Thursday, March 25, 2010

Get a grip and Flash on the Whoopi

Yesterday Flash needed an assistant to operate a mic at a live event. I am, of course, not world renowned for my skills in audio capture, but game, I am. So imagine me, dressed in black, in the elegant glass-domed Bartos auditorium, pre-show, trying to look like the grip of the century. I occasionally gave a thumbs up to the professional dude filming the event on my left. I suspect he could tell my skills weren't up to his when the mic demonically spun upside down several times and I tripped over the feet of our tripod.

This from the official press release after the event : "Live from the NYPL presented an evening to honor the publication of George Carlin's posthumous “sortabiography” Last Words (written with Tony Hendra)... an evening of warm and lively remembrances of late comedian George Carlin on Wednesday, March 24 in the Celeste Bartos Forum. Hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, the tribute featured special appearances by Carlin's family, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Ben Stiller, Amy Stiller, Kevin Smith, Lewis C.K., Dylan Brody, Floyd Abrams, and Lewis Lapham." Not to mention an impressive list of performers playing the role of audience in the front rows, including Steve Martin.

Flash is Artist-in-Residence for LIVE from the New York Public Library and she draws responses to the spoken events they host, which are projected onto a screen as she does them. Later, she creates  videos, a.k.a. Conversation Portraits. Last night she tried adding a new approach, by inviting audience members to step up to the mic, tell a joke, and she'd illustrate it for them and the entire audience would see the joke drawn and written in real time and projected over their heads.

Sadly only a few stepped forward to tell their jokes. But given that George Carlin was one of the funniest guys ever, and the main event, who would feel equal to adding their brand of humor as a warm up? Precious few. For those that came forward, I managed to walk them to the mic, press the record button and laugh at their jokes, usually in that order. Luckily Flash had brought a slew of Carlin jokes and illustrated them.

Dressed in her usual black and white patterns, she sat and drew madly, using pens, watercolors, and expressive moves of hand, zoom and paper to make the art of her response the main show for me. Until they ran the Carlin films. Then I was laughing so loudly the video guys will have to edit out my hoots and wheezing snorts. Flash and I laughed until we cried during a live recitation of Carlin one-liners looking at each other the way you do when it is that funny. After, we agreed Carlin was a master of language, a poet of humor, with inner rhyme and rhythm.

Great to see all the Stiller family on stage, not one of them demure. Whoopi is totally natural. Lots of cussing all around. But hey, this is for George Carlin after all. They played his 7 words bit. The lawyer who protected his right to use those words spoke, and everyone said how much he had helped them and other comedians. 

Flash and assistant (me) were invited to the after party! Of course we had to pack up the pens, pencils, duct tape, brushes, cables, earphones, and papers first. When we got there, we didn't see Whoopi. I was so hoping to hear someone introduce Whoopi to Flash. "Flash meets Whoopi!" or "Whoopi meets Flash," Sounds like a vaudeville act. I may need to change my name to a verb soon. Although "Enjamb" (or would that be "N-Jam") doesn't have the same ring, does it?

As I walked in I reminded myself to respond to celebrities like real people and avoid the empty fannish things that can blurt out of my mouth and kill conversation. So over the chopped veggies I recognized performer Caroline Rhea and instead of blathering about Sabrina or The Biggest Loser, I said what I would to someone I didn't know, "Hi, I'm Claudia, what's your name?" because actually, I really didn't remember her name, just her face. We talked about the food, she loaded my plate with carrots and cucumber saying after all the years of catering it was hard for her not to serve. She introduced me to someone I didn't know, Scott Blakeman, saying his classes in improv helped launch her and Jon Stewart's careers. He was both modest and self-assured and has the ability to listen in a way that makes you feel interesting. The three of us had a lovely conversation punctuated with flashes from cameras, which I am guessing, weren't focused on me. I told them about Natalie, just finishing up at Actors Theatre of Louisville and most likely coming to NYC to pursue improv instead of Shakespeare. It is always great the way people who know, give a little start, when you tell them your daughter is in the best acting apprentice program in the country. Like saying junior got into Harvard. We talked about political humor and Scott's role as the liberal minority on Fox. I likened it to my year working at Lehman Brothers with very conservative folks that were smart, often sweethearts, even though their politics were so different than my own. I told them I was a poet and reading my poems was as close to performing as I wanted to get!

I met several editors of the Latham journal (love talking literary press talk), Ben Stiller's good-looking sister Amy, library important persons, and then I met a very very tall woman who told me she is in a tall person's club. I mentioned I was the shrimp of my family, with my 6'4" brothers and daughters of Amazon heights. You aren't short she exclaimed, you must be 5'8" or so. No, really I'm average, just under 5'6". Nooooo, no way, you must have heels on. No, no heels I assured her, I just stand tall. She peered at my sneakers with disbelief. Apparently they serve very tall cakes and record their adventures on very tall newsletters. I felt a bit like Alice in Longerland.

The whole evening was dreamlike actually. I walked Flash back to her studio and we couldn't stop laughing. She has an ability to respin the world and words, I have never heard her use a cliche, ever. We passed the windows of Lord & Taylors featuring spring frocks. "That one, only the skirt is worth wearing," she said, then to the next window "that one, only the color is good," and finally, "in that one only the window is good!"

And then I took the subway home, happy my career as a grip passed without a gripe.


Caitlin Allen said...

Wow. You're amazing. From the way you wrote that I felt like I was there. Sounds to me like you found a solution for fan anxiety: be yourself. Fantastic! You're too interesting not to share. I'm jealous that you went! It sounds like an unreal night. And you're right about Flash, she never uses cliches.

Deborah Atherton said...

What fun! A really memorable night, and, as Caitlin says, a fabulous cure for fan anxiety. Be careful, though - you may now be a grip in demand!