Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Return of Pink Five

Finally, the Return of Pink Five is here! (Well, volume 1 is anyway.)

"Stacey returns for another exciting chapter! Will she find true love with Han Solo? Can she hold her own against Darth Vader in a death match? Will she break a nail in the process? Find out now!"

Never heard of Pink Five? Then watch Pink Five and Pink Five Strikes Back first.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Big in Japan (revision 1)

[Here's the revised version I did in class. It worked pretty well, but I cut it down pretty far, so it needs to be longer.]

OK, so here's the first version of my bit on "I'm big in Japan." Thanks to everyone who suggested jokes, even the ones I didn't use. This is meant for standup, so it should be funnier performed than just read. I'll see how it goes over in class tomorrow night, and what revisions I need to make.

I'm big in Japan too.
No, really – I used to live in Japan. I lived there for about 10 years.
One of the best things about living in a foreign country is that it's a lot easier to be funny there.
Just imagine living in Japan – 120 million people, and none of them have ever heard a knock-knock joke.
You have to teach them how a knock-knock joke works, but once you do, you're good to go.
And it doesn't even have to be a good knock-knock joke, because they're foreigners. They've never heard any of them.
Like, I'd say, "Knock-knock!"
"Who's there?"
"Sue."
"Sue who?"
"Sushi tastes good."
I said it didn't have to be a good one.
Because if you tell that in a foreign country, they'll be like, "Sushi tastes good? BWA-HA-HA-HA! You are so funny!"

See, 'cause if you live in a foreign country, you can tell any joke in the entire history of America, stuff that goes back to vaudeville, and everyone will think you're the funniest person ever, 'cause they've never heard them before.
Like, I used to tell people, "Wow, my arm really hurts."
So they'd say, "What's wrong?"
And I'd say, "I don't know. I can only raise it this high (raise arm shoulder high). Normally I can raise it this high (over head), but now I can only raise it this high (shoulder again).
And then they'd be like, "But you just raised it over your head. And then – ha-ha-ha! – you said you can't! Oh, ha-ha-ha! Oh my gosh, you're funny!"

Or this one time I was at a company party, so I was brown-nosing my Japanese boss – I mean, I was conversing with my manager, and I said to him, "What's black and white and read all over?"
"Black and white and red…"
"All over."
"Hmm. A zebra? A penguin? No, they're just black and white…. I don't know."
"A newspaper."
"A newspaper? But that's just black and white…."
"No, it's read all over too – because people read it."
"BWA-HA-HA-HA! That is so original! You certainly have a unique sense of humor. That's the kind of creativity we need at this company! You deserve a raise!"
"Well, thank you. Lot's of people tell me that. Hey, pull my finger."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Son of Salt Lake Conferencial

(Part 1 is here.)

I also watched both Sunday sessions, not that I'm bragging or anything, but three sessions in a row is probably a post-1987 record for me. Certainly it's my 21st century record. And I stayed awake the whole time.

So, in the Sunday morning session, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings, which of course engenders more choir watching. The first thing I notice -- besides the usual funny faces and so on -- is how unflattering the outfits of the poor female members are. They're cut really wide around their necks -- not low, of course (thank goodness) -- but wide. Now, I dearly love to see a pretty neck, but very few of these women are anywhere near young, and most of them sport various combinations of well-earned wrinkles, fat, flab, and dewlaps. There's nothing wrong with that -- as I say, those features are well-earned -- but is it really necessary to dress these women in outfits that draw extra attention to their necks? I know what you're thinking: What about the men, you sexist? Well, here's the thing, the men's necks no doubt look even worse, but they're all buttoned up to their (double) chins in tuxedos. (At 10:00 in the morning. Hmm.) Pretty much all that's visible is their honest, homely faces. I wish that were true of the women as well.

President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, is the first speaker. His talk is very back-to-basics. He talks about how the Church is a restoration of Christ's original church. In a way, it seems kind of old-fashioned -- it's the same kind of thing I heard 24 years ago when I first joined the Church -- and it certainly predates that time as well. It's comfortably familiar, though. He mentions Roger Williams, founder of the colony of Rhode Island. My 13-year-old daughter T is sitting next to me. I whisper to her, "Roger Williams was our ancestor, you know." "Yes, Daddy, I know." She does a fairly creditable job of not rolling her eyes.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles follows him. I notice that his jowly look gives him a strong resemblance to Huckleberry Hound. I also notice that I spend too much time thinking about what people look like and making fun of their appearance in my mind. It's a bad habit. I want to do better, but it's hard, especially when there's a good choir to watch.

Next up is Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Presidency of the Seventy. My wife used to date a guy named Tingey. I wonder if this is his dad or something. I'm ready to dislike him. But his talk is OK.

He's followed by Anne C. Pingree, Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, today's token woman speaker the sole female speaker today. Something about her speaking style distracts me, and I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what it is she reminds me of. Finally, it hits me: she sounds like a teacher reading a story to a classroom of second-graders. She uses a little less "expression" (remember "reading with expression"?), but the way she slowly enunciates each sentence and carefully looks around the room seems just like "story time." Having solved that problem, I can pay attention to her message. It bothers me. She talks about how "experienced" members of the Church mentored new converts from Africa and Latin America in an "inner-city" congregation. That's a good thing to do, but I can't help noticing that, as seems common in talks and articles of this kind, there is not the slightest suggestion that an "experienced" member of the Church could possibly learn anything from an immigrant from a developing country. I struggle not to be judgmental while she speaks. As you can probably tell from this paragraph, my struggle was not entirely successful.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles follows her. During his talk, he also mentions some foreigners, from Nigeria, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Mongolia. But his approach is different. These aren't helpless children who need the "experienced" members of the Church to show them what to do. A doctor has an inspired dream and eventually joins the Church. A man follows the Spirit, joins the Church, becomes a missionary and then a bishop. A little girl grows up to act on her feelings of love for God, joins the Church, and serves a mission. A family seeks the truth and joins the Church; the father becomes a counselor in a mission presidency. These aren't stories of weak people who are fortunate enough to receive "our" help; they're stories of faith, guidance, and empowerment, stories of people just like us who happen to live overseas. I'm comforted by Elder Oaks's point of view.

President Gordon B. Hinckley finishes the session. His talk is extraordinary. He almost seems to be delivering his own eulogy. He even jokes about it: "I trust that you will not regard what I have said as an obituary." I hope that it isn't.

That's the end of the morning session.We go home for lunch, then back to church for the afternoon session. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is the first speaker. He talks about missionary work. It's all common-sense stuff, about being real friends with people and letting them naturally see the Church and what it means to us. I hope no one still thinks they're supposed to make "non-member friends" in order to convert them. That kind of stuff just offends people.

Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles follows him. He also talks about missionary work, but from the perspective of becoming a full-time missionary. There's a striking difference in tone from this type of talk only a few years ago. Then, it was "every 19-year-old male should go on a mission." Now, the emphasis is on preparation and choice, on personally making the decision to go on a mission.

Elder David R. Stone of the Seventy speaks next. He talks about how culture influences people, and tells us not to follow the culture of "Babylon," but to have our own "Zion" culture. Of course, the $64,000 question is whether the culture he apparently has in mind as some sort of ideal is really a Zion culture, or a White, American, Inter-mountain West, Mormon culture that shapes him and convinces him that his culture is the proper one in exactly the same way he says everyone else's cultures shape them. Since he doesn't address the obvious point, I mostly just feel confused by his talk.

Next, Elder Robert S. Wood of the Seventy speaks. Earlier, I had explained my theory of Conference watching to my daughter. I find that in each Conference, there are a number of talks that are boring and/or meaningless to me. I let my mind wander during those talks, but I don't completely ignore them, because occasionally something meaningful to me might suddenly catch my attention. I find that usually more than half the talks are like that. Some talks, on the other hand, are interesting, either because the speaker is lively and entertaining, or because the topic seems personally meaningful to me. I find that maybe one-fourth of the talks fall into that category. But the third type of talk, those are the ones that matter. Those are the ones where it seems like the speaker is talking to me personally, like maybe he really is conveying a personal message from God to me. Usually, there's only one or maybe two of those per Conference. This time, it was Elder Wood's talk.

Elder Wood talks about not being rude and hateful to those we disagree with, about raising the level of our discourse. He's talking mainly about politics, of course (read Francis Fukuyama's op-ed in the LA Times for a good summary of current political discourse), but he might just as well be talking about an internet forum I belong to. I've steadily been growing sick of it, sick of the parade of jerks and fools who invade it, sick of verbally bitch-slapping them, sick of it being so easy, sick of being good at it and enjoying it so much, sick of the whole thing. Coming on the heels of President Hinckley's talk on Saturday night telling us to be nicer, this talk pretty much makes up my mind for me. (A few days later, before I can waver, the Danite's decision to leave for his own reasons makes it easy for me to take the step. I quit posting in that forum.)

But the Conference isn't over yet. Elder H. Bruce Stucki of the Seventy gives a talk. He has this heavy countrified Utah (I guess) accent, which confuses me sometimes. He says things like "Heavenly Father answered my prior" and "Heavenly Father hears our prior" and I think "answered your prior what?" and "hears our prior what?" Pretty soon, though, I catch on. "Prior" is just the way he pronounces "prayer." Once I get that out of the way, I can pay attention to what he's talking about. He talks about when he was a little kid and he took his brand-new bow-and-arrow set out to the brush to play with, and he lost an arrow. He would be in trouble for losing it right after he got it, and it was getting dark. So he prayed, and when he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was his arrow. So he knew that God answers his priors prayers. This is a pretty commonplace story among Mormons -- the prayer for the lost keys or whatever. It's even happened to me, in fact. But this phenomenon is completely inexplicable to me. How is it that God answers prayers like that, that He'll answer, "where are my keys, where is my arrow, where are my eyeglasses?" but so often He won't answer prayers like "please make my Mommy better, please make Daddy stop hurting me, please don't let my baby die"? I can't answer that question, and I can only imagine how much it must confuse and probably hurt people whose important prayers go unanswered to hear these stories about how God answered trivial ones.

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles follows him. He tells a nice story about a horse no one wanted that became a champion, but mainly what I notice is how badly Elder Wirthlin shows his age. He really seems to be struggling at times. He's obviously reading sometimes, he almost loses his place, he looks at the wrong camera, he constantly licks his lips. Instead of paying attention to what he's saying, mostly I'm cheering him on in my mind. "Come on. You can do it. Just a little more. That's it." Finally, he finishes, with no real mistakes. I feel relieved for him.

President Hinckley concludes the meeting. As is customary, he just takes a couple minutes to say good-bye. It's been a nice Conference. I hope it's not his last.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Salt Lake Conferencial

(You can skip the first two paragraphs if you're LDS, since this is all stuff you should already know.) Every six months, my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (yes, I'm a Mormon, believe it or not), has what we call "General Conference." During General Conference, which is held in Salt Lake City, a bunch of Church leaders give sermons (which, for unknown reasons, we LDS always call "talks" instead of "sermons"). In between the talks, choirs sing (but we don't call the songs "sings," or even "songs"; we always call them "hymns"). Naturally, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings at every General Conference, even though it's now held in the Conference Center instead of the Tabernacle nowadays. But there are also always choirs from obscure cities in Utah with names like Orem and Hyrum and Bam-Bam. OK, as far as I know there isn't really a place named Bam-Bam, Utah, but there might as well be. Nobody outside of Utah knows where any of those other places are anyway. But they all have choirs.

General Conference is always held on the first weekend in April and the first weekend in October. It's broadcast via satellite to LDS churches all over the United States. There are three "sessions" on Saturday and two on Sunday; each session is two hours long. Yeah, it is a bit of an ordeal sometimes. But we go to church for three hours every Sunday anyway, so what's another seven hours twice a year? So we're kind of expected to watch them, well, religiously.

(LDS, start reading now.) Anyhow, on General Conference Saturday, I skipped the first two sessions because I was busy doing nothing in particular. Thus, I was feeling ever so slightly guilty, and I decided I'd go to the last session that day, which started at 5:00. But a friend of my wife called around 3:00 and asked her if she could come over and help her with some yard work. This sounded like a good excuse for missing a Conference session a good opportunity for Christian service, so I said I'd come along too and help. And if it just so happened that I needed to stay there until after 5:00, well, helping other people is more important than edifying myself by watching General Conference. However, it turned out to be a simple job, and we finished by 4:00, so I had no excuse not to go watch fortunately I was still able to go watch.

I get there just as the session starts, and -- you guessed it -- there was a men's choir from Bam-Bam, Utah, or someplace like that. I've often thought that the most interesting thing about choirs is watching the funny faces people make when they sing. Some people are completely laidback and affectless when they sing, but others make up for them by concentrating with staring, sweating intensity. Some use their mouths exactly the way they would if they were speaking the words, but others need to shape the words and open their mouths so wide you could probably stuff a Book of Mormon down their throats without getting saliva on it. Some singers stand stock still, while others rock or sway to the music. Watching a choir this way is especially useful with Mormon choirs, which have a typical style that puts all their music somewhere between a lullaby and a funeral dirge. That makes them perfect for small children's funerals, I suppose, but the rest of the time they're a little lacking in energy. However, I have to recommend against offering any observations about funny facial expressions and so on during actual choir performances, as uncontrollable giggling may result, especially if one makes the observations to people under the age of 12.

After the opening hymn and prayer, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke. He's German, a handsome man for his age, a former pilot, and he has this cool German accent. I want his accent to be even heavier, and for him to speak with much less affect so he'll sound like Schwarzenegger. Then I could call him "the Apostle-nator." It's no go, though; he just speaks too well. Elder Uchtdorf talks about how we don't always see "the end from the beginning" the way God does. He speaks mainly to the youth, telling them that there are reasons for all the rules we have in our church, that they help build for the future as well as the present. It's a good talk.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy is next. He looks like a football coach. He talks about adults making a greater effort to reach young people in the church. It's a good message, but it doesn't particularly resonate with me.

Elder Richard G. Hinckley of the Seventy follows him. Elder Hinckley, of course, is the son of Gordon B. Hinckley. There's obviously a strong family resemblance, but for some reason he reminds me a great deal of the late Spencer W. Kimball as well. I miss President Kimball. Elder Hinckley suggests keeping a notebook in which to write ideas on "What my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints means to me." It's a good idea, but mainly what I'll remember about his talk a month from now is the joke he starts it with:
One year ago when I was sustained, President Hinckley made it clear to the entire Church that he had not initiated the process that resulted in my call. I told him later that I was likely the only General Authority in the history of the Church to be sustained by the members in spite of a disclaimer by the prophet!

It's a good line.

President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, is next. Unfortunately, his talk doesn't make much of an impression on me.

President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, follows. Rather than his words, it's his personality that holds my attention. President Monson has a tendency to be a bit maudlin at times, to tell kind of corny tear-jerking stories, but tonight he's on a roll. He's really funny. And he's funny at his own expense -- he worries long ago about the impression his son will make -- and on behalf of others -- he sees them in possibly embarrassing situations and hopes they'll come through OK. Of course, they do, and all of us in the audience are relieved for them. Tonight, at least, President Monson has struck just the right notes of good humor, optimism, and sentiment, without being heavy-handed or corny. It's a masterful performance. I'm reassured that if President Hinckley does pass away soon, the church will do just fine with President Monson at the head of it.

President Gordon B. Hinckley closes the session. I like his talks, and of course, after his cancer surgery and all, I'm curious to see how he looks. Is he healthy? Is he frail? Does he look like he'll die soon? I don't know it at the time, but he hadn't spoken during the day's previous two sessions, which only increased the speculation for the more devout members of the audience. He gets up to speak and he looks… OK. Just OK. He used to be astonishingly vigorous for his age. Now he seems old, a bit weak, thinner than he has been. But mentally he's fine, as sharp as ever. He speaks of racism and how it has no place in the church. President Hinckley talks about being kinder to other people. I think about how I treat jerks and fools on internet forums. He makes me want to do better.

(Part 2 is here.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Three-word funny

This was another in-class writing assignment; it's a game, really. You take three letters and try to make up something funny with a phrase or something using those three letters. For this assignment, though, we had a series – taken from license plates – and were supposed to make up a dialog between "Fred and Ginger." This was the series:

RTS
ERM
TOC
BSS
GTI
EGD
SSA
WAY

Here's the better of the two dialogs I wrote.

Fred: Run the saw.
Ginger: Eeeww! Really? Me?
Fred: Take on challenges.
Ginger: But saws splatter.
Fred: Got to innovate.
Ginger: Elegant gross dismemberment.
Fred: See, splatter's amazing.
Ginger: Wow! Awesome! Yes!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Three jokes

I wrote these in my comedy writing class last night. One of our in-class assignments was to take a topic -- "rush-hour traffic" -- and write something funny (in four minutes) about it using these emotions: frustration, sadness, guilt, confusion, and anger. So here's what I came up with.

I hate rush hour traffic because it's full of people who act like they have just as much right to be on the road as I do.

I saw something really sad during rush hour yesterday. Somebody rolled their SUV, and it was just lying on its back with its wheels spinning and spinning. So I shot it.

Why do they call it "rush hour" when everybody goes slower?