I attended a User's Conference in San Francisco for a week in March (OSISoft, the makers of that glorious semi-functional piece of...software, Pi). It was held in the Union Square and Parc55 Hilton hotels. In years past, it has been held in equally nice or nicer hotels around downtown San Francisco and I haven't generally had time (or made time) to look around the local environs, but I did take a little time this year. And man, San Fransisco is a dump. I'm not referring to the Hilton hotels - they were awesome. There are also a lot of very nice shops, some very impressive older architecture, and was a super-nice mall right across the street from the hotel...but to get to any of it you had to wade through a tide of human detritus begging you for change, asking for drugs, and sleeping in doorways. And for every nice building in San Francisco, there were two decrepit, barely standing buildings. Yeah, I know all cities are contending with armies of hobos clogging the arteries of downtown, but this seemed egregious. But then again, I don't often (or ever) wander around downtown anywhere, so maybe it's this bad everywhere.
The keynote speaker for the OSI conference was Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland Athletics and a San Diego native from just down the road. I'd really hoped to be able to share his keynote here, but I can't find a recording of it anywhere. It was both educational and entertaining. Good, solid edutainment. He talked about the events behind Moneyball, the book/movie based on his statistical approach to making the small-market Oakland A's baseball franchise into contenders with the much deeper pockets of the other MLB teams. I had never read the book and hadn't seen the 2011 movie, but I made an effort to find the DVD when I returned home and just watched it this week (it was easy to find on the discount rack at Target). It was a really good movie. And Chris Pratt was in it, which was a total surprise. That guy is everywhere now.
But returning to the keynote, Billy's best story from the keynote was probably the one about how he came to understand just how hard it must be for a celebrity (Brad Pitt was the specific celebrity he was talking about) not to become a complete nightmare when fame strikes because of the way people act around them. His evidence: his babysitter who had never been seen in anything but Birkenstocks and a t-shirt who showed up for work in a prom dress when she heard that Brad Pitt was going to be coming by for a barbecue that day. And his wife who never got up before the crack of noon who was up fixing her hair at five AM. Both denied that there was anything out of the ordinary when confronted. It was actually a lot more funny than the paraphrased version I've presented here.
Here are a few San Francisco-ish photos from my trip. Some are from the conference events, others are from my wanderings around the city. Enjoy.
Video of the lego thing in action
Speaking of funny stuff, I've been reading a lot of comedic autobiographies lately - all of Adam Carolla's books (In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks, Not Taco Bell Material, President Me, and Daddy Stop Talking is currently being read), Ally Brosh's awesomely illustrated Hyperbole and a Half, and Bruce Campbell's Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way (that one was read a few years ago, but If Chins Could Kill is currently on my to-be-read shelf now and the new Bruce Campbell book is on my Amazon wishlist). To this list I now add Joel McHale's Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be. I love a book that makes me laugh out loud while I'm reading it. And all the above fit that bill. Joel McHale's book has quite a few laugh-out-loud moments (several of which I will be sharing out of context below, which may make them slightly less LOL-able).
Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be.
Thanks for the Money is full of facts about Joel McHale's road to the top of the C-list acting heap. And is also full of a lot of stuff that's not quite as factual (or at least not as straightforwardly factual), but will make you laugh. And there are also a few things in the book that aren't quite as funny, but they might make you chuckle...at the very least, they'll make you roll you eyes. And there are photos and silly charts galore.
Here is a funny chart from the book: "How to Insult People" and an amusingly captioned photo of Joel and his family meeting the former president and his wife.
Here's an excerpt about one of Joel's experiences working with Chevy Chase on Community. It begins with a weird conversation Joel was having with Chevy.
In one Community episode, Chevy's character is teaching my character how to box. Chevy is wearing training mitts, and in the scene, I'm sparring and lightly tapping them. They call "cut" after the first take, and Chevy immediately starts chiding me:
"You're not hitting me hard enough! You gotta hit me!"
I replied, as calmly as I could, "That's right, Chevy. I'm not hitting you very hard. Because I'm pretending to punch your hands, just like I'm also pretending to be a lawyer. And we're not actually attending a community college - this in a fake building that someone built inside of a soundstage on the Paramount lot. Look! This room has no ceiling! Because it's all pretend." Then Chevy called me a pussy, and again demanded, "You gotta hit me!" I replied, "Fine - I'll give you a left jab into your mitt." On the next take, I did just that, and dislocated Chevy's shoulder. Once again, everyone yelled at me: "Joel, what are you DOING?!"
But it wasn't just mild physical harassment. Chevy would often blurt out crazy things. One time, I referred to a close friend of mine as "the funniest guy in the world." Chevy immediately responded, "I'M the funniest guy in the world. Time Magazine said so."
To which I replied, "Yes, Chevy. But that article was published in 1975. Now it's 2011, we've been here for hours listening to you complain about your dialogue, and I just want to get home and see my kids."
Oh. here's another fun one. In an effort, I think, to jokingly flatter an actress on the show. Chevy actually said, "I want to kill you and then rape you." Which, in his defense, is the most thoughtful order in which to do those things - but still. She replied, "Well, at least I'll be dead." I get it - Chevy was trying to make a purposefully tacky, over-the-top joke. But something was just off. Everything he said had a weird edge of menace.
Chevy wouldn't dance on camera because he didn't want to "look gay." This may help explain the few musical scenes in Three Amigos...
Wow. Clark W Griswold, how little we really knew you.
Here's another one about Joel's struggles in school.
It's not that I find reading to be boring, or dull, or whatever a third synonym for "boring" might be2. I actually suffer from a form of learning disability. In second grade, professionals evaluated me, and they told me I was a "slow starter" - which is a really positive, encouraging thing to tell a kid who has trouble reading. I would find out, many years later, that I am actually dyslexic.
I first noticed a difficulty with reading comprehension in grade school. While the other kids were gathered around the jungle gym, sipping their juice boxes and comparing notes on the inherent Freudian symbolism of Hop on Pop, I myself just stared, dumb-founded by how dumb I found myself.
When I looked at words on a page, they just did not make sense. Like right now, as I gaze at this page - as it has been either shoved into my hands by my sweaty ghostwriters or put in front of me in a voice-over booth - I see a series of jumbled letters. Imagine trying to read Shakespeare while drunk, or road signs while drunk - that's the best way that I, and the Scotch I'm currently drinking, can describe this experience.
My mom took notice of my learning problem when I started getting horrible grades in English classes. My father didn't because he is also dyslexic. "Great job on your chemistry homework," he'd say. handing back the Thai takeout menu I had just given him. And then we'd both laugh, because neither of us knew what was on the paper I'd handed him.
But my mom - who was a professional newspaper editor for the Mercer Island Reporter3 - was initially tickled by my sloppy sentence structure. Then she grew concerned, then terrified, and finally looped all the may back to stunned amusement. As someone who fixed others' grammar for a living, she found my struggle with...
2 I even gave up halfway through reading the thesaurus entry on "boring."
3 Sample headline: "More White People Converge upon This Tiny, Wealthy Community. Rain Tomorrow."
This last excerpt is less funny, but I found the footnotes to be exceptionally funny. Thanks for the Money utilizes footnotes for comedic effect throughout (something Terry Pratchett was very well-known for doing...until he pretty much stopped in his later books).
V. THE UNWASHED MASSES
If you have made it through the other categories of people and thought - as many celebrities often do - that all of them can suck it, then you could certainly give up. You could go to the head of the Celebrity Police, toss your piece and shield on the desk, and growl, "I'm done, Commissioner Gordon-Levitt. I'm taking my justice...to the streets."
But then you'd be forgetting about the most important, and also the most anonymous and relatively powerless group of all - the audience. "Hey, wait a minute! That's me! You're talking about me!" you might be shouting into your book. First of all, settle down. And secondly, yes, I realize it might be insulting to lump you all together into one big, undulating mass of yowling, farting humanity. Many of you are not indiscriminately loud and gassy blobs. In fact, I believe most of you to be intelligent, self-assured, and sexy consumers. I think of you - the people who have watched my TV shows, bought sidewalk pirated DVDs of my movies, and attended my stand-up comedy performances - as the customer. And the customer is always right."19
So even if, in your celebrity life, you fantasize about throwing it all away so you can open that combination yoga studio/plus-size consignment shop, you must keep the audience ever in your mind. You are a painter of light, a weaver of dreams...and what would the fans do without you? Probably fantasize about having sex with some other celebrity - and you can't allow that. After a while, they will run out of famous fantasy sex objects20 and then might decide to put some work into their own lives, interests, and literal sex objects. And that is money being taken directly out of your pocket. Don't give up - you owe it to the frustrated, easily distracted21 masses!22
The previous pages were a detailed, needlessly Roman numeralized means of saying that, basically, people are gonna want stuff...
19 Unless they give this book a negative Amazon review for being "too smug."
20 Especially if they get all the way down to the various Kevins (Connolly, James, et al.).
21 Look - a bunny!
22 Again, not you guys. You're cool.
Okay, that's enough for this post. There's no shortage of content for further rambling, but I don't want to waste too much of Dan's (and possibly Steve's) precious time. There will undoubtedly be more incoherent ranting in the near future!