Archive for May, 2008

Da Mayor and Northwestern

Well, apparently, a lot of Northwestern students are not happy about the decision to have Mayor Daley speak at Commencement this year. Go figure. You can’t please all the people all of the time. I don’t think that’s such an interesting story.

What I do think is interesting is the response the University President made to a student who wrote to complain. Senior Matthew Braslow e-mailed President Henry Bienen, in which he called the choice a “slap in the face” and that it “proved again why [Northwestern] is falling rapidly in the national rankings.” Pretty immature stuff, for a college senior. But the response from President Bienen was even worse… FTA:

“You sound like a very unhappy person,” Bienen wrote. “I am sorry for that. Hopefully things will improve for you over the years.” Bienen took this one step further, suggesting to Braslow, “By the way you think a commencement speaker has any thing to do with the national stature of Northwestern tells me we failed here in educating you.”

Is that really any way for a University President to respond to a student? Hell, to respond to anyone? Even if the student was acting like a whiny, disrespectful brat, I would have expected someone who’d risen to the level of President of a respected university to take the high road. Looks like Jerry Springer has had more of an influence on Northwestern than I would have guessed…

GreaseFreak

GreaseFreak

Since 2006 Peter Strazzabosco has been taking close-up pictures of Chicago-style foods at GreaseFreak. The site is dead simple: photos of italian beef, hot dogs, turkey clubs, burgers, italian subs, chili, and gyros with a quick rating of taste, presentation, and ambience. But damn if I’m not ready for lunch.

(Thanks jkb and Troy)

Help me get on Comedy Central!!!

Don’t Spit the Water is going to Hollywood, CA to audition for Comedy Central. That’s right! We are an amused programmer away from being on basic cable which is my glib nonchalant way of hiding the excitement of possibly doing comedy for a living.

However, traveling to LA is expensive. And we don’t make any money doing the show in Chicago, and we don’t make gobs of money working for a (from left to right in the picture) homeless shelter, Chicago public radio, and the Chicago public school system. In case you were wondering, I’m the guy in the lucha libre mask sans shirt.

That means we need your help to make this trip less expensive for us. All you have to do is join us for drinking, eating, and karaoke at Trader Todd’s this Thursday 8pm-10pm for Blewt! Sings! Your $40 will help send us on our way to stardom and on your way to all you can drink and eat and sing. The crazy characters from Don’t Spit the Water (recently featured on WGN morning news) will be there performing special songs just for the night.

If you can’t make it out on Thursday, then go our website anyway and donate what you can to help us out. Help Chicago’s favorite live comedy game show become America’s favorite live comedy game show!

Roger Ebert’s Journal

Roger Ebert has a blog. Everyone should read it.

Y’all know who Roger Ebert is. Chances are every one of you, at some point or another, has made a decision about whether or not to see a movie based at least partly on something he said about it. I don’t think anyone would argue there is a more influential film critic in the business today. And if you ever get a chance you should take a look at the Great Movies section of his website. Reading a few of those articles is the equivalent of the most in-depth Introduction to Cinema course you could ever hope to take. Mr. Ebert knows a lot about movies — but that is not why I read his reviews.

Beyond all the fun of the thumbs-up/thumbs-down business, there is one fact that goes shamefully unnoticed: Mr. Ebert is an amazing writer. This is why I’m so excited that he’s keeping a blog: More Ebert to read. And it covers everything outside the scope of his reviews, from his insights into the inner workings of film festivals to his early days as a sports writer in Champaign-Urbana. He of course touches upon his health issues, but as they are already well-documented elsewhere he only brings them up in his blog when they have to do with the main subject.

I believe the reason Mr. Ebert is at the forefront of film criticism is less because of his knowledge of film and more because of his ability to communicate his opinions. He is not a film guy who likes to write; Mr. Ebert is a writer who loves films. I love reading his take on the latest summer blockbuster or surprise indie sleeper, and I am getting as much joy reading everything else he’s got say.

Volcanoes and Dragonflies — a review of Eddie Izzard: Stripped

On behalf of the city of Chicago I’d like to apologize to Eddie Izzard. Honestly, I don’t know what kind of show the crowd at the Chicago Theatre thought they were at Thursday night, but I don’t think Mr. Izzard intended it to involve quite so much audience participation. From the dork up in the balcony yelling out addendums to jokes told ten minutes earlier to the drunk woman somewhere on the main floor hollering punchlines to old routines now available on DVD, the crowd kept Mr. Izzard on his toes for the hour and forty-five minutes he held the stage.

Seriously, people. Shut the f**k up.

Mr. Izzard played along for most of the performance, but by the end of his main set the frustration was beginning to show. The energy and enthusiasm that powered early routines about giraffes communicating via coughing had visibly waned by the time he whipped out his iPhone to look up a word on Wikipedia. And while he did return for a very brief encore, his desire to get the hell off the stage was palpable.

Now, before you go thinking the show sucked, let me stop you right there. I laughed my ass off. The giraffe bit alone will make you wet your pants. And the iPhone gag was priceless. And pretty much every time God and Jesus had a conversation (you Eddie fans know what I mean) I drew dirty looks from the three old ladies in front of me. (I have a rather loud laugh. I will not apologize for it.)

Mr. Izzard’s social commentary grows more daring with each tour. This time around he basically admitted to being an Atheist (yay!), and much of his act focused on the absurdities of creationism (God spending the first four billion years making nothing but volcanoes) and the properties of evolution (Darwin’s book: “MonkeymonkeymonkeymonkeyYOU!”) If I had a criticism it would be that Mr. Izzard returns to specific subject matter from previous work too frequently. I’ve already heard Mr. Izzard talk about Noah’s ark, Europe’s crappy space program, America’s fascination with guns, and how the Greeks and Romans had stupid gods. He even brought up Noah’s big room for poo, and astronauts climbing ladders (again, Eddie fans know all about this). Perhaps this is why the audience feels comfortable shouting out old jokes: He’s not that far from telling them himself.

In Mr. Izzard’s defense, he did avoid a number of old standards. His James Mason and Sean Connery impressions did not make appearances, and his usual French segment was replaced by Latin, which over the course of the bit degraded to a hilariously unintelligible mishmash of various European languages. His trademark loose, making-it-up-as-he-goes delivery allowed him to weave the various audience interruptions into his act, usually with great success. And he tossed off the one plug of his show The Riches in such a comically ridiculous manner that nobody in their right mind could hold it against him.

No review of an Eddie Izzard show would be complete without answering the most important question: What was he wearing? Mr. Izzard’s penchant for women’s clothing is well-documented, but it only warranted one brief mention during Thursday’s performance. Instead he appeared in jeans, a t-shirt, and what I think was some sort of tuxedo jacket, complete with tails. In other words, he looked his normal groovy self.

In summary: It was a very good show, but not the great show I dreamed it could be. Part of that was the material, part of it was the audience. And in the audience’s defense, it wasn’t like everybody was shouting out stuff non-stop. But the few who did feel the need to be part of the performance definitely made their presence felt.

And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Mr. Izzard thrives on such interaction. But that was not the vibe I got Thursday night.

And, if I may insert one other teensy-weensy little gripe right in here: If your ticket says Main Floor, Row D, you’d assume you were pretty close to the front, right? I know I did. So did the people sitting near me. So did the little map on Ticketmaster’s website that showed where my seat was. But it lied.

Huzzah! (For Now)

According to Sun-Times columnist Jim DeRogatis’ blog, the “Event Promoters ordinance” has been tabled, at least temporarily. Alderman Eugene Schulter, Chairman of the City Council License Committee, decided not to present the ordinance to the full council after meeting with members of the Chicago Music Commission and local promoters and venue owners. According to Mr. DeRogatis’ blog the ordinance will return to committee for at least another month, during which time the committee will hear more input from the public.

I note that it is the local music community that has taken the reigns here, and I applaud them for it. I would like to remind the theatre and stand-up scenes that they have a stake here as well, and they need to make sure their representatives have a place at the table while this ordinance is reworked.

Well done, everybody who voiced their concerns.

Ten Reasons To Bike Chicago More

There have been a couple of bicycling tragedies in the last few weeks here in Chicago, with two vibrant young people (one of them a fifth grade teacher) lost. Both stories are very sad, and very sobering reminders that real dangers exist for city folks who ride their bikes.

Where I’m from, suburban/rural Indiana, the worst hazards a cyclist faced were overzealous farm dogs and the occasional stray litter of pigs spilling out into the road. Here in the city, I’ve learned to watch out for cars, and, more specifically, it’s wise to assume that not only do cabbies not see you coming, they’re actually out to get you. I swear that every time I venture out on two wheels, even in broad daylight, there are at least two or three cabbies who pull sharp u-turns directly in my path, sometimes simply stopping right in front of me. Maybe they think my bike is a hovercraft and I can simply fly over the top of their cabs? I’m not sure. The point is: bike defensively, folks.

Now that the safety lecture is over, ten reasons to ride your bike more:

1. It’s free. It’s not $4.00 a gallon to fuel up, and it’s not $1.75 on your CTA card. Granted, at most gas stations it’s a quarter to pump up your tires, but mile for mile, biking is cheaper than any other form of transportation.

2. A wide range of health benefits: you will increase your stamina and boost your muscle power with all that cardio. You’ll also sleep better and enjoy elevated moods. Winter depression begone!

3. No pee smell, like on the CTA.

4. All that cardio will rev up your metabolism, and prompt your body to crave healthier food.

5. You get cool points every time you walk into a party or other social gathering with your helmet in hand. Double cool points if you rode through even the tiniest amount of precipitation. (“Dude, did you ride here in the rain?” Shrug this off casually with a “Yeah, whatever, it’s cool.”)

6. You’ll also score hot points. Exercise is good for your sexual health and with the inevitable few pounds dropped and an increase in your energy, you’ll be hotter and friskier before you know it. This is also an excellent reason to talk your significant other into joining you in biking adventures.

7. Extra snacking privileges – with all those extra calories burned, you’ll be able to get away with a lot more extracurricular eating, on top of all the veggies and fruits you’ll naturally be craving. Last summer I biked like mad and I was the fittest I’ve been in several years, despite treating myself at least once a week to a nutritionally terrible but utterly delicious McDonald’s cheeseburger and Lay’s potato chip snackstravaganza. (That treat is properly eaten with the chips crushed in the sandwich, by the way. Propriety and decorum be damned.)

8. Related note: food eaten while sitting on one’s bike seat are calorically void* — this includes any and all food purchased from mobile ice cream carts.

9. Enjoying the beauty of nature and the city and its inhabitants. The city observed at a biking pace is quite different from zooming along in a car or bus. You notice and appreciate things you hadn’t seen before. I also love biking up and down the Lakeshore Trail, taking in the fresh breeze, and overhearing tidbits of conversation from fellow park-goers. There’s a lot of marvelous diversity among our fellow citizens, and feeling connected to that is a pretty cool thing.

10. Opportunities to make more friends. Affect bullcrap political motivations for biking and pick up more greenies, hipsters, and vegan anarchists, if that’s your thing, pick up hippie chicks and dudes in bike shops and at red lights if you want to go that way, or join organized events like Critical Mass and make thousands of friends at a time.

On that note, please enjoy this video I made chronicling my first Critical Mass ride, in September of 2007. That was a night to remember — five blissful hours in the saddle and not one, but two amazing post-ride dinners. First, there was a fine beefy meal at Tank Noodle (supplemented by BYOB Guinness), and then, after a nearby birthday party, a 2:00 a.m. run to good old Standee’s on Granville, where I ordered grilled cheese with extra pickles and “whatever kind of pie you have.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iQFLXu4TfA[/youtube]

* wishful thinking

Edited to add: this enthusiastic pro-biking post was, indeed, followed up that same day in my offline life by my first real crash, which I wrote about on my personal blog. More of a thump than a crash, and certainly a lesson well-learned: don’t underestimate the might of the Windy City’s wind.

City Council Votes on Event Promoters Ordinance Tomorrow!

The Event Promoters ordinance will go before the city council at 10:00 AM, Wednesday, May 14th. I received an e-mail about a campaign to flood city hall with opponents of this ordinance. The campaign is being organized through The Point, and the goal is for 100 people to commit to attending the council meeting tomorrow. Save Chicago Culture will present a petition opposing the ordinance at the meeting.

Because the proposal was fast-tracked through committee, the Chicago arts community has had very little time to respond. I, for one, will be attending the council meeting tomorrow. If you care about preserving Chicago’s theatre, music and comedy I expect to see you there too. If you can’t make it, please e-mail your alderman today and express your opinion.

Otherwise, I suppose you could just pay a hundred bucks a pop and go see Wicked again.

The Event Promoters’ Ordinance

Well, this is appalling.

This Wednesday the city council votes on the so-called “Event Promoters’ ordinance.” If this thing passes it could mean that any artist wishing to produce or promote his own work would have to pay up to $2,000 for a license. He or she would have to be over the age of 21, must get fingerprinted, submit to a background check, and inform the police seven days in advance of an event. This ordinance is aimed directly at small venues and new artists who have yet to develop an audience. Larger spaces that seat over 500 — in other words, places that can actually afford the license — are exempt.

The weblog Save Chicago Culture is collecting signatures in opposition to the ordinance. On their site you can find a .pdf of the complete text of the ordinance, as well as links to the city council site, and your local alderman. The Sun-Times’ Jim DeRogatis has an in-depth analysis on his blog.

The problem is, blogs are the only place this thing has gotten any attention. So, if you don’t want to lose the Double Door, Schuba’s, Martyrs’, the Vic, the Riv or the Metro, get a message to your alderman at once.

Boycott Mojoes?

Boycott MoJoes

It’s entirely unclear whether the people who might once wanted you to boycott Mojoes (2849 W Belmont) might still want you to do so. I’d love to contact them and ask them “why” but they’ve left absolutely no contact info on these stickers littered around the neighborhood. Which, in the age of free MySpace pages and Gmail accounts, is pretty inexcusable.

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