Just Plane Nervous

I’ll be honest with you; I’m deathly afraid of air travel.

The train or cab ride to the airport is an ordeal. I’m nervous the whole ride. I can’t listen to music and if I speak, it’s usually just jokes and bits. I can’t stand waiting in lines and waiting in line to be inspected and examined is awful. To avoid the added pressure of a time-crush, I usually get to the airport waaay too early.

Once I’m on the plane I try to settle in and fall asleep as soon as possible so I’m not thinking about being suspended in midair in a metal tube filled with explosive, flammable liquid. I have (what I’ve always called The Jimmy Leg, but realize that it might be better to call it the Restless Leg Syndrome) and my attempt to quell it leads to me looking very jumpy and then I feel jumpy.

With all that above listed, it’s very logical that within the past 5 years I have traveled to Australia (17 hours in the air) and to the Philippines (12 hours in the air) and now I’m heading out to London (8 hours, 50 minutes in the air. These times, of course, discount the flight time to the connection (either LA or Charlotte.)) At least the times are getting shorter and shorter.


Of course, I love new place, new friends, discovering new things. At all of these wonderful destinations, I have taught long-form improvisation which is, quite literally, a dream come true. I am, by many definitions, the luckiest sunnuvabitch on the face of the Earth. To toot my own horn, I’ve been teaching, coaching or directing improv for the past seventeen years and I feel I have things to share. Getting the opportunity to teach/preach improv in other lands is mind-blowing. I’m very, very lucky and I know it.


Someone please invent long-distance teleportation. A Star Trek transporter would be swell.

I am nervous/paranoid about flying so much that I frequently write an e-mail that is set on a delayed delivery system (the web-based Yahoo and G-Mail both provide this.) This is pretty much my feelings of gratitude to my friends and my last will and testament. Of course, now I’m also paranoid that something will happen and that e-mail will  be accidentally sent out or I miss the time-stamp and I’m unable to deactivate it before it gets sent.


Ach, I worry too much.

Or not enough. Aahahahahahahahh!


To be honest, the flight to and from the Philippines (Mabuhay Class) was quite lovey. Lots of space, amazing food and I slept lot. I slept most of the trip to Australia, but my knee blew up. The trip home from Australia I was in the middle of the cabin, hemmed in on both sides with people coughing (don’t get me started on that) and I woke up and had a little bit of freakout. I realized “We’re no where! We’re over the ocean in the pitch black! We’re flying on instruments alone! Ahhh! It’ll take them days just to find us!!” So, I had to wake people up and take a little walk around the plane. Then I felt much better.


Flying in a plane is torture to me. But it’s worth it to see new places and meet new friends who love improvisation as much as we do in Chicago. To see old friends warms my heart. To have the opportunity to see long-form shows in their natural setting and not at festival is wonderful. Whenever I teach I learn something new about myself and improv and when I travel that is doubled.


To everyone who has invited me to visit and teach their group, I thank you from the bottom of my soul. You, literally, keep me going. London and Brighton, I cannot wait to see you, touch you, smell you. I’ve been tangentially obsessed with you for years (Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock, Spaced, Downton Abbey, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, et al) and visiting England is one of my dreams. I thank you in advance.

To my future friends, thanks! I can’t wait to visit you! (I’m like a vampire though…. You have to invite me!)


Chicago friends, I miss you already. See you soon.









(i hope! Gulp!)



Frank Payne

Frank Payne passed away this past Sunday. Frank was in the very first show I ever directed here in Chicago. It was laboriously titled, “The Superhero Society of America Presents Crisis on Improv Earth.” It was Frank, Aaron Haber, Tim Chidester, Keli Semelsberger, Amy Stark and Kevin Fleming. A rare serious picture of FrankDel Close and I were talking about comic books and he suggested I do a show based on them… and so I did. The show was terrible. The Chicago Reader said so and that makes it so, I guess. (Don’t read that review… it’s freaking brutal, but well deserved. In my own defense, we revamped it and the long-form went on to perform at various venues and even several Wizard World conventions and Scott Adsit laughed aloud at us.)

Frank was a great performer and a born comedian. He was damn funny. He and I had Del class together and when Del passed away Frank regaled us with this behind-the-scenes tale from the classic “Baby’s Day Out”.

“Del Close is teaching you. Hey Joe (Mantegna), you know Del. (J.M. nods “yes”) Yeah Del, he shot my first wife with her first heroin trip back in Frisco” – Joe Pantiollano

Frank moved out to LA a while ago and we didn’t keep in touch as much as we should have, but thanks to Facebook we frequently commented on each others activities. He was quick with a kind word or compliment for an old friend in his hometown and even though I wasn’t lucky enough to see him every day I feel his absence.

So long, friend.

In Memory of Mike

It’s been a tough week. Mike Enriquez is a friend of mine who (Thursday night) succumbed to cancer after fighting it for a year. He was smart and funny, but I think the word that most of us in the Chicago improv community would use to describe him would be “sweet.” And he was kind and generous with his time, his talent and his presence. I was lucky enough to be his teacher and his friend and then I was even luckier to share the stage with him most recently in the Armando Show at iO Theater where he also taught. The stories he told were fun, funny and moving. He moved to Chicago on a whim years ago and became a respected performer, coach and teacher whose talents in each of those fields were sought out because he was good at them. That may seem like a simple, almost obvious statement, but it is not always true. It is a true statement when applied to Mike Enriquez.

This is a city with millions of people and a business that is cut-throat at its best, but Mike made us laugh and made us love him. And now, his absence makes us cry. I hope this phase is over soon and I will laugh and remember my friend.


Dear Mike,

You made other people smile and laugh

By sharing yourself and your ideas.

You shared the load and sometimes carried it for us.


When it came time to coach, you exemplified the word by

Not telling us what we wanted, but what we needed to hear.

When it came time to teach, you explained and listened

And helped us find our own way.


My only regret in knowing you is

That it was short. Much too short.


There was a tiny laugh when you spoke as if

The joy could not be contained.


Listening, playing, improvising

You were our teammate, cast member, teacher.

Loving, caring and sharing

You are our friend and brother

and we will miss you.

In Memory of Mr. Ross

Richard Ross was one of the most influential people in my life. He was the Assistant Principal of Guidance at Francis Lewis High School where I spent three amazing years. I think he was the first adult, certainly the first “teacher”, who treated me as an adult but with a deference that commanded me to act as one as well. We discussed politics, both local and global, and we frequently debated the issues. There were times when our opinions differed greatly but he taught me the value of listening fully to an opposing viewpoint and weighing the ideas.

One day we were speaking about racism and our personal encounters with it. He said, “I wouldn’t trade it. Not a single insult, slight or jibe because everything, good and bad, is what makes me me. And I kinda like me. I hope you like you. And if you don’t you’re an idiot.”

He called me “Number One Son” which was a reference only he and I got and it made us laugh. I like to think he liked my sense of humor and duty. I like to think we were friends. Or maybe he was a great educator who had a sense for when a lonely kid needed an adult friend outside the normal adolescent mess. Either one makes him great.

Mr. Ross, from my HS yearbook. He wrote, "Dear Son..."

You know that part of the high school movie where the nerd makes a speech declaring his love for that cute popular girl? In real life that speech makes you a pariah and does not get you the girl. Mr. Ross stopped me from making that speech.

He frequently told me to call him Richard in private. I tried it once. I didn’t like it.

New York State has something called the Regents Exams. One year, on the Algebra Regents, I got the lowest (of the people who actually took it) in the state, a 23. It was the angriest I had ever seen him. He was furious and shouted at me to take some things serious. “I know you think it’s below you and that you’re smarter than everyone else, but why not prove it? Take it for real and prove it for once.” He was right and I was embarrassed. So I buckled down, actually studied for the next Regents and got one of the highest in the state; a 98 on the English Regents and a 96 on the History Regents. The next year I took the Algebra Regents again and I passed with a 72. I still hate math.

Mr. Ross knew me pretty well and gave me some advice; “It’s okay to ask for help now and then. And even then, you’re allowed to fail once in a while. In fact, it might even be good for you.”

In my attempts to live up to those words I have failed many times since then.

Last year, on Facebook, Mr. Ross and I started writing and finally I just called him up on the telephone like a proper person. We brought each other up to speed and congratulated each other and gossiped about who was where nowadays. And I had chance to thank him. To really tell him how much his friendship meant to me. And I was glad of it because he was an amazing teacher, a great mentor and a wonderful friend.

Mr. Ross passed a few days ago and the world is poorer for it.