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Watching TV is a Job

I’ve been trying to write spec scripts and pilots, which means a lot of reading, writing, and especially watching. That third thing is tough since I’ve spent the past few years focused on using any free time to create rather than consume. Sitting and watching and actually paying attention to a show is a little unfamiliar, and it’s the constant “I should be doing something else” feeling that keeps bothering me when I’m watching a show recently.

Luckily, TV’s sort of designed to make you just sit there.

How much time to do you give a new show?

Whenever I see that a new show’s rating are low, I think back to this article on why Nielsen Ratings are inaccurate but we still use them anyway. That article is from 2011 so doing a little more research shows that the Networks are doing a little more homework these days, though you wouldn’t be able to tell from the slew of shows that still get axed each season due to low ratings.

“The Crazy Ones” just got canceled, and that’s too bad: I like Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar. I wanted to write a spec script for this one since it was a David E. Kelley show, was about advertising (which I enjoy), and was relatively new so there wouldn’t be too many specs for it yet. Also, I find it weird that a TV show was named after an old Apple ad campaign. It’s too similar to Cavemen, if you ask me.

I watched the first three episodes and I couldn’t do it. I really wanted to like it, and I went it expecting to like it, but I didn’t. Looks like the writing staff is fairly new (I think?) expect for Kelley, which could account for the troubles, but who knows what they had to contend with reigning in Williams’ persona.

Was three episodes enough of a chance to give a new sitcom? Probably. The pilot is always a rush to explain the universe, so episodes two and three are then playing in the sandbox. I think if a comedy hasn’t grown on you by episode three, it probably won’t (non-comedies I think get more of a pass, as Breaking Bad did).

Luckily, I found “Ground Floor” on TBS.

Ground Floor

Great pedigree on staff, and the pilot hooked me in right away. Really great writing (though it did get a little weak in the episodes before the finale). I binged the first season (just ten episodes) and got to work on my spec. It just got renewed for a season two, so it’ll be around for a while.

“Ground Floor” reeled me in with just the pilot. “The Crazy Ones” couldn’t after three episodes. Definitely a lesson for me on what the differences were between the two, when it comes to my own writing. Maybe the simplest goal of a tv pilot is to make watching it not feel like a job at all.


I’m Not the Expert, But I’ve Met Many

You're the ExpertOver a year ago, Chris Duffy asked me if I wanted to be a panelist on “You’re the Expert.” A year later, I’m still a part of this great radio show, which is some sort of testament to just showing up, doing good work, and being nice. Duffy could fill the panelist slots with any number of comedians, but there is something to be said about consistency and knowing who you’re working with, which I think are the reasons I’m a semi-regular. In a nutshell, that’s sort of how I approach comedy and life in general.

Saying “Yes” to Odd Things

I think the most interesting and eventful things have always happened to me because I said “yes” to opportunities great and small (usually small) that I normally wouldn’t have agreed to. They all build together and connect in interesting ways; agreeing to attend a small improv festival in a random city led to a two-week paid residency, for example. Many times, nothing comes from it, but I am always surprised at what results from some of the most random “yeses” I’ve given.

And once you do say yes, do a good job, because people remember that. The comedy circles are pretty small, and word gets around.

Listen to old episodes of You’re the Expert here and watch for upcoming shows on both coasts.


Asian Puppet Rap: White Women

Ugh, this took so long to make. Also, doing anything with puppets gives me so much respect for those who do it regularly. Their forearm and hand muscles must be incredible.


The HR Guy: Facial Hair

Finally got the third HR Guy sketch up on the YouTube site. Special thanks to Dave and Sasha!

The HR Guy series has been some of the best rated stuff I’ve done with Hard Left. Getting a great videographer and editor (Sasha) was huge, but I also tried to write this as tight as possible. They’re all about two minutes long, and the philosophy was to a) give no breathing room for the viewer, b) skew the reality of the world, c) actually write an ending (a frequent comment about earlier HLP sketches was that we had no good endings, which is a common thing you hear about sketches in general). People seem to respond to this pace. This is the trend of web sketches these days. We’ll see if I can do any more of these. I really love writing this HR Guy series.



Pay It Foodward – Natalie Cowell

Pay It Foodward rolls on with ginger-headed Natalie Cowell meeting up with me for brunch at historic Rosebud Diner in Davis Square.

So glad I drove there. Through TIME

Rosebud really is historic; you can read about on their site. The quick hit is that it was “placed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s Multiple Listing of Diners.” How and why Massachusetts has a Historical Commission with a branch specific to diners is a topic for another day, unfortunately, as I have a brunch to recap.

Uncharacteristically, there was no wait for a booth at 11:30 on a Sunday, and Natalie and I were immediately greeted by the quintessential and awesome, no-nonsense yet friendly waitress behind the counter. Everything about the experience in Rosebud is classic, from the handwritten signs detailing the specials, to the shouting of orders to the kitchen, to the lisp of the tall and lanky ostensibly homosexual hipster clad in an Urban Outfitter shirt and skinny jeans that very pleasantly asked us what we’d like to order.

"Our 'mess-o-pancakes' are so ironic."

Odd, but a good server. Perhaps he was the rebellious son of one of the waitresses there. Or, more likely, the GAP had lay-offs. Anyway, the food came out quickly and soon both Cowell and I were fork deep in eggs-over-easy and home fries. Natalie opted for eggs, bacon, home fries, and a bagel. Unfortunately, she had to settle for an English Muffin as Rosebud does not carry bagels. I’ll assume it’s too Jewy for such an all-American diner (though that doesn’t really allow for English Muffins either, I guess).

Natalie presenting one of Davis Square's best hangover cures

And the self-described ketchup artist had a little message for me on her eggs.

Think how terrifying this message delivery would be for any other situation

I went with my standard, the Texas Breakfast.


My parents live in Texas. I eat this instead of visiting them

Cowell gave her meal a thumbs up. The bacon was cripsy, the eggs were not runny at all, and the English Muffin (though no bagel) was just fine. She did give a “meh” rating to the home fries, which tasted like “small french fries” to her, and asserted the apple juice she ordered was just Mott’s. You too good for Mott’s, Natalie?? It ain’t no Juicy Juice!! Anyway, mine was all perfect. The coffee was awful, but at a diner, that’s pretty authentic.

I’ve known Cowell for a couple years now, having first met her at auditions a couple years back when she was cast into Friday Night Face-Off at ImprovBoston (partly due to my vote, so she will always owe me). She is an underrated performer at IB, consistently hilarious, and finally starting to get her dues after a fantastic turn in last year’s Gorefest, and having been cast in the Extended Mainstage cast earlier this year. She loves acting, improv, and was “putting on plays before [she] knew what plays were.” Currently getting a license in Theater Education with a Bachelors in Theater Performance, she is putting snot-nosed kids through the ropes at various schools around town.

Now, the five questions.

What is the most useful lesson you’ve learned from the children you teach?
Natalie teaches kids from elementary to middle school and said she has learned a lot of life lessons from them, such as “don’t eat boogers.” However, the one that sticks out to her comes from her older kids: “Don’t write down anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.” Over the years, she’s seen students get burned over and over again, writing down things on notes or Facebook or Google+ or whatever the kids fancy these days, that come back to haunt them. She can speak from experience having been burned by a nasty note she wrote about someone back in her childhood. A good lesson to learn as everyone over-shares these days.

I hope the hipster I angered with this post doesn't beat me with his fixie

I’m exasperated because I can’t decide what city to move to in order to best follow my dreams. Make up a southern expression that encapsulates a response to this feeling.
After ruminating on this, Cowell hit me with this little nugget delivered in a Oklahoma drawl: “A groundhog can dig his hole anywhere, but his problems are still under the ground.”

"I don't dig holes. I dig graves."

Makes sense. You can’t just move to a new city and expect your life to be instantly better. You’d just be repeating the same mistakes, if you don’t take the time to analyze who you are, what you want, and what you need to change. Are you expecting a picture of the movie Groundhog’s Day? It would be entirely appropriate right here, right? Yeah.

What do people usually underestimate about themselves?
How much others will like them, Natalie says. Apparently unfazed with how generally abhorrent most comedians and actors are to general society, she thinks that most people are mistaken in this area. This notion, that you won’t be liked, keeps people in comfort zones, she says, trapped in their shells. Natalie explained that she was hugely unpopular in middle school due to a couple things (re: boobs, and having them when other girls didn’t), and she had to struggle to cast that aside when she got older. After realizing that people did indeed like her now (again, probably due to boobs. Funny how that works), she understands the instinct to feel like you’re unlikable. She then proceeded to tell me some horror stories of being unpopular, which was great since I had much the same stories. I had her beat though, because she still had one friend to each lunch with, but I can recall a full semester of eating lunch by myself next to my only friend: Mr. Locker.

One day, society will let me take you to prom.

Design me a new ride at Six Flags.
This is the question that really gave Cowell pause, as her brain struggled to reign in all the myriad possibilities. Eventually, she settled on a depressing teaching moment. The ride would start with a hall of mirrors. Not for anything scary, mind you, but as a method of forced self-reflection (which is not scary, but terrifying). The slow pace of this part would give the patron ample time to reexamine his/her life that brought him/her to this point of existence. Next, it would transition into something completely educational, like the history of Edison’s lightbulb. The ride would sort of be like the DNA ride in Jurassic Park, apparently.

But probably with a less pithy catchphrase

Finally, after the forced lesson on filament history, you get a bachelor’s certificate and it immediately exits you from Six Flag’s grounds, basically giving you the boot to the soul you need to go do something with your life. Why this is the direction Cowell wanted to go with a ride, is beyond me, but she did want to call it “The Devil’s Tongue of Fury” or “Uncle Petey’s Bathtub Gin Ride” so I’ll give her a pass for her trickery. But don’t ever hire her to throw a fun kid’s party.

"Happy Birthday"

How would you break up with me?
Natalie came prepared for this one. After reading the other responses, she completely dismissed them. “Breaking up with Robert Woo is different that breaking up with other guys,” she said. She’s right. I cry almost as much as Dana Jay Bein. For our breakup, she expects drama and explosions. One day, she would get fed up with all my smarmy, sarcastic comments. It would be triggered when we are watching some “throwaway romantic comedy by Judd Apatow,” and she belly laughs at something, and I scoff at her for doing so. I say “you would think that’s funny,” and this leads to a debate about entertainment, what’s funny, and somehow, someway, I imply that women aren’t funny. (I must have read Vanity Fair that day) This causes her to go apeshit, have a “full on Maury Povich moment,” and she expounds on the bios of Carol Burnett and Gilda Radner at length before tossing me out along with all my belongings. “It would be like a women’s empowerment movie starring J. Lo,” she said.

This also states how I feel about her career

Then, she’d tell everyone she knew about how awful I was, to the point where everyone would get so sick of hearing it that they would sympathize with me eventually, and it would all backfire on her. And that’s how one drama queen would break up with another, everyone. This might be the most accurate one yet. If I don’t severely piss off a girl by relationship’s end, then what am I even doing here?

Two brunches, an apple juice, a coffee, $18.20. Red heads are a cheap date. We’ll see if she breaks a $20 when she eventually does her Pay It Foodward.