Here’s a series of outtakes from a Jack Daniels spot I was in. They gave me a few basic ideas and told me to improvise the rest. THIS is the result.
This is where you’ll find the absolute best of everything I’ve done. You should be very surprised that it isn’t much shorter.
Game Review: L.A. Noire
To say that L.A. Noire has visual appeal is an understatement. The people in the game look and behave so much like real humans, that it’s uncanny. Moreso than Heavy Rain or even Uncharted 2, it feels like a movie. In fact, you might have more fun watching than playing. The writing is top-notch, and it’s definitely Rockstar’s finest effort in terms of storytelling. The problem with L.A. Noire is that its epic story and captivating performances only momentarily distract from the wonky, uncoordinated game play. It’s almost annoying to have to pick up the controller again when a cut-scene ends. You can guess that whatever you’re expected to do will be less interesting than the short film preceding it. Maybe some players get off on walking fifteen feet across a room to dial a phone, or carefully and pointlessly rotating an empty cigarette carton, but I’d prefer to actively know what I’m doing when I’m supposedly solving a mystery.
Graphically speaking, L.A. Noire is a masterpiece. The game oozes charm thanks to its impressive recreation of body language, expressions and mannerisms. These come largely into play during the interrogation portions of the game, where you are expected to study a person’s verbal and non-verbal responses in order to tell whether or not they are lying. This sounds fun at first, but quickly becomes tedious when you discover that all interrogations can be easily solved (or failed) by rote. They rarely have bearing on the overarching story. This is a problem considering that they are the selling point of the game. Whether or not you do well with the interrogations, some loophole or piece of flimsy evidence will inevitably propel you to the next set piece, forcing you to perform some ridiculous task before the villain reveals himself.
To study the interrogation system is to delve into the core of the game. A player is given a few options to decide if a suspect is lying or telling the truth. If the suspect is lying, you may accuse them of it directly (providing evidence to support your claim) or indirectly (doubting their statement without supporting evidence). In order to successfully accuse someone of lying, you need to have the exact piece of evidence that refutes their claim. If you found the right piece of evidence, you need to select it from your notebook when prompted. If you select the wrong piece of evidence, the suspect will say something jerky and you will get a naughty X-mark next to that question in your notebook. The more happy check marks you accrue, the more clues you will have to solve the case. But when it comes to actually solving the case, there are always two outcomes. Either the killer will present himself by leaving the murder weapon next to his glass of milk on the bedside table, or the game will prompt you to choose between two likely suspects and charge them with the crime regardless of whether or not they did it. Your captain only cares about fast and thorough results, not the legitimacy of your evidence. This means that there is constantly grey area when it comes to solving cases, and regardless of how highly you are rated at the end of each chapter by the invisible detective-ratings-commission, there is a good chance that you are still miles away from solving the mystery.
There is a huge discrepancy between the quality of the writing and the way in which the writing interacts with the game play. Our main character, LAPD detective Cole Phelps walks just awkwardly enough to make the platforming elements of this game frustratingly awful. There is this weird compulsion in the mechanics to spice things up and make them more exciting, resulting in repeated fisticuffs and on-foot chase sequences that just feel redundant. Instead of re-committing to the player-as-human-lie-detector premise, L.A. Noire has moments of identity crisis where you’ll find yourself wading deep into tar pits or running like mad from an exploding movie set. These would be fun in a game designed for movement, but Cole’s wobbly turning makes him an unfit candidate for the job. It’s a game obsessed with realism, until the part where you have to shimmy up a drain pipe like Mario looking for his hat. It feels out-of-place amongst the grit.
This is not to say that all its action game play suffers. The shooting and driving sequences are largely indebted to the mechanics of Grand Theft Auto, and if you’ve ever played a game in that series, they will be largely familiar. Unfortunately, the cover-based shooting is a little clunky. To compensate for this, Cole is seemingly impervious to gunfire whereas the enemies take a few hits and drop. “Sorry we forgot to tell you there would be a lot of shooting in this game. There is. We ran out of ideas. Don’t worry, we made it really, really easy. Copasetic?” Another thing the designers forgot to tell you is that driving in Los Angeles is not a fun experience, especially when all of its most obvious and recognizable landmarks have yet to be built or weren’t included in the game. (Was Mulholland Drive too scary for you guys?) It might be a modern problem now that the city is a China-like wasteland, packed to the brim with wall-to-wall zombies hoping to suckle at stardom’s tea, but it just doesn’t feel like Los Angeles without the traffic!
Getting around is too easy, and damned if it isn’t boring. The game tries to rectify the boringness of travel with the ability to skip to destinations, but it’s only when you’re aimlessly driving around that you get the chance to do semi-boring side missions that amplify your detective ability by giving you cool auto-cheat points for perks like “reveal all clues,” or “make me a high-ball, woman!” (For that last one the combat system comes momentarily into play if she doesn’t move fast enough.) Oh, if the gameplay wasn’t boring or easy enough, your neat auto-cheat points allow you to deduce things faster and basically ruin the game in the process. There is a cool feature that lets you “phone-a-friend,” wherein you poll the online gaming community to see which answers they chose on average for specific interrogation sequences. What’s cool is that they are not always right. This is a great way of incorporating online game play into a single player experience. Unfortunately, you can only get more of these awesome cheat points by playing the arbitrary side-missions that are found while driving around like an idiot. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, there are no open world sandbox parts between missions. You can only drive around like an asshole when you’re in the middle of a more important mission, and the game often chastises you for not going to specific locations fast enough. So when am I supposed to drive around and hit, er, hurt, er, help people? It doesn’t seem like this portion of the game was thought out properly, and with over forty side missions and ninety different vehicles, it stands to reason that this game should have had a slightly more sandbox-y feel.
It all feels like a lot of work for nothing, especially considering the fact that the story unfolds whether you play well or not. The story is fascinating, well-written and structured like a great Hollywood movie. The problem is that it’s not really a mystery story, and it doesn’t serve the premise of the game. For example, you’ll find newspapers throughout the game that give you access to cut scenes with information that your main character never sees. That means the player has access to evidence that Cole can never use to solve mysteries. It’s frustrating to know more than the character you’re controlling, especially when your chief weapon is information. Worse yet, the newspapers and post-case flashbacks have more to do with the overarching story than any of your cases. Instead of wanting to skip the movies to play the game, you’re slogging through boring game play to get to the next movie. Why don’t you just read a book? No boring game play and you actually get to solve the mystery. Plus, there’s no incentive to buy add-on content!
I want a game to fulfill the promise of the premise. I want the mysteries to reflect the feeling of noir, not the sensation of driving around pre-smog Los Angeles. In a game packed with femmes, not one one of them was a fatale. Can you believe it? Haven’t you ever heard of tropes, writer/director Brendan McNamara? Formula exists for a reason and mostly because it works. If you’re going to buck formula, at least give it a good reason. You do a good job of making us care about cut-scenes, but by severely limiting the player’s interaction with our main character’s choices and dialog it didn’t always feel like I was directly involved. There were times when I had the right evidence, but the questions were so awkwardly phrased that I didn’t even know how to use it. Sometimes I would guess correctly and feel none the wiser. Other times I would just wander around rooms waiting for controller vibrations and meaninglessly tapping the X button in hopes of finding a clue. Inevitably I would find one, and be propelled into some sort of fisticuffs, which I would deftly win by continuing to press X repeatedly. Maybe the suspect will break free and run away and I will have to press X to tackle. Who knows? It’s a long game. The real mystery is how a writer so gifted at dialog can be so bad at communicating with the player.
I did not love L.A. Noire. I really wanted to, and was charmed initially by its polish and commitment to authenticity. Its subject matter was fun and interesting, but its schizophrenic game play really bothered me. I’m a fan of L.A. Noire’s attempt to introduce a new deductive game play element into the mix. It might have done better to re-commit to the style of classic Lucasarts adventure games. That would have made the puzzle-solving matter more and not seem quite like an exercise in rote. There is no reason to give the player solutions in a game about solving mysteries. Portal 2 didn’t need a cheat mode. Make the player work to understand something, and allow the player to be pleasantly surprised by the result. Don’t make the player work to understand nothing. That’s just an exercise in futility. There is something to this franchise, but it needs more focus on interrogation and less focus on picking up and rotating empty coffee cups. Clear dialog trees with the opportunity for morality-based cause-and-effect could really take this type of game play to the next level. Sometimes I would verbally accost a suspect on accident, simply because my character was compelled to do so. That signifies a lack of control, and the more I played, the more I felt like Cole would do whatever the hell Cole wanted to do, whether or not I was controlling him. Maybe Brendan McNamara should stick to non-interactive art.
Game Review: Dead Space 2
Dead Space 2 is the only game I’ve ever beaten and immediately played through again. It’s something of a twisted marvel. I got the same sort of sensation that I had playing Metal Gear Solid as a kid, like I was experiencing something synonymous with a movie rather than a traditional combat-based shooter. Scary isn’t always the operative word in Dead Space 2, not to say there aren’t make-you-jump moments. The really masterful strokes in DS2’s design are found its slow-burning interaction with the human mind, something the story’s subject matter embraces with a sinister grin.
I’m not going into too many story spoilers. After all, this is a Dead Space game, and using the term story at all is loose at best. Dead Space falls into the category of games that feel like theme park rides, in this case a haunted house. The haunted house is a huge city-size complex in outer space, crawling with reanimated corpses, twisted and mangled and granted with bestial sentience. That sounds pretty scary, but the game does well to desensitize you to violence in the first few minutes, introducing you to the absolute hell you’re about to endure with one of the most shocking kills on any screen. The game is not short on gore, and those who are faint of heart should probably play Barbie’s Horse Adventures instead. I’m not one to shy away from gore (after that one scene in Hannibal where the guy eats his own brain, I’m pretty much broken as a human being), but this game made me wince from time to time. There’s a specific sequence with a horrible twisted machine in the game’s final moments that is enough to render you unconscious with either fear or disgust.
I’m going to talk about this game as an experience. As an experience, it is incredible. Fans of the Dead Space franchise will find a few improvements, like more mobility for zero-gravity monster combat, but otherwise there is a fairly standard pattern of wandering into a darkened room and waiting for something to jump out at you before you shoot it to pieces. The monsters in the game, or Groovy Ghoulies if you will, play an insidious game of hide-and-seek with the player, forcing them to tip-toe into seemingly innocuous environments with the expectation of terror. There’s a specific breed of undead creature made from dead babies that explode on proximity contact to the player. Now if you’re a parent, you might find this hilarious. But for the rest of us more even-tempered mortals, this is decidedly unsettling. The dead baby necromorph’s older cousin is something of a rambunctious ten year old, howling with delight as it and its friends tear you to pieces during recess. The game is not short on frightening material, to be sure.
Players star as the hero of Dead Space, engineer Isaac Clark. He’s picked up a few silver hairs since his last tango with the necromorphs, thanks in no small part to the designers’ ability to accurately portray human beings in virtual shells to a compelling and revolting degree. The game has a trope carried over from survival horror trend-setters like Resident Evil. When you die, you don’t simply see ‘Game Over.’ You instead watch your character, Isaac, torn to shreds during increasingly brutal depictions of monster murder. It makes you really want to stay alive.
Like the best of modern shooters, Dead Space 2 commends you for studying its opponents and devising the best strategies to pass them. In terms of design, this game is Legend of Zelda if Zelda were all dungeon. The real Zelda is packed with back-story to make the experience more epic. Dead Space 2 is packed with fear and uncertainty. This fear begets the driving force of the game: “I’ve got to find a way out of here, or else I might lose my mind!” That fear drives Isaac Clark to take incredible risks and face a surprising series of challenges along the way. He’s willing to do anything for survival, and so must the player in order to succeed.
The best portion of the game for me is the New Game +. After you complete Dead Space 2, you can start a new game with the same weapons and armor statistics from your previous game. The second play through is even more fun, because you get to absorb more of the experience and fret less about the puzzles. There are some hardships to endure, to be sure, and again, this is not for the faint of heart. But I think the marketing team made that very clear.
Interview: Actress Lauren Lapkus
Lauren Lapkus is an incredibly talented, skilled and quirky performer capable of bringing audiences to uncontrollable fits of laughter. Her characters are fascinating and weird. I’ve been lucky enough to see her perform on several occasions at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Los Angeles, and I’ve always admired her ability to commit wholeheartedly to her characters and to capture the audience’s attention with a single sound, mannerism or wack-a-doodle facial expression. She’s a genuine comedic master, a born performer, and like all great actors she recognizes the importance of infusing even the zaniest of choices with heart and honesty. Lauren was kind enough to let me interview her.
You’ve worked with iO and Second City in Chicago. How did the Chicago schools of improv and sketch comedy shape your humor?
I am originally from Evanston, IL and mainly trained and performed at iO Chicago. I also trained a bit at The Annoyance and did a few shows there, as well as at The Playground Theater, and I put up a few shows at Donny’s Skybox at Second City. At iO (and the Chicago improv scene in general) there is a big focus on character and relationship-based improv, which I love. It was great for me to be able to start at iO because I’m naturally inclined to play characters, and I was able to hone that skill over the five years I was there. I started taking classes there when I was a senior in high school. At first I was really nervous to talk to anyone in class and I felt that because everyone was a bit older than me that they wouldn’t want to hang out. Of course, over the year of classes I got really close with many of those people. Improv really helped me gain confidence in many ways. So that’s cool.
Speaking of Chicago improv, were you a fan of the TJ & Dave show? Did you ever work with Susan Messing at all?
Who isn’t a fan of TJ & Dave? They are two of the most revered improvisers in Chicago. Susan Messing was my level 2 teacher at iO, and she is awesome and hilarious as well.
How does the Chicago comedy and improv scene compare to the Los Angeles live comedy scene?
In 2008, I moved from Chicago to NYC for a little over a year. In January of 2010 I made my way to LA. All three places have fun improv communities… I trained at UCB in NY and it was a great experience. I met so many funny, awesome people. And the same is happening for me in LA. I think all three cities have somewhat similar comedy scenes, but different theaters have different goals and styles. In each place you will find tons of indie teams doing their own thing and performing, which is really cool to me. On any given night in all three towns, you can find improv groups in bars or small theaters trying new forms and just having fun. UCB thrives in both NYC and LA and I feel very lucky to perform with a couple groups at the LA space. For me, the Chicago improv community will always be home, but I have been able to find glimpses of that feeling in each city, which says a lot about the people doing this art form. From Chicago to NYC to LA, you’ll find wonderful, nice people, many of whom happen to be funny as hell. It’s inspiring– it is pretty special when you step back and look at this community of artists coming together with a common goal.
How would you characterize your sense of humor? What drives your comedy?
I love creating weird characters and just being silly. I find true joy in not thinking too hard and just having as much fun as I can. I’d have to say my comedy is really driven by having a good time and bringing the audience to a place where they may not even know why they are laughing. I’m constantly amazed when I watch or perform with more cerebral players… It’s not my natural tendency to be very analytical, but I think it adds a great element to this style of performance.
Do the people you portray in scenes- because they all did seem like real people- are they based on real people at all?
I am definitely inspired by real people. I’m constantly amazed by how ridiculous people are. Especially at Target and Marshalls. I’m sure that a lot of the crazies I encounter live in my head and come out in my improv.
You’re able to play dumb without resorting to stereotypes. Are you developing these characters on the fly or coming in with a strong choice and sticking to it?
Thanks! I think I tend to just start talking as a character and see where it takes me. I don’t typically walk on stage with a fully fleshed-out character. But I try to make a strong choice right off the bat and let that lead me in the scene. So I guess the answer to that question is yes. Haha.
How much truth is inherent in your comedy and performance?
Even though many of my characters can be pretty exaggerated, I still think there’s gotta be truth to it because it’s how I see the world. I also think real emotions and commitment to the scene keep things grounded and allow people to relate. When an improv scene gets too wacky and uncommitted, that’s when things feel untruthful, and often unfunny.
It says on your resume that you do puppeteering and mask work. How have these skills come into being and aided your performance?
Ooh, you do your research! One of my regular shows at iO Chicago was Felt, an improvised puppet show. I also did an improv show with puppets in NYC that had a different format. Puppetry is a fun challenge, not only because the act of physically moving a puppet is difficult, but also because the audience can’t see your face. You really have to have control over your voice and be very clear when you’re using the same puppet as multiple characters. I also took a mask workshop for fun while I was in Chicago. Working with masks is similar in that the slightest change of angle on a mask (or puppet head) can change the emotion the audience reads. Masks also require a certain physicality to help define your character. I think both of those skills have helped me be a more effective performer. Facial expressions are huge in my improv, so being forced to play without that tool has been good for me.
What were the names and personalities of some of the puppets you played?
The main puppet I used in Chicago is an orange monster named Carrot. He was already named when I joined Felt, so I adopted him like a child. Not really. I think the personalities I use when doing improv with puppets are as varied and unplanned as in regular improv, though other performers may create a personality for their puppet and improvise with that added layer.
Over the years, who are some of the comedians or performers that have truly inspired you and informed your sense of humor?
When I was in elementary school, I loved Chris Farley and Adam Sandler. SNL was so huge for me at that point. Maya Rudolph, Amy Sedaris, and Diane Keaton are big influences for me as well. Diane Keaton is adorable! I love her. I also think Lisa Kudrow is hilarious and wonderful to watch.
Our mutual friend Sarah has known you since grade school and she says you’ve been as funny as long as she can remember. What’s your earliest memory of making someone laugh?
Oh man, that’s a tough one. I think I was always funny with my friends, but I think I started to hone it a little bit in middle school. Lots of impressions to make my teachers laugh. I was big on throwing out sarcastic remarks in class. I could be a reaaal cut up. I was always given funny roles in the children’s theater plays I participated in, and getting laughs was a great feeling to me right from the start.
Some of my friends from college are in Story Pirates. Tell me a little bit more about what you guys do and why it’s so special.
The Story Pirates is such a great organization. We teach creative writing workshops in schools and adapt the kids’ stories into sketches and songs. I joined the company right when I moved to NYC in 2008 and when I moved here in early 2010, the LA branch was just starting up. The cast is full of extremely talented people from coast to coast, including lots of improvisers. It has been great to be able to continue performing with Story Pirates out here and getting some LA friends involved. Our show is not your typical children’s theater show. The style and format we use really seem to grab and hold the attention of kids and adults, which is rare– I am really proud of the work we do.
Visit Lauren’s website for info on her upcoming shows, and be sure to check out Lauren on Chelsea Handler’s new show, “Are You There Vodka, It’s Me, Chelsea”.
Interview: Comedian Pardis Parker
It’s not often a sight like this comes along. The birth of a new era: the inception of an interview. Here to celebrate it is comedian Pardis Parker.
Q: You were born in a Sri Lankan rainforest atop a mountain’s peak. That’s a pretty epic birth story. Have you ever revisited your birthplace? Do you think your birth foreshadowed your lifetime of adventures?
A: Of course it did. The first thing I saw when I was born was a lush valley filled with tropical fruit and ceremonial elephants. If that’s your starting point, you tend to feel as if you’re missing out on something when you’re surrounded by strip malls and parking lots in the middle of a Canadian February. I’ve only been back to Sri Lanka once, and I actually had an opportunity to visit Kandy, the town where I was born. It’s gorgeous. Postcard beautiful. If you’ve never heard of it, Google it. Then visit it. In that order. It makes it way easier to plan.
Q: You’ve traveled around the world, working and volunteering in places like Australia, Guadeloupe, and the Solomon Islands. What inspired you to travel to those specific places and what kind of work did you perform there?
A: I thought it’d be a good idea to get out of my comfort zone, so I decided to volunteer with the Baha’i community in Australia. Within a day of arriving I realized that Australia was not at all the type of place I needed or wanted to be in (it was just a warmer version of Canada), so I immediately started looking for another country to move on to. At the time, I desperately wanted to live and work in a place where I would be tested – pushed to my physical and emotional limits – so I narrowed my choices down to a few African countries, a couple of places in Southeast Asia, an Arctic outpost somewhere in northern Scandinavia, and a number of neighboring Pacific Islands. I finally decided on the Solomon Islands because it was the least developed country that I had access to and gave me the best opportunity to live outside the sphere of physical comforts I had grown accustomed to. It was exactly what I had been looking for – I spent more days in awe of the world around me than not. I lived and worked deep in the bush, both in the highlands and on the coast, until the Australian Air Force evacuated me on one their Hercules jets in the wake of the country’s military coup and in the midst of heavy fighting between warring militias. The country was on the brink of civil war before I went, and things only got worse after I got there. I’m fairly certain my arrival had nothing to do with it.
Q: Do you think there is a direct link between comedy and political activism, or the notion of changing society for the better?
A: I don’t know, but it seems as if we want and expect to hear the truth from our best comedians, and that their frank discussion of the true nature of our reality can lead to, at the very least, a change in perspective.
Q: How much of your award-winning 2008 short film Afghan is based on personal experience?
A lot of it is. You can only be angry for so long. At some point you need to come up with more creative ways of responding.
Q: Do you think that humor is necessary to overcome the hardships of reality?
I think perspective is, and I think humour is a great way of giving people a new perspective.
Q: How much influence does your race and unique life story have on your stand-up?
Dunno. I try to find humour in whatever happens to be on my mind. When I first started out, a lot of what I discussed was race-related. And
it was a good thing. It was cathartic. I got a lot off my chest. Now there are other things on my mind that I feel a need to talk about. It’d be boring to talk about the same thing over and over again.
Q: What is it like to balance between stand-up comedian and serious filmmaker?
It’s great. I take a break from one to do the other. So even when I’m working I’m really just taking a break. And really, at the end of the day, there isn’t much difference between the two. Your task in both is to connect with your audience and to present your thoughts and ideas in a way that engages them.
Q: I used to live near a beautiful Bahai Temple. How long have you been Bahai, and how does it affect your day to day life? How does being Bahai affect your personal philosophy as a filmmaker and comedian?
I’ve been a Baha’i my whole life, so it’s tough to know how being a Baha’i affects my approach to my work. One thing I can say for certain
is that it forces me to hold my work to a higher standard.
Q: Explain the events surrounding the time you were airlifted to safety after a military coup.
I was in the Solomons, deep inland, in the tropical mountaintops of the island of Malaita. While walking through a village I randomly overheard a villager listening to the BBC World News on a battery-powered radio. It was my first contact with the outside world in weeks and I desperately wanted to know what was happening in the NBA playoffs, so I stopped to listen.By dumb luck I happened to catch the world update, which included a news flash about the military coup in the Solomons, on the main island of Guadalcanal. According to the report, the country’s Prime Minister had been kidnapped by a rebel group and the police armory had been raided. The government had no leader and no weapons. The rebels had taken control.
Here I was, INSIDE the Solomons, and I was learning about what was happening on a neighboring island via a tinny radio report from some British dude who was sitting thousands of miles away. The most alarming piece of information was that all commercial flights into and out of the country had ceased because all the fighting between the militias was happening around the airport. This meant that there was a good chance that I’d be stuck in the Solomons until the situation was resolved and the airlines resumed their service, which, at this stage, seemed unlikely to happen within any sort of meaningful time frame. Since this was the last access I’d have to a radio until I returned to Guadalcanal, I decided to head back to Honiara, the capital, and figure out what to do from there.
It took two weeks to return, and the town was in a state of chaos when I arrived. The New Zealand Navy had sent a warship to the harbor to evacuate expats, there was a run on banks with everyone trying to extract whatever money they could from their accounts, and entire families and their possessions were piled high on the backs of flatbed trucks headed for the wharf. I headed straight for the Australian High Commission, a small hole in the wall that resembled the waiting room at a dentist’s office, and found out that the Australian Air Force had been evacuating expats on behalf of Commonwealth countries. I arrived in time to get a spot on the last plane leaving the country before the airport was shut down. If I had arrived a few hours later, I would have been forced to escape the country on my own, with one backpack and an empty packet of Mr. Noodles to my name (a rat chewed through my backpack in three places while I was sleeping to eat the packet of dry noodles…I wasn’t impressed).
So I headed to the airport, the gunfire getting louder as we got closer. The rumors had started circulating that the rebels were going to shoot down one of the Aussie planes. No one really believed they’d be stupid enough to pick a fight with Australia, but all it takes is one idiot to do something stupid, and there’s never any shortage of those. So we watched, terrified, as our Hercules landed then quickly swung around to take off again. The New Zealand forces had taken control of the airport and were in charge of getting us onto the plane alive. We were escorted to the edge of the tarmac, took cover against a wall to avoid getting caught in any crossfire, and when the plane’s cargo door opened fully, the troops flanked our line and quickly filed us into the plane, where we were given a pack of grape juice and a box of animal crackers as we strapped ourselves into the cargo nets that would serve as our seats for the four hour flight to Australia.
At this stage, we still didn’t know what city we were being flown to. The Aussies were willing to get us back to the Commonwealth, but precisely where in the Commonwealth was of little concern to them. We touched down in Townsville, a town built around an Aussie Air Force base in the middle of nowhere, and an emergency response unit greeted us, fed us, and debriefed us…and then told us we were on our own. The government’s role was over – they got us out of the fighting in one piece.
Luckily, I was able to stay with a local Baha’i family until I could make my way to Sydney. Once there, I met up with a family member and we went out to McDonald’s for a chocolate milkshake, which seemed like an appropriately symbolic way of reassimilating into the West, but which really only served to remind me of what I was giving up to escape back to the life I had known. It was the little things I experienced, those things that created such rich memories, that I began missing immediately. A papaya that grows ripe on the tree, that you pick as you hike through the thick of a tropical rainforest, and that you peel with the same machete you’re using to clear your path. A young coconut that a 5 year old kid eagerly climbs a 100 foot tall coconut tree to retrieve for you, that you use wooden stakes to remove the husk of, and from which you drink every last drop of coconut water before it’s sliced open so you can scoop out the soft, sweet coconut meat inside with the makeshift spoon you’ve fashioned out of a piece of that coconut’s own husk. A blowfish that you eat after carefully removing the poisonous parts, and from which you take the stomach to inflate and use as a soccer ball when you play barefoot on the beach, with tree branch goal posts, before the tide comes in.
Part of me was happy that I was escaping the Solomons in time to catch the conclusion of the playoffs, but as I sat in front of the big screen TV at an Australian sports bar, the last game of the Finals barely keeping my interest, I had a hard time believing or even understanding why I had felt that way.
Q: How did you contract malaria, and how badly sick were you?
Again, this was one of the perks of living in the Solomons. I don’t know how I actually got malaria, but I found out that I had it because I randomly decided to tag along when a villager took his infected infant to the closest medical clinic (several hours away by foot). I immediately began taking medication, before I had even experienced any symptoms, but I still ended up being bed-ridden for a week – if I moved my head too quickly my vision would be shakey for a minute or two, I completely lost my appetite, I was constantly nauseous, and the experience was compounded by my physical surroundings: I was in a coastal village on the southwest corner of Malaita, staying with a family in a bamboo hut with walls and a roof made from sago palm leaves. The hut was raised on wooden beams to guard against flooding, and every morning around 3am the family’s pigs would start squealing at full volume and running back and forth directly underneath me. Then the family’s roosters would start cockledoodledooing well before the appointed hour, which left me wondering if they had any clue what their one appointed job in nature was. Then the family’s kids would get up at sunrise and start playing on the opposite side of the palm leaf wall, on the same extended pieces of bamboo used for the floor that I was sleeping on in the adjoining room. I believe their favorite game was called “jump and scream.” Hasbro’s coming out with a Lord of the Rings edition – same classic game, now with more annoying.
Q: What was it like to run your own health food store? How did that fit in with your life as an activist / performer / filmmaker?
It was painful. It was four years of my life that I’ll never get back. The only thing I ever want to do and have ever wanted to do is what I’m doing now. I’m grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to do what I love.
Q: Does your college computer science / philosophy major come in handy in the world of comedy / filmmaking?
All your undergrad does is teach you how to think. So I guess indirectly it’s been beneficial. Right?
Q: There are a lot of funny Canadian comedians. Do you think there is a comedic advantage in being Canadian? How do people worldwide respond to Canadians, generally?
I don’t know. There must be, though. We’ve produced some of the best writers and performers of the last few decades. Maybe we know how cold it is in Canada and really just don’t want to take Hollywood for granted? We’re also universally amazing. So maybe that helps, too? Yeah. A combination of not wanting to take Hollywood for granted, and being universally amazing. Makes sense, I think.
Q: You and I have both performed at my favorite comedy venue, Caroline’s on Broadway. What has been your favorite performance to date? Any other memorable ones? When did you perform at Carnegie Hall, and what was the experience like? Any memorable bombs worth sharing?
My favorite club is the Comedy Store at Piccadilly Circus in London. Great venue, great staff, great comics, and great, great crowds. After that, the stage I feel most comfortable on is my home club in Halifax. I performed at Carnegie Hall as a member of a 550 person choir because my girlfriend at the time was a choir member and they needed more male voices. So I auditioned at her urging and miraculously got selected, only to find out afterward that she had been cheating on me. But it was an opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall, so I went through with it, anyway, and chose to eat all of my meals at Gray’s Papaya. That’s not important to the story, but their hot dogs are AMAZING. As it turns out, it’s better not to eat hot dogs exclusively for three meals a day over the span of a week. At some point, your body decides it only wants to accept meat it can actually identify.
Q: We both admire Louis CK, Dave Chapelle, and Harland Williams. What do you find inspiring about their comedy?
CK and Chappelle are both crazy smart, extremely honest, and excellent writers, and both have wildly different yet simultaneously perfect
delivery. And they’ve both been the funniest people in the world at some point in their careers (I think CK has held that title for the last two to three years). Harland Williams’ Just For Laughs phone sex joke from the mid 90’s is one of the first things that got me interested in comedy when I was growing up. I taped that set (to VHS, kids), and convinced my teacher to play it for my class at school. Jeremy Hotz’ bit about Pez and Astro Boy was on that tape, too. Those were the jokes that I couldn’t get enough of when I was growing up, and made me develop a love for comedy.
Q: How is your Bollywood musical project for Bravo coming?
I want to shoot it in Halifax, but the film industry is booming here this summer and it’s been tough to put together the crew I want to have because there are always at least a few key pieces missing. The shoot keeps getting pushed as a result, but it looks like there might be a window where no one is committed coming up in August. Cross your fingers.
Q: How does it feel to have been nominated for four Canadian Comedy Awards?
It’s cool to be listed among the rest of the nominees.
Q: Are there any other details about upcoming projects or your life that you would like your audience to know about? Any final thoughts or words of advice to other filmmakers and comedians?
I’ve got that new digital short, Implants, that I’m doing a final sound mix on. It was shot with the very talented Evany Rosen, and should be online sometime this week.
I’ve got a new web series premiering on Showcase.ca called Moderation Town. It was just named runner-up on the 2010 Digital Hot List and it’s premiering on the 9th. Plus I’m shooting a guest star role on a new sitcom for Showcase called Single White Spenny that’s premiering next year. And I’ve got that supporting role in Snow, which is just circulating to film festivals right now.