Twenty Years Ago Tonight

Sometime in the wee hours of June 4, 1994, following yet another local comic jam at Gallery Stornaway, I stepped outside into the streets of downtown Montreal and began my long night-bus commute home to the west island. It had been an unusually successful evening. I’d finished one entire page of comic art, contributed to a handful of others, sold some minicomics for quick cash, and scored some girl’s phone number. Not bad, considering I nearly didn’t go.

I’d been to many comic jams before, but no one had officially invited me to this one that Friday evening. Nevertheless, I read I would be in attendance in one of the free weekly papers, so my reaction was to shrug and conclude, “I guess I’m going.” The jam was only a few hours away. Luckily, I was already in the city.

A picture of that evening ran the following week in The Montreal Mirror. Faces visible, left to right: Leanne Franson, Bernie Mireault, Rick Gagnon, Mike Stamm, Shane Simmons

A picture of that evening ran the following week in The Montreal Mirror. Faces visible, left to right: Leanne Franson, Bernie Mireault, Rick Gagnon, Mike Stamm, Shane Simmons

My solo page that night concerned one of my favourite topics: dead celebrities. Kurt Cobain had blown his head off only a couple of months earlier, so I thought it would be funny to pair him with fellow self-inflicted head-wound celebrity, Del Shannon, who had committed suicide in similar fashion in 1990. Was this in questionable taste? Of course. But it’s never “too soon” in gallows-humour land. The final panel referred to the deaths of Jimi Hendrix, from choking on his own vomit during a drug overdose, and Mama Cass, from choking on a ham sandwich (actually a long-standing urban myth, she died of a heart attack).

GPMConverIt was while I was inking this affront to both music and basic human empathy that I encountered a fan of my work. I let her see the page-in-progress. She didn’t know who Del Shannon was, but I took her phone number when she offered it anyway.

Five years to the day later, I married her.

Twenty years later, we’re still married.

Comic book artists don’t get nearly as many groupies as musicians, so we have to make them count.


An Evening At The Philistines

In an effort to better become stodgy old farts, my wife and I have started attending concerts by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. There’s always an ongoing effort to freshen up the audience and bring in new people, since the regular concert goers have a tendency to routinely drop dead of extreme old age, thereby depriving the orchestra of additional ticket sales. The problem with bringing in the new blood is that most of them don’t know basic classical music etiquette.

If you’ve never been to a classical music concert before, the big thing to remember — aside from not snoring audibly when you fall asleep and refraining from sending the conductor requests for your favourite Steppenwolf tune — is to resist the urge to applaud between movements. Just because the orchestra has stopped playing, it doesn’t mean the piece of music is over. If it’s a symphony, they’re going to stop and start again a few times before they’re done. This means you can relax and take a break from all that tiresome clapping for the better part of an hour. You may also seize the opportunity during these intervals to cough and clear your throat. This is what my wife refers to as the tuberculosis-ward effect as suddenly an audience of many hundreds of people is transformed into a hacking, snorting cacophony of illness by everyone who has been holding it in for the last ten-minute stretch of music.

Only once the entire piece has been played to completion do you give the orchestra a big round of applause. If you can’t tell when they’re switching over to the next movement — or if you don’t know how to count to four — wait until everyone else who seems to know what they’re doing starts clapping. Then join in. And presto! You suddenly don’t look like an idiot.

Unfortunately, this piece of advice gets tripped up if the audience is loaded with several hundred idiots all at once. Such was the case earlier this week when I watched an increasingly exasperated Kent Nagano try to get the MSO through a performance of Beethoven’s fourth symphony. The first movement ended with nearly half the attendees joining in for some thunderous, inappropriate, ill-timed applause. Nagano paused so long before proceeding to the second movement, I got the distinct impression he was trying to punish the audience.

The skill of a conductor is determined largely by how much hair he has to flop around when the music is at its most bombastic. A shaggy mane whipping about like a throw rug hanging from a clothesline in a wind storm will put you in the upper echelons of your craft. A decent sized mullet can still land you a position with a major philharmonic for a season or two. A crew cut, however, is career suicide. And if you go bald, you might as well roll over and die while you’re at it. Kent Nagano is clearly a world class conductor. Look at all that sexy hair!

Apparently, some of the veteran concert goers began to instruct the newbies about correct concert procedure, because the amount of applause at the end of the second movement was halved. By the end of the third movement, only one remaining moron in the balcony was left cheering and clapping enthusiastically. He was curtly reprimanded by a harsh, anonymous “Shhhh!” After that, the audience behaved themselves through the remainder of Beethoven’s fourth, the entirety of his eighth, and two violin concertos. But with each concert, it’s like there’s a whole new class of students that needs to learn the hard way. For my part, all I can do is sit there with an annoyed expression on my face and look down my nose at these knuckle-dragging rubes. And that’s the whole point of going to cultural events such as these, isn’t it? To feel superior. Oh God, how I love to feel superior!

Mind you, even as I wallow in my self-styled form of cultural snobbery, I have to draw the line somewhere. There’s a point where classical music hits a wall for me and stops being entertaining — a point where it transforms, as if by magic, into impenetrable pretentious hogwash. This point is somewhere around the mid-twentieth century, in the neoclassical period, when the new interesting composers gravitated towards film composition and the utterly unmarketable ones remained sequestered in their concert halls, growing increasingly experimental and unlistenable.

Which brings us to the period we find ourselves in now. Neo-neoclassical perhaps; whatever they’re going to end up calling twenty-first century classical music. In a program otherwise dominated by compositions from the mid-nineteenth century, Kent Nagano decided to include Unsuk Chin‘s violin concerto which he originally debuted in 2002. It was being recorded live, for a later CD release. And it’s not an album I expect to pick up.

I’m not a fan of abstract art. Abstract music, even less so. I nearly laughed out loud the first time I saw the violin soloist turn the page of her sheet music. “Someone actually wrote this shit down?” I wondered. Four movements later it sounded like the orchestra was still warming up. When they came back from intermission and began tuning their instruments for the second half of the concert, I was concerned we were being subjected to a fifth movement someone had jotted down backstage during the break.

Ok, fine. So maybe I’m not the high-cultured uber-snob I think I am. At least I’m better than the woman who sat next to me and spent the whole concert checking her text messages, jangling her noisy jewelry, and napping. No, not my wife. The woman on my other side. My wife knows good music when she hears it. Which is why, after the concert, we went home, comforted in the knowledge that while we were out we had recorded the other can’t-miss musical event of the evening. It was the first night of the new season of American Idol, when all the would-be pop stars crawl of the woodwork to audition by the tens of thousands. Now there’s great music.

Lock Up Your Daughters

As if Pucca weren’t enough of a phenomenon already, she’s now in the process of invading Europe faster than Hitler on amphetamines. The original flash animation shorts have been available online for years now, but the new episodes we’ve been producing for Jetix are starting to crop up on Youtube. The first cartoons I caught were in Dutch, but I guess it’s now airing in the U.K. because the latest ones to appear have all been in English. Among them is my Elan-nominated Treasure of the Comfy Sofa, making it only the second episode of something I wrote deemed worthy of piracy on the web (the zombie-nerd episode of Fries With That? popped my cherry two years ago).

This also marks the first time something I wrote has been censored by a broadcaster. A two-second nunchuck-to-the-head gag was snipped out, which is perfectly reasonable. In a cartoon series that encourages little pre-pubescent girls to be sexually aggressive and kick the shit out of anyone who gets in their way, the last thing you want to do is depict someone getting hit in the head in a slightly different fashion than all the other characters who get knocked in the head five thousand times per episode.

I’m hoping that sometime in the future we can look forward to a special-uncut-unrated-director’s-extreme-restored-version-you’ve-never-seen-edition of Pucca on DVD that will feature all available footage and help warp your children even faster.

Other clips from the new Pucca TV series have also slipped out, including the Jetix promo that’s currently on their top page, and this cool demo reel from Tony Cliff who worked on a couple of my episodes as animation supervisor. The infectious theme song is also worming its way into popular culture, and although some bands have expressed interest in covering it, the only covers I’ve seen so far are the kind that will get you beaten up by your classmates Monday morning at school.

For those of you who want to sing along, the lyrics to Plus-Tech Squeeze Box‘s insidious tune are:

Pucca loves Garu

He’s a pretty boy

Ninjas eat noodles

Kissy chase, kissy face

Wham bam bam!

Pu Pu Pu Pu Pu Pu Pu Pu Pu

Pucca funny love.

Cole Porter would be proud.

It's all about the tote bags and t-shirts.

Portuguese girls sport their Korean merchandise in Scotland.

It’s the global village gone mad! Photo by Kirsten Newlands.

The Wages Of Sin

There are certain perks to appearing in pornography. I mean besides the amyl nitrate, fluff girls and mortified parents.

The pilot episode of Strip Club Confessions has been cut together and exhibited to select audiences in hopes of making a sale to someone somewhere who might need a titillating titty show. The trailer is available to a slightly larger audience — that being the entire world. If I were visible for more than half a second, I’d be embarrassed to the point of getting quickie plastic surgery by a disreputable South American doctor to assure my future anonymity. Should you visit the SCC website and view the trailer, I encourage you to blink so you’ll miss my performance entirely.

In a business that relies so heavily on who you know, it’s nice to know the sort of people who will pass on free stuff to you. For awhile now, I’d been feeling a little bad about not grabbing tickets to see John Cleese at the Just for Laughs festival. After all, it’s been one of my lifetime goals to see each of the Pythons in person. It’s a task that’s become rather more challenging since the 80’s now that they don’t really hang out together anymore, and they all seem determined to grow old and die eventually. I managed to stay one step ahead of the Grim Reaper, slipping Graham Chapman in under the cancer wire in 1988. I did a Terry Jones/Eric Idle double header in 2001. Cleese’s turn came unexpectedly the other night when I received an eleventh-hour call from one of SCC‘s producers, telling me there were two tickets waiting at the venue. Neither had my name on them, but that didn’t stop me.

The exact chain of title of who passed on the tickets to who when a whole series of people decided they couldn’t make it remains obscure. The situation wasn’t illuminated any further at the box office when the snobby Place des Arts ticket-monkey told me I didn’t look like an Eileen. I tried the usual round of name dropping in an effort to look connected, but he was immune.

“I haven’t heard of any of those people,” he told me in his bitchiest “I just work here and every day I turn away fifty assholes who try to snag comps by claiming they’re someone they’re not, or tight with someone they don’t know” tone.

Luckily, he wasn’t the guy holding my tickets. They lay with someone elsewhere who never questioned who I was, who I knew, or who I was claiming tickets on behalf of. Nevertheless, even as they were handed over to me, I was busted by someone else in the comp line.

“He doesn’t look like an Eileen. Check his I.D.”

No one checked my I.D. because it quickly became obvious it was just someone fucking with me. The someone in question was Jean Guérin.

Jean Guérin is one of those ubiquitous presences in Montreal who has his finger on the pulse of whatever is cool and interesting in town – and then somehow manages to infiltrate it. His greatest claim to fame came in the early 90’s, when he worked as a driver for a short-lived film festival of the fantastic. No one had ever heard of Peter Jackson back then, but Jean was pressed into service as his chauffeur while Peter was in town for the three screenings of his new film, Braindead. I was there the night Peter, in the Q&A session, announced that his next project would be called Heavenly Creatures, and that he had unexpectedly found the perfect Orson Welles during his stay in Montreal. One trip to New Zealand later, a brief on-screen snog with Kate Winslet, and infamy was assured. Thanks to this more than passing resemblance, Jean now holds the distinction of portraying Orson Welles almost as many times as Orson Welles did. And there’s still time for Jean to catch up since he continues to act, whereas Orson seems committed to staying dead.

“The last time I saw you, you were dressed as an Oscar,” I told Jean. That was at last year’s World Stupidity Awards, a show that degenerated into stupidity almost as dumbfounding as what it was poking fun at. Jean had appeared, coated in a gold paint, for one of the skits with host, Lewis Black. Even seated well back at the Imperial, I could recognize him under all the makeup. Who else but Jean could look like Orson “golden boy” Welles, painted gold? He went on to tell the tale of backstage fiascos and fuckups in a show that sounded like it was going down in flames long before the curtain went up.

As we compared notes about celebrity run-ins on stage and off, we got onto the topic of how many Pythons we had left to encounter. We quickly determined that so far we had seen the same Pythons at the same venues and only had two left on the checklist.

“So you saw Graham Chapman at Club Soda way back when?” I asked.

No, Jean admitted. He wasn’t counting Chapman because it was too late for him now. He hadn’t been to Graham’s “Looks Like a Brown Trouser Job” lecture series when he was touring. I could hardly contain my pleasure.

I’ve never kissed Kate Winslet and I’ve never driven Peter Jackson anywhere. I’ve never even seen Lewis Black scowl at a catering table that had been reduced to nothing but bread crusts and crumbs by an army of comedians long before he ever got to take a bite.

But I did get to see someone throw a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken at Graham Chapman when he asked for thirty seconds of abuse before his lecture began. Yes, I saw him in person, and Jean never did. And that’s something I can always hold over him.

Unless Jean gets a shovel.

Life Lesson 4: A Poisonous Work Environment

My fourth job paid ten dollars an hour and I thought I’d hit the jackpot. Tired of watching me being exploited for a pittance, my aunt stepped in with a healthy dose of nepotism and landed me a three-month summer job at the same company she worked for. This arrangement, she assured me, would be perfect because she could pick me up on her way to the office and we could drive to work together. The fact that I would be working for a company that was listed as one of the top environmental polluters in Canada held no ethical quandary for me. I mean, come on, it was ten dollars an hour.

On one of our first commutes, my aunt asked me what I wanted to do for a living. Maybe she was wondering if I was interested in a permanent position at the company once I was out of school.

I said I wanted to be a writer.

“When do you get to retire doing that?” she wanted to know.

“Hopefully never,” is what I told her.

My aunt had a first-floor office at the front of the building where she was in sales. I, however, was tucked away in a room upstairs with five other employees who worked as a team to keep the paperwork moving. I was answerable to all of them, and was assigned the little irritating jobs they didn’t want to do themselves. As such, I was required to fill in reports and make calculations. About what, I had absolutely no idea, but my figures seemed to be correct and none of them ever came back to me, so I assumed I was doing a good job.

There were no windows in the office, just fluorescent tubes and a skylight at the very top of a funnel. You had to stand directly under the funnel and look up, way up, to catch a glimpse of the sky. But since this was right in the middle of the room, well away from everyone’s work station, there was never any reasonable excuse to do this.

Everything in the room was grey. The walls, the furniture, the people. If something that wasn’t grey was brought into the room, the lighting would suck the colour out of it. When it left again, it left grey.

All day, every day, the radio in the office was tuned to the local EZ-listening station. All day, every day, I’d wait for them to play one of the two songs in their schedule I could stomach. One was Enya, another was Sinead O’Conner. And when they were on, for two minutes at a time, I could be in that room and not want to tear my eyes out and jam meat skewers through my eardrums.

There was also a door in the office. It was at the back of the room, thick, heavy and very very grey. At random intervals during the day, I would be handed a single piece of paper and told to go through that door.

Behind the door was the factory floor. Iron stairs ran down into its black heart. There was a railing to hold onto, but you couldn’t touch it because it was coated in oily soot. Everything that wasn’t constantly on the move in there was coated in this soot that was sticky in a way unlike any other sticky thing I’d ever touched in my life.

Because I was required to step inside the factory ever so briefly from time to time, I was issued a pair of safety shoes with steel toes that would assure, no matter how badly I was maimed by the heavy machinery, my toes at least would be safe and secure.

There were robots in the factory — automated platforms with roller surfaces that transported stacks of product up and down the line so different procedures could done to them, often involving chemical sprays. These robots all had signs on them warning, “Danger, may move at any time.” To get to the command centre to deliver my piece of paper, I would have to climb over the robots as they went about their duties. Sometimes they would move while I was on them, sometimes they wouldn’t. Each time I ran this gauntlet, there was a calculated risk that something would move at exactly the wrong moment and take my entire foot off at the ankle.

I counted the days like an inmate counts a prison sentence. To pass the time, I drew an elaborate schedule that broke my three months of employment down to hundreds of fifteen-minute intervals. As each of these intervals passed, I would colour them in with a pencil, looking forward to the day when the entire schedule would be filled. Often I would spend an entire fifteen-minute interval doing nothing but waiting to black it out.

We all had our own ways of getting through the day, I suppose. One of the women in the office, for example, got by on the delusion that she was an object of desire. She looked like an aging barroom skank who went and got a real job the day she realized she was now too old and ugly to get free drinks and quick cash for bathroom blowjobs.

“I know you guys all fantasize about me,” she let slip one day, offering me an unexpected and unwanted glimpse of her psyche. The saddest part of her declaration was that she was probably right when it came to the other two guys we worked with.

Weekends flew by like they were nothing. I’d blink and miss them. On my downtime, I wanted to do nothing but sleep or watch television. Creatively, I dried up.

Eventually, I penciled out nearly all of my schedule. For the first time ever, I looked forward to work. My final week was approaching and I anticipated blotting out the last handful of fifteen minute blocks like a kid anticipates Christmas. I simply couldn’t wait.

That weekend I fell ill. Terribly, weirdly ill. I wasn’t coughing or sneezing, I wasn’t sore or vomiting. But all at once, every last ounce of energy I had left me. I could barely make the trip from the couch to the bed, and the concept of food was alien to me. Even if I could muster the strength to chew, there was no appeal in swallowing.

At work on Monday, my aunt went upstairs to my office, collected my things, and told everyone I would not be returning.

They ran the usual bunch of tests at the hospital and came up empty. The doctors resorted to that great cover-your-ass fallback diagnosis and told me I probably had a viral infection. Go home, they said, get plenty of rest and fluids.

I spent the next three weeks on a couch staring at game shows and soap operas. I didn’t move, I didn’t eat, and my weight plummeted. I figured I might die, but I was so exhausted I didn’t much care. Obviously I wasn’t cut out for a nine-to-five life. Three months of it had nearly killed me. But was it the hours or where I spent them?

You might wonder what this factory could have been making that was so singularly toxic that it poisoned the world and destroyed the health of those who worked there. Anthrax, perhaps? Agent Orange? Thermonuclear weapons? No.

They made cardboard boxes.

I recovered in time for the start of the school year. Periodically, I’d hear news about my former co-workers from my aunt. Things like who’d had a miscarriage this time, or who was the latest to develop a malignant tumor. The updates stopped when my aunt retired. She left the job with a tumor of her own. After surgery and chemo, the cancer went into remission for ten years. Then it came back and ate her body in ways so horrific, even someone with my sense of humour can’t make light of it. I remember my mother coming home after seeing what parts of her body the doctors had cut away.

“I didn’t know you could do that to a person,” she said. And she was very pale when she said it.

That was the last of three summer jobs I took to put myself through university. Once I earned my degree, I had to make a choice about how I was going to make a living now. I weighed my past experiences and considered my options. In the end, there was really no choice at all.

I never worked another day in my life. I became a writer instead.

And I learned my final lesson. All jobs suck. Don’t have one.

A Traditional Family Boxing Day

Every year during the holiday period, I have my own ritual. Some people choose to observe religious traditions, some like to go caroling, some are even known to roast chestnuts by an open fire. Me, I like to attempt to make it through the season without hearing The Little Drummer Boy all the way through.

The Little Drummer Boy, I don’t have to tell you, is the single worst holiday song in the history of holiday songs. Despite its Christian connotations and celebration of the Lord contained therein, God himself has reserved a special place in hell for the composer and lyricist.

It’s flatly impossible to go the distance without hearing it at all, so my goal is always to survive December without getting trapped listening to one complete rendition of it, start to finish. This usually involves fleeing stores — sometimes in mid-purchase — to spare my ears the torture. And I’ve never succeeded. Not once in all the years I’ve attempted it.

This year I was nailed in the exchange line at Future Shop, with a French version that was remixed with Ravel’s routinely sexualized classical composition, Bolero.

I wish I were joking, but it happened exactly like that. Apparently there are teams of scientists out there trying to engineer a cover of The Little Drummer Boy that sucks even harder than all previous renditions combined. Call it the A-Bomb of the war on terror. Those insurgents will flee their spider holes in droves, straight into our boys’ machine gun nests, once the Air Cavalry comes flying over the desert blasting it from their skid-mounted speakers.

As any good Canuck will tell you, the real fun of the Christmas holidays comes the day after the presents are all opened, just around the time the eggnog hangover is kicking in. Because that’s when the Boxing Day festivities get underway, with the lineups queuing in front of stores shortly before dawn, and the early hypothermia casualties being chipped out of the ice by ambulance technicians come first light.

Boxing Day, for those of you unfortunate enough to find yourself outside our borders, is an annual tradition during which Canadians sardine themselves into the nearest available shopping mall and exchange airborne viruses while they try to save two dollars on items they could just as well purchase on any other day of the year. The sales are legendary, even if the markdown is all hype.

With the NHL hockey season cancelled, this year’s Boxing Day provided Canadians across the nation with a much needed outlet, delivering body checks, elbows and high stickings to competing consumers who wouldn’t keep their damn hands off that last 20%-off toaster oven. I myself nearly got mixed up in a serious stabbing incident, albeit one that took place entirely in my head with me on the business end of a ball-point pen. Boxing Day probably isn’t such a good idea for people with as much suppressed rage as I have. All that anger, normally turned safely inward where it festers and promotes heart disease and tumor growth, comes dangerously close to externalizing and manifesting itself as a ten to twenty year stretch in the Provincial Pen.

Not quite what I was asking for for Christmas.

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Imitation – The Sincerest Form Of Flattery; Theft – The Greatest Mark Of Legitimacy

I have arrived.

Seeing my work made available to pirates around the world is heartening. The fact that someone took the time and bother to make a video capture of one of my Fries episodes and upload it to a bittorrent site fills me with a sense of accomplishment as great, if not greater, than when I submit my quarterly taxes to reaffirm my status as a contributing, exploited member of society. Out of the fifty-two episodes of Fries With That? currently in the can, only my episode “While Supplies Last” has surfaced on the web. Although I’d like to think this is the result of my writing being so sharp, my nuanced plot being so intriguing, and my keen sense of social satire being so irresistibly witty, it probably has more to do with the actual subject matter of this one particular episode. Being about nerd culture, it appeals to the same nerd culture that fuels the online piracy industry. The psychological aberration that leads an otherwise genetically stable human being into an obsession with fantasy, science fiction and comic books also leads them towards a symbiotic relationship with their home computers. It’s these people who become obsessed with digitizing everything they hold near and dear (like the aforementioned fantasy, science fiction, and comic book products) and making it part of the great hive brain we call the internet.

I fully encourage you to go download it. If enough people swap this file, I’ll have staked out another tiny claim to immortality in cyberspace. Perhaps, in time, it might even overtake the most pervasive thing I’ve ever contributed to the internet (before there was even a web), that bloody Mr. Pink transcript from 1992. This thing has been bouncing around for twelve years now in various incarnations, and has lately picked up some accompanying sound files to backup my findings. One day I’d really like to accomplish something that will serve as a better legacy for my existence on Earth.

Busy? Yeah, I’m busy. I’m now in full-swing draft mode for the new show I’m working on and have to come up with two hours worth of must-see TV over the next month and a bit. People from the Irish end of the project flew into town and forced me to partake of more fine food and expensive wine as we addressed broadcaster concerns about our material so far. It wasn’t all dinners and conference room marathons, though. I also got to spend part of last week hanging out with real-life gangsters in the name of research because the show we’re developing is about the Irish mob. I keep saying we should be developing a show about nymphomaniac strippers so I could research that instead, but so far, no dice. I really don’t understand that because everyone wants to watch more television about nymphomaniac strippers. The concept sells itself. One day those producer people will listen to reason.

The ’04 campaign in the States has entered the stretch, and the political rhetoric has reached a pitch so shrill only dogs can still hear it. As America settles down to decide which war criminal it likes best, there’s an awful lot of contradictory statements and shifting positions to sort through. Despite the sheer volume of bullcrap in this shitstorm, I have to award the hypocrite of the week award to none other than… Saturday Night Live.

Following last week’s very public outing of Ashlee Simpson as a lip-syncher on their own show, the cast of SNL spent a good chunk of this week’s show tearing her a new one over the whole embarrassing incident. Sure, she deserves a good roasting, but it’s not like SNL itself holds the moral high ground in this case. Are they trying to suggest they weren’t complicit in the affair, or that Lorne Michaels somehow didn’t know he was booking an act that had no intention of uttering a word that wasn’t safely pre-recorded? Please. You can bet any sum of money that the guy who pressed the “play” button during Ashlee’s segments was a unionized employee of NBC, and that everyone on the show knew the score, from the pages in the monkey uniforms on down to both token black guys who get no air time. Everyone except Amy Poehler. I have to believe she was out of the loop because I could never believe dear, sweet Amy was part of such a nefarious deception.

I very much doubt this was the first case of lip-synching on the show, but following such an obvious cock-up, perhaps it will be the last. And then maybe, maybe the “live” in Saturday Night Live will apply to the musical portion of the show as well.

Have a happy Hallowe’en folks because in two more days, that’s when things will truly get scary.

They're my ticket for '04

On November 2nd, vote Kerry. His daughters are hotter.

Signing On The Dotted Line

I love signing contracts.

Aside from heralding regular employment for the next little while, it’s the closest thing to an instant influx of cash in my line of work. Thanks to the miracle of collective bargaining, whenever I sign a new contract under the terms of the Independent Production Agreement, I’m immediately owed 20% of the script fee. Yup, I just scribble my name a few times in a row and the money comes pouring in. I like how that works.

Then comes the hard part. Writing entire sentences and pages and scripts to fill my contractual obligation. But that first stage — when all I’m writing is my name — I love that part.

So after thousands of miles of travel and months of courtship, I’m finally, officially, on the dole. That mystery project I keep alluding to is well and truly a go, at least as far as the scripting chores are concerned. With my bread buttered through to the end of the year, I can be reasonably confident that my DVD addiction won’t bankrupt me quite yet. That leaves time enough to enroll in some sort of digital versatile disc twelve-step program that could save me from myself. All I have to do now is decide I actually want to be saved from my addiction. That’s the hard part. If DVDs are crack for film buffs, ten dollar DVDs are like wholesale narcotics. If only those bastard studios and bastard distributors had kept their disc prices up in the thirty-dollar range where they used to be, I’d be so much better off. Then I’d only end up buying one film I really want at a time, instead of three lesser films I can’t say “no” to for that price.

I left the production office after a long, hard day of writing my name four times in a row, and made my way to Centre-Ville, hoping to score more ten buck discs from my pushers. I was jonesing. Unfortunately, it’s summertime in Montreal. And that can only mean one thing. To get to my objective, I would have to wade through fifty festivals.

Let me step aside here for a second to address the tourists. Montreal is a wonderful, cosmopolitan city. European in flavour, yet North American at its core. Culturally diverse, yet unique in its distinct personality. There’s no other place quite like it on Earth, and it’s well worth coming to visit to appreciate the sights, the beauty both architectural and natural. And there’s no better time to come than in the summer, when the weather is warm and the festivals are in full blossom. Fireworks competitions, stand-up comics, live music, films from around the world. It’s really quite something. So let me just say this to you:

Stay away.

Seriously. I know it sounds like a grand time for the whole family, but stay the fuck out of my city. There’s too much going on at the same time, and it draws tourists like flies to three-day-old road kill. The streets are packed with you people and I’ve had enough. Don’t come anywhere near us ever again. We appreciate your tourist dollars, they’re a boon to the local economy. But please, don’t come onto the island. Just stuff your tourist dollars into a plain brown paper bag and leave it at the end of one of our conveniently located bridges. We’ll send someone around to pick it up. Then get your ass back in your SUV and drive your screaming family to Disneyland or Lake George or some other tourist destination far away from here.

Probably the worst summer tourist attraction in the city is our increasingly misnamed Jazz Festival, which is more of a general music festival because I’ve never actually heard anything remotely like real jazz being played there. People come from all over and absolutely choke the streets, largely because much of the festival is outdoors and free. Cheap tourists love a vacation they can drive to and then not have to pay to get in. This, the primary offender of the Montreal Festival Fest, is what I had to detour my way around yesterday.

I was shocked when, for once, they were playing something vaguely akin to jazz. Chances are, at any given moment of the Jazz Fest, you’ll hear “world” music. This usually comes in the form of a klezmer arrangement of a Barney song as performed by the Vienna Boy’s Choir on kazoo and didgeridoo. Variations exist, but your chances of hearing something just like that are odds on. Despite the music being on topic for a rare change, I decided to move on before the Swahili chanting drowned out the Kodo drummers who were doing their very best to sound completely unlike Gene Krupa.

The final destination I had in mind was a local movie house that was playing our homegrown documentary masterpiece, The Corporation (which, incidentally, as a left-leaning indictment of our current political landscape, absolutely spanks Fahrenheit 9/11, no disrespect meant to Michael Moore‘s otherwise enjoyable feature editorial). As I’ve established at great, tedious length before, I’m a card-carrying member of the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television, which means I get to flash my card and see Canadian flicks for free.

Yet again, my card was refused.

“I’m sorry, sir. We can’t accept your card. This isn’t a Canadian film.”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, it fucking is.

Of course the reason they incorrectly assumed that The Corporation was an American film is because it’s lasted in theatres for more than a week, and it’s proved to be a popular movie people actually want to go see. This is unheard of in Canadian cinema — so therefore, Canadian it cannot be.

The last time I had this sort of problem was scoring a ticket for Decoys. That was a shitty movie that closed fast because no one wanted to see it, so you’d think it fit the Canadian profile perfectly. But not so. Decoys was clearly an attempt to make a commercial genre film, so again the assumption was it must be American. As we know, no Canadian film actually tries to make money by being broadly appealing. That would cut it off from its government funding.

I tell you, it’s hard to gather support for Canadian cinema when everyone assumes that our rare commercial offerings must, by their very nature, be from somewhere else. You’d think the theatres would at least have some vague notion of what they were showing. Hell, it only takes one person who works there to have actually seen the goddamn thing to be able to tell immediately, by its content alone — never mind what’s clearly stated on the movie poster — that it’s Canadian in origin. But of course the ushers, managers, and candy counter monkeys are all too busy using their comps to go see White Chicks.

After a long argument, during which no one ever conceded that I was right, I finally had my free ticket to see The Corporation…again. I felt good. I had stood up and won a small victory for Canadian cinema. It was time to reward myself.

And that’s when I walked into the American film I really wanted to see instead.

That’s A Wrap

I’ve been so concerned with finishing off my Irish epic, which turned out to be longer and more tedious than Ulysses, that I missed commenting on some of the hottest issues facing us today.

In late breaking news, Ronald Reagan is still dead. Despite round-the-clock coverage while he lay in state, his state never actually changed. With Ronald safely filed away in the ground, the American news networks have finally, reluctantly, ended their three hundred consecutive hours of tributes during which the whole country joined together as one to pretend that Reagan was a competent president.

In entertainment news, it was revealed that the Olsens were, in fact, conjoined twins after all. Over the course of their profitable years together, Ashley had been absorbing all the nutrients, leaving sister Mary-Kate to wither. The operation to separate them into distinct eating-disorder clinic patients proved successful. Doctors hope to also separate them from their billions of dollars once the invoice is delivered.

But I know the real news you tune in for when you come here is MY news. So to that end…

A couple of weeks ago I went down to the Fries With That? studio for the second-season crew photo. The crew photo always provides a valuable opportunity for the writers to touch base with the people who shoot the show, assuming the writers are actually invited and actually bother to show up. The fraction of a second when we’re all together in front of a high-speed camera shutter is not to be missed. Just don’t blink. My first full-colour photo of this sort, it will join the other crew photos on my office wall so I can remember all the people I don’t know who I never worked with directly.

I'm the white guy

A week later I metroed over to a Mont-Royal Street club for the wrap party. There, I was again reunited with the cast and crew so I could watch, from a safe distance, the ritualistic white-people dance that breaks out at these things somewhere after the third round of drinks. The music, typical of most bars, begins at a perfectly reasonable level that encourages social human discourse. The volume is then raised, in fifteen-minute increments, all the way to eleven, where conversation becomes flatly impossible and only drink and dance remain viable options.

The writers, as writers do, formed a phalanx at one table to assure that no one would intrude on our self-perpetuating feeling of isolation. Occasionally one of us would make a run to the buffet table to hunt and gather valuable nutrients that would sustain us through our next stretch at the keyboard, when we would see neither proper food nor daylight for weeks at a time. Despite our efforts to keep everyone at bay with our transparent attempt at a clique, the actors, gregarious creatures that they are, each stopped by in turn as they made the rounds. As writers, it’s our job to put these poor victimized extroverts under the microscope in an effort to generate material for the show. Even as we exchanged greetings and well-wishes, I clinically took note of who was dirty dancing with who in the name of potential third season pairings.

The only solid factoid to emerge from our brief flirtation with meaningful interaction was that it was Morgan Kelly’s birthday – though it’s anyone’s guess which one. He plays a teenager on television, so that could place him anywhere between the ages of twenty and fifty-eight in real life. Actors get a lot of cosmetic work done, and without a valid birth certificate it can be difficult to guess how many years they have under their tightening skin grafts. The more successful amongst them actually sustain themselves on the spare parts of lesser actors, like some stitchwork Frankenstein monster. Jack Nicholson, for example, is responsible for an entire lost generation of thespians who, their hand forced by a string of failed auditions, sold their internal organs to him just to make rent on their one-room apartments. The subsequent manpower loss to the table-bussing industry is incalculable. Christopher Walken, for another, is well known to subsist on the blood of drama school students. And Shelly Winters is rumoured to have eaten Emmanuel Lewis on a single saltine cracker within six months of Webster going off the air.

The highlight of any wrap party as far as someone like me (who spends most of their time watching people in movies and television as opposed to speaking to them in real life) is the blooper reel. With little ceremony and no announcement, the edited highlights of this season’s goofs, gaffes and fuckups appeared at the head of the dance floor through the miracle of video projection. It’s the same sort of material you might have seen Dick Clark and Ed McMahon broadcast back in the day, only without all those annoying bleeps to make it suitable family entertainment. The fine, sheltered folks down at Standards and Practices would blush to hear some of the naughty words that come out of people during the production of a show that’s supposed to be aimed at our unblemished youth. However, more effort was put into this blooper reel than merely assembling a collection of actors blowing their lines. I particularly enjoyed a juxtaposed clip from one of my Radio Active episodes that predicted, quite accurately it seems, that Giancarlo Caltabiano’s future lay in flipping burgers.

Among the writers-table topics of conversation for the evening was the emergence of the first Fries With That? superfan. I’ve heard of one or two fan sites related to shows I’ve written for in the past, but this is the first one I’ve seen myself. With an almost Trekkie-like fervor, Matt Plante has created a tribute page that quotes my own webpage several times. As a primary source of insider information, how could I not feel flattered? Matt has been in touch with The Vestibules and myself via email, sniffing around for some hot tips. I’ve been resisting the urge to pass on all sorts of tawdry stories about substance abuse and sexual misadventures but, sadly, I’m not privy to anything like that. Working at home, alone in a room, the most exciting gossip I can offer concerns that way-cool box of felt tip pens I bought the other day.

Aside from keeping you abreast of my latest news, I’ve been derelict in some of my other duties as well. Having fallen behind online while I play catch-up in the office, I owe you an extra couple of weeks’ worth of Movies in LongshotThree new ones should keep you entertained for as much a ten or eleven seconds. I also need to give a public acknowledgement to Rich Johnston for mentioning Longshot Comics in his column, Lying in the Gutters. I’ve experienced a modest deluge of orders since then and he has my thanks.

And I wanted to link you to this article, which I think speaks volumes about the Canadian film industry and why hardly anyone bothers to watch our home-grown movies. It’s good that Canadian funding is moving towards backing more commercial projects (as opposed to some of the navel-gazing shit that only a director and his mother could love), but it’s bad that there seems to be little concept of how to develop these commercial projects, or which ones are worthwhile. There have been several fiascos of late, with some very strange choices as to what films deserve wide distribution and massive ad campaigns. While terrific genre fare like Cube and the Ginger Snaps trilogy are banished to rep houses and video shelves with hardly a word, millions are earmarked to push a curling comedy (fun, amusing, yes – but seriously, it’s about curling, and nobody pays to see a curling movie) and yet another heist movie (amusing and fun again, yes – but the ubiquitous trailer couldn’t even pitch the hook that made this one different). Somehow, I don’t think a Chevy Chase yuk-yuk fest about a talking barnyard animal is going to make Porky’s money no matter how much they audience-test it. There’s a mint to be made by our film industry if they can only accept that our unique, government-funded Canadian sensibility can be marketed to a much wider audience than micro demographics like curlers and unemployed Maritime cod fishermen.

If you can’t find any worthwhile Canadian films to rent down at your local mom and pop video store, let me encourage you to sample the offerings from the boutique film industries of other nations that also can’t hope to compete with Hollywood. There’s a myriad of interesting material from around the world to sample. Like…um… German industrial safety films, for instance.