Mary Elisabeth

on Fridays I burn my fears…

Today I wrote a poem

Today I wrote a poem
because I felt like rhyming
Something about words
made artful using timing.

Maybe it was emotion
or maybe it was drive
that inspired my inner poet
to reach out & come alive.

No matter the source
whatever the tale
this poem is about nothing
except my need to derail.

When paper put to pen
or fingers to keyboard
nothing holds us back
except the eastern seaboard.

This may not make sense
the words don’t always fit
That’s why I’ll make this stanza
the end of it!

<3 mel

An Open Letter to Mindy Kaling

Mary Hancock Elementary Purple Pants

Last week I published my letter to Tina Fey.  This week, Mindy Kaling is the recipient of my most recent comedy crush letter.

I recently finished Mindy Kaling‘s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns),
loved it, and in response I have decided to write a letter to Mindy.  Her book made me laugh, cry, feel inspired, & pull out old pictures of myself (you’ll see).  Since I don’t have her address & I have no interest in stalking anyone (that didn’t work out so well for me back in middle school with a to be kept nameless boy band), why not publish the letter for the world (& maybe Mindy Kaling) to read?!

Why write a letter to Mindy Kaling?  I’m pretty sure we’d be best friends & we for sure would dominate comedy if we worked together.  Why?

Well we have a lot in common.  And not just the surface level stuff like gender, hair length, & all that jazz.  Really deep stuff, like:

We both like to write in similar places.

  • In her photo she looks like a TB patient.  In mine, I look like I just had my wisdom teeth out (I can’t say for sure whether or not Mindy was a TB patient, but I actually did have my wisdom teeth out right before this photo was taken)

We were both super fashionable in school.

We both went through very skinny times (We also share this trait with Tina Fey, another comedy superhero who I wrote to last week.  Maybe the three of us could be like the Power Puff girls or Charlie’s Angels or the Three Stooges).

We both have written our own parts.  Mindy’s advice in her book is to “write your own part”.  It’s the only way she’s gotten anywhere.  She wrote her own part.  I wrote mine.  At 15 I wrote my own job description & started a business.  “Sometimes you have to take destiny into your own hands.”  True story.

We both enjoy romantic comedies (shamelessly)

We both work long hours.  Mindy regularly works 16 hours a day.  Doesn’t sound unlike my regular days.  And we both aren’t how our female counterparts are portrayed in movies…”always barking orders into my hands free phone device and telling people constantly “I have no time for this!””  We haven’t completely forget how to be nice or feminine because we have careers.

We both have strong opinions & aren’t afraid to share them.  She wrote about them in her book.  I do on my blog.  In case you aren’t already running to the bookstore to buy Mindy’s book, you’ll want to know she shares her opinions about one night stands.  Hilarious.  Are you running yet?  Sprinting?  Thought so.

According to her in her book all I need to do to be as cool as Mindy is to either (a) learn a provocative dance & put it on YouTube, (b) convince my parents to move to Orlando & homeschool me until I’m cast in a kids’ show, or (c) stay in school & be a respectful & hardworking wallflower.

Since I’m Type A, I have been working on all 3.  a) My pole dancing class was a couple weeks ago. b) I was on Slime Time Live when I was in middle school.  Now getting on a kids’ show is a bit more challenging, since I’m 24.  Good thing I still can pass for a teenager.  Or maybe I’ll get cast as a young, hip mom like Amy Duncan in “Good Luck Charlie” on the Disney Channel.  c) I did stay in school, worked hard, & minded my own business (for the most part)

That being said, here goes my letter to Mindy Kaling…

Dear Mindy Kaling,

Call me maybe.

Your potential new best friend & comedy writing superhero sidekick, 

Mary 

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Dear Tina Fey,

Tina Fey & Mary Lemmer...Stunning

Many moons ago I read Tina Fey’s book Bossypants & of course loved it, laughed, cried, took copious notes, & started contriving ways in which I could meet Tina Fey & tell her how much I look up to her (& have a staring contest because for some reason I think she’d be up for that).

My original plan was to find out where she lives & then secretly mow her yard every week & leave notes with funny jokes or witty comments.  Then I realized that she probably doesn’t have a yard if she lives in NYC.  No yard.  No grass.  No mowing.

And since Tina Fey isn’t an avid tweeter like Steve Carell & Lady Gaga, sending 140 character messages to her on occasion (or every day) seemed out of the question.

So I resort to my backup backup plan (okay, maybe this is plan T, because there were a few others in there that I considered.  Like freeing all the animals from the zoo & when caught tell the authorities I did it for Tina Fey.)

Here it goes, a public, open letter to Tina Fey:

Dear Tina Fey,

fey \FAY\, adjective1. Possessing or displaying a strange and otherworldly aspect or quality; magical or fairylike; elfin. 2. Having power to see into the future; visionary; clairvoyant. 3. Appearing slightly crazy, as if under a spell; touched. 4. (Scots.) Fated to die; doomed.

Since you are apparently doomed, I am writing to share with you how you have touched my life (3) before #4 materializes (what did the Scottish know anyways?!)  As someone who wants to be a better improvisor and use improv as a way to educate and entertain the world, I am inspired by you.  I am contacting you to a) thank you for being an excellent role model and inspiration, b) ask you for your advice and ongoing mentorship.

Before reading your book Bossypants , I respected your work and admired all you have accomplished, and after finishing your book I learned that we have much in common and consider you a role model.  In your book you touch on some of the mentors and role models that helped you learn and grow in improv and life.  Similarly, I recognize that having great mentors, like you, will help me learn, grow, and improve my improvisation skills and contribution in the world.

Why mentor me?  First, we have a lot in common:

  • We both work in male predominant environments.  Comedy, tech, venture capital.  I know more guys than any other demographic, and a fair majority of those are OWG (old white guys).
  • We both had boy haircuts (see photo comparison below)

Tina Fey & Mary Lemmer…Stunning

  • We both had a “very skinny time”.  You didn’t share any pictures to prove this, but I guess I trust you.  I had a very skinny time as well.  Here’s a picture of my very skinny time, for some proof, since we just met & you may not trust me yet.
  • We have similar makeup regimens.  In your book you say “If you’re like me you take 10-12 seconds to put on some eyeliner and mascara.  Maybe you throw in 5 seconds of eye shadow if it’s New Year’s Eve”.  Yes, Tina, I am like you.
  • We both met famous people looking our best.  You said “I had my hair in a ponytail and looked my trademark exhausted” when she met Sarah Palin.  Sounds like my look when I met Matthew McConaughey (see photo below)

That’s me on the left, with the really good looking hair

Seriously though, why mentor me?
  • I’m female and age 23.  You mentioned that the fastest remedy for the “Women are Crazy” situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages.
  • Improv is in my veins.  Discovering improv changed my life & is now something I incorporate into everything I do, from cooking to traveling.  I started creating & leading improv workshops to educate & entertain people through improv experiences.  Using improv I help people be better communicators, entrepreneurs, cooks, and livers of life.

Though I have learned a significant amount over the past couple years with my improv experiences I know I have a lot to learn.  I cannot imagine a better person to learn from than you, someone who inspires and motivates me to change the world with improv.

Here’s your chance to help another motivated, passionate woman who is in your shoes many years ago.  Please contact me if you want to eat your own dog food, take your advice, and tackle the “Women are Crazy” situation.  If not, I hope our paths cross sometime in the future and we get the opportunity to work together in some capacity, or at least have that staring contest I know you want to have.

Thanks for your time and consideration!

Venture on,

Mary

 

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Notes from “Bossypants” by Tina Fey

English: Tina Fey at the Union Square Barnes &...

English: Tina Fey at the Union Square Barnes & Noble for the release of her book Bossypants. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


  • “I think someone should design exercise machines that reward people with sex at the end of their workouts, because people will perform superhuman feats for even the faint hope of that” (p65)
  • “Improvisation as a way of working made sense to me.  I love the idea of two actors on stage with nothing – no costumes, no sets, no dialogue – who make up something together that is then completely real to everyone in the room.  The rules of improvisation appealed to me not only as a way of creating comedy, but as a worldview.  Studying improvisation literally changed my life.” (p82)

“The Rules of Improvisation that will change your life and Reduce Belly Fat” (p84-85)

  1. AGREE – always agree & SAY YES. Wen you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun” and you say, “That’s not a gun, it’s your finger” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if you instead say “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is a Christmas gun.  In real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. but the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open minded place.  Start with YES and see where that takes you.
  2. Not only say yes, but say YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.  If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here” and you say “Yeah…” we are at a stand still, but if you say “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures” now we’re getting somewhere.  YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute.  Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.  Your initiations are worthwhile.
  3. MAKE STATEMENTS – Don’t ask questions all the time. If I ask continuous questions I am putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.  Whatever the problem, be part of the solution.  Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.  Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions.  Make statements with your actions and your voice.  For instance, instead of saying “Where are we?”, make a statement like “Here we are in Spain”.
  4. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.  If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bike, but you think I’m a hamster in a wheel, then now I’m a hamster in a wheel.  I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike.  In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents.  And many of the world’s greatest discovered have been by accident.  For instance, Reese’s PB Cup & Botox.
  • Suggestion to collaborate instead of compete.  SNL did that with great success. What TF tells young women who ask her for career advice: People are going to try to trick you.  To make you feel that you are in competition with one another.  “You’re up for a promotion. If they go with a woman, it’ll be between you and Barabara.” Don’t be fooled.  You’re not in competition with other women.  You’re in competition with everyone.” (p88)
  • TF’s dream for the future: “that sketch comedy shows become a gender-blind meritocracy of whoever is really the funniest.  You might see 4 women and 2 men. Might see 5 men and YouTube video of a kitten sneezing.” (p88)
  • on desserts at SNL:  “They don’t taste good; but like a schoolboy at his first coed dance, I am drawn not so much by their beauty as by their unlimited quantities” (p92)
  • Nighty aperitif called the Chocolate Mudslide, a 21oz chocolate shake with a thimble of Bailey’s in it. (p93)
  • 3 secrets of skin care: 1. Moisture, 2. SOOTS (Stay out of the sun), 2. Be Italian.  The 3 rules of SOOTS: 1. Sunscreen, 2. AWAH (Always wear a hat), 3. DLO (Don’t Lay Out) (p104)
  • The most important rule of beauty: Who Cares (114)

“Remembrances of Being Very Very Skinny” 

  • cold all the time; loved it when people told me I was getting to thin; regularly ate health food cookies; men suddenly paid attention to me & I hated them for it; sometimes I had to sleep with a pillow between my legs because my boney knees clanking together kept me awake; i ran 3 miles a day on a treadmill 6 days a week; i didn’t have a kid.
  • Being skinny for awhile (provided you actually eat food and don’t take pills or smoke to get there) is a perfectly fine pastime. everyone should try it once, like a super short haircut or dating a white guy (116)
  • “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30”.  You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go.  You have to let people see what you wrote.  It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring on live TV. (p123)
  • “Don’t be afraid to make them get your hair, makeup, and lighting right.  It’s not vanity because if you look weird it will distract from what you’re trying to do do.  If you look as good as you can, people will be able to pay attention to what you’re actually saying” (p126)
  • “Comedy is about confidence, and the moment an audience senses a slip in confidence, they’re nervous for you and they can’t laugh.”…”Sketch should lead the cutting pattern, which is to say content should dictate style, which is to say that in TV the writer is king”..”Make the entrance well timed and exciting.  Make the set look pretty at Christmastime.  There’s no harm in things looking fun” (127)
  • “Don’t hire anyone you wouldn’t want to run into in the hallway at 3 in the morning” (p127)
  • “SNL runs on a combustion engine of ambition and disappointment” (135) <— like startups
  • “Men are generally in comedy to break rules.  Conversely, the women I know in comedy are all good daughters, good citizens, mild mannered college graduates.  Maybe we women gravitate toward comedy because it is a socially acceptable way to break rules and a release from our daily life” (138)
  • Unsolicited advice to women in the workforce: “When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question:  “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?”  If the answer is no, ignore it and move on.  Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way.  Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.  If the answer is yes, you have a more difficult road ahead of you.  I suggest you model your strategy after the old Sesame Street film piece “Over! Under! Through!”  If your boss is a jerk, try to find someone above or around your boss who is not a jerk….Again, don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions.  Go “Over! Under! Through!” and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss.  Or they won’t.  Who cares?  Do your thing and don’t care if they like it” (p145)
  • “If you’re like me you take 10-12 sends to put on some eyeliner and mascara.  Maybe you throw in 5 seconds of eye shadow if it’s NYE” (149)
  • “My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only be my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne” (170)
  • “if you want to see a great pilot, watch the first episode of Cheers.  It’s charming, funny, well constructed.  If you want to see an awkward, sweaty pilot episode, watch 30 Rock” (171)
  • The announcement of which shows are picked up each year takes place in May at an advertisers’ convention called the “Upfronts” (172)
  • “Blorft” – adj. “Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum” (173)
  • TF tacit “no hot heads” policy. For years, to be considered a genius at comedy people had to be “dangerous” and “unpredictable.”  She hires the most talented of the people who are the least likely to throw a punch in the workplace. (173)
  • “By Real Acting I mean “an imitation of h uman behavior that is both emotionally natural and mechanically precise enough as to elicit tears or laughter from humans” (188)
  • “whatever sounds are helpful to the impression, you use as many of them as possible in the writing” like Sarah Palin’s hard R’s (207)
  • “Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience is considered a virtue.  In what other profession would you brag about not knowing stuff?” (220)
  • “Rough” in sketch comedy language means harsh or dark.  (e.g. Palin’s daughter Bristol pregnant when ‘sacred institution of marriage joke’) (221). E.g. truly rough joke: Pedophile walks through woods with child and child says “These woods are scary” and pedo says “Tell me about it.  I have to walk back through here alone”
  • frustrating to watch someone talk smack about you and not be able to respond (223)
  • Comedy writers hate Sneaker Uppers.  SU is term SNL veteran writer Jim Downey coined to describe queer moment when famous person sneaks up behind the actor who plays them and pretends to be mad about it. (TF says sorbet is lame.  Sorbet is not lame) (227)
  • “I had my hair in a ponytail and looked my trademark exhausted” (when TF met Palin) (230) <–like when I met Matthew McConaughey
  • “I recommend the Roy Rogers at Exit 4B or the Roy Rogers at Exit 78.  If you’re a die hard “foodie” hop off the road in DuBois and enjoy a Subway sandwich made at a place that is 80% gas station (247)
  • “It makes it harder for women to be taken seriously in the workplace (if they cry).  It makes it harder for other working moms to justify their choice.  …I think we should be kind to one another about it.  I think we should agree to blame the children.  Also, my crying 3x a year doesn’t distract me from my job any more than my male coworkers get distracted watching March Madness or shooting one another with Nerf guns, or (to stop generalizing) spending 20 minutes on the phone booking a doggy hotel for their bit bull before a trip to Italy with same sex partner”.  “After sobbing, I always fantasize about quitting my job (and she’s taller in her fantasies” (258-59)

“The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter” (267)

May she Beautiful but not Damanged, for it’s the Damange that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance.  Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get ouside sometimes. And not have to wear high heels.

  • What’s so great about work anyway?  Work won’t visit you when you’re old.  Work won’t drive you to get a mammogram and take you out after for soup. (270)
  • Women, at least in comedy, are labeled “crazy” after a certain age (270).  Fastest remedy for “Women are Crazy” situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages. (272)

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Want to Write the Next “New Girl” or “Seinfeld”?

Recently my proposal to teach an online comedy writing class was accepted to the next level.  Now, for the class to go live I need 250 pre-enrollments for my @skillshare class! Please help me make this happen by pre-enrolling for free:  “Writing the Next Seinfeld: Comedy Writing 101”

You don’t actually have to take the class…the pre-enroll just helps get my class to even be accepted to accept real enrollments.  So even if you don’t want to take the class, I appreciate if you will pre-enroll to show your support!  Of course, if you want to take it, even better!  I assure you it will be fun =)

Thanks for considering!

Venture on,

mel, the Venture Gal
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What are You Deliberate About?

What am I most deliberate about?

  • How I take care of my health (what I put in my body, on my skin, exercise/physical activity)
  • How I spend my money
  • How I spend my time

What could I be more deliberate about?

  • How I spend my time
  • Who I spend my time with
  • How I spend my money
  • What I say or don’t say
  • Questions I ask

You know me – life is an improvisation.  But deliberate thinking isn’t taboo in an improvised life.  I believe clarity of mind contributes to happiness.  Deliberate decision making demonstrates some understanding of self.  Understanding what is important, what I value, who I value, how I like to spend my time, and so forth.  The more I get to know myself and how I act, the more prepared I am to be myself in a world that tries to mold me into what it wants me to be.

What about you?  What are you deliberate about?  

Venture on,

mel, the Venture Gal

No Such Thing as a Sure Thing (aka An Inflamed Appendix)

Life is an improvisation.  Nothing is guaranteed.  

Last week I went to the emergency room with some abdominal pain.  I figured it was a muscle strain from setting a personal record at the overhead squat at Hyperfit/Crossfit the day before.  Considering my brother had an appendicitis the week before I thought I better get it checked out just in case.

Sure enough, I also had an appendicitis & an operation was called for.  Read the full fun story here.  

I left the operating room without an appendix, with orders to not lift anything over 10 pounds, lots of feeling tired & resting, no strenuous activity for 4-6 weeks.  Not something I planned for.  I left with even more gratitude – thankful for movement, energy, health, & people who care about me.

There is no such thing as a sure thing.  The only sure thing, in my mind, is that life doesn’t always go as planned.  Be ready for what comes your way.  Stay on your toes.  Say yes…and…live.

Venture on,

mel, the Venture Gal

 

Comedy Writing for Kids

Kids are funny.  Without trying to be.  Especially younger kids that don’t know any better.  They don’t know social norms, so when they aren’t acting within social norms, it’s genuine.  And it’s genuinely funny.

Earlier this year I led a comedy writing workshop for kids around 12 years old.  The workshop took place at 826michigan and about 9 students signed up.  This was my first foray in teaching anyone this young about comedy writing, so it presented a unique challenge….well a few challenges:

  1. How to teach comedy writing to students that are still having trouble spelling and with basic grammar.
  2. How to make the content simple enough for the students to understand, yet comprehensive enough so they learn at least the fundamentals.
  3. How to keep kids focused!

After the first night of the workshop (it was 3 total 2-hour classes) I learned of another challenge I would be facing:

4.  How to encourage writing about topics not involving killing people, death, or other crude subjects.

Unfortunately, that really was a challenge.  Unbelievable how predominant those themes were, amongst kids so young.  What is our society teaching?!  [insert avoidance of rant here]

What I learned was that challenge #1 wasn’t much of a challenge.  They had enough writing skills to complete all the exercises.  Speed was more of a challenge, but that’s even challenging for older students!

Tasmanian Devil (Looney Tunes)

Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When organizing the workshop I really focused on stripping the content to the core fundamentals.  What could I teach these kids so that they could really understand it & take something away from the class?  What I found was key to this was relating to them.  Just like any audience (we know the importance of engaging & relating to the audience thanks to this blog post).  I needed to engage the students.  And what better way to engage them than to relate to them? & offer gelato rewards for their final project completion =)  I made sure to use relevant examples…research what shows kids these days are watching (scary), ask them about their interests & tie that back in to the material.  We watched clips from the movie, Elf, Mr. Bean, & Looney Tunes, which most students were at least familiar with.  Plus, those clips provided good, clean humor, which is tough to find these days.

Challenge #3 I overcame by splitting each lesson into short sprints with an activity to follow.  This kept things moving fluidly & didn’t allow much time for falling asleep on their end =)  The activities kept them engaged & were a great diversion to me talking, asking questions, & writing on the white board.  We did brainstorming activities, character & place exercises, & watched some video clips.  The video clips were definitely the highlight for the students.

The outcome:  AMAZING!  By the last class, they all had really warmed up.  They did a fantastic job writing, offering suggestions, participating in class, & completing their final sketches.  They all even performed their sketches & some even made props!  They did a great job of applying the comedic techniques & other skills we practiced in class.

The evaluations were also telling of the fabulous outcome.  The kids loved it, said they wanted to bring their friends next time, & asked when I was going to do another workshop.  I will lead one again!  The kids’ energy & creativity was inspiring & I learned a lot from them!

It sure feels good!

Do your kids like to write?  Like to watch cartoons or funny TV shows & movies?  They may enjoy my next comedy writing workshop.  Contact me & I’ll let you know about future opportunities!

Venture on,

mel, the Venture Gal

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Engage Your Audience

At a Second City show I recently watched, I was reminded of the importance of engaging the audience in any successful presentation.  The Second City crew (it was the “We’re All in This Room Together” show on the e.t.c. stage for those of you who want to experience it for yourself…which I highly recommend!) did a fabulous job of involving the audience in the show, relating the story onstage to the audience in the room, & making emotional connections to the audience.  A couple of examples of how they did this…

Involving the audience in the show.  For one sketch, the Second City crew pulled someone from the audience to participate.  The sketch was about a marriage, & the audience member was commissioned as the groom.  The audience member rose to the occasion & did a great job of improvising.  And even though the rest of the audience wasn’t in the show themselves, they felt more apart of the show because someone “like them” was experiencing being on stage.  The entire audience benefited from the one audience member’s participation.

Relating the story onstage to the audience.  The Second City crew did this repeatedly by asking the audience for suggestions, for topics, names, professions.  One sketch particularly sticks out…two of the SC improvisers played elderly folk & asked members of the audience in the front row questions about where they were from, what they did for a job, & other characteristics about their life.  The SC folk responded, clearly in the moment, with witty, funny, & timely responses.

Making emotional connections to the audience.

For an entrepreneur or presenter of any kind, these lessons are equally important…

Make your audience part of the story.

Make it personal.

Let your audience participate.

Engage your audience & they will engage you.

Venture on,

mel, the venture gal

 

 

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Life is an improvisation

Life is in the moment.

Life is an improvisation.

Where have you improvised in your life?

Not everything goes as planned in life.  In fact, most of the times we cannot plan for what life hands us.  Sometimes we plan to meet someone & they have to cancel last minute & we’re faced with an extra hour or two in our day.  I have an hour to spend elsewhere…not a wasted hour.  Other times we may learn of an illness a friend or family member must face, that she/he did not plan to experience.

In my life I experience improvisations regularly…lots of meetings rescheduled, things happening to people that come unexpected, & news & life events that I did not anticipate.  And I don’t want to try & anticipate all that could happen in life.  That would be quite overwhelming & stressful.  I like to roll with the punches…being prepared enough, but able to be flexible & react when something comes up that was unexpected.

How do we prepare for those times in life when we need to improvise?  Improv of course! 

What do you do when life hands you an unexpected turn?  Where have you improvised in your life?

venture on,

mel, the venture gal

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