The Comedy of Everyday Life

When a new play comes to town, you can bet that I will be there. I am the first to buy tickets. I am lucky enough to have grown up in Chicago, the home of Second City, the local bastion of improve and comedy. If Paul Dinello is on TV, I will stay home and indulge my passion for anything with him in it or about him. He is a master at his comedy craft. I have been out and about as of late attending some hilarious improv. One sketch practically had me on my knees with laughter. It was about two lamebrains who were pretending to buy a new toilet. This is a funny subject in itself no matter who is doing the lines. Improv draws from the humor of everyday life, and you can’t get more mundane than a toilet.

If I were to write a skit, it wouldn’t be about a toilet. Pee-pee caca humor is not my forte. I usually disdain the baseness of jokes, but the sketch I saw elevated this type of laughs to new heights. Some great talent can be seen in Chicago. Many have spawned successful careers here. I could go on and on raving about some comedians. When the humor is unique, you revel in the originality. These kinds of people are few and far between. You just look at some types and want to roar. Surely, good comedy is a gift from heaven.

You would expect a sketch on buying a toilet to rely on the silliness of bathroom habits. You know, men who don’t miss the floor and perpetually have to tidy up. With the new models, those with all kinds of bells and whistles, you can mock the self-cleaning function. I don’t mean automatic flushing after every use with disinfectant. I mean cleaning a certain exposed part of the body. The guys at the club the other night had be howling at this imagery. While not wanting to reveal the habits of the Japanese (who manufacturing toilets with the new technology), they did spend considerable time on their unusual hygiene. Then it was time for comparisons with Americans, mostly males.

When buying a new toilet, there are some pretty critical decisions to make. Do you want state-of-the art toilet like the ones on this web site with a built-in bidet and is immediate liquid wiping your cup of tea? What can’t you live without? Some haven’t heard about the new innovations and it is an eye opener when you see them in action. After the night at the comedy club, I went out to a home appliance store to witness the new gadgetry for myself. I pretended to be buying a new toilet for a home in the process of remodeling. The salesman was only too obliging. He found a replica of one of the best Japanese devices made in the U.S. When he started in on its beneficial features I broke into a laugh. I started remembering the sketch. You are going to have to imagine the lines. I will end this blog in good taste.

The Magic that is The Second City

The Second City is a comedy institution that started here in Chicago.It got its name from a New Yorker article about Chicago being wonderful and yet still inferior to that other famous city, New York. The Second City was founded by BerardSahlins, Howard Alk, and Paul Sills. Paul Sill’s mother, Viola Spolin, originated the basics of improv theater. The studio was created to teach her methods to others and provide audience members with a new theater going experience. Second City opened in December of 1959 and has been the longest ongoing improv theater since. It now has three training center locations: Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles along with comedy clubs and theaters.In Chicago alone, they have 7 theaters; there are two more in Los Angeles, and three in Toronto. Now adults and kids/teenagers can take comedy, acting, directing/producing, music, and writing classes or workshops either in person or online. The groundbreaking (and rulebreaking) methods cultivated at The Second City has changed the face of comedy as we know it. Some huge names have come out of The Second City. Just to give you an idea of the great comedians who have been associated with The Second City, here are a few names:

  • Dan Aykroyd
  • Tina Fey
  • Tim Meadows
  • Bill Murray
  • Keegan-Michael Key
  • Peter Boyle
  • Stephen Colbert
  • John Candy
  • James and John Belushi
  • Steve Carell
  • Amy Poehler
  • Amy Sedaris
  • and my favorite, Paul Dinello.

You can check out a full list (and you should, the list is amazing; just about anybody who has ever been any kind of a big deal in comedy is on there), here.

The troupe creates bonds between actors that has lasted long past their time at Second City. Take the original Ghostbustersfilms, for example. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis are all alums of The Second City. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler make a great comedy duo that have worked together on tv shows like Saturday Night Live, costarred in films like Baby Mama and Sisters, and cohosted the Golden Globes for several years. It also gave us the great team of Paul Dinello, Stephen Colbert, and Amy Sedaris—the great minds that brought us Exit 57 and Strangers With Candy. Stephen and Paul still work together on The Late Show!

I am very proud to live in the city where it all started. My friends and I try to go to shows whenever we can. You never know what is going to happen. I love that I could see an established alum perform at any given performance. I also have seen actors perform and then a few years later, catch them in a film or on a television show like Saturday Night Live. And the shows are always great if you need a laugh. If you are ever in Chicago, I highly recommend taking in one of their performances. If you aren’t lucky enough to live near a Second City, keep your eye out for their performing groups. They hit most major cities around the country!

Now I Have a Connection!

I adore improv comedy and live in an area where we have a number of successful comedy clubs. Sure, they compete for the best talent, but the rivalry keeps comedy alive. It generates more interest and therefore attendance. It is the same with fast food. You put a new one on a corner opposite a pre-existing brand, and all of a sudden more people appear at both locations. Loving Paul Dinello as I do, I am on board with anything that promotes comedy in our time.

Apart from opening my own club, which of course I can’t do, I can be a patron as often as I can. Some clubs have a volunteer program where you can take tickets or be an usher to get you free admission to the shows. When I do this, I have to try hard to balance my time as there is so much to see. I rank the new comedians and report to my friends who have the same interests. In fact, a friend of mine performs and likes to know what is going on about town. She is starting a new job at one of the more popular clubs and will be working nights. This is typical. Comedy appeals to the late-night crowd. They are not TV watchers or hangers on at local bars. They want to be amused and entertained. It fuels their existence.

I bought my friend a tactical flashlight as an aid to finding her car after the show is over. The light also provides a form of protection. Muggers I am told only like to work in the dark. The clubs are pretty safe overall and the audience fills the street, thus deterring thieves and marauders. I got a great, large LED model that I am sure she will love and won’t mind toting in her bag. She should never be without it. As a result of her connections, I expect to see a lot more comedy in coming weeks. Long live improv! I should get myself a flashlight, too, so I can light my way at night. If I want to stay after one of her shows, we can leave together or I will go first.

It doesn’t matter if the house has emptied and one of us may end up alone. She has to gather her things and say goodbye to the manager and crew, and so spends a bit of excess time. I want her to be safe and I crave the same feeling. A flashlight is a form of protection of sorts. I never want to have to resort to a real weapon although I suppose you could hit someone over the head with a heavy flashlight. But let’s not go there and spoil the ambiance of improv comedy. I only want it to be associated with fun. I have digressed for a moment but will return to my favorite subject in future blogs to keep the art form alive.

Binge Watching Party

If you have never been to a binge-watching party, you don’t know what you are missing. Of course, the subject of the binge has to be one of your obsessions like Paul Dinello is to me. Imagine inundated yourself with frame after frame of your favorite movie and scene after scene in glorious repetition. It is a crazy concept but loads of fun. Tonight I am hosting Strangers with Candy, aficionados welcome only. I am careful about my guest list and don’t want anyone mocking my taste.

The party will be one-dimensional in every sense of the word. What I will vary will be the snack menu. I usually have Chex mix, nuts, sweets, or ice cream. For something different, I am going to attempt the almost impossible—homemade bread. It is not an easy task, even with the best bread machine around. I will acquire this from my super talented mother who excels in the kitchen in a way that I do not. It has made more than a few fabulous steaming loaves. She has let me in on her secrets and has demonstrated the necessary skills to succeed. I want everyone to be full of accolades as they down the fresh pillowy bites. A little butter, a spoonful of jam and you have the makings of a masterful snack that everyone likes. I think people will say that it is the gesture that counts if they would prefer another option. I dare someone to avoid at least a smidgeon.

The bread is going to be basic white made with buttermilk and cream. If you let it rise properly and knead it to death, it is sure to come out quite fine. I think I am going to take a big step forward and provide the makings for sandwiches. There will be sliced cheese and deli meats and all the usual condiments: mayonnaise, catsup, and relish. I am going all out to provide a well-laden table that will beckon with its tantalizing smells. So as not to interrupt the movie, guests will have to make their sandwiches either before or shortly after. No talking during the film is allowed, and no clattering of utensils and plates.

Do you think making your own bread is too ambitious? Not when you want to wow a crowd! Making a cake from scratch is pretty mundane. Cookies are beyond boring. I have chosen to follow a more complex road, one that will bear fruit if I do my work right. I have to preheat the oven to the exact temperature so as not to under or overbake the bread. When it comes out of the oven, I hope people will be able to witness the marvel of the way it overtakes a room. What miracle ingredient is in it that makes it smell so divine. Binge night is sure to be one evening to remember. I may never do it again. You can do too much of a good thing.

The Strangers With Candy TV Show

 

After the end of Exit 57, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, and Paul Dinello started work on a new project for Comedy Central, Strangers With Candy. It was borne out of different ideas put forth by each of the three Second City alums. Amy Sedaris wanted to create a spoof on those bad after-school specials she had grown up with. Paul had been working on another project and had grown fascinated with government propaganda films from the 1960s, especially anti-drug campaigns. He met Florrie Fischer, who at the time was in her 50s. A recovering junkie and prostitute, she was a “motivational speaker” hired by schools to basically chain smoke and yell at students about her failures and prison time in an attempt to set them straight. Florrie reminded Paul of Amy, and the main character, Jerri Blank, was born. Stephen came up with the concept that every week, Jerri would learn the wrong lesson, solidifying the after school special parody idea.

When it first aired in 1999, Strangers With Candy was given the coveted time slot after South Park. It was the first live-action, scripted comedy series for Comedy Central. Despite being live-action, it was not filmed in front of a studio audience, something the trio had not done much of before. They felt shooting it in the single-camera style of typical after school specials would be a better format for the concept they were going for. The station often tried to get them to hire a head and staff writers, but the three ended up always rewriting everything. Instead, they wrote, acted, and edited each episode.

Paul’s character, Geoffrey Jellineck, is great to watch. He goes through a lot throughout the course of the three seasons of the series—following his dream of being a painter, getting run over and losing his face; being held in a women’s prison; a fake marriage; a homophobic bully; losing his advice column job; and most importantly, his poorly disguised affair with the married Chuck Noblet. However, throughout all of his trials and tribulations, Geoffrey never grows or evolve. He and the other characters on the showremain exactly as they were, unaffected by anything that happens to them over the course of the episode. Instead, just like every after-school special, the episode ends with a lesson (even if it is the wrong one) and is followed up with a cheerful dance party! Of course, the dance party never fails to crack me up and is Paul’s brainchild.

Here are some episodes where they really let Geoffrey Jellineck (and Paul) shine:

  • Season 1—Episode 3 (Dreams on the Rocks)
  • Season 2—Episode 13 (Yes, You Can’t), Episode 17 (To Love, Honor & Pretend)
  • Season 3—Episode 22 (Is Freedom Free?), Episode 27 (Ask Jerri), Episode 29 (Bully)

What’s your favorite Strangers With Candy episode?

A Birthday with a Twist

I love throwing parties and birthdays are the ideal event to celebrate as there are so many ways to do it. For my friends, we could have a Paul Dinello lovefest evening and run Strangers with Candy. However, it would not be something really new for my crowd. They expect something like this from me. The friend with the birthday is a fan like me, of course, but he also has other interest. In fact, we met while snorkeling at North Beach Avenue. Thus I decided to make snorkeling gear central to the party and to be its primary theme. That means decorating with sea life imagery. This will be fun. You can use your imagination to the max when you have so much to choose from. I can have face masks and tanks and fins mounted on the walls. A black wet suit will adorn the door, faceless and enigmatic.

I want great food for the party and some unusual games. Of course, there will be music of the moment. I plan to give a speech and recount how we met which will explain the theme to newcomers. I will be wearing my own snorkeling gear head to toe which should come as a surprise to the guests who enter the now strange abode. Fish with staring eyes will challenge people to a set-to while a lugubrious octopus plays footsies with the starfish. A slithering eel will encounter a sting ray while a shark will devour whatever is near. My snorkeling gear is pretty extensive so I will hopefully pull off a real coup here. People will be talking about the odd party for weeks but it is the perfect way to honor a special friend who finds snorkeling as satisfying as I do.

I dimmed the lights and had done some black lighting in strategic places. It was staggered here and there so that the room came off as a total manipulated undersea exotic environment. It took a lot of collecting and borrowing to get all the fish decorations. I literally took the shark off my uncle’s wall. He is a mighty sea hunter and fortunately had just the right trophy. It was a strange but captivating amalgam of images. The guests were flabbergasted and poured out raves. “Where on earth….” Seemed to be the comment of the evening. I got more than a few smiles when I explained my motivation. Most people celebrate birthdays with a decorated cake. This was a feast for the eyes and a real undersea extravaganza. Who goes to these lengths? You might guess that I did because of my special relationship with the birthday honoree. This accounts for a birthday with a twist.

I have been asked since to help others plan novelty parties but my talent stops here. Snorkeling was the ideal theme and not I care to replicate for anyone else. I did document it on Instagram and invited anyone who wanted to copy it to go for it.

Why I Created This Site

I wanted to put this out there right upfront so there is no confusion—I’m not Paul. That would be weird considering I write about him in the third person. I don’t actually know him either. We aren’t in contact with each other. If you want to reach him, I suspect you would have to contact his agent, which as far as I know is here:

Paul Dinello
c/o John Huddle @ United Talent Agency
9560 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90212

You may also be able to write to him care of The Late Show.

Months ago, I decided that I wanted to write a blog. but I knew I needed a direction to take it in, otherwise it would be a rambling mess that nobody would read. I wanted to do something about my town, Chicago. But there are probably a million blogs out there talking about the same thing. I talked to some friends and they suggested writing about my love of The Second City. However, there have been so many great actors and actresses that have come out of there that it seemed like all I would be doing is writing bio after star-studded bio. And The Second City’s website is pretty good, I don’t know what I could possibly add to it. Instead, I decided to try a different angle by pick a show that I knew and liked starring members of The Second City. I thought it would be better if I chose something that wasn’t so well known. As a fan of Strangers with Candy, my decision became clear. I wanted to write about either Amy, Paul, or Stephen.

If you type Stephen Colbert’s name into your google search bar and you get over 2 million results. That’s an awful lot, even if Stephen is a real funny guy. A lot of that has to do with his success with the Colbert Report and The Late Show. It is all well deserved. Coming in second place is Amy Sedaris. She has almost 500,000 results, which I think is pretty impressive. Paul—just as talented as a writer, actor, and director in my humble opinion–gets only around 88,000. That surprised me. I thought he deserved more. As I’ve gotten more into the minds behind Strangers With Candy(as well as Exit 57), I have discovered that a lot of the stuff that I liked so much were his ideas. It really got me thinking. I wanted to create a place on the internet for Paul’s fans to hang out and talk shop about him and his work. He doesn’t have an official page or a twitter account (what are you waiting for, Paul?) so there aren’t many places on the interwebs for us. That meant there was an opening, so to speak, and I thought I would take on the job.

Anyway, so that’s my goal here. Let me know if there is anything you would like to know about Paul or his work. Who knows, it might be my next post!

Scary Close Call!

Some of us have had close calls, and some are pretty harrowing, especially if you become injured. They remind you of your vulnerability and the need to learn self-defense. Most people take their safety for granted until they have something terrible happen like an attempted robbery. This happened to me and a few friends as we were walking home at night on an empty road from the comedy club to home. Not two days later, we all joined a self-protection class. This should not sound like a surprise. It is a natural reaction to want to do something to counter any onslaught to the self. In the class, they talked a lot about being in the wrong place at the wrong time and how to scare off offenders with an aggressive stance. They highlighted the role of confidence, the only way to intimidate someone larger than you. Of course, if you travel in packs, a robbery is less likely to happen and in our case we had begun to separate as we approached our individual homes. The mugger focused on the remaining lone person on the sidewalk. It was sheer terror.

I found the part of the course about getting stronger and more fit to be of vital importance. It really hit home as I consider myself weak, especially in the upper body. Crazy as this sounds, I bought a regulation punching bag that I installed in the basement for the purposes of a home workout. It is not just for fun although it can be. It is not just for good exercise although it can be. I am told that in no time flat, my arms will be more developed and powerful. It is not that I am going to punch an attacker, but that I will appear like a more formidable foe. It is your self-image that is projected in times of trouble and you want that image to be one of strength. You stand tall with legs planted firmly feet apart and you lift your head and chest as if to make yourself inches taller. The art of body language is that it can be learned and you can adopt any attitude you want if you know how to send the right signals. If approached by an attacker, you want to send out signals, not of vulnerability, but of strength. You may scream or yell to add to your aggressive posture. This has sent more than one mugger running in fear. When the attacker loses his advantage, his ploy falls apart. He senses that he is no longer the one in control. It is miraculous how you can do this.

The punching bag has been a godsend as I enjoy working out and see the results that I want right now. My friends come over to let out their aggressions, but it is more than that for me. It is my secret key to self-empowerment. I guarantee you the same results.

Great Moments from Exit 57

Exit 57 was a sketch comedy show that aired on Comedy Central from 1995-1996. It starred Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, Stephen Colbert, Jodi Lennon, and Mitch Rouse—all of which were Second City alum.

The opening of Exit 57 shows the cast stranded on the side of the road next to a broken down vehicle. They are picked up by a stranger passing by, who changes the radio station just as a news report of a serial killer begins. The driver begins taking Polaroids of his new passengers, who grow more and more uncomfortable. Suspicious, the cast demands to be let out of the car. At the end of the opening, the car is seen pulling off the highway at Exit 57—implied to be the fictional suburban town of Quad Cities.

I was a big fan of the show despite the fact that there are only 12 episodes. I think all twelve were pretty good. If you like sketch comedy (like Saturday Night Live, Kids in the Hall, SCTV, or MadTV), this show would have been right up your alley. It was nominated for 5 CableACE awards, too.

Here are just a few of my favorite moments from the show, along with the episodes they came from.

  • The first episode’s skit where Paul sings, My Wife Dumped Me for a Guy Named Jesus” after he is broken up with by his religious girlfriend Rita (played by Amy Sedaris) for the Lord Jesus. Every time I have to listen to super-Jesus fanatics, I think of this song. I can’t help myself.
  • Episode 5. I love the little stories about the different couples, especially the struggling Paul and Amy. I was also super excited to hear the line Stephen says—“I’m not pushing you away, I’m pulling me toward myself.” as a line delivered by Paul in Strangers With Candy. I also love the wild west skit where Amy has to read “The Three Bears” and “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
  • Episode 7. The skit with the terrible surgeons is really funny. They lose a patient who was also a doctor at the hospital where they work. I also love Stephen’s skit where he finds a sack full of money but can’t buy a fish from a stream or a song from a bird.
  • Episode 8 has a skit where Paul plays an obnoxious guy trying to start a fight with a guy playing pool while his girlfriend watches. It is hilarious.
  • One of my favorite skits of the entire series is in episode 10. The one where Stephen and Paul do their Calvin-Kleineque surrealist poetry.

Episodes of the show are very hard to find. I don’t think they are out on DVD so I don’t know if my list will be of much help other than to reminisce about this underappreciated show. If you are really looking for an Exit 57 fix, check out YouTube. That’s where I go.

Paul Dinello’s Bio

If you happened upon this blog by accident or are just hoping to learn a little more about Paul Dinello, I have compiled a little bio for you. Keep in mind that it is current as of the day I am posting it!

PaulDinello was born November 28th, 1962 in Oak Park, Illinois. He attended De Paul University in Chicago, where he learned about The Second City (a comedy club and improv school). He attended some improv classes and was quite impressive. He was asked to audition for the troupe and was hired alongside such impressive names as Chris Farley, Amy Sedaris, and Stephen Colbert.

In 1994, after eight years of touring company work for The Second City, Paul, Amy, Stephen and another member of the cast named Mitch Rouse moved to New York. They developed a TV show called Exit 57 for Comedy Central. Despite earning five CableACE award nominations, it was canceled after two years.

Paul worked on a few independent films after the show’s ending; Shock Asylum, Beyond the Door, and Wheels of Fury were all shown at festivals. They were well received and earned him various accolades.

But having worked with Comedy Central before was a significant advantage to the team of Paul, Amy, and Stephen. They created a new show for the station, Strangers With Candy, a sort of homage to the cheesy after-school specials they were subjected to in their youth. Paulwas one of the writers. He also played a character named Geoffrey Jellineck, a teacher who tries to act like the students and who carries on anot-so-secret relationship with Stephen Colbert’s character, Chuck Noblet. The show lasted three years on Comedy Central.

The three friends worked on other projects (he wrote a novel with Amy, Wigfield, and a traveling play based on the book) but came back to Strangers With Candy. The directors from the TV show were no longer available, so they decided that Paul should direct the movie. Despite financing and studio problems, they were able to get the film made and released, much to the joy of SWC fans. After going behind the camera to direct the SWCmovie, Paul found it hard to get back in front of the camera. He directed a few other films, notably Gym Teacher: The Movie, which starred his friend Amy Sedaris.

After Stephen Colbert left The Daily Showwith Jon Stewart to create his own fake news show, The Colbert Report for Comedy Central, Paul came on as a writer.He also played the occasionally reoccurring character, Tad the building manager. Tad was often scolded by Colbert and forced to perform dangerous activities. When David Letterman retired and Colbert was named his successor for The Late Show on CBS, Paul made the transition with him and has been a writer on the show ever since.