Beth Lapides Presents: Say the Word: The New America (Skirball Center)
Let me be upfront about this: I am no girl racer. I’m used to people asking if I got lost on the way over. Friends refuse to take road trips with me unless they drive – the whole way. I cruise through this great semi-tropolis to the tinkling soundtrack of honking horns. But driving down Sepulveda to the Skirball on a rainy Los Angeles evening was a hazard taken in the line of comedy duty which I prayed didn’t deliver a cream-pie medal in the ER later. Scattered raindrops smeared my dust-encrusted windscreen, as I battled through the mysterious, ever-transforming roadworks, and displayed my yellow belly to every entitled Westside driver who sailed by in their entirely redundant off-road leisure vehicle, while, ever the multi-tasker, I cursed comedy down to the last fiber of my public-transport-loving being. As the Skirball finally appeared on my left, a suburban mall fever-dream of a high art fortress, I slunk into the underground parking spot near the elevators with that chill cascade of relief you got as a kid when your sister cracked an imaginary egg on your head. Maybe that’s how 007 felt, as he entered Dr. No’s secret lair. Because I, too, was on a mission: to observe some of the best minds in TV and film comedy, live and face to face.
Beth Lapides’ Uncabaret has long established itself on the LA scene as a haven for comedy hipsters in the know. In the Cotsen Auditorium, designed with a deco-burlesque-palace-meets-Star-Wars-intergalactic-mothership-with-a-cousin-in-corporate-events theme, the mostly over-30 crowd forsook the bar, shuffling back to their faux-candle lit tables with good strong coffee and chunky low-fat sandwiches in time to the 80s pre-show music. Ms. Lapides, ever the good host as a self-identified “silver lining girl”, squeezed her multi-layered, evocative story of personal despair in the shadow of “Hollywood double-speak” and “DWC’s” (Driving While Crying’s), into the “New America” theme, discounting that fantasy of a perfect life where we “only choose rainbows” in favor of one in which we view happiness, and the experience of life, as a continuous spectrum. Watching her, one is reminded that good writing is gender blind.
Kevin Rooney, veteran of Politically Incorrect, My Wife and Kids, and Til Death, to name a few, makes it look so effortless. As he masterfully guided us through his potted whistle-stop tour of American history, his dazzling ability to conjure startling, crystalline images prevailed. His coolly sardonic demeanor belies the fury of the talent beneath: his images of Republican “heads so full of holes” they whistle “Onward Christian Soldiers” when accelerating; or the image of a fat kid “like a pond in a pair of sweatpants” inventing the internet, are observations which will shift your perception forever, and force your frontal cortex to work a little while you smile. Moshe Kasher was a welcome revelation to me, but not to the multitude who have seen him on Conan, Chelsea Lately, Jimmy Fallon,or, in short, own a TV screen. His surreal story about a white “Aunt Tom”, an Occupy Oakland protester known as the “Camp Creeper”, with Malcolm X tracts caught in her dreadlocked hair, culminated in a sweetly salacious finale, which critiqued the American pursuit of self-invention succinctly, and not without a little venom beneath the boyish grin. Unmissable. Cindy Chupack’s (Modern Family) straight-from-the-uterus story about re-defining motherhood offered us a poignant picture of true relatedness, while giving us some uncanny impersonations of too-old-to-party eggs and sperm (“You kids go on”) and their Hollywood agents.
Crowd favorite Taylor Negron(Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last Boyscout, Call Me Claus), recent New York transplant and self-proclaimed “Che Guevara of vegetables”, fresh from the hurricane-torn East Coast, didn’t disappoint with his election year story about generational identity politics, in which he fantasizes about “slave angels who park and sometimes even vote” for him. His charisma and personal connection with the audience are as matchless, as his advice: “If America’s going to survive, America must make a sex tape. If America does not make a sex tape, the terrorists have won!”. Brian Finklestein, (UCB, The Ellen Degeneres Show, The Moth) served up arguably the most ambitious piece of writing of the evening, a dual-world comparison of his life as a “revolting” young man juxtaposed with that of a Tiananmen Square revolutionary. Somehow or other we end up in Tijuana watching donkey sex. How? We don’t know, and we don’t care. We’re just enjoying the ride. Compelling, thought-provoking, and twisted. What more could you ask for?
So, listen up, young comedy hipsters. Those over-30s may be on to something – after all, only smart people survive long enough to achieve oldster status. Don’t let them keep this venue their personal secret. Go to the UnCabaret at the Skirball in February for their next star-studded line-up. You’ll get great cheap coffee, a nice healthy sandwich, and you will definitely learn something about unparalleled comedic writing in all its styles and manifestations. Just get your granny to drive. And check uncabaret.com weekly for show schedule at Uncab’s regular weekly downtown venue.
I give Uncab at The Skirball 8 out of 8 menorahs!
The Pentagon just announced it’s lifting the ban on woman going to the front lines and engaging in hand-to-hand combat. I know this is something that’s supposedly good for women, and something that women in the military want, but it’s something I have such mixed feeling about. Oddly, one of those feelings is gratitude. Because it reminds me why, after 25 years, I’m still so committed to hosting and producing UnCabaret.
The news sent me back to when, years ago, the issue of allowing women on the front lines first came up. I was just beginning comedy career and was performing in what, at the time, was a fashion-forward choice: men’s suits. Partly, I loved the suits for the pockets. Partly, I loved them for the power they bestowed. Partly, I enjoyed the focus on my work which the ease of a uniform provided — much like combat gear.
And then, the issue of women being allowed to fight on the front lines came up. And I started to wonder: Is this where the women’s movement has gotten us? Fighting for the right to fight? I felt like yes, women should be allowed to do everything men do, and I was living proof that, to some degree, things had changed for the better in that department. But I also felt, and still feel, that the women’s movement should have moved us away from war, not towards women being allowed to fight like men. And I saw myself wearing the men’s suits, practicing an art form defined by men, and I thought maybe it’s time to don a dress. That was the actual odd phrase I had in my mind: don a dress.
Then things didn’t happen the way they would in the movie. There was no frenzied montage over the Pet Shop Boys “Shopping.” Instead, I mulled the idea of wearing dresses, flipped through magazines, agonized. Then one night, I followed Andrew Dice Clay at The Comedy Store. I was waiting to go on, watching his women-hating act, hating him, hating the audience for laughing at him, hating myself for hating and thinking, there has to be another way. A better way. I wanted to create a venue where I felt challenged as a comedian but not scared as a human. Where my friends could be as funny as they were on the phone with me. Where I wasn’t lulled to sleep by the rat-a-tat-tat of the gun fire comedy rhythm, where when you did do well, you didn’t kill. When you did less well, you didn’t die. I longed for a venue where instead of a “tight ten,” a locked-in, combat ready set, you could actually play, explore, communicate, experiment, discover, refine. All the things that I knew went into the practice of any art form. All the things I knew were part of the roots of the great stand-ups I so loved.
And so I created UnCabaret. A show where skirted, dressed and even midriff-baring, tight jeans wearing comedians of the female variety were more than welcome to do it slightly differently. Where they weren’t just tolerated, they were celebrated. UnCabaret was very essentially about women. We always loved our boys too. Gay ones, and even straight ones. But UnCabaret is not UnCabaret without women comedians. The show is not the show without the loopier rhythms, the more story based structure, the particular stories, the personal revelation and the fine balance between brashness and vulnerability that every successful woman practicing the art of stand up has mastered. Or should I say mistressed. UnCabaret is not UnCabaret without the particular parade of lovely liveliness that is women in stand-up.Learn More
by Jim Bessman
UnCabaret, the legendary story-based, stream-of-conscious comedy show that debuted over 20 years ago at the historic Women’s Building in downtown Los Angeles, is back—and Amazon’s got it.
The weekly Sunday night show, which has been characterized as “idiosyncratic conversational comedy,” had been on hiatus since 2008 (it originated then at M-Bar in Hollywood), and started up again a year ago at the First and Hope restaurant in Downtown L.A.
Now four taped UnCabaret episodes have been made available via Amazon.com’s Amazon Instant Video online streaming and digital download service. It had previously been produced as a Comedy Central Special, a daily radio show on Comedy World Radio, a podcast on Audible.com and three CDs.
Actress/writer/media personality Beth Lapides, UnCabaret’s creator and host, is back in those roles and executive-producing together with new musical director Mitch Kaplan. Filmmaker Adam Salky (Dare) directed the pilot of the Amazon series episodes.Learn More
When It Comes to Patience, First Learn the Math
(Written for the LA Times Magazine’s ‘Rules of Hollywood’ column.)
Everyone in this ‘I need it yesterday’ town is waiting for something: the overnights, the weekend read, the end of the day when they can finally take the edge off all the waiting with a drink.
More than the play, in this business, the waiting’s the thing. Which is why the image of the Sardi’s booth, with a post-show cast huddled in anticipation of the early edition, is one of the stickiest images in show business iconography.
And it’s why waiting tables is the quintessential Hollywood day job. “Can I help you,” the waiter asks. “Yes,” says the diner. “Let’s see. I’m not sure. Hmm. Give me a couple more minutes will you?” And what does the waiter say? Nothing. They just wait. Because you if you do not learn how to hurry up and wait when you are a waiter you do not get your tip.
But I never did wait tables. Ironically, I learned my waiting lesson at MTV, a network devoted to an aesthetic of impatience. We’d made a pilot of my talk show for them. A pet project. A dream project. And it was looking good. The show was announced in the trades, people were telling me they’d heard great things, there was buzz. But we were waiting for an official yes. Then the network “asked”, if we’d wait beyond our contractual ‘end of wait’ date.
Unfortunately I had not yet learned the primary axiom of Hollywood Math: the absence of yes over time equals no. So I kept waiting. And not doing anything else unless you count burning candles and chanting.
The night that we finally got the call that we were not ‘getting picked up’ – cruel phrase meaning put down – all we could do was play “Let It Bleed” over and over again. At least that was one thing I could control. And I felt oddly reassured every time I heard that if I wanted to I could bleed all over Mick.
And then I had one of those you’re going to have to change moments where the sound gets narrow and the light start pulsing. I knew that if I was going to continue on in this business, or even in life, I was going to have to get good at waiting.
But what would it take? I’m a very be in the moment girl and waiting is not being in the moment. Waiting is future focused. It has an element of hope. And if you’ve lived in Hollywood for more than ten minutes you know that it’s the hope that will kill you. So I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. I upped my yoga practice. And one day, while I was waiting for my teacher to release us from a chatarunga hold, I noticed I was waiting and yet not waiting. I was waiting with grace. And that when waiting is graceful it’s called patience. And patience means waiting without waiting. Waiting while breathing. Waiting while moving on to the next project, celebrating your anniversary, devoting yourself to world peace, napping, tracking the moon, trying not to keep other people waiting any longer than necessary. In essence, living. Waiting without waiting means that you are prepared for a positive outcome of the thing you are waiting for but that you proceed as if the possibility of the thing you are waiting for does not even exist.
Recently my people told me I would definitely be receiving a particular offer. A few weeks went by. No offer ensued. Applying the absence of yes over time formula I figured the deal was dead. I called said people, to confirm my suspicions. They checked and said that the offer was in fact still in the works and now had a number attached. A nice number. A few more weeks have gone by. And by a few more weeks I mean a month. No offer. So I continue to wait for the offer without waiting for the offer. Because every rule needs to be broken and sometimes the absence of no over time equals yes.Learn More
by Beth Lapides and Greg Miller (Originally published in FitYoga Magazine)
We practice (write, perform, produce) a form of comedy known as “Un-Cabaret” but that we think of as the comedy of love. It’s a more conversational, open-minded and open-hearted type of comedy. We also teach it. And what we found was that in order to teach this style of comedy we first had to teach people to get into their most authentic voice. To not “sound like” comedians, but to be themselves.
You can’t be truly funny without being yourself. But you can’t be truly your Self without being at least a little bit funny. It’s like leaving one of the colors out of the rainbow! And the benefits are huge. Laughter connects people, brings us into the moment, raises vibration, activates the third chakra, increases endorphins and is fun! Here are some tips to help with this new asana; ‘laugh-asana’.
1. OPEN UP. Start by giving yourself permission to be funny. Open up to it. The same way you might open to grace. Or open your hips.
2. GIVE LAUGHS. Let go of the idea that you have to make people laugh, or get laughs. Think about letting them laugh instead. Think of giving laughs.
3. USE YOUR REAL VOICE. Everyone’s voice has a particular rhythm. In the same way that comedians often have that “stand-up comedy voice”, yoga teachers sometimes have to work to stay out of that monotonous “yoga teacher voice”.
Record yourself in class. Later, playback softly or at a distance. It’s not so much about what you are saying, but about what you “sound like”. The tempos and rhythms of your voice.
Use words you love, words you make up, words you grew up with; sciencey, arty, geeky, pop culturey, words you use with your friends. Use your own vernacular. These are the words that keep you in your own rhythm.
What we’re talking about is naturalism, but even more so. Super naturalism. Being totally organically wholly yourself, but in an exaggerated way for comic effect. Exaggeration is a key tool in the comedy toolbox. Do you have voices, accents or imitations that you naturally do in life? The nagging mother? The Indian guru? The redneck yogi? Little songs you sing? Do it all. Variety creates dynamics. Dynamics create surprise. Surprise creates funny.
4. USE YOUR BODY. Use physicality for comic effect like doing demos with an exaggerated impression of a common student mistake. Even better, do an impersonation of yourself, which requires self-knowledge, humility, and a willingness to be foolish.
5. USE STORIES. Humans love stories. Tell stories of your own practice, breakthroughs you’ve had. Stories from your life. Stories from the sacred texts. Ask yourself what is funny about a story in the same way that you ask yourself what it means. You can also think about your asana sequencing as a story. In the timeline of the class, is there a place that clearly calls for comic relief? Maybe a particularly intense sequence where a little light-hearted offering will help students surrender?
6. DON’T PUSH. Trying to force a laugh is over-efforting. Relax and remember that a little goes a long way! It’s the lightness you’re after.
7. BE IN THE MOMENT. Of course. In fact if you can nail a moment, a mood, that everyone is aware of, there’s often a laugh of recognition. And if you can respond authentically to something happening – a cell phone, not enough space, forgetting the name of a pose or doing one side of a pose – say hallelujah Ganesha, because you have just turned the obstacle of an awkward moment into an opportunity for laughter.
8. BE THE STRAIGHT MAN. (Not gender-wise!) Offer set-ups, or questions, and let students get the laugh. Once you open the door it doesn’t matter who’s the first one through.
9. KNOW YOURSELF. Here’s a way to practice svadyaya (self-study) in a different kind of triangle pose. Draw a triangle in your notebook. In one corner write ‘yogi’. That includes yoga teacher, student, scholar, whatever.
In the other two corners you’re going to write other major aspects of yourself. Maybe you’re a parent, surfer or artist. Maybe you’re a healer and a control freak. Or a drama queen and a Big Sister. You are (at least!) three-dimensional. In each of those dimensions there are stories or funny references that make you you.
10. WRITE ON. You are the author of your classes. (That’s what gives you the authority!) Keep a notebook. Use it to keep track of fleeting thoughts but also to explore recurring ideas and stories in depth.
Think of it as a place to play, to overwrite, to explore what you want to get across in class. What are your thoughts about pain? About flow? About balance? What would you tell that stuck student if you had the perfect words? Go ahead and write out whole classes.
Write down what you said to your friend on the phone that made her laugh. In fact the phone is a great place to hear your real voice. Write things down exactly as you said them. Also note things what sparks laughter for you? What do you think is funny?
11. USE BETH’S PAGE TO STAGE METHOD. A class, or audience, has a certain energy, and will act like poultice and elicit things that a page can’t. Your prep work on the page will help you channel that energy. And your classes will fuel what goes into the notebook. You alternate. Page to stage (class). Stage back to page. Writing and teaching out loud use opposite sides of the brain. Alternating them is a powerful creative tool, and a 100% renewable resource!
12. PRACTICE. We think of the sense of humor as the seventh sense and, like any sense, it needs to be cultivated. The seventh sense, like the seventh chakra, is light-filled, subtle and so worth working to open! So be patient with yourself. Being funny is a practice that requires practice.
And remember that Buddha passed his teachings on to the smiling disciple not the serious ones. So enlighten up and have fun out there!Learn More