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All posts for the month August, 2013

Preeeeeeeee-senting: quick reactions to controversies and whatnots that have been plaguing the interwebs as of late that I can’t be bothered to write a full post about. Fun times!

Miley something something

So people seem to still be talking about Miley Cyrus at the VMAs. Did she cross a line? Are people slut-shaming needlessly? Is it important that I care? I suggest that it is not.

This is the only opinion I’ve been able to form about this so-called controversy: I cannot think of the last time I’ve seen someone try that hard to be sexy yet fail in so many ways. That haircut was questionable. The bikini was unflattering. And the tongue? I don’t know what that was supposed to be but it did nothing for me.

Should a pop star be allowed to act sexy if she wants, even if that means showing skin on television? Sure. I want to live in a world where that’s not an issue worth talking about. But man. That whole routine was just… unpleasant. But as long as she’s happy.

Blurred Lines

While on the subject of the VMAs… I like Blurred Lines a bit. As a song, it’s adequately catchy. I had it stuck in my head for the entirety of a 13 hour meeting on budget for my theatre company and never really minded. But I will admit: I enjoy the video for Blurred Lines for the exact reason my feminist friends dislike it. Emily Ratajkowski is crazy hot and nearly naked in it.

Does that harm women’s issues? I probably shouldn’t even begin to guess. This topic gets me in trouble. Eventually someone says “male gaze” and I ask “What exactly does that mean, and what is the endgame to making an issue out of it?” and I probably say “Straight men enjoy looking an pretty girls and asking that to not be true is irrational” and then I get yelled at a lot.

Although, on the other hand, I think Robin Thicke abandoned his right to claim the song is in any way empowering to lady folk after he added the lyric “You the hottest bitch in this place.” Pretty much sunk that argument.

I’ve probably said too much already. But as long as I’m in trouble…

12th Doctor

I finally understood why I didn’t get the controversy over Peter Capaldi being cast as the 12th Doctor instead of someone less white or not male. First off, I’d have been fine with a non-white Doctor or a female Doctor, as long as they could be the Doctor. The qualities I’m looking for, cleverness, the ability to inspire, to thrill, to be a force of nature onto themselves… none of these are connected to skin tone or gender. I’m also 100% fine with the rumours that they may be considering a black guy for the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movie. As long as the character is being done well, I don’t care if they cast someone who isn’t white.

Where I failed was in understanding why someone else might.

Value comes from scarcity. We based economies on gold instead of granite because gold was harder to come by. If you dress up fancy every once in a while it has more impact than if you do it all the time. And that’s why I didn’t immediately lock onto “women and people of different skin tones would like to see more heroes who look like them, and maybe the Doctor could have been one for a change.” Because 95% of heroes, super or otherwise, are white dudes, and I attach no value to that. I don’t think “Hey, the Doctor is Scottish! I’m half-Scottish!”

But I do get it now. People around the world are becoming ready to see the day saved by people other than the League of Extraordinary White Guys. I’m fine with that. Maybe other people (the ones raising hell over a black Johnny Storm, for example) should learn to be okay with that as well.

As for “But he’s old!” well, that’s ageism pure and simple. And as a reminder, it was only four years ago that people were complaining that Matt Smith was too young, and he sure shut us up. I have faith Peter Capaldi will do the same.

Also, Chiwetel Ejiofor turned the role down, so it’s not like they’ve never tried. He’d have been great, though. Pity.

Agree, disagree, think I should shut up and stick to talking about travel and Batman? All valid choices, man. All valid choices.

I was going to do an in-depth examination of the joys of being ill this weekend (probably food poisoning, could have been a stomach bug) but it’s now occurring to me that illness is one of those things that’s of profound interest to the person going through it, but nearly impossible to make interesting to other people. Like pain or dreams. There’s only so many times and ways you can say “It hurts, it hurts so bad” before the person you’re talking to can only roll their eyes and reply “Yes, you mentioned that.” Or so I’ve gleaned from paramedics. Not this weekend, that was another thing, and… yeah. Anyway.

So instead, let me tell you about Jam by Yahtzee Crowshaw, because telling people about it one by one is getting tiring.

Jammy Doom

The second novel from Yahtzee, best known for his Zero Punctuation game reviews, is best summarized by its opening sentence: “I woke up one morning to find that the city had been covered by a three-foot layer of man-eating jam.”

Strawberry, to be precise.

Set in Yahtzee’s current hometown of Brisbane, Australia, the novel finds several people trying to stay alive in the middle of what’s known as a “grey goo” apocalypse: an end-of-world scenario in which, in the example it’s named for, tiny nanobots are released that break down everything they encounter into more nano-bots, and the world is reduced to a sea of grey nano-bot goo. In this case, it’s a sea of what certainly appears to be strawberry jam, save for the way it instantly consumes any and all organic material it encounters and its ability to extend tendrils in order to snag any such material that’s just out of reach.

Our protagonist and narrator is the meek, timid and easily persuaded Travis. Travis joins with his roommate Tim and neighbours Angela and Don to try and find a way to avoid starvation and jammy death. (Not gonna lie, half the fun of writing this is using phrases like “jammy death.” “Jammy” is a fun adjective and I’m not sorry.) And in this cast, we begin to see the satire that fuels this engaging, thrilling, and frequently amusing apocalypse.

Tropes vs. Yahtzee

Yahtzee’s been reviewing video games and dwelling on the internet for years, and there are clearly some character archetypes he is out to take the piss out of. And he does it majestically. Tim is the guy who’s a little too excited to see society end so he can build a new one from its ashes. Or jammy residue, as the case may be. Don is his opposite number, driven to extreme lengths to find and protect the video game he’s been designing, because he refuses to accept that the world as he knew it may be gone. Angela is the would-be journalist, out to prove that someone caused all this, even if there’s no one left to prove it to. And none of these tropes are as hard-hit as those of X and Y, the American military personnel who seem to know more than they let on about the jam.

That’s downplaying it. I’d guess that of all the end-of-world, sinister-conspiracy cliches Yahtzee’s been encountering over the years, the one he’s the most sick of is the people pretending not to know anything even though every single thing they do is screaming out “They’re behind this, they know all!” And that is cranked up to maximum with X (called that because she won’t even reveal her name, yet insists she’s trustworthy). Every step she takes, every conversation she has cries out to everyone around her that she knows what the jam is, and where it came from, but each time she’s confronted, she lapses into the same, unconvincing press-agent routine denying any special knowledge. Which causes entertaining friction with truth-seeking Angela.

And yet more than tropes

But what makes this a great read is that, while mocking their tropes, Yahtzee still makes everyone a real character. There are real human motivations at their cores, even X. It keeps their struggles entertaining, keeps you rooting for them to stay alive, when they could have just become parodies we’re waiting to see die in the jammy depths.

On the other hand, we have the plastic people. A religious cult based out of a mall that worship “Crazy Bob” and sacrifice people to the jam for failing him. But it’s okay, because they’re doing it ironically.

Tropes get satirized in this book, but the notion of “doing it ironically” really takes it in the shorts. Yahtzee holds this concept down and beats it until his knuckles break. X and Y are set up to be the least trustworthy characters in the book, and they still look like saints next to Lord Awesomo of the plastic people. But I suspect they’re meant to, because he’s one of the book’s real villains.

Wrap it up

It’s a fun, engaging book. It takes a silly situation (JAMMY DOOM), treats it seriously (millions have died and the survivors’ chances are bleak), but saves room for satire. You should get yourself a copy (Amazon appears to be stocked) so that we can actually discuss it rather than me just saying “Hey! You there! Read Jam!”

That had to be more entertaining than hearing me describe why I know it was illness and not a hangover, no matter what my mother first assumed. Right?

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I nerd wrong. I just… I don’t nerd-rage over casting in movies the way the rest of the Internet seems to. But given that I refuse to buy into the notion of “true geeks,” the idea that being a geek is something that must be earned (see the ridiculous. hateful, “fake geek girls” outrage that I really wish would die in a fire very soon), I’m going to assume I am nerding just fine, and that this is an entirely valid thing to say:

I have no quarrel with Ben Affleck playing Batman.

I shall now share some thoughts that the Internet thinks I’m wrong about. Perhaps I can convince some of you that I am not.

1. I actually quite liked Man of Steel.

I saw Man of Steel opening weekend. I was a little worried that this was going to be another Green Lantern, which I found perfectly enjoyable, but only because I love all things Green Lantern enough that I could ignore flaws others could not. But not so this time. I thought Man of Steel was great. The people I was with enjoyed it as well, even Charlotte, who was there specifically to hate it in front of me. I then spent two months reading, hearing, and absorbing the criticisms people were lobbing at it, then this week, watched it again.

I still dig it.

Some mild spoilers will follow. Skip to point two if you haven’t seen it but wish to. Also call me, we should totally go watch it at the cheap theatre.

Henry Cavill is actually a really good Superman. He captures the inherent goodness, the “I just want to help” nature that Superman should have as well as the “Must keep myself a secret” turmoil that is the first act. Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe were great as his two fathers. I loved the new invention of Lois Lane knowing Clark Kent is Superman before he even is Superman. Lois was tough, clever as hell, and adorable (but I always find Amy Adams adorable, I am but a man). Michael Shannon made one of the better superhero movie villains in General Zod, a man born, raised, and trained with the sole purpose of defending his planet and his people at any cost, who will cross any line and commit any atrocity if it means a future for Krypton. Well, the parts of Krypton he likes.

Okay, yes, the civic destruction gets a little much in act three. But I disagree with branding the movie “too dark” because of it. Nor the final battle with Zod. Superman is forced to make a choice, forced to do something abhorrent to him in order to protect the world. And I found it an incredibly powerful moment; Zod, blind with hatred after having lost everything, his people, his world, his reason to exist; Superman, begging Zod to stop; Zod’s refusal; Superman’s anguish at what he must do. It was damn near Doctor Who powerful. And no, I will not accept that suddenly this is unacceptable because he’s Superman. If you didn’t complain about Iron Man racking up a higher body count than Freddy Krueger but throw a hissy fit about Superman killing one genocidal demi-god who’s made it clear he won’t stop until either he dies or every single human is dead? Then shut up.

Act three did lack that sense of Superman being a figure of inspiration, a saviour to the people. He didn’t swoop around saving people during the final battle. Well, he did save several soldiers from Faora in Smallville, even while said soldiers were occasionally shooting at him, people forget about that, but the only thing he did to save people in Metropolis was smash the world engine on the far side of the planet and end the massive destruction it was causing. Which, I might argue, was a) kind of important, and b) almost killed him, which he knew was a risk but still didn’t hesitate. And after that he was a little busy getting punched in his face by Zod.

But the infrastructure is there. Jor-El has told him that his purpose is to inspire, to be an example that the people of Earth will one day reach to catch up to. Cavill is playing him to be that figure. He reaches out to earn the trust of the military, a struggle he’s shown as winning through Christopher Meloni’s great performance as Colonel Hardy. The foundations are there, we’re through the origin, future installments can bring that sense of hope and inspiration that I admit this film lacked.

But if you’re going to say “He should have spent less time fighting and more time saving people,” I think you owe Superman Returns an apology. But that’s a whole other rant.

2. Ben Affleck could be a good Batman.

Ben Affleck actually can act. There. I said it. Watch The Town. Watch Argo. Those are great movies and he’s good in them. Ben Affleck had a bad run, made some bad movies (to court further controversy, I don’t count Jersey Girl among them, I just don’t), took a break, let the dust settle, and rebuilt his career with a series of excellent films. Then he gets cast as Batman and the internet starts pretending that never happened while throwing movies from ten years ago in his face. Okay. Let’s look at the arguments against.

1. “Daredevil was awful! Thus this will be awful!”
Um… okay. Yes, Daredevil had flaws. Many. But is it possible those had more to do with the script and director? My issues with Daredevil weren’t with Ben, they with the fact that the movie didn’t seem to actually get Daredevil. And some poor script decisions. But say you disagree. Say you think if Daniel Day-Lewis had been Daredevil that movie would have been Dark Knight good. (You can’t, can you? No you can’t. The idea is madness. But still.) Affleck has given much better performances since then. Why assume he’s going to pull a Daredevil or Gigli? Why would he risk everything he’s rebuilt by not bringing the A-game he demonstrated in Argo and The Town?

2. “George Clooney was an awful Batman and so Ben Affleck will be too!”
The point being, this is a similar casting decision to when they had George Clooney replace Val Kilmer for Batman and Robin, a film so infamously terrible it nearly killed the superhero movie genre. But come on. Come on. That movie was terrible from the ground up. The script was awful, the direction was a day-glo nightmare, that movie was doomed to be a spectacular failure on every level before George Clooney even showed up on set. You cannot blame Clooney for Batman and Robin. He couldn’t have been a good Batman in that train wreck. Nobody could have. Superman/Batman will not have this problem. Why? Because Zach Snyder is better at this than Joel Schumacher. If you disagree, I’ll refer you to my above arguments regarding Man of Steel and inform you that we are fighting. We are now in a fight.

I believe that Ben Affleck could do well in this movie, and I’d rather wait until the movie comes out to debate it further. Which, actually, brings me to my final point…

3. Can we give this nerd raging over casting a rest? Please?

Did I not just go through this with Doctor Who? Is the Internet not still rebuilding from exploding over Peter Capaldi being revealed as the new Doctor? I suffered through the waves of complaint that the 12th Doctor was still white, still male, and, horror of horrors, old. I mean, how dare they take the Doctor in a different direction that isn’t the different direction we wanted.

Actually my issues with the Capaldi backlash and where I think those issues come from would be a large diversion I’ll save for another day. For now, it just comes down to “Anyone who’s seen him act should know he could be an amazing Doctor, so can we just chill until actual episodes start airing?”

But we can’t. Nerds have to freak out over everything, including nearly every casting decision in a superhero movie. Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale weren’t exactly embraced when we heard they were playing Batman. People freaked right out over Heath Ledger playing the Joker, and they were as wrong to do so as it is possible to be. If you don’t think Heath Ledger’s Joker was incredible, then sorry but we can’t be friends. I kid, we can totally be friends, we just shouldn’t see movies together. The list goes on: Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Pratt as Star Lord (though we’ll have to wait and see on that one), Idris Elba as Heimdall, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, the song remains the same, if occasionally smacking of racism. And most of the time all that nerd rage is for nothing. Most of the time the actor exceeds our expectations.

Ben Affleck might not pull off the same triumph as Heath Ledger, but assuming he’ll be another George Clooney is depressingly pessimistic. There’s no need for that.

Look, the movie’s not out for two years. In the meantime we’ll have casting news for the new Star Wars cast, Ultron, villains for the third Amazing Spider-man movie, maybe Lex Luthor, and probably at least one new Doctor Who companion to freak out over. Or maybe just accept with cautious optimism.

I’m telling you, it’s just a better way to live. Keep calm, and watch Argo.

In 1993 I made my first of two trips to an Albertan theatre camp for junior/senior high school students called Artstrek. Perhaps another entry can discuss my times there, but for now, I just bring it up to say that it was here I first heard about the Edmonton Fringe Festival. An annual event where people from around the world come to perform plays of all description, from dance shows to cabaret pieces (simply singing show tunes rather than doing the play itself) to Shakespeare and big musicals to original works and one-person shows.

Many, many one person shows. Because you see, the less cast members you have to split the door with, the more profitable your show is. But anyway.

That very summer my family went up to Edmonton for the weekend to experience the Fringe, and it quickly became an annual event. I would use the Fringe to gorge myself on theatre. If I saw less than five plays in a day, I thought I was wasting my time. Need to eat? There’s food booths all over the grounds, just gruffle some curry or an Italian sandwich while watching one of the outdoor shows (jugglers and acrobats, mostly) then head to your next play.

And now, some highlights of my two decades of Fringing.

First show

1993.

The first thing I saw at the first Fringe I attended was Atomic Improv. Paul Mather and Donovan Workun. They did the Three Little Pigs as a spaghetti western, they did a scene about stamp collecting in Seussian verse, they scattered the names of every other Fringe show over the stage and had to insert them into a scene about gopher racing. I was, in one go, sold on the Fringe and a new fan of Atomic Improv. Which proved quite handy when they joined forces with Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie to do The War of 1812 some years later.

Paul Mather eventually left Edmonton to work in Canadian television. He wrote for Corner Gas, for instance. Donovan is still there and, last I knew, was still a regular part of Edmonton’s live improvised soap opera, Die-nasty, as well as doing Atomic Improv gigs with Commander Shepard himself, Mark Meer. Those are bound to be funny.

I want in on this

1997.

Remember The Amazing and Almost Accurate Adventures of Trigger Dandy, which I mentioned a while back? Jason and I put that show on, and as a side effect founded Mind the Walrus Theatre Company, as part of a plan to take Trigger to the Edmonton Fringe. I’d been going for four years now, and I wanted in. Now, it didn’t happen right away. Fringe slots are handed out in a lottery… well, it used to be that Edmonton residents were able to line up for a “first-come, first-served” option, and in 1998, a group of us attempted to take part in what would be the final Edmonton Fringe application line-up. See, Yuk Yuks comedy club paid a guy to start the line two days earlier than it normally would, so when we arrived, we were already twenty spots down the waiting list. We abandoned the line-up to take our chances with the “rest of Canada” lottery, and by the end of the weekend, the Yuk Yuks placeholder had become so drunk and abusive that the whole thing was shut down, and never done again.

On the plus side, we got in through the lottery, and the next summer we took Two Guys, a Couch, and the Fate of the World to the Edmonton Fringe. We ultimately decided it was a better choice than Trigger. Less act breaks.

First tour

2004.

The previous year we’d taken one of my scripts, The Course of True Love and the Curse of the Jade Monkey, to Edmonton while taking another show, Knoll, to Vancouver. This decision made some sort of sense at the time. And that’s why I now have a full Board of people keeping me from making unilateral decisions like that, because clearly someone should have tried to stop me.

Anyway, Jade Monkey was not a hit. It didn’t help that we were nearly two hours long and had two noon shows and two midnight shows, but I spent the 2003 Fringe looking at all the packed houses at shows I saw, wondering why we couldn’t have that kind of crowd. I eventually decided what we needed was something shorter, faster, funnier, and more portable. And thus began Heracles: the Mythologically Accurate Adventures. And just in time: that fall we got our first Fringe tour. Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton Fringe festivals, then back home for a one-week run in Calgary.

I’ll talk about Heracles and Jade Monkey more when we reach them in Danny G Writes Plays, but for now I just want to mention the wonderful community we discovered. We learned how comp exchange worked, a system where Fringe artists are able to swap free tickets with each other by putting your allotted comps under a password you can share with people you meet. We chatted with other companies, went to the Edmonton Fringe wrap party, and started to feel part of something amazing. I couldn’t wait to get us another Fringe tour to be part of this world again.

It took three years, and by that point I had a grown-up job and couldn’t go on the tour. C’est la vie.

David Belke

I have many influences, writers who’ve taught me something about storytelling through their works, figures whose style has inluenced mine. Aaron Sorkin, Joss Whedon, Steven Moffat, Brian Michael Bendis, to name the most prominent. But as far back as I’ve been writing plays, my idol has been Edmonton’s David Belke.

I saw my first Belke show in 1993. Blackpool and Parrish, a comedy about the impending final battle between good and evil. It changed my life. Hilarious, moving, brilliant character moments, I decided then and there that this was the kind of thing I wanted to write. Not this exact play, but this style, this wit, this razor-sharp dialogue, these wonderful characters.

Okay, and at least once, that exact play, but we’ll get to that. To my chagrin.

In 1994, I realized too late that the author of the amazing Blackpool and Parrish had debuted a new script, April and Peril, and didn’t get tickets in time. But it was finally remounted this year, and I finally got a chance to see it: classic Belke.

He’s done two hilarious mash-ups, in which a film noir private eye solves crimes involving Shakespeare’s characters (The Maltese Bodkin, in which Nathan Fillion first played the detective, and two decades later the sequel Forsooth My Lovely). He’s done plays about improv (Inside the Sandcastle), deals with the devil (Soul Mate), the slog of auditioning (The Headshot of Dorian Grey), and a few plays that are uncomfortably similar to plays I would later write (Blackpool and Parrish, That Darn Plot). Nobody on Earth can both inspire me and make me feel like a copycat hack like David Belke. He’s often been a highlight of my Fringe experience.

This year

This year my Fringing was more compressed. Between GISHWHES and rehearsals for Pastoral Paranoia, I could only spare one full day and two half-days. I still managed nine plays, including April in Peril, and improv show with Mark Meer, a comedy with Ryan Gladstone, and more great shows. I did well this year. It’s still a magical place for me, and someday I may yet bring a show there again.

Hopefully soon, an update on GISHWHES. Or something else if it takes my fancy.

This week is a strange week. This week is GISHWHES, The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen. As a participant, it means this week is filled with bizarre and brilliant things. Things I can’t elaborate on until the contest closes. But trust me, we’ll get into it.

In the meantime, I present the story of my first solo script. Gonna… gonna get embarrassing up in here. Ladies and gentlemen… Date With an Angel, Coffee With the Devil.

What’s it about?

Gary has a secret: he’s in love with his friend Lacey, but doesn’t know how to tell her. Or how to get her away from her boyfriend Trevor.

Huh. In love with a female friend but keeping it a secret while hoping she magically falls for him. Didn’t I just say last time that nobody likes that guy? And he’s the protagonist? Awesome. Great start.

Anyway. The show is told largely in flashback, as Gary tells his story to a sympathetic bartender after it’s all gone wrong. Gary likes Lacey, Lacey’s with Trevor, Gary unloads all of his problems on his best friend Becky (who harbours inexplicable feelings of her own for Gary, the poor thing)… when he gets an offer of help from an unexpected source: Lucifer, the Morningstar, Satan, the Prince of Lies… who insists Gary call him Ted. Ted’s a nice name.

PREMISE!

Where you going with this, exactly?

So it’s a romantic comedy in which a man seeks romantic advice from the devil. Naturally, Ted’s advice is ultimately less than helpful, Gary learns too late that Ted was never really on his side, souls are at risk, the Bartender turns out to be God, and there’s some kinda flimsy Deus Ex Machina which results in everyone surviving, nobody losing their soul, and Gary very much NOT getting the girl. Even at 22 I was pretty sure Gary didn’t actually deserve any sort of reward when this whole thing wrapped up, and that the real lesson was “Get over Lacey, you moron.”

So why did that happen?

I had decided, after my annual trip to gorge myself on theatre at the Edmonton Fringe, that the Devil always gets the best lines. Thus, I wanted to play the Devil in something, and get all the best lines. So I wrote a play in which I could do that. I’m not proud of this. In theory, it’s allowable to say “I wrote this play, and this is the part I want,” but saying “I wrote this play and this is the part I shall have” just feels skeevy to me now. But anyway. I wrote my show about Gary’s doomed struggle to win over Lacey, filled it with jokes whenever possible, ensured that Ted was getting some quality one-liners, and handed a draft to Jason Garred for feedback.

How’d it turn out?

Jason’s feedback included the most useful thing I’d heard or would hear before I started taking classes. “If you’d written every character to be your dream role, this would be amazing.”

Ted was funny. Gary was decent. Becky was so-so at best. Lacey and Trevor were paper-thin. Looking back I don’t think it was ever clear what Gary saw in Lacey, or what Becky saw in Gary. I think God as the Bartender worked okay, but I wish I could say I was confident in the ending.

I always try to write women as well as I can. I struggled long and hard to improve on that front. And whenever I doubt my progress, I think back to this script, to Becky and Lacey… and I feel better. Because there can be no doubt I’ve improved since I wrote those two. Yeesh.

This show introduced a recurring theme that would haunt me throughout my writing endeavours, one I didn’t even know was there until a friend spelled it out for me 11 years later when he explained it to the cast of a show I’d written. The theme? “Man and woman cannot be friends.” Simply put, create a friendship between a man and a woman, eventually one of them will want something more. I had no idea this was a central theme of my plays until he said that, but here it is, all the way back in my first solo project. “Man and woman can never be friends” is all over this thing. There is not a truly platonic relationship to be found.

It also fits into my preferred three-phase story structure:

1. Establish premise.
2. Hijinks ensue.
3. With sexy results.

Step three is optional, but that there is the bare bones of good comedy. And, in this case, mediocre comedy.

When we return to Danny G Writes Plays, we’ll see how I took “write every character like it’s your dream character” to heart.

So a couple of years back I began to realize that I had feelings for a friend. Wasn’t the first time this had happened, and this time I was determined not to be a jerk about it. You know, the kind of jerk who hangs around being “just friends” while hiding his true feelings and hoping that one day she magically realizes that the perfect guy has been right in front of her the whole time.

Because man, fuck that guy.

Anyway. Actually having the conversation proved… difficult. I suspect she saw it coming and, being afraid of conflict, did whatever was necessary to dodge it. Which I found weird, because this was going to be a way less pleasant conversation for me. But I’m not here today to talk about that, or the few highs and powerful lows of the year and change that followed. You see, the other day I came across something I wrote that fateful February. My attempt to explain, through a certain amount of self-depreciating humour, what being in my position felt like.

I present that for you now. Enjoy.

And now, a metaphor gets weird

How to explain it. How to say what I’m thinking without actually saying what I’m thinking? Because that’s crazy. Can’t actually say it out loud. Then people would know. What’s the point of secrets if you’re going to let people know what they are?

And this is where we turn to metaphors. Literary code. Yes, metaphors are the way to explain what you find unexplainable.

But this one gets kind of muddled. Bear with me.

Imagine a weight. A pressure, pushing down on you. All the time. As though a vending machine had collapsed on top of you. The weight is a constant. Some days you can manage it, you find a way to distribute the weight or manage to distract yourself until it doesn’t seem so bad, but other days it feels like more than you can handle. You don’t know if you can live with it.

Well, no, of course you can’t live with being trapped under a vending machine, you’re going to run out of food and water, even if you do break the machine open. Also those things are heavy, you’re probably bleeding internally. But that’s literal thinking, it’s what we’re trying to avoid. None of that is germane to the metaphor.

Germane. No, not the Jackson brother. It’s a word, look it up.

So. Stuck under the vending machine. There is a way out, but it’s not exactly ideal. The only way to free yourself is to… and this is where the metaphor begins to get muddled… is to surround yourself with fresh salmon, so as to lure over a nearby bear, which will pry the machine off you to get at the fish.

(Yes, I know. Took a weird left turn there. But muscle through it and it’ll all start to make sense.)

The problem is, you don’t know how the bear is going to react once it’s dislodged the vending machine. It came for fish and found you. What will it do? You want to believe that it will just ignore you and let you leave. Maybe, and this must be wishful thinking, give you a friendly lick on its way? But no. You’re pretty sure you know what’s going to happen. It’s going to maul you. Maybe you’ll live, maybe you’ll die, but that bear is coming at you tooth and claw and it is going to be terrible.

You put it off as long as you can, but the non-stop weight of the machine won’t be denied. You have to do something. You have to make it stop. You’re willing to risk the mauling just to get away. So you summon the salmon. Freedom is close.

Look, I don’t know where the salmon comes from. Maybe it was in the machine, maybe there’s a delivery chute or something, but no, there is no delivery guy that will help you escape. It’s the bear or nothing, and the salmon is on the way so you’d better brace for that.

And so you do. You try to steel yourself for the moment, figure out what you can do to protect yourself if it all goes wrong. The fear builds. The adrenalin kicks in. And there’s that spark of hope, that thought that maybe, just maybe, everything will work out better than your feared. But if you let yourself believe that, the mauling will only be worse. Better to be prepared for the worst.

Only the salmon doesn’t come. For whatever reason, maybe the tube is blocked, I don’t know, you can’t get the salmon when you ordered it. Maybe later. Next week, something like that. There will be no summoning the bear, no mauling, no anything. It’s hard not to be relieved, isn’t it? Your situation hasn’t improved, but for one more day, one more week, possibly, you don’t have to worry about it getting worse. You can just relax.

Except for that weight. Apparently you get to keep living with it. Well, crap.

This may or may not be a new recurring feature around here, but sometimes you have to look at a promotional campaign, or a public figure, and ask yourself… Are you even trying?

Today, I ask this of the people trying to pitch the idea of “drinking less.”

Don’t drive drunk, you moron

First of all, convincing people not to drink themselves into oblivion and then risk innocent lives by driving a car is a noble aspiration. I know several people who could stand to learn a thing or two about that. I know more people who say “I’m not drinking tonight, people are depending on me to get them home safely,” and that’s admirable and should be celebrated.

Some anti-drinking and driving ads manage that. One ad on the radio recently has a woman talking to her friend about that great guy who gave up drinking for a night to be the DD, and how she totally let him take her home (she’s describing it fondly the next day, so we may assume he wasn’t a serial rapist). Another ad in the same campaign celebrates the drunk dial, as a man calls a friend in the middle of the night because he’s had some epic adventures and needs a ride home.

Well done, those ads. Show us the alternatives to driving drunk and make them look cool. That’s the way to do it.

And then there are these idiots.

No! Only drink at designated drinking areas!

Watching the Daily Show on the Comedy Network website means dealing with ads. Fine. I read Achewood or surf Reddit and mute that terrible Mio ad set to Eye of the Tiger until John Oliver is back (I imagine this trend will continue once John Stewart returns). But one of the frequent ads is from a campaign called “Every Drink Counts.” They’re fighting against drunkenness by attacking the idea of pre-drinking. They show a bunch of people preparing for a night out, with the banner “pre-drinking…”

Sober, contemplative preparation to party

Sober, contemplative preparation to party

And then this happens.

This has clearly spiraled out of control.

WANTON ALCOHOLISM

The idea being, once you start drinking, it’s called drinking. Pre-drinking still gets you drunk, you fools!

Okay. Where to start.

Nobody thought that having drinks before the party would mean they were still sober. That concert or bar or birthday party doesn’t have magic powers. The beers don’t suddenly become alcoholic or not because of the place you drink them, and we all know that.

Let me explain it to you, Every Drink Counts. By and large, “pre-drinking” doesn’t mean “drinks before we start drinking.” It’s an abbreviation of “pre-event drinking,” meaning “we want a bit of a buzz when we get to the party, because it’s fun and we’re goddamn grownups.” Yes, it is possible to have a good time sober. Look at my colleague the Video Vulture. He doesn’t drink and he’s one of the most fun people I’ve ever known. But it’s also possible to have fun with the aid of some adult beverages, and we get to do that, because we live in Canada, not Egypt.

So if we want to have a drink or two before we leave, and we have a ride, so be it. We know we’re getting drunk when we pre-drink. That is the entire point. Combating this notion by saying “No! You’re still drinking!” is aiding nothing. Stop it.

Although demonizing excessive drinking by demanding you only drink in the designated venue doesn’t come across nearly as stupid as trying to make moderation seem awesome. Observe.

Woo! Fitting in with the preferences of officials! PARTY!

I don’t know if this campaign made it outside of my home city of Calgary, so maybe you haven’t heard of Responsibly Beer and Responsibly Coolers.

Party?

This nonsense.

Basically, it was a series of radio ads and billboards selling the notion of moderation the same way advertisers in the 80s and 90s tried to sell Coors Light. A male announcer would talk excitedly about hitting the town with Responsibly Beer or a female announcer would talk excitedly about having a ladies’ night with Responsibly Coolers (women don’t drink beer, silly people) while either a hair metal or calypso band, respectively, sang things like “Moderation!” or “Safe!” or the real kicker, the money phrase anyone looking for a good time wants to hear, “Government approved!”

I don’t care what calypso crooner or Poison cover band reject is singing them, the words “Government approved” are never, ever going to sound awesome or cool. You’re just going to have to accept that.

They’re not trying to say drinking an entire bottle of Jagermeister and throwing up all over someone’s living room is perhaps undesirable (I don’t want to do anything in that sentence, personally). They’re trying to say a three-pack of beer (or a two-pack for the ladies…their claim, not mine) is a party.

It’s just… how to… argh. One the one hand, just sitting around drinking does not qualify as a party. It’s merely something one can do at a party. But on the other hand, there is just something inherently futile in trying to dress up responsibility as awesome good times. Say that we can still have fun with only three drinks? Fine. I believe you. That is true and a positive message. But I just want to doubt you so much because you’re coming across like a 45 year old white math teacher trying to seem “hip” and “with it” by saying trigonometry is “the bomb” and describing a “totally fresh” way to find the hypotenuse.

Basically, Responsibly Beer, you’re not wrong. But you’re embarrassing both of us.

Alright, wrapping it up…

I give these campaigns a hard time not because I think “drink less” is a bad message. From time to time it’s an unnecessary one, provided you’re being safe, but it’s not a bad message. I just hate to see someone do an important thing badly. Like when awareness of gay teens being bullied hit an all-time high and the almost annoyingly gay-friendly series Glee responded by being weirdly pro-bully.

Before you disagree, ask yourself: did the people who bullied Kurt for being gay, or Finn for seeming gay, or the people who tried to destroy Mr. Shuester (mostly Sue), or threw eggs at Rachel, or who mocked that girl until she had an eating disorder years after I gave up on this show for being a hollow, badly-written exercise in selling bland, toothless, auto-tuned covers of popular songs on iTunes … did any of them face any sort of consequence? Or did Finn, Mr. Shuester and all face a consequence for daring to fight back?

That’s a digression and I’m sorry. Where was I? Right. Drinking responsibly isn’t a bad idea, but you’re making it look like one.

I mean come on. Are you even trying?

Time to continue my look back through my old scripts. Next up, my second collaboration with Jason Garred: Two Guys, a Couch, and the Fate of the World. A play-within-a-play, with the ridiculous turned up to 10.

What’s it about?

PREMISE!

Brace for silliness

Phil and Chris are two friends attempting to write a play together. Phil wants action, adventure, and romance. Chris wants something weighty and philosophic. They settle on a spy thriller: the adventures of Dirk Rhombus, secret agent. The audience watches Dirk and the play come to life as Phil and Chris are writing it upstage. As Phil and Chris fight for control, characters twist and change, plot elements are introduced, discarded and re-written, the occasional musical number sneaks in despite Chris’ protests, but we eventually make our way through the tale of Dirk Rhombus and Canadian agent Janet DuBois’ battle against the fiendish Swedish supervillains Simone Saiz and Bjorn “The Barbecue” Berger.

We did like puns, didn’t we.

So why did that happen?

Simply put, we wanted a follow-up to Trigger Dandy, and we wanted to keep the band together. So we needed something with a similar cast size (bloody huge), similar levels of wacky (again, bloody huge), and that comic energy that had worked so well in the Trigger trilogy. The way I saw it, Jason and I had such differing senses of humour that anything we agreed on must be hilarious. So we hit this thing with everything we had. There were carless car chases (a concept it took three productions to make truly hilarious–the early directors weren’t great at big comedy), a fiendish mad scientist, references to pop culture (me) and Canadian government officials (Jason), and a key sequence in which Phil, having broken up with his girlfriend Tina, starts attempting to kill Trina, the character he clearly based on her, while Chris is forced to keep saving her as she’s become essential to the plot.

There were, of course, those who claimed that Phil and Chris were somehow based on myself and Jason, respectively. These claims were harder to deny when my mother insisted on saying “I watched them write this, and that’s exactly how it went.” This would not be the last time that I’d have to duck accusations of Phil and Tina being based on real people.

How’d it turn out?

It’s silly. It’s incredibly silly. But if you can make yourself okay with that, it’s also a great deal of fun. Of course, as we learned, it requires a director who understands “funny.” The first time we did it, I had to volunteer to block some of the sight gags myself as the director wasn’t quite getting it. The second time was co-directed by Jason Garred, so whenever the other co-director screwed something up (often–she habitually directed away from the joke), I was able to correct it through Jason. The third production I gave up and just directed it myself, despite my insistence on also playing Phil.

Damn it, young me, why you gotta be so stupid all the damn time.

And even I managed to blow one of the sight gags! After being so insistent that only I could wring the maximum hilarity out of this show, I let one of the cast convince me that instead of having a horde of ninjas burst out and defeat the villains (Phil had been trying to get a horde of ninjas into the show the entire time, and finally succeeds in the climax), it would be just as funny to cut to a blackout and bring up the lights on a horde of ninjas standing over the defeated villains.

Well, it wasn’t. It just wasn’t. But it happened because I allowed it to happen. Damn it.

This was my last full-length collaboration with Jason. We’d reunite years later for the previously mentioned Cube Root of Death, but that was it. After Two Guys, I started flying solo.

With initially mixed results.