Happy Birthday.

Everybody sing!

Rule Breaker.

Source: Culturalist

Source: Culturalist

There’s a rule that prop comics are generally considered gimmicky hacks who use toys to hide their lack of talent. There’s also a rule that there’s an exception to every rule. Actually Lenny Schultz, whose birthday is today, is the exception to a lot of rules.

As a kid I knew who Lenny Schultz was. He was a comedian who sometimes appeared on the game show Make Me Laugh but mostly performed for kids. On a short-lived Saturday morning show called Drawing Power he played an animator—the show was a combination of live action set in an animation studio and educational animated shorts. And he did a series of public service announcements with the tag line “There’s a smart way to watch TV”, offering everything from how fight scenes are staged and why TV shows have commercials to suggestions that you should do your homework before you watch TV.

At least that’s who I thought he was. In the 1970’s Lenny Schultz was better known around his home town of Manhattan as a regular at the Improv who did outrageous, sometimes X-rated standup using props and costumes, encouraging the entire audience to say, “Go crazy, Lenny!” Some well-known comedians refused to go on after him because he could drain so much energy out of the crowd and yet many of them also admired his mugging and zaniness. He was respected as a high-concept performer and innovator and for his fearlessness. Once impersonating a lizard he ate a live moth.

And yet there was another layer to him under that. He was a successful comic who never quit his day job—a P.E. teacher at a New York public school. When he performed on school nights he’d usually leave the club early. And if you’ve never heard of him that’s because he mostly retired—occasionally performing at a few hotels near his home in the Catskills—in 1992. After years of “Go crazy, Lenny!” he went quiet, leaving the world to wonder who he really is.

 

Mockery Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I have a theory that in any group of comedians there’s one who’s so funny, so out there, so quick that person is the one who makes the other comedians laugh. It’s not a well-thought out theory and, since I’ve neither performed comedy nor spent a lot of time around comedians–I’m just a fringe fan, really–I don’t have a lot of evidence for it beyond the anecdotes of a few comedians from their time on the road. Oh yeah, there’s one other thing that put this idea in my head: watching Colin Mochrie, whose birthday is today.

I started watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? when Comedy Central aired the British version and although he was a late addition to the show–it started in 1988 and he became a full time cast member in 1991–he stood out to me immediately as a funny guy. In any great episode of Whose Line every member of the cast brings something distinctive. Mochrie was, and still is, the wild card. He responds to good-natured insults from fellow cast members with a deadpan stare but can then go to full-throated lunacy right away. He’s straight man–or woman–or joker, whichever is needed, with a sly, natural goofiness. Whenever the cast joins together for a hoedown Mochrie is always placed at the end of the line. He makes up for his lack of singing ability with non sequiturs that make the rest of the cast laugh.

Oh yeah, and there are at least two dozen “Best of Colin Mochrie” videos on YouTube.

Do The Math.

Source: www.karen-corr.com

Source: www.karen-corr.com

Snooker is the hardest of all billiards games. I think. That’s been my experience anyway, having played many different billiards games except I’ve never tried that one with the weird bumpers. Snooker is extremely challenging not only because you have to hit the balls in a particular order–one of the fifteen red balls followed by any of the seven other colored balls. The red balls stay pocketed. The other balls get replaced until all the red balls have been pocketed. You then have to hit the colored balls in a specific order: yellow, green, brown, blue, pink, and finally black. Red balls are worth a point each and the other balls range from two to seven points. Confused yet? It’s not only extremely challenging–you can block your opponent behind a ball they’re not supposed to hit and when this happens they’re “snookered”–but there’s a lot of math involved.

One of the best snooker players in the world is Karen Corr, whose birthday is today. Corr began entering tournaments at the age of fifteen and the day after her twenty-first birthday won the Women’s World Snooker Championship, which would be an incredible feat at any age.

Since then she’s also made a name for herself in the United States–her nickname is “The Irish Invader” and I first heard of her when I saw her in nine-ball matches where she often excelled. If she didn’t win she at least made it to the finals and she was inducted into the BCA Hall of Fame in 2012.

And she still works hard at her game. As it says on her website, “The one crowning glory left for her to achieve is the World 9-ball Championship; she has been runner-up 6 times.”

I can’t imagine what it’s like to come that close that many times but I believe she’ll achieve that goal. She’s an amazingly skilled player and her success in snooker means she must be pretty good at math.

 

Hearing Voices.

Stand-up comedy must be an incredibly lonely job. I don’t just mean the lonely nights on the road or staying in strange hotels. Standup comedy requires a performer to be on stage alone without a supporting cast. The performer has the audience but even then facing a dark room full of strangers must be intimidating. How do comedians deal with it? In various ways. For comedian Terry Alderton, whose birthday is today, he always brings his own supporting cast with him.

It Was A Kick All Right.

When I was a kid watching the Academy Awards the category of Best Animated Short Film always frustrated me. They’d show little snippets of these films that looked funny and brilliant and I had absolutely no way to see them. Even though these were short films I know if they showed each one in its entirety it would make the ridiculously long ceremony even longer (I usually fell asleep well before the Best Picture was awarded) but it annoyed me that I was missing them.

And then we got cable TV and various channels, including Nickelodeon which, in those days, seemed to have trouble finding enough content to fill the twelve hours it was on the air, ran short animated films, including current and former Oscar nominees. They typically ran during the commercial breaks–the space that’s now entirely filled by commercials.

One of those was Kick Me. It was weird and hilarious and made no sense whatsoever and I loved it. I still love it. I think it influenced my sense of humor, or maybe it just spoke to the sense of humor I already had.This was before we got a VCR and it was only by luck that I’d see it, but I managed to catch it two or three times. I’ve never forgotten it, and thanks to YouTube I’ve been able to relive the experience.

It’s a short film by Robert Swarthe who, in addition to being an animator, has done special effects on some very well-known science fiction films, including Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. It’s his birthday today and here’s Kick Me.

Black Widow Birthday.

Source: Wikipedia.

I love billiards. In college when I played almost daily the game was usually 8-ball, but I really don’t care if it’s 9-ball, straight pool, or snooker. And once in a while a sports channel will run a marathon of billiards matches. My wife jokes the only reason I like it is because of the women players. I point out that I’m watching the guys too, although the nice thing about billiards is it’s one of the few sports where the women get at least as much respect as the men.

One of those players in Jeanette Lee, whose birthday is today.

Lee started playing pool at the age of eighteen, which is a little unusual in the world of billiards. Most players have parents who played or owned tables and picked up a cue almost as soon as they could walk. But being a late bloomer didn’t stop Lee from turning professional just three years later and racking up an impressive list of titles. She’s also a regular commentator on those all-too-rare occasions when one of the sports networks broadcasts a billiards match–usually one of the US nine-ball championships. And every issue of Billiards Digest has her “Dear Jeanette” column where she answers pool-related questions.

She was also diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of thirteen and underwent multiple painful surgeries but would continue to suffer severe pain throughout her career. And she still supports and promotes the Scoliosis Research Society, has been the National Spokesperson for The Scoliosis Association, and also works for the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Oh yeah, she’s also got the coolest pool player nickname ever: “The Black Widow”.

Well, they are very attractive spiders.

Brave? No Question.

IBEATCANCERI think the adjective “brave” is overused when talking about people who’ve just been diagnosed with cancer or are about to start treatment. We don’t say someone with a cold is brave for staying in bed and eating chicken soup. Surgery and chemo may be a lot harsher but most of us are numb right after we’ve gotten the diagnosis. Even once we get past that all we want is to get better, we want to survive, and we feel there’s no other choice. There’s nothing brave about doing something when it’s your only option. The real test of a person’s bravery comes after the treatment. Real bravery is defined by how a person moves on with their life even if they’re lucky enough to be in remission. Maybe it even takes more bravery to live in remission because there’s no clear path for those of us who’ve fought the crab and won.

Even before her cancer diagnosis Tig Notaro, whose birthday is today, was brave. She pursued a career in standup comedy, voluntarily going into something where there is no clear path. In 2012 just after her diagnosis she did a now legendary live set in which she told the audience she had cancer. Two years later she performed part of a set topless, showing the audience her double mastectomy scars. In her comedy she sometimes strips away pretense, purposely violating the rules of standup, and with that act she confronted people with the reality of life after cancer. She’s been described as dry and unsentimental, a comedian who keeps audiences at a distance, but talking about cancer with inspirational thoughts and platitudes would be the coward’s way out. Tig Notaro made a choice to be brave.

And this is just hilarious.

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