Sunday, June 22, 2008

Great American Comedy Festival - Youth Camp - Final Day

Wow! Such an exciting week filled with multiple laughs and fantastic learning opportunities! It has gone quickly, and today is the student's last day.

This morning, they are attending two workshops conducted by Barbara Holliday. The first is about learning how to market yourself. The second workshop focuses on game shows and how to become a contestant.

At 5 p.m., the students will showcase the work they've done this week in class. There will be four improv games, four sketches, and six standup comedy routines.

My only regret for the week is that I will be unable to attend the showcase due to a family commitment. It's called a wedding, and I need to be there, for better and for worse. OK, enough nonsense!

As the director of this camp, I hope the students take the skills they've developed during the week and apply them to any situation they face in life. Improv, quick thinking, and wit will assist students no matter what path they choose in life.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Great American Comedy Festival - Youth Camp - Day 5

Friday was the last official class day for the youth comedy camp that is part of the Great American Comedy Festival. It's been interesting!

This morning during standup class, students fine tuned their performances for tomorrow's showcase. They tightened up the opening joke and then got right in to the routine. While some of the students seem more at ease than others, the quality of material and the laughs they should generate will appeal to the audience. I'm so impressed with the work the students have completed in this class.

This afternoon, we ventured to the venue where we will perform tomorrow and blocked the sketches on stage. Next, the Brave New Workshop and Dave Reinitz ran through the entire show. I couldn't stop laughing.

And for a finale for the day, we attended the comedy finals. Competing were Drake Witham, Chris Coccia, Jim McDonald, Chuck Bartell, Erin Jackson, Shane Mauss, Deacon gray, and Marianne Sierk.

On our way back to the dorm, I enjoyed listening to the students discuss the differences in the routines presented this evening as compared to those in the semi-finals. Some comedians had partially new sets; others rearranged the material; and others used the same routine from earlier in the week.

At the end, Deacon Gray earned the winner's title, Erin Jackson took home $3,000 for second, and a third place tie occurred between Drake Witham and Jim McDonald.

Students were very impressed with Chuck Bartell, a comedian from Minneapolis. Three of my favorite bits he presents include a mood ring, telling a woman 'I love you' for the first time, and picking up hitch hikers. Hilarious!!

I was able to attend a reception for those who put together the festival, and more importantly, for those who performed. Robert Klein, a veteran comedian and actor who was on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" over 82 times, sat at our table. We shared some stories about Second City Comedy Club, limo rides, and improv guru Viola Spolin. Very funny man, and I am glad I had the opportunity to meet him.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Great American Comedy Festival - Youth Camp - Day 4

We must be getting close to the end of the week.

I say that for two reasons. First, the students are up late memorizing lines for the four sketches they will present at Saturday's Youth Showcase. Second, I'm tired.

No, really, I'm tired. Even though I watch the sessions and handle any situation that occurs throughout the day, I can feel my energy slowing a bit. I think the kids are starting to see the end, too, and they are pumped for Saturday's opportunity to perform.

Standup class began with a discussion about last night's semi-final session we attended. The instructor asked what we liked about the comics and what didn't work with their performances for us, also. Very interesting discussion ensued about joke structure and if it is best to get right to the first laugh or if spending time riffing with the audience draws the audience into the bit. Students practiced a short riff, followed by some of their routine, and then returned to riffing. This type of setup is called hammocking. The students seemed to master it in no time.

During improv, the students worked on the group mind activities they will be presenting on Saturday. Four types of improv will be presented. The first improv is titled "bus". One student will drive the bus and as each person boards the bus at a new stop, he or she will assume a certain type of character. Everyone on the bus will assume those characteristics. Once all students are aboard, they will exit the bus, and the improv will continue until the drive is once again, the only person left.

Next, students will perform a game of freeze tag. Now, this isn't the type of elementary playground game you grew up with. Instead, two people enter the stage, walk around, and when someone yells freeze, they do as told, look at the pose they both have assumed, and begin a scene. At some point during their scene, "freeze" will be heard and someone will tag one of the players and assume that position and start a new scene.

The directed story - which I discussed earlier - will be the third type of group mind activity that the students will demonstrate. Oh, so much fun! This is a good activity to show off a person's creativity level.

The final improv activity is titled "Dear Diary." Even though the students are together in a group, each student jumps in and pens a diary entry for the person or object suggested.

And now, on to sketch comedy/sketch writing. Students blocked the scenes and discovered that some of them need to memorize their lines . . . by tomorrow's dress rehearsal. Overall, they did a good job with the scripts. Only a little bit of improv on some of the lines!! :)

Tonight, we watched both sessions of semi-final competition. Wow! There were some spectacular routines. The first group featured Joe Klocek, Erin Jackson, Shane Mauss, Jamie Lissow, Dan Boulger, and another comic who took the place for someone who was unable to be here. In fact, I think he actually flew in to Omaha today and performed tonight. The top two advancing from this session were Erin Jackson and Shane Mauss.

At 8:00, we watched Darryl Lenox, Deacon Gray, Paul Varghese, Myq Kaplan, Marianne Sierk, and Joe DeRosa. Each one of them had energetic shows, with Marianne Sierk and Deacon Gray advancing to tomorrow's final round of competition.

I find it interesting that both women in the competition advanced, especially after being told earlier this week that women in comedy usually don't do well in competition because there are more men than women who perform the standup bit. But I think both women in this competition have their own style that they bring to the stage and it works! So congratulations to all the comedians who will joke around tomorrow for a grand prize of $5,000.

With that said, I see there are five minutes left until the stroke of midnight, commencing the beginning of Day 5 of Youth Comedy Camp at the Great American Comedy Festival. And, since I'm close to falling asleep at the keyboard, I bid everyone adieu.

Until tomorrow! Keep joking....

Great American Comedy Festival - Youth Comedy Camp - Day 3

OK, so technically we're half way through day 4 of youth comedy camp at the Great American Comedy Festival. I'll talk about yesterday's happenings though, and leave today's for a post for later tonight!

Again, I am in AWE of the talented kids who are attending the camp. Amazing! Simply amazing!

Stand up class started with an explanation of riffing - where a comedian talks with the audience. I found it interesting how quickly the students were able to come up with funny responses on the spot. The other students gave false names and made up jobs and location of residence so the comedian could interact with the audience. I heard some very good stuff!!

If you attend the events at Johnny Carson Theater at night, the folks from Reader's Digest have a joke booth there. You enter the booth and record your joke. The grand prize winner wins a trip to New York City. I've been practicing my joke that I plan to record tonight. The students have been coming up with their own jokes and have recorded their one-liners.

The Reader's Digest group visited camp yesterday. They even provided some audience participation. We certainly appreciate the assistance they offered!

During improv, the students worked on the structures they will be using in Saturday night's Youth Comedy Showcase. They definitely have a group mindset! My favorite to watch yesterday was the group story when each student was given an emotion. Then, each portion of the story they told had to use that emotion through the language. Wow! I heard some pretty creative stories about a vacation in Florida.

Sketch comedy and sketch writing finalized scripts and assigned parts for the showcase. Then, it was off to memorize lines in time for Thursday's class.

As a surprise - or actually more like a break from rehearsing - we attended the second semi-final section. Very impressive. Six outstanding comics from across the country performed and the top two advance to Friday's finals. Listening to the students on the way back to the dorm was interesting. Some agreed with the judges' decision; others felt there were other comedians who were better. But, the judging criteria was listed in the program, and we talked about perspective and how to decide how the audience reaction plays into the decision.

More practicing and fine-tuning stand up routines, and then, finally, lights out!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Great American Comedy Festival - Youth Comedy Camp - Day 2

Wow! I can not believe the level of talented kids we have participating in the comedy camp this week. Simply amazing!

First, I watched part of the stand up class. Each student presented a basic routine and then was given a critique by Dave Reinitz who is serving as the class instructor. Students will now take the knowledge they learned about joke structure and add details to the routines they will present at the Youth Comedy Showcase.

The improv class just gets better and better! Today's activities included the freeze game and the ladder. Brave New Workshop talked quite a bit about building a scene by saying yes, and then letting the sketch grow from that point. I like that the kids are up and moving. They were good yesterday, but today, there was a new energy.

And in sketch writing/sketch comedy, the students had completed outlines. The group brainstormed and offered ideas for each sketch based on the five elements of a sketch:
  • satirical point
  • characters
  • setting
  • scene of action
  • the "funny"

Following the discussion, the groups began pounding the keyboards and spent approximately 45 minutes writing the sketch. BNW instructors read the scenes in front of the students and once again, the group mind brainstormed ideas.

Tonight, we ventured to the Johnny Carson Theater at Norfolk Senior High for the amateur night. Twenty comedians from across the nation signed up for the competition. In fact, my inside informers tell me that when it was time to register for tonight's performances, the 20 slots were filled within 5 minutes. Amazing!

The young man who won ended with a bit about why reality TV needs to end and we need to return to original programming. Hilarious! Simply truthful.

Weird holidays - June 13

It's Friday the 13th. In fact, it is the only Friday the 13th in 2008. That means today is also Blame Someone Else Day, which is celebrated on the first Friday the 13th of each calendar year. Forget about superstitions related to the dreaded 13th day of a month, which happens to fall on a Friday. Just blame everyone else for your problems. (Hey, some people make a habit of doing that EVERY day!!)

Ever had a rag doll? Those two favorites - Raggedy Ann and Andy - are celebrated today. Created by cartoonist and author Johnny Gruelle, these two were more than dolls - they were characters that sprang to life in his stories. A celebration honoring the author and his two creations is held in Gruelle's home town each summer. Separate myth from reality at RaggedyLand.

Those dads who work from the confines of their homes - today is your day. Celebrate Work @ Home Father's Day.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Great American Comedy Festival - Youth Camp - Day 1

Today was officially the first day of the Great American Comedy Festival's youth comedy camp. I'm the director, and let me tell you, I'm ready for sleep!

Students checked in last night, and we did all the usual camp stuff: rules, regulations, goals. And then, the full-fledged pig out with build-your-own-sundaes, M&M cookies, and five varieties of potato chips. That was simply the appetizer. Then we completed the mixer with a meat lover's delight pizza.

I've realized that we really try to make things easy for kids. The catering company delivers breakfast to the dorm. All they need to do is walk downstairs, select from the luscious layout, return to their room, and then eat.

The first class featured stand up comedy. Today, I discovered a few things about writing jokes. Jokes consist of three elements: a set up, a connector, and the punchline. Always consider the degrees of difference in something - how something is bad and then each step away from that should be something worse.

Need an example? Ok, how about I say that I just love those silent conversations you have with others in an elevator. First, there's the bulleted eye contact that darts toward then and then quickly averts when you sneak a glimpse at the person. There's the moment when you both reach to push the floor button. And then there's the moment when the monotonous tones of elevator music rush through your brain....and you both realize the toe-tapping, head-bobbing music has turned both of you into those crazy brothers from Night at the Roxbury.

And then - a break for lunch. Keep 'em feed and busy and they'll eventually tire out. A wise woman told me that once.

The afternoon was spent with instructors from Brave New Workshop. I have one word for this fantastic group of performers: awesome, awesome, awesome! (Technically, it is one word. I just used it three times for effect.)

The improv workshop began with several games so the kids could build trust. This workshop time seemed like it flew past us! I was so engrossed watching the kids and was hit with the energy burst they were generating.

After a break, and some goldfish crackers, the kids began learning about the art of sketch comedy writing. Using the local newspaper and personal lists of joys and angers, the whiteboard became the fodder for a brainstorming session. So many interesting and unique ideas! Then, I was called away on camp business, so I missed the basic outline of the sketch (darn it), but I do believe that the basics include a theme, character(s), and place, as well as two other elements that I will discover tomorrow.

Dinner at Valentino's (a Nebraska tradition) and a trip to the Elkhorn Valley Museum for the Johnny Carson exhibit completed day one. Free time and some homework assignments kept students at the keyboard or at the ping pong table in the game room until lights out.

And yes, it's time for some peace and quiet and much deserved rest before tomorrow's outing.

What a fantastic opportunity and such a talented group of young people from across the U.S.! I'm glad I am able to be a part of it.

Reporting live (and close to sleep) from Norfolk, Nebraska..... until tomorrow. Same comedic tim(ing), Same comedic channel.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Weird holidays - June 12

Two fantastic reasons to celebrate today.

Crowded Nest Awareness Day is a way to honor - or pity - all those parents who have college-age children who move back home. Sure, if they're in college, they'll be home for maybe three months. But what about those who have graduated from an institute of higher learning and now need to move back in with mom and dad because he or she has discovered that the job market is tight and he or she doesn't know if he or she can survive. Whew!

Or then there's is our situation. My youngest wants to move back home, but tough love from mom (and dad) here. Sure, you can move back home only AFTER you've found a job. We're still waiting to hear what she's decided.

Of course when the oldest child graduated, we told her to hurry up and get her room cleaned because we were putting a hot tub in there. Never happened, but it sure was fun to watch her reaction!

Another reason to celebrate today, besides the fact that it is June 12, is because today is Loving Day. A result of the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, loving day honors interracial marriage in the United States. The educational mission of the day is to fight prejudice through education and build a sense of community among people involved in interracial and intercultural relationships. Here is a listing of 2008 celebrations. Some celebrations are today only; others take place throughout the weekend, and a few are later in the month.

Weird holidays - June 10

There's only one reason to celebrate today: the ball point pen day. I know I couldn't survive without them, although I think I probably have some form of OCD because the pen has to feel right in my hand or I search until I find the right writing utensil. My mother would argue that it has to do with my office supplies fetish, but that's simply not true! :) You can never have too many notebooks, legal pads, or fine quality pens. Trust me!

I imagine most people think the ball point was invented in the U.S., and to an extent, that is true. In 1888, an American leathermaker patented a utensil that marked leather, but this pen was never put into production. In 1935, two Hungarian brothers - Ladislas and Georg Biro - were printers and devised a better version of the ball point pen. A very interesting history of their journey, which includes fleeing to Argentina during World War II, examines the details.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Weird holidays for June 8

Another listing of unique, weird, or wacky celebrations for this day in history.

Abused Women and Children's Awareness Day does NOT seem like a strange holiday. It's a day of awareness, a day to learn about the battered and abused. There isn't a bold history written about the subject. I'm sure it has been going on for a long time. Picture the manner in which cavemen are depicted: clubbing the woman over the head and dragging her to the cave. Fast forward to present day; the abuse could be happening in the house next door and you might not even be aware. Make yourself aware and offer support - or even escape - for those who suffer at the hands of an abuser.

Initiated in 1957 by the Bahai's of the United States to promote racial harmony, Race Unity Day has grown into a celebration of diversity promoting equality, unity, acceptance, respect, and love. The unity day is celebrated on yearly on the second Sunday in June.

The Festival of Weeks, or Shavo'ut, is the second of three major Jewish festivals with both historic and agricultural ties. This holiday celebrates the first fruits were harvested and carried to the Temple. The historical perspective celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Shavo'ut has close ties to Passover. Counting from the second day of Passover to the day prior to Shavo'ut is 49 days - 7 weeks. This accounts for the name of the festival. Labor is not permitted on Shavo'ut. Custom calls for staying up the first night and studying the Torah. Then, most pray early the following morning. Also, a dairy meal is customary during the festival. Why? Two possible reasons: some believe it has to do with Israel being considered a land of milk and honey; others feel it is because the Torah had just been received, which included dietary laws, and as a result, both meat and dairy meals were not available. The final custom is the reading of the book of Ruth.

Today is also Write to Your Father Day. Considering that next Sunday is the real father's day, you might want to take advantage of this week and pen a heartfelt letter to your dad. This celebration has an interesting history. Three poets from San Luis Obispo came up with the holiday. Why? Because 70 percent of U.S. prisoners grew up fatherless and because poets use a few words to get to the heart of the matter. Take a look at the writing exercise these three offer.

Multicultural American Child Awareness Day celebrates what some may consider a twist of irony. We're celebrating the American child who is multicultural. I say celebrate ALL children! They are our future.

Orphan's Train Memorial Day is celebrated today. I could not find any information about the origins of this memorial day; however, I'm going to guess that this celebration honors those orphans who were placed on trains and sent across the U.S. to adoptive homes. Quite of a few of the orphans ended up in my home state of Nebraska.

Having a bad day? Turn that frown into a smile and celebrate Upsy Daisy Day. According to Merriam-Webster, the people who started this happy holiday did it as a way for people to get up gloriously, gratefully, and gleefully. So true. When you wake up, you have the power to decide if you are going to be positive or negative that day. Upsy daisy is also an interjection used to reassure a child when he or she is being lifted.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Weird holidays 4 June 7th

I'm not sure that I would consider the running of the Belmont Stakes as a holiday. I mean, heck, the banks were still open, and the U.S. Postal Service delivered the mail. Although, today's race might become a historic event. Why? Because Big Brown may win it all - the triple crown of racing. This demanding race is named after August Belmont, a prominent banker and horse racing guru from the 19th century.

Kentucky-ans (hmmm....would you change the 'y' to an 'i' and add -ans ?) honor Daniel Boone today since he first saw the forests and valleys of present-day Kentucky on this day in 1769. The Kentucky Historical Society celebrates June 7 as Boone Day.

Craving a special treat? Go ahead! Splurge for Banana Split Day. Now, some historians celebrate this luscious holiday in August, but folklore and legends believe that 1906 University of Pittsburgh grad David Strickler invented the ice cream treat while working as an intern at Tassell Pharmacy in nearby Latrobe. Word of the gooey treat spread, and soon, ice cream fountains across the nation were serving the banana-ice cream - strawberry-chocolate-pineapple-nuts-whipped cream concoction. It's warm enough today here in the Nebraska sandhills - maybe a yummy dish of this later!!

Cheer Coach Day honors those who teach and sponsor cheer squads. I have a feeling they earn their pay!

The first Saturday of June is designated as National Trails Day. Sponsored by the American Hiking Society, their hope is to increase awareness of and activity on the nation's trail systems. Want to know if an event is scheduled in your area? Find out here. The Cowboy Trail is located near where I live, stretching from Norfolk to Valentine on an abandoned stretch of Chicago and Northwestern railroad.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Weird and Wacky Holidays for June 6

OK, I'm going to try to get back to writing about these crazy holidays again.

Today is Donut Day. Started by the Salvation Army, the first Friday and Saturday of June are known as Donut Day. Sure, the group didn't invent the wheel here, but they did start this holiday for a wonderful reason.

During WWI, U.S. soldiers were hungry and cold due to rains that lasted just over a month. In a tent near the front lines, women from the Salvation Army made donuts by putting oil in a pail, making dough with ingredients on hand, and rolling the dough with a wine bottle. The ladies used a baking powder can to cut the donuts and fried them in soldier's steel helmets on a small stove. 100 donuts were made that day. Rains collapsed the tents, but the ladies continued cooking.

Soon, as many as 500 soldiers stood in the mud waiting for a hot donut. Over 9000 donuts were being made around the clock. Other units heard about the donut shop under a tent and began making their own, supplying the treat for the front lines.

Following the war, the "doughboys" wanted the taste of the donuts they'd eaten in France. American bakeries hadn't heard of the donut, but they began making them and the fried donut became a popular treat in the U.S.

Donut Day began in 1938 as a fundraising effort for the Salvation Army and as a tribute to the Army 'lassies' who served donuts to thousands of soldiers during World War I.

My grandfather was in France during WWI. I wonder if he ever had any of the Salvation Army donuts.

Today is also D-Day. D-Day is a term used by the military to denote a day when a combat operation will be initiated. Probably the most notorious D-Day is June 6, 1944, when the Normandy invasion began.

In the past, today has been Hunger Awareness Day, but the folks at America's Second Harvest - the nation's food bank network - will now spend the month of September promoting Hunger Action month.... but go ahead now and take action. Food pantries across the U.S. are running low on supplies and donations. They need help from everyone.

searching for veggies

Well, Tuesday was a sad day. We went asparagus hunting and most of it had gone to seed already. We did find enough to have asparagus with cheese sauce for dinner though. :)

Last year, we went looking for asparagus almost every day for two weeks and always came home with enough for a meal.

This year, because of the wet weather, the season started about a week later and there wasn't as much as usual. I'm sure it also depends on where you look. I have a plan for next year. I guess there's quite a bit across the highway, so I'm going to go every afternoon and gather enough for meals and freezing.

I can remember going a few times when I was growing up. We'd go with Meem, Shelley and Marsha. And then one year, we just didn't go. I'd forgot about it until last year.

I've been told that Holt County is the best place to hunt for the ditch veggie. Sure seems there's a lot! One Sunday when we were out hunting for it, we saw a car from Illinois. Uh, get out of here and let the locals have their veggies!! :)

I made a good casserole with asparagus and onions, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and croutons. Very good, but the favorite in this house seems to be with melted cheese.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Milk - Better than Gatorade?

Admitting a problem is the first step to recovery.

So I admit it: I do not drink enough milk. Kind of ironic considering I live on a dairy farm. But believe me, I certainly consume my fair share of dairy products, especially cheese and yogurt.

I remember during my high school years, I would get home from whatever athletic practice-of-the-season, open the refrigerator door, grab the gallon of milk, remove the lid, and chug. It was so thirst quenching and I felt so much better after I had downed the delicious milk.

Of course, my mother was yelling at me the entire time: Don't stand there with the refrigerator door open. Don't drink from the milk container.

Now, there is new research showing that milk is, indeed, an excellent idea sports recovery drink.

The International Journey of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism featured an article proving that chocolate milk is a nutritious alternative to carb-replacement sports drinks. The smooth chocolate milk also supplies energy and helps muscles refuel after exercising.

A 2004 study proves that whey protein stimulates protein synthesis after resistance exercise. Whey is found naturally in milk. The impact of the study: consumption of whole protein can stimulate post-resistance exercise muscle protein synthesis, which could lead to bigger and stronger muscles.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that drink milk after heavy weightlifting helps exercisers burn more fat and build more muscle. The muscle gain proved greater among milk drinkers than those who drank carb-based beverages or soy products.

Drinking milk as a training beverage results in great muscle mass accretion states another issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Skim milk is a natural and effective post-exercise recovery aid, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Consumption of dairy foods leads to stronger bones and bone mass preservation.

Three daily servings of milk contribute to a healthy diet by helping children and adolescents meet calcium and vitamin D needs reports Pediatrics.

Perhaps in the future, we'll see superstar athletes on the sidelines of a football game chugging a glorious glass of milk instead of reaching for a carb-based beverage. So watch out, sports drinks! There's a new refueler in town, and it is doing a body good.