19 March 2009

Gin? Goooood. Jam? Goooood.

This weekend, I found out that I live in a world where toddlers are indie rock savants, where bouncers at Irish pubs kick Guinness-guzzling patrons out for being dainty, and where jam goes with EVERYTHING (ok, everyone lives in that world).

Let me start from the beginning, the beginning being about 8pm on Friday night, when I met the Dells (Mike and Sarah) in the West Village for a drink. Earlier that day, I had e-mailed Mike his birthday present: a list of random "NOUN" pairings for him to wiki-link in 6 moves or less. Here is the list:

• Ki-Jana Carter to The Theory of Relativity
• The Ptolemaic dynasty to Norm Macdonald (comedian)
• Jean-Michel Basquiat to Tupperware
• Stonehenge to Charles in Charge
• Post-Keynesian economics to Maple Syrup
• State College, PA to Camouflage

By the end of the day, Mike had turned in the following:

• Ki-Jana Carter -> Penn State Alumni -> Douglas Comer -> Physics -> Special Theory of Relativity [4 MOVES]

• Ptolemaic Dynasty -> Alexander the Great -> Disambiguation -> Alexander (film) -> Rosario Dawson -> SNL -> Norm MacDonald [6 moves]

• Jean-Michel Basquiat -> Andy Warhol -> Advertising -> Direct Marketing -> Tupperware [4 moves]

Impressive progress for just a half day of wiki-surfing between work.

While we all walked together to The Slaughtered Lamb, a bar at the corner of West 4th and Jones Street decorated in the "pirate dungeon" motif, the wiki-challenge Mike claimed he was struggling most with was connecting Stonehenge to Charles in Charge.

After he shared with us the various routes he'd tried linking them through and all of the roadblocks encountered along the way, he finally yelled out, exasperated, probably one of the top 3 most profound things I’ve ever heard another human being speak: “The answer HAS to lie in Scott Baio! If it' not in Scott Baio, it must be in someone else!”

God, I hope someone overheard ONLY that part of the conversation.

Once we made it to the bar, we were delighted to hear that the music in the dungeon wasn’t old drunken sea chants, but primarily consisted of Early-90's to Early 2000's rock. Weezer, Harvey Danger, a punk cover of Rhianna's "Umbrella," and I would assume a song by The White Stripes, since our conversation navigated to Jack White and the fact that he’s in a new band.

Oh YES! I had this covered. Hadn't heard the song, didn't know what the new band was called, hadn't read any reviews online or otherwise.

What I did have, was the advice of a toddler (Tim Jacklepappy reference if anyone got that).

3 toddlers in fact.

Not two days prior, Charlotte had her kids record a video commentary on the new Jack White song and posted in on Facebook.

If you get into a conversation about the relevancy/merits of the new Jack White song, this is all you need to know:

1. It is not better than The Wizard of Oz.
2. Depending on who you ask, it may or may not be cooler than a toy helicopter.
3. The DRUMS are f*cking AMAZING.

Drop those 3 tidbits and no one will question you.

Later in the evening, we made our way over to the East Village to meet up with Joe Dell and I’m making the editorial decision not to post the details of the conversation that ensued on that side of the island. But for anyone who was there, I am doing the "hook and pull" sign language gesture...now.

Whereas Friday night started out on an awesome, Scott-Baio-referencing note, Saturday night included no Scott Baio references and therefore began on an inferior note. Actually, to be honest, Baio or no-Baio, it started out terribly.

Sarah B. and I had planned on starting the night out on the Lower East Side, but 1 lost priceless Russian hat (Sarah's), 3 changes in planned meet-up locations, and a wild text message goose chase later, we wound up at a sports bar at 33rd and Broadway. A veritable cesspool of Penn Station transferees, tourists, and New Jerseyans frolicking in all their March Madness glory, I might as well have been at a St. Patrick's Day all-you-can-drink bonanza at the Holiday Inn Paramus.

In our defense, we didn't pick this spot. It was the location of Sarah's co-worker's birthday party. The "party" showed up about a half hour after we got there. We stayed for another 45 minutes to be polite and got the heck out of dodge and headed downtown.

We ended up at Double Crown. Sarah’s new gentleman suitor had taken her there the week before and she knew I’d be interested in the fact that they serve a special drink there: GIN AND JAM. So of course as we passed it, I insisted we stop in to taste test a G.J.

You can only get G.J.’s in the secret DoubleCrown lounge, a dark, speakeasy-type situation (there’s even a trick door to get in!) that they have goin’ on in the back. Officially dubbed “Madam’s Preserves and Gin,” G.J. orderers are served a glass of Beefeater Gin over crushed ice and a teaspoon full of the jam of your choice. Saturday night, the “J” options were Blood Orange-Cardamon, Mango-Chili or Quince and Clove Marmalade. I went Blood Orange, even though it’s hard for me to pass up anything with “chili” in the name.

In one word, Gin and Jam is BRILLIANT. In 2? BLOODY BRILLIANT.

I have a mind to mix jam with everything now. What could go wrong?

As I polished off my jam, and began chewing on the crushed ice (yeah, I’m an ice chewer), Sarah noticed her new gentleman suitor had texted her from a bar a few blocks from our current locale; an Irish Bar, called “Phebe’s,” which he described as “Frat-tastic.” Oh God.

Here is what happened no less than 3 minutes after we arrived: Sarah’s suitor, gentleman that he is, went to the bar to buy us drinks. At the bar, a fistfight of sorts broke out, Sarah’s dude and his friends were guilty by location (I think, although one might have been involved), and they were kicked out of the bar.

Being St Patrick’s Day weekend, we naturally went to another Irish bar. As I sat down at a table full of derisory drunkards, or to coin the previously mentioned term “Frat-tastic” guys, I was none too pleased with the turn the night was taking. A turn for the worse, after after the G.J. had erased all of my Midtown bridge-and-tunnel-crowd memories.

To add salt to the wound, I received no less than 4 text messages related to Brian Fellow’s Safari Plant, which meant that my worst nightmare was coming true: Former-cast member-returning-as-host Tracy Morgan was reviving my favorite SNL character of all time and I WAS MISSING IT! For what?! For some guy sitting next to me loudly slurring “This is the part of the night when I take over! I AM THE MICHAEL JORDAN OF NIGHT!”!

I made eyes at Sarah that this was seriously the biggest wash of a night ever. But that all ended when one of the guys in our new group bought a round of Irish Car Bombs for everyone.

And I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but beep beep: I was the only girl besides Sarah at a table full of guys pounding car bombs and I beat every single one of them. A guy at another table even commented that he’d never seen anyone do it with such speed and grace. I might as well have patted my lips with a doily when I was done.

I was in very good form that night. Good thing, too. Because 5 minutes later, another round of car bombs appeared. Another 10 minutes later and the third round had arrived.

I think that was about the time I had a change of heart, as evidenced by my semi-shouting “BEST NIGHT EVER!”

Moral of the story, if you’re having a terrible night, a hat trick of Irish Car Bombs makes it all better. (SUB-moral: You can watch Brian Fellow’s Safari Planet on Hulu as many times as you want the next morning).

If the guys sitting next to me were absurd BEFORE the three car bombs, imagine the scene after. It did not take long for security to remove them from the premises. That was also about the time that Sarah and I also decided it was time to go, but apparently I was not moving quickly enough for the bouncers. While I was still seated at our table, security tapped me on the shoulder, said “Have a good night,” and pointed to the door. I was flummoxed. I exited, not quite understanding what had just happened. I explained the situation to Sarah and posed the question: “Did I just get kicked out?”

The bouncer stationed at the door smirked at me and nodded his head yes. Somehow, we’d been kicked out of 100% of the Irish bars we’d entered that night. IRISH bars. Do you know what that takes?

The following Monday, I sat down in my cube with a cuppa coffee and an English muffin. I perused my g-mail and found a reply from Mike to Friday’s chain:

Stonehenge -> Disambiguation -> This Is Spinal Tap -> Ed Begley Jr -> Arrested Development -> Scott Baio -> Charles in Charge [6 moves].

Turns out, the answer DID lie in Scott Baio.

And so I leave you, with this:

Charles in Charge Of our days and our nights…Charles in Charge
Of our wrongs and our rights… And I sing, I want, I want Charles in Charge of me.

09 March 2009

Live From New York, It's...the longest and most detailed post in this blog's history.

A typical rise and shine on Saturdays falls between 10:30am and noon for me, no matter when I went to bed the night before. Any more past that and I feel guilty, any less and I feel shortchanged on my weekend freedom to sleep in as late as I want.

This Saturday was different. I happily shot out of bed at 8:30am, showered and stepped out into the glorious 60-something degree weather. It was the first Spring-like weekend day of 2009. I had plans to meet a group of friends in Chinatown around 12:30 for dim sum. It would be my first dim sum experience, and I would eat chicken feet (after trying duck feet, which we thought were chicken feet at first, but then realized they were webbed. Surprisingly, I liked the duck feet better). I took the subway to Broadway-Lafayette, with my mind set on taking a leisurely morning downtown stroll before arriving at Jing Fong Restaurant to meet up. I window-shopped in Soho, stopped for cappuccino in Little Italy, and waded through the massive crowds on Canal Street without aggravation for once. But the extra spring in my step wasn’t because of the weather, my fistful of caffeine, nor my pending new culinary adventure…

Today my friends, was the day I was going to Saturday Night Live. (LIVE.)

After 10 long years of annually entering my name into the SNL ticket lottery (as long as I’ve been eligible to enter), a year and a half of pestering every NBC Page and producer I’ve encountered during my many work visits to the Today Show greenroom, and an attempt at pulling strings with the Broadway Video publicist who got a co-worker and I “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News “ tickets (henceforth canceled), I won. The lottery. The Saturday Night Live ticket lottery.

Would I rather win the real lottery or the SNL ticket lottery? That’s a tough question. Millions of real dollars or a priceless commodity? You would think from my visceral reaction upon finding out the news that I had won, via e-mail one late Thursday at work, that it’d be the latter. I think my co-workers would back me up on that one. But when I win the real lottery I’ll let you know…via satellite from my gilded penthouse in Paris while wearing a gown made of money…muah ha ha ha.

Anyway, the winning of the SNL tix was the single most exciting moment of utter surprise and joy that I have ever experienced in my life thus far. Which I am sure seems trivial to most of you (especially the "you's" that are married and/or have children, where a television show is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things), but that show has had such a major impact on my life. I can chart my pre-teen years to mid-twenties by who’s anchored Weekend Update. I found out Princess Diana had died when a breaking news report interrupted an episode while on vacation at my Aunt’s beach house in North Carolina. I can have entire conversations with people consisting solely of quotes from SNL sketches. Hell, I have entire relationships based on quoting SNL (yeah, I am talking to you, Will).

Of course I brought Sarah D. as my guest. If it’s a Saturday Night and there’s a new episode of SNL premiering, you can most likely find me at the Dell’s apartment with a spread of pita and hummus and a case of beer. She’s my comedy sidekick: The Amy to my Tina, the porcupine to my Brian Fellow, the Mark Payne to my peppa.

Our tickets were for the dress rehearsal. The dress rehearsal is just a longer version of the televised show. In the hour between dress rehearsal and live air, the producers end up cutting the sketches and jokes that got the least laughs during dress rehearsal.

This week 4 sketches, a commercial parody and several jokes hit the cutting room floor. They also rearranged the order of a few sketches. In that light, I preferred the dress rehearsal, since we got over 2 hours of showtime and got to see sketches that no one else will ever see!

The rundown of the evening went like this:

5:45pm--Leslie and Sarah arrived at 30 Rock to queue up in line, an hour before the cutoff time for arrival. We were right by Le Maison du Chocolat, so Sarah got an espresso and I got 2 mini macaroons to snack on.

6:30pm--An SNL staffer announced that the person whose name is on the guest list should from a separate line in front of her to pick up your pair of tickets, but that your “plus one” should remain in the already-formed line to save your spot. I fetched tickets, Sarah spot-saved. When it was my turn to talk to the lady with the ticket list, the ticket/list lady took my I.D. and asked me, as she did with all of the ticket holders in front of me, if I was excited for the show. I tried to say “yes”, but I think it came out as more of a giggle-squeal hybrid. Then, she asked if my guest was also here. I found that question odd, since I didn’t hear her ask that of anyone else before me. But, I went with it, said “yes” and she asked me to point my guest out. I motioned to Sarah and said “the girl in the green sweater.” Ticket lady instructed me to begin forming another line along the opposite wall. I think she sensed the panic in my face and reassuringly whispered. “It’s OK, we select a few people to sit on the studio floor, and you’re going to be on the floor.”

Not that I ever questioned inviting Sarah as my guest, but I am so glad that she was able to be there with me, if only for the fact that she’s the only person who could understand what I was feeling at this moment…because she was feeling it too. And sweet mother of god, we must have looked like a pair of hyperventilating fools. We waited in this line for a while, and pair by pair, other lucky floor-seat-recipients queued up behind us. A total of 15 “couples” to fill the 30 coveted swivel chairs. And that’s when I noticed a pattern. They were picking the most attractive people. I was in the attractive person line! I was first in the attractive person line!! All of those hours spent toiling at the gym have been worth it!

7:30pm--An NBC Page began taking us one-by-one through security and put me, Sarah and two other pairs onto an elevator destined for the 8th Floor. The doors opened to reveal the backstage area of studio 8H—the black-and-white-checked floors, the walls lined with signed photos of all the past hosts, a jet ski wedged into a rock (this was, of course, part of the lighthouse sketch, for anyone who watched). The Pages lined us up backstage, where we stood for an unknown amount of time…unknown mostly because I was so high on life at this point the space-time continuum ceased to exist for this portion of my life. But, let’s say it was about 20 minutes.

The experience is, however, cemented in my brain forever. It began like this:

Darrell Hammond slowly shuffles (and I do mean shuffles) by us wearing a navy blue sweat pants-and-shirt ensemble and Yankees cap; appears to be staring into space.

Leslie: "I am using so much self-restraint right now to appear calm that my energy has no where to go except as tears welling up in my eyes and shaky hands."

Sarah: "Yeah, I’m shaking. I need one of those things they give to people when they have seizures. To put in their mouth. You know? I need a seizure-biter."

Leslie: "Yes. A seizure biter. That says everything about what I am feeling right now."

At about that time, Sudekis comes gallivanting down the hall in hi-tops, black dress socks, a short-sleeve button down and shiny KU basketball shorts. His hair is moussed and out of control. Will Forte rounds the corner wearing a nice pair of jeans, a button down shirt, sipping on coffee and reading a script. Oh and he’s wearing his Jon Bovi 80's-hair-band wig and a ridiculous moustache. He waves and says "hi" like nothing is weird about this situation.

Darrell Hammond shuffles by again. I think he is doing laps. I think he might have also had a lobotomy.

Bill Hader walks by a few times. He high fives people in line and congratulates us on the best seats in the house. After watching him interact with the SNL staff backstage, he seems to be the nicest cast member. Kristin Wiig is shoveling something into her mouth out of a styrofoam takeout box. She is tiny.

Darrell Hammond shuffles by, but decides not to go for another lap. He sits down at the wig station and continues staring.

We can see one of the studio monitors from where we’re standing. Seth Myers, Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake are doing a run-through of Weekend Update. When they’re done, the crew wheels the Weekend Update desk into backstage area where we’re standing.

8:00pm: The Pages send the line into the studio. On the way in, I touched the Weekend Update desk. Score! Since Sarah and I were first in line, we got first pick of the seats. We were front row, center and close enough to get clobbered with props as the stagehands move them on and off the stage…which we did (get clobbered, that is). Most notably, I was hit in the knees with the Weekend Update desk. I have bruises. Glory bruises.

Before the show started, a bit after 8, Don Pardo introduced Jason Sudekis, who then introduced a special opening act: Kristin Wiig (on vocals) and Fred Armisen (on guitar) covering Blondie’s “One Way Or Another.”

After that, my favorite cast member, Will Forte began the cold open, as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. 3 feet away from me, he yelled those magical words “LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT!”

As Sarah said, one of her top 3 dreams came true that night, and she doesn't even know what the other 2 are.

If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re an SNL fan, so you’ve seen the televised show (Host Dwayne Johnson, Musical Guest Ray LaMontagne). So, I’ll try to keep my commentary on what made air to a minimum, and focus on the sketches that were cut from the televised show.


Dwayne Johnson Monologue -- That guy’s muscles are out of control. Also, SNL does not use teleprompters, they use old-fashioned poster board and sharpies.

Commercial parody (CUT FROM TELEVISED BROADCAST)-- Sudekis stars in a commercial for a website where you can sell everything from your worthless stocks to illegal drugs. It ended up getting cut this week, but I have a feeling it will pop up in a future show.

Hawaiian Tiki Bar -- This got moved to a later spot in the televised show; good move.

“The Rock” Obama -- Samberg as Rahm Emanuel…totally brill. This ended up being the first skit after the monologue in the televised show.

McGruber-McGyver sketches -- The three McGruber episodes were sprinkled throughout the dress rehearsal in different spots.

Activia Commercial Shoot -- We’ve seen this sketch before, we get it, Kristin Wiig poops the couch. Although in the televised sketch, Sudekis plays the director. In the dress rehearsal sketch, Dwayne Johnson played the director. It was funnier with Dwayne.

Tiny Horse TV (CUT FROM TELEVISED BROADCAST) -- I probably would have labeled this the “TCM sketch,” as it featured Darrell Hammond the host of a “hidden gem”-type movie program on Turner Classic Movies. But the labels on the back of the props said “Tiny Horse TV,” and Sarah loved that. Hammond was seated right in front of me. Before the cameras started rolling, the button popped off his suit pants, and he seemed to be pretty flummoxed. He looked at his pants, then looked at me and said “My button broke!” And kind of gave me that “Bill Clinton” smirk he does so well. I started laughing. Then he said “My button broke” …to me…every few seconds…until the sketch started. I laughed every time. It was a far cry from his backstage shuffling. When the sketch started, we find out that his movie pic for the week is a film about an oversized jockey (Dwayne Johnson in a belly shirt) and a miniature horse (real pony in-studio!) This sketch was pretty funny; too bad it got cut.

Game Time with Dave and Greg -- Hader is an awesome alien. This was actually funnier on TV.

Ray LaMontagne -- “You Are The Best Thing”

Weekend Update-- I saw the Justin Timberlake/Jessica Biel Cameo coming, but I DID NOT see Samberg-as-Cathy coming. ACK! He wasn’t wearing that wig during the run-through. Also, my absolute favorite part of the show was the Jon Bovi (Bon Jovi Opposite Band) interview during Weekend Update. Not only because making up “opposite” lyrics is totally something my friends and I would do…but we definitely do do the “WHAT?! WHAT? WHAAAAAAAT?!” Check it out here: http://www.hulu.com/watch/61232/saturday-night-live-update-jon-bovi

Steady John and Itchy (CUT FROM TELEVISED BROADCAST) -- Dwayne and Fred Armisen play sidekicks; Dwayne as steady John is the straight-talkin’ tough cowboy, Armisen as itchy is his semi-retarded cowboy best friend. Lame. Cut for good reason.

Tarzan, Esquire (CUT FROM TELEVISED BROADCAST) -- Dwayne plays Tarzan. Apparently Jane told him to “get a real job,” so he becomes a criminal defense attorney for chimpanzees. Cut…and for good reason.

Celebrity Apprentice: Darrell Hammond as The Donald shoots promos with Tom Green (Fred Armisen), Joan Rivers (Michaela Watkins), and Dennis Rodman (Dwayne).

Lighthouse -- This one was edited for time in the televised broadcast, and I think it was funnier in dress rehearsal. But a pretty solid sketch, for being the last in the TV lineup.

Ray LaMontagne -- “Trouble”

Early-90’s Jingle-Writers (CUT FROM TELEVISED BROADCAST) -- Kristin Wiig and Dwayne Johnson don AMAZING early-90’s wigs for this sketch where she plays an anorexic jingle-writer and he plays her composer-partner. They are going through the songwriting process for a pantyhose commercial. This was one of those short, weird sketches that I found hilarious, but I don’t think the normal Nielsen family would appreciate.

Thank You -- The host, musical guest and cast gather and do the usual hugs-during-rolling-credits thing. I overheard Jessica Biel say to Bill Hader: “This part is kind of weird, huh?” To which Bill replied “Yeah, but you just gotta do it.”

Sarah can correct me if I’m wrong on the order, but I think the above “set list” is accurate.

After the show I got a bottle of champagne, Thai take-out and headed home to my couch to watch it live. To attempt to describe the experience: Unforgettable, amazing, once-in a lifetime. It’s a good thing, too. Otherwise, I always would have remembered March 7, 2009 as the day I ate duck feet.