Archive | May, 2011

Twitter friends

14 May

Most of the people I talk to these days are people I met through Twitter. I used to call them my “Twitter friends,” but once they far outnumbered my so-called real-life friends, I realized I might as well lump them all together. Besides, most of the tweeters I’ve grown close to are people I’ve met in person, many of whom I’ve hugged enthusiastically. And unlike some of the other connections I’ve forged on the internet, the friends I’ve made through Twitter generally aren’t too socially awkward to function. We tend to get along right away.

I’ve thought about this a lot, at first assuming it had something to do with how much we know about each other’s lives before meeting. That may be true to some extent, but we all revealed a lot more personal details on LiveJournal back in the day—I say “we” with the assumption that you were also part of that glorious era—and the “friends” I made on LiveJournal weren’t always such success stories. Sure, there are a few I still talk to, but for the most part I prefer to repress that time in my life. (I actually kept my LiveJournal through college—for the sake of this blog post, I’m basically pretending it died when I graduated high school. Please don’t look it up.)

But there is this sense that the people who follow me on Twitter “get me”: they care about what I have to say and, I assume, appreciate my sense of humor. And I only follow people I want to have in my life, whether as friends I actually hang out with or as people who just check in from time to time. Some of the tweeters I follow have a style vastly different from mine, but at the end of the day, we can relate in terms of ennui, internet addiction, and general dissatisfaction with the world. I think Twitter—particularly comedy accounts—attracts a certain type, and it’s a type I’m delighted to embrace.

My first interactions with Twitter people were primarily all about Twitter, and I’ll admit that I still fall into this trap. After all, who else am I supposed to bitch to about stars and follow-backs and plagiarism? But I think I’ve been able to forge plenty of friendships that extend past the “shop talk,” as it were. I’m also trying to talk about Twitter less in general, because being on the site all day is probably bad enough. And I’m more concerned with forging a real-life connection than on getting someone’s attention via @-replies. (Not that I’m over caring about that sort of thing.)

I used to think I had a hard time making friends, which I’m not sure was ever all that true. I have this conception of myself as a shy and awkward person, and while I still don’t feel terribly comfortable at parties, I’m mostly OK at making a good impression. But sometimes the internet does facilitate that—Twitter gives me an outlet to show a side of myself that I might not feel comfortable showing otherwise. (There’s a reason I don’t do stand-up comedy.) And when I make a friend in that context, they’ve gotten to know me in a way that someone I meet at a bar, for example, would not. In person, I stumble over my words. I worry too much about offending someone with a joke. I almost never use hashtags.

I’m not saying that I always want to use Twitter as an entry-way, but I will say it has given me more confidence when it comes to meeting new people. The fact that anyone gives a shit about what I tweet makes me feel like what I say matters. And so I enter conversations with a smidgen more confidence—I’m working on it—and I think about new ways to relate to people. All the great friends I’ve made have also reminded me that everyone isn’t an asshole, which sounds kind of obvious but is still a concept I have trouble with. Like I said, baby steps.

Anyway, I’m not going to name names, but if you’re reading this and we’re friends, I assume you know. Thanks for talking and listening, or for tweeting and reading my tweets—ideally, I guess, for both.

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Marry me, Bridesmaids

12 May

Don’t be a dick—see Bridesmaids. I hate to get all aggressive on you, but I love this movie so much, I can’t not feel a little preemptively hostile. It is funny and moving and great, to the extent that I’m writing this blog post as a supplement to my blurb review in this week’s SF Bay Guardian. Which is reprinted below for your reading pleasure.

For anyone burned out on bad romantic comedies, Bridesmaids can teach you how to love again. This film is an answer to those who have lamented the lack of strong female roles in comedy, of good vehicles for Saturday Night Live cast members, of an appropriate showcase for Melissa McCarthy. The hilarious but grounded Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, whose best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is getting hitched. Financially and romantically unstable, Annie tries to throw herself into her maid of honor duties — all while competing with the far more refined Helen (Rose Byrne). Bridesmaids is one of the best comedies in recent memory, treating its relatable female characters with sympathy. It’s also damn funny from start to finish, which is more than can be said for most of the comedies Hollywood continues to churn out. Here’s your choice: let Bridesmaids work its charm on you, or never allow yourself to complain about an Adam Sandler flick again.

I’m serious about this, guys. It’s kind of like when people say you can’t complain about politics if you don’t vote. It is our duty to support good, smart comedy so that the studios will just say no to dreck like Something Borrowed and The Zookeeper (with Kevin James!). The latter are films that the kind of films that critics pan but that audiences continue to go see. Or I don’t know, maybe Rob Schneider made a deal with the devil. The point is, seeing a movie like Bridesmaids sends a message. You’re demanding better! You want Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph in starring roles! You want quality toilet humor!

Part of being a film critic is seeing crappy movies—it’s unavoidable. And I never expect Hollywood to just stop making shit. My concern is that they’ll stop making the comedies I want to see, the aforementioned Wet Hot American Summer and Hamlet 2, the anti-chick flick Bridesmaids. Or that a female-centric, character-driven comedy will just be so difficult to make that no one will want to do it. Many movie actors have already made the transition to TV—in part because TV is damn good these days, but also because the film industry is kind of fucked. And that’s a bummer. If I’m going to pay $12 for a movie ticket, I want to be able to laugh consistently for two hours. I don’t want to spend 80 minutes wondering what the fat man is going to bump into next.

I was delighted to see that Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman gave Bridesmaids an A (read his review here). I had no doubt that this was an A movie, but I was concerned that it might not be regarded as such. I don’t think I need to tell you that comedy is an underappreciated genre. You can look at the giant list o’ Best Picture Oscar nominees to see how rarely something chuckle-worthy gets recognition. (It’s been a bit better in recent years, but how lame is it that we have to turn to the effing Golden Globes for Best Comedy?) I think critics have an easier time dismissing a lot of comedy, too—not all of them, certainly, but enough. And who can blame them when they’re forced to sit through Paul Blart: Mall Cop? (I was forced to sit through Paul Blart: Mall Cop.)

You know what, maybe Bridesmaids isn’t for you. Maybe it’s not your style of comedy. Your opinion is valid, even though it’s wrong. But take a chance on a flick Vince Vaughn hasn’t touched. Allow yourself to be won over by comedic all-stars like Wendi McLendon-Covey, Mike Hitchcock, Rebel Wilson, and Matt Lucas, who don’t often find themselves in a Judd Apatow-produced film. Maybe I sound too gushy, but until I can control everyone with my brain (by 2013, fingers crossed!), writing is the best chance I have to influence your choices. See Bridesmaids. Let me know what you think. Don’t let the comedy terrorists win.

No, I don’t know what that means either.

Will write for sandwiches

11 May

Do you want to hire me to write for you? Seriously, you can. You do have to pay me, though. I know a lot of people these days are willing to write for free, but I do that enough on my own, and I kind of like earning money for my work. I’m super old-fashioned like that.

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, which in my mind is kind of cool. I never went through a fireman or astronaut stage, probably because I’ve always been afraid of fire and space travel, respectively. But it’s nice to have a passion at an early age and to stick with it. I’ve never had doubts about writing—doubts about the quality of my work, sure, and doubts about the form it would take, but never about what I wanted to do with my time. Even when I’ve flirted with other career options, I’ve always assumed I’d be able to work on a book on the side. Adorably naïve, right?

Right now, I’m a freelancer, meaning I write whenever someone is willing to publish me. As much as I love what I do, it’s getting to a point where I feel like I need to step things up to the next level. The flexibility of freelance writing is great, but it’s not always regular work, and a worrier like me needs some level of consistency. I’ve never had a salary or job security—these are terms that are actually kind of foreign to me. And sometimes that’s OK: I write for the love of writing, not the big dollars. But I’m turning 25 in a few months, and that seems like an age at which I should have some of this stuff sorted out, whether or not my generation is aimless by definition.

So what are my options? The idea of getting a day job and writing on the side is not an attractive one, though I understand it may be a necessity. Writing might not seem like hard work—and it generally doesn’t feel difficult while I’m doing it—but it does require a lot of mental energy and discipline. These are qualities that, while tough to quantify, are often in short supply after eight hours in an office. I worry that a day job wouldn’t leave me with the time or energy to do the writing I want to be doing. But if it came down to an absolute need? If I had to get a day job to keep writing? That would be an easy (albeit whine-worthy) choice to make.

Obviously writing full-time is my ultimate goal, and I’m still not really sure how unrealistic it is. Right now I have four freelance jobs at varying levels of consistency: TV.com, the SF Bay Guardian, io9, and the SF Chronicle. (Yep, two honest-to-blog newspapers!) I write jokes on Twitter every day. I blog about three times a week. (Like I’m doing right now. So meta.) I have one pilot written, but it needs to be heavily revised. I have one short story written, but it needs to be heavily revised. And I’m not sure where all of this leaves me. I’m enthusiastic and (mostly) proud about my work. Added up, however, it doesn’t equal a career.

I think I’m good at what I do. I think I get better every day. I also think that journalism has taken a hit over the past decade (not exactly a controversial opinion) and that making it as a writer as harder than ever. I’m not anywhere near giving up, but I may need to at least reevaluate my ambitions. Unless of course you just want to hire me to write for you. Which would solve my problems and also get me stop bitching. It’s win-win, anonymous reader.

Cool mom

8 May

This picture has nothing to do with the post. I just thought it was cute. You gonna fight me on that?

One of my favorite things to do in high school was watching Buffy reruns on FX with my mom. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but high school is a difficult period for teenagers and parents. My mom and I also didn’t have much of the same taste in television—which probably isn’t even true but was important to believe when I was 16. So at a time when I started to realize that Buffy was the center of my universe (haters to the left), my mom took a pointed interest and began watching with me.

Even back then, I thought that was pretty cool. I mean, it’s not much of a stretch—my mom has always been interested in the fantasy genre. But she wasn’t watching solely out of a need to find out what happens next. It was something we could do together. I remember marveling at the way she became invested about it, suggesting her own theories for the series finale. (Incidentally, she was totally right.) It takes a lot of commitment to not only watch a show with your kid, but to give a crap about it. I don’t know if I could do the same with my child, especially if he/she were super into Glee.

My mom has never referred to herself as a “cool mom,” I assume because she knows what a terrible expression that is. In a broader sense, I appreicate that she’s never tried to relate to me in a way that didn’t feel organic to our relationship. That’s why things like watching Buffy together continue to mean the world to me. I wasn’t always the happiest kid in high school, and I often didn’t feel like I had many people to turn to. If you’d told 16-year-old me that my mom could be a big help with that, he probably would have rolled his eyes like the little shit he was. But she was a help. I had someone to count on. I had someone to watch Buffy with—and that remains, along with food and water, one of my basic needs.

If you’re wondering about the photo, I unfortunately don’t remember the context. I do remember my brief fascination with Frankenstein, inspired by a book report I did in elementary school. My mom helped me cut out the different monsters for my collage. I don’t know where we got all the Frankenstein stuff when it wasn’t Halloween, but I guess I can chalk that up to mom magic. I mean, she successfully predicted the lsat episode of Buffy. She’s obviously got some sort of powers.

Starstruck

5 May

I get to interview a lot of people for work. I like doing it. When I was in high school, I dreaded interviews, because they were never with celebrities but with city officials or, worse, other students. “What do you think of the new block scheduling?” High school, man. I started the entertainment section of our paper when I was 16, and I quickly set up an interview series. Naturally I didn’t get to do any of the interviews.

College was a different story. When I worked at the Daily Californian, I was able to interview lots of people I actually wanted to talk to, some with Oscars and Wikipedia pages, even. The first major interview I did was a press junket in L.A. for The Ice Harvest and Brokeback Mountain. Don’t worry, no one remembers The Ice Harvest. The interviews were press conference style, which intimidated the shit out of me. You had to get up and say your name and outlet—I can barely order a sandwich without fumbling. I sat in the front row, but I didn’t open my mouth during the first press conference. Once Jake Gyllenhaal and Ang Lee arrived for Brokeback Mountain, I decided I needed to ask something, if only so that Jake could be tricked into looking at me. (Totally worked.)

When people ask me now if I still get starstruck, I’m always a bit taken aback. It’s just not really an issue anymore. I get excited about talking to big names or people I personally admire, but I’m never anxious. I guess that’s because doing interviews became work—work that I enjoy, but work nonetheless. When I went to my first junket, I felt like I’d just won a contest. (Actually, I had. My editor at the time made us all submit reasons why we should be picked. She ended up choosing me because, “I figured you wouldn’t flail over Jake Gyllenhaal.”) But as I did more and more interviews, I came to understand it as my job, and that took a lot of the pressure off. You have to kind of distance yourself from the fanboy mentality. There is nothing wrong with being a fanboy—it’s just not appropriate in that context.

Being starstruck isn’t something you can consciously control, and no, telling myself that celebrities are people, too  has never really helped either. If I don’t feel it, it’s because my focus is on getting the job done, and that mental energy is enough to suppress the feelings of, “Oh my God, Ewan McGregor is touching me.” I try to have fun during my interviews, but I do take it very seriously, and I’m always disappointed by other journalists who don’t. Asinine questions aside, the easiest way to piss me off during a press conference or roundtable interview is to bring a pile of DVDs to have signed. It’s not Comic-Con, OK? (But if it is Comic-Con, different rules apply. We’ll talk about it in July.) I don’t pretend that the people I interview are my friends, and I don’t treat them like golden gods either. You have to find the middle ground: they’re talking, you’re listening, you’ll use what they’ve said to write an article—I think that makes you colleagues.

It’s funny how much of it is about context, though. I went to a festival screening last night and Parker Posey was waiting in line outside. You guys, I lost my shit. Internally, but still. Because she’s Parker Posey, and I didn’t expect to see her there. I wanted to go up and say something, tell her how much I love her in well, everything, but that seemed lame. By which I mean, I couldn’t work up the courage. Part of it was not wanting to bother someone when she was off the clock, but there was more to it than that. When I’m straddling that line between journalist and fan, I want to make sure I don’t slip too far to one side.

That having been said, if you’re Parker Posey, and you’re reading this, I would love to interview you.

Comedy litmus tests

3 May

Yesterday, my Twitter buddy Steven Amiri tweeted the following: “Wet Hot American Summer is on Netflix Instant. Do yourself a favor, log off here & watch it. If you don’t like it, log back on & unfollow me.” I feel the same way—though I’d probably never say it in those words, because I’m afraid of losing followers and I’m not too big on ampersands. But Wet Hot American Summer is essential viewing. I can’t imagine anyone would like me and not like that movie. (Note that I’m not presumptuous enough to think that everyone who likes the movie would necessarily like me.) This got me thinking about other comedies I’ve inflicted on friends in an effort to decide whether or not they were worth keeping around. Does that sound terrible? At least I’m judging people for their comedic tastes and not their looks. (Most of my friends are super cute, anyway.)

Lately, the movie I’m most likely to force on you is Hamlet 2. It’s one of the best and most underappreciated comedies of the last decade, and if you can’t handle the songs “Raped in the Face” or “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus,” we’re probably not going to get along. Hamlet 2 works especially well if you’re a fan of musicals, though I’ll admit that I occasionally take on friends who aren’t theater-oriented. On the other hand, Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Elisabeth Shue, Amy Poehler—these are people you must know and appreciate. (I’m also fond of David Arquette, but it’s fine if you don’t feel the same way. Hater.) Along with Wet Hot American Summer, Hamlet 2 is probably the comedy I’ve watched most often, but if we watch it together, I promise not to say any of the lines out loud. I totally hate when other people do that.

Obviously Annie Hall is a classic, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t cite Woody Allen as a major influence. (Duh, right?) I prefer that my friends appreciate all Woody Allen films—OK, maybe not Curse of the Jade Scorpion—but Annie Hall is the one you kind of have to love. I think it’s his most approachable and it’s full of the Jewish humor I was raised on. Allen is probably the reason I still identity as a Jew, strange as that may sound: I haven’t been to temple in years, but I feel such a strong kinship to Allen (and Philip Roth, natch) that I can’t not be Jewish. My other favorite Allen comedies are Deconstructing Harry and Mighty Aphrodite, so bonus points if you enjoy both or either. Sometimes Deconstructing Harry actually displaces Annie Hall as my favorite, even though the latter is probably a better film.

And then there are the outrageously bad movies I show people: Valley of the Dolls, Wild Things, Starship Troopers. These are my favorites. These are my—I shit you not—first date movies. The ability to appreciate the camp factor and sincerity of a trashy flick is such an important trait. I like people who don’t take themselves too seriously: sure, you can dig Kubrick and Kurosawa, but if you don’t also occasionally dip into the Denise Richards oeuvre, you’re missing out on something special. Of the three above, Valley of the Dolls is the best—in my mind, it is the greatest bad movie of all time. Believe it or not, I have shown it to people who didn’t laugh once, not even at Neely O’Hara’s cathartic alley breakdown, and no, I didn’t kick them to the curb. But it makes me a little sad. Realistically, we’re never going to watch Showgirls together.

Honestly, you could hate all these movies and we could still be friends. I’m a lot nicer than I pretend to be on the internet. But taste in comedy is a good gauge of a person’s character. You wouldn’t hang out with someone whose favorite comedy was Grown Ups, would you? I mean, that’s just silly.

Indoor kid

1 May

I used to resent the term “indoor kid,” which I’m pretty sure is considered derogatory. But I don’t know, it fits. I like being inside. I don’t mind spending most of the day at home. I appreciate the way my futon feels. That having been said, I forced myself to walk over to my local coffee shop so I could enjoy the legitimately great weather and interact with other humans. (By interact, I mostly mean sit next to while I type away on my computer. My earphones are in, but I’m sure I look very approachable.)

Sometimes I forget to do anything with my day, and it hits me at 11 p.m., almost always a pretty shitty time to decide you want to be active. You have a couple options—late-night trip to Safeway, casual internet encounter—neither of which is all that appealing. So you watch endless reruns of The Golden Girls and you convince yourself you’ll get out more tomorrow. That sounds kind of depressing. Maybe it is. The problem is, most of the time I don’t care much about being bored/boring. It’s only when I’m basically in for the night that I decide, hey, wouldn’t it be nice to talk to someone not on the internet?

In a lot of ways, I’m a very social person. I like making conversation, and I think I can be charming enough when I put in the effort. I’ve never really had a problem making friends. But the more time has passed in Berkeley, the more acquaintances have fallen to the wayside. Some have moved, some have lost touch. And I think I’ve gotten a little tired of the city itself. Outside of my go-to coffee spot, I’m pretty much restricted to a couple restaurants, a bookstore, therapy, and my (work-related) jaunts to the city. Since I’ve spent the last few months thinking about a location change, I guess I haven’t bothered trying to improve my life here. But I’m blogging about it, so it must be bothering me on some level.

I’m going down to Los Angeles on Tuesday, which is good for a variety of reasons. I tend to be much more outgoing there and usually don’t spend any nights entirely at home. That’s probably a feature of going on short visits—I don’t know what it would be like if I lived there. I’d like to think that I could maintain a certain active lifestyle and not become too stagnant. Self-diagnosed agoraphobia is super unattractive.

But being a freelance writer is solitary by default. While I’ve tried to find friends to write with, nothing has ever panned out long-term. And I’m often OK with that. I’m happiest when I’m writing—I feel creative and productive—and writing is an independent activity. Sometimes I just need to remind myself of the life outside my apartment, of the connections I’ve made and want to sustain. There are many people I care deeply about; I think it’s important to express that in more than just text messages and tweets. Maybe I’ll form a new game plan once I return from L.A.

I could try to make a friend here, but the only people talking are older dudes hitting on younger Asian women.

Anyway, let’s hang out.