Monday, March 29, 2010

Les MiseRap

I cannot tell you how happy I was to find an extant copy of this.  If only I could find a video copy of it.

No doubt it hasn't aged well, but there was a time when it was the best sketch The Juanabees had in our repetoire.

The story of it's creation goes like this...

We were doing our first tour.  It was kind of limping along.

We had arrived at the Winnipeg festival but weren't scheduled for the first few days, so we took advantage by distributing a LOT of flyers.  One afternoon while working a line-up at someone else's show, Don was asked if we were "a rap group."  (I still have no idea where that came from - never will.)  Don explained that we weren't but that we would prepare a rap number and if the woman came to the show, she would see it.

Our original response to that was "For fuck-sakes, Don!  Don't make promises you can't keep!"  Later that night as we were making our trip home we were passing Centennial Concert Hall (which happened to be right across the street from our venue) where Les Miserables was playing.  We were all big theatre geeks and some of us had seen the show at least three times.  As we drove past, I looked at the sign out front and murmured "Les - rap...."  This actually turned out to be one of two times on that trip that week that something would get said along that stretch of road home that would result in a show-stopping sketch... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

We actually thought that we might be able to do something with "Les MiseRap."  I don't specifically recall, but we must have tossed ideas around in the van through the ride home, so pretty much everyone got to lay claim to some corner of the sketch, but when we got back to our billet's, it was Don and I who stayed up into the wee-hours hammering out the script, and figuring out what popular rap songs we were going to use throughout it, and when we'd rely on music from the actual show.

In the morning we shared it around, divided up roles and rehearsed the pants off of it.  Later that night we did our first show, and we took a leap of faith and made Les MiseRap our curtain call sketch.  It brought down the house.

As we were cleaning up after that first show, an audience member approached me and said "Hey, as a cast member, I have to say, you made my night."  I was confused.  He pointed at his hat - on which was emblazoned "Les Miserables - CAST."

His name was Sylvain.  He was a swing.  (Sort of a back-up cast member who understudies a bunch of smaller roles.)  They had got to intermission and no one had sprained an ankle so he headed out to see a show at the festival.  He picked ours, simply because it was close.

The next day as I was cleaning up after our matinee, a woman approached and handed me a note.  She said that Sylvain had sent it.

It was an invite to show up at the back door of their theatre at intermission to perform the sketch for the Les Mis cast.  We did.  They loved it and gave us tickets to a matinee show on the weekend.  A photographer for the Winnipeg Free Press showed up and took photos.  It was one of a few things that catapulted our show into the forefront of the Winnipeg Fringe that year.  Les MiseRap ended every show for the rest of the tour.

The touring cast of Les Miserables delights at the 5 minute condensed rap-version of their show.

The success of our show in Winnipeg not only made touring again a viable option, but it also resulted in Winnipeg being the cornerstone of every tour that followed for the Juanabees.  They loved us there, and while other cities approached the level of support that we got in Winnipeg, Winnipeg will always hold a special place in my memories of touring.

Here is the sketch.  For once I'm not going to present it as it appears on the page.  I'm going to include additional notes that will help illuminate how it was staged.  Note that there are way more than six roles in the sketch, but there were only six of us on stage.  Part of the fun was how we'd change characters simply by changing a prop - or perhaps a hat for costuming.  In the script I am identifying roles, not performers - you'll simply have to imagine that Javert and Marius were played by the same person; that Eponine and Enjolras; were the same actor, and so on.


CHORUS LEADER:  (Counting in the 'music.')  2 - 4 - 2-4-601!

CHORUS: (Hums two figures of the main melody of  "Look Down" from Les Mis.)

     The Chorus Leader breaks away from the group.


CHORUS: (Hums the main guitar riff of "Walk this Way.")

CHORUS LEADER: (To the tune of "Walk this Way" as performed by RUN DMC.)
   At the end of the day (CHORUS emphasizes the bolded words.)
   You're another day older
   All you say for the life of the poor
   Its a struggle  its a war
   That anyone's given
   Standin' 'bout what is it for?
   At the end of the day
   She's the one who would play
   With her skirt flyin' up in the air
   Singin' Hey diddle diddle
   Like a piggy in 'a middle
   She cut off all fo her hair
   She'd swear...

FANTINE: (To the tune of the chorus of "Just a Friend" by Biz Markie.)
   I... I dreamed a dream
   Life has killed this dream I dreamed
   Life has killed this dream I dreamed
   Oh, Cosette!

VALJEAN: (Generic rap.)
   And so Javert
   You see it's true
   This man bears
   No more guilt than you

CALLER:  Who am I?


VALJEAN: 2 - 4


   Javert breaks through the row of chorus members.

JAVERT:  (A la, the bridge of "U Can't Touch This" by M.C. Hammer.) 
   Javert time!

CHORUS: (Hums the bass line from "Super Freak" by Rick James.)

   Javert and Valjean circle each other like animals.

JAVERT: (To the tune of the verse of "Super Freak".)
   You're a very slippery eel
   The kind we like to put behind bars
   Twenty years ago in jail
   And you're on your way back there now

   They grapple.

VALJEAN: (To the tune of the "oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh" part of either of the above songs.)
   No-no.  No-no.  No-no-no...

JAVERT & VALJEAN: (Simultaneously.  Generic rap.)
   You will go there.  (Javert.)
   I won't go there.  (Valjean.)

   Valjean throws Javert to the ground and escapes.

CHORUS LEADER:  Let's do it.

CHORUS: (Hums the guitar riff from "Wild Thing" by Tone Loc.)

   Cosette enters on her knees with a broom.

COSETTE: (To the tune of the verse of "Wild Thing" by Tone Loc.)
   There is a castle
   It's way up on a cloud
   Nobody beats me
   Ever mistreats me
   Ever talks too loud
   I dream of my Mother
   She's all dressed in white
   She sings me lullabies
   Never ever cries
   Holds me through the night
   (With a mighty stroke of her broom she leaves the stage.)


CHORUS: (Hums the guitar riff from "Wild Thing" one last time.)

CHORUS LEADER:  (A la, the opening of "Unbelievable" by EMF.)

CHORUS: (Hums the main guitar riff from "Unbelievable" by EMF.)

M. THENARDIER: (To the tune of the verse of "Unbelievable" by EMF*.)
   Welcome M'sieur, sit your self down
   And meet the best innkeeper in town
   As for the rest, all of them crooks
   Rooking the guests and cooking the books

   What a cruel trick of nature
   Landed me with such a louse
   God knows how I've lasted
   Living with this bastard in the house!

CHORUS: (To the tune of the chorus of "Unbelievable" by EMF.)
   The Master
   Of the house

   Hypocrite and toady and inebriate!

   The Master
   Of the house

   I'm unbelievable!

   Huh - huh!

   (Two chorus members grab chairs and majestically bring them together mid-stage as a very tiny barricade.)

CHORUS:  (Generic rap.)
   Red and black - red and black - red and black

   To the barricade!

   Red and black - red and black - red and black

CHORUS LEADER: (To the tune of "Colors" by Ice-T.)



   (The chorus forms into a wedge and marches in formation with a flag waving in the air behind.)
ENJOLRAS: (To the tune of the chorus of "Walk this Way" by RUN DMC... though admittedly the chorus of the RUN DMC version is pretty much the Aerosmith version.)
   This revolution's got...

   One more day
   One day more
   One more day
   One day more

EPONINE:  (To the tune of  "Joy and Pain" by Rob Base & DJ E.Z. Rock.)

   (A gunshot rings out.)

   And pain...

   And what else?

   (Eponine falls into Marius' arms.)
   A little
   Fall of rain
   Come on - here we go
   Don't die

   Help - help - help her up
   Don't cry
   For me...

   (Eponine dies in Marius' arms.)

MARIUS:  (To the tune of "this song" - to type it out would ruin the joke.)

   (The 'dead' Eponine looks at Marius like he's completely out of line.)

CHORUS: (Hums the bass line of "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice.)

PROUVAIRE: (To the tune of the verse of "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice.")
   Heres to pretty girls who went to our

   Heres to witty girls who went to our

   At the shrine of friendship never say

   Let the wine of friendship never run

   Bring it down

   White - white - rappers

CHORUS LEADER: (To the tune of "this song" - to type it out would ruin the joke.)
   Kick it!

   (Enjolras leaps up on another student's shoulders.)
  You gotta fight!


   For your right!


ENJOLRAS: (To the tune of "Red and Black" from Les Miserables.)
  To a night at the opera now.

JAVERT: (Spoken.  Well... shouted.)
   Yo, Blood!

   (Javert shoots Enjolras who falls to the ground.**  Valjean steps up looking upon the fallen body in horror.)

VALJEAN: (To the tune of "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables.)
   God on high
   Hear my prayer
   In my need...

   (The chorus stands about confused as he sings.  Cosette steps up with a Pepsi.)

COSETTE:  Yo!  Valjean!

   (He drinks.)

VALJEAN:  Proper!  ...Urk!

   (Valjean dies.  Everyone is sad.)

   Do you hear the people sing?!

FIRST CHORUS MEMBER:  (To the tune of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from Les Miserables.)
   Do you hear the beat box beat?
   (SECOND CHORUS MEMBER joins him.)
   Does it sound at all like drums?
   (THIRD CHORUS MEMBER joins them.)
   Real musicians have more talent
   (FOURTH CHORUS MEMBER joins them.)
   Than a rapper in their thumbs***
   (FIFTH CHORUS MEMBER joins them.)
   When you hear a record scratch
   Do you scream and hold your head
   (CHORUS LEADER joins them.)
   Just be thankful it's not disco you're hearing instead
   Dis-co in-stead....!

   (All pump their fists in the air.)


*Yeah, okay.  This stretches the definition of 'rap' to it's limits.  What can I say?  Van-full of white Canadian kids.

**If you are familiar enough with the show, you know that this transition makes no sense as it it Marius who Valjean sings over... but it's all in service to the humour in the end.

***I have to admit that my appreciation for rap has grown since then - this was, after all, written in the same year that Apocalypse '91, the album that got me interested in rap, came out and it wasn't 'til months later that I first heard it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A David Lynch Family Christmas

Second to last one.  One that is close to my heart.

This was written for the Reelfast 48 Hour Film Contest.  In short, teams are given a bunch of elements to use as inspiration and then are expected to make a 10 minute film in 48 hours.

In the third (of seven) year of the contest I asked my friend Rob Frederickson (you may know him as the artist, Robert Ives) who was teaching animation if he thought we could make an animated film in 48 hours.  He figured we could.

We spent some time working out with the organizers what would be allowable for us to plan in advance.  Basically, we had a stable of pre-designed characters and sets.  To this day there are purists who think that this was "un-fair."  They seem to forget that our characters are no different than the actors they already had on their teams... except that their actors can change more of their costumes than just the colour; and their actors are capable of programming their own movements.  Not to mention that the live action teams had an entire city (and more, if they were resourceful enough - and the occasional team was) to use as sets.  If anything - anything at all - was "unfair" it would be that each subsequent year the animation team had all the previous characters and settings at their disposal, as well as any new ones that had been created since the previous year.  Anyhow... it's all academic.  We had the organizers' support and consent.  Besides - it was years ago, in a contest that no longer exists.

The first year there was a HUGE learning curve.  None of us had ever made a film in 48 hours, let alone an animated film.

The animation studio was in Victoria.  The contest started and ended in Vancouver.  I got the inspiration package and headed for the ferry, chatting on cellphone with Rob and his animators on my way.  By the time I got to the ferry we knew what direction we were heading.  We had previously discussed some loose ideas based on the character resources we had.  Among the characters was a family and a non-specific horned ungulate.  We knew that the creature could pass for a reindeer and we could do a "Christmas Special" with the family.  We had also discussed the possibility that some sort of surreal randomness to a plot line allowed us to squeeze in all kinds of elements from the inspiration package.

One of the elements in the package was a collection of small shaped plastic baubles.  Rob figured that he could model and rig a christmas tree by the time I got to Victoria and we could scan the baubles and add them as ornaments... we were pretty much committed to a Christmas Special.  It was simply a matter of me writing something that pulled all our random bits together.  (I actually don't even recall what most of those elements were... Some backwards music, I think?  A can of something - soup?  Something worm-like I think too... a photo of worms or snakes maybe?  I'm fairly certain there was something that made us think of the clock... but not a clock.  And I did go to Jericho Beach first and took some reference photos... 'cause it was our 'location' - though I'll be damned if I can recall how we used/justified it.

Anyway, while I wrote my ass off on the ferry, Rob and his guys did as much advance work as they could.  (Making presents and other anticipated animated props.)  When I arrived at the studio I read them what I had scrawled and they got down to more specific work while I typed up a copy (oh those pre-laptop days) for distribution... 'cause no one could be expected to read my handwriting.

More thoughts after the (for some reason not properly formatted) script... 


Fade in.

A quaint family bungalow.

Woman at stove.  Cauldron of soup boiling.

Clock on wall ticks once.  Second hand moves forwards 2 seconds.

Woman stirs cauldron.

Soup boils.

Living room.  Two children.  Ten year old boy, decorating tree.  Three year old of indeterminate sex, humming gutterally to (him)self.  His hair looks like a bad wig.

A present at the bottom of the tree is shaking back and forth.

Clock on wall ticks once.  Second hand moves three seconds backward.

Woman at stove stirs cauldron.  She shakes in some seasoning.

Several creatures swim to surface and feed on seasoning floating on top.  The soup is too murky to see them clearly.

Woman stirs cauldron.

There is a quiet, shy, polite knock at the door.

Woman looks up from soup but does not acknowledge the door.

WOMAN: Your father.

She listens tentatively for a moment.

The clock ticks once and moves forward two seconds.

The two children are at the Christmas tree.


The three year old has found a jar of marbles.

The present gives a quick shake and quietly whimpers.

PRESENT:  oooh.


The three year old stops humming long enough to stuff a fistful of marbles in its mouth.

The clock ticks backwards three seconds.

The woman stirs the soup.

There is a quiet polite knock at the door.

Something slivers just beneath the surface of the soup.

The ten year old enters the kitchen.

TEN YEAR OLD: Mom, when is Dad coming home?

The woman laughs.

WOMAN: Your father.

The three year old is chewing ambitiously on the marbles.

The present lurches slightly.

TEN YEAR OLD: Can I have something to eat?

The woman sighs and looks wistfully at the soup.

There is a polite knock on the door.

WOMAN: Your father.

The ten year old sighs, disappointed.

The clock ticks forward two seconds.

The three year old has found a rubber ball the size of a fist.  (S)he is humming gutterally again.

The present shakes back and forth, making helpless noises.

A door opens behind the three year old.  A man dressed as a penguin comes out.

The penguin sets an iron chest at the foot of the tree and shuffles into the kitchen.
Elsewhere, an axe is being dragged through the snow.

The penguin enters the kitchen.

The ten year old boy watches the penguin.

The woman ignores.

The penguin opens the door to the fridge, climbs in and closes the door.

The woman shakes her head in disapproval.

WOMAN: Your father.

Something in the soup makes a sudden dive to the bottom.

The three year old gnaws viciously on the rubber ball.

The clock ticks backwards three seconds.

The woman goes to the fridge and opens it.  A penguin wing hands her a can.  She closes the fridge.

There is a knock at the door.

Elsewhere an axe is dragged through the snow.

Under the tree, the present shakes violently and tips over.  It murmurs.


The woman pours a chalky, lumpy red liquid from the carton into the soup.

The soup seems to stir itself.  A small fin briefly rises above the surface.

The ten year old boy curiously opens the fridge.

There is no penguin inside, simply a wall of cans like the woman just took out.


There is an irritated knock at the door.

TEN YEAR OLD:  How does Santa know what to bring?

The woman is visibly agitated.

WOMAN: Your father.

The clock ticks forward two seconds.

The three year old is humming again.  (S)he has found a ragged softball.

The present shakes slightly and cries.

The ten year old enters the living room.

There is a loud irritated knock at the door.

The woman follows the ten year old into the living room.

The clock ticks backwards three seconds.

Elsewhere an axe is dragged through the snow.

The ten year old opens the iron box.

The three year old dogs ravenously into the softball, tearing the cover off with his teeth.

The clock ticks forward two seconds.

The soup churns violently.

The ten year old pulls several small penises from the box.

WOMAN: Your father.

The present shakes desperately.

There is a loud, insistent, irritated, pounding knock at the door.

The woman acknowledges the door expectantly.

WOMAN: Your father.

Elsewhere an axe is dragged through the snow.

The clock ticks backwards three seconds.

The ten year old begins hanging decorative penises on the tree.

The door bursts open.  Four evergreen trees rush in.

Something in the soup preys on something else.

The trees enter the living room.

The woman watches.

The ten year old hands penises.

The three year old furiously destroys the cork centre of the softball with his mouth.

The present shrieks and shakes violently.

The trees seize the ten year old.

Red clad arms lay a frightened reindeer's red-nosed head against a large chopping block.

The clock ticks forward tewo seconds.

The trees rush out the door with the ten year old.

The woman watches.

Something slithers contentedly in the soup.

The three year old picks up the present.  The present makes weak frightened whimpers.  The three year old is humming gutterally again.

WOMAN: Your father.

Red clad arms swing an axe over a red-capped white-bearded head.

The ten year old stands amongst presents.  Baubles hang on his outstretched arms.  An ornate star rests on his head.  Lights are strung around him.  A family of trees surrounds him, exchanging gifts.

A frightened reindeer with it's head against a chopping block looks up in resigned terror...


A wet chopping noise.

A dull thud of something heavy landing in the snow.

WOMAN: How was your day dear?  I've cooked your favourite.

 - END -

Don't try to make sense of it.  There is no meaning to the story.  More than anything it was intended to be sort of an excercise in disturbing tension.

As an excericse, it ultimately failed.  It was simply too much to chew in too little time for a team that was doing something no-one (let alone us) had ever attempted.  The learning curve was damn near vertical.  The number of unfinished shots was long.  We had zero-time to do any real editing.  All we could do was assemble the completed shots in order.  It didn't make much less sense than the original script, but we had no chance to tweak the timing and otherwise finesse it.  Add to that that one team member fell through a glass table and had to be taken away in an ambulance, and a major last minute system crash that nearly resulted in me not being able to catch the last ferry back to Vancouver to submit the film under the wire...  It was a wonder we finished at all.  In the end, that was the victory.
But it had it's moments.  Scott's vocal performance as the three year old (The three year old would end up being the 'star' of every film the team made.) was hysterically funny - it remains a running in-joke to this day.

The following year we tweaked the team - added more animators, and more people who could handle multiple jobs.  One animator did the trip from Vancouver with me to help massage "impossible" ideas.  The same team member was charged specifically with editing - though we still didn't have as much time for finessing the cut as we'd like.  and we arranged to fly the finished product back to Vancouver, rather than losing the time on the ferry back.  In that second year we actually completed a film that made some odd sense and won a special achievement award for our efforts.

The third year I decided I wanted to try something new.  I had never done a live-action film for ReelFast.  It was time.

The animation team entered again without me.  This time a well oiled machine full of mostly veterans.  With literally dozens of characters to pick from and a very complete western-ghost-town set at their disposal, they delivered a tour de force.  It was still rather bizarre and at moments inscruitable (but honestly, plenty of live action ReelFast films suffer that fate), but it was the most beautiful looking and smoothly animated film yet.  They placed in the top ten films of what was a highly contentious contest.  My team did not - but that is a tale in itself.  I could not have been happier for them.

The next year I returned to animation with a new team - this time doing stop-motion.  The old team did not compete.  One other team did stop-motion that year - together we were the first two teams to do stop motion.  They kicked our ass.  But that shouldn't be too surprising... that team was headed up by Zach Lipovsky who would go on to the final five of On the Lot... and frankly, he should have won - but that too is another story.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


This one makes me howl.  It was probably funnier ten years ago when the references were that much fresher.  I didn't write this for any reason but to amuse myself... that happens a lot.


Broadway is barren of people.  The sky is a dark, dirty red.  There are huge potholes in the pavement.  Abandoned cars litter the street.  Windows in the surrounding street are long since broken.  Vines and creepers cover many things.  It has been a long time since this place was disturbed by sentient life.

Madison Square Gardens itself is in terrible repair.  The roof appears to be caved in and the doors are broken off, hanging on their hinges.

A lonely wind blows dust down the street.

The sound of horse hooves echoes between buildings.

A pair of horses appear at a trot.  They slow down to a walk outside of MSG.  Atop one horse is an earthy, busty, beautiful woman in a short buck-shin dress.  On the other - Brendan Shannahan.  Shannahan is dirty and unkempt.  He is wearing a loin cloth.

He dismounts and helps the woman down.  He looks at MSG in awe.  The couple enter the colesieum.


Dim light fingers through the huge hole in the ceiling.  Rubble is strewn across the rink and the seats are all in dis-repair.

A lonely zamboni, broken, sits mid-rink.

Through the passageway enters Shannahan and his female side-kick.  He enters the rink area and looks around, gaping in disbelieving horror.

He casts his gaze upwards where his eye falls upon a banner in the Rangers' colours.  Boldly printed on the banner - which hangs askew from a broken girder - is the number "99."

Shannahan falls to his knees and pounds the floor.

     You did it.  you finally did it you bastards!  Damnit all to hell.  You blew it up, you bastards.  God damn it, you blew it up!

                VOICE OVER
     Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

                                                             SMASH CUT TO:


A chimpanzee stick-handles down the ice....   Skates in on goal.

He shoots!  He.....

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Termination" an excerpt of "Missing Women"

I'm getting into the real cream of the crop now.  Four more - including this one - to go.

This short piece was one of two contributions I made to a collaborative effort called "Missing Women."

It was created for Theatre Under the Gun.  I think it was 2002.

For each of the previous years of TUtG at least one team had made a point of being a team comprised entirely of women.  So a group of us decided to make a point of being a group made up entirely of men.  I don't think anyone thought we were being (ahem) dicks about it.  It was a largely tongue in cheek "statement" and I think everyone (including us) pretty much expected us to do something that was equally tongue in cheek.

But as the two days of preparation came together, we found ourselves doing quite a sober piece called "Missing Women."  It featured one of us playing a drum riff over and over again while the rest of the actors in business suits walked back and forth in business suits our heads buried in newspapers.  The drums would stop.  One or more actors would break away from the marching line and do a scene while the others froze.

Each scene explored an aspect of how women could be missing from our lives:  Deceased mothers, ex-girlfriends, lost children and so on. 

This was while the crisis of missing women in the DTES was at it's worst.  But we never had a secene that directly reflected that situation.  Indeed, if you didn't count the title (which could be interpreted in a host of ways) we didn't plan to cite the situation at all - letting people make their own connections.  But then a really weird confluence of things happened.  Over the course of the two days of preparation significant developments unfolded in both the Vancouver missing women case and the decades old Green River killings.  Both were plastered across the front pages of every newspaper you could buy.  So through synchronicity we did have a somewhat subtle reference.  It was a happy accident.

People really expected us to be doing a light piece.  But it wasn't - and that made it all the more effective.

The first scene within the larger piece was the following monologue.  I don't recall where exactly, but somewhere within the first few sentences someone (you know who you are - I won't shame you here) laughed uproariously, clearly expecting us to be funny.  By the end of the monologue, it was clear to everyone that we had played a shell-game with their expectations.  When the review was posted we were one of two companies in the festival that was singled out as a highlight.

"I lost it," she said.
And that was it.  Just like that it was over.
"I'm sorry, I lost her."  So non-chalant.  She couldn't look me in the eye,  I knew.  I could tell she was lying.
From the moment I walked in the door I could tell something was wrong.
Something about the way she gingerly padded across the carpet and all too gently wrapped her arms around my neck... intimate, but not 'good that you're home' intimate.
"I lost our baby."  No sadness.  No shock.  Relief.
"Did you?  did you really?"  Cold.  Angry.  Confused.
She looked into my eyes.
But faced with the piercing, intuitive and absolutley precise leap, the lie could not hold.
"No, I..."  The sentence enjambs, waits and never ends - snarled up in shame.
She loved me.  I loved her.
And although we fought it, that moment was the end.
Long slow death.  Terminating that August - about the same time it would have all begun.
Could we have survived the abortion alone?  I don't know.  Coupled with the lie, we didn't stand a chance.  I wish we could have known before we started to hate each other in our own home.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The McMadden Family Speaks Out On a Northern Interior University

This is hardly the best piece of old writing I've uncovered, but it has a bit of a story behind it that is worth telling.

In the years before I started touring Canada I had gone through a series of different comedy troupes - most of which spawned directly from th Prince George Theatre Workshop's Summer Stage project.

One of them - The Machine Gun Canaries - ended up getting a coveted TV gig.  There was a local TV magazine called 54-North.  The producer and host decided that a comedy troupe would be an interesting addition to the weekly commentary.  We got the job.

On about our second or third week the subject of the week was the debate over whether Prince George should be the home of the planned fourth university in BC.  Locals variously supported and criticized it.  At least one other city was trying to get the University built there.  It was all up in the air.  But we were young homers, naturally we were in favour of it being in PG and the arguments against it were silly - what better way to support our position than to stuff a few strawmen in the mouths of our opponents?

We put together two sketches .  One poked fun at the proposed names for the University - I don't recall it clearly, but I know at one point we referred to it as UPiG and there was something about UNBC "proud as a peackock."  ...the eventual university would in fact be named UNBC.  They left out the rest of it... not that anyone would get the joke anymore.

The second sketch follows below:

ELBERT: (Slowly with a hesitant drawl.)  Hi.  My name is Elbert T. Mc Madden Jr., and this is my wife, Ma.

MA: Or 'Ma' for short.

ELBERT: Ma and I run my hay farm in the Blackburn area.

MA: Where we farm... hay.

ELBERT:  The farm has been in my family since my great grandaddy came and arrived here when he came and... arrived in 1889.

MA: One hundred years ago.

ELBERT: Of course Great Grandaddy hasn't been around for a few years now.  (Pause.)  I have come here today to express my concerns about a Northern Interior University.  I think that a university at Fort George.

MA: That's Prince George now, Elbert.

ELBERT:  Oh, that's right. "The times they are a changin'" as that hip folk song does say.  I think that a university in Prince George would be a waste of tax payers' money.  I feel that money could go to better causes.

      (Enter their son.)

SON: Pa!  Pa!

MA: Now hesh up a second there boy.  Your father 's speakin'.

ELBERT: No, Ma.  Let me introduce my boy.  Afterall our youth is our future.  This is my boy, Elbert T. McMadden Junior Jr.  Junior Jr., we is on TV.

SON: Golly!

MA: Now what did you want to ask your father, boy?

SON: Pa, I got a real hot date tonight.  An' I was wonderin' if I could use the tractor to go to town?

ELBERT: Sorry Junior Jr, but Ma and I was goin' to take the tractor to town to watch them buildin' that new fangled hockey rink.

MA: Now, that's progress.

ELBERT: I'm afraid that you'll have to take the combine.

SON: The combine!  Pa, I'll look like a geek!

MA: Now Junior Jr., don't argue with your father.  Run along now.

      (Junior Jr. leaves, upset.)

ELBERT: The money we save on taxes could be out towards buying a new tractor so that we could be a two tractor family.

MA: Now, that's progress!

ELBERT: An Interior University would be about as much good for the city as that new fangled cultural centre they wanted to build.  Why I got plenty enough culture just sittin' round watchin' Wheel of Fortune on the television.

MA: ...Actually Elbert, we could use a new TV set...

ELBERT: What in tarnation are you talkin' about Ma?  We just bought a brand new enormous 12 inch black and white in 1959.

MA:  Of course, we couldn't receive any channels back then... But it sure was nice to put something up where we used to stare against the wall in the evenings.

ELBERT: Yeah Ma, we always have been ahead of the times, ain't we?

MA: Shore have.  We believe in progress.

- End -

Now I'll be the first to admit that I can think of a dozen ways to improve this sketch - if it were still relevant.  It's really not even close to being one of the best of the old pieces I dug up.  But it is special for another reason...

A day after it aired, the TV station recieved a number of complaints about the sketch.

Some people in the Blackburn area of town were upset about the portrayal of Blackburn farmers... a complaint I still feel is kind of quaint, sort of misses the point and if anything kind of serves to further the point.  I should also add... my Grandmother's maiden name?  Blackburn.  NOT a coincidence.  My uncle and cousins still operate the Blackburn farm in the Blackburn area of Prince George.

Anyhow... I don't know whether the producer of 54-North buckled under his own weight or under pressure from above at the station, CKPG, but we never appeared on the show again.

UNBC (proud as a peacock) DID get built in Prince George.  (As did one in the Okanagan - UBCO.)  The "New" arena is now in need of replacement, and they did eventually build a new cultural centre.

Somewhere along the way my adolescent brain got the message that comedy can push buttons and effect change.  Perhaps I don't practice that as much as I ought to... but if someday I can convince someone to green-light my TV series "Big Wig" - I'll be back to pushing buttons, making points and effecting change on TV.  Or maybe TV producers are too scared.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Tragedy of Pebbles

Expect a bunch of this over the next week or so.  I've uncovered a bunch of old short-writing that amuses the hell out of me that isn't amusing anyone locked in a box, so I'm transcribing it.

The first time I appeared on Loose Cannons happened to be the day that Dana Plato from Diff'rent Strokes died.  I got the call in the afternoon asking if I had anything I could present on the show that night.  I said I'd write something.  What follows is what I wrote.

   Pebbles would have turned forty-one today.  But like many a child str, things got complicated - dense - after she'd gone supernova at such a young age, during the hey-day of Hanna-Barbera, when "The Flintstones" was the best on the box.
   Former co-star Bam-bam Rubble, now a stock promoter in Aristona remembers her fondly...

BAM BAM: Peb was so sweet.  Always popular on set, shewas everyone's favourite with her innocent charm.  I've often wondered if that was where things started to go wrong.

  Certainly that is a distinct possibility.  Pebbles' downward spiral began in the show's fourth and last* season when he began a Lolita-esque relationship with character actor Edwin Slate who played Fred's boss on the show.  It is generally assumed that the child starlet - who was once described as having 'all the innocent delights of Shirley Temple combined with the girl-next-door charms of Annette Funicello' - was introduced to drug use by Slate.  Slate died destitute in 1974 in  freebasing accident.
   The signs of drug use on the set of the landmark animated sitcom were thin, but by the time spin-off show "The Pebbles and Bam-Bam Hour"** tried to cash in on the beach-party-rock craze, Pebbles had developed a habit estimated to be costing five to six thousand dolars a day.  Her star falling, and her blood toxin rising, the young teen became difficult...

BAM BAM: She ws denying everything, but it was clear just how strung out she was.  You could see it in her eyes.

   Says Rubble...

BAM BAM: Somehow, her natural charm masked what was going on inside her head from the camera.  But off screen things were ugly.

   Things got so bad during one hallucinogenic episode that she attacked the show's director - a young Robert Zemeckis - with  chair, breaking his wrist...

ZEMECKIS: We were shooting a scene at a roller-derby event.

   Recalls the director, who has since won an Oscar fr his efforts on "Forrest Gump..."

ZEMECKIS: Pebbles kept charging at the camera, insisting that it would look 'groovy and psychedelic.'  It was getting really tiresome andI kept asking her to stop.  Next thing I knew, she was throwing a stool at me... uh, a chair - not the uh... other thing.

   The incident was prety much the end of the show.  Pebbles was fired.  And in site of the program's impressive showing at the Emmys in that, it's freshman season, without Pebbles, the sponsors didn't expect the show to fly.  A simple equation: no backers - no money; no money - no show.
   Following the show's demise Pebbles spun into a seedy descentwhich somehow managed to maintain her celebrity. She spent the majority of the seventies rubbing elbows - and possibly other body parts - with the likes of Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley and Keith Moon.  Not the most auspicious of company. She even recorded an updated version of her novelty hit "Let the Sunshine In" with Sly and the Family Stone...

SLY:  Yeah, Pebs was so hip and that was such a funky little groove we got a good twenty minute jam out of that on wax.  But it seems like everyone already had enough of that repetitive little ditty the first time 'round.

   Her image as a celebrity groupie was forever etched in stone when her two-year marriage to consumate party-animal John Beushi started in a dramatically public manner - with a headline stealing indecent exposure trial.

   Pebbles and Belushi had been separated for over a year upon his death in 1981.***  His family employed top civil litigators when it came to dividing his estate.  Belushi died intestate and by the prevailing law of the time all of his worldly trappings became possession of his wife.  The Belushi family won the case in precedent setting fashion - citing her role in advancing his ultimately lethal drug addiction and the fact that she and Belushi had not shared an address for thirteen months.

   Pebbles public image limped along for a few years supported by guest appearances on shows such as Love Boat and Hollywood Squares, a few cereal commercials and a cameo in a John Waters' film.  The entire time she struggled with her addiction and appeared to have cocaine beaten in 1983 when she spent six months in rehab after she was found naked in a delusional state wandering the Santa Monica Freewat.

   Things went well for several years during which she gave birth to twins out of wed-lock to her then boyfriend Bib Goodyear.  Then in 1989 it looked like Pebbles was poised to make an enormous comeback.  Cartoonist Matt Groening...

GROENING: Fox had offered us an excellent development deal but they told us they weren't going to move further forwards without a star.

   Groening went to Fox with the suggestion of building a sitcom about a chroncially dysfunctional family around a retro-nostalgia celebrity.  Groening suggested Pebbles.

GROENING:  Fox went nuts.  They thought the idea was inspired.  We started negotiations and set her up with an excellent pay or play deal where whether the show went ahead or not, Peb was in the green.

   Pebbles sudden fiscal liquidity was ultimately her downfall.  An alcohol and prescription drig dependency quickly accellerated out of control.

GROENING: Peb started not showing up for meetings and soon Fox got worried.  But they were liking the potential of the show we were creating and started looking for options.

   Fox changed the show concept and instead of a shrewish matriarch for the "Plimpton" family, they found an ex-steeplejack turned stand-up comedian and renamed the show after him.  Homer Simpson was an overnight success. 
   Pebbles took the news hard.  Leaving her twins behind, alone in her Venice Beach home, she disappeared for thirteen days before being found in a Tijuana jail where she'd been arrested for driving a car through a poncho stall at the public market, and firing a gun into the air.  Luckily for her, The Flintstones was, at the time, the top rated show in syndication on Mexican television.

   Her sentence was reduced and she was transferred to the United States and put on probation.  Due to her abandonment of her twins she was declared an unfit parent and was denied access to her children.

   In November of 1990, shortly after the start of The Simpsons' second successful season**** a despondent Pebbles started making rounds to old friends.

BAM BAM: I feel I should have known.  Should have sensed something was wrong.

   Says Bam-Bam from his split-level in Phoenix...

BAM BAM: If I knew the truth about what was going on for her - the show falling through; the probation; the twins - I might have seen that she was saying goodbye.  She just... I remember - sh just kept on telling me how she'd quit.  How she had finally beat the drugs.  When she left I couldn't help but think how good it was that she was back on track.

   Then on November 13th - a Friday***** - she missed her meeting with her parole officer.  The next morning she was found in her bathtub, drowned.  No note.  No sign of foul play.  No immediate trace of drugs or alcohol in her system.  A traic and confusing end to a life long streak of bad luck which plagued a desperate and insecure woman who had once won herself a place in the hearts of a country, and a page right out of history....

*Ah the days before Google... the show ran six seasons.
** Was actually called The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show and was not an hour.  Though there was a show called The Flintstone Comedy Hour which incorporated it.
*** It was 1982.
**** I did get that date right.
*****November 13th 1990 was a Wednesday - you can check it out on your computer's calendar.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dirty Fridge Poetry

I'm sorting through all kinds of old papers.  (Far too much teen-angst poetry for my liking.)

I just uncovered something I have to share.  I think I'd have to say that this is NSFW - though there are no individual words that would offend anyone.

I don't even actually recall what this was for - maybe Theatre Under the Gun, perhaps one of The Stands, possibly an episode of 1000 Year Itch, or it could have been a Loose Cannons show.  (If anyone reading this happens to recall, please refresh my memory.)  I do recall that there was some need for an off-the-hook fridge poem.  Just about anyone who has been in my kitchen between 1999 and 2009 knows just how many fridge poetry words I have.  (They are not currently on my fridge, but they still exist.)  I do have a vague recollection of going home and playing with the magnetic words until I came up with something.  I can't even picture which kitchen/fridge it was that I sullied so.  I don't even recall if the original intent was to write something so pornographic.

The original page is pretty much one endless un-punctuated string of words.  I'm punctuating and spacing things for slightly easier reading.  Okay... here we go...

May I wear you like sweat? 
Smear your bed pie all over my naked animal apparatus as I explore  the steaming skin beach which lies above your blushing ocean.
Let me seep into the bitter perfumed peach and light the moistest of flowers ablaze with a feverish kiss of squirming pink.
I am drunk on the hot champagne of your luscious woman rain.
I will moan wild delirious music that pierces the liquid night when your sacred tongue meat poisons my screaming dirty lust candy, and a bath of juicy joy celebrates down those long icy fingers.
You think it felt like angel milk, playing a symphony on your hand.
Breathe the languid mist of our black velvet gardens.
Swim in a sea of a thousand arms and legs.
Your lathered love parts rusting beneath me.
Whisper when its time to change the TV.

Yes.  All those words are ones I have in my collection of fridge poetry magnets.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Leviathan - A Short Piece of Fiction

I wrote this about a year and a half ago.  It's an odd little thing that I've been told borders on poetry and is harder than hell to truly understand.

I'm kind of of the "so what?" mind set.  I wrote this one for me first - anyone else is a bonus.  I know what I was shooting for and I captured it for my own needs... even if it is a bit obtuse for general consumption.

You can love it.  You can hate it.  Neither you nor I has to make excuses about it.

She alone humbly knew that it had been more time than they had songs for, since the Ancient-voices of From-above had first been heard. How long had they played? There was no knowing. Soon there would be no knowing when the Ancient-voices had last sung with them.

Time - measured by life. Lives. Lives in turn by knowing, by lore, by wisdom. Full of wisdom, deep into time.

There were only songs for those who lived, and for those who were gone but had lived while those still alive were already birthed.

There were those who came before that. But their song was One. Their individual songs forgotten. Forgotten except for the songs intoned by those vain with wisdom. Vanity was such heroic shame. To know yourself to be so wise that you could compose a song for the ages… immoral.

Those who had heard the Last-song From-above had lived while she was alive, and no other alive had emerged, had swam, had abided as deep into time as she.

Those who heard the Last-song had sung to her about strange melodies that came from those who had once lived From-above. Inscrutable songs played by the Ancient-voices of From-above when those of deep wisdom – as she now was - had been shallow, as she had been when those then of deep wisdom sung for her.

To be shallow again. To embrace the freedom of imagination that time would fill with wisdom. To dream. To play at being one who heroically sacrificed great humility to compose a song for the ages. She recalled the frivolity of composing trite melodies to herself, to her head, yet never intoning, singing, sharing. Not one new song was composed in a generation, let alone by one so shallow. As she grew wise she would see those dreams for what they were, not heroism. Shame, abase, disgrace. Shallow naiveté.

From-above. Where breath came from.

A place where she and her kind could go only briefly - a fleeting moment before crashing back to the substance of the world. It was glorious. A brief surge into outer space, before the great Compelling drew one back as though the Compelling itself knew that there was nothing for them out there.

Nothing but death.

Soon she would die from great accumulation of cognition. She was wise. Very wise. She knew how decrepit she must look to those whose lives did not run so deep as hers. She recalled those who had been this wise when her life was shallow. Those who had heard the Last-song. Those who she alone had a song for, but when she was gone, when she became one who had lived while those alive were alive… then their song would be the song of the One. Timeless. A duration lost.

She was the last wise enough to sing their song. The song, the archive, the science. The last who dove so deep in time. When she was gone, they would no longer know when the Ancient-voices had last been heard.

The song of the Ancient-voices had been bereft of true meaning, that was known. Nonsense. But there had been an understanding.

Long before. In the time of the song of the One, there had been great terror. The Terror.

Those From-above had come to draw them one at a time to outer space. Not for the brevity that the great Compelling allowed, but forever. For death.

There was a song – a variation on the song of the One - that told of the Terror.

A wise one whose life ran at the same depth as the Terror had sacrificed humility, to compose the song that explained, that told, that warned, of the Terror and sing it for all to remember.

The Ancient-voices, it was sung, came as an apology, an appeal, an instruction. For the duration that they sang, the voices had told them – promised them – that everything had changed.

But those who came From-above were now part of the One.

The last who had heard their nonsense melody were gone, and when she was gone, they too would be the remotest memory.

It saddened her.

Their voice may have had no meaning, but the intention, the understanding, the song had… that should not be lost.

Perhaps someday it would be understood. Perhaps those of the Yet-to-come – the young, the future, the foolish – may see a purpose in the song. Perhaps what it said might tell them what had become of those of From-above. Where they had gone and what their departure had meant. It was too important.

There needed to be a song.

A song that would mean everything she thought about the Ancient-voices.

There had not been a new song since those who lived the Terror had become part of the One. It was to sacrifice great humility to intone a new song.

Only the wisest could dare. For all others it was folly. Only the wisest could know enough to compose a new history, to build a new song in the language.

To sing a new song, it was sung, one must know that the song to be sung would be the most important melody one would ever sing.

To intone a new song was to enact despicable pride. But some things must be known. Each of the One who sacrificed great humility had recognized that they alone remained whose wisdom ran so deep into time as to be able to compose the song that must be sung. Each in turn had realized the price of hubristic heroism had fallen upon them. The decision, the choice, the dilemma to compose and sing or lose the knowledge, lore, wisdom was the burden left to those who alone swam deepest into time.

So, heroically, she embraced the dreams of the shallow and she sang.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Missed Post... see note.

NOTE:  I just found this, unpublished, in my drafts.  No idea why it didn't get published then.  I suppose I thought it wasn't finished and then forgot to get back to it.  No idea how I would have completed it, so I'm posting it now (You, December, are over 15 months old now.) on the date it was originally saved as.


By the time you read this, there is so much that you will be taking for granted that I am only just now wrapping my head around... like the most basic fact that I am your father.

This time yesterday you were still very much an abstraction. 

You, as I am confident you will know, were not part of the plan.  I've said it a dozen times now that if a person was to pick the day they were to find out that they were going to be a parent, you would never pick a day in the first week after moving into a new one bedroom apartment with your partner.  But just because you weren't part of the plan doesn't mean that you aren't now, or aren't already cherished - your Mother is a different person when talking about you, and you aren't even born yet.
We were very deliberate about making sure we wanted you in our lives.  About four weeks ago, just before the Vancouver 2010 Olympics - which I suspect are always going to be connected our memories as being a part of our lives with you, your Mom and I, after weeks of consideration stood together under Burrard Bridge and I said something that we both already knew, but had yet to actually say out loud to one another.
"We're going to do this, aren't we?"
"Yes.  Yes, we are."
We hugged each other and kissed, and that was that.

But still it didn't quite seem real to me.  Despite all the pregnancy symptoms that your Mom is going through, it could have been confused with an unfortunately timed illness.  Of course I knew the truth, but it was hard to really wrap my head around.

Yesterday afternoon was the first time you really felt like a reality.  It was the first ultrasound.

The technician put the wand down on your Mom's belly and swooped it left only the tiniest amount and, bang - there you were.  Face to face for the first time.  I hadn't expected that she'd find you on the very first try - that may have been naive.
You are going to have to forgive me this, it's a sentiment I've heard ad nauseum in my life.  While imagination can come close, there is in fact no way of understanding such a moment until you've lived it.

There you were, my child.  Our child.  No idea whether you are a boy or a girl; whether you have your Mom's icy-blue eyes, or my so-brown-they're-nearly-black?  To quote from Firefly - "I wonder who is in there?"  But none of that really matters.  There you were.  Undeniably real.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Olympic Hangover Begins

With the dust settling from the 2010 games, I can see from here that the enormous Canada flag has been taken down from Athlete's Village, Abbott Street appears as though it may be hours away from being open to through traffic, and I suspect that at least in Vancouver - if not nation wide - there has been a record level of absenteeism this morning; there is little doubt that Canada brought it's Eh! game to Vancouver over the past two and a half weeks.

There was much political anxiety leading up to the games; protesters variously got their message out, looked like fools, caused despicable violence and for the most part shortly sat down and shut up.  The "Olympic Tent Village" (Heard of it?  Yeah, it didn't get much attention after their first night.) is visible from the window where I sit and write this.  Last night the police were well in evidence around them.  I bet the protestors will tell you the police were holding them back...  I suspect the police were in fact making sure somone was there to protect them.  Had the protesters even tried to raise their voice anywhere near Robson and Granville last night they probably would have been torn limb from limb - if the ecstatic crowd could have been convinced to look.

We should never forget the luge tragedy that preceeded the opening ceremonies, but neither that tragedy, nor the death of a VANOC bus driver, nor the loss of Joannie Rochette's mother should dampen the overall sense of Canadian victory that has been sparked by the 2010 games.  As it stands, they have all made up part of the greater narrative that has concluded gloriously.

Premature declarations from Blighty that the Vancouver games were the "worst games ever"; scoffing from competing countries about Canada's "jingoistic arrogance" and "pathetic, ineffectiveness" (most loudly from Americans); and grumpy Russians, unhappy that things weren't going their way, only served to spur Canada onwards defiantly.

John Furlong's clunky French could not deflate the power of his words.  I haven't personally had much to say for his ability to speak publically.  His opening ceremonies speech was dull and cliched, but he could not have said it better last night when he defined our golden bookends: "Alexandre, your first Gold Medal gave us all permission to feel like and behave like champions. Our last one will be remembered for generations."  The narrative of Bilodeau's medal winning performance was fantastic on the day - our first gold medal on Canadian soil.  How naive we were.  Before the dust had settled we would have heard our anthem played more times than any country in these or any winter games, and that last gold medal... "Henderson Scores!" is no longer the call behind the greatest goal in our country's history.

From my apartment in Gastown, these games were a success.  Listening to my firends who were working on the inside, they were a success.  Walking down Granville Street last night before and after the closing ceremonies - there is little doubt that the people who came to Vancouver and those who merely "came downtown" thought it was a success.

People came to Canada during these games and we brought Canada to the world.

We opened the games by showing the world the Canada that truly is.  The one that lives behind the cliches.  We kicked a lot of sporting ass during the games - I shant belabour that point more than I already have elsewhere.  By any report I have seen, we were excellent hosts.  And when all was said and done, we winked.  From bringing out Catriona LeMay Doane to (finally) light her pillar of the olympic cauldron, to the over-the-top march of Canadian iconography with the cliche's literally inflated to absurd proportions we demonstrated one of the greatest of Canadian cliches - we don't really take ourselves that seriously.

Yeah, I cringe at the oatmealy uninterestingness of Nickleback; Avril Lavigne is only a little ahead of the curve for her category of teener-pop; and K-OS is not my kind of music at all... but honestly, I have to recognize that Spirit of the West, Rush and The Hip would have been seen as 'old hat.'  Neil Young did a fine job of filling the rock dinosaur hole.  Indeed, I've never much liked Neil Young, but he was perfect last night.

The numbers will follow.  No doubt there will be reports about how the grotesque over-spending is going to take years to recover from.  It may be true.  But I don't think there can be any doubt that these games have been far more successful than could have been expected.  We may even look back in future years at the recession that made the lead up to these games so financially painful and declare that in the long run, the success of the games gave us a leg-up in the slow climb out.  I am no economist.  This could go either way, but had you asked me before the games, I would have not have been able to tell you with a straight face that a positive outcome was financially possible.

Vancouver, Whistler and Richmond respectively will get the direct legacy of the Athlete's Village, the Sliding Centre, the Olympic Centre and the Oval; as well as the various other indirect items that were piggy-backed onto the games - the Canada Line, the new Sea-to-Sky highway, the Vancouver Convention Centre.  It's going to be a long time before our taxes catch up with those.  But, I doubt Vancouver (and by extension, Canadian) tourism could possibly have benefited more, both immediately or in the long term. 

Canadian sport will never be the same.  If you'll forgive the allusion, Calgary was a shot in the arm, but Vancouver will be a full-on massive steroid program.  Children who were inspired by Calgary Games athletes competed here and won.  In the years to come we will see the effects of this Olympics on our youth. 

Canadian spirit has shifted too.  I don't know that there is any price that can be put upon a feeling of pride in your country.  May we maintain a sense of humility as we move forward, but the patriotism displayed on the streets of Vancouver since February 12th feels very very good.  That may be why Neil Young was so perfect last night.  "Long May You Run."