Monday, June 25, 2007

Are You Bigger Than a Bread Box?

Well, if you weren't at last night's performance of What's My Line? - Live on Stage (and if you weren't and live in the LA area, shame on you), you missed what may have been the funniest show ever. The panel last night consisted of Kate Flannery (of NBC's The Office), Greg Proops (of Whose Line Is Is Anyway? fame), Debra Wilson Skelton (of MADtv and Reno 911 fame), and the talented and entertaining Barry Saltzman, a What's My Line? regular. The contestants included a young woman whose line was selling paper (a tip of the hat to Ms. Flannery), another young woman who turned out to be an FBI agent, though you would never guess it to look at her, and, signing in as Mr. X, the legendary Leonard Stern, writer of such classic TV series as The Honeymooners, The Phil Silvers Show, Get Smart, I'm Dickens, He's Fenster, He and She, and many others, though Mr. Stern was there last evening in his capacity as the co-creator of Mad Libs, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. The Mystery Guest this week was Jasmine Guy, star of the TV series A Different World and Dead Like Me, and as charming and entertaining a Mystery Guest as we've had.

It's not that the panel was particularly brilliant last night, though they usually are. In point of fact, the only occupation they guessed was the lady paper seller, and that was only because the show's accomplished host, J. Keith Van Straaten, artfully steered them back on course after they'd asked if the product the young lady sold might be paper-like or paperish, and then promptly forgot all about that. No, it was just that, as with any spontaneous live performance, there was the constant sense that tonight, just this once, everything was going to go completely out of control. Trust me. You had to be there. I laughed so hard over the hour-and-a-half of the performance that I almost gave myself a sore throat.

This coming Sunday, I will be back on the panel instead of sitting in the audience. My fellow panelists are comedian/actress Suzy Nakamura (from last season's short-lived comedy Help Me Help You), former Jeopardy! champion and radio commentator Bob Harris (author of the fascinating book Prisoner of Trebekistan), and the always-hysterical Teresa Ganzel. You can learn more about the show and how to buy tickets by clicking here. Right now, there are only two more shows left this season. If you miss them, you'll never forgive yourself.

So, I expect you see you in the audience this coming Sunday. Don't disappoint me. I'll be taking attendance.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Joy of Cooking

Last Saturday afternoon, my lovely wife Christine threw me a belated surprise birthday party. And what a party it was. Rather than throwing one of those big old barbecues with loads of people and paper hats and such (not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. I love a big party.), Christine invited a much smaller group (Hi, Michael and Kathy, Gillian, Darla and Peyden, Lorien, Becky, other Michael and Karen) over to join us as our new friend Tory Davis, the Kitchen Coach (check out her funny and entertaining blog here) taught a "Cooking on the Grill" Class right in our own yard. I was supplied with my very own chef's apron and toque while most of the other guests brought their own culinary attire. The menu was exceptional, beginning with a nice Grilled Greek-style Pizza with Tomato, Feta Cheese and Olives. Our friend Karen, who has been studying to become a baker, brought along her homemade pizza dough, and the stuff was absolutely terrific. At first, we were afraid the dough would either burn or fall through the grill, but Tory knows what of she speaks, and it was more fun than I can describe first stretching out the pizza dough, then grilling it, flipping it, and adding the other ingredients. More importantly, it tasted like an afternoon in Heaven.

The second course was Grilled Fish Tostadas with a Pineapple-Jicima- Avocado Salsa. This involved adding a chili powder oil glaze to almost everything and I was afraid that, being Mr. Tissue Paper Stomach, it would all be too spicy for me, but the chili oil could barely be tasted. It added just the right amount of zip to the dish. Again, incredible.

The tostadas were accompanied by a Grilled Romaine Salad with Roasted Red Peppers and Goat Cheese drizzled with a Simple Balsamic Vinaigrette. Who knew you could grill lettuce? Who knew it could taste so good?

Dessert was Grilled Peaches and Pound Cake with Creme Fraiche. Though I don't eat peaches myself, I have it on good authority (everyone else who was there) that it was wonderful.

While the meal was terrific, the best part of the evening was the sense of community, as everybody pitched in to make each of the courses. Folks would each claim one of the ingredients in each course and deal with the appropriate chopping or grating or whatever was needed. So that when each course was served, not only did everyone love the food, they had the sense of accomplishment that comes from having helped prepare it in the first place. Like I said, one of the best birthdays ever.

If you're interested in seeing what it looked like, check out Christine's non-legal blog which you can link to at the right. There are all sorts of photos from the evening uploaded there. Just be aware when you look at the photos of me that the camera adds about 20 pounds to your body and about 20 years to your face.

No, really. It does. 20 pounds. 20 years. Hey, would I lie to you?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

This is Getting Out of Hand

Okay, so there I am, sitting in a fancy dining room having a formal breakfast with legendary Broadway stars Angela Lansbury and Nathan Lane, when suddenly I realize I have absolutely no idea what either of them is talking about because all I can think of is how cool this is going to be to blog about.

At which point the alarm clock goes off and I snap awake, to discover that it was all just a lovely dream.

Only a dream.

For the love of God, people, now I'm even thinking about this cockenlocker blog thingie in my sleep.

Is there no escape?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Because I Said So

Hey, for those of you who might be interested in such things, there's a new short interview with me up at a website called Marvel Gazette. You can link to it here if you're so inclined.

If you do decide to read it, let me know what you think, okay?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Okay, I'm Finally Back

Well, this week bore pretty much no resemblance whatsoever to the week that I had planned.

I did get back from the wonderful 29th Annual Superman Celebration in the terrific town of Metropolis, Illinois, last Sunday night on schedule and I will blog at some length about all the fun I had and all the fabulous people I met there as soon as I a) have a little time and b) figure out how to download all the pictures I took there to this here blog. My good friend Bob Skir picked me up at LAX and drove us both over to the legendary Canter's Deli in Hollywood to meet my lovely wife Christine and the What's My Line? - Live on Stage gang for a late dinner. Last Sunday's panel included Boston Legal's Gary Anthony Williams, the remake of The Parent Trap's Elaine Hendrix, Bones' Eric Millegan, and The Daily Show's Beth Littleford. The Mystery Guest for the evening was the wonderful Sharon Lawrence (of NYPD Blue and now Hidden Palms fame). You can check here for this coming Sunday's cast and how to order tickets. I'll be back on the panel on Sunday July 1st and will remind you of that in plenty of time before then. Anyway, I'd planned to blog about the trip when I got home, but it was well after midnight when we pulled into the driveway and I was a little jet-lagged and I figured I'd blog on Monday instead. Yeah. Right.

I got up Monday, ran a few local errands, and prepared to blog when I got a call from the aforementioned Bob, asking if I could come over the hill from the Valley into LA proper to pick him up at his car repair place. I said sure, put aside the blogging, and headed over the hill (which, of course, is where some say I've already been for a long, long time). Anyway, I picked up Bob, we had some lunch, did a little shopping, and then Bob asked me if I'd mind helping him pick up his beloved dog Barda from the vet. Again, I say sure, and we're back over the hill to the Valley. By the time we collected the dog, I realized I didn't have time to go home before my improv class that evening and, since Bob's home isn't far from the studio where the class is held, I hung out with him a little longer, then headed to class. By the time class was over and I've had my dinner, it was about midnight, and I was exhausted. I'll blog tomorrow, I decide. My readers will understand.

Now Tuesday was my birthday, and I was looking forward to the day. I was going to blog, have lunch with friends, maybe catch a movie, then have dinner with Christine and our dear friend, TV writer (Profiler, Reasonable Doubts, others) and novelist (the Circuit series) Melinda Snodgrass. But when I got out of bed, I noticed my big old beloved Golden Retriever Muffin seemed to be having trouble walking, and that she was groaning as she laid down. Concerned, I rushed Muffin to the vet, and x-rays revealed she had a mass of some sort around her spleen. The vet said they'd have to operate to remove the mass -- and possibly the spleen -- if she was going to survive. I told him to do whatever it took to save her, to call me if there was a problem, and went home. I wasn't good for much of anything else for the rest of the day. Bob came over to keep me company. We still went out to dinner. But my mind was on the dog, and not the company. Blogging just wasn't gonna happen.

Wednesday was basically devoted to sitting by the telephone, waiting to hear from the vet how the surgery went with Muffin. Bob came by, took me to lunch, then over to Golden Apple Comics to check out the week's new releases, but I really wasn't all there until the vet called to tell me that, although they'd had to remove her engorged spleen, Muffin had come through the surgery with flying colors. You could hear my sigh of relief in Australia. The vet did tell me that they'd sent the spleen to be biopsied to find out what had caused the problem, and we're still waiting to hear back the results, but at least she was alive, and that was all that mattered.

Yesterday, I spent some time visiting my old dog at the vet's, and was told I could take her home late in the afternoon. I went home, prepared the house, then picked my big old baby up and brought her back where she belongs. She moved slow, and she had big patches of her fur shaved, but she was home and everything else was incredibly unimportant. I spent the remainder of the day and evening keeping company with my dog. I didn't blog. So sue me.

Anyway, here I am at last. I'm back. I'm blogging. And I'll do my best to keep it up daily. Unless, of course, God forbid, something happens to my dog.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Few Quick Reminders

Well, in an hour or so, I'm off to sunny Metropolis, Illinois, for the 29th Annual Superman Celebration. I'll be there through mid-day Sunday, signing autographs and shaking hands, so if you happen to be in the area, drop by and say howdy. This, of course, means I won't be blogging for the next few days, since I have neither the equipment nor the knowledge to blog from the road. When I return, I promise to regale you all with my adventures. I'm really hoping to get a picture of me flanked by Noel Neill (the original Lois Lane) and Erica Durance (the current Lois Lane). I just think that would be the coolest thing in the world.

Being in Illinois, of course, means that I'm going to have to miss the premiere episode of the spectacular What's My Line? - Live On Stage this Sunday evening over at the Acme Comedy Theater on La Brea south of Beverly, but the rest of you in the LA area don't have to be so unfortunate. I'm expecting you all to go see the show (you can check out the details a few posts back) and report back to me on what I missed.

I'll see you all Monday. Have a great weekend.

The Long and the Short of it

I'm becoming more and more disturbed by what I think I'm going to call the Contraction of America. You know, the way we find to cutely abbreviate everything in our lives. First, for example, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization becomes NATO, then performers like Jennifer Lopez become cheesy nicknames like J. Lo, then couples like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner become one-named amalgams like Bennifer. Every day every name becomes shorter and shorter.

For a number of years now, there has been a fine banking institution called Washington Mutual with branches all over Southern California and across this great nation. A few years ago, in keeping with the aforementioned trend, it started referring to itself in its TV commercials as WAMU. Now, as I wasn't particularly crazy about the nickname but I figured I could live with it.

Until recently.

Which is when the firm opened two new branches in my neighborhood that did not have the bright blue Washington Mutual logo on the sides of the buildings. Instead, in the same typeface as the previous logo, the buildings proudly read WAMU. That's it. Just WAMU. I guess after the several years of TV indoctrination, they expect we should all now know what WAMU means.

I'm sorry, but as far as I'm concerned, WAMU is the sound of a startled cow being hit by a Volkswagen beetle.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Rube Goldberg Lives!

Wow! And I thought I had too much time on my hands. This you've got to see.

Just click here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Poster Posting

Over the years, there have been a lot of terrific movie posters with a lot of terrific tag lines. Remember lines like "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water" or "In space, no one can hear you scream" or "This summer, the coast is toast" or... well, you get the point.

My favorite poster for one of this summer's upcoming blockbuster movies is currently slapped on the sides of city buses all over Los Angeles. It's a wide black banner with bold white lettering that reads: Yippee Ki Yay, Mo though the 'O' is cut off in mid-letter. On the bottom right corner of the banner in much smaller lettering of the same type, the banner reads: John 6:27 as if it were a Biblical passage, when in fact it's the name of the speaker, and the release date of the film.

Anyone who does NOT know which film the banner is talking about, just leave me a comment here, and I'll fill you in. Oh, and any of the rest of you, if you've got a particular favorite movie poster tag line you think should be shared with the group, please feel free to let us know. That's a big part of the fun of a blog like this.

Paris is Burning...Me Up

Okay, so I'm on my way to my weekly improv class (about which more anon) and the radio tells me that the freeway is backed up for miles so I leave really early, get on said freeway, find it almost empty (which is often the case when the traffic report says it's jammed), and get to my class a half hour early.

On the drive over, all the news will talk about is the incarceration the night before of celebri-slut Paris Hilton and how ingenious she'd been in avoiding the paparazzi when she turned herself in and how she intends to spend her three whole weeks behind bars trying to find ways to make the world a better place and what she was wearing when she surrendered, and I'm struggling really hard not to toss my proverbial cookies while I'm behind the wheel. I mean, come on. More and more of our brave men and women are dying needlessly every day in the Middle East just so the most self-serving administration in American history (and that's including the Grant and Harding administrations) won't have to admit they made a monumental mistake in going to war in the first place, Global Climate Change threatens not only our generation, but the future of the entire Human Race on this planet, and all the news is talking about is some insipid, talentless media whore. It makes me crazy.

Which brings me back to standing outside the improv theater with a half hour to kill, steaming and seething, and this is what suddenly comes to my mind, virtually full-blown. For those of you who care about such things, it should be sung to the tune of The Loving Spoonful's Summer in the City.
Jail time, Paris in the slammer,
Posing in her cell, causing quite a clamor.
Most cons aren't impressed by glamour.
Others simply want to brain her with a hammer.
Won’t eat, skinny, looking half-dead,
Droning on her cell phone. Jesus, what an airhead.

Still, her sentence was cut in half.
Is that justice? Don’t make me laugh.
Come on, don’t ask me if that’s all right.
You push the point and you’ll start a fight.

And, folks, don’t you know it’s a pity
The rich don’t serve time like the poor
Just like Paris, in the slammer
Unlike Paris, in the slammer.
And now you see why I try to keep my mind occupied all the time. If left to its own devices, it does stuff like this.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Will The Most Fun I've Ever Had Kindly Enter and Sign In, Please?

About two and a half years ago, my lovely wife Christine and I were having dinner with our dear friends, Andy Zax (the Music Geek from the Comedy Central game show, Beat the Geeks, and one of the finest music producers in town) and his stunning fiance, the multi-talented artist/actress Lisa Jane Persky (check out her nifty blog by clicking on the link to your right) when Andy offhandedly mentioned that he would be busy the following Wednesday because he'd be appearing on the panel of the game show, What's My Line? No animated cartoon character ever gave a bigger or better double-take than the one I gave in response. As I may have mentioned here a time or two in the past, second only to my obsession with Musical Theater is my obsession with TV game shows.

"How can this be?" I stammered. "What's My Line? has been off the air for decades."

Andy proceeded to explain to me that former Beat the Geeks host J. Keith Van Straaten and his friend Jim Newman had revived the show and it was being performed live every Wednesday night at the Acme Comedy Theater at the corners of La Brea and Beverly Boulevards.

"Oh. So it's a parody of the original show," I say, sadly. "No," replies Andy, "They're treating it just as if the original program had never gone off the air. The panelists dress in appropriate evening wear. The contestants are completely legitimate. Heck, they even have a celebrity Mystery Guest every week, just like the original show." "How could I possibly have missed this?" I wondered aloud, sadly shaking my head, and at that moment determined I'd be in the audience of that Wednesday's show, not just to cheer on my friend Andy, but to see what the heck was going on.

Well, dear readers, that evening was right at the top of the most fun I've ever had. The panel that night included, as well as my buddy Andy, Marcia Wallace (Carol of the classic Bob Newhart Show and many of the voices these days on The Simpsons), Star Trek: TNG's own Wil Wheaton, and award-winning journalist and novelist Patt Morrison. The Mystery Guest was music legend Stephen Bishop, who sang several of his classic songs after his true identity was guessed by the panel. J. Keith stepped more than ably into the shoes of the show's original host, the late, lamented John Charles Daly. The show's regular music was performed by the absurdly talented keyboardist/songwriter (and now my buddy) Adam Chester, and our hostess was the lovely and talented Claudia Dolph. At the end of the show, J. Keith invited anyone with an odd or interesting line of work to leave a note with Claudia, and I happily obliged.

A few days later, Jim Newman called to ask if I'd be interested in appearing on the show as a contestant to try to stump the panel. I agreed before he could finish asking the question.

Thus, a few Wednesdays later, I found myself being asked to enter and sign in, please. Before I went out on stage, I had one of those self-conscious moments and asked the show's director Jim Newman if perhaps I should sign in as Mister X, since I am, in some circles, more well-known than I ever imagined I'd be. Jim said it was okay, that any member of the panel who recognized me was obligated to recuse themselves from the game. So I signed in, sat next to J. Keith and faced the panel, which that night consisted of longtime The Young and the Restless actress, Kate Linder; Whose Line Is It Anyway?'s own Greg Proops; former Win Ben Stein's Money co-host and screenwriter of the comedy feature The Sweetest Thing, Nancy Pimental, and retro-kitsch video historian Charles Phoenix. While no one on the panel recused themselves, a murmur ran through the audience, I was later told, when I signed in.

After the panel was told that I was self-employed and dealt in a service, Charles Phoenix immediately sent the panel down the wrong path by asking if there was an object involved in the service I provided and, when I answered yes, he then asked if said product could be folded in half and stuck in one's back pocket. I thought about it for a moment, then admitted that it could. After all, I'd done it myself many times as a kid. Phoenix thought the object was a wallet, and the other members of the panel never got anywhere near back to the truth of my occupation. After my line was revealed to the panel, I went down the line, shaking each panelist's hand as I exited. Greg Proops took my hand, and apologized to me, saying he read my stuff, but the name hadn't registered. I thanked him, took my leave, and joined my wife in the audience to watch the rest of the show. The Mystery Guest that evening was Kathy Kinney, who played Mimi Bobeck on The Drew Carey Show. The panel failed to guess her true identity, which made poor Greg Proops doubly embarrassed, since he'd just finished touring with Kathy the week before.

After the show, several members of the audience came up to me, asking for autographs, including one young man who said he was a professional photographer, and who raised his pants leg to show me his large tattoo of the cover of Batman: The Killing Joke, a book I had edited, which was a shot of the Joker taking a photo of the reader. I thanked him, and silently added that image to the many Wolverine tattoos people have shown me over the years that, I'm certain, will assure my place in Hell one warm day. After the others had left, a stocky fella in his mid-30s, wearing glasses and shortish blond hair came up to me and said, "Hi. Just wanted to tell you I'm a big fan of your work. Some of my friends and I are going next door for drinks after the show and we'd love to have you and your wife join us. Oh, sorry. I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Drew Carey." I told him I knew who he was, having watched every episode of all of his shows, and we happily joined his group for drinks. As I've said before, living in Hollywood can be a surreal experience.

Anyway, a few days later, I get another phone call from Jim Newman. He said the audience had loved me, and he and J. Keith were both amazed at how knowledgeable I was about the show (I've watched every available episode of the original and syndicated series for years now on the Game Show Network) and would I be interested in becoming one of their recurring panelists? My answer was short and sweet. "Sure. Who do I have to kill?" I mean, seriously, how often does one get to become a member of the cast of one of one's all-time favorite TV shows, especially one that had been off the air for two decades. It would be like the late Rod Serling calling me up and asking me to write an episode of the original Twilight Zone, the show that is one of the single biggest influences on my becoming a writer.

Over the next year-and-a-half, I appeared on the panel nine times, alongside such stalwarts as game show hosts Graham Elwood and Frank Nicotero, comedians like Cathy Ladman, Debra Wilson, and Mo Collins, actors like John Waters' own Mink Stole, Ann Magnuson, Jane Brucker, ER's J.P. Manoux, Notes From the Underbelly's Rachel Harris, radio personalities April Winchell (Paul's daughter) and Kitty Felde, and actress and former Playmate Julie McCullough. I also shared the panel at various times with the aforementioned Greg Proops, Nancy Pimental, and Kate Linder. Our Mystery Guests included legendary game host host Wink Martindale (in the coolest white suit I've ever seen), Married...With Children's David Faustino, Hawaii 50's James MacArthur, the Love Boat's Ted Lange (who asked me for my autograph for his kids), LA Law and Dharma and Greg's Alan Rachins, Cheers' Shelly Long, The Hollywood Squares and the Academy Awards own Bruce Vilanch, soap star Lorenzo Lamas, and Laugh-In's own Gary Owens (with whom I'd had dinner just a few weeks before and who is so damn good at manipulating that incredible voice of his that I failed to guess him, thus forever forcing me to wear a paper bag over my head whenever I see him from now on). A sampling of other Mystery Guests on nights when I wasn't on the panel included Larry King, Ed Asner, Elliot Gould, former California Governor Grey Davis, Monty Hall, singer Lisa Loeb, Rose Marie, Nanette Fabray, and former Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and his wife Kitty.

We wrapped our season early last July, intending to take the summer off, then resume with new shows from September through November. But life got in the way. For various reasons, J. Keith moved to New York for most of the year and, without our host, I assumed What's My Line? was finally dead.

Well, the reason I'm going on like this is that I'm thrilled to tell you we've risen from the grave. On Sunday June 10th and for the next four Sundays thereafter, What's My Line? - Live On Stage is back, once again darkening the halls of the Acme Comedy Theater. At the moment, I'm scheduled to be the panel on Sunday July 1st, and possibly one other Sunday, but things are still flexible and those dates may change. If you live in the Southern California area, I suggest you run, jump, hop or fly to get tickets while they're still available. You can click on the link on the Theater's name above for more details. But I'd do it and do it soon.

Trust me, people. This is one show you do not want to miss.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Kitchen Chaos 2: The Heretic

Okay, so after a week-and-a-half of having a kitchen that looks not unlike Dresden after the bombing, my lovely wife emails our phantom contractor this past Wednesday and reminds him that we did not sign on to eat all of our meals out for the remainder of our lives and that the temperature is predicted to rise considerably this coming week, which could conceivably add the piquant taste of Botulism to all of the canned goods we're currently forced to store out in our yard and, hey, just where the heck is he anyway? And he emails back that he's been forced to move his workshop to somewhere just east of the Black Forest and his email has gremlins and bears have stolen his cell phone and, hey, he told us he'd be back, didn't he, so what's the problem? He then sheepishly tells us that he'll be by on Thursday to drop off all sorts of equipment he needs and that he'll be at the house first thing Friday morning to get back to work.

Right. And the check is in the mail and there's another bus right behind this one and...well, you know the third lie already, don't you?

So Thursday comes and I have a couple of meetings to attend, so I leave the house at 10:30 in the morning and return at 3:30 in the afternoon, and...what a surprise, nothing has been dropped off in the interim. Still, one must continue to hope.

Friday morning comes. Hours pass. No sign of our contractor. At 11 in the morning, I leave a message on his cell phone (apparently, the bears bought him a new one) and ask where he is. No reply. At 12:45 in the afternoon, I leave to meet a friend for lunch, then drop said friend off to pick up his car at the repair shop. I get home about 3 PM. There's a note on the door. It seems the contractor showed up at 12:46, missing me by just a minute, having had some problems with his truck. He was going off to a local car repair shop (a different one than my friend was using) and hoped to come back soon and get to work. Well, he did indeed come back -- at 2:59 in the afternoon, at which point he left a second note and said he'd be by today to continue working. I tore out considerable portions of my hair.

Well, comes this morning, no sign of the contractor. I'm working on my remaining hair when I hear some commotion outside the front door at about 11:30 (which apparently is first thing in the AM to contractors) and, lo and behold, there he is, unpacking his tools.

He's been working in the kitchen ever since, anchoring our new cabinets and countertop to the wall. After which, he'll install new wallboard, cut the new through window to the living room into the wall, attach the new upper cabinets to the new wall, add the shelves, finish mounting the frames for our new flourescent lights, thus cutting off our contact with the Hubble telescope, and God knows what else. He says he'll work as late into this evening as he can, then come back tomorrow to finish the job. I'm trying to believe him.

Still, in the spirit of preserving my sanity, I'm also starting a pool to guess when the job will actually be done. I've already picked six weeks after the next Presidential election. Anybody else want in?