Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How a Jeopardy! Audition Really Feels

As alluded to in my previous post, I went up to New York City yesterday. The purpose of my trip was [drumroll] to participate in a contestant search for the popular game show Paris Hilton's My New BFF Jeopardy! (the exclamation mark is the show's, not mine). I had sort of been through this before, having taken part in a tryout for the College Tournament nine years ago (holy crap, I just used the phrase "nine years ago" in conjunction with "college"). Those, however, were the days before the online test, so the first order of business was a 50-question written test that was then scored, prompting all but a handful of the highest-scoring hopefuls to be dismissed (in case you're wondering, I did make it past that step). Nowadays, though, the online test has supplanted that step, meaning that if you get an invite to audition, you won't be unceremoniously booted just after you begin.

The 50-question test still exists, though, presumably to weed out anybody who faked their way through the test using the help of other people in the room or incredibly fast Googling skills. The test itself was fairly easy (although I was forbidden to to divulge any of the questions under pain of death) and I think I only got maybe 4 or 5 questions wrong. The thing about being in a room with other Jeopardy! fanatics, though, is that everyone else got only 4 or 5 questions wrong as well.

On to the next step, which is a mock game. A mini-version of the familiar game board is projected on a screen, and three people at a time take hold of the buzzers and answer questions (or, uh, question answers to be more specific). They don't keep score, so the purpose is really to get a sense of what sort of contestant you would be. I was in the last trio to play, which was actually a relief, since it gave me a chance to observe what everyone else was like before I had to go myself. I think I acquitted myself fairly well in this segment; I managed to buzz in a few times, didn't get anything embarrassingly wrong (last time I tried out, I foolishly said that Prince was from Milwaukee) and, perhaps most importantly, the producer never had to remind me to speak up.

Next came the interview portion, which was my biggest worry. Some of the other people in the room were a lawyer who represented plaintiffs in Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits, a teaching artist who had taken part in a taping of Def Poetry Jam, and a children's TV writer who had just been nominated for a Daytime Emmy. Compared to that, my tales of juggling and my paltry record collection didn't seem that impressive (not that they ever really did). Fortunately, the interviews seemed to follow the same format: they would ask about your job, ask about what you do in your free time, ask about one of the personal facts or anecdotes that you listed ahead of time, and ask what you would do with the money if you won. From that I was able to plan a few sentences ahead of time for each prompt, and while I might not have said anything memorable, I at least avoided any awkward silences.

So that's basically the gist of it. I think I came across pretty well (though there were a few people in the room who seemed like they would certainly be invited to tape the show). I'm now in their contestant files, which is good for the next 18 months. If I haven't gotten a call by that point, I guess that's my cue to start all over again.

  • No, Alex does not show up at these things. He said hello to us in a short video, though.
  • I though I was impressive because I'd tried out once before, and then found out that one of the other people at the audition had tried out four times (some of the repeat auditioners almost sounded like they were old friends with the people from the show). Likewise, I thought it was notable that a co-worker of mine was almost a contestant, until I met people whose wives or grandmothers had actually appeared on the show.
  • The aforementioned TV writer used to work on Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? which prompted a discussion of what current game shows are worth watching. Turns out the Jeopardy! people are fans of Cash Cab.
  • Of the five pieces of information that I submitted, the one I had to talk about was my Quizzo playing. Unfortunately, the question only concerned whether I was better or worse at trivia games when I've been drinking, so I didn't get to shout out to the Pre-Teen Pregnancy Pact or describe the larger-than-life personality of Irish John.
  • This is only tangentially related, but the contestant search ended at around 5:30, and I was looking to get a bite to eat and maybe a beer before my train ride home. This proved easier said than done, since it seemed like 75% of the drinking establishments in Midtown Manhattan are corporate touristy chains, and the rest looked like obnoxious sports bars or cookie-cutter Irish pubs. Eventually, I walked past one windowless generic-looking bar just off of 7th Avenue, less than a block away from Madison Square Garden. "Sure," I thought, "this place looks like a dive, but I'm sure when I open the door it'll be crawling with hipsters." Except on the inside . . . it still looked like a dive, or at least a quiet, unassuming shot-and-beer joint. There was a grandfatherly bartender, and maybe 5 other people sitting at the bar, mostly reading the paper or concentrating on a certain syndicated quiz show playing on the TV. I have no idea how a place like that stays in business, given that it's occupying some of the most expensive real estate in the world.
  • And while I'm critiquing New York: Times Square + summer + tourists = HOLY SHIT.

...And That's When My iPod Died

I finally got the old girl working again, but my train ride to and from New York yesterday gave her multiple chances to freeze up.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oh, Zoidberg, at last you're becoming a crafty consumer! I'll take eight!

For a limited time, Amazon MP3 has 99 Essential Chants on sale for the low, low price of 99 cents! That's only a penny per chant! Act now!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mom and Dad, Where Did You Go Wrong?

You know what's kind of depressing? I have have become the sort of person who is highly amused by webcomics with jokes about fonts.

(You know what's even worse? I was once thinking of starting a blog devoted to my endless frustration with Papyrus.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Speaking in Acid Tongues

Walking onto the stage at the Mann Center Friday night, clad in a white suit that matched both his bandmates and his hair, David Byrne approached the microphone and took a few moments to chat up the audience. Before a single note was played, he thanked everyone for coming out, acknowledged opening act DeVotchka, and invited the crowd to take photos if they wanted (while kindly pointing out that using a flash was likely futile for those of us in the cheap seats). It was an adorably awkward introduction that seemed like it was better suited for open-mic night at a coffeehouse than an amphitheater show by a post-punk godfather.

The setlist drew from Byrne's collaborations with Brian Eno, including last year's quite good Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, the pioneering, sample-heavy LP My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and the albums that Eno produced for the Talking Heads. I'll leave you to guess which of those selections got the biggest response from the audience. (And I certainly don't mean for that to be an indictment of the crowd's collective taste: do you want to argue with songs like "Once in a Lifetime," "Burning Down the House" or "Life During Wartime"? Didn't think so.) I was happy that Fear of Music, my favorite Talking Heads album, was well-represented by "Wartime," "I Zimbra" and "Heaven." Byrne introduced the latter song by saying that he was attempting to write a song with verses that sounded like Neil Young, a fact that will make it impossible to ever hear that song any other way.

I'll admit that I've never seen Stop Making Sense (cue jeering), so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from Byrne as a the performer. The fact that he had a trio of white-clad dancers might have seemed out of place had I not heard about them beforehand. I was amused though, by the extent to which Byrne himself joined in the fun: at one point, one of the dancers slid between his legs, then later, one leaped over his back. Also a cute touch: "Life is Long" is perhaps the only song I've seen performed from a swivel chair.


Less than 72 hours after seeing a fifty-something, white-haired man perform in a large Fairmount Park amphitheater on a rainy, unseasonably chilly night, I was seeing a thirty-something, redheaded woman perform in a small Chinatown club on a hot night. Jenny Lewis was the headliner this time around, but half of her backing band were opening the show under the name Farmer Dave. Have you ever heard the sloppy, impromptu cover songs that Yo La Tengo plays during WFMU pledge drives? Yeah, it was sort of like that.

Deer Tick was more to my liking. Judging by their name, I had assumed that they were some mellow, backwoods country group, the sort of animal that survives by sucking the blood of Fleet Foxes or Band of Horses. In reality, they play straightforward, dirty rock 'n roll that never overstays its welcome. Though they hail from Rhode Island, lead singer John McCauley's gravelly voice reminded me a lot of Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers. The band had enough fans in the audience to entertain some requests at the end of their set (which also included some pretty rockin' John Mellencamp and Ritchie Valens covers).

So, let's get this out of the way first: Jenny Lewis looked very pretty, wearing mom jeans and one of the T-shirts from her merch stand. (Refreshingly, the crowd seemed quite respectful and refrained from shouting out any creepy comments) And her band, for which I had so little affection in their previous incarnation, sounded much more professional this time around. I haven't heard most of Acid Tongue, her most recent album, but I can honestly say that I didn't hear a bad song all night. The highlight for me, though, was when most of her band left the stage and she performed "Trying My Best to Love You" and "Silver Lining," which, stripped of its glossy production, became a showcase for Ms. Lewis's gorgeous voice. [Removed in editing: rambling story about the first time I heard the song "I Never" and how it, like, changed my life.]


So I saw two really good performances by artists that I admire. Ah, but it can never be that simple can it? As usual, there were some circumstances unrelated to the actual music that kept me from fully enjoying the shows.

As I mentioned, I was in the cheap seats for David Byrne. What bothered me was just how empty those seats were. My entire row was pretty much deserted, and there were vast open spaces in the rows in front of and behind me. It's not that I enjoy being crowded, but I felt more like I was in a porno theater than watching a rock show. It's easy to stand up and cheer when everyone around you is doing it; its a bit more awkward when you're practically in a library.

The opposite was true at Jenny Lewis -- that place was fucking packed. No, this one was my fault, as I forgot the golden rule of standing-room-only gigs: once a band is on stage and you've left the bar area, you do not go back! Spreading your drinking out over the evening will result in you watching the show from the back of the room, which is exactly what happened to me. It wasn't that bad, since it was quite a bit cooler the farther you got from the stage (though, on the other hand, the noise from the fans that were providing that breeze could be heard during the quieter moments).

No, the biggest problem here was that I was constantly distracted by the guy in front of me. He did not dance. He did not (from all appearances) sing along. He didn't bob his head, or tap his foot or even so much as applaud during the entire set. What possesses someone to buy a ticket to rock concert and then act as though they observing an art exhibition? Unless you are on rumspringa and this is your fist exposure to the devil's music, there is no excuse for such behavior.

And They Go Tweet, Tweet, Tweet, Tweet, Tweet Like Little Birds

  • I thought DeVotchka's score for Little Miss Sunshine was one of the best parts of that movie, but I found it hard to care about their opening set. I have to respect them, though, for throwing out a whole lot of stuff that I should have loved, like a sousaphone, a theremin solo, and a cover of "Venus in Furs" that disposed of everything from the Velvet Underground's recording but the lyrics.
  • Introducing one song, Jenny Lewis said that it was about catching the clap from Lindsay Lohan, but then quickly took that back. Those crimson-haired former child actresses gotta look out for each other.
  • I stopped by the afterparty at the Troc balcony in the hopes that Jenny would show up, I would charm her with my wit, and she would immediately invite me to follow her around on tour. That, um, didn't happen. I did regret that I didn't stick with my music lessons, though, when I saw her Napoleon Dynamite lookalike bassist chatting up two of the cuter girls there.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ownage in 140 Characters

Shaq and Ashton are both wack as fuck; I just found out that Zodiac Motherfucker is on Twitter. For someone whose schtick is so limited, I swear this guy keeps getting more and more hilarious.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dancing Mania, 2009 Edition

The quality's not great and it's shaky as hell, but this is so much better than all those viral videos of elaborately choreographed "spontaneous" dance sequences in public places.

I am making it my mission this summer to single-handedly start dance parties wherever I go.