Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity-I Was There! Sort of...

Yesterday I attended Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity, and Stephen Colbert's March to Keep Fear Alive. For those unaware, it was an invite to show solidarity among anyone who chooses to participate in downplaying the extremism fed to us by today's media. We're not at Civil War. We're simply desperate for objective information.

It was an afternoon of fun, interesting sights and civility in our nation's capital.

I'd like to tell you who I saw and what I heard, but I didn't arrive in DC until 10:30 AM. Knowing the Metro would be packed, most buses sold out and traffic truly insane, we chose to go by Amtrak. I live near BWI, and training in to Union Station was a breeze. Then we walked with lots of other folks to the Rally.

I'm pretty sure we actually did see Brendan Hines, who plays Eli Loker on Lie to Me, back at the BWI train station, but I didn't want to bug him. He's from Baltimore, so it's not out of the realm of possibilities. Yay! Celebrity sighting, and not just on a jumbo-tron.

I also saw a friend from work at the Rally, but she disappeared in the swarm before I could catch up to her.

I earned my first Foursquare badges, too. Not exactly a hippie moment, but the nerd in me was rejoicing.

The weather was fantastic. The atmosphere was true positivity. People smiling, displays of courtesy and lots of laughing - everyone was there to see the signs.

I was amused by a woman shouting "exact change only" at a food concession stand. Really? The lines were really, really long. I'd think after selling 200 hot dogs in 20 minutes, they'd have "change" again.

But never really planning this trip other than over a conversation Thursday night - "Hey, I was thinking about going to the Rally", and arriving so late, we couldn't get anywhere near, or even within earshot of, the stage. We got onto the lawn for a moment, but the density of people per square inch was tighter than [insert inappropriate sexual referene here] and just way too high for a 47-year-old who becomes a claustrophobe in crowds. At my age, personal space isn't just a right, it's a necessity. I was also carrying a small backpack for my camera, camcorder, cell phone, Kindle (WTF?) sweatshirt, mints - no, it's still not called a purse or a murse - that quickly became a hook for the swarms moving through, and I was spun faster than the "news". That was inside the gates. Outside the gates, where there were also lots of people but some breathing room, I was able to shoot some video, which may give you some perspective of the sheer numbers constantly pouring in. I'm not sure where they all ended up because this bitch was packed. But everyone seemed friendly and congenial.

This wasn't like a concert for me. I didn't need to see the stage, or be in any particular spot. I went because I wanted to be part of "it", whatever "it" was going to be. I love The Daily Show, and I like to believe most Americans are middle-of-the-road thinkers, who respect valid points from different perspectives, who support smart spending and helping neighbors when they need it, and appreciate a civil dialogue, even if it gets a little heated. I also assume they do not appreciate being force-fed hype, sensationalism or pure bullshit by spin-meisters from any side. And, there are a lot more than two sides.

I was hoping to hear the actual speeches, songs and stand-up routines, but I'm sure there's a DVD coming, and I'll be the first to buy it.

I'm glad I went. The dreamer in me hoped I would bump into Jon and the producers of The Daily Show, impress them with my wit and be invited to an after-party, and ultimately offered a writing gig. And a hot dog. But I didn't even bring a sign, let alone my résumé.

And yesterday wasn't about me. It was about us.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sounds So Crazy It Just Might Work: Writing a Novel in 30 Days at NaNoWriMo

I have a lot of friends on Twitter. Many of them are writers. And some of those writers have tricked me into joining them for the National Novel Writing Month in November, sponsored by a fabulous web site for writers: NaNoWriMo.

OK, I wasn't really tricked. I was encouraged. And that's the point of this exercise. You can buddy up with other writers, receive pep talks from professionals, and daily encouragement from everyone in it with you. Write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) or greater novel in the month of November.

I encourage you to peruse the site and get inspired like I have.

I am not a novelist. I do not expect this to be a brilliant piece of art. More like a piece of crap. But I am a writer. I blog and have freelanced for several sites now. I published my first interview a few weeks ago and am lining up more. I've also learned newswriting (for radio and television), screenplay writing for film, and my true love: television writing (I'm writing two sit com specs).

Why a novel? Why not?! This is what sold me, straight from the site:

If you don't do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a "one day" event. As in "One day, I'd like to write a novel." Here's the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel.

There's lots great info in the full FAQ.

Independent book stores and libraries are opening their doors for NaNoWriMo. There are people in your local area gearing up for this incredible event. And there are lots of folks online. You probably know some right now.

So I declare I'm writing my first novel starting next week. When I quit smoking, I didn't announce it until I had started. Then I stuck to it. I announced it because I knew in the end, I would be proud and much better off for kicking the habit. I don't feel writing is an addiction, but a calling. And I will be much better off once I've been through the process of knocking out 175 pages of fiction. It may not end up on my Kindle, but I'm sure pieces of it will end up in a script.

I really look forward to the camaraderie and the commiseration. If you're a writer, or have just wanted to be one, I hope you join us! And if you want a writing buddy, look me up! I'm GCGeek on NaNo (just like Twitter).

Good luck!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

An Interview with Kevin Brown - 30 Rock’s Dot Com

Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images North America
You may know him as Dot Com. Or Uptown Kevin Brown. Or Big Kev. They’re all gentlemen. I had the pleasure of interviewing Kevin Brown this week about his life, acting, stand-up comedy, 30 Rock, Tina Fey and some other exciting projects. And Tina Fey.

Kevin is a stand-up comic, actor and writer, who appears each week on NBC's 30 Rock as the character Dot Com, an entourage member of Tracy Jordan's (played by Tracy Morgan).

Kevin is a funny man. Even the outgoing message on his cell phone cracked me up. If you'd like to hear it yourself, dial...really? I may not be a journalist, but I'm also not an ideot. ;-)

Here's a web clip of Grizz and Dot Com's Best Friend:


MIKE: So what do you prefer to be called? Kevin? Kev? Dot Com? DC? Uptown Kevin Brown? Your honor?

KEVIN: My friends call me all of those. I've been doing stand-up for 13 years. I started out as Big Kev. After promoting that name for two years, I finally decided to jump on the domain name and found out someone already beat me to it. They had it tied to a joke web site. So wasn’t available. I ran into Tracy Morgan in the comedy circuit – back then he called me Big Kev or  Dot Com. When he saw me again years later, this time shooting 30 Rock, he introduced me to Tina Fey: “This is my man, Dot Com”. When I saw my first script [as a speaking character], it had me as "Dot Com".

MIKE: I noticed last night’s 30 Rock episode was called “Let’s Stay Together”, which is also an Al Green song. And you opened for the reverend about a month ago. Coincidence?

KEVIN: Absolutely a coincidence. I hadn’t heard his name in years until I read the episode. Then three days later, I got a text asking if I would open for him at B.B. King's.

MIKE: Wow. That sounds like more than a coincidence to me. Did you have to tailor your material opening for the reverend?

KEVIN: Well, I did my research about him. I knew he had his first big album in the '70s, but I didn't know he’s a reverend. And nobody told me to do a clean show; just a 25-minute set. He did want a clean show and I kept it clean. It was the most mature crowd I've performed for, and I've opened for Patti LaBelle. But they loved me.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I don't believe in coincidences anymore, including this opportunity to interview Kevin. Good Karma comes to good people.]

MIKE: What can you tell us about the upcoming live episode on 30 Rock?

KEVIN: A lot of people from 30 Rock are from SNL. I think it will be like that. I've done lots of stand-up and theater, but not live TV. This will also have a live audience. There's a lot going on. Actors need to remember their dialogue and cues.

MIKE: Are you nervous?

KEVIN: No. (He says it definitively, but I can hear him smiling.) I'm never more nervous than before stand-up. You go out there and it's different every time.

I appreciate that NBC has noticed my skills and has given me an opportunity to do this. But I've also done one-man shows in theater, where I'm onstage for two hours. I perform 25 stand-ups in a week. I've had leads in independent film. My acting muscle is really strong. 30 Rock doesn’t know everything I’m capable of, but this industry is about preparation. If Alec Baldwin misses his flight, I’ll be ready to step in for him.

[Wavy lines, wavy lines, wavy lines...cue dream sequence]

Liz approaches Dot Com. There's a new nameplate on Jack's desk: Walter "Dot Com" O'Shaughnessy. She looks at the nameplate.

(in classic Donaghy whisper-speak)
I agreed to change my last name to something Irish if this day ever came.


You're sure every package of Quayle Skin Regimen,
made from the stem cells of young Republicans, is unmarked, 
and there's no record of my purchases...or my actual birth date.
Dot Com hands Jack a clipboard and a pen. Jack signs without reading it.

I guarantee it.

Dot Com breaks the fourth wall with an exaggerated wink to the camera.


Lemon, gather the writers. I've got some big changes in mind for TGS.

Liz starts to exit.
Wait! I think this show is almost perfect. We're missing something. Get me...

(totally puzzled, a single chord of DRAMATIC ORGAN MUSIC, then even more confused)
Right away, Mister...O'Shaughnessy.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, I turned it into my dream sequence. Writer's prerogative. The Live Show episode airs on NBC this Thursday 10/14 at 8:30 PM Eastern, and three hours later on the West Coast - I might download the West Coast version from iTunes to compare. Back to the interview.]

MIKE: You live in New York but the show is shot in L.A.

KEVIN: No, we shoot in New York.

MIKE: Allow me to wipe the egg off my face. Please continue.

KEVIN: Our studios are in Long Island City – Silver Cup. The live episode will actually be shot at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan. It could be interesting if we get great feedback of filming live in front of a live audience.

MIKE: You got the 30 Rock gig representing yourself. Is that still the case, or do you now have someone to say "Mr. Brown appreciates the people of Schenectady, but his schedule does not allow him to appear at the opening of the Super Star Car Wash…in roller skates."?

KEVIN: I have representation now, yes. My brother is my manager. My agent is About Artists. Before 30 Rock, there was freelance representation. In New York, you can freelance and be represented for work with different agencies. In L.A. it's more contract-based. You freelance until you get work. 30 Rock was negotiated by me in the hallway on a handshake.

MIKE: My friend is 6'4" and has been a doorman/bouncer for years, but doesn't actually fight. Were you a gentle giant in your younger days, or a hell-raiser?

KEVIN: I was a gentle giant. I can fight. I have a black belt in judo and karate. I did security in my late teens. I was a beast, but I used my powers on the side of good. I used them to help and protect. I never liked to fight...I knew I could really hurt people so I never liked to fight.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I too have a black belt. It's reversible. At this point I started to share how I didn't like to fight because I was afraid of being hurt, and then wondered why I was answering my own questions, boring Kevin, and got back to the interview.]

MIKE: What can you tell me about working with the writers on the show? Do you work with them, or do you just get a script and see what's up?

KEVIN: I get my scripts and see what’s up. But they're around the set and they pay attention. Whatever we’re talking about could be in the script. Back in 2006, I was into Sudoku. Everyone was into Sudoku. I carried them everywhere. And I was teaching them to play. The next thing I know, Tina had it as a line.

From Season One, the "Blind Date" episode:

Robot, kick him in the knees. Bears have weak knees. He should vibrate, 'cause the robot's full of radiation. Yeah, that's it.

Frank, how many bears did I say you could have?


And how many do you see here?

Um, four?

Save a little money for the rest of us, Frank. You can't spend
a bunch of money on bear suits that are only gonna be seen for like 25 seconds.

Liz, nobody's gonna believe that a killer robot can get his ass kicked by one bear.
It doesn’t make any sense.

You’re trying to bring logic to the robot bear sketch? You can't have four bears!

Well, how many can I keep?


Sorry, guys. Sam, why don't you stay?

Who did my Sudoku puzzle? I have been looking forward to this puzzle all morning.

Hey Liz, could you come up to my office when you have a free moment?

I never have a free moment, Jack -- never, ever.

Really punch him, like karate.

MIKE: What do you like to do when you're not acting, promoting or cracking wise at a club? If you actually have free time.

KEVIN: I have a sixteen year-old daughter. Her name is Vania. My daughter is my heart – she’s my everything. She’s into her friends and high school now, but spending time with her and getting to know her grow into a young lady is what I love most.

[AUTHOR'S BONDING MOMENT: Kevin, my daughter Megan is 20 now, lives with her mom, and I cherish the exact same things.]

MIKE: I understand Grizz recently had a kidney transplant, and is a spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation. How is he doing?

Kevin Brown and Grizz Chapman

KEVIN: He’s doing great. He’s doing amazingly well. Before the transplant, he used to have dialysis three times a week. After the transplant he had it once, and that was the last time. He's also lost 150 pounds or so. He is really doing great.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm a big fan of Grizz Chapman's too, and this was welcome news.]

MIKE: No disrespect, sir, but Tina Fey is my idol. What’s it like working with my favorite comic-genius writer? And if she’s horrible, lie to me.

Tina Fey
KEVIN: I am very intimidated by Tina Fey. Don't get me wrong. Tina has a supportive, giving way about her. Her résumé intimidates me. She is the head writer of 30 Rock. She was the head writer of SNL. It makes me shut up and go blank around her. She is very supportive of me. She’s a superhero and I love being able to hold on to her cape. I just shut up and listen.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'm nodding my head the entire time. I totally get this. I share more, thinking we're buds talking over coffee instead of me as an interviewer. I think I'm a funny guy, and the ultimate is for me to get those who I find funny to laugh. I even blogged about my idea of ultimate validation: Tina Fey Comedy Litmus Test. But I was digressing again. He made me feel that comfortable. I appreciate that, Kevin.]

KEVIN: I've never stopped the stand-up. I started taking acting classes when I started stand-up. I think every stand-up should take acting classes. Stand-ups have an advantage over actors. We are developing our own sit-com the moment we start as stand-ups. We write our sit-coms the moment we hit that stage. When it's our time, we will already have funny scenarios, characters, jokes.

MIKE: Last question. What else is going on for you?

KEVIN: Honestly, once we start shooting, 30 Rock owns me. Myself, Tracy [Morgan] and Judah [Friedlander] do stand-up between shooting. We're on 30 Rock's schedule until the end of season, around February or March.

But I do have two independent projects I'm working on. Two books – a book about my life and journey as an actor up to now, through five seasons of 30 Rock. And another about healthier living for bigger men.

I recently lost 60 pounds, and still counting. Nutrisystem® is now sponsoring me. I didn't realize how big I was until seeing the before and after pictures. But there have been some funny things that have happened while losing the weight, and I'm putting that in the book.

When you’re big, people glorify your size. They call you big man, like Big Kev. After college and as you get older, you become less active – that big is less healthy. On the outside you can carry it, but on the inside we're killing ourselves. We big guys have to be healthy – ex-athletes get to 300 or 400 pounds and the body can’t carry that weight.

And there are so many internal problems, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I want to bring awareness.


I now have even more respect for Kevin. A lot of comics are deep thinkers, not just joke writers, and Kevin is no exception. I think it's great that he's bringing a message of health awareness straight from his own experiences, and those of his friend Grizz.

Another bonding moment for me. As a former cigarette smoker, I've tried to encourage those who still smoke by discouraging their nicotine addiction with a very direct piece I wrote that addresses all of the excuses smokers make. SMOKE-FREE WORLD.

Kevin was my first interview, and it was a delight. A very special thanks to Rose Reeder for setting this up!
Dot Com (Kevin Brown), Tracy (Tracy Morgan), Liz (Tina Fey), and Jack (Alec Baldwin) ponder the merits of diversity -- and talking dogs. Credit: Ali Goldstein / NBC

You can follow Kevin and others from 30 Rock on Twitter here:


I won’t kid you. Now having had the chance to speak with Kevin at length, and having experienced one degree of separation from Tina Fey, I probably won’t sleep for a month.