Friday, April 24, 2009

The State of Autograph Seeking

In the spirit of the recent DVD announcement, I thought I would share some experiences I had personally with each of the members of the mid-90's MTV comedy group, The State. My friend Jay gave me a copy of the groups book "State by State with the State," when we graduated college.

Late Late Show, Michael Ian Black's guest hosting - Various days in September 2006
  • Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino, Kerry Kinney, Thomas Lennon
The idea of autographs first popped into my head during the Late Late Show host audition process. Craig Kilborn had abruptly left and the vacant job would be decided after a series of test runs. When I found out one of the auditioners was Michael Ian Black, I knew I had to try and get him to sign the book. He did well in his first try and got invited back for the final process, in which four candidates did an entire week of shows. Thomas Lennon and Kerry Kinney came in to bits on the show, acting as fake experts in their fields. I believe Lennon brought out a kitten, or a similar animal but would only identify it as a tiger, or something it clearly wasn't. Kerry Kinney told me how people in Reno wrote nasty letters to the Reno 911 offices, saying they were upset it wasn't actually filmed in their city. The people knew it wasn't because of the palm trees that appeared in many shots, and there were no such trees in real Reno.

Ken Marino was on the production guest list, but just to visit and hang out in the green room. He was very outgoing and excited to be there. There was an X-Box and Playstation 2 in the green room, but he was one of the only ones to ever play it, even challenging me to Tiger Woods golf. When he saw I was in possession of the book, he offered to sign it before I could even ask. Then he sat down and re-read it, saying "I haven't seen a copy of this in years." Michael Ian Black was very busy doing work for the show, but right at that moment he came into the green room and Ken showed him the book. Michael said "I suppose you want me to sign it too," while looking just as shocked as Ken to see an actual copy of the book.

I had only thought I would get Michael Ian Black this week, but with four members of the group, my new goal was to get all ten who helped write the book (the eleventh member, Tood Holoubek left the group before the book was made).

Reno 911! Miami Movie Premiere, Mann's Chinese Theater - February 15, 2007
  • Joe Lo Truglio, Michael Patrick Jann, Robert Ben Garrant
Through a website that gave away tickets to advanced movie screenings, somehow I landed two tickets to the Hollywood Premiere of the Reno 911 movie. I thought it would be just another screening, but when the tickets printed out, they said Mann's Chinese Theater. After working in the promo screening business I knew people normally showed up early, and since this was special, I left work at 3:00 to get in line, State book in tow.

The line for the regular people was across the street from the theater, while the bigger names got to walk the red carpet. When they had all gone in, we were shuffled in through a security check point and then in a small side door. After that, we were on our own. Sure, our seats were assigned, but there were celebrities in the lobby, at the concession stands and in the theater. People were everywhere to the point where it probably deserves a separate blog entry, but as I was getting popcorn, I saw Joe Lo Truglio and Ken Marino walk in with their dates.

I didn't waste any time, walking right up to Lo Truglio and asking if he'd sign the book. He graciously did, but afterwards Ken Marino had a look on his face that said "what about me?" Sensing this, I opened to the front inside cover and said "Look, Ken, you already signed for me!" He noted this and said, "That's okay, I'll initial and date it to prove you met me again." In the midst of this, Michael Patrick Jann walked in, and while he was exchanging pleasantries with Lo Truglio and Marino I was able to get him to sign the book as well.

Right before the movie was to start, all of the Reno cast members were going to come in and do a speech. My seat was far enough back that I could see Robert Ben Garant waiting to walk in. I snuck by their security saying I had to go to the bathroom and handed him the book. This ambush led to one of the most regular notes any of the members wrote, "Nice to meet ya." Most of the others either just signed their name or wrote something funny, but catching Garant off guard may have startled him.

My autograph total now stood at seven. Three to go.

Wet Hot American Summer screening, NuArt Cinema - July 28, 2007

  • David Wain

The night of my ex-roommates birthday I saw there was a Wet Hot American Summer midnight screening at the NuArt Cinema. It was taking place a week before the release of David Wain's new movie, The Ten, hit theaters. The web site for the theater advertised Wain would be appearing, along with other special guests, so we had to go.

While waiting in line with several friends, Ken Marino walked out of the theater with flyers for The Ten. He stopped and talked to everyone in line, telling them to go see the movie. Though we were not allowed to go in the theater yet, Lindy and I went into the lobby to "use the bathroom," where we saw Marino standing with David Wain and Peter Salett (guitar dude from the movie).

Lindy was very excited because David Wain is from Shaker Heights, Ohio, just like her. When we walked up to him, she mentioned that and the fact that his father did the voice over work for her fathers radio ads when he ran for judge. David Wain did not really know what to say to this, but clearly was not as excited as she was. Nonetheless, he signed the book, took a picture with us. Marino sort of remembered the book by this point, and decided to initial it a second time, bringing his total to three.

Right as we took the picture, Marino let out a huge, raspy laugh, causing Lindy to crack up.

Wain complimented my shirt, which said "Rodeph Sholom Day Camp." I never went to this camp. I got the shirt at a thrift store years ago and decided it would be good for the screening.

Eight down, two to go.

The State Reunion Show, UCB Theater Los Angeles, March 19, 2008

  • Kevin Allison, Todd Holoubeck
By the time I heard about the State reunion show at UCB West, it was already sold out. Truth is, that theater is so small, there would be no way to get tickets unless you knew someone on the inside, especially for an event like this. I heard through the grapevine that there would be a small number of stand by tickets available. The two shows were at 8:00 and 10:00. I got to the line at 3:30 in the afternoon, and there were five people in front of me.

I met a girl named Sara and her friend while waiting in line. Sara had flown in from Chicago. They were huge fans and we had some good conversation while waiting for them to let people in. When the ticketed people began showing up for the 8:00 show, things looked grim. There was not room for a single person in the stand by line, so we would be outside in the rainy weather for another two hours. We did see several known comedians and "Weird Al" Yankovic go in to the show, which was pretty awesome.

When the crowd exited the first show, everyone loved it. The ticketed people for the second show began to go in. At that point, the stand by line went all the way around the corner. One guy tried to draw his own hand stamp on and got past the door man, causing the stand by line to go ballistic. All of us had seen him do this and knew he could be taking our seat away.

In the end, the first ten or fifteen people got in to the show, and it was great. The whole group, aside from Showalter and Black were there, but they sent in a video skit to play. Since we were in the later show, there was no rush to leave afterwards. We stayed in our seats and the cast began to hang out on stage drinking some beers. I casually walked up on to the stage and chatted with a few of the cast members before making a direct path to Kevin Allison. I told him about my quest and he said he would gladly sign. He had been especially difficult to get because he rarely leaves New York. Todd Holoubek even signed it, even though he had nothing to do with the book. Before I left, I went up to Ken Marino one last time. He initialed and dated the book for a third time.

Stella Live, Comedy Connection Boston, December 11, 2008
  • Michael Showalter
This was it, the white whale. It had been 9 months since my last autograph and I was losing hope. Days and weeks before the show, random facebook photos had been popping up for other stops on the tour which showed the three guys signing autographs. I knew I had to bring the book.

At this point in the history of my book, everyone had signed one page, making it kind of cluttered. The page opposite it was completely blank, so I would tell Michael to sign there, rather than squeeze in somewhere else.

The minute the show ended, I jetted out to the autograph table and was the first one in line. People began to line up behind me as we waited for the guys to push through the crowd. They sat down and I walked right up to Showalter and said "You're the last one I need," and told him he could have the entire page. He drew a large picture on it and wrote "From Mike S."

So there it is, in all it's glory. My quest was complete, three years after it began. I would have never been able to do this without living in L.A. and having some of the jobs that I did out there. Maybe my new quest will be to get them all to autograph the DVD when it comes on July 14th.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Putting Her Best Foot Forward

When you’re dating someone long distance every aspect of the relationship gets put into a time warp. Sometimes the only times you’re able to see each other can overlap with other events. Since seeing the other person is already so rare, you’ll take what you can get. I guess that’s how Lindy ended up meeting my parents after only having been dating for five months. Even as I say we had been dating for five months, I have to clarify that during that time we had only been together about five or six times. The whole first year was a whirlwind.

I had already been planning to come home for Rosh Hashanah and I invited her to come home with me. The logic behind it was that a trip from Chicago to Connecticut would be a lot cheaper than going to Los Angeles.

The visit went fine. Everyone loved her. On our last night there, the conversation somehow moved to my high school art projects. I started talking about a couple of them and Lindy wanted to see. My mom told us they were stored up in the attic.

Lindy had been in attics before, but only ones that were furnished. My parent’s attic was far from furnished. It was a glorified storage space, a museum of childhood relics and old clothes. It was arranged so there is a small pathway around perimeter of the floor, with all of the stored items in the center. To get to my artwork, we had to walk the entire pathway to the furthest corner.

Among my work was my six foot Pez dispenser, some paintings and the main portfolio, which was what we were searching for. I showed Lindy a few items, stopping to remember and retell the stories behind them. I turned back to further rummage through the portfolio for one specific painting. After finding it, I turned around and Lindy was gone. I looked left and right, but didn't see her until I looked down.

There she was, sitting down with her left leg stuck through the attic floor. I hadn't noticed whatsoever because she did not make a sound. Even when I grabbed her and pulled her back up to a standing position, she was still in a silent shock. There was a foot wide hole in the floor and we could now peer into my sisters bedroom.

After making sure she was okay, I whispered in her ear "someday, people will tell this story at our wedding," as I laughed outloud. I then turned towards the staircaise and yelled "Daaaaaad!" while still hugging her, unintentionally screaming in her ear. My dad ran upstairs and yelled out as soon as he stepped into my sisters room.Everyone's initial reaction was to find out if she was okay, which she was. One step further to the left and she would have gone through completely, most likely dislodging my sisters ceiling fan and landing on her bed. The events of that night led to Lindy's mom and my mom speaking on the phone for the first time. Lindy's mom offered to pay for the damages, but my mom wouldn't let her because it was just a simple accident.

Once things calmed down, we watched Glory Road, but I don't remember anything about the movie. Everyone was too busy making comments about the hole, and Lindy was a tremendous sport about the whole thing.

"Nice of you to drop in," said my sister.

"That's putting your best foot forward," said my father.

"You really made an impact," said my mother.

Looking from the attic to Lindy and my sister, in her bedroom.

The full view under a ladder.

My dad ended up temporarily patching the hole using a piece of wire tied to a ruler. He thread the ruler and then pulled the wire to close the two pieces of sheetrock that were sticking down into the room. After shaking all the dust from my sisters comforter, it was good as new. You can see the handywork in the following photo:
Today is the three year anniversary of when we realized that this whole thing was just crazy enough to work. Sure it was long distance for over two years, but now we're living together. The waiting excruciating but it was also worth it and I could not love her more. If you have doubts about long distance relationships, please know that it can work.

Just stay out of the attic.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Few More Eggs

Growing up, Passover was always about time with family and food. There were so many great things that we only had once a year, but there were also times when we didn't look forward to it. When I was 3 and my sister was 5, we didn't care for any of the breakfast options provided for us. My Mom tried to create breakfast foods for my sister and I - eggs, Matza Brei , cream cheese on Matza - we wouldn't eat anything. We were used to having cereal every day, or occasionally waffles, pancakes or eggs. How were we supposed to last a whole week without our precious breakfast treats.

This was back before the days of boxed cake mix being plentiful. The cereal options were disgusting and we were finicky matzoh-ed out children. My mom was able to get past all this and figure out a solution. She took my Grandma Betty's beautiful sponge cake, sliced it up and soaked it in egg and turned them into Passover french toast.

What you have to understand about this recipe is that like many items cooked over the week, it already contained twelve eggs. The idea of soaking the cake in more eggs and frying it was delicious, but hardly the healthiest idea. That didn't matter at the time - we were kids and we weren't eating anything, so she did what she had to do. In less than a week the entire cake was gone and everything was fine.

Until my Mom casually mentioned to Grandma what she had done.

"You did WHAT?"

Grandma was not happy that her precious sponge cake had been defiled, no matter how ingenious the idea was. She was shocked that it was used to "make breakfast". These were famous cakes that were baked in mass. My father, aunt and uncle used to come home from school to find dozens of them laid out on their beds. In the end Grandma Betty got over it, probably because my Mom was able to recreate the cake so well on her own. She continued to make the cake for us each year, and we loved it in it's original form as well. To this day my mother makes the cake using Grandma Betty's recipe and her cake pan.

Friday, April 3, 2009

How Many Times Can I Use the Word Balls?

Freshman year in college by its nature is a time where you do a lot of stupid things. My freshman experience was no exception to the rule. I lived in a suite with four other guys. I shared a double with Dave, the other double was occupied by Rob and Chris, and in the rare freshman single was Josh.

One afternoon I was up in my room and got a phone call from Josh. I was still a year away from owning a cell phone, so it was on our dorm land line. He said he needed help with a couple of packages he received today. In college it's a great feeling to open your mailbox and have a package slip inside. It's a feeling of knowing someone cares about you enough to send something big. This happened so infrequently that it was always a big deal when you got one. I didn't think anything of it because his birthday was that coming weekend, but when I got down to the mail room, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

Ball pit balls, as it turns out, is the official name for them, and we had five full boxes. (This picture is a little inaccurate as his came in groups of 50, but it's the best I could find.) That's two-hundred and fifty little plastic balls of various colors.

When we got to the common area of our suite, we opened all five boxes at once and poured them amidst our living room. Our hopes of a thick sea of plastic balls, a la a McDonalds Play Place were quickly dashed. Our college-issued couch had large wooden sides that went from the arm rest to the ground, leaving a big gap underneath. Many of the balls rolled free and resided below it, making it hard to retrieve them. The dream of being able to hide or sit in amongst the balls was nothing like the reality, a sparsely covered linoleum floor.

The two lounge chairs provided to were one cushion replicas of the couch. By angling two of them agains the wall and having their armrests come to a point, we were able to create an isolated triangle to store the balls. The main problem with this was that it was entirely too small for any college aged male to fit in, except maybe Chris.

For the most part the balls were just in random places in the living room, but playing with them lost its luster very fast. This soon resulted in us throwing the balls as hard as they could at each other, which resulted in us all having welts. Random people from our hallway would come into the room only to turn right around, fleeing from the assault of plastic balls whizzing at them. The balls didn't look like they'd hurt, but we all had marks to prove that they did.

Little by little the total began to diminish. Some were bitten into because they "looked delicious". Others were stabbed with forks or popped in other ways. By the end of the semester nearly all of the balls were gone except for one of each color that I hid away in my room. I actually found one of each color tucked away in my old bedroom at my parents house last time I was home for a visit. They're still fun to have around, even not in mass quantity.