UNDER THE WIRE

My pal, Mike Sacks, and I wrote this quick piece for Vanity Fair’s online stepchild: “Some Surprising Results From Today’s Exit Polls.” It is as dumb as the title would suggest.

PRE-COGNITIVELY LIVE BLOGGING THE VP DEBATE

Today, at VanityFair.com, you’ll find a piece I wrote for them about live blogging the VP debates a full day before they happen.

I only hope my work for the magazine’s web site will guarantee me a much-coveted invitation to the exclusive Vanity Fair after-party for the 2009 Webby Awards.

THE ONE THAT (THANKFULLY) GOT AWAY

Sometimes, when my co-authors (is that too fancy a title?) and I start writing one of those RADAR lists, we quickly discover we’ve written ourselves into a corner. You just never know. Occasionally, a list idea will seem very fertile and then, by item fifteen, you realize you’ve made a horrible mistake. To my recollection, only once did that result in RADAR completely scrapping our list, with us starting over fresh and scrambling to complete a new list before deadline. That failed list was “100 DVDs Still In Our Netflix Queue.”

I have to take credit for this. I think it might have been my idea in the first place, and I was very confident we could come up with 100 great fake movie titles. Unfortunately, 100 great fake movie titles doesn’t make for a particularly compelling list. There’s no ballast, nothing to keep the list from drifting in several directions at once. For instance, it wasn’t always easy to tell what genre each title belonged in, and that missing information made the jokes more puzzling than funny. And some of the jokes were just parodies of a format which, again, would have made no sense out of context. (Kind of like if you stumbled on a copy of The Onion having never read a newspaper in your life.) Also, when you come down to it, it really was just a list of 100 fake movie titles and, seriously, who cares?

However, looking back on the list I guess my work wasn’t completely wasted. I am comforted in knowing it can be treated as a well I will occasionally return to when I am in need of a funny movie title.* I never saw the other writers’ entries, though I wish I had, but here were a few from my list I really liked (organized by genre, because they have to be):

COMEDY
Let’s Grab Some Tits!
The Black In-Laws
Snoop Dogg’s House of Scrizzles (booooo!)
National Lampoon Presents Fingerin’

HORROR/SUSPENSE
White Blacula
Kill Me Once, Shame On You
The Axe Effect
Nude Creatures 2: The Fuckening
University of Slashachusetts (Amherst Campus)

ROMANTIC COMEDIES
Time for Something
Some Such Thing
Now That’s More Like It!
I Object…to Love
You Have the Right to Remain Married

INDEPENDENT DRAMA
Whatevs.
Hannah Drinks a Latte
Even Shy People Eventually Do It

FOREIGN
Rape is No Big Deal
The Garden of Hitler
Café Au Lait: An Interracial Love Story

ACTION & ADVENTURE
Double Penetration, But Not That Kind
The Man Who Came Bullets
Dragonpuncher 3: The Battle for Karate Castle

FAMILY
Fribble McWillikers and the Huge-Mazing, Splend-tastic New-riffic McDonald’s Breakfast Sandwich
Battery-Operated Toy Truck: The Motion Picture
Pudding Camp!
The Dizzy Wizard Who is Also an Allegory for Christ
The Enchanted Cupboard Full of Things that Sound Like Robin Williams and Rosie O’Donnell

SPECIAL INTEREST
Hip-Hop Hospital II: O.G.-GYN
SNL: The Terry Sweeney Years
Best of Fear Factor: The All-Rhino Dick Edition
Learn to Rap Like a Local Weatherman
The Garbage People of Ngabu
The Unbelievable Story of EMF
Oh, Great: Penguins Again

*I have a similar file on my computer dedicated solely to “character names.” Sometimes these are real names I’ve heard, sometimes they’re just weird combinations of words that sound like they could be a person’s name. For instance, I was working on a freelance job recently and the subject of cruise ships came up. Someone in the meeting was talking about the specifics of cruise ship construction, and mentioned all of the various “hull coatings.” That sounded like the perfect name for a tough, no-nonsense badlands sheriff. Someone who might be played by Tommy Lee Jones or Beau Bridges. I actually ended up using it recently in something I’d been working on for a while, replacing a character’s original name–Sheriff Glenn Treetrap–with the even heftier Sheriff Hull Coatings. I wonder if many writers keep files like this, just filled with made-up names of people, books, films, or towns. I do hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s episode of my long-running web text series, MY INCREDIBLE ARTISTIC PROCESS.

100 SIGNS YOUR COLLEGE IS NOT PRESTIGIOUS

This month’s RADAR features the latest “RADAR 100″ list–Signs Your College Is Not Prestigious. I’m really happy with the way this one turned out. The full list is available online and, if you purchase the magazine, it also appears as a full-sized, pull-out poster suitable for dorm rooms. I think this might be my first “poster” writing credit.

I wanted to include some items from my list that didn’t make the cut but, honestly, this time around the editors actually picked most of my favorite ones. (And a few others I didn’t remember writing but in fact had.) Still, there were a few that slipped through the cracks, like:

  • Term papers graded on Hustler’s “five penis” ratings system
  • Graduation robes have “GOLDEN-PALACE.COM” printed on the back
  • The essay question on your enrollment application was, “What would you do for a Klondike bar?”
  • Your alumni newsletter has a “casual encounters” section
  • The alma mater has a twelve-minute guitar solo
  • Hanging in the dean’s office is an oil painting of Mahatma Ghandi beating off into a sweatsock
  • Hanging in the dean’s office is a oil painting of Benjamin Franklin using a glory hole
  • Campus shooter accidentally left his gun on safety
  • Figure drawing classes have a clearly posted “no touching” policy
  • Every diploma has a piece of gum inside
  • Your Semiotics professor insists on being called “Big Worm”
  • You were enrolled on a Halfbright grant

(And, though RADAR used “Your school mascot is a tiger in a wheelchair,” I had also included a few alternate mascots I kind of liked: “An eagle wearing a safety helmet” and “Calvin taking a whizz on the Harvard crest”)

SECOND PLACE IS FIRST TO LOSE

If you’re so inclined, The Morning News has made available the final essay in my six-part series about my life in video games, “Consoles I Have Known.” This one is about the console war between the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and how I became one of its many casualties. Oh, read it for yourself. It’s called “Second Place is First to Lose.”

In a way, the article is also about the way popular opinion is formed, and how that has changed a lot in the blog era. (yuck. sorry.) One video game blog in particular, Kotaku.com, figures pretty heavily into the story as its been kind of a daily obsession for me over the last couple of years. I really do enjoy this site though I do often lose patience for it just as I lose patience for most things published by Gawker. Their writers tend to stretch too often and too hard for the put-down, even where it can’t really justify one.

Kotaku also has a very lively comments section which is, above all else, frustrating. I’ve always felt like, in comments sections, intelligent discussion can often exist but never prevails. Kotaku is very guilty of that, so I usually try not to read the comments. Unfortunately, they’ve made that impossible for me today because they (very nicely) linked to my story on The Morning News, and now it (and the question of whether I’m funny, boring, gay, or simply a tool with no opinion) has become part of a typical flame war on the site. I can’t say I didn’t have this coming to me.

THE VERY PICTURE OF HEALTH

Close readers of this site might have noticed a recent obsession with things like sugar, carbohydrates, drinking and bodily functions. (Now that I’ve written that I realize this obsession is not necessarily recent but recurring and, if I am going to be totally honest with myself, everlasting.) That particular preoccupation can easily be explained by this article I’ve been working on for the last six weeks, and available for viewing today at Salon. It’s about some time I spent following the Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension Course. You can find out more about Atlas at his posthumous website, but I think a more unbiased source of information exists at The Online Physical Culture Museum.

And if you aren’t a big fan of reading, you can pretty much learn everything you need to know about Charles Atlas by staring at this photograph for several minutes:

100 REASONS YOU CAN’T SLEEP

The latest “RADAR 100″ list has finally migrated from the print magazine to the website. As usual, co-authored by Mike Sacks, Ted Travelstead, Jason Roeder and myself–and this month with a strong assist from former Daily Show writer Scott Jacobson. Hope you like “Dreams Deferred: 100 Reasons You Can’t Sleep.” (And if you want to see earlier RADAR 100 lists, you can search their site or go here, where I’ve archived most of them.)

CONSOLES I HAVE KNOWN – PART FIVE

Part five of my six-part series of essays about my life as a video gamer is now available for reading and judging at The Morning News. The essay is titled, “Tilt,” and is about the following subjects:

- the dot-com boom
- selfishness
- Sega Dreamcast
- online advertising
- greed
- universal remote controls
- regret
- teaching fish how to curse

Hope you like it.

PRIOR WORK EXPERIENCE: INSULT COMIC

Last night was TV Book Club. The show was a blast, and I’m very sorry to anyone who couldn’t get in except for those of you who refused to make a reservation in advance, thinking if nothing cooler was happening that night they could just waltz in at the last minute, Ray-Bans casually perched on their heads. You’re living in a dream world!

I think sometimes the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater gets dismissed as having a cult mentality and I suppose if you walk by the theater often enough to see those long lines snaking down the block, filled with young folks reading George Miller graphic novels and waiting to get in to the next show, you could arrive at that conclusion. But I will say this: I heart them. The people who run the theater are incredibly professional, and equally nice, and they seem to have a built-in audience of people who are enthusiastic about seeing new things. Maybe this sounds like a big round of ass-kissing, but it’s honestly not. After performing in lots of different venues of varying degrees of competent management/technical amenities/performer friendliness, UCB is like a breath of fresh, basement air. It’s a magical combination of grungy comfort (to make you feel like you’re still a happy scumbag bohemian) and skilled management. I guess what I’m trying to say is, you should go see “Zombie President” or whatever improv group is performing there these days that doesn’t have a name I just made up.

For me, personally, the show was kind of meaningful. I have been laying low these days, and not performing much. I think I burned out a bit on stand-up and, though I still really do enjoy performing (insecure narcissist!) I think I need to do it on slightly different terms now to be happy.

And as I kind of sort out those terms, I’ve been shying away from booking a lot of shows because I know the process of figuring things out often involves a high frequency of uneven or even miserable sets, and I do worry about going from being (I think) a pretty reliable performer to something like the last couple of years of Lenny Bruce’s life, minus the brief flashes of genius.

As such, as host of last night’s show, it was the first time in a while I’ve felt that exposed onstage and it was a strange evening for me. At first, I honestly struggled. The stage felt kind of foreign to me. I wasn’t sure how to open the conversation between myself and the audience. I returned to my old habit of constantly fiddling with the mic stand like a crazy person, and the piece I read–well, I’ve done better.

But, as the night progressed, I felt more and more comfortable with my place on the stage. It was like some kind of performance-memory was returning. More importantly, the line between being a performer and being myself gradually blurred, which is the absolute best thing that can happen onstage. When that happens, you always know what to say next, because it’s no longer a script in your head. I allowed things to happen more spontaneously, and did things onstage I had no intention of doing when I was preparing for the show. (I also didn’t bother telling a joke I’d written earlier that day because it honestly just felt too calculated. I’ll share it with you, though: “My fiancée, Lisa, and I discussed whether or not she would take my name in marriage but she felt ‘Lisa Levin’ just sounded horrible. So she’s decided she’ll still remain ‘Lisa Hitler.’ I understand. It’s a family name.”)

There’s an old Alan Arkin film called SIMON. I find most people haven’t seen it, though it’s by the co-writer of Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, and has a similar sci-fi goofiness to it. Also, like SLEEPER, the last 30 minutes are not worth watching. Anyway, at a crucial point in the film a bunch of think tank scientists put Alan Arkin’s character, Simon (a self-important but incompetent professor at Brandeis or Vassar or somewhere), in a sensory deprivation tank for so long that his entire sense of self is erased. When he emerges, in a full wetsuit, he slowly pantomimes the entire evolution of mankind–as a way of sort of restoring himself to the present. It is an awesome bit of physical acting, where Arkin acts out the discovery of language and dance, while the scientists observe and remark–”the jazz age! oh! now he’s discovered shame!!” Last night, that’s kind of how I felt onstage, though on a much smaller scale. And really, I probably only made it to Early Man. Still evolving.

This is a piece I wrote for last night’s show, but only read the first part. You can read it all. I don’t care.

PRIOR WORK EXPERIENCE: INSULT COMIC

Chapter One: At the Bank
Pleased to meet you, Mr. Diaz. I understand you’re interested in applying for a business loan.

Now, before I process this application, Mr. Diaz, I wonder if there are any other loans I can help you with today. For instance, maybe I could loan you a paper sack, to place over your head! Seriously, your face is killing me. Who’s your co-signer on this loan? Dr. Jeckyll? What happened to you? When you were created, did God take a sick day? Thank you!

Mr. Diaz, you look like a six-month-old jack-o-lantern carved by a retarded child with juvenile arthritis. No offense, but you look like someone stuffed 10 pounds of Swedish Meatballs into ribbed condom.

And would it kill you to smile? Hey, Mr. Congeniality–you’re here for a bank loan, not dialysis. In all seriousness, why the sour puss? No offense, but the situation in Darfur looks more hopeful than your expression right now. Would it cheer you up if you just signed the loan application now? Here, let me put the pen in your claw. Thank you! What’s that? My manager? Sure thing, Mr. Diaz–I’ll get him. Just don’t steal my hubcaps while I’m gone. What? I get nothing on that? Not even a chuckle? Mr. Diaz, really, there’s no need to get up. I’ll get the manager. Do you want me to bring you back anything? Cup of coffee, or a bucket of chum, perhaps? I’m kidding, you beautiful hideous man, you!

*****

Chapter Two: At the drive-thru
Welcome to Wendy’s, how’s everyone doing tonight? Anyone from out of town? No? OK…may I take your order? Great…beautiful…Biggie fries–whoa, slow down. That’s quite an order. Who’s in that car with you? The Cleveland Browns? Thank you, come again!

What’s that, ma’am? You’re alone? Are you kidding me? What are you, part mountain lion? Do you want me to throw a fork in the bag, or did you bring your own shovel? All kidding aside, is all this food for you, or are you eating for two…the Army AND the Marines!…Oh Ma’am, I’m very sorry to hear about your miscarriage. I haven’t had a microphone in front of me for a while, and I’m a little rusty. Sometimes I put my foot in my mouth. I’m sure you’ve done that before–the only difference is I don’t sprinkle salt on mine first. Bingo. You gotta admit, you leaned into that one, Shamu.

Ma’am, is it really necessary to speak with my manager right now? Listen, I really need this gig. Can’t we just work this out between us? Hey, how about I throw in a free quarter pounder? At Wendy’s we call it a Dave’s Deluxe. You probably call it “a light snack.” I couldn’t resist! My manager will be right with you. You’ve been a lovely audience.

*****

Chapter Three: At Home
I know it’s been a few weeks but everything is “must know PowerPoint” this and “three years experience” that. I just need another break. Speaking of breaks, maybe our baby might like to take a break from crapping her diaper every once in a while. You know I love you, sweetie–you mean the world to me–but how about mixing it up a bit? Pampers aren’t free, you know? With you, I don’t know whether to hire a nanny or a zoo keeper. How about pacing yourself a bit? I think you’ve hit your quota for the month. Oh, now she’s crying. Where are you taking her? And why are your bags packed? If you’re le
aving me, I hope you’re not planning on taking the car. I don’t mean to say you’re a lousy driver, but I’m afraid you’ll die of starvation trying to back out of the driveway. YOU SLAMMED THE DOOR ON MY PUNCHLINE!! Way to pull focus. This crowd stinks.

*****

Chapter Four: in the Bathroom Mirror
You make me sick, you miserable failure. You weak, pathetic little man. I ought to punch in your awful smirking face right now…yeah…I still got it.

UP, UP, DOWN, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT, B, A, START READING

Man, did I ever go out of my with that post title. My point is, part 2 in a series of essays on my life in video games is available now, at The Morning News. The latest installment of the ‘Consoles I Have Known’ series is titled ‘The Most Competitive Man Alive’. It even has an audio-only section, for extra-fanciness.

One day, I shall rule the nerds.

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