Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

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Tickets for this TV show filming are free. Sounds good right? Not so fast. These tickets are so free they are close to impossible to secure. However, my cunning plan to stay up to date with this allocation paid off and I was directed, thanks to facebook, to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart website and prompted to pick a date.

With no bookings penciled in my diary for Wednesday 28th September I eagerly clicked, while simultaneously calling and texting (don’t think too much about how I did this with one mobile phone) friends and acquaintances to get them mouse tapping with me; maximising our (my) chances of success.

The email confirmation arrived soon after and as I gasped for a quick shot of air at the utter joy of this triumph, I scribbled the event in my diary, clearly in pen.

Then on Tuesday 27th September, approximately 3 months later, it was the eve of the show, my show. One is always encouraged to plan ahead in the lab and it is certainly for moments like these. Jon Stewart shoots his nightly comedy news show at 4pm and guests need to be collecting their tickets at 2:30pm. Not optimal when most non-tourists are supposed to be at work. However, my next cunning plan was brewing and I set my alarm for 5:30am. If I completed my daily tasks in good time I would not suffer the wrath of gut-wrenching work-related guilt. But as with all best laid plans, a wicked bout of bad luck struck at the last moment. At around 5:45pm I received an email from my collaborator that a sample from the clinic would be winging it’s way to me at some time on Wednesday afternoon.

NOOOOOOO……. I hear you scream. (Don’t panic. This would be a poor blog post if the punchline was me spending the rest of the story in the lab. Now wouldn’t it?)

Deflated and motivated to play the game as originally planned, all I could do was hope for an early delivery from the hospital. Usually samples arrive in the late afternoon, in which case my chances of making the show would be well and truly scuppered, but miraculously at 11:45am the email arrived. The samples were ready. Fate? Almost definitely. The stars were clearly aligned, hidden from view by heavy cloud cover, for myself and Jon “the wit” Stewart to meet.

However, we had one more obstacle. The Daily Show gives out an excess of free tickets and so if you are not prompt, your free email confirmation printout would mean zilch. And you would be all the way on 11th Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen of all places, with absolutely no chance of getting up close and personal with the man himself. So Plan B. Send a messenger to secure tickets and plough through the sample processing, jump in a cab and hope for the best.

Any hiccups in the experiment and all would be lost. Again.

OK so now I am in the cab. A car in front is being loaded up with a buggy and shopping so that all traffic must remain at a standstill until this painfully slow procedure could be effectively completed. I have just purified mononuclear cells from an umbilical cord blood sample faster than this guy opened the back door of his 4×4.

But again we are on the move. Lights change to red more often than not and it seems the whole city is out in force, clogging up the streets in an effort to defy the stars. But as we all know, the stars are greater than you or I. We will succeed. And the only way to do this would be to hop out of the cab and sprint the last 15 blocks. So I did. And it was. The only way to see Jon Stewart “do his thing” was to run full pelt across Manhattan Island. And boy was he worth it.

Once seated we were delighted that there were no bad seats in the house. First up, a comedian came out to warm us up. Not that I needed any extra heat, as I brushed the sticky fringe hair off my glistening brow. Once warmER he introduced out host. Out he came looking magnificent and funny, he proposed we ask him any questions we wanted and so without thinking my arm shot upright. I was just so excited I could not control myself and really from the look on my face and me wriggling more than enthusiastically in my seat, it must have been clear to Mr Jon Stewart that is was in everyone’s best interests to let me speak.

Who is your favourite correspondent? (which was to be followed by “Is it Jon Oliver because he is so lovely and British?” But alas the comedian in him cut me off.)

“No idea, I have never met them. We don’t share the same washroom. I am in the executive bit” (everyone laughs)

And basically this is how it goes for the next 10 minutes or so. People quiz him rapidly and he responds at quickfire speed. Impressive is a word not effective enough to describe my respect for this man. Is there nothing or noone who can put him at a lost for clever wordplay? Not in this audience at least.

Typically the show is shot in 3 sections. The first covers the main source of news and they mock the likes of Palin or simply any Republicans for a good 10 minutes. Stewart is word perfect. Every nuance is performed to perfection and the audience roars with appreciation. Next up are further skits on political candidates and often includes a VT piece from one of his correspondents, again using the medium of comedy to make their serious political point. For example, tonight Samantha Bee compares a family to a corporation to make the not so subtle point that corporations get a good deal of leeway in certain areas such as paying tax. The camera not currently on Jon Stewart, we can see him giggling away, happy as a clam with his team and his job.

And finally, the interview portion of the night. We are lucky enough to see the ridiculous, yet surprisingly articulate Bill O’Reilly. Historically these two sparring partners have always offered interesting dialogue for the viewer, whereby Stewart commonly brings down the Fox Channel host in his usual faster-than-light witty manner, and Bill O’Reilly, with his conservative ideals, ends up looking like a fool. But tonight I was impressed. The rapport between these two men was one of respect and O’Reilly was quite amusing too. He still came out with insanities. In answer to why he thinks the rich should not be taxed too much he offered up a story of how, in a recent Federal Government conference, 250 muffins were ordered at $16 a piece. He suggested that between that muffin madness and the huge sums of public funding being pumped into renewal energy industry, in particular solar, he had lost respect for the government for mis-spending his well-earned Fox bucks. He then suggested if cocaine cartels were taxed appropriately then the US would have more in the coffers. Yes Bill. Illegal drug running is a taxable resource. Obviously Stewart had a field day. And we all laughed loud and long.

At the end he left us and the light went out. Not literally, entirely figuratively. As he exited the studio my full heart emptied and although there was significant residual joy able to propel me home, mostly skipping, I was hungry for more Jon Stewart time. That man is electric.

The new Alec Baldwin???

Sleep No More

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The McKittrick Hotel is no ordinary New York establishment. It is the set for the British Punchdrunk theatre group who, this summer, are playing a strange twist on Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy MacBeth. This immersive theatre experience is a unique ticket in the city and one not to be missed.

Punchdrunk are actors, artists, dancers, athletes and performers, all rolled into one

I must admit I was a little droopy-eyed before I even set foot in this creepy “hotel”. We were admitted soon after 11pm, each one of us kitted out with a Venetian-like peaked mask (to distinguish us from the actors), loaded up into a lift, with our host Lurch, and whisked away into world of exploration with a cinematic level of detail. The very dark and somewhat worrying set (for the fainthearted likes of me) is made up of 5 (or was it 6 for some of us?) floors, where we are left to our own childlike investigation, to wander the exquisite and often sumptuous decadence of this 1939 film noir maze with our fellow beaks.

As soon as I was released into this Chelsea-based space, a space Punchdrunk has combined and converted for their own spooky ends, it was clear this was a whole lot more than simply a theatrical production. The more than 100 rooms on six floors (yes for some there are 6) are decadent works of art. Art installations lay in wait around every corner. The disguised guests are encourage to be daring, to be brave, without any hint of what this sinister haunted house might involve. I stumbled across a mist-cloaked graveyard, a child’s bedroom like something out of every horror movie you have ever seen, a library where dusty books of the era line every shelf and of course the main ballroom where many of the most complete scenes are performed and where the finale is dramatically played out to close the night.

This performance is certainly not easy to describe. Left to our own devices, initially confused, the aimless masked crowd cannot hope to follow a cohesive theatrical story. But that is certainly no disadvantage. This hotchpotch of art installation, modern dance, athletic acrobatics, cabaret performed in a set out of a Haunted House Disney ride, Sleep No More is a feast for the senses. I am not a huge fan of scary experiences, yet it only took the initial plunge into a collection of rooms plucked right out of a 30s insane asylum, and I was in the mood. If a little on edge, I was eager to explore every detail and after finding myself alone in a padded cell, with the cushioned walls dramatically slashed, I was delighted to find my first actor and some company in this disarray.

In a small bedroom, a woman lies curled up on her bed. A man watches her, and a dozen or so anonymous beaks file in around them, close enough to touch but strangely distant enough from the piece that it seems as if we are not even occupying the same world. We are bystanders, ghosts hovering around them, forbidden to speak. Once he has danced his way around the room and covered his lady with a blanket, he leaves, with a few white masks hurrying behind him. But a few of us remain, keen to see what she may do. We wait, patiently. This is my first experience here and it feels like we are all unsure what to do. Some of us sit on the sofas, chairs, while others stand close by, watching. Soon after she awakes, aware of the blanket left for her, and glides to a mirror, observing her reflection keenly. Some of my fellow audience lean over behind her, becoming part of her art, their reflections surrounding hers in the glass. Then just as quickly she leaps backwards, opening a wardrobe, and disappearing inside. As the door shuts behind her I look to my neighbour, and without words (as we are prohibited from speaking, or indeed removing our masks), we fling open the door and step inside the wardrobe in pursuit. Following through a wall of coats, this Narnia-like wardrobe is just one of the secret passages hidden within this spooky labyrinth.

Beaked ghosts watch on

To reveal more would be unfair to you. It would defeat the purpose of the experience, and all you really need to know is to be courageous. Take risks, trust in the actors and if they take your hand and lead you away, you should probably allow it. For a rich and deep 3 hours in the McKittrick, you need to leave all your fears outside. Or at least embrace the unusual and often surprising happenings around every doorway, and be terrified in the process. And for my part, I too enjoyed watching my fellow voyeurs, the white masked audience were absolutely part of the experience. As an actor rushes past and a trail of beaked creatures chase behind him it is a spectacle in itself. As you step inside the next room, and a white beak is perched on the edge of a bed, examining a broken doll or rummaging through some drawers, one is acutely aware of the precise design that has gone into this event. We are truly part of their art. So seize the opportunity before it is too late.


My Favourite Commercials

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Last month the most viewed commercial by me (apart from that terrible Ocean Spray Blueberry Juice drink thing that plays on loop on my TV) was the one with the mini Darth Vader.

Perfection. His little hands are so cute and well placed. Great casting.

I enjoyed it so much that I even watched, more than once, the “Making of…” clips.

Classic advetising. Well done Volkswagen. If only I could drive. You would certainly have a new Volkswagen driver.

Now my current favourite, since it is raining heavily outside and so a lunchtime wander is out of the question, is the new Subaru commercial (advert to the homeland). This just makes me smile from ear to ear. And reminds me that if I ever get back in the driving seat the dad will probably be giving me the same advice, and then squish my little nose (that never grew) as an afterthought. For that, I thank you car companies for so effectively entertaining me this summer. But if I have to see that Taco Bell food fly around the screen one more time I will almost certainly get motion sick.

For the New Yorker Festival 2011 I would….

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write a limerick??

I am newly informed that the much anticipated New Yorker Festival, showcasing the likes of Owen Wilson, Frank Gehry, Richard Dawkins, Steve Martin (of Father of the Bride plus sequel- a true legend in my household), Jeremy Irons, Roland Emmerich, Scissor Sisters and William H. Macy, is all but sold out! The list is much longer but in an effort to make this blog post concise I am going to provide a link for your perusal. Needless to say the list is STAR STUDDED.

Sold out? Well then readers, how am I supposed to get my hands on some fun-filled tickets for this hotly acknowledged event? Fret not. There is a back door. A door that lurks behind the successful writing of a comedic limerick that best represents my feelings on the festival. The New Yorker offers the key to a free round at the festival and here lie the rules:

Last year, you proved your Festival enthusiasm (and syllable-counting skills) in our Festival Haiku Contest. This year, we’re making the challenge a bit harder.

In the comments section below, please post your cleverest limerick about the Festival for a chance to win free tickets. Entries will be judged on wit, originality, and attention to meter. Points will be deducted for rhyming anything with “Nantucket.”

So, this is my chance. My chance to win over the editors and guarantee my spot at the Festival next week.

I began with a ditty on the subject of “Steve Martin movies we all know and love”

Steve Martin once had a big nose (Roxanne),

Yet next he was sporting some chaps (Parenthood),

I saw him once sew,

one enormous red bow,

around a house he had built for his girlfriend (Housesitter)

OK so that last bit didn’t rhyme at all so this was not going to be my entry. You try rhyming a word with chaps that has to END a sentence. I am flummoxed with that one.

Next up I thought I would express my true feelings about the subject matter. Desperation!

My last ditch effort at tickets,

For this wondrous event of the stars.

Has plagued my dreams,

neverending it seems.

To fail would for certain mean scars!

OK so Hemingway it is not. But I had an experimental disaster in the lab and this was the absolute best I could do under the busy circumstances.

Fingers crossed eh!? Or I may have to start scaling some theatre walls to get into this thing!

Re: How to perfect your tournament

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Rosie, me and James are ready for play

Dear US Open,

First of all can I compliment you on a wonderful bout of weather. I very much appreciated a perfect day in the sunshine watching incredible tennis on my “no-labour” Labor Day Monday. However, it has come to my attention that there are some key issues that should be addressed if you, as a tournament, ever wish to compete for the title of “Greatest tennis tournament on Earth”. Currently the undisputed holder of this title is Wimbledon, but I believe with a bit of hard work and some pivotal alterations on how the fortnight is run, you could certainly have a bite of the cherry, so to speak.

Firstly, I was delighted to secure a ground pass for the second Monday and further delighted by the fact that your second grandstand court (and third for that matter) were un-ticketed. Wimbledon surely does not offer such a treat and for that you must be commended. However, whether it be the layout of the court or the lack of compassion of the staff it seems that your control over the “guests” was lacking.

For one, following a decade of Wimbledon visits I have come to know and love the court attendants. They are arguably the most generous and tennis-loving of all sporting event ushers and will often allow you to sneak court side for an exciting close up of your favourite player. This is especially true of an evening when the crowds are waning and seats sit empty. However, it seems that your priority is a one of capital and so your staff appear adamant that noone should occupy a seat for which they have not dished out the appropriate funds. Oh no, US Open, this will not do. Despite the upper rungs bursting at the seams on Louis Armstrong a few days ago, the lower tiers were all but deserted. An infuriating situation, you can imagine, for the back row and the 2 hour queues waiting to see a glimpse of Janko Tipsarevic and the heavenly Juan Carlos Ferrero (of whom I have been a fan since my early years as a miniature tennis player). In fact, on relaying my overall satisfactory day to my inquisitive mother, she commented that the Eurosport coverage implied noone seemed to be watching the game and she was beginning to wonder what I was doing with my ground pass. I assured her that the stadium was packed but since the cameras only highlighted the lower loges it appeared to the rest of the world that your crowds were sparse, which is a poor show for any major tournament.

Nevertheless, by the time Djokovic was warming up, those “posh” seats seemed to be filling up. But over 3 hours too late. If you didn’t arrive for half 10 it would have been more than soul destroying, when you finally saw the televised highlights, to discover your motionless line in front of a Ben and Jerry’s Garcia Cherry ice cream stand was technically not the only option for your grounds passes!

I guess that your corporate sponsors require some special treatment but wouldn’t it be beneficial to the game as a whole and maybe in an effort to inspire your younger players, that you were a little more understanding to the back row and allowed them a couple of games here and there, particularly at the end of the day when many have given up and are quite clearly tucked up in bed?

And one further point. I am well aware that tennis is not one of your major sports. Indeed it does not compete with the likes of basketball, baseball and “football”, but that should not discount the specific etiquette of this game. Two main issues spring to mind here. One, spectators should not be wandering around aimlessly with their hotdogs in between points. The change of ends is the only appropriate time to relocate yourself, for obvious reasons such as distracting the serving player and generally during a rally. Two, if a ball goes into the stand, it is not proper to PUT IT IN YOUR POCKET. I noticed this on a number of occasions and was then personally embarrassed for you, the tournament, when it fell upon the player, the dreamy Juan Carlos Ferrero, to request that the ball be returned to the court. Other issues include general background noise kept to a minimum, no heckling during points etc.

I feel that these crowd education issues could surely be remedied with a simple announcement, a leaflet accompanying the ticket (see Wimbledon) to outline the key rules of play for the mob. This might cost a little extra but with all those sponsors I can’t imagine this would be an impossible ask!? However, the simple announcement at the beginning of the match by the umpire or a similar official would be free and therefore a more favourable solution?

So, in conclusion, apart from the sunburnt nose I am now dealing with, I greatly enjoyed my 9 hours on Louis Armstrong court. Unable to leave for fear of losing my seat and surviving solely on Ben and Jerry’s and water was truly a once in a lifetime experience, so for that I thank you. But, if you could please consider the points raised above I would be most grateful. I look forward to the finals this weekend and wish you all the best in finishing your tournament without further rain delays.

Yours sincerely,

Beth A.

Ice cream sustenance