Sunday, April 1

Gong Demon - Popalopathon - An Apology

Below, you will find a link to the video where it all started to go wrong. 
You will also find my apology for taking us to a place (emotionally, mentally) we found not easy to escape. 
In hindsight, I believe (being one who doesn't believe in such things) that a minor demon may have actually been summoned, and it was he who took us to that dark place.

We were, I don't know, 21 hours into our Popalopalots improv marathon for the QEH Foundation.  Presented by The Guild, and title sponsor Coldwell Banker Parker Realty.  Of course we were all very tired.  We were hanging by threads, each of all of us with only one goal - make it to 10pm.  Not even. Make it to 8pm and the last two hours would be a breeze.  Make it to 8pm.

2 or 3 hours, then. And then 2 more. After already improvising for 20+ hours.  We could do it.  We would do it.

And then the Gong Demon showed up.

We had just been wonderfully elevated and energized by a guest appearance by 4 of the members of Side Hustle, an all-female improv troupe here in Charlottetown.  We all played some games in a competitive type of atmosphere, and it seemed to go quite well.  Lots of energy, lots of fun - we could do it.

And then the Gong Demon showed up.

After the wonderfully elevated and energized momentum provided by Side Hustle, came the natural collapse.  It wasn't unexpected, not by me.  I was ready for more of that low-energy, let's-just-survive-until-8pm.  Nobody wanted to go out on that stage and make up any more scenes, but we all knew we had to if we were to get to 8pm. And then 2 more.

It was a state of mind where you were so happy when somebody else took the heroic step onto that stage - completely devoid of the expectation of being entertaining - only to step onto that stage to be the body that was on stage to ensure that something was happening on that stage, that the show was still, technically, happening.  So happy that someone else took that bullet. So happy you would cry.

But we all knew that in order for the group to survive, we'd each be taking many more bullets. Each would be stepping out onto the stage, being that body - that empty vessel, that technicality - that ensured we were fulfilling our self-imposed 26-hour obligation.

And the Gong Demon was waiting for its moment to pounce.

At this particular moment, both Cameron and I were the takers of bullets.  We both had stepped out there onto that stage, allowing the others to be happy it wasn't them.

We got the suggestion "junkyard".  A perfectly wonderful suggestion.  So much potential for something interesting to happen at a junkyard.

And now, before I get to speaking about the video in question - about what transpired in my head - I'd like to make my apologies.

First off, to Cameron, who was the first-hand recipient of my "turn".  I am sorry.  It started off as a bit of "is this real or is this a game?" type of theatre that I adore.  I learned quite quickly that this can be a dangerous type of theatre when the participants are so bloody tired.

Next, to the rest of the Popalopalots. I am sorry. I am sorry that what transpired took us to a dark place that ended up being almost impossible to climb out of.  I always appreciate your willingness to accept my "is this real life" side-tracks.  Or maybe it's not a willingness, but rather an accepting of inevitability.  While still appreciative, I now know how quickly my explorations can change the energy, and how difficult it can be to return from the dark energy that such selfish indulgences can be.

To the audience that experienced it first hand.  I am truly sorry if I caused you to feel any uncomfortableness.  I usually don't mind making an audience uncomfortable - in fact, I often seek it - but this ended up in a too-ugly place.

To the audience that experienced the dull, lifeless, defeated improv scenes that occurred in the couple of hours immediately after the Gong Demon showed, I am sorry you ended up seeing such shitty entertainment.  I place the blame entirely upon myself.

Now, onto an examination of the video, in some attempt to explain how my thought process worked to get us to that ugly situation where I needed to leave the stage and figuratively bath myself in a bottle of demon-exorcising water.

The junkyard.

R: what type of model?
C: Oh a three.

This is where the first seeds of negativity started growing.  Inside my brain, I was a bit disappointed that Cameron said "a three".  "Don't you know any models of cars?", my tired brain thought.  I was surprised at which my brain thought this.  Somewhere deep in there was likely a disappointment in myself for not teaching him more as his father.

R: A French model?
C: Can you do a Belgian French?

Look at my body language right after Cameron asks for Belgian French. My body is speaking this: Why are you making this so difficult for us?  We're in a junkyard, this should be easy. Alright, let's just continue.

Listen to our words.  How slurred they are.  How difficult it seems just to complete simple sentences.  That's how tired we are.  We are both taking multiple bullets, while the others in the group are allowed to disengage and recover enough to be ready to step up next.

C: I thought you were summoning me.

I'll admit this sudden sharp turn threw me for a loop.  It's a turn that Cameron often employs, taking things into more abstract realms. Usually I am all for them, excited to step up to the challenge. But this time, I was not ready for it. In fact, I was shocked that he took this turn at all.  Did he not know how tired I was?  I was so shocked, all I could do was repeat his nonsense:

R: You thought I was summoning you?

I think I was hoping my question and its disbelieving, disapproving tone would elicit the following response from Cameron:  "No, that would be stupid and unnecessary at this point. Really, I'm just looking for hubcaps for a Renault 330."

But that's not what he said next.  What he said next was this:

C: I'm a Gong Demon.

Now, to be fair, this normally should be a perfectly acceptable sharp turn to take in an improv scene.  But I wasn't ready for it, and I certainly didn't want to encourage it.  Not at this point in an improv marathon where my immediate need was to find this character some hubcaps for a Renault 330, finish the scene, and get off the stage, sit down and silently weep while somebody else heroically stepped up to the plate.

A great many things went through my brain in the quarter second of silence that followed his utterance of Gong Demon.  I now believe that one of those things was the summoning of an actual demon.
I don't know if it was my character, or me who said:

R: Oh Jesus Christ.

I'm pretty sure it was the demon who forced me to say it though.  I also know it was the truest line of dialogue I've ever uttered, in that it truly communicated how I (or my character, I don't know) was feeling.
Okay, yes I know. It was me.  It was me who said "Oh Jesus Christ".  My character would never return to that scene.  The rest of it was played by a character named Rob MacDonald.

The next second and a half, I just had to move, had to get away from Cameron.  Was I afraid I was going to punch him for sharp-turning into "gong demon" at this point in the marathon?  Somewhere down deep inside me a character named Rob MacDonald was shouting "well played", a character named Rob MacDonald was moaning loud curled up in a fetal position, a character named Rob MacDonald was stomping around in fury knocking over breakable objects.
I didn't know which of these Rob MacDonalds was going to make the next appearance.

It wasn't until Cameron's next line, where the decision was made.

C: You got a problem with gong demons?

Only Cameron knows for sure, but Rob MacDonald instantly made the assumption that that question wasn't being posed by his character, but it was actually Cameron asking me. Rob MacDonald took it as a challenge.  Inside his brain Rob MacDonald was screaming "I sure do have a problem with gong demons when they show up at this point in an improv marathon, fucker!!" Maybe there was some sort of "can't keep up with me, old man?" psychological aspect happening too?
Whatever it was - me being tired, a demon possessing me or the room or the souls of everyone in that room, the possibility that maybe it was just a shitty improv sharp turn - whatever it was revealed itself in my response:

R: Huh.

Psychologists, scholars and experts could likely debate for years how to interpret that "huh" and my stillness that followed, but there are emotions and feelings and thoughts and avenues of inevitability in those three letters "h" "u" "h" and that stillness- enough to fill volumes of books - as my next decision was made, or thrust upon me.

R: 25 hours into an improv scene, yeah, I have a problem with gong demons.

It got a laugh.  Maybe that was the worst thing.  It got a laugh, and that, of course, propelled me onto the next tirade.
The next tirade was the catalyst for the next few hours of awkward emotions and soul searching by all of us.  I can't be sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if another laugh didn't land in that room for 2 hours.
For that, I apologize.

Was it real? Of course it was real.  Of course I was frustrated and angry tired and wanted to go home and go to bed and needed to lash out.
Was it an act? Of course it was an act.  Of course I needed explore where this would take us, because somewhere at the beginning of it, there was a laugh and of course it wasn't real even though it was because it turned into an art piece.

What I should have realized was that because we were all so tired, all so on edge, so fragile, that I had no right to attempt such an experiment at such a time.

Or maybe I can blame it on the gong demon.

Popalopathon 2018 - The Gong Demon

Monday, February 12

How to Write Comedy for a PEI Audience

I’ve never been good at math. (Insert your own “Not good with math? He must be from PEI” joke here.) But I have managed to calculate that I’ve been poking fun at PEI, in a quasi-professional way, for well over 25 years. (insert your “never heard of him” comment here.) And by "quasi-professional" I mean "amateur" as in "never getting paid".

Over those years I have learned a few things on how to create comedy for the PEI audience. I thought it might be worthwhile to share my knowledge with you.

Lesson One: Localized Layering

The first rule of comedy for a PEI audience is to get on their good side.  But don't make it obvious.  For example, what I’ve cleverly done in that first paragraph, unbeknownst to you, the typical Islander, is I’ve endeared myself to you. By parenthetically indicating that I, like you, have a sub-par education because of our Island’s educational system (always good for a laugh), I’ve quashed any suspicions of my own grandeur.  In short, what I've done is I've inferred that I, like you, am nobody special (nobody likes a hoity-toity Islander).

Aha! But YOU, the person reading this, you are different. And so I am now massaging YOUR ego, because I, of course, never meant to imply that YOU are in any way a “typical” Islander.  YOU are more than that.  YOU are the kind of Islander who isn't afraid of your own brain. It’s for YOU that I used words like “unbeknownst” “quashed” and “grandeur”, because YOU get it. YOU get the comedy behind the comedy.

To perfectly illustrate one of the many challenges of creating comedy for a PEI audience, and, at the same time, appease all the varied layers of culture this Island contains, I offer the following:

We all know it’s easy enough to make a fart joke.  Everyone in the world laughs at those, right?  But what would make that fart joke special is to let them know that the fart is the result of consuming a potato.  That's instant Island relatability.  And then to really cap it off, to really hit it home to the PEI elite, reveal that the potato is actually a Russet Burbank.  (If  you want to go dark with your comedy, you could try throwing in a PVY-N reference.)

Here is a sure-fire joke to prove my example of localized layering:  

My PEI buddy, who was still laughing at the funny things Boomer used to say on The Compass, went to visit his old mother, who, after living most of her life on Cumberland Street, had just moved into a nursing home in Moncton. Even though he was on pogey, he brought her a house-warming gift of a two-four of beer.
It was his first time visiting this home, and so he went up to the nurses desk and asked what room his mother was staying in.After she told him, she asked him if he needed directions to find the room.  Breathing deeply, he said "No, I'll just follow that gassy stench of Russet Burbank potato flatulence."

This joke is 100% guaranteed to get laughs from every Islander.  The typical will guffaw at the very essence of the fart joke (ha ha, a fart joke!!); a great many more will laugh extra hard at the local familiarity the potato offers (PEI Potato farts are The Best!!); and the intellectually superior Islanders will nod in appreciation (well done!! The research that must have gone into discovering that Russet Burbank is a type of potato!!)

And that’s pretty much it for Lesson One.  Don’t always strive for the easy universal joke. Just remember to layer your comedy for all Island ears. Keep it Local.


While contemplating how to teach Islanders how to create their own comedy, I began to wonder what the first Island joke would have been. No doubt it would have come from the oral traditions of its first inhabitants. Imagine a Mi’kmaq humourist, generations ago, family all gathered around the fire, as he lets a long, loud one go, causing the flame to turn blue and purple.  Oh how they would have laughed.  A few would even nod, knowing that this fart could only be the result of the consumption of local seal meat.

I also dream that the 1534 Jacques Cartier quote, “the fairest land ‘tis possible to see” was actually said in sarcasm about the island. But I know it wasn’t.  I can believe, however, that the end portion of that quote has gone missing over the years, and the full statement that Jacques Cartier uttered was “The fairest land ‘tis possible to see. Except in winter, which seems 10 months long   Pfffffffffttttttt.”


Next Lesson: Essential words and concepts that will make your comedy relevant to all Islanders: like  “pogey”, "Boomer", “Moncton”, "two-four" and “Cumberland Street”.