, no doubt! In addition, the lovely bartender made me a perfect Chocolate Martini. Thanks!

Gallery Bar Bartender

Gallery Bar Bartender

On to the show. Lois asked me to cover the performers in the order that we liked them, rather than in the order that they appeared. Seems fair enough to me, so here goes (I think we are in basic agreement on the order, but I’m not double checking with her, so technically, this is my personal order):

Evon Campbell was the most consistently funny of the comedians (which dominated last night’s show). He has a very relaxed style which relaxes the audience. He is then easily able to catch the audience off guard with very clever jokes that aren’t easy to predict (the best kind). Here’s a three minute video of him from a previous theSet NYC show (he didn’t repeat a single line from this clip last night!).

Evon Campbell

Evon Campbell

Arthur Carlson had the most professional delivery of the group last night. Here’s a clip of a bit he did last night as well. He was more in control of the audience than the rest, and appeared more comfortable and self-assured on stage than the rest. I’ll have a more general note at the end, in which I’ll have some more to say about Arthur.

Arthur Carlson

Arthur Carlson

Kai Raziq hosted the evening. He didn’t actually do any specific routines, but his style on stage was engaging, and we all chuckled at nearly everything he said, even though he wasn’t telling any jokes per se.

Kai Raziq

Kai Raziq

Alec Sobel held his own reasonably well. He too has a professional quality to his delivery. Here is a link to a five minute video that will give you a good sense of his style and genre. At the bottom of the page is a link to a different video that is a little less adult in nature (not much, but perhaps a little cursing removed).

Alec Sobel

Alec Sobel

Matt Rittberg was close behind Alec in my opinion. While he too has a pretty good command of the stage, he relied a bit too much on sexual jokes, and isn’t quite expert enough to walk that kind of tight rope. Here is a page with a variety of videos of Matt’s routines which includes stuff the seems cleverer than most of the material he did last night.

Matt Rittberg

Matt Rittberg

I’m going to present the next two performers (the only musical ones last night) in the order that Lois preferred them. For my taste, I would swap them, but I’ll predict and respect Lois’ choice.

Adontay sang two songs last night. The first was a cappella and we both enjoyed it more than we thought we would when he first started. Adontay has a very nice voice, and the song was pretty good too. Unfortunately, he didn’t carry that through to the second number. In that one, he had a soundtrack (played off of a laptop). The song wasn’t as good (in our opinion) and was a little too long. When the soundtrack ended, he continued a cappella, and to our ears, rambled off key and out of tune. He has a lot of talent, but he needs significantly more polish and practice.

Adontay

Adontay

Stephanie Carlin sang and played acoustic guitar. I think she has an excellent voice, plays the guitar well enough, and has a reasonable amount of stage presence. Unfortunately, neither of us was drawn to her two original songs. They brought her back on stage at the end because two of the scheduled performers didn’t show up, and we somewhat preferred the two covers she did then (a medley of Hit the Road Jack and Moondance). The raw talent (at least in the voice) is most definitely there, but the performance and musical selection isn’t our personal cup of tea.

Stephanie Carlin

Stephanie Carlin

Ranked last in both of our opinions, but opening the show (which made for a tense few minutes when we thought the rest of the night would be like this) was April Brucker. Her delivery last night was completely flat (close to zero energy). She started with very crude sexual jokes about her roommate, and then brought out the roommate (from a suitcase), a puppet called May.

April Brucker

April Brucker

April describes herself as an Inappropriate Ventriloquist. That’s an incredibly apt description. She’s a reasonably talented ventriloquist, and she’s beyond inappropriate. I’m sure that the college boys laugh like hell at that kind of shock you humor.

I can’t reconcile her lack of energy last night with this video. In the video, she has tremendous energy, but the same crude humor. At the four minute mark, she introduces May, so you can get a sense of that part of the act last night as well.

I have explained in a number of posts how much I love comedy (and laughing) in all forms, even crude ones. Lois isn’t as forgiving of pure crudeness, which she (correctly) equates with comic laziness. In other words, it’s easier to get a laugh by shocking your audience (especially if you’re female) than by actually being clever.

Jerry Seinfeld is one of the most successful comedians of all time, and he never resorts to cursing. He doesn’t resort to much sexual innuendo either, and when he does, it’s high level enough to be acceptable even if kids are in the room.

If I wasn’t sitting with Lois, and analyzing in my head the fact that a crude joke probably just rubbed her the wrong way, I would enjoy the crudeness a bit more myself. Still, fundamentally, I agree with her that it’s a cheap way to get a laugh.

That said, I mentioned above that I would circle back to Arthur Carlson. He had two routines that were 100% sexual in nature. One was actually gross (if you attempted to visualize it). Yet, I laughed like hell at both (even the gross one), and even Lois chuckled at the gross one, and liked the other one a lot.

There were three things that made us/Lois react differently to Arthur’s sexual jokes than to most other such references:

  1. His delivery is so professional that you’re listening to a true joke teller, not someone just trying to deliver a crude one-liner.
  2. Both jokes were very inventive. The punch lines weren’t predictable, so it wasn’t shock value that made you laugh, it was the imagery and the comedic absurdity of what he was saying.
  3. It was a change of pace for him. Since he was able to tell a bunch of clean jokes too, telling a clever sexual joke caught the audience more off guard than when they are coming at you one after another.

While this isn’t really Lois’ idea of a perfect night out, we both had a really good time, and would recommend catching a theSet NYC show to anyone who is interested in seeing fresh talent, in good quantity, in reasonably contained sets (in case any one performer isn’t to your liking), in a very pleasant and supportive atmosphere. If it’s in the Gallery Bar at Le Poisson Rouge, then we can recommend the food and drink very highly as well!

Thanks again to Pim for reaching out, and to Leo (the producer of the show) for making it happen!

Leo

Leo

Wes and Hadar’s Excellent Adventure

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Many more people participated in one or more of the activities I’m about to list. Only Wes and I enjoyed every single one of them, hence the accurate title. 🙂

Wes flew up on Thursday morning and I picked him up at Newark Airport. We headed straight to the city and met Lois and two friends for lunch at Westville. We met there at 11:30am because the place is tiny and fills up fast. Only one of the five of us had ever eaten there, so it was a new experience for the three four of us. The food was fantastic! I had the Caesar Salad with grilled chicken. Here are pics of three of the dishes, starting with mine:

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

Greek Salad

Greek Salad

Hot Dogs

Hot Dogs

After lunch, Lois, Wes and I relaxed and caught up with work/email, etc. Then we headed for our night at the Highline Ballroom to see our favorite group, Girlyman. That evening was covered extensively in this post.

The next morning, after breakfast, we headed up to the house. Wes had never seen it. We logged on there and all did our own thing until lunch. After lunch, Wes and I headed to see the new Star Trek movie. Lois was intending to come as well, but we had a problem with the dampers again, and she called the HVAC people and waited for an emergency technician to arrive. Sorry Lois!

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes Hadar Living Room

Wes and I both enjoyed the movie. I would be lying if I said it was great in any way (other than the special effects, which were stunning), but it’s action-packed, moves at a very quick pace, is an inventive story, etc. I agree with the comments I had heard about the movie before I saw it, that you don’t need to be a trekkie to appreciate the movie, but that it pays homage to the original in so many ways that it’s extra satisfying to a real trekkie. Kudos to JJ Abrams and the entire creative staff of the movie for pulling off that difficult balancing act!

When we got home, we both logged on again, and  I finally got the blog post about Girlyman published. We then headed for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Tarrytown (that we had never eaten at before). It wasn’t our original destination for dinner, but the two places we wanted to eat at were 30+ minute waits (you know, in this economy, where supposedly no one can afford to eat out any longer…). We were quite disappointed in our meals, so this place won’t be visited again by us. Oh well…

After dinner, we walked 200 feet to our real destination for the evening, Tarrytown Music Hall. We had 10th row seats to see Steven Wright, one of my all-time favorite standup comics. This was my first time seeing him live, but I’ve been a fan ever since he burst on the scene (probably longer ago than many of you are alive). 😉

Steven Wright

Steven Wright

As is typical of most shows at Tarrytown Music Hall, he didn’t come on the stage until 8:25pm (scheduled time, 8pm). It’s annoying, but otherwise, we really love Tarrytown Music Hall. He was fantastic. He did his routine non-stop for 85 minutes.

For those of you don’t know, he’s the king of dead-pan one liners. For the most part, they are based on word play. He never (OK, rarely) smiles, except for specific effect. In other words, his own jokes don’t appear to make him laugh (and that works really well for his type of material). He only told one vulgar joke, and I’d bet that none of the kids that were in the audience had a clue that it was vulgar!

He used the F-word perhaps 10 times, so in general, his act is pretty clean. He speaks softly, so the audience trained themselves (incredibly quickly) to come to a dead silence seconds after laughing hysterically, for fear of missing the next joke!

Here are but two (of hundreds of) examples of the style of humor that no one masters quite like Steven Wright:

I have a friend who has a stained glass eye.

24-Hour Banking. I don’t have that kind of time.

No two jokes are connected. Topics fly all over the place. It’s really funny to hear delayed laughter around you, when you realize that people are trying hard to process a joke, and finally get it, a few seconds too late. 😉

We had a great time there. Afterward, we drove back to the city and watched a bit of Conan O’Brien in his new gig as host of the Tonight Show. I also watched the first two nights on Hulu, and I think Conan is doing a marvelous job in his new time slot. Congrats Conan!

On Saturday, after breakfast and the obligatory emailing, Wes and I met Laura in the lobby and went on one of my patented long walks up the East River. It was the nicest day of 2009 in NYC (so far), and our walk was spectacular in every regard. It took us two hours and 10 minutes, and we loved every second of it (or at least I did!).

After a shower, Wes, Laura, Lois and I grabbed a cab and headed to Five Napkin Burger for lunch. None of us had ever been there before. So, what made me pick it for lunch? I subscribe to Fred Wilson’s blog (one of the top VC’s in NYC) and read every one of his posts religiously. He often writes about his wife, who blogs under the moniker The Gotham Gal. For whatever reason, I had never clicked through to her site.

The other day, Fred blogged that The Gothan Gal had updated the design of her site, and he was very pleased with the result. That’s the first time I clicked through. I liked her writing style and started reading a bunch of her posts. Then I came to this one about Five Napkin Burger! I decided to give it a shot. I’m very glad I did, as all four of us really enjoyed our burgers (all different kinds). Mine was an Italian Turkey Burger. Yum!

From there, the four of us walked back to Times Square, and went to see Angels and Demons. Thoroughly enjoyable. Substantially better movie than The DaVinci Code. We walked back to the apartment after that.

While I caught up on some email, Laura and Wes walked the few blocks to Red Mango and picked up frozen yogurt for a light dinner for the four of us. It was my first taste of it, and I liked it a lot. Chris (Laura’s husband), who was at the dentist while we were lunching and enjoying Angels and Demons, joined us for dinner, which he picked up for himself from the brand new Just Salad a block away from the apartment.

After dinner, the five of us grabbed two cabs and went to see the show Altar Boys at New World Stages. New World Stages is a fantastic space/building, a block off Broadway, that houses seven smaller theaters (Altar Boyz can seat 363 people). All of the shows are quirky (or at least have very quirky and provocative titles and posters). Wes picked this one.

Altar Boyz

Altar Boyz

Wes, Lois and I really loved the show. I caught Laura and Chris chuckling a few times, but I suspect (strongly) that they didn’t like it as much as the rest of us did. It’s very borderline whether any audience member will consider the show one of the following:

  1. Irreverent, but still uplifting and respectful of Christianity
  2. Blasphemous
  3. Some mixture of the two

Personally, I choose #1, with no hesitation, though I have no trouble accepting and understanding that many people could legitimately believe #2 is more accurate. Without a doubt, it’s blasphemous in it’s caricature of Boy Bands. But, in getting you to laugh at that, I believe it still very effectively gets across a message of the best of Christianity’s teachings. It turns out that Laura and her family made the show a birthday present for Lois, and Lois loved and appreciated every second of it!

Thanks M&M’s. 😉

We walked home from the show. When we reached the apartment building, I made the scandalous suggestion that Wes and I go across the street to my favorite Mexican restaurant, El Rio Grande, for a nightcap. Laura and Chris decided to join us as well. Technically, the outside was closed already, but we’re regulars there, and they were kind enough to sneak us in. The inside was still officially open, but it was the most beautiful night, so we were glad to sit outside.

Three of us enjoyed frozen margaritas, and the fourth wisely picked a Banana Pinata for dessert, that the rest of us got to taste (and swoon over!). We then sat on our deck for another 40 minutes, soaking in the remainder of a perfect day.

This morning, we dropped Wes off at Newark Airport and headed down for our usual road trip down I95. Memories of a perfect weekend (uh, I mean, excellent adventure) still linger!

Wes, thanks so much for making the trek up from NC to spend such quality time with us! 🙂

Richard Lewis at Tarrytown Music Hall

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I’ve been a long-time fan of Richard Lewis. In addition to loving his standup act, both Lois and I were fans of Anything But Love for its entire run. Last night was the first time that either of us has seen him perform live.

He had an unannounced opening act (which I’ll cover later). Richard came out at 8:56pm.

Before leaving our house, I tweeted the following:

Heading to see Richard Lewis. Really hoping he doesn’t do too much political humor. I’ll catch enough of that on the tape of the debate…

For the most part, that worked out. Richard was totally himself, and hysterical, from the moment he came on stage. His schtick last night was a cross between Woody Allen (self deprecation, leaning towards self loathing) and Buddy Hackett (jokes about what happens to your body as you get older).

At times he rambled incoherently, seemlingly losing the thread of his story. Somehow, he always found a way to tie the meandering back to the original point, and seemed to bring the audience along with him, earning the full laugh when it seemed he’d lose it.

Amazingly, he’s 61 years old. He always seemed so youthful in everything he’d done over the years, that I didn’t realize he was older than me. Most of his stories (they weren’t jokes and they weren’t really routines either) centered around that fact, and around his now three-year-old marriage.

He’s extremely foul-mouthed, which wasn’t a surprise, but was a little nerve-wracking for me, since Lois can easily shut down completely in the presence of such humor. Even though he cursed constantly, and 70% of his stuff was about sex, drugs or alcohol, he seemed to be making Lois laugh a good deal, so I was able to relax and enjoy myself as well. I don’t mind foul language a bit, but I do think that comedians like Jerry Seinfeld, who seem to be able to avoid cursing for an entire show, are cleverer for it, on some levels.

Go back and reread my tweet from above, where I was truly hoping for no political humor. Unfortunately, my wish didn’t come to pass. I didn’t really expect it to, so I wasn’t shocked.

About 60% of the way through the show, he apologized for bringing up politics. He seemed to be suggesting in his apology that he wouldn’t talk about it much, or with any particular slant or vitriol.

Unfortunately, as with most angry liberals (which is different than a normal liberal), he couldn’t help himself, and he got sucked deeper into it as he went along. Different than my utter distaste for this kind of stuff when it happens at a musical concert (where it’s 100% the artist’s ego to lecture an audience that came to hear music), in comedy, it’s somewhat expected, even if it’s biased or slanted entirely in one direction. After all, they are commentators on the state of society, no?

He took only one shot at Sarah Palin, and if you took it from a purely comedic point of view, it was reasonably clever and amusing. That’s how I chose to take it, because he didn’t harp on it, or get off track with it. He actually didn’t say much about McCain at all, possibly not even one line (but I wouldn’t swear to that).

He did what all angry liberals do, he went nuts over President Bush. You would think that there was a good chance that Bush would be the next President, that we need to live in the past. While directionally, I understand the hatred and vitriol completely, beyond two or three humorous bits, it devolved (as it always does) into a silly (angry) rant, that allowed Lewis to get his frustrations off his chest, but was hardly funny, interesting, or likely to sway anyone in the upcoming election.

Roughly half of the audience soaked up every single anti-Bush rant. The other half was silent throughout. Even after the show was over, I heard anti-Bush / pro-Obama people make the same observation to each other. Lewis likely noticed it wasn’t going over as well as his other stuff, but of course, he couldn’t pull up from the nose dive. It’s like therapy for angry liberals.

He only said a few things about Obama. Obviously, there’s no record to tout. Clearly, no jokes permitted, because you might turn a single voter against him. So, what else can you say? Essentially, that he’ll be a breath of fresh air after Bush, purely because he’s smart. Won’t it be nice to have a smart person in the White House? Yup, it would be. Now if that person also could accomplish anything that wouldn’t flush us further down the drain, that would be great too…

Finally, he was spent on that subject (perhaps 10 minutes, which wasn’t that great a percentage of the time he was on stage, but was a very long stretch of practically zero laughs). He returned to normal funny stories, and won back the crowd, including us. We laughed a good bit at the end of show. I am grateful he didn’t end with the political stuff, which might have left a sour taste in my mouth. Instead, I just felt sorry for him. His life has been incredible (from the outside), in terms of money, fame, women, etc. On the inside, he’s been a long-time drunk, a sex addict, in therapy, and basically miserable and compensating for much of his life.

If he can blame Bush for all of his failings, perhaps he can find some comfort in that. More power to him.

He left the stage at 10:01, exactly 65 minutes. It was a nice length, and mostly funny. I enjoyed the show.

The show was called for 8pm. Tarrytown Music Hall doesn’t seem to ever start on time. The house lights don’t dim by starting time, and people hang around on the sidewalk outside, catching up with friends, past the starting time. It’s not a great way to run a place, even though we like the place acoustically and it’s wildly convenient to our house.

At around 8:10pm, they introduced the unannounced opening act, a comedian named Melvin George. Melvin didn’t curse once the entire show. The crowd loved him from the minute he opened his mouth, until the very last bit. His theme is that he’s not cool (hence his site’s name: notcool1.com).

While he achieved a few genuine belly laughs, he was able to keep the audience constantly chuckling. He delivers insightful commentary, couched in self deprecation (remember, he’s not cool), in an upbeat style, with great pacing. He’s also a good dancer (you’ll have to see the routine to get that one).

His closing routine, which involved pitching the audience on buying a CD of the performance they just watched (last night’s show is already available at this link), was hysterical. Aside from being a great idea (selling the CD), he was able to keep us laughing for five solid minutes, while focusing on a way to make some additional money from that very show. Well done Melvin! He was on stage for roughly 35 minutes.

When the show was over, we walked one block back to our car (we were lucky to find a great parking spot). I reached into my pocket, and my car key was missing (I had the house keys). I have a pair of shorts that have very shallow pockets, and on occasion, when I sit in a deep chair (like in a hotel), my car key slips out. I always find it quickly. It’s never fallen out of a real pants pocket before last night.

Given how close we were to home, it wouldn’t have been a disaster if we couldn’t have found the key, but it certainly wouldn’t have been a pleasant way to end the evening. We walked back to the theater and went straight to our seats. Thankfully, the key was obviously sitting on the floor, right under my seat. By the time we reached the front door of the theater, they were locking it down, so if we had parked a bit further, we might not have gotten back in.

When we got home, we watched the entire debate on the DVR, knowing we wouldn’t bother this morning, once we’d heard the pundits’ spin. Both candidates spouted their respective talking points the entire night. Nothing really learned, and neither really faltered. Onward…

Home Depot Customer Service

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There are many ways to tell this story, and I’m sure that I’ll pick the wrong one…

Before I start railing, let me state that for the most part, Lois and I like Home Depot, and the majority of our in-store experiences have been very positive.

On to our tale of woe. We have outdoor space in the city that had an old (but very nice) wooden table on it when we moved in. There were benches on either side, and a chair at both heads, for a 6-person seating area. It could still be used, but it has required some quickie repairs the past few years, and it’s clearly headed south.

Last summer we seriously shopped (entirely online) for a new patio set. They ain’t cheap, by any measure. We almost pulled the trigger, but thankfully, something took hold as my index finger was hovering over the submit button, and we decided to hold off for another season.

I say thankfully, because shortly thereafter, we lost all use of our deck for a year, when our building was required to make repairs according to Local Law 11. Our furniture got beaten up a ton more as it got moved back-and-forth by the workers, and if that had been new stuff, we wouldn’t have been too pleased…

While the table had some issues, it was really the benches that bugged Lois. A month ago, we found ourselves in a Home Depot near our house, explicitly for the benefit of Laura and Chris who were picking up stuff to get their apartment spruced up. While they were shopping, Lois spotted two wrought iron benches (that even swung a bit). They were on end-of-season super sale. We decided to buy them, even though they might look a bit odd with the wooden table.

After loading them up on a cart, Chris pointed out that since we hadn’t measured, it’s possible that they simply wouldn’t work with the existing table. That was a good point, so we aborted.

A week later, Laura called me from a Home Depot in Richmond, VA, and told me that the last of the patio furniture was still out and on sale, and that we should probably check it out when we got to Fredericksburg (scheduled for a few days later).

We did. We ended up buying an oval wrought iron table and six wrought iron chairs (that rock gently on springs). It’s the same set that the benches belong to, but we much preferred the chairs, and with the matching table, all of our measuring problems (and matching looks problems) were solved.

Lois waited at the Home Depot while I drove the table and two chairs to the office. I returned and loaded up the remaining four chairs and drove them back to the office with Lois. A few hours later, we decided that the sale was very good, so we drove back and bought two more chairs.

A week later, we drove the table and six chairs back to NYC (it was quite a feat fitting them all in to the SUV), leaving two chairs for this next trip. We set the table and chairs up on the deck, and they were perfect. In the past two weeks of nearly perfect NYC weather, we’ve had quite a few meals on the new furtniture, and have enjoyed every single one.

Temporary switching of gears…

We had another (very old) table on the deck that seats six people. Two years ago, Lois spray painted it grey (it was white). Now, inspired by the new wrought iron stuff, she painted it (by hand, very messily) black. It looks reasonably good, but she’s not satisfied (at all). In addition, we have plastic chairs (blue and white, plenty of both colors) that we use around that table. She hates the mish-mash of color and texture between the chairs and table.

So, earlier this week, she had me look online, at homedepot.com, to see how much it would cost to buy more of the same chairs that we hauled up for our new table. For the eight chairs that we bought on sale at the store, we paid $79 per pair (plus tax), so just under $40 per chair. Online, they were $110/pair, but I believe that included shipping (tax would still be separate). Not an outrageous markup, but slightly annoying that it was more expensive.

We decided to hold off and check the local store again. Two days later, we visited the original store (where we saw the matching benches) and they were completely out of this particular set (tables and chairs). When we got home, I went online again, willing to pay the $110. Amazingly, it was now $199/pair. This was just two days later. That was more than I was willing to pay, so we decided to forget the idea.

Now the real part of the story begins, with humble apologies for the length of the intro

Lois decided to call around to some other nearby Home Depots, to see if they had any chairs in stock. We had the SKU (both from the online system, and from the receipt from the Fredericksburg store). She called at least five different Home Depots, all within an hour’s drive of the house, and only one claimed to have any in stock.

OK, it’s in stock, so Lois tells the guy who answered the phone that we’re on the way up. He tells her not to come, because they are not for sale! What? You have something in stock that you refuse to sell? Lois asks him if she can speak to a manager. After a minute, the manager gets on the phone. He tells Lois that indeed the system shows the chairs in stock, but without a visual inspection, he wouldn’t be comfortable telling us to make the drive.

He takes our number and says he’ll call back. We wait quite a while, with no callback. Lois calls again, gets the same original person. Again, he’s as nice as can be, even though he told her the chairs weren’t for sale. This time, he connects her with someone in the Garden department. The woman seemed to be aware of the search, so the manager likely asked her to do it.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t yet confirm that the chairs were there, and she too said she would call back.

In the meantime, we continued calling around. I found a store in NJ that claimed to have 16 boxes of the pair of chairs in stock. We decided to take the shot and head straight there. When we were driving up the lane in our development (just a minute from the house), Lois got a call from the first store (the woman in Gardens) who said she had eight chairs there. That store was supposedly 15 minutes closer, and the woman visually confirmed the chairs, so we headed there.

Sure enough, they had them. After struggling with the decision, instead of buying four chairs (which is what our plan was), we decided to take six. While we knew for sure that six chairs would fit in the SUV, having done it already, this time, four of the chairs were still in the two large boxes, so we didn’t know if we’d have to unpack them before getting them in the car. Luckily, it all fit in (barely) without needing to open the boxes.

One of the reasons we bought six chairs was the price. They were reduced again, to $66/pair in the store. So, online they cost $199/pair, and in the store, $66. That’s just nuts…

OK, so all’s well that ends well, right? Wrong…

Once we got home, Lois started conjecturing that they also carried a round table (44″) in this style, and that given the magnitude of the sale, we would be better off buying it and throwing out the one she just painted this past weekend!

I looked online, and the table had doubled in price (just like the chairs did) to a whopping $239! We called back the store we had just visited, and they had none. The in-store price, if they had it in stock, was down to $45. That’s practically a $200 savings, again, nuts! Now the saga really begins…

Lois asked the woman if any other area stores showed the table in stock. Indeed, a store roughly an hour from us showed two in stock. Lois called. They confirmed that the computer showed two in stock. Having learned the lesson earlier that a visual check is a good thing to ask for, Lois aked. They put her on hold, came back a few minutes later, and said that there were none in stock. 🙁

Lois asked if they could check if any other stores in their area had any. They checked, and yes, another store (also an hour from us) had six in stock. Lois called. They performed a visual check, and none were in stock. No one had a plausible explanation for how the computer showed so many in stock, but none were actually there.

Between last night and this morning, Lois called at least a dozen (yes, I’m not exaggerating!) Home Depot’s, all within an hour’s drive of our house (across three states!). None had the table in stock. 1/2 of them didn’t have it in the computer, but the other 1/2 all showed some in stock (with one store showing nine!), but none of those passed a visual check.

All-in-all, Lois was on the phone for roughly two hours, with tons of frustration along the way. Most (the majority) of the people she spoke to were very nice. A few weren’t. In the end, nice didn’t matter anyway. It was better to have two hours of phone frustration than two hours of round-trip driving to discover that the computer was wrong, but still, it was no fun.

So, what are our beefs?

First and foremost, get the darn inventory correct. If the computer shows the item (or nine items!) to be in stock, it should be in stock!

Second, visual checks shouldn’t take so long either. There are many people in the store, and someone is usually near the Garden section, so a quick two-way radio check should be able to get a definitive answer.

Third, if you solve the first problem, then make sure that I, as a consumer, can see the inventory via the web, and don’t have to waste my time, and the store personnel’s time, with a phone call to check what the computer obviously knows!

Moreover (still on point #3), I should be able to type a SKU and ask for all stores within some radius that have it in stock. I should be able to trust the answer. I should be able to buy it on the spot, and have it pulled and waiting for me to pick it up. Many other retailers provide such a service, or will have the item sent to the store of your choice for pickup.

To summarize:

  • We love this particular style of patio furniture (Napa Plantation Patterns), which appears to be available only at Home Depot (kudos to the buyers at Home Depot for picking this out and for scoring an exclusive)
  • We love the end-of-season sale
  • We hate that it’s way more expensive online than the remainders that are in the stores
  • We hate that we can’t see what’s in stock in a specific store
  • We hate that we can’t ask which stores have it in stock, online
  • We can’t fathom how so many appear in stock, but none actually are
  • Most people in the stores are wonderful and truly helpful
  • Most people on the phone try to be helpful, but the process is so awkward as to rarely end up achieving that goal

We now have plenty of chairs, and a new main table that will give us years of enjoyment. Perhaps next season, we will pick up the round table, without paying an arm and a leg, when the season is 1/2 over. 😉

Catching Up

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It’s been exactly a week since I last posted. Usually, if I take that long a break, it’s a combination of not much to say and not much time to say it in. This time, I had a number of things to say (one in particular) and plenty of time to say it. I purposely didn’t post, because I wanted The Wedding post to stay on top on the main page (without explicitly pinning it), to savor the wonderful memory, just a little longer. Alas, life goes on, and so will this blog. 🙂

So, I’ll cover a number of things in this post, trying to keep each much shorter than they might have been had they been given their own space. Hopefully, the entire thing will be reasonable in length as well. Seperately, perhaps tomorrow, I’ll write a general music catchup post, so I’ll leave music out of this one.

The one post that was hard to avoid writing last week would have appeared on Thursday morning (congratulate me on my restraint). We have really good friends that over the past few years we’ve probably seen more often in NYC than any other couple. We used to grab a meal together roughly every other trip back to NYC.

For a variety of reasons, the last time we saw them was December 2007, mostly because their lives got really complicated. He got pneumonia that lasted a month, and immediately started a new job right after that (we had no idea about either event) and she was busier than ever in a wonderful job she landed six months earlier.

Cutting to the chase, we reconnected via email a few weeks back, and the best night for them to get together was last Wednesday. We were delighted to oblige. What they had no idea about (yes, we’re sure) is that it was our Anniversary. Even without that knowledge, they insisted on picking the place and treating.

They took us to Butai, a very nice Japanese restaurant. We had a fantastic meal with wonderful company. I ordered a fancy drink (I haven’t had a fancy drink in a while) that included Prosecco (a champagne-like sparkling wine) and Pear puree (among a few other ingredients). It seemed fitting on our Anniversary. Lois ordered straight Prosecco (she didn’t realize my drink had any, and she hasn’t ordered a drink in a restaurant in nearly a year!).

Anyway, Butai is highly recommended, and we’re glad to have reconnected with great friends. Thanks guys! 🙂

I know how late I am to the party, but I simply can’t let the Jesse Jackson – Barack Obama comments go by without mention. Here’s the only thing I want to say on that subject (would have been much more if it were its own post, in a timely manner): Jesse Jackson’s apology was beyond laughable.

I’m not surprised he apologized. I’m not surprised he’s still backing Obama (could you imagine him supporting McCain?). So, I’m not calling him a hypocrite for still wanting Obama elected, badly. But, could he not have injected an iota of reality into the apology? After all, he was quoted as threatening to castrate Obama (literally!). Here’s the apology I would have liked to have heard:

I sincerely apologize to Barack Obama for my comments yesterday. While I have some fundamental differences with him on a number of issues, which caused me to privately lash out, they pale in comparison to the numerous issues where I agree with him completely. Further, even in those issues where I disagree with him, I am closer to his position on those than I am to John McCain’s, so my support for Obama continues to be as strong today as it was previously.

Simple, but believable. Don’t pretend that it was all just taken out of context, and that it’s a non-stop love-fest between the two of you. It’s obvious to any thinking person that Jesse Jackson can’t stand Obama whatsoever. That’s fine, they don’t have to love each other in order to be supportive of each other. Bottom line, with friends like Jackson, Wright and Phleger, Obama certainly doesn’t need any enemies…

I’ve been good about keeping up with my exercise routine. I walked my 8+ mile jaunt in NYC three times this week, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. I don’t typically walk two days in a row (especially after taking off only one day in-between the first two walks), but the weather was perfect here this weekend, we were atypically in the city over the weekend, and they were predicting rain all day today.

In any event, I had great walks all three times. It’s helped with my weight as well, as I hit at a new low this morning since I reported on my dramatic weight gain back in this April post. I’m sure it will fluctuate up and down a bit more, but the fact that I’m at a new (interim) low, a week after a wedding where I didn’t hold back on desserts, is a good thing. 🙂

To be clear, I’m still way above my low since beginning to lose weight in 2001, but headed back in the right direction, finally!

Lastly, there aren’t any particularly insightful words I can add to the numerous praises that have been heaped on Tony Snow after his passing this weekend. Lois and I watched Tony for years and were always impressed with him. He was as geniunely a good person as one could aspire to be. He was also only one year older than me, so I know (personally) how unbelievably short his life was. Rest In Peace Tony, you well deserve it!

Kung Fu Panda

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Lois and I had a slightly unusual, but completely lovely weekend.

On Friday, our goddaughter and fiance drove a Budget rental truck up from Richmond, VA with a bunch of their stuff. They are moving to NYC after their honeymoon (putting them in NYC in three weeks!). We helped them move their stuff in and then had dinner with them on Friday night.

On Saturday, they worked (like crazy people) for roughly 13 hours in their new apartment. We had a very late lunch, or very early dinner (you pick) when they were ready for a break.

On Sunday morning, we all left for VA very early. For us, it was part of our normal trip down to Zope (except that this trip will end with their wedding, hardly normal). For them, they rented the Budget truck one-way only, so we were giving them a lift back to VA.

All well and good, except that we had previously arranged to visit our friends in Leesburg, VA on the way down (I’ve written about them a number of times), including taking a bunch of boys to see Kung Fu Panda. Our NYC guests agreed to join us for the festivities.

We got to Leesburg right on time (in fact, we beat our friends to the restaurant). We had our typically great Chinese Buffet (11 of us). Then we gave the parents a break and took five boys (ages 7-10) to see the movie.

For a movie that’s been in theaters for two weeks, I was quite surprised that it was as crowded as it was. The seven of us (Lois, me and the boys) sat in the third row (usually, that’s too close up for Lois, but it wasn’t all that bad this time around, perhaps because it’s an animated movie). I don’t know where our goddaughter and fiance sat.

OK, since the title of this post is the name of the movie, I may as well say something about it. I really liked it, thoroughly, start to finish! It’s a cute story, with hearty laughs throughout, reasonably cool martial arts stuff, and lovable characters. Even the silly stuff (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon type stuff) is easier to swallow in an animated version, no? Yes. 🙂

Mixed in with all of the action and laughs are a bunch of proverbs and general Zen-like philosophy. I don’t know if it appeals to the kids, or if they even realize that wisdom is being imparted, but both Lois and I liked it. Here’s one particular one that we have both repeated a number of times since yesterday. Additionally, we both feel we’ve heard it before, but clearly, didn’t keep it top of mind so were glad to hear it again:

Yesterday is history.

Tomorrow’s a mystery.

Today is a gift.

That’s why they call it The Present!

Lovely!

Anyway, if you have kids, take them to see the movie, you will enjoy it as well. If you don’t have kids, sit near a group of them, so that you don’t look like you just like cartoons. 😉

After the movie we drove to Fredericksburg and met out friends (our goddaughter’s parents) at our hotel. We all had a lovely dinner together, and they took posession of the soon-to-be newlyweds and drove them back to Richmond.

We did our usual Walmart run to stock up for our trip. When we returned to the room, Lois did an incredible job of unpacking and organizing while I relaxed and watched some TV. That lasted an hour, and then a wild storm in Fredericksburg knocked out all of the electricity to the hotel (at roughly 8:43pm). The generator got the lights back on for about 30 seconds before it failed completely.

There we were, in the dark, watching a cool lightning storm outside the window. After about 25 minutes, with nothing else to do, we went to bed (we were wildly exhausted anyway), at 9:06pm. We have no idea when the electricity came on, but we were both awake (briefly) at 1:30am, when it was indeed back on. Thankfully, Lois ran around and turned off all of the lightswitches before we went to bed, so that we weren’t woken up.

A number of things made the weekend unusual. One of the more unusual things was for me not to turn my laptop on at all yesterday. Amazingly, my hands didn’t twitch even once (at least not that I noticed). 😉

MoveOn.org Ads

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I haven’t written about politics in quite a while, and I should probably keep it that way, but I can’t, so here goes…

By now, if you haven’t seen the new ads being put out by MoveOn.org, or seen previews of them on a cable news channel, you’re either very lucky, or blissfully disconnected from the political season.

Rather than describe the ad, I’ll point you instead to an Op-Ed in The New York Times, written by one of their two token conservatives, William Kristol. I can’t do any better than Kristol in analysing the content/message of the ad, so I won’t try. Here are a few additional thoughts though.

Who are these ads targeted at? To me, there are three gigantic buckets that you can (extremely crudely) classify people in (with regard to Iraq):

  1. Believe it’s criminal that we’re there and we should get out instantly
  2. Believe it’s necessary, no matter the cost, and therefore we should stay until the job is done
  3. Believe it’s wildly complicated, with no easy answer, and (unfortunately) often shift their viewpoint (even if only slightly) based on how it’s actually going on the ground over there, regardless of ideological views

It would seem that the ads must be targeting group #3, as there is no way that #2 can be swayed by them (in fact, this kind of ad would mobilize group #2), and group #1 already believes in the cause as strongly as they can, so it’s a waste of money and a lost opportunity to show these ads to them.

So, in a group that thinks the answer isn’t simple, can this ad be effective? I find it extremely hard to believe. It literally requires the viewer to suspend all logic, and react purely to the emotional message only. If you disagree, meaning that you think that the message delivered has even a single basis in fact, then you didn’t read the linked Op-Ed piece very carefully.

I also see this type of ad as working against Obama, who is the person they most want to see benefit from it. It is highly doubtful that he will denounce it. After all, he’s one of the few prominent democratic senators who didn’t vote to denounce the General Petraeus ad. It would seem that annoying MoveOn.org is not high on Obama’s agenda. However, by not denouncing it, he risks seeing moderate people who are offended by the ad as seeing him as pandering to MoveOn.org (or worse, actually agreeing with the ads).

In fact, it completely amuses me that Obama’s stated reason for changing his widely disseminated stance on Public/Private money is the 527 money on the Right side (a.k.a. the Swiftboating money). Not once does he mention the vasts sums of money that are meant to benefit him from the likes of MoveOn.org.

For me, I have no problem with either side throwing their money away on these types of ads. They are truly stupid (the ads), and hope and assume that the viewers are stupid as well. Anyone who requires that their audience is stupid in order to be successful will (thankfully!) be negatively surprised more often than they would imagine. That makes them the stupid ones in the equation.

For me, the ads bring comic relief. Since I love to laugh, I welcome the MoveOn.org ads by the bushel. 🙂