About Me

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Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Back in the New York Groove

I visited New York City for the first time in December 1980. Regular readers of this blog may remember the story. 

In the 31 years that followed, I have had the opportunity of returning to the Big Apple many times. Sometimes it's been for shows, sometimes for meetings, sometimes for romantic liaisons, sometimes for a short vacation, sometimes for long vacation and always, no matter what the real reason for the visit, it has always most definitely been for fun.

And NYC is very fun...especially when you don't actually live there.

The purpose of my my most recent pilgrimage to The City That Never Sleeps (I'm gonna run out of synonyms for New York City before this blog is done, I know it) was photography.

No. Not my photography, silly. Sure I planned to take a few snapshots here but, no, this trip was a photographic expedition for the wonderful love of my life and uber-talented photographer extraordinaire, who is known is this blog as IS.

I was along for the ride this time around: on hand to help lug equipment, provide psychological security (about the only kind I can provide, really) and get lost whenever I might start to get in the way.

It turned out to be the one of the best New York excursion in recent memory.

Here are some random highlights...or all the stuff I could come up with some good lines for...

April 13 

4:50 PM
Driving into Manhattan. Hey did you know that the George Washington bridge has an upper and lower level that take you onto different parts of the island? Did you also know that it's possible to miss both of them and get completely lost?

6:05 PM
While walking to shoot a fog-filled Central Park with IS,  I noticed these signs posted everywhere that said "Do no honk. $350 fine.". This is a new municipal initiative that earns the City of New York an estimated $29,516 every 12 minutes.

9:02 PM
Return to the hotel. The hotel has got really nice TV service: HD and tons of cable and movie channels to chose from. TV service rarely turns up in hotel reviews but it should.

Anyway, I turn right to Fox News. See, I only ever see Fox News in short out-of-context clips on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and every program on MSNBC. So whenever I'm in the US, I watch as much of it I can so that I can get a "fair and balanced" perspective.

When I was studying Communications as Concordia University, I took a couple of courses in propaganda. After 20 minutes, I came to the conclusion that the producers at Fox News must have taken the same classes.

April 14 

1:25 PM
Iron Man and Spider-Man were making a personal appearance together in Times Square. They had a staff of people stopping tourists from taking pictures that was roughly the size of the Roman Fifth Legion. See, the idea was that you had to pay to take pictures of or with the two hugely popular superheroes. Though, I'm not sure what kind of a profit margin Mr.Parker and Mr. Stark would have after paying the salaries of the aforementioned huge staff whose only job was to stop people from taking photos in the first place. Kind of a meta situation, really.

And while I'm over-thinking it, you know, I can see Pete needing the extra cash but this appearance had to be purely a 100% ego trip thing for Tony.

This they let me take a picture of.

3:15 PM
Went to the east side of Central Park to photograph the 107th Infantry Memorial. The 107th Infantry were from New York and fought in World War I. It's rare, for some reason,  that you see The Great War commemorated in the US. I try and document every one I stumble across.

There were a group of German tourists also enthusiastically taking pictures of the monument while I was there. Amazing what a difference 93 years and the completion of reparations payments can make, huh?

The artist was one of these guys.

Barry Julien holding unknown award.
5:45 PM 
 Remarkably, the very popular late night political/social satire show, The Colbert Report, has three ex-Montrealers on its writing staff. There's Eric Drysdale (who I don't know so well but have met a couple of times at Just For Laughs), there's former writer for The Onion, Dan Guterman who I know pretty well from back in his local stand-up comedy days and another guy I got to know almost as well during my comedy club appearances with The Vestibules and On The Spot Improv. He is the show's Emmy Award winning head writer,  Barry Julien. All three guys are very funny and totally deserve to be there.

Thanks to Barry, I got tickets to the April 14 taping of The Colbert Report.

It's actually quite a modest little studio.

I gave  myself more than enough time to take the subway from Columbus Circle (where I was doing some shopping at the time) to the 50th street station, near the Colbert studio in the Manhattan neighbourhood known as Clinton. However, I ran into my usual NYC subway mishap. I got on an express train by accident. No trip to New York would be complete without that particular public transit mix-up.

Fortunately, the express train only took me two stops too far. So I managed to get off and get back on the non-express train back in the other direction. That took me to the 50th St. subway, no problem. However, it left me with only 15 minutes to walk eight blocks and have dinner. I stopped at a corner grocery store and bought a ham sandwich. I rushed down to the studio while shoving the sandwich into my face.

Next time I should try eating it .

7:34 P.M
After an almost 90 minute wait, the taping is about to begin (being part of a live studio audience takes a lot of patience, in case you didn't know).

Before the live taping of each edition of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert comes out to do a Q&A  with the studio audience, "out of character". "Please tell me you know he's doing character.", says the warm-up comedian before introducing the show's host. It is a wry reminder of Mr. Colbert's notorious appearance at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in 2006  for then President Bush.

Mr. Colbert takes the stage to wild applause and cheers. He begins the Q&A.

Mr.Colbert is man after my own heart. To the best of my knowledge, he is the most smarty-pansted comedian working in TV today (just for the record, elementary school teasing aside, I consider the term "smarty-pantesed" to be a compliment). Mr.Cobert (and his writer's) humour is always very smart and very crafty. If The Daily Show (Colbert's sister political satire show) can be accused of occasionally leaning on Frat Boy type humour amidst its political comedy, then The Colbert Report can equally be accused of leaning on Chess Club humour in the same manner.

Stephen Colbert is also one of the few late comedy hosts that, like me, comes from a sketch and improv background (the sketch and improv part, that is, not the late night comedy host part) rather than a stand-up comedy one. While some of the very funniest people I know are stand-up comedians, stand-up is comedy discipline that has a very different vibe than sketch and improv comedy.  Sketch and improv comedy is closer to theatre than stand-up is (he said unbiasedly). That difference in approach makes for a unique and fresh TV host in the person of Stephen Colbert.

Back to the Q & A.

I'm dying to ask Mr. Colbert if his killer version of Rebbecca Black's otherwise forgettable pop song "Friday" will ever be available on iTunes.

Seriously. I'm dying to download it.

However, Mr.Colbert seems to favoring the ladies tonight so I don't get the chance to ask my question. During one of his answers to a question I don't recall, Mr.Colbert manages to somehow work in that the first Peter Jackson blog on the making of the upcoming Hobbit film was posted that day. He talks about how seeing the photos of the sets for the new Tolkien screen epic have made his day. Then I had a sudden revelation. Watching the The Colbert Report regularly, I pretty much could tell that Mr.Colbert was a geek. It's pretty obvious. However, watching him live at the taping, seeing everything he had done and talked about  up to that point, thinking about his "Tolkien Off" with James Franco the week before and watching him steer and unrelated conversation to The Hobbitt.  I come to the conclusion that the guy not just a geek but that he is a Major Geek.

We have more in common than I thought.

This is the second time I've been to a Colbert Report taping. The one thing that you never can see watching the show at home is how good Mr.Colbert is at connecting with the studio audience, talking to them, getting their energy up and generally working the room.  It makes a huge difference towards the live audience's energy in the studio and, ultimately, to the show that you see on the air each night.

8:07 PM
They have to stop tape for Mr.Colbert's third line flub of the night. He turns to the studio audience and says, "We'll just to pick that up again, fix it in post, and no one will ever know that I screwed up...as long as none of you blog about it.".


I'm amazed that the man can stumble in the middle of a show and still have an audience cheering and applauding for him. If ever you are watching The Colbert Report and you hear sudden huge laughs followed by an applause break in an unlikely place then there's a good chance that is where Mr.Colbert fumbled during the live taping. The studio audience is so supportive that they go nuts when Mr.Colbert finally gets the line right.It's an extraordinary thing to be able to have an audience that behind you, even when you're totally messing up.  Not an easy skill to acquire and it sure don't happen over night.

It reminds me of a story I once heard about Picasso. Pablo was on the beach one day and he was approached by this woman who was a huge admirer. She asked him to draw something for her. He took out a piece of paper, did a quick drawing and handed it to her. The woman said, "But it only took you five minutes to do this".  Picasso replied "No, my dear, it took me my whole life to do that."  Same deal with Colbert and his ability to keep an audience totally behind him, no matter what: he's been working at his whole life.

By the way, Mr. Colbert, feel free to quote me on the part where I favourably compare you to Pablo Picasso.

Mr. Colbert would probably be the first to point out that Yoda is a Tolkien ripp-off

8:39 PM
I start walking back to the hotel after the taping. It's  pretty much on the other side of midtown Manhattan. During the walk, I notice that there seem to be way less stores that sell CD's, DVD's, Blu-Ray's and books around town.

Must be a lot of early technology adapters living in the city.

April 15

6:02 AM 
Head out to the Brooklyn Bridge for a sunrise shoot with IS. Walking to the 59th street subway, I come to the conclusion that the homeless people in Manhattan are like moose when you're camping: you only see them in the very early quiet hours of the morning.

3:43 PM
Visit the house in Greenwich Village that stood in for Carrie Bradshaw's impossibly inexpensive upper west side apartment building in Sex and The City.  It is in a very nice location on a picturesque quiet street. It  also seems to have a ton of people showing up to photograph it at any given time of the day. The day I was there, I was the oldest and most male person among them. 

Note the "No Trespassing" sign. I wonder if they get a lot of visitors?

The Jedi shtick never really worked in these shots.

6:06 PM 
6 degrees Celsius, 20th floor rooftop terrace bar. Ideal location for late afternoon drinks, isn't it?

It is also the best vantage point for IS to get some outstanding Empire State Building shots.  The terrace we were on had a bunch of outdoor space heaters (I can hear my dad on that one now, "What are you? Trying to heat all of New York City?").  They didn't really keep us warm enough. In a back-up effort to keep all of the clientele warm, there were these hooded fleece robes that you could put on over your clothes.

With all of the Friday Happy Hour businessmen wearing the robes over their shirts and ties, I couldn't help but think that we had stumbled into some kind of Hogwart's Reunion.

11:37 PM
While watching Fox news back at the hotel, I caught myself thinking "You know Bill O'Reilly is actually pretty reasonable". I knew then it was time to start watching something else. I flipped over to Sy-Fy. They were running a marathon of the original V miniseries. I realize that I had forgotten how good the original was and how less good the remake was. I made a mental note to seek out the miniseries' again. Coming soon to a blog near you....

April 16

7:08 AM
After seeing it on TV and in movies for years, I finally finally got a chance to go running in Central Park. I was on the lookout for Nazi war criminal dentists for the rest of the day.

11: 37 AM 
58th st. and 5th ave: I am the only person in a huge throng of people that recognizes Peter Jacobson. Woah. I thought New Yorkers were supposed to be hip.

Coming soon to a Geek Night near you.
1:17 PM
No trip to NYC would be complete without a visit to the one of the city's largest electronic stores, J&R Electronics in lower Manhattan. While there, I stumble across the DVD of the 1945 movie serial The Royal Mounted Rides Again. I had previously believed the serial to be unavailable. Not to mention the super bonus score, that it was on sale too. I have now have the complete set of every Mountie adventure movie serial ever made.

I resolve to finally move ahead with long planned live Mountie Action Adventure Cliffhanger improv show.

2:54 PM
IS and I have our only Classic New York Moment this trip.  The NY subway Saturday schedule had been changed on account of construction and maintenance work. Long story short: some trains aren't running at all while others are running as express trains only that will take you about 2-3 boroughs away from where you want to go. It's all very confusing for us non-New Yorkers.

You can just make out "upstairs" in the 14th street subway station.

After we've been staring at an NY transit map for a particularly long time in the middle of the 14th Street Subway Station, an NY MTA employee walks by us.

The conversation goes like this:

MTA Guy:  Lost?
TB & IS:  Yeah.
MTA Guy:  Go upstairs (indicating to a subway platform above us).
IS: Can we get the A train up there?
MTA Guy:  Go upstairs.
IS:  Is it the express train or the-
MTA:  Go upstairs.
IS:  Will it take us to-
MTA Guy:  Go upstairs.
IS:  Yeah, okay, but I just want to know if-
MTA Guy:  Hey, did you hear what I just said? Go upstairs.
IS:  But-
MTA Guy:  Go upstairs.
TB:  What if we went upstairs? Would that help?

The MTA Guy glares at us as we go upstairs.

That, for me, is the quintessential New Yorker stereotype; they are nice enough to take the time out to stop to and help you out but they will do so with as much of a dick about it as possible.

For the record, the train we wanted was, in fact, upstairs.

9:30 PM
A torrential rainstorm and record high 40 MPH winds in midtown Manhattan make for an interesting 11th Anniversary night on the town for IS and I.

April 17

8:17 AM
Sitting in the Starbucks at 55th and Lexington. As I type away at my laptop, I realize that I will never finish this blog before I leave. In fact, I'm now writing this two days after I got back home and I'm still not finished.

I've come to the conclusion that blogging and short fun filled trips to NYC don't mix.

All times referenced in this blog are approximate and, more than likely, completely made up.

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