Black History Month: Dear White People

TV recommendations seem to be as popular a part of small talk as the weather and traffic patterns. People tend to recommend hour-long dramas, but what I want are 20- or 30-minute comedies, something funny, smart, and thoughtful. The Netflix series Dear White People, based on the movie of the same name, is all those things. If we’re talking and we’ve covered how rainy it’s been and how crowded the Tube is, expect me to bring up this show.


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Highlights of My Edinburgh Fringe 2017

My first Fringe experience was as a flyerer and sometimes performer in 2014, so it was a different thing to go up as a paying punter this year. Liz and I went up with a friend of hers from college; the three of us each had our own bed in our own room in a flat we rented — such luxury! We bought our meals out and didn’t make any ramen noodles — such decadence! It was definitely a pricier way to do the Fringe, even for only three nights. But it was a lot of fun. I managed to see 14 shows in 3 days, as well as many street performers. Here are my highlights. Check out these acts if you can!

Edinburgh Castle scotland

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Scotland Fringe

The stage for the Two Plus Ones show


The three young guys of the Two Plus Ones delivered nonstop, silly sketch comedy in “Huge Night In.” Luke Sumner’s characters in particular were all the more hilarious for being so wholly conceived. They had a sketch about a canon support group that had me in stitches with its utterly stupid brilliance.

We met Roisin and Chiara while queuing for their show “We Are Not Afraid”; they handed out candies and made conversation while in character as red jumpsuited oddballs. Inside, they did what seemed a hybrid sketch/improv show, including lots of audience involvement, a disco soundtrack, surrealist humor, and at one point, a wolf mask.

The 1st Annual Black Comedy Showcase was brilliantly emceed by Che Burnley, who asked white male audience members where they were from, then no matter what they answered (London, Manchester), followed up with, “No but where are you really from? What’s your heritage?” (“Germany, maybe? My girlfriend went there, she said it’s really beautiful and the people are so nice”). I hope the few confused people in the audience eventually got that he was pointing up the offensive and ridiculous nature of the same question when it’s posed to people of color on the regular. Che was a warm and friendly host, but make no mistake, he had clear intentions with this showcase. I loved it.

The standout act from the showcase was Athena Kugblenu, a London-based comedian who had one of the Jokes of the Fringe. She has this droll delivery that just kills me, and it doesn’t hurt that her mix of the personal and the political hits my sweet spot for stand-up.

Edinburgh Scotland Fringe

Some of the lovely old buildings in Edinburgh

Spoken Word/Storytelling

The Banshee Labyrinth is one of the main centers for spoken word at the Free Fringe, and it was kind of a trip to go back there and see a show in the same little room that I’d performed in three years ago. We watched four young poets perform “A Matter of Time,” an interconnected group of poems told from the point of view of one person, at four different points in their timeline. It was a neat concept, and beautifully executed. If you like your poetry heartfelt but not sentimental, reflective but not navel-gazing, check out Ellen RentonShannon MacGregorRoss McFarlane and Bibi June.

Liz has seen Theatre Ad Infinitum shows before and wanted to see whatever they were putting on at the Fringe this year. We went to see Homer’s “Odyssey,” and were thrilled to find it was a spellbinding one-man storytelling hour. Spellbinding is not hyperbole here: I was fully immersed in the story from the first word, and breathed a deep sigh of contentment at the end.

Edinburgh Scotland Fringe

The Big Top Circus Hub on the Meadows


The circus is the place to go when you want to be reminded of how amazing the human body is, and Bibi and Bichu‘s “Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams” provided myriad reminders. I actually gasped in awe several times and applauded wildly every time they held a pose or finished a tumble.

I’m pretty sure everyone in the audience cried during 201 Dance Company‘s “Skin,” a hip hop dance show about a kid growing up and coming out trans*. The dancing was urgent and emotional, especially from the protagonist and their mother. Including a child dancer to mirror the adult protagonist was a great choice, and it’s good to see an FTM transition, which is a story not told as often as an MTF one, I think.


One of the most perfect play-within-a-plays I’ve ever seen, Willis & Vere‘s “The Starship Osiris” made me laugh for the entire show. A self-obsessed man puts on the most ridiculous sci-fi show glorifying himself, and everything breaks down spectacularly when the cast rebels. The details in the performances were spot-on, from the particular preening of the director to the facial expressions of the babed-up female crew members.

Pollyanna is the queer cabaret we all need in our lives. Polyfilla hosts, and the night we went we saw several excellent acts, including a drag king performing to a clever medley of songs about being a boy/man and Pollyfilla leading the audience in a participatory musical about Theresa May that made you laugh through the horror of the current political climate.

Nearly all of these acts are UK-based, so if you are too, be sure to check out their Twitter/FB pages in the links I’ve provided and see when their upcoming shows are. Even if you aren’t based in the UK, art travels, so why not follow them anyway in case they come to your town. If you get a chance to see any of these, I highly recommend that you do!

Edinburgh Scotland Fringe

St Giles Cathedral

Edinburgh Scotland Fringe

Street performance on the Royal Mile


Too Old for Hostels

Matador has a great post up about how you know you’re too old to stay at hostels. Just about every one of those applies to me, except I don’t think about telling people to shut the hell up after 1:30am, I actually say that to them.

Most cities have non-party hostels, so those are the ones I usually stay at, thus bypassing many of the problems mentioned in the Matador post (party boats, etc.). And in Southeast Asia, a private hotel room with attached bathroom was so cheap, I usually went with those.

But some of the things they mention–rolling your eyes any time someone talks about “just living,” stereotyping Australians–well, those apply anywhere.

If Leslie Knope Ran an Airport

The airport at Kuala Lumpur

The airport at Kuala Lumpur

Leslie Knope, from one of my favorite TV shows, Parks and Recreation, is famously fond of elaborate plans, overfull binders, and awkwardly worded acronyms. I chuckled when I saw this sign at the airport in Kuala Lumpur (en route from Hanoi to Tokyo) and thought this would fit right in at Pawnee City Hall.

“Humbly pleasant”!

Community, Where My Ladies At?

Community is coming back! After a hiatus that had comedy nerds across the country weeping along to Arrested Development reruns in an attempt to fill the void, the show is back on March 15. I love this show for so many reasons: the jokes, the musical numbers, the complex callbacks, Donald Glover. It’s also a show with an uncanny eye for detail. Community subverts the conventions of any genre it tackles, while simultaneously celebrating those conventions. Characters wear ridiculous outfits, stories hang on the thinnest of premises, and yet the intricate plotting and consistent character development means that we wind up caring a great deal about what’s going on at Greendale Community College.

we all wish this was our college crowd

So it struck me as odd when I realized that with all the care that’s gone into creating and embellishing this fictional world, one aspect is severely underdeveloped. I’m not talking about the fact that we haven’t seen Shirley’s children outside of that one episode in Season 1, or that it’s Season 3 and Jeff isn’t even pretending to try to get back into his law firm anymore. It’s a sitcom; some facts just aren’t as important as the overall story and the jokes. No, I’m talking about the lack of ladies on the Greendale campus.

We’ve got the seven main characters (4 men, 3 women), two secondary characters (2 men–the Dean and Chang), and several tertiary characters (all men). I wouldn’t for the world suggest we lessen Dean Pelton’s presence, because Jim Rash’s portrayal is one of the funniest things on TV in the last decade. And it looks like they’re finding a balance with Chang, which is good, because a little goes a long way with that one [insert Chang’s self-referential joke about “the Chang” here].

The show does a good job of having characters recur in the background, to make the Greendale world feel more complete. But women outside that crowd show up as one- or two-episode love interests for the guys in the group, and then disappear. Tertiary characters: Duncan, Star-Burns, Leonard, Magnitude, Garrett, Neil… see a pattern here? Sometimes Vicki shows up, but she never gets much to say, whereas Magnitude has a catch phrase, Garrett plays pivotal production roles in Greendale promo videos, and Leonard is a well-known old crank.

C’mon, Dan Harmon et. al., let’s liven things up with some wacky women as regulars on the Greendale campus! Lord knows there’s plenty to be found at that wild and wonderful place.


I Started a Tumblr: Crappy Editings

I started a very specific Tumblr last week: Crappy Editings, for fans of the TV show “Happy Endings” who just want the writers to at least Google some stuff if they’re going to pretend the show is set in Chicago.

Mlle. O’Leary and I enjoy the rapid-fire dialogue and ridiculous situations of this show, but it seems every time we talk about it, we find another aspect of Chicago life that the writers got wrong. Surely someone on staff must have lived in Chicago once upon a time? So many comedy writers and actors do start out here, after all. It’s such a great city! So many of us live here and are super defensive about it! Maybe just hire a fact checker now and again, or call up your cousin living in Lincoln Park to get just a hint of some local color.

Anyway, if you want to check it out, head on over. Screenshots and snarky text abound.

Travel as Exploitation, or Whatever

Oh the hilarity! I mean, also sad, because I have definitely met far too many travelers whose inner monologue is probably shockingly close to this little satirical piece (without that hard-hitting bit at the end). And I have to watch myself closely to not go too far into this territory, too. But mostly it’s hilarious. Check it out:

“When I reached the end of the alley I saw this really elderly and impoverished Guatemalan woman, with like, missing teeth weaving brightly colored cloths on this big weaving apparatus. And I stopped, for like a whole three minutes and we exchanged a really long glance. I felt like I could see into her soul. I took some photos of her, like, without asking. I remember how pleased I felt, that I actually found something in that alley entirely mine. Like, I owned it or something.”

When we travel, what are we learning, what are we taking, and what right have we to do any of it? Those are the questions I hope we’re grappling with in this here blog.

Note: No need to be familiar with My So-Called Life for this to be entertaining. The author’s writing in the style of a 16-year-old TV character from the early ’90s, but that’s just icing if you know the show. (Which honestly, I don’t; I think I’ve seen one and a half episodes, and it was in this past year, so I missed out on the part where I strongly identify with Angela and draw parallels between her life and mine.)

I’m Covered in Bees!

Hello, dearest fellow travelers! Did you miss me? I did you.

I shall now summarize for you my vacation last week: More, please.

As I’m sure you all know, coming back from vacation should be done as gently as possible. No matter how relaxing the vacation (and a week on a beach with old friends was quite relaxing), coming back is a shock to the system. I cleverly dealt with the problem this time by having a whole weekend to myself before heading back into the workforce. Saturday was movies, Sunday was laundry and a new book, and by Monday morning I was almost able to bear the thought of sitting in a cubicle instead of swimming in a lake. Self-brainwashing, sure, but necessary in order to earn more money to take more vacations.

And of course, last night I supplemented unpacking and books with a healthy dose of Eddie Izzard. Nothing says “you can handle the office” like giraffe impressions and “I’m covered in beeeees!”

The Music Don’t Lie, Part 3

I have a fraught relationship with music and driving. I mean, of course I love music and I listen to it constantly when I’m in the car (no dry talk radio here). But I seem to have an uncanny knack for finding myself in trouble just as a song’s playing that’d make you go, “and isn’t that ironic, don’tcha think?” (I will pause now for you all to wail along to Alanis’s logic-flawed but bellow-perfect chorus.)

Back? Feel refreshed? Excellent. Onward!

Example 1: I was about 10 years old and my mom was driving the twins and me somewhere on the highway. We’re grooving to “Roxanne” (the meaning of which utterly escaped me for another 4 years or so, I’m happy to say), when suddenly, sirens, lights, and we’re on the side of the road. Mom has a short conversation with the police officer, who probably lectures her on speeding while transporting her “precious cargo” (this phrase has actually been used in reference to child passengers, ew). And then as soon as the police officer turned back to his car I make it SO MUCH BETTER by saying, with utter lack of facetiousness, “Mom! Mom! Isn’t it funny that The Police were on the radio, and the police just came to our car? Mom, isn’t that hilarious?” I do not think she found it hilarious.

The Police

Possibly my mom wouldn't have minded so much if these officers had pulled her over.

Example 2: The universe got me back about 7 years later. I was a few days shy of my 17th birthday, when my driver’s license would go from temporary to permanent. I was driving around my hometown, hand delivering invitations to my 17th birthday party, which was to be in the theme of the original Star Wars. (Raise your hand if you’re surprised that this is the kind of party I would throw.) I slowed down for what seemed a respectable amount of time at a stop sign on a residential street and carried on to a main street, where I was promptly pulled over for not stopping at a stop sign. My first ticket, my first time crying in front of a cop, and what’s on the radio? “Free Bird.” No joke.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Skynyrd definitely look like they're waiting to be booked at a police station.

Our latest example came last night, an instance of Instant Karma Gone Wrong. It was pouring on my walk home from the train station, and I passed a woman giving terrible directions to a couple of guys with guitars and travel backpacks. I corrected the directions after the woman walked away, but when they said thanks and they’d start walking now, I said, wait, that’s almost 3 miles away, let me give you a ride. So I drove them to their friend’s house and wished them well. On my way back to my house, rain drummed on the roof, the radio played “Classical Gas” (that instrumental that is clearly made for cruising along in a car), and I started to plan dinner in my head. Then I heard a rumble and it wasn’t thunder. My front left tire blew out, and I rolled along as the wheel moved farther and farther off its axle, til I got to a tire place that was actually open. They fixed it quickly and I headed home, $60 poorer and wary of any song even remotely referencing driving, or freedom, or law enforcement.

Next time I hear “Crash and Burn” by the Bangles on my car radio, I’m pulling to the side of the road and just running.

Previous editions of “The Music Don’t Lie” found here and here.

Image 1 from here. Image 2 from here.

Where’s the Game?

The other week I was on a shuttle bus headed back from a wedding reception to the hotel, and we passed a large white van pulled over on the side of the road. The cop car lights were flashing and as we zipped by, I saw the logo on the side of the van. It was a Salvation Army van! What was a Salvation Army van doing out and about at midnight, and in trouble with the law?

My bet is Nathan Detroit found a new place for the craps game.

Nicely Nicely in "Guys and Dolls"

Rockin' the boat went mobile