Monthly Archives: January 2007

Ultra-Important

I get on the bus and sit across from two women having a normal, as in volume and subject, conversation. I don’t know what they were talking about but they were not loud nor annoying anyone.

Except for the guy sitting in front of them having a phone conversation loud enough to have the police pull us over for exceeding the noise ordinance. I’m watching the ladies wrapped up in their friendly conversation fully unaware at the agitation they’re causing phone boy. I watch as his agitated shoulders bounce, head crane back, and his feet tap the sounds of hatred.

Not even during his most jittery actions did it stem the flow of his conversation. And when I say it was a conversation of earth shattering importance I don’t want you to take my word for it. So I’ll transcribe a section of it for you.

“We’re running late.” Pause. Eye roll. “No, peas are fine.” Pause. Shoulder bounce. “What’s on TV tonight?” Pause. Sideways glance. “Are you sure that’s on?”

Finally, he’s had enough. With each new sentence his voice has grown louder as his patience dwindled. He spins around and faces these two women, still enraptured with their polite, albeit old-fashioned, conversation and screams,

“Would you shut up? I’m on the phone!”

It took the bus, as one, a millisecond to burst into gales of laughter. I witnessed two other people hang up their phones so they too could join in on the festivities.

I watch as the guy attempts to let the other forty people on the bus, who’ve been listening to his side of a meaningless conversation for who knows how long, know just how important it is for him to know what time ‘America’s Next Top Super Dumbass’ is on when, in reality, it’s obvious we clearly have a winner.

This new reality slowly emerges over his face as he shuts the phone, without so much as a, ‘Gotta go.’ and buries his face in his newspaper. In less time than it takes for someone to even realize they’ve been hung up on, the phone rings.

The guy looks at it and makes the international pantomime for ‘It’s a mover and a shaker call much more important than anything you’ve ever had.’ before looking up. When he does, he sees the entire bus, including the driver who has pulled over and placed blocks under the tires, watching his next move.

I don’t know if it was the guy pulling brass knuckles out of his pocket or the disapproving stare of an elderly woman, but the guy quickly shut his phone off, placed it into his pocket, and stared straight ahead avoiding all eye and human contact.

Gee, I hope that wasn’t an important call.

Never Too Early

Kouch Karaoke

Over the years people have asked about it but few have actually seen Kouch Karaoke. So it’s thankful that we can now offer Kouch Karaoke in all it’s small screen, sorta dark glory. But, before we do that, we’re going to answer the questions surrounding the creation of Kouch Karaoke.

Late June 1994, my friend and legendary DJ, Harvey Wharfield, had an idea. In my decades of experience with Harv, that’s usually a dangerous thing. It’s never stopped us from doing it but many people have died along the way. Not us so it’s had little impact on our combined frivolity.

During a meeting with a TV station he pitched it, they liked it, Harv left the meeting excited. By the time he gets to his car some of the excitement diminished.

“Damn!” I can only assume Harv exclaimed because I wasn’t there. “Where am I going to get a TV crew to work cheaper than cheap?” Before Harv put his vehicle in gear he had his solution.

At the time I was doing a lot of writing and producing for TV. To many production people, writers, actors, I was considered the Don of the organization. More so in the Adams, Knotts, Duck mode than Corleone, but it was nice to be thought of at all. Within moments of the gestation of his idea, which lead to a comfortable ride home, I get a call.

“I have an idea for a TV show,” Harv tells me in all his enthusiasm. “Basically, we do a Beavis and Butthead on karaoke. People sing and we make fun of them.”

“How did it get from ‘I have an idea’ to ‘we do’ so quickly, Harv?”

Ignoring my inquest, Harv explained that a local station was interested in the pilot for the fall season. I told Harv I liked the idea of trashing karaoke as a concept and people as a lifestyle.

So, once again tossing harm aside, I ask Harv what he needed from me.

“Producing, directing, writing, hosting, editing, you know.”

“I do now.” I think this over. “And, just so I see the division of work here, what are you, exactly, going to do?”

“I’ll be hosting, promoting it on the air, and getting the location.”

“So you’ll show up for a couple shoots, talk about it on your show, and con some bar you hang out in to let us take over?”

“Exactly!”

I’m thinking this is the one I may die at.

“Let me make some calls.” Harv is enthused (do you see the nefarious underpinning he has?).

“When do we need to deliver?”

“The middle of August.”

It’s going to take a month of promotion, a couple of weeks to shoot and edit, a week to secure the equipment, days to con a crew to work for free, hours to sleep. Yeah, I think I can pull it off.

I begin by talking to a guy I’d worked with quite often, Joe Giglio, to see if he’d be interested. Much of it falls to him because I need someone I can trust to do their job. I don’t really trust him, but, for free, he’s as trustworthy as I can get.

He’ll be in charge of getting the equipment, getting it to the site, setting it up, breaking it down, doing sound during the shoots, basically, anything I’ll be too distracted to pay attention to.

Good thing he said yes, huh?

I called in a couple of people, Ron Cox (who I’d also con, I mean, excite with the opportunity, to draw the logo seen at the top of the page) and Fred Henderson, to do camera. Because I won’t have time to also host, Harv and I decided on Jennifer Fay.

To hedge my bets, I called in some actors in case the regular singers weren’t irregular enough. Turns out I didn’t have to worry about that but I’m not putting in all this time without hedging my bets.

As August 1st approached things were going swimmingly. By that I mean George Manfra okayed us taking enough equipment to shoot a space launch and secured time to edit this mess once it’s in the can. There wasn’t much I could do in the writing area until I actually had folks to make fun of. So I waited.

And was rewarded with a day as sweltering as the Devil’s scrotum on a nude beach in St. Martin. By the time Joe and I schlep the equipment into the club, park the van in the radio stations secured lot (did I mention the club Harv picked was in a city titled, by him, ‘The city of sirens’? At 5PM, when Joe and I arrived at the club, in the middle of this city, it looked as if a neutron bomb had gone off. We could have set up the equipment in the middle of this main thoroughfare without worry that a vehicle would crash into it. That it would be stolen if we blinked? Hell yeah! Why do you think we had Fred with us?) then look around the club. It became abundantly clear rather quickly we’d have some issues.

“This room doesn’t have air conditioning, does it?”

Just unpacking cameras caused us to sweat stains into the carpet we were kneeling on. While looking around the room trying to figure out how to light this hot box as minimally as possible I noticed another obstacle.

“Hey Joe,” I call as he looks from behind the camera shaking sweat off his head. “Did you notice the walls are paneled brown and the ceiling is black?”

This is not good. There will be no minimal lighting tonight. The brown wall we could have defused but couple that with a black ceiling and we have a light black hole. I make the only decision I can.

“Go get the rest of the lights out of the truck.”

This is going to smell ugly.

Little by little the crew straggles in. I’m happy to see the actors. I tell them not to get too hammered because, if things go to shit, we’re going to have to devise something to pull my ass out of trouble. Again, having an abundance of people to make fun of turned out to not be a problem.

Keeping the karaoke equipment running in this heat, though, turned out to be a very big one. A good friend, Ernie Parent, volunteered to bring his rig down and host this portion of the events. I was forever grateful to him until, about an hour in, he tells me his machine won’t open. It seized up. It will kara no more oke.

I think about the singers I’ve had so far and I do not have a show. Even if I drained every moment of footage, there isn’t enough. By now I’m surly (okay, surlier than usual), sweaty and have about half a dozen barely sipped and hot beers strewn around the console.

Let me tell you, if even one of them was still frosty, I would have poured it over the karaoke deck to see if it would help. I step into the main bar (which was air conditioned, by the way) because it’s unseemly for your crew to see you flip out.

While sitting there, next to one of the people we’ve already shot (who made the show), Ernie comes up to me and informs me that the clubs karaoke guy will let us use his deck.

We’re saved!

But it takes over half an hour to do the switch.

Do you know how drunk karaoke people, not to mention actors, can get in thirty minutes? Pretty damn drunk, let me tell you.

I spend most of the half hour running around telling Harv to make sure everyone on the list to sing have signed a release WAY before they’re drunk. Although our release is ironclad, I’d feel better if they spelled their names correctly.

We finally get back on the road and it goes as well as can be expected. One cameraman (who will remain nameless but was mentioned earlier and his initials are not FH) got enthralled by a singer with an over bite so I had to walk over to him, leaving the safety and sanctity of my control area, and smack him to get him to follow my directions.

People kept coming over to ask when the show was going to air (I’m sure none of them would have believed if I told them 2007). Others came over asking if they were going to make the cut (I told them I wouldn’t know until after I logged the tapes, picked out things I could trash, and then edited the best of it together). And then the worst thing happened.

The best act, a brother/sister thing, entered the stage. They were great. A little too touchy, a little too cheery, a little to easy to beat into the ground with a comedy truncheon.

I made sure the cameras got the best shots, I made sure every cut was on the money, I made sure to make sure I had their release in my pocket.

They finish whatever song from Grease they did with the sister jumping into the brothers arms and I am beside myself. Too many jokes to write, too many more people to shoot. I’m beginning to feel as if we’ve crossed that level and I now have enough to fill the show. The rest is gravy and, hopefully, even tastier.

“I, ah, didn’t have the tape deck running on that one.” I look at Joe, that clown, and laugh. And just as quickly stop. I can tell by his expression he’s not busting my balls. “Sorry.”

I get distracted by Ernie calling up the next performer so the urge to shoot Joe (and I did have a gun back there. But that’s another story) was trumped. It didn’t pass. It just got pushed back do to work.

Damn!

More performers passed through, more releases were signed, and, at closing time, with everyone asking when we’re going to do this again, Joe, Fred, and I take our sweaty asses and break down the equipment.

At that moment, I don’t know if I have the linchpin of the show. I know I have a few performances that will make air. I know I was saved a couple of times by the crew, but I guess it’s true, you always lament the one that got away.

I spend the next week logging tapes and writing bits. Some of the performers were actually good. Which means they were useless to me (one woman called months later after she’d seen the show complaining about not being on. It seems she’d been calling Harv every day until he gave her my number. “You saw the show, right?” I asked. She said yes. “Did you notice that I tore everyone a new asshole?” Yes, she said. “Ma’am, you were too good for me to rip apart.” “I can do worse next time,” she said). But, by the end of the week, I cobbled together what I felt was enough to fill the time.

So, with script in hand, we headed to the basement of MATV and shot the hosts bits which I edited into the final tape. When I say we used the last piece of tape we had I am not exaggerating. Harv’s wave at the end was followed by the camera shutting down.

Joe and I spent the next week editing. Joe was talking about modifying his van and taking the show on the road. All we needed was the green light and he’d be on the road.

On the 15th we got everyone together to watch the final edit. Everyone was happy so I pulled the master out of the deck and handed it to Harv. The next day he delivered it, on time, to the production manager of the station.

And we waited.

By the second week, I knew something was up. In my experience, if there’s a rush and it ends up sitting there for weeks, there’s a problem. Harv stayed on top of it and all the reports he was getting were positive. They even scheduled an air date to test it with their audience. We were even told to look into a few other locations. I had to talk Joe out of taking a sawsall to his van after he heard that.

And then we got the news. The hold up had nothing to do with the show. They could see Harv had a good idea. It turned out they were in the middle of selling the station and the new owners were moving in a direction that wasn’t interested in having people trash them earnest karaoke folk.

After getting that info there was the normal letdown. We kept pushing but, having missed the production season, all we could do was wait. And with waiting comes changes in attention, project inertia, Joe’s death (no, I didn’t shoot him), and, just like that, our attentions were drawn away from Kouch Karaoke.

At the time, many people involved wanted to see it. But, there were a couple of problems. 1) I didn’t want many of these people in my house. But the biggest was 2) we never got the master tape back. It’s not for lack of trying and, although that sucks, I did the next best thing. Using a scratch copy, we aired it for quite some time on MATV. People got to see it and everyone was happy with the outcome.

Every once in a while I’ll get together with Harv, or an actor, even friends and strangers and we’ll laugh about Kouch Karaoke. In the end, that’s what we were after in the first place.

On this tape are parody commercials, including a couple world famous Henderbeer commercials, we placed in to air it on MATV in a thirty minute slot.

Enjoy.

Ask First

Although I accept it in the manner it was offered (a compliment) it usually ends differently (someone gets mad). So, for the record, I will state how all parties involved can stay out of trouble. If you want to talk about me or my work feel free. Say good things, bad things, any combination thereof.

With what I do it’s good to have people talking about you. Any publicity is good. The writer Oprah gushed over until it turned out he wrote a million little lies was the top seller on Amazon the day after she publicly slapped his wrist. I’d let her slap my pee-pee in extreme close-up for a sales day like that.

But, if you tell someone I’d be willing to do something, please, check with me first. I’m saying this more for your benefit than mine. I’m used to being considered an asshole. You? Probably less so.

But it happens. Someone will be talking to someone who needs a service and, thinking well of me, tells them they have a guy who’d be able to help. Do you know what? Many times I would. But I’d like to be asked by someone I know first. I don’t like surprises. And getting a call from a stranger using the name of someone I know telling me I’d be willing to help, well, that comes as quite a surprise to me.

I’ve had situations when people have shown up waving discs they’d been told I’d be willing to turn into a newsletter. Shown up with thousand page manuscripts they’d been told I’d be willing to edit. I even had someone come to me in the studio because they’d heard I’d shoot their promo reel for a local news station.

That day.

Yes, it is nice to have people feel confident that I can complete such tasks. But it’s surprising when I’m at work and a stranger drops off three hundred handwritten pages they’d been told I’d turn into a movie of the week.

And, trust me, the people who have done that to me have only done it once. Once.

I bring this up because yesterday I got a call from a non-profit organization. I’m willing to do community service. Everyone should pitch in. But, I’d like to know the organization I’ve been volunteered to.

A very nice woman tells me she’s from this organization. I’m thinking it’s another contribution pitch. We get them daily. I’m about to tell her she’ll have to call the boss when she says,

“I’ve been referred to by (name redacted but they’ll know who they are when they read this story). She said you’d be perfect to write our radio and TV PSAs.”

Damn. Again, I’m not adverse to work and been known to help. But I’m not prepared for this. I know the person who referred me had the best of intentions. But, you know what the road to hell is paved with. And I’m the guy driving the roller.

The woman is giving me the hard sell. She plots out their plans for the upcoming year. She rattles off the list of outlets the spot is going to run on. She rolls to the end of her spiel and I can hear the do-gooder smile on her lips. But I have one question.

“What is it, exactly, your organization does?”

During her pitch she was so engrossed in selling me on the idea of doing the work she forgot the tell me what I’d be for or against. I don’t know about you, but I like to know which side I’m on. It makes it easier to wear the right color jersey.

She clears her throat and snaps into the canned rhetoric about the good her organization does. I can hear her frustration because, after her friendly opening, I’m sure she assumed I was expecting her call. I can also hear her tone change the longer her monologue continues. It’s as if she thinks I’m fucking with her.

Suddenly she stops and asks me what I think her organization does. Ooooooo, can you smell the ugly in the air? Like a big fried cone of indignation. Now does it make sense that you should call me first so we don’t have awkward situations like this?

I tell her that, although it sounds as if they do wonderful work, she still hasn’t told me what they do.

“Well, let me assure you we are a very well respected and funded organization.”

“I’ve assumed nothing less. The fact I don’t know what you do is still out there. Don’t you want to tell me?”

“We’re a homeless organization!” She spits disdain as if I’m remiss in not recognizing this austere organization. It amazes me how quickly civilized conversation can spin off. And, this time, it’s no fault of my own.

Her clipped tones explain she’s doing me a favor by even asking for me services. Her anger at having to do an introductory is spilling through the phone’s earpiece. I can feel her impatience as my next question hangs in the air. So, being someone who enjoys quick resolution, I ask,

“So, on this homeless issue, are you for or against?”

I don’t care that this woman thinks I’m the worst, most heartless person in the world. But it’s you, my dear friend, who’s going to pay the ultimate price for not clueing me in to what your plans are because, and you can count on this as an ultimate truth, this woman will never speak to me again.

So, you tell me, who’s going to pay the price?

The Helpful Guy

I may have mentioned, in passing, how I sometimes run into people at work who are a tad more comfortable in a padded room than you, for instance, would find comforting. Over the last 2-2 1/2 hours I’ve had one tenant and her boyfriend need my assistance every 2-2 1/2 minutes. They started by asking me to come down and look at their lock.

Not cut it off. Not try to get their key to work (it happens more often than you’d ever fathom). Not work their combination lock because they can’t (see above parenthetical statement and triple it). They wanted me to look at it.

It seems they couldn’t get it open so wanted me to see if someone had tampered with it. The fact I have cut off between eight and twelve combination locks for this person because they can’t remember their combination does not stop them from first blaming some phantom lock tamperer guy (yes, I’ll be submitting that song to the ‘Bud Light Real Men of Genius’ commercial later).

It took awhile but I convinced her that no one had tampered with her lock and that, in an astounding fact, she’d, once again, forgotten the combination of another lock. So she asks if I’ll go back to my office and get my bolt cutters. I tell her I’ll do something even better as I reach four feet away to get it. I may not be the brightest guy to ever lace on electroshock pads but I am bright enough to understand history. And, sadly, here history has a habit of repeating itself over and over again.

I cut the lock off to some inane chatter. People always talk and cringe and step away as if I’m using a explosives to do this simple procedure. I snap the lock off and pick up the pieces. I smile and nod while she continues to talk. I know she won’t shut up until I’m out of sight so I keep on my marching shoes. Just as I’m about to get to the corner I hear,

“Hey,” barks the boyfriend. “She has another problem.”

Slowly I turn, not for any dramatic effect, mind you. I always turn slowly to allow time for my murderous rage to subside. I’m nice like that.

And they’re asses the way they are. I know the problem she has, albeit pressing to her at this precise moment in her life, is one I’ve answered each and every time she’s entered this building.

“No,” I ignore her boyfriend while making direct eye contact with her. “We do not have a dumpster.” I nod toward both of them and begin my trek again. As I turn I begin to count in my head.

“One.” I think. “Two.” Wait for it. “Three.”

“You should, you know.”

The 5:08 Moron Express! It’s never late!

I give my rote speech walking.

“We did. Someone set it on fire. Now we don’t.”

I’m almost at the corner. Out of sight out of mind. The second part is always true. If I can just make the first part also true. . .

“Hey! I gotta’nother question.”

It’s the guy. For some reason someone I’ve never made a dime off of is bothering me. That bothers me. He begins asking question after question. Stupid, meaningless, nonsensical questions. Some don’t even have to do with this company.

“No,” I answer. “I don’t work at Earl’s Meatloaf Emporium so I don’t know what time they close.”

“I figured you would. You know, them being right across the street and all.”

I look at this person for an extra beat before asking,

“Why are you busting my balls?”

At first he feigns surprise but, due to the withering expression I have on my face or the bolt cutters I’m spinning in my hands, he laughs and explains thusly,

“Ah, I figured I’d joke around with you to break up your day. You know, have a little fun.”

I’m sure he can tell, and, trust me I don’t for the life of me know what the tell was, I’m not finding this fun at all. He loses eye contact and begins to shuffle his feet.

“You, ah, didn’t look like you were too busy when we, ah, came in. You know?”

“Do I come to your job and bust your balls?” He’s still avoiding eye contact. “Hey! I’m talking to you.” I bang the bolt cutter on the ground. He looks up. “Do I?”

His eyes are darting back and forth between me and his friend who is trying her damnedest to crawl into her overly packed unit.

“Do I come to the zoo when you’re sucking peanuts out of the elephants ass and try to brighten up your day?”

He loses eye contact again while shaking his head no.

“That’s what I thought. So here’s how we’re going to play it from here on out. You don’t come here and so much as blink at me and I won’t come to your job and tell you whether you should spit or swallow.”