Conversion Screening Saturday June 29th, 2013

A different kind of film deserves a different kind of screening!

 Four years ago, indie filmmakers Dominic F. Marceau, Kate MacDonald and Paul Ash decided to make a movie called ‘Conversion’. And so they did. Without government or private funding, without going through any of the usual channels to recruit talent or technical staff, without relying on a major studio for distribution and relying on technology available to virtually everyone. Now, they’re ready to reveal their creation to the world.

Conversion trailer

Flash forward and the film that defines the word “independent” is having its premiere at the Maxwell-Cummings Auditorium at Montreal’s Musée des Beaux Arts on June 29th. The fact that the filmmakers decided to have their big night at Montreal’s prestigious Fine Arts Museum is indicative of the non-traditional history of the film.

Paul Ash, known locally as the host of several successful comedy nights, including the weekly Kick Ash Comedy Show, takes the lead alongside MacDonald- the screenplay’s author in her debut performance- in the story of two thirty-something city-dwellers who desperately want to get home at the end of the night. The cast also features a number of cutting edge performers from the Montreal’s alternative comedy scene, as well as new and exciting actors proving that the city’s well of talent runs very deep indeed.

Director Dominic F. Marceau gives the city a starring role as well- the film was shot in various locations throughout Montreal and features some iconic views as well as some little-seen back alleys that give the city its unique character.

 “Really, Montreal is playing itself,” he says. “The rest of us are just interacting with it.”

The filmmakers’ plans for distributing the film are as DIY as the process of making it. Following the premiere, they plan to make it available through online distribution, charging a nominal amount for people everywhere to access it and see what a determined crew of inspired indie producers can do.

‘Conversion’ was shot using DSLR technology- a still photography camera that can capture high-resolution video. The result is shocking in its quality and shows that it is absolutely possible for aspiring filmmakers to accomplish without relying on outside funding to complete their projects.

 “I can’t say how critics or other filmmakers will respond to the film,” MacDonald says, “but I hope it gives them an idea of what can be done by someone who just really wants to make a film and is willing to work hard to make it happen. That’s really the investment that we’ve made here: a lot of hard work.”

‘Conversion’ will be screened at the Maxwell-Cummings Auditorium, 1379 Sherbrooke St. W on June 29th at 8p.m. Admission is free and donations can be made to assist in the further distribution of the film.

For further information please contact Kate MacDonald: 514.451.3469/ kate@fsquaredmedia.net or Dominic Marceau: 514.779.3437/ dominic@fsquaredmedia.net

End of June Beginning of July in Paul Ash Comedy

Something special is going to be shown soon

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BR1JruVHjNc&w=560&h=315]

Here’s where you can see Paul Ash in the coming two weeks

Monday June 24th, celebrating Bon Fete and my daughter’s birthday with Krash Production’s Something Funny’s happening at Blue Dog hosted by Ali Hassan and featuring Jon Bennett of Australia (Fire in the Meth Lab, My Dad’s Deaths, Pretending Things Are A Cock).  Also on the bill are Jason Yearow, Dan Derkson, Karl Knox, Emma Wilkie, Gino Durante, and Tim Riel (Ottawa)

Tuesday June 25th has a double happening, one for both languages – first up at 8pm is GladiaCOM 3.  Mathieu Dignard host’s the French version of BattleCOM at CoOp Katacombes (doors at 7:30pm) at 1635 St-Laurent.  This month’s Battlers (or Gladiators) are:
François Tousignant ( Champion du Gladia-Com II)
Marie-Lise Dominguez
Maxime Lacoste-Lachance
Jonathan Guérin À Beauharnois
Reda Saoui
Claudy-Marc Moreau Duvivier

At 9pm Grinders Comedy Night at Theatre St-Catherine kicks off and Paul Ash will be there to close the show.

The week ends with something very special.  Conversion is a film project that Paul Ash was very proud to be part of.  Written by (and co-starring) Kate MacDonald it was directed by Domenic Marceau and, though it’s not a comedy film, features many from the Montreal Comedy community.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJUMecJb8Pk&w=560&h=315]

Dan Derkson, George Hamilton Braithwaite, Faisal Butt, Asaf Gerchak, Demelza St-James, Joel West, Stefan Peterson, Kris Dulgar & Morgan O’Shea (plus many background cameos!)ONE NIGHT ONLY!

After years of hard work, we’ve decided to punch convention in the junk and do our own damn premiere! We could have done a screening earlier, but we wanted to be able to do something truly special- something that was worthy of all the effort that was put into the project by so many of you.CONVERSION tells the story of two thirty-something friends who head out on a Friday night to escape the drudgery of their daily grind. Unfortunately, they miss the last subway home and circumstances lead them into an increasingly strange series of misadventures with incresingly strange people. Contact with the night’s idiosyncratic characters proves entertaining, frightening and ultimately enlightening. F SQUARED MEDIA presentsC O N V E R S I O Nstarring PAUL ASH & KATE MACDONALDGEORGE HAMILTON BRAITHWAITE HEATHER NANGREAVES & DAN DERKSONdirector of photography D.J. MATRUNDOLA edited by BEN GOLOFF sound design by KYLE STANFIELD music by MICHELE MARTINproduced by KATE MACDONALD DOMINIC F. MARCEAU D.J. MATRUNDOLA PAUL ASHwritten by KATE MACDONALD directed by DOMINIC F. MARCEAUFeaturing music by: Hypnoskull, Xeno & Oaklander, Byetone, Orphx, Subliminal, Ramleh, Ait!, Slater’s Sons, Hyperbottom, Dianes in Danger, and more!Running time: 92 MinutesScreening will take place in the Maxwell-Cummings Auditorium, Door A1379 Rue Sherbrooke OuestMontreal, QC H3G 2C6CanadaFREE ADMISSION (Donations accepted)

Sunday June 30th
A Very Comedy Nest Canada Day
Comedians from different parts of the country unite in a stand-up show that celebrates being Canadian.  Hosted by bilingual Just-For-Laughs/Juste-Pour-Rire veteran SÉBASTIEN BOURGAULT, with Montreal’s JOEY ELIAS (CBC’s Just For Laughs), Toronto’s MATT SHURY, Halifax’s PAUL ASH (The Comedy Network’s Great Canadian Laugh-Off), and some international perspective from New York’s DeANNE SMITH (The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson), plus surprise guests!

Tuesday July 2nd Paul Ash hosts the Kick Ash Comedy Show as one of the Kings of the Mountain.  Also on the show are:  Mo Arora, Jason Yearow, Shawn Stenhouse, Stefan Petersen, Eric Arsenault, Paul Worrel and Dan Derkson and closed out by Jess Demers!

Thursday to Saturday (July 4th – 6th), keeping the hosting train going, Paul Ash will be hosting for K. Trevor Wilson at The Comedy Nest in the AMC Forum

Conveniently, also at the Comedy Nest is July’s BattleCOM, the 6th BattleCOM show at the Comedy Nest!  Battling are Greg Hamilton (OTS, Thunder Tickle), Terence Bowman (RFV, Improv Ronin), Tim Riel (Ottawa), Walter Lyng (Pitching Knife Fight and Drop the Gloves, last month’s Grand Champion), and Mathieu Dignard (GladiaCOM).

Comedy Nest July 5th

Comedy Nest July 5th

Ask Ash: Understanding the Joke Thief

brick wall thiefThis is not in response to a direct question, but there’s been another spat of internet chat on the subject of joke thieves, particularly involving people I respect.  This was brought to the fore again by a recent streamed discussion on Extralegal Norms at Harvard University.

“It’s a “cancer in the industry”: comedians stealing each other’s jokes.@JimMendrinos#copyrightX” – @MiTLibScholarly on Twitter

“there’s a lot of people in the industry who should drown in their own saliva” – Jim Mendrinos

Joke thieves are a (rightfully) vilified fact of life in the comedy community.  They cause stress and sow fear in the lives of creators as well as rob opportunities from those who are deserving.  Who could be so vile, so destructive to the world around them and would want the hate and loathing of their peers?  “No one” is the correct answer.  This is something that we must keep in mind if we want to lessen the effect this behaviour has on our industry.  Brow beating, finger pointing and McCarthy-esque outings are only going to polarize our community and not get to the roots of the problem.

“No one is a villain in their own mind.” – Harry Crews

Let us try to identify the types of joke thieves, work out their motivations and figure out what we can do together to curb their behaviour.

Casual Performer

Who:  The casual performer is someone out for a good time.  They don’t see a career in comedy, they’re the office cut-up, funniest one of their friends.  They probably forward videos, post pictures from various sites on their Facebook, and as a lark they decide to get onstage to tell a few jokes.  Some seek out comedy clubs, some just go to a local open mic or even a karaoke club – some place that’ll give them a stage and a mic.  They just want to have fun, and they’ll bring their supportive friends with them.  They’ll do versions of jokes they’ve read online, even bits from their favourite comics (sometimes even giving credit to the original performer).

Problem:  The obvious problem most people see is that the Casual Performer (CP) is taking stage time away from people who need it to develop, who want it more.  That’s the wrong way to think of it.  The problem with the CP is that they are a comedy fan.  They love it, they just don’t know how to create it so they mimic what they like.  The most damaging problem is that CP’s bring out people.  They are the funny one of their friends, they’re constantly told they should get onstage – and bars that are more concerned with drinks sold and butts in seats overlook the poor quality of their act.  Correcting their behavior has to be done delicately.

 “Obviously this person has to be publicly humiliated as an unimaginative hack.”  No.  As a performer, this type of person IS your audience.  Polarizing them, publicly humiliating them, does nothing but turn them against you (or your room / club).  Their friends will take their side, because that’s what friends do.  Then you have a group of people who are upset with your room / club AND they may even insist to the CP that you were wrong and that they must continue.  An axiom of the hospitality industry is if one person leaves unhappy, you lose 16 potential customers.

Solution:  Take the CP aside privately, and encourage their… something.  Mic control, presence, timing – maybe there was something original in their act.  As someone they’ve seen onstage, who praises them, your encouragement will mean alot and they’ll be more willing to listen to what else you have to say.  Kindly suggest if they intend to continue that they should make sure their act is original and not a ‘tribute’ to someone else or include jokes they’ve read on the internet (depending on their crimes).  Take time to work with them if that’s what it takes.  An exposure to the craft should help show them what is truly involved, hopefully garnering them a greater respect for the stage time and the work of comedians.  This method keeps the CP in your community, as well as their friend network, growing your audience.  It’s best to remember they are a comedy fan, they just don’t know how it works.

Danger:  The CP may not change his ways, you’ll need to keep an eye on them if they perform at other rooms.  It is only after they’ve obviously disregarded any advice and continue stealing material / doing street jokes, that you may wish to approach people who run other rooms and warn them about the CP.  A community working together can help stop this behaviour.  A booker that  that’s more concerned with butts in seats then quality could find a CP an attractive act.  In that case, it’s up to the community to say no.  Refuse to perform on a show that includes the joke thief.  Some people will cave for the stage time, even if you explain to them why BUT with enough good acts staying away, the booker’s show quality will fall, with that the attendance and the money.  That will get the booker (or his boss)’s attention.

mouse thief

Subconcious Stealer

Who:  Usually the Subconscious Stealer (SS) is a member of the community who may unintentionally lift themes, voices or unusual word choices from the other acts they see in the community.  Their social life may revolve around shows, they go to them often, even when not on.  They pay attention to all the acts and laugh even at jokes they’ve seen many times before.  They love the scene.  They tend to be strong performers (similar to, but not as strong as the Performing Sponge, below), if not gifted at writing, the know how to sell a joke.

Many mid-sized cities develop a comedy ‘flavour’.  The acts that do well, get booked more often, and become the acts to emulate.  Audiences become educated that the style of the often booked act is how comedy should be, and reward other acts of that style with laughter and applause.  Comedians checking their setlist for jokes that hit will then trim the jokes of the style that didn’t… reinforcing that city’s flavour.

Problem:  Some writers like to use unusual words, a different phrasing, cadence or persona to set themselves apart.  If other acts start using that phrasing, cadence, persona or vocabulary – it’s no longer special, no longer unique – and it muddies the water about who the audience may think did it first.  Truthfully, most audience members don’t care who did a joke first as long as they laugh.

Solution:  Again, quietly approach the performer and have a polite conversation.  Ask them if they think they’ve any similarities between your phrasing / character / cadence and the one they use in a certain joke.  It’s best to have back up (either recorded proof or a single normally neutral person as you don’t want to appear to be ganging up on the SS) as a witness to say “yeah, that is a lot like…”  Try to let them see that stylistically they’ve drifted towards you and encourage them to be more themselves.  Most, if it presented to them as a non-attack, may realize your point.  Worst case, they may accuse you of drifting stylistically towards them.

Danger:  It’s possible the SS does perform your material better.  The fact they camp on the scene means more people may have seen your style from them first.  Some SS may be better networked than you, with more industry friends – making them feel like they’ve stolen from you could blacken your name.  Many of the higher echelon comedians who are accused of stealing their acts (more than just a couple of jokes) have found greater success then those that they’ve allegedly stolen from.  Many have successful careers as actors.  Sometimes the solution may only be to ask to write for the SS, you are still working in the industry and you’ll be able to use their connections to further your next career move.

“Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate — and quickly.” Lazurus Long (Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYwaWvN5kMo&w=560&h=315]

 Victim of Success

Who:  A rising star, someone who may be a ten year overnight success.  An act who has achieved a growth in success and now is feeling pressure to follow it up.  I touched on the concept of ‘Second Album Syndrome‘ in a previous article.  Their goal is to further grow their career, or at least maintain the new lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed too.  If they realize they’re stealing another comic’s material they can justify it to themselves by saying they’ve worked hard, gave others a hand, were stolen from and deserve their success.  Now they have bills to pay, and they must be paid rather than slide down the socioeconomic ladder.

Problem:  This act is now a goldenboy, they’ve been accepted and praised by the masses.  They spent 10 years developing an act that has now exploded and garnered them a lot of success.  Their problem is, now, they have to develop another act (as good as or better than the act they took 10 years to build) in less than 12 months, or lose any momentum they may have gained.

The VoS may not even realize they’re doing it, in that way, they share some traits with the SS.  Now that they really have to push themselves to create material they may find themselves drawing concepts from deep memories, unknowingly, of acts they saw years ago.  Or they could be douchebags with a cocaine habit that they need to feed and judge the risk of stealing some unknown’s material with the fear of not having a solid second album (or DVD).

Solution:  The solution is fairly similar to the solution for the SS.  Talk with them quietly.  It’s very important you have proof of ownership of your material.  Many comedy celebrities have a posse – a team of friends they count on, either to help develop material or write it for them.  It’s possible the material you think was ripped off was actually ripped off by a writer and passed on to the unknowing VoS.  Usually some arrangement can be reached, and if necessary (and you have solid proof of when you created your material and where they VoS saw it), you may want to think about pursuing legal action if your material was tantamount to their success.  Usually it doesn’t have to go that far (as long as no public humiliation has happened).

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xP-m4tE4ys&w=560&h=315]

If there is someone who’s gained a reputation for stealing material, make sure they don’t see yours.  Stories abound about how comedians would drop off shows if they heard Robin Williams was in the room – just because they feared he’d steal their material.

Danger:  The danger to your career, is evident.  If you’re a lower echelon comedian entering a flame war with a rising or established star it may damage your career chances  even if you have documentation to point to.  If you’re an upper echelon comic with a new star using some of your old material, it may be seen as sour grapes to attack their use of your material / concepts – like you can’t handle seeing someone else succeed or do what you did but better.  Comedians must remember that average audience members don’t care who wrote something, just who made them laugh.  Without documented proof, you’re a crackpot.  You’ll upset those that are currently working on projects with the VoS – burning bridges.  You risk coming across as whiney and you’re inviting others to come in and examine every joke / performance you’ve done.

line 2 Cutting Edge Hack

Who:  The Cutting Edge Hack (CEH) may be the most oblivious of joke thieves.  Habits include having a notebook, paying attention at shows and being excited by good ideas.  They tend to sidle up to performers they respect often exclaiming how well written a piece is.  They rarely give ‘tags’ to their friends.

Problem:  Most all of us can agree on what hack is.  But how does something become hack?  I’m sure someone somewhere wrote a very funny joke about airline food – and then a lot of other people made similar observations.  Now the idea of airline food is a joke.  Well the Cutting Edge Hack is similar to the person who wrote the 2nd joke about airline food.  They like to spot ‘trends’ in comedy, so they can appear hip and have jokes about the same subjects that their idol / friends do.  They don’t see this as stealing, they’re just using a tired premise – yours.  They’ll see an idea that another comic does, and then put their spin on it.  They may be good writers, but just not good creators.  Maybe they’re lazy, or maybe they don’t have much world experience – so they live vicariously though the jokes of others.

Solution:  If this happens, speak to them quietly.  Most likely they don’t see borrowing a concept as stealing.  The best solution I can think of is building a community.  Where comedians will write together often, where comics give tags to each other when they think of them.  In that kind of atmosphere it’s easier to educate newer comics to the sense of propriety and that working together you get stronger.  By thinking of tags for other comics you will learn to write for other’s voices, a good skill to have if your career goals include becoming a writer.

Danger:  Handle it wrong and you will gain the resentment of someone who thinks you’re jealous.  They may even think you’re version of the joke is hack – something they’ve improved on.  That you can’t handle better they can write your joke (which is now theirs).  You’re just trying to keep them down and can’t handle their success.

line 1 Performing Sponge

Who:  The Performing Sponge (PS) is a fantastic performer, with great presence, an affinity for mimicry and is able to sell sea water to a drowning man.  Everything they experience and see they can bring to the stage.

Problem:  Everything they experience and see, they can bring to the stage – including acts they’ve gleaned.  Sometimes it’s subconscious, most I’ve encountered have theatre training, which compliments their gifts and help refined them.  In theatre you’re handed a script to interpret.  You develop improv skills so you may act or speak as your character without the need to formulate what comes out.  If they hear an idea – they see it as fair game.  It’s not the idea (script) that is important but the interpretation, on which they put their stamp on.

Solution:  Again it comes down to a quiet, private chat.  This form of thief shares much with the SS, VoS and CEH.  They may have respect for the acting craft but may not realize that stand-up comedy is a separate discipline with it’s own set of rules.  Most people serious about theatre will respect that when pointed out.  With this sort of joke thief, respect goes a long way.  They have skills you can recognize, and indirectly by sampling your material, the show they respect skills you have.  It is in both of yours best interest to educate each other and come to an amicable solution.

Danger:  The danger comes is the PS refuses to recognize the rules of material ownership in comedy and decides to continue doing material about whatever they come across, including other people’s jokes (premises, set-ups or even word for word).  These types of acts can be very popular, asking bars not to book them, or other acts to refuse to be on shows with them may be hard – but if they borrow from all they work with, it will get easier.

Hopefully we can better understand the motivations of the joke thief, to recognize them sooner and deal with them effectively.  Summarizing what is above:

  • Approach them privately and quietly (not publicly or via rumour)
  • Assume it was done innocently.  Remember, parallel thought can and does happen
  • Have proof that is easy to point to, be open to the thought they may have been first
  • Do it as soon as you can, the longer they do another’s joke the more they’ll feel it’s their own.
  • Try to build a rapport, mentor them on stand-up writing etiquette

These things will help build and strengthen a community, and that will make all comedy communities stronger.  What you must remember is, that someone may steal a joke from you, but they don’t steal your ability to write better jokes.

Yours,
Ash

 

Film Review: A Good Day To Die Hard

This is a pocket review of Die Hard 5: A Good Day To Die Hard.  Starting this I realized I’ve only ever done one other film review in blog form, and that was for Looper, another Bruce Willis film.  (For my 140 character reviews check out my Twitter look for #FilmReview.)  I’ve never thought of myself as a Bruce Willis fan, looking back at his filmography there are some amazing hits, as well as some spectacular bombs.  I’ll present my observations, and let you decide where this film falls.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61UqRmDjwgc&w=560&h=315]

You can’t talk about a sequel without mentioning the film that started the franchise, in this case, 1988’s Die Hard.  Die Hard took a television actor (personally I never got into Moonlighting), and made him a bankable movie star.  What’s remarkable is that Bruce Willis was allegedly the seventh choice for the role – and it made his film career.  Nowadays it’s far more frequent for actors to drift between television and film, but at the time it was considered a big move (up).  What made the original Die Hard’s John McClane live so strongly in my imagination was his mortality.  He got hurt, felt pain, he didn’t go looking for trouble but he didn’t back down from doing the right thing.  He was a hero that all of us hope we are deep down.  And he did it with a sense of humour.

 [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIOX44m8ktc&w=560&h=315]

Now is the time to start talking about Die Hard 5: A Good Day To Die Hard.  I’ll leave a warning for spoilers and and obvious extro at spoilers end, just prior to my summation.

The Die Hard franchise has had it’s ups and downs, but has always delivered somewhat in the same style: tongue in cheek humour, darkest before the dawn and one or two major stunt set pieces and a strong nod to family.  This one is not majorly different.  Yet the start felt very different, more akin to a Daniel Craig Bond, or a Bourne film.  With the popularity of those ‘thinking man’ action films evolving the genre (and the fact that Willis’ own Red fits into that category) it would make sense to reinvent the franchise.  Without seeing any promotional material I probably would have felt very confused by the action, the location…  pretty much everything – even having a general idea of what the film was about and seeing the title credits I wondered if I walked into the wrong theatre.

Spoilers

The opening action scene was filled with quick cuts, an avoidance of faces (for the most part), obviously showed an Eastern European city and a set up to some brief unexplained violence.  Finally we get a glimpse of John McClane, and he seems different.  He’s respected, low key and maybe even a bit broken by life, or hurt in a way we’ve not seen before, because of his fractured relationship with his son.  It’s only because I read an article about the film prior to going in that I knew that Jack McClane was dishonourably discharged from American special forces – which was just a cover for his move to the C.I.A.

After a cameo from Lucy Gennaro we get a taste of the old John McClane, his charm, his ability to relate to different people and finally his wit.  It almost feels like I’m watching a mashup of two movies.  After much hijinx, explosions and generalized mayhem father finally comes face to face with son, and neither is happy with it.  This makes me feel that Valentine’s Day was not a good weekend for this film’s release, as Father’s Day would obviously be more appropriate.  This quickly devolves (thanks to some gunfire) into the first major action piece of the film.

The car chase.  You’ve seen bits of it in the trailer, and trailers are famous for showing all the good stuff from a film, but I was not disappointed.  Car chase is a serious misnomer, cars are minor annoyances to the vehicles involved – it’s only called a car chase because delivery van / armoured vehicle / flatbed truck / Mercedes SUV chase is too long.  Through this chase we meet the first villain who displays character and panache, Alik (aka the dancer).  This scene is why I go to Die Hard films, explosions, comic book over the top violence, very real world danger and pithy retorts shouted between characters who couldn’t possibly hear one another.  The chase came a hair’s breadth from being too long and any belief in real world physics was completely thrown out the window by the end – but ended beautifully, barely forwarding the plot.

Unfortunately this was the last interesting thing in the film.  After losing their way out of Moscow / Russia (they never explained how far they needed to go), they end up at a safe house where Cole Hauser quickly gives exposition and is deleted from the film as quickly as he entered – so much for 7th billing.  More father / son moaning goes on (and by now, it’s moaning – hug already) as they try to rescue their asset, gain his key and daughter and make for safety.  But it’s a Die Hard film, and nothing is that easy.

A face to face stand-off with Alik (and I’m beginning to like this guy).  He makes references to 1986 causing John and Jack McClane to laugh; which at first made me think he was referencing the events of Die Hard 1 – but that was set in 1988, after getting home and researching I realized it was the year of the Chernobyl disaster…  Way to earn sensitivity points.  We glimpse shadowy men running things in the background, an air of ‘bigger than you can imagine’ badness, helicopter shooting up a building (Die Hard 1 meets True Lies) and then a strangely quiet road trip where a car travels as fast as a helicopter over what seems half a day (or longer) travel.  For some reason, when it’s not cloaked in cartoony violence logical stretches like this lose their appeal.

[googlemaps https://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=Russia,+Moscow&daddr=Russia,+chernobyl&geocode=FQ6sUgMdgBc-AinJsNRz_Eq1RjFMz1dXzNZEPQ%3BFeYxDgMdjV3NASnPq5joAI8qRzEsXf3bq868FA&aq=&sll=53.166785,33.748114&sspn=8.869179,16.940918&t=h&hl=en&mra=ls&ie=UTF8&ll=53.166785,33.748114&spn=5.1658,7.751099&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

Seriously, how do you hide around a city until nightfall, steal a gangster’s car and then make a nearly 12 hour drive faster than a Hind.  Plus, it was night when you stole the car – and 12 hours later it’s still night?  Russia, what a country!

Father and son patch their relationship, and finally decide to be a team just in time for the final action set piece.  And it is a piece, a piece of crap.  After so much real world, “can’t be CGI” amazing that was the car chase scene we’re treated to a green screen nightmare version that would fit better as a 2009 music video.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yw1Tgj9-VU&w=560&h=315]

Even the insides of the building felt like a douchebag nightclub, not the leftover ruins of one of the worst nuclear disasters on the planet.

Major spoiler

Then Alik, a flunky but became the fun villain, was unceremoniously killed.  The true villain was finally revealed, and you know what – huge twist that it was meant to be, I didn’t care.  Much more explosions, some pain, bloodshed and a walk off into the sunrise leaving the world a much safer place.  Yawn.  It’s a Die Hard film, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

End of spoilers

Was this film worthy of the Die Hard franchise.  Yes, barely…  It’s greatest weakness is that it lacks any true villain.  Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) didn’t need to tell everyone he was brilliant and evil because he WAS brilliant and evil.  To have a great hero, you need to challenge him with a great villain.  Reading their C.V.’s I could see how someone would mistake DH5’s bad guys as villains.  Yes, they are bad men (and women) who’ve done horrible things and they want to have it all swept under the rug.  But it didn’t come across on the screen.  Even posturing seemed weak, their plans held together by weirdly implausible coincidences.  Hans Gruber didn’t count on coincidences, he anticipated the law’s response and included them in his plans.  If John McClane hadn’t been there, he would have gotten away free and clear.  If only ‘the dancer’ could have truly cut lose with his sociopathic tendencies could we have seen a good villain.

I understand that they wanted to make this film a cross generational McClane saga – maybe take the franchise to a new level, being able to survive different incarnations of the lead (an American Bond?).  With so many shadowy background players, and so many locations (I tried to not enter the ‘Die Hard is best contained’ debate) traveled to so illogically, I felt the film was muddied.  No clear enemy.  Even the launch date seemed wrong – Valentine’s Day?  This film screams Father’s Day, and it just seemed another poor choice in a string meant to undermine my enjoyment of this film.  The first set piece did put me on the edge of my seat… but the rest of the film made my ass a bit numb.

Will I look forward to the next Die Hard?  Yes, like any (sucker) fan, but I hope they don’t try to shine any lights on shadowy players again.  Or if they do, that these are the Shadowy Men in question.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XrkvAU7-AGA&w=420&h=315]

Yours,
Ash

How To Stand-up Comedy Contest (part III)

Kick Ash November 2009 CJ WaterhouseIn this, part three about stand-up comedy contests, I’ll explain how I run my monthly comedy competition, Kick Ashiest, as part of the weekly open mic The Kick Ash Comedy Show.  Again I’ll be explaining the reasons for the choices I make. The Kick Ash Comedy Show is a weekly open mic starting 9pm every Tuesday in Andrews Pub, located at 1239 Guy, Montreal, Canada.  Acts either get asked to perform by me, or book with me by sending a message to the Kick Ash facebook fanpage. The monthly competition is Kick Ashiest, a play on the show’s name, which is a play on my name.

KAshiestFKick Ashiest

Kick Ashiest (Kick Ash’s monthly competition) runs every 5th week.  From the previous 4 King of the Mountain shows I pick my favorite two performers each week.  I occasionally ask for feedback from friends who attend the show but generally I try to take note of those that make a special connection with the audience.  It’s my choice, but hey, it’s my name on the show.  I never tell anyone that they are auditioning for me, and I’ve not corrected anyone who thinks the audience vote for King of the Mountain selects the Kick Ashiest participants (well, until now).

The goals of this competition are:
1) to show my confidence in new acts
2) to put together the best show of the month, and let people know it is the best of the month.

How it works

The show is set up with a host (most often me), an opening act, followed by those in the competition (in a predetermined, random order) and ending with a closing act while scores are tabulated.  The show ends with me naming and awarding the cash prize to the winner.

Expert Judges

Expert Judges

Scoring works on two points.  An audience vote and judges.  Yep, judges.  Most comedians who dislike ‘contests’ top three peeves are: judges, judges and vomit on their shoes.

“I’m a comic’s comic.”
“Judges don’t understand the craft.”
“Comedy is subjective, if they don’t like what I do – how can I win?”

What many comedians forget, is that every time we go onstage we’re judged.  Every joke we tell, audience members judge, if they like the joke, they laugh.  If they don’t, we get silence.  Selecting two specific people to be judges doesn’t change that, it just makes it two specific people.  That said, I ask certain people to be judges.  People I know, or who are recommended to me, as involved in the arts or even specifically comedy.  I’ve had pro comics, comedy bloggers, news host, burlesque performers and musicians all work as judges.

Judges judge on two attributes:
1) Material: how well written are the jokes?  How original and unique a take does the performer have?  Does the material flow from one subject to the other in a seamless fashion?
2) Stagecraft: how comfortable is the performer onstage?  Do they interact well with the audience, are they natural onstage or awkward?  Do they know how to use a microphone?  How professional do they seem, have they taken notes onstage?

Each attribute is scored out of 5, each judge adds the totals for each performer together for a potential of 10.  The two judges’ scores are added together for a total out of 20.

Audience vote:
The audience, via ballot, vote for their two favorite acts.  The reason behind voting for two was covered in Part II of this article.  As the closing act performs, I quickly tabulate the audience votes. Bonus points are added to the judges’ scores:
most votes: +5
second most: +4
third most: +3

So, if someone so wows the judges to get a perfect score, as well as wows the audience to get the most votes – the highest score attainable is 25.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen.

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

Why?

I chose the acts, because I like the acts.  I get to see the show I want to see.  I show confidence in the acts I like.  I want them to know I believe in them.

There are two judges, to account for differing tastes in comedy.  Just like every audience member, each judge will view each competitor based on their own merits.

Audience bonus points enter an element of wild card.  If someone can bring the entire audience behind them, they have a better chance of winning.

Added to the show are an opening act and a closing act.  The opening act prevents anyone from feeling like they are first up.  The closing act gives us time to tabulate the scores so we can award the winner the prize.

Did we say prize?  Maybe this is people’s why; $50!  Yep, living the dream.

The Kick Ash Comedy Show is every Tuesday, at Andrews Pub, 1239 Guy in Montreal.  Show time is 9pm sharp, doors open at 11am.

How To Stand-up Comedy Contest (part II)

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

Tuesday 9pm at Andrews Pub

In this, part two about stand-up comedy contests, I’ll explain how I run one of the two different competitions which are part of  The Kick Ash Comedy Show.  I’ll also explain the reasons for the choices I make.

The Kick Ash Comedy Show is a weekly open mic starting 9pm every Tuesday in Andrews Pub, located at 1239 Guy, Montreal, Canada.  Acts either get asked to perform by me, or book by sending a message to the Kick Ash facebook fanpage.

The two competitions are Kick Ashiest and the subject of this article, The King of the Mountain.

King of the MountainKing of the Mountain

King of the Mountain runs each week that isn’t the Kick Ashiest (the show’s monthly competition).  In a nutshell, the audience votes for the favorite two acts to come back the following week to act as host and closer (and earn a little cash).  This competition started because I was beginning to feel host burnout.  Each week, with the same regulars I found it hard to keep it fresh 52 times a year.  Rather the continually asking others to host a show with my name on it I turned it into a competition. Occasionally winners selected cannot perform the following week so I step in to fill their role and I act as the defacto replacement guy.  Also, I sometimes schedule myself a spot and get voted in as a King of the Mountain too.

The two primary goals of this competition are:
1) to have acts advertise to their networks (friends, family and fans), raising awareness of the show brand, getting a few more butts in seats.
2) have the winners feel recognized, and given a chance for advancement.
3) encourage audience members to remember the names of performers they like

A game of king of the hill in progress

a group of 3rd graders enjoying a game of king of the hill

The competition’s name comes from two sources., the city of Montreal’s name and a sadistic kids game.  Montreal is a contraction from French “Mont Royale” or “Royal Mountain”, the city’s most prominent landmark (next to Chez Paris Gentlemen’s Club).  King of the hill, for people who grew up with protective parents, is a “game” where children would pick a high spot (such as a hill or the top of the monkey bars) and whoever  held that spot at the end or the longest, by pushing down and tripping their competition, was the king.  (Losers could be identified by needing to wear hockey equipment and eating via straws).  By combining those two things we have King of the Mountain.  Every performer who goes onstage is eligible, including those who won the week before – so it is possible to build a streak.  King of the Mountain thus refers to comedy king of Montreal.

How It Works

Every nonperforming member of the audience receives a ballot through the show. (Other comics are encouraged to come support their friends).  The host is tasked with reminding the audience about the competition throughout the show and the names of those competing.  On each ballot, the audience members are asked to write down their favorite two acts, the order doesn’t matter, the spelling doesn’t matter – but it has to be two.  After the show, I collect the ballots, and within the next few days contact the two acts that received the top most amount of votes.  They have the option of returning the following week for a paid spot, either as host or to close the show.

Strengths

Why do I run it this way?  Having an open ballot encourages the performers to bring out people to the show, more friends = more votes (unless your friends don’t vote for you because the all secretly hate you).  Choosing a second performer means they’ll have to honestly pick someone alongside their friend.  A written ballot is hidden, so there is no public “clap off” or humiliation to the acts.

 Weaknesses

vote-ballot-boxThe main weaknesses to this format are related to the ballots.
1) Ballot stuffing has occurred, but generally has been easy to recognize when one person has dropped in a number of extra ballots.
2) Booking two comedians who share a social circle, is a little dangerous.  If their friends decide to preselect who’ll they’ll vote for and not judge it on the performances they see that night – it’s a bit dishonest and unfair.
3) A comic could potentially suggest to his friends to use their second vote on the worst act of the night.  To my knowledge, this has never happened, and would be hard to co-ordinate to have a large enough impact.
4) Trust.  I’m the sole person counting votes.  If people don’t trust me to be fair and honest, then why participate?

Impact On The Show

Currently, I would say this format has been a positive impact on the show.  Generally new performers are more excited to perform, audiences have seen an elevated level of quality from the comedians, so word of mouth advertising has increased.  Newer performers who win are given the opportunity to stretch themselves by closing the show or hosting for the first time.

Most of all, people are paying attention to who’s had the longest streak.  The current streak record is 4 shows…  Who’s going to beat that?

Yours,
Ash

Battle-COM Tonight in Montreal

February 8th at the Comedy Nest in Montreal

10:30 February 8th at the Comedy Nest

Tonight at The Comedy Nest on the 3rd floor of the Pepsi Forum (corner of Atwater and St-Catherine) is the second Comedy Nest Presents Battle-COM.

Battle-COM is part stand-up, part improv, part theatre, part gladiator games and all fun.

 

 

 

 

Returning

Sandiford CCG Dan Derkson CCG

Chris Sandiford and Dan Derkson survived the first Comedy Nest presents Battle-COM

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqFqVL5_kVg&w=560&h=315]

They’ll be facing off against new competitors Ryan Stick, Jason Yearow, Emma Wilkie, Tessa J Brown and Michael Lifshitz

Ryan Stick CCG Jason Yearow Emma Wilkie CCG Tessa Brown CCG Michael Lifshitz CCG

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guzwaMsfDb4&w=560&h=315]

The Battlefields

Romantic Comic Book Couple Black Role Model Sexiest Action Hero

The Comedy Nest, Pepsi Forum, Montreal.

10:30pm start time, doors at 10pm

$6 for the unwaged / $10

Underground parking and next to Metro Atwater.

See you there!

Battle-COM (v2.02)

The Geek Battle of Comedy Shows

The Geek Battle of Comedy Shows

Take a large dose of “The Big Bang Theory”, a wallop of an “8 Mile” rap battle and stir in a dash of “Let’s Make a Deal” and you have an idea of what “Battle-COM” is.

Battle-Com sees two performers skewer pop culture and each other in the name of entertainment.  Paul Ash stands between these forces playing the role of Battle Marshal, introducing the topics (Battle Fields) and players (Battlers).  The crew of Battlers fight for the right to be called a Battle Master and Battle Champion.  That’s right – they use the word Battle a lot.

This is a mental blood-sport, an ego bruiser that is judged by the audience.  When you enter the Battle Dome you know it’s not a typical comedy show.  Both sides of the stage are draped with a Battle Banner, each in a colour which matches either side of the Battle Flag you were handed as you entered.  A podium with a silver bar sits in the middle of the stage.

February 8th at the Comedy Nest in Montreal

February 8th at the Comedy Nest in Montreal

The show starts with a reverse curtain call, introducing you to the Battlers – for the audience judges their fate.  All leave the Battle Arena (stage) except the Battle Marshal and two Battlers.  A Battle is a quick affair; it’s a best 2 out of 3 (with ties gaining no points).  First round the Battlers are to be positive about their position on the Battle Field (topic).  Each Battler has approximately 90 seconds.  The Battle Marshal calls for a vote and the spectators raise their flags – colour coded to the Battler whose position they liked best.  Second round, they are to be negative about their opponent’s position – a position that was only revealed as the opponent went on stage.  If it gets to a third round, the Battlers can choose to be negative or positive – it’s a free-for-all round.  When a winner is declared, the loser exits the stage and a new Battler is called to challenge.  If a Battler manages to defeat two opponents in a row they are retired as a Battle Master and two new Battlers take the stage.  After all Battlers have had a turn a Battle Champion is determined.  In the case of no Battle Masters, the Last Battler Standing (the final Battler with only one win) is declared the Battle Champion.  If two Battle Masters have been declared, they face off against one another for the title of Battle Champion.  If there is only one Battle Master they’ll face off against the Last Battler Standing, but they’ll begin the match with a win already awarded.  The Battle Champion claims his prize, leaves the stage as the Battle Marshal declares the next Battle Field and it begins anew.

The Next Battle-COM is 10:30pm Friday February 8th at The Comedy Nest in the Pepsi Forum (Atwater / St-Catherine).

Battle-COM

  • The Battle Fields:
  • – Most romantic comic book couple
    – Most inspiring Black role-model from sci-fi or fantasy
    – Sexiest action hero from film or video games

 

 

Your Battlers:
Ryan Stick – Season Xero
Jason Yearow – Village Idiot Comedy
Dan Derkson – On The Spot, Rocky Horror Live
Emma Wilkie – There’s Something Funny
Tessa Brown – (writer)
Chris Sandiford – Try a Variety Show, Nurse Jackie
Michael Lifshitz – Conquer Your Mountains

Looking forward to seeing you there!

How to Stand-up Comedy Contest

Ask Ash: What’s the best way to run a comedy contest that everyone will agree is fair and balanced?

Judges small

Quick Answer: It’s impossible.

Now for the long answer… (Part I of II)

2011 Montreal Contest

2011 Montreal Contest

A lot of performers hate comedy contests; “they’re unfair”, “they’re rigged”, “it’s a popularity contest”, “they’re judged by people who know nothing about the craft of comedy”, “it’s an artistic medium, so personal taste is being judged – not skill”, “the zombies are attacking”, “I never win”…  many many complaints.

It’s good to recognize comedy contests for what most of them are; publicity opportunities.  Most contests can be divided into two types: regular advancement ritual, or one-off awareness event.  Both of these types of contests are attempting to raise awareness of not only their brand (club, festival or charity) but also for the performers involved.

Many working pros today list amoung their credits appearances at Seattle International Comedy Competition, The Great Canadian Laugh Off, San Francisco Comedy Competition, Just For Laughs Homegrown Competition and Last Comic Standing – it’s a way to elevate and legitimize your work.  These major contests draw press as well as industry scouts and usually have someone to manage press interactions, arrange interviews and make sure that information is going out – not only to advertise their event but to help promote those performing (and doing well).

Regular advancement rituals usually (but not always) are limited to local comedy clubs, and open mics.  Generally, new comics (or long time open miccers) are given the chance to strut their stuff in an effort to move up to guest spots, pro gigs, weekend work and a small bit of cash.  Yuk Yuks’ Great Canadian Laugh Off final week is open to international acts but the contest runs months prior in their clubs around the country with finalists from various cities coming together to compete in the semi-finals and a chance to make it onto the finale ‘winner take all’ show.  Winners are presented with a contract, cash and a chance to tour the country.  That’s way cooler than going into your boss’s office for a performance review.

One-off awareness events tend to be either fundraisers, part of an awareness campaign or on the business side, a bit of a cash grab.  When an organization wants to raise funds for a project or charity BUT can’t afford a single large name comic (or can afford only a single comic of status) they sometimes decide to fill the night with up and comers / open miccers who’ll work for free (or the chance winning a prize).  This benefits the organization in keeping their costs / outlay down, and it benefits the comedians in a chance to be seen by an audience that may not typically go out to open mic shows, and for the winner – a small press bump or at least a credit to assist them getting bit of paid work.  Even when a smart business savvy person (or organization) decides to run such an event in an effort to earn personal cash, they have to arrange press, sponsors and raise the profile of the event to make it worthwhile for the comedians to come out.

Annual competitions like Just For Laughs Homegrown or the Seattle Comedy Competition draw performers from around the world who compete mainly for the bragging rights – pitting themselves against the best who are selected to perform. The three things to remember with both of these types of contests is judging is subjective, no one forces you to participate and like any opportunity, it’s only as good for you as you make it. When you are part of a contest it’s important to take advantage of any resources they give you.

  • Volunteer for press access.
  • Make sure you have a package ready for interested parties (the more upscale the competition, the more you should put into your package).  For small competitions, usually a business card is okay.  For international competitions with representatives from prouduction companies, networks and agencies present, have a DVD show reel, resume, headshot and a spec script(s) (both printed and pdf) prepared to hand out.
  • Work your offstage skills, showing that you’re good at handling self promotion and are an asset to the competition (and any future bookers)

Part II will focus on how I run two small competitions at my little open mic in Montreal

Yours, Ash

 

After the Great Canadian Laugh Off 2007

Please forgive any semblence of immodesty, this was written just after I placed third in a 2007 Great Canadian Laugh Off Semi-Final.

perplexed as to why a stranger has my camera

perplexed as to why a stranger has my camera

I arrived on Thursday, one day before my time in the “ring”. I flew in early, and really hadn’t slept but ended staying up all day catching up with friends and then going to McVeighs to do a guest spot. Having been up for 40 hours (with about an hour’s nap) I wondered if I’d pull it off. It went well and added to my confidence. I guess it also helped being in a city where people hadn’t seen me for a long while, so my material was all new. That and sleep deprivation. Andrew Evans closed the show, and we closed the bar.

I knew going in that there was only one other Canadian on my night. Kinda my fault as I requested a weekend spot (so I’d not go to Toronto too early) and the other out of towners (country-ers?) would also need to limit their travel time. Getting there I got to feel the caliber of the comics I was going to have to compete with. Though it was daunting, the green room had a feeling of brotherhood. It was a great feeling. We got to talk, joke, ask each other about where we’re from, what comedy is like there. It was a meeting of peers.

But competition is competition, Shannon and Beth came in to do the draw for the order. Before they began they asked us if anyone would like to volunteer to go first. We all looked around, skirting eye contact and looking down. Nobody wanted to just “give up” and accept, perhaps, the hardest spot of the night. As they started to make the draw I joked that I’d probably be first anyhow, but the named pulled out was Geoff Brousseau of Seattle Washington. Other positions of note, Al Prodgers of South Africa drew fifth (out of eight). Still my name didn’t come out of the can. Al was followed by Andrea Henry from Boston and then only the two Canadians were left. Mark Casey’s (the winner from Barrie Ontario’s Yuks) name was drawn. I was to go on last.

The crowd had been pouring in, the room almost full. Dana Alexander got the crowd going and we were off. Geoff Brousseau did very well, what you’d expect from someone who was here because he’d previously competed with Dylan Mandhlsohn and Paul Myrehaug at the Seattle Comedy Contest. He claims he flubbed his first joke, but I couldn’t tell. The crowd loved it. I had to keep dipping downstairs as the TV in the green room kept going out. Katie Riffey, a pro from Washington, DC, kept it going. Tony Gaud from Florida did another killer set. I began to feel the butterflies rise. I don’t like the pressure of competitions, I find that I choke or try desperately too hard.

Not all the comics hit, but the show was going well.

I walked down and watched Al Prodgers. He was calm, not over exagerated. He had a cool sounding accent, and spoke slow enough so we could understand it. He was older than most in the contest, maybe in his 50’s, and had charm. His brand new “fish out of water” material helped exploit his exotic appeal. Watching him I felt the butterflies go away. Why was I worried about competing, he would obviously win. I congratulated him as he came off stage.

I now felt all I really had to worry about was making the crowd laugh. Just my 8 minutes, the contest was over. And I trusted my eight was good.

Andrea Henry is from Boston, a city of comedy legends. She works primarily out of “The Comedy Studio“, an artist run collective who’s philosophies I looked at when starting the Comedy Dawgs. She was an incredible writer, low key dry jokes that tore into the crowd.

Just before me went Mark Casey, the winner from Barrie. Mark’s green-ness showed somewhat, especially after following such a strong act.

from David Kemp's going away party

from David Kemp’s going away party

Then it was my turn. Just before my introduction, I made eye contact with Dave Kemp. He made me smile, a little taste of home. I approached the stage so my foot was on it as Dana said my name. My set went off just as I planned it, with the exception of one “helpful” heckle. I was able to take the crowd where I wanted to go and they laughed everywhere I wanted them to. I walked onstage without any “contest” nervousness and was thus able to do what I wanted – make people laugh. It was liberating.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz2pJqBomps&w=420&h=315]

As I got offstage, Al met me at the base of the stairs “You F u cker! You undersold yourself to me.” It was teasing between comrades. It felt good.

Finally after a wonderful guest spot by Simon Cotter, Dana reclaimed the stage to announce the winners. When she called my name, I was a little shocked, and had to be directed to get up there. I placed third! Andrea Henry received second place and Al Prodgers took first place and moved on to the finals. Later, though they don’t reveal the actual numbers, I was told the top three were very close – as they were on Tuesday, the night Peter White won third as well.

If anyone hasn’t looked to Halifax as the new hotspot for comedy in Canada yet, I think that has changed.

-Ash

PS: again, please forgive me if this has come off as immodest.