Let’s Talk about Strong Female Characters: My Top 10 Kickass Ladies

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There’s been a lot of talk lately (and rightly so) about feminism, fandom and the lack of “strong” (3-dimensional, interesting, complex, REAL) female characters in mainstream media. The above quote has been going around for a long, long time and I encourage you to find similar quotes from female writers. I just adore that quote, so I put it there.

There was a very interesting post about female protagonists here that I encourage you to read. The author talks about looking at the books she was reading to her child and her attempts to balance male and female protagonists, but they fall very short of a 50/50 split. (It ends up being more like 60/30)

When I saw that my spreadsheet project featured exactly zero actresses I realized I needed to do something. As an exercise I decided to put down my top 10 favourite female characters. Surely there were ten lady characters that kicked ass from TV shows and movies I love. Ten fictional ladies that I’d want to have a drink with, or at the very least were played by actresses I really enjoyed?

The first five were a breeze, and then suddenly I was struggling to come up with female characters that I liked, let alone strong female characters I admired or that I could take traits from to help me in my everyday life. I looked. Leading ladies didn’t suddenly come out from the woodwork, but there were strong, awesome characters that I was over-looking because I was too busy watching the leading men on the show. (Leading men talk a lot and the camera likes to spend lots of time pointed at them.)

A lot of these characters are supporting characters, in fact they all are except Rey* and an argument can be made for Clara and Sara Lance who are both part of an ensemble of sorts. Yet they are kick ass in their own way, furthering the plot and embodying traits that I want to emulate in my everyday life.

So here’s my list, I know I’m forgetting lots and I’d love to see your lists in the comments.

(In no particular order)…

Continue reading

Feeling Fake Fangirl Feels.

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I feel like an imposter or a fraud.

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Not quite. More like I feel like a fraud for calling myself a fangirl. A fake fangirl if you will.

Let me explain. When I wrote “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being a Fangirl” it felt very important to me to reach out into the void and talk about this great label “fangirl” and how it applied to me, because I had gone so long without knowing and I didn’t want anyone else to feel that way if they didn’t have to. That hasn’t changed, that label is still an excellent one for me. In fact, if given the opportunity I will happily extol the virtues of it as an important part of your complete lifestyle. That article has received the most views and comments of any article on this blog and I love that people have responded so positively.

However, the truth is that sometimes I hate being a fangirl and I keep all my fangirly thoughts to myself out of fear of how others will treat me. Sometimes I wish I watched all shows once, had no immediate need to see them again and just moved on. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t need to watch the full filmography of an actor because I need to chase the acting trends that are apparent in their work. (ie: Norman Reedus so often having a cigarette in hand.) Occasionally I think, damn all these feels, why can’t I just watch a show for the CANON PLOT.

The truth is I can’t do any of those things, they aren’t part of my personality and I feel like a fraud to want these qualities and at the same time to receive happy, thankful comments on something I’ve written.

For example, I took half an hour to write this tweet:

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I almost didn’t post it on my own twitter. Silly, huh? It’s just… using words like “feels*” and talking about fangirling over a TV show in front of people who know me still makes me nervous. I regularly hear people joke or mock about how stupid/foolish/immature people are that use “tumblr words” like feels, ships, and OTP.

“Those aren’t even real words,” they say, and sometimes I laugh just because they are silly words. That doesn’t make them fake, Bumfuzzle is a real word but it’s very silly.

I feel like a hypocrite and I hate it. I say how proud I am to be a fangirl, and then worry every time I mention spreadsheets or a random fact about an actor on Verity! or in casual conversations because I want to be taken seriously. Spreadsheets and data collection is difficult. Researching all that stuff is hard dammit. But, it’s one thing to say what I want into the tumblr-sphere, (seriously look at these tags) but on twitter and on facebook, there’s people there who I might see tomorrow face-to-face. They might (might) laugh at me.

So what’s a fangirl to do? Well, I’ve devised some basic things for me to remember when situations like this happen. Feel free to steal and personalize:

  • Marathoning TV shows and building filmography spreadsheets has led to new friendships and opened the doors to new media.
  • You joined improv because Kids in the Hall started in improv but you kept going because you love it.
  • The English language evolves (TEDtalk), Shakespeare started using words that are now commonplace today. Your turn fic writer.
  • Does this TV show/spreadsheet/music make you happy? If it’s something to look forward to after a bad day and helps you, then you shouldn’t be ashamed of talking about it. Take it and USE it to make yourself a better person and to change the world around you.

It’s not easy being a fangirl but it can be fun and hella rewarding.Think of it like playing a difficult video game, finding lost episodes of Doctor Who, or introducing your favourite show to a friend. Or, in the spirit of my recent House M.D. rewatch, dealing with a difficult friend.

A great fangirl-needs-answers resource is Fangirl Therapy, the author Kathleen is a licensed therapist and big time awesome fangirl. Have a look at her site, she takes questions and gives great real answers.

Now I’m off to read fanfiction and try to decide which is the best House M.D. ship**.

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*Yes, I realize I used the word ‘feels’ at least twice in this blog post alone, I’m coming to terms with it.
**Opinions are welcome, although all three I’ve read have been amazing.

These Are a Few of My Happy Things…

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Disclaimer: I get that now maybe isn’t a good time to come out and say, “look at all these happy things!” but there never will be a good time. I hope they bring a little joy to others.

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One of the things I love about being on Verity! Podcast is the inclusion of our “happy things” section we start each full episode with. I may moan about finding a happy thing some weeks, but it is nice to see what is going on in the world of Doctor Who that has my co-hosts excited.

Of course, Doctor Who isn’t my only love and as a proud multi-fandom lovin’ person I thought it might be nice to devote a blog post here and there to talk about things I’m excited about in different fandoms. Read on for Supernatural, Walking Dead, superheroes (SPIDEYPOOL!), music, young Peter Capaldi, and more.

BLOGS

I don’t read a lot of blogs. I have a RSS feed reader that I will dip into when I have time, that covers different topics of interest but subscribing to blogs is limited to a select few. Right now two that are always on the top of my inbox belong to Verity! ladies. I include them because they are awesome not just because they are friends.

Liz recently has been blogging a lot and about all different things, including cupcakes (with a recipe!) She talks about video games, books she’s written, Doctor Who and many other topics that interest her. Even if you aren’t interested in the topic, her sense of humor will be enough to keep you interested. All I ask is more pictures of desserts.

I’ve mentioned Erika’s blog before and with good reason. It’s always interesting and has a good, diverse range of topics. The topics range from silly (D&D podcast! Yay!) to thought-provoking (puzzles and anxiety). Her puzzles post got me thinking about mental illness and inspired my essay on being bipolar. She has a patreon too, if you like her work you could throw money that way.

Not a Verity! but run by an awesome lady nonetheless: Yoga With Adriene, who offers free yoga instruction that is funny, interesting and appealing to someone who has never done yoga before. She takes her craft seriously, but also takes her motto “Find What Feels Good” seriously, too. Right now I’m doing the 30 Day Yoga Challenge and I think I’ve laughed during every single video.

Now, onto fandoms! After this point there will be spoilers and gifs!


SUPERNATURAL

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Are you watching Season 11? Aside from all the wonderful that is Mark Pellegrino back as Lucifer, we now have Misha rocking it as Lucifer inhabiting Castiel’s body. The term Casifer has been rolling around and I like it. A good portmanteau is a wonderful thing, kinda like the faces Misha pulls to pay homage to the first actor playing Lucifer.

We also have a look at the Season 11 bloopers. This is the reason I buy the boxset! I’ll admit I’m a Crowley fangirl before a Dean or Sam fangirl, but they have their share of really great bloopers and antics.


THE WALKING DEAD

The Walking Dead is not supposed to make you happy, it’s supposed to rip out your soul and taunt you with it.

However, one of the actors Michael Cudlitz turned a phrase uttered on the show that compared certain baby-making fluids to Bisquick into something grand.

Line on the show -> memes -> actor acknowledges this and challenged fans to bring Bisquick to the Dallas Walker Stalker con to donate to charity.

The Walking Dead’s Michael Cudlitz Turns Bisquick Meme Into A Good Cause


SUPERHEROES

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Deadpool can just take all my money. Whether it’s comic form, movie form, it doesn’t matter. Now, I need cinematic Spideypool goodness. Spider-Man/Deadpool is my favourite one-sided ship. Really, there’s fanfiction, and I’m sure Wade Wilson wrote some of it.

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This is from Amazing Spider-Man #698, note: “prattling”.

The CW is doing an excellent job with their shows and I am a very happy fangirl every single time we get a cross-over or reference in Arrow and Flash. It’s that simple. I adore crossovers, sometimes more than the individual properties and between Arrow/Flash/Legends of Tomorrow I have more shared universe than I can shake a stick at.

 

Also, someone documented every shirt Cisco Ramon has worn (up to that point) on Flash and where to get ‘em. http://www.mtv.com/news/2287480/cisco-ramon-t-shirt-ranking/


MUSIC

Last post, I talked all about how going to a concert made me very happy and in particular how Frank Turner’s music has been playing on repeat all the time. Discovering his older music thanks to Spotify is making me super happy. Then there’s this audiobook. It’s short in audiobook terms, coming in at about 8 hours. If you’ve read any of Henry Rollins touring diaries they are in that same vein, if a bit more positive.

∧ That’s a mandolin. I have one of those, and I picked it up the other day after watching this to try to scribble through the opening of one of those songs. Videos make things so much easier.


DOCTOR WHO (Or rather, Peter Capaldi)

Ok, I lied, there’s a bit of Doctor Who in this.

Sometimes you just want to watch an actor’s work from before their current role. Sometimes you just want to watch a young Peter Capaldi play guitar. Tumblr has you covered. A wonderful person has put together a Peter Capaldi Annotated Filmography from 1982 right up to 2015 (Series 9 of Doctor Who).

They have uploaded many videos, made many wonderful gifs and I encourage you to watch them all.

Here’s The Ruth Rendall Mysteries: Some Lie and Some Die (1990) featuring a singing (that’s Peter singing), guitar playing Capaldi playing Zeno. This is just the Capaldi parts but the full thing is here.

 

So, what’s making you happy? Links, anecdotes, memes, gifs, it’s all welcome here!

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Fangirling: A Review of Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls

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March 6th I went to a concert. Now, I’ve gone to concerts before, it’s what differentiated this concert to all the other ones before that has stuck with me. It’s the reason I’m writing about it on this blog. It’s revitalized my perspective on fandom. If I wax a bit nostalgic about this experience it’s because it has imprinted itself in my memory just enough to make me wonder if it was actually a dream. So, here’s a retelling of that experience and some very interesting things that I’ve learned because of it. All the videos and pictures that I included are credited to their owners. Crowdalbum was a huge help in re-living the concert.

I bought tickets last year, as soon as they were available, to see Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Frank Turner’s music had played a big part in getting me through a rough period of time in my life. Hell, he’s the only person to which I’ve ever written a “fan letter” and he wrote back! At the time I purchased the tickets I hadn’t asked anyone to come with me so I just bought one for myself. I’ve never gone to a concert alone, but I figured I could find someone in five months. At some point I heard that they had sold out the venue (I misheard, there were still tickets available at the door) so I gave up finding someone to go with me. At first, I hoped I could work up the nerve to go by myself. That nerve didn’t seem to come. The day before and the day of I really considered not going. The tickets were less than $30, so chickening out wouldn’t cost me too much and I had to work the next day. (I know, I know. Excuses, excuses) More than one person told me that not going was a stupid idea and to just go. They said that I would regret not going.

I showed up at Union Hall about 5:45pm assuming there would be a line already forming to get in when doors opened at 7:00pm. The last concert I went to at the same venue there was a fair size line an hour before. This time there was only one person. She had been there since 4:30pm making sure she could get a spot at the barricades, front row center. A year ago I would have shut up and sat there, in silence until she said something. Instead, we made small talk almost right away; talking in line at conventions gave me some confidence and the conversation helped us ignore the cold and rain.

My original plan was to get a spot on the second level overlooking the stage, but that looked far less interesting in the face of her spot by the barricade. She had seen at least 10 times the number of concerts I had and hadn’t been scared away from it. I had always been scared to stand in the mass of people (on the floor, general admission in bigger venues) given I am not good with people in my physical space, and I thought things like crowd surfing and moshing would terrify me. I had heard horror stories about punk shows. I didn’t know what to expect and as a general rule, the unknown scares me. I put some non-committal words together when I was asked where I was going to stand. Doors opened and ten minutes later I’m leaning against the barricade right next to front row center. Big, bold choices, thanks improv!

The show started as it meant to go on with Mo Kenney, an acoustic act who was amazing (and from Nova Scotia!) This was followed by Northcote originally from the Prairies playing with the heaviest bass and drums I’ve ever felt in my life. I had seen them as an opener for Gaslight Anthem at this same venue last year, and while they were good from my spot on the second level, they were amazing up close. Being at the barricade means every beat feels like it could restart your heart, in the best possible way.

People were having fun and I joked with my line friend in between acts. The people at the barricade were close together but the people standing behind us were politely an arm’s length away. Even when Frank Turner took to the stage, there was enough space behind me for another person. This would close up as the concert got going but everyone was still super respectful.

Union Hall is intriguing in the fact that there is very little room between the stage and barricade. There’s enough room for security to help people who were crowd surfing get off the crowd safely, but that was it. The close quarters reminded me of a small bar performance just with way more people. As if it wasn’t intimate enough, there were two speakers turned on their sides to allow Frank to get toe-to-toe to the barricade on either side of the stage. He doesn’t shy away from interacting with the crowd. He said at the very beginning of the show that the performance was equal for every person in the venue, regardless of where they were sitting or standing and he lived up to that promise.

@frankturner rocked @unionhalledm tonight! Great show! #unionhall #franktuner

A video posted by Union Hall (@unionhalledm) on


You can see the speaker turned on its side near the end of the loop.

#frankturner

A photo posted by Adam Birbeck (@awbirbeck) on


There was crowd surfing, even Frank participated.

Now, I can’t say that I know music or even understand why I like what I like, but I was in complete awe for the first two songs. Looking at the videos that surfaced I look like I’m in a daze, which I was. As much as I was fangirling over just being there, and seeing him and the Sleeping Souls perform, there was a part of me that couldn’t comprehend the amount of energy the entire band had, both musical energy and physical energy – those guys can move! There was always something to watch and I can’t imagine trying to see that on the second level looking down. There was a passion in the words and it quickly turned into a sing-along nearly every time. I’ve since come to learn the Sleeping Souls have been the band for Frank for a while and that partnership dynamic shows in the smirks and interactions between them.

he just wants to dance..@frankturner #foursimplewords#fthc#fthcfans#frankturner

A video posted by Melissa Gilroy (@mewmaximus) on


Between some more than others… He just wanted to dance…

Above the passion and the fucking amazing music I believe that there’s a message. It focuses on coming together because of a shared interest, making friends with strangers and having a great time. Does that sound familiar, fandom? He spoke in between songs, impressing on the fact that there’s enough bad shit happening in the world right now that dragging it into a show is stupid. I completely agree. At one point, he asked the whole floor to sit and do something together. Everyone sat without any real hesitation. Now, I’m poorly paraphrasing, but he said that if we (the crowd) don’t come together here then it’s pointless and we’re just adults shouting at each other in the dark. So, the song Photosynthesis was cued up and when the drummer signalled, everyone was to jump up, sing if they knew words (and sing even if they didn’t) and dance their hearts out. We did just that, myself included, and I didn’t care how stupid I looked because I wanted to be a part of that experience.


Show 1850, Edmonton AB! Thanks Alberta. It's been a blast.

A photo posted by Frank Turner (@frankturner) on

So, there was a point to this post other than just reliving that wonderful concert. The music, the energy, and the experience unexpectedly helped to remind me of the spirit and influence that fandom brings to my life. You can learn something through the experiences fandom brings you, you just have to be willing to open your mind and when necessary make those little leaps. Go to the concert or convention alone and make friends with strangers. Take up a hobby just because your favourite actor enjoys it. Maybe you’ll hate it but there’s always the chance that you will find a new passion. If you see something lacking in your fandom and have ideas for something like a podcast or fanart, then don’t wait for someone else to do it, just do it.

Thank you for getting through all of that and if Frank Turner comes to your area, grab a ticket and experience the passion he has for his music.

My First Fandom: The Importance of The Phantom Menace

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Well, 2016 is here and with it a new theme for Verity! Podcast* and new topics to match that theme for us to talk about. Our theme this year is “firsts”, and it’s one I’m rather excited about because there is so much room to wander around. We have episodes to pick apart and experiences to discuss with each other. I hope to take away a new appreciation of some things my cohosts enjoy because that’s part of the fun of sharing a love for a TV show. Of course, Verity! Is about Doctor Who, and as someone who is so proudly multi-fandom, it’s hard to dim that fangirl shine to just one fandom. I figured my own blog was a great place to talk about my first fandom; even before Queer as Folk graced my television set, posters for a certain big-name prequel graced my walls. I’m also talking about it because I’m really tired of hearing people heap complaints on it with The Force Awakens taking the world by storm.

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was my first fandom, even though I didn’t really associate with other fans either online or in real life. I had a kindred spirit to talk to about it, and we dreamed up elaborate starships and new characters based or set on first the movie and then the Jedi Apprentice book series. It was just her and I though, and when I wasn’t spending time with her I had the movie, the novelization, the tie-in books, and the multitude of extras and merchandise that Lucasfilms put EVERYWHERE. I spent so much money on Lays chips, trying to get a bag with a certain character card in it. I threw myself into the Star Wars universe and let imagining I was a Jedi soothe my troubles away.

It was the first movie I could quote all the lines in, the first movie I defended when I heard someone in school making fun of it, and it brought my first crush on an actor. That movie, regardless of whether you like it or not, helped me get through a rough time. A lot of that is because it happened to occur during a perfect storm of factors in my life.

I was 12 years old in May of 1999, and I had found out a month before the movie was released that (after being an only child all my life) I would soon have a baby brother or sister joining the family. I was excited to be a big sister, but I was also terrified what this change would bring. I don’t handle change well, that’s why I do improv. My mother and I had moved a couple years earlier to a small town where I didn’t know anyone, and instead of trying to make friends, I read by myself and did extra school work. I had a couple friends, but I really only saw them at school.

I kept what was bothering me about my family from my friends at school and kept what was bothering me about my social life from my family at home. Compartmentalization seems like a way better word in theory than in practice.

Perfect storm for falling head over heels for a fictional universe:

  • BIG inevitable change over the horizon that you can’t change or make go away.
  • (Perceived) Lack of people to talk to about said, giant change.
  • Everything around you is boring, and you lack a good solid friendship.
  • Friends at school are excited about a new thing (because they’ve seen the original trilogy, you haven’t).
  • Attractive actor you see in one trailer.

With those factors in mind, The Phantom Menace didn’t have to have the brilliant qualities of the original trilogy or the amazing things that make it so great like The Force Awakens because it was there at the perfect time. I needed to lose myself in a rich, full world, and that’s exactly what I did.

Phantom Menace, when I first saw it, spoke to me on another level. I read so much into it that sometimes I forget what the movie is really about. The movie was about more than trade disputes, battle droids, and “no one is buying what you’re selling Palpatine” storylines. I still saw the lame characters and poorly written dialogue, but I didn’t care. You had an established Jedi “family” of Jedi Master and his apprentice whose world is turned upside down because of exciting events they live through and change that they barely blink an eye at. They then meet an annoying, bratty kid (little sibling on the way) who joins their family much to the annoyance of Obi-Wan. Anakin represents a big change; he’s supposed to bring balance to the force.

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This is unlike my little brother, who did not bring balance to the force. He does have the same number of letters in his name as Anakin, however.

I took away from the first screening I saw of Phantom Menace (I saw it six times, I think, in theatres) that even when the worst happened, life went on. Obi-Wan does the unthinkable when, despite the Jedi Council not agreeing with him, he goes and takes on Anakin as his apprentice after Qui-Gon dies. If you read anything about Obi-Wan before that point, this is very not like him. He would have NEVER disobeyed the Council before. Qui-Gon was the maverick; he questioned authority and made things up as he went along. Some of the books hypothesize that it was one of the main reasons Qui-Gon was never on the Jedi Council.

To 12-year-old me, knowing Obi-Wan could get through such a big change made me feel a bit better about the change I would have to face. I got a little bolder because of that movie, taking bits and pieces of character traits and assuring myself it was okay to be a little bit wiser, to break the rules now and then, and I started talking when I would have normally stayed silent. That kindred spirit and I were just starting our friendship, and it strengthened after we went to see the movie together. We stayed up all night talking about it. That shared love for a show that becomes a deep friendship is what I have now with Doctor Who and the other fandoms I romp around in. I can only hope The Force Awakens will appear during a perfect storm for someone else and help them through a big event.

Oh, and that attractive actor in the trailer that drew me in, and that I developed a HUGE crush on?

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I had posters of him everywhere in my room and was so embarrassed when I realized I had been pronouncing his first name wrong for months. (This is when access to interviews or YouTube would have been great.) I was looking for the movie Trainspotting (which he is in) on Showcase when I found that first episode of Queer as Folk.

We know how that turned out.

 

*Thanks to Erika for editing this. Without her there would be no commas. 

The Five Stages of Fandom

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I love the fandoms I take part in. They’ve brought me happiness, frustrated me, helped me through bad times and made me cry all while introducing me to friends and ideas I would have never met otherwise. While Doctor Who is my family fandom; the one I will always come back to, I also have Supernatural, Firefly, South Park, Kids in the Hall, and the Walking Dead. Each of them have shown me something and helped me discover a bit more about myself.

Recently, I fell head over heels with the TV show Chuck, and like the other shows I fell hard. So hard in fact that I took a step back to look at the process, how I went from scoffing a show I knew little about (telling my partner Chris that no, I didn’t want to watch it and that it wouldn’t interest me) to watching five seasons in less than a week. As I stared, I noticed that the process for me was the same for every single show*. It also bore a similarity to the five stages of grief if I tipped my head the right way.

*Although I wrote this from a TV show point of view, you can easily replace TV show with book, movie or anime. If it exists there’s a fandom for it.

When a death occurs, it is believed a person goes through five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some people will skip a step entirely, and each step may take a different amount of time for different people. With fandoms we begin with an event or a series of mini-events. Continue reading

Teamwork and Harold the Space Gerbil.

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I learned what teamwork was yesterday. I also learned that gerbils will be the only ones to survive when the aliens attack your spaceship.

The first part looks like the first line of an after school special*, doesn’t it? The second part looks like this:

Harold the Space Gerbil.

Harold the Space Gerbil. Survivor.

But I digress. I learned what teamwork was yesterday. I finally understand what people mean when they talk about sports teams and trust between players. I don’t enjoy sports and I still struggle to understand why others do. It took a theatre and a stage to understand teamwork and trust. That stage would house a scene that involved among many things, a space gerbil named Harold, played by me.

I’ve been taking public improv workshops at Rapid Fire Theatre since June this year (with August off). (I mentioned one of my improv classes in this post.) Most workshops offered end with a “workshop show” where all the classes perform in a showcase for their invited guests and each other. It’s kind of like a graduation. It’s a great, supportive atmosphere where lame jokes get big laughs and the applause and cheering is very enthusiastic. It’s a wonderful way to gently dip your toe into performing if you’ve never done it before. It’s also a prime spot to take risks with your improv and if you fail you don’t have very far to fall.

Last night was my third workshop show, and it was probably the most comfortable one so far. One of the reasons was because I was in a small class and I had more opportunity to get to know the other people in the group. My previous two shows were larger classes (between 13 and 16 people) where I felt I could easily blend into the background. If I can blend into the background I naturally do, unfortunately. In this class of six, I had worked with the other performers at least a few times and got at least a very vague idea of how they liked to play. There wasn’t the time to develop the level of trust and comfort that troupes have with each other but, there was enough time to feel like you belonged in the group and that they had your back. We were all learning together and although sometimes we didn’t recognize the cues that others needed help, we were right there to help when we saw them. In fact, on stage all that instruction from class just seemed to kick in and we suddenly didn’t need all those reminders to jump in from the back line (where other players wait) and help out when necessary during scenes.

The last scene of our part of the show was a “Scene Paint” where two players go up, get a suggestion from the audience and describe the setting and environment for the scene. We received “Spaceship or Space Station” and proceeded to describe a strange spaceship up in space, divided in half by a black line where one half is very clean and the other is dirty and covered in potato chip crumbs. The clean side was given unpacked boxes stacked against a wall, and right at the end I added an empty gerbil cage. Then, other players jump into that environment and do a scene using the objects and tone that has been “painted” for them.

The scene went really well, I think. It’s very satisfying to see players using what you gave them and watch them twist a world into something you never would have thought possible. The two astronauts after bickering about their sides of the ship were interrupted by two aliens who were intent on taking over. The scene was winding down to a close when I heard “what about the gerbil… hamster?” from the host. I was still in the back line and up until now I would have faded back and waited for someone else to take that offer. I barely do human characters well, could I even be a gerbil? Animal characters are strange and physical and while I’m strange I try not to show how awkward I am physically.

This time, however, there was trust. The teamwork element of improv finally made sense to me. I acted as gerbil-like as possible, taking off from one side of the stage to the other making a squeaky gerbil-like noise. The audience laughed. One of the players held his arms out and I ran over, (apparently this gerbil acted like a dog) he put me in the only space pod and launched it. Harold the gerbil survived. The scene ended and audience applauded.

After the show, everyone headed to a local bar for celebratory drinks and discussion. Post-show energy mixing with my favourite local beer being available, I was in a really good mood. When we were chatting, one of the level one students complimented my class (level two) and said we were really funny. He said he didn’t know how he was going to do that when he went into the class. I assured him that he would be great; he had been good on stage and he would only get better with time.

In the back of my mind, something hit me and I realized how happy I was that he had said “your class” instead of directing the compliment at me. For the first time, podcasting notwithstanding, my goal wasn’t to be funny and noticed. It wasn’t to take the spotlight, it was to help my scene partners be as funny as possible on stage. That improviser complementing the team; not me, meant so much. I think I would have felt like I failed somehow if he had pointed to me directly and said that I specifically was funny. I was funny because of how the rest of my class reacted to the gerbil offer. I only took a risk at looking like a complete idiot because I was confident my team had my back. Teamwork.

You know how sports teach kids teamwork and how to be strong and brave and confident? Improv was my sport. I learned how to not waffle and how to hold a conversation, how to take risks and actually be excited to fail.
— Emma Stone

I scribbled this post up last night and then I found that quote by Emma Stone this morning. I had so many feelings but my words now feel somehow validated. Also, I’m not sure if the Space Gerbil was actually named in the scene but I felt Harold was appropriate. Points to you if you understand the reference.


*If you are of the generation that has never had the “after school special” let me explain. It was generally a made for TV movie, often low budget, usually using teenage actors that talked about topics relevant to teens. Social issues or current events like drugs, dating, friendship and stress were explored in fictional stories that would teach a (usually) conservative value. Don’t do drugs, be nice to people, don’t pressure others into doing things they don’t want to do, etc. They aired in that strange 3-5pm time slot when parents were on their way home and teens were already off school. Degrassi and Degrassi Jr. High are great examples of TV shows that look at these situations and offer a far more realistic and entertaining product while still having the same style. -goes back to telling kids to get off her lawn-

Improv Induced Revelations: Women in Comedy

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“Name ten famous women!”

I’ve just been challenged to name ten famous women. I’m in my level 2 improv class, my class partner and I are doing an exercise that demonstrates how seven is a magical number. After seven items, recalling lists from memory gets remarkably harder. At the same time my partner is demonstrating how cheering for your partner for something as simple as a listing things helps build confidence and trust. He’s just breezed through my suggestion of ten things found in the ocean.

“Uh. Tina Fey?” I offer, suddenly everything is male. Actors as far as the eye can see.

“That’s one!”

“Jenna Coleman…”

He gives a skeptical look but counts it. I now know he’s not a Whovian.

“Amy Poehler? Is that her name, Poehler?”

He nods and cheers like I had just began an important speech for presidency. “That’s three!” He says, holding up three fingers. “Remember Kat just famous, they don’t need to be funny.”

“Carol Burnett, Rita Hayworth, Carol Lombard… um, oh! Audrey Hepburn!” He’s counting after each one, smiling and giving encouragements like “nice one” and “oh yeah, she’s awesome!”

Then I go blank. I start to notice the other people in the class are quiet; they’ve finished and are waiting for us. The instructor, always patient, gives us a few more moments before she asks if we’ve finished. “Yeah,” I reply, “Seven’s my limit.”

She asks what the topic was and my partner tells her. She reminds him that it was ten objects found in something like a cemetery, a mall etc., but it’s still a good topic for lists. She gives a small shake of her head though. It’s not directed AT me but it feels like it is. “Really? Only seven?”

She doesn’t know it but I’ve come a long way. A year ago my list of famous women would have been remarkably shorter. I only knew Tina Fey because I would stumble across her face on Saturday Night Live while trying to find the channel for MadTV. I don’t dare say that though. Instead, my response to my instructor (didn’t need a response, I realize later) is lame and I immediately regret it. “If he knew me better he wouldn’t have picked that topic,” followed by a nervous chuckle. I swear she gives me a look of pity.

This isn’t the first improv-induced revelation I’ve ever had; lately it’s been just one of many. The subject has dominated my thoughts lately. I have trouble passively enjoying something, when I get an interest in a topic my life gets filled up with whatever the topic might be. I read, listen, and watch it all the time. As comedy has always been a persistent part of my life, it seemed natural to bring improv into the fold. Improv is more approachable than stand up for me and I’ve given it a place for deep thinking and questioning.

It snuck up on me; the thought that I wanted to keep doing improv beyond the first class, maybe even aim to perform on stage. I went from just being concerned about getting on stage to worrying about the big picture. For one of the few times in my life I found myself thinking, ‘is there a point? How funny can I be? Women can’t be professionally funny, can they?’

Now I know several people who would slap me if I said that even jokingly, and here I was wondering if it was true. How could I, a woman, love comedy so much and think these things? After all, my female instructor is really funny, as is the former artistic director of the theatre. They were both on stage when I saw my first improv show and they were hilarious! Why would I think women couldn’t be funny or couldn’t be as funny as men?

Maybe, a part of me is just repeating the outdated line out of habit. That doesn’t make the line okay, but it would explain why I think it. The few (and it was only a few) female comedians I saw on the Just for Laughs showcases weren’t funny to me. I quickly developed a knee jerk reaction between women on stage and changing the channel.

Maybe it’s a matter of logistics. Let’s say you have 10 male comedians and 2 female comedians for a showcase. If the style of comedy I like is only performed by a small amount of comedians overall, it’s only logical that there would be more male comedians than female comedians that would catch my attention. There is a chance that neither of those comedians have that style. So, why only have two female comedians to begin with?

I had trouble naming ten famous women and I scramble to think of one female comedian I’ve seen on TV that mirrors what I think is funny. Funny to me is a comedian that plays with puns, tosses around words and ties your brain up in clever rope. Comedies like Are You Being Served?, Monty Python and Kids in the Hall sketches are great examples of this. I am learning through notes from my instructors that my improv style can often be a more logic-based wordy style. I have this style and I’m female, I can’t be the only one. Where are the female comedians that also have this style?

The question keeps appearing again and again, where are the female comedians? The female improvisers? I’ve asked male and female improv instructors I’ve encountered why so few women are present. They were all happy to talk about it and encouraged the discussion. Everyone had their pet theory. One theory was that there aren’t enough expert level female improvisers and when someone reaches that level it can be harder to keep them at the smaller theatres. Of the different theories people agreed on two points: women are as funny and as competent as men. A lack of female participation doesn’t start in those beginner classes, those seem to always be evenly split or with a female majority. Even in the higher-level classes there are plenty of women. On stage that isn’t the case.

Comedy is something I have never questioned until recently. I love it and because I love it I want it to get better and bigger. I want to be funny and I want to become the best improviser I can be. To become that I feel I need funny women to look up as well as the guys of my favourite comedy troupes. I intend to keep asking questions and wondering, just as I intend to keep improvising. So, here’s just one question:

Who is your favourite female comedian?

Kat in the Hall: 1×20

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Episode 20: Airdate: Tuesday May 15, 1990

The Sketches

That’s the full episode, the source I usually use didn’t have the last episode uploaded so I took matters into my own hands.

Recurring Characters

Thirty Helens!

Thirty Helens!

Nobody Likes Us Guys

Nobody Likes Us Guys

Buddy Cole

Buddy Cole

Nina Spudkneeyak

Review!

Warning: this review will have copious use of the “F-Word” so hide if that word bothers you. Or just read it anyway.

The episode starts as a good episode should, with a musical act done in bathrobes about a fat man across the road who sucks on his toes. With the scuzzy looking apartment (clean by this show’s standards) and the less than immaculate housecoats I’m guessing Mark and Kevin’s characters are slobbish jobless bachelors or perhaps older college students. How they could get anything done when they spend so much time watching the neighbours with their telescope? This makes the grime even more realistic. The sketch is over the top even before the first words are uttered, which bear the vaudeville undertones of a good double act. A double act that the Kids have mimicked and mocked before. The tune is simple but catchy and reeks of the kind of musical improv I’m learning about in my improv classes. Keep simple lines and repeat for maximum effect. I wonder how much of this is based on a couple lines that one of the guys might have come up with and then it spun off into a full length sketch. This piece also contains live material mixed in with the small piece of film material (of the fat man across the road). I know I sound like a broken record here but the show is beginning to take shape into what it will become in later seasons. The sketch ends with Mark playing with a fire extinguisher, he genuinely looks like he’s having fun and Kevin running around the table occasionally being sprayed by it.

That’s the cold open and now after the title sequence we move to a nice, clean cut home with two couples. One of the couples will be shown again and Randy and Stu played by Kevin and Bruce will become a couple played by Kevin and Dave. Mark’s character of Nina will show up many more times and has already been shown as the Joymakers lady who helps to plan parties. This time they are here to celebrate an anniversary and learn (through flashbacks) how Stu and Randy met. This sketch shows that you don’t need weird and wacky right away, you can build on a simple premise and just introduce a few wacky or slightly off-key elements. Maybe a couple really did meet at a pie-eating contest, it’s not that wacky, but meeting at a public hanging in the 90s in Canada is a bit over the top. Mark’s Gunther character reminds me of Darrill whether this is accidental or not. Mark seems to often play the “old country” characters as does Bruce. Scott also gets a good chance to stretch his legs as the low-key straight man.

Sidenote: If you watched the pilot you’ll recognize Dave’s character as the overly sensitive guy who couldn’t keep a girlfriend because of his constant crying.

The other aspect that is noteworthy is the abundance of necking (making out) in this sketch. There doesn’t seem to be any “fake” stage kissing and the Kids have mentioned in interviews that a guy kissing a guy, in drag or otherwise, didn’t bother any of them. That kind of confidence shows through here, after all its just acting, sometimes covered-in-blueberry-pie-filling acting but acting nonetheless.

The Helens are back and they are spouting true wisdom! There is definitely a time and a place to show photos of your kids, never to me and nowhere around me. Then again I say that but we all know people are polite and considerate creatures and they’ll still put up with me flashing pictures of my cat Pepsi at any given opportunity.

Maybe I should be less of a hypocrite.

Maybe I should be less of a hypocrite.

Next, Bruce delivers a monologue entitled “Bank People” on the DVDs and “Fuck the Bank” by fansites. I much prefer the latter, it highlights the rather punk rock attitude the entire thing embodies. Bruce plays a guy who works in a bank and clearly hates his job and the people he needs to deal with on a day to day basis. He mocks the guy whose signature is degrading, the people on welfare who hobble in to cash their cheques and the old women who depend on the bank’s services. Anyone who works in the service industry knows these kinds of people and knows people like Bruce’s character who work in the industry and shouldn’t. A job is a job though but working at a bank is as close to “working for the man” as you can get without actually becoming a police officer or an elected official. The whole thing is full of witty little lines (we expect that from Bruce) some musical interludes where I once again point out the lack of dance ability in the troupe, and a backdrop straight out of the 80s. I don’t remember any place having any drink, “bottomless” or not for 25 cents in the 90s.

brucefthebank

I like how this episode seems to drift back and forth between lower class, as low as the bachelors apartment in the first sketch to the low/middle class diner to more higher-end fancier backgrounds. Ok, the sketch with the “Nobody Likes Us” guys is set in the Keg (you can see the name of the restaurant in the door behind the woman’s shoulder) but it’s higher end-ish. In the “Nobody Likes Us” Guys are trying to impress with a double date that only has one lady to two guys. That lady is played by Deborah Theaker, an amazing Canadian actress who was not only a member of Second City in Toronto but also played Bruce and Mark’s parts with the Kids in the Hall while they were off galavanting with Saturday Night Live as writers. On IMDB one of the trivia facts mentions that during her time in Second City at one point the whole cast left her onstage alone and Scott Thompson stapled the curtains shut. This sketch is almost as frightening as the Guys perform bad magic and gross out the audience with a fake liver. I can only assume the fake liver is grape jello, just the right texture to wiggle and wobble while still being edible. I’ll admit that part of the sketch does squick me out a little bit. If my memory serves, this will be the last sketch with these two guys and what a way to go out.

Speaking of out, we move onto Buddy Cole and his sketch about being Canadian. Point me in the direction of another sketch that emphasizes how amazing Canadians are. Now point directly to a gay sketch about being Canadian.

“On my resume, my agent replaced the word gay with blond, and Canadian with outdoorsy. So I replaced outdoorsy with blousy. Which makes me a blousy blond.”

I’ll come right out and say it, I may have said it already, I’m not the biggest fan of Buddy Cole. I can appreciate why it’s funny and clever and why it was important to have a character like that. This sketch embodies all the good things and puts them together in a nice 4-minute package. Canadians need to be more proud about where they’re from instead of finding ways around admitting their Canadian. I’m sure there’s a lot more Scott Thompson truth in this Buddy sketch as well, Scott admitting the lack of good films shot or portrayed by Canadians, playing the best friend role and being mistaken as an American being like being mistaken as straight. The default shouldn’t be New York if you’re an entertainer and the default shouldn’t be straight. The way he ends the sketch with a little pout at camera after blowing his nose on a Canadian flag? Perfect. It’s just a piece of material people, not a magical blanket or anything.

Speaking of magical, that describes the transformation from Kevin McDonald to Buddy Holly or The Real Buddy Holly as some have dubbed the sketch.

See?

See?

While the swearing may or may not be entirely accurate, the basic facts of Buddy, Ritchie (played by Bellini) and the Big Bopper dying in a plane crash are true. There is even a theory that Buddy let his monkey fly the plane at one point. This hasn’t been proven of course, but it gives the sketch another level of something that lends itself well to comedy fodder. I know of the story, I know some of his work but largely what I know about Buddy Holly I know from sketches and stories and pop culture references. I will say Kevin does a fantastic job looking the part and a line uttered in this sketch is a very often quoted line from Season 1 of Kids in the Hall. “I’m fuckin’ Buddy Holly! That’s who I am!”

Helens again with more words of wisdom: Just like the Kids in the Hall, there’s no need to pick your favourite Helen. Do we really need a favourite Kid? (Yes.)

Now, here’s where things differ. Due to censors differences, let us say, if you had watched every episode of Kids in the Hall on Comedy Network or Comedy Central you probably wouldn’t have seen the last sketch of season 1 or a few other sketches sprinkled here and there in the five years the show was on. You also would have seen a few things in a different order. That’s why I go by the DVD release, just to establish a baseline. So some people may not be aware of this sketch at all unless you own the boxset. I happened upon it watching one of the live performances that had been posted to Youtube. They recreate this sketch for the stage, with a few differences in costume and who speaks which parts. The basic premise is the same. This sketch is Dr. Seuss Bible, where they retell the story of Jesus in a Dr. Seuss rhyming kind of way. Scott plays Jesus, Dave plays the storyteller, and Mark, Bruce and Kevin fill in all the other parts. Now this sketch was considered controversial to say the least just based on the subject material. The Kids do a good job trying to tone down that controversy, after all Scott plays Jesus straight and without any silly lines. They also decided to have him play the crucifixion straight and act like the nails actually hurt. In the live tour he goes over the top with how much they hurt but in the TV version he plays it painful but low-key.

Oh noes! Religious iconography!

Oh noes! Religious iconography!

In order to have a crucifixion, however, they needed to have a Seuss-style machine to do the crucifying. The creation of the crucifixion machine was the hardest part of this entire sketch. Bruce talks about in his book “Let’s Start a Riot” but essentially the people who made props for the CBC wouldn’t make the machine. To an atheist such as myself I don’t get what the big deal is but I suppose some could construe it as blasphemy. It had to be made by an outside crew and then brought into the CBC. Bruce would later take the prop home after the first season and leave it in the home of a woman he lived with. In all, the sketch is funny, clever with some great set design and creative ideas.

That’s season one. The show would technically be cancelled after that episode and then picked up again later on for season two. Season one took thirteen months to write and film so the Kids had to take a step back and reorganize to make another season that actually fit into a season length of television. We now know what the Kids are capable of and how their ideas and concepts can be brought to life on screen with some interesting direction. Most of the Kids were beginning to understand how cameras could be used to make things funnier and how they could play things up to them. There were still fights, disagreements and misunderstandings going on with the troupe but they settled things for filming. From here, we’re onto season two and the introduction of some of the most iconic characters.

If you have suggestions, ideas, concepts, things you’d like to see on this blog or just want to say how much you love Kids in the Hall, leave a comment! Also, I’ve been debating whether to move this to another blog all its own. Opinions?


tally120

Watch on youtube? Please purchase the box set when you are able. (amazon.com/amazon.ca/amazon.co.uk [NTSC])

Kat in the Hall: 2×01

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Episode 1 - The Hard Day

Episode 1 – The Hard Day

It took the Kids in the Hall thirteen months to write and record season one. It took two months for me to starting writing season two of Kat in the Hall after finishing season one. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get on with it!

Sorry, wrong show!

Sketches:
Spring (video includes the opening titles)
Comfortable
Trucker #2
Hard Day
Off Swingin’ aka (Bim Bam Baby)
The Doctor
Bobby and the Devil

Recurring Characters:
Nina Spudkneeyak, Bobby’s Parents, Bobby

Review:
Season two starts with a nice Scott monologue complete with edgy twist. The twist and a decent size pile of mannequins make this funny and all in 38 seconds. Spring is short and a little dark, just like the season. It’s an excellent cold open, drawing people in and giving them a taste of Kids in the Hall.

Taste of Kids in the Hall like this?

comfortable

In my review of the live show, months ago, I mentioned a sketch called Comfortable and the rendition done on stage differing here and there from the filmed version. The interview after the Nerdist version actually discusses how some sketches are succeed in one medium over the other. Namely, live lends itself to shenanigans. Such as that Scott trying his best to break every table that he had Kevin on. At least once he succeeded and when I saw them in Edmonton the table did jump towards the front of the stage. The filmed version setting doesn’t achieve the same level of raunchy hilarity that the stage version obtains. The director explicitly told Kevin and Scott not to draw too much attention away from Dave and Mark. That must have been really hard to do! The comedy comes with the nonchalant way Dave’s character is reacting to Scott’s character’s having sex with his wife. This is a great example of a sketch that even today gets big laughs perhaps because of how our view of sex changed from the ’90s.

The humor isn’t just the physical comedy though, it’s also in the word play and the way the characters treat each other. We can identify (to an extent!) with the way good friends act around each other that they wouldn’t do with acquaintances. They also may make lewder or less “PC” jokes. Dave’s joke of “the Salad Years” may be misconstrued as harsh but putting aside the fact that political correctness was not where it is now, Dave’s character was the guy in the coma! The glee when it says it is cute! Moral of this sketch is everyone is touchy about a different subject.

trucker2Mark is back in this little piece playing Bobby Terrence’s father at his trucking company. (We’ll see him again at the end of the episode talking about salt and flavour.) It’s a great little sketch and one that would work wonderfully in a variety show.It reminds me of the Parrot Sketch in parts because of the repetition and it being as memorable after you see it. It’s easy to learn and could be easily mimicked. Mark shows us that he truly has exceptional phone skills and gives me the impression that this was written by Bruce; I could be wrong.

Hard Day has all the elements for great comedy: bad Sci-Fi, models of planets, Kevin in a great costume and Dave wearing a bowtie. The fact that I believe Dave is an alien despite what he is wearing shows that a) I will believe things if you give me a reason to and b) I love Doctor Who.

Dave knew bowties were cool way before the Eleventh Doctor declared it.

The whole sketch starts with a discussion about tying bowties and Delfar 7’s (Dave) paranoia reaching a level where he believes he’s been compromised. I enjoy the fact that Scott has such a poorly tied neck tie and is so calm during the whole thing, it’s a nice contrast.

This contrast is replaced by Kevin’s snarky leader type of character and Kevin plays him very well. I wasn’t exactly sure if the character was supposed to be Dave’s boss or equal to him in status. Rewatching it, Kevin says he hired Dave but Dave definitely isn’t acting like an employee.

Costume and set are great, very typical sci-fi. The plastic sheets to replace paper is a bit much but it’s a nice choice to show they weren’t just going to call everything Space-thing. I imagine budget didn’t allow for futuristic computers and screens.

Off Swingin’ aka the Best Looking Man in the world is… well, watch it and see for yourself. On a commentary for the sketch someone mentions that the guy featured in that sketch really didn’t get work after it. It’s a great little sketch and one that is pure outlandish comedy that doesn’t need to say a word (other than the song) to get you laughing. Fair warning, the song is a horrible ear worm.

davedoctor This episode is chock full of monologues and one person pieces and Dave doesn’t disappoint. The doctor is one of my favourite pieces just because the entire thing is performed as though Dave could, at any moment, burst into laughter about the whole situation. It should also be noted that the blood on Dave’s face mask is on the wrong side. This is mentioned in a commentary and I will note it again. Maybe Dave is such a bad doctor that he gets blood on his side of the mask or it’s just an error. The sketch plays out like an improv piece, with someone suggesting “the worst doctor” as an occupation.

bobbyvdevilLast, but not least, we have Bobby and the Devil. This is the only Bruce sketch of the episode and Bobby Terrance pulls no punches! He may not want to take the garbage out but he can play the opening of Smoke on the Water with his eyes closed. The idea behind this piece is very simple and it’s explained in the sketch how it’s like David vs Goliath. It’s treated seriously but with a wink and a nod. Bobby clearly isn’t that good, it’s all in his head, but he commits to it and if there’s any doubt he doesn’t show it. Mark plays a great Devil and he’ll reprise that role later on and in the movie Brain Candy.

My first thought after seeing this was, this sketch reminds me of “Tribute” by Tenacious D who battles the Devil through rock.

However, that song came out in 2001 and this sketch came out in 1990 so I’m wondering if some inspiration leaked into band’s brains via Canadian comedy…

To sum it up, this is a great episode and a wonderful beginning to the second season. We’re seeing a little more maturity (in a format way) from all the guys and this can only get better as the season goes on.

tally201

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