w. kamau bell is totally biased. and totally funny.

In 2010, I was the lead curator for terraNOVA Collective’s soloNOVA Arts Festival, which celebrates a variety of solo genres. It presents magicians, burlesque, storytellers, dancers and comedians. One of those comedians was W. Kamau Bell, a funny, smart, social activist from San Francisco.

If you haven’t heard of W. Kamau Bell, he recently procured a late night talk show on the FX Network by means of another little known comedian, Chris Rock. Mr. Rock (who seems to be everywhere these days), is executive producer on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. It premiered two weeks ago after one of my favorite shows, Louie.

Whenever someone I know gets a break, I really hope they knock it out of the park. I was eager to see what Kamau would do with this golden opportunity, and I’m pleased to report the show is wonderful. It’s not because the show is funny. It is, and if it weren’t, Totally Biased would be totally dead in the water. It’s great because at the center of his show is truth. The adage, “It’s funny because it’s true,” is elevated by a heart we haven’t seen in late night comedy for a while.

On the second episode, Rachel Maddow came through and talked about comedy entering a golden age. She emphasized how humor opens avenues that lead to important issues.

And that is precisely why “Totally Biased” is brilliant.

The strongest segment from the two aired episodes is Kamau’s man-on-the-street segment, “Stop & Frisk,” where he interviews people, including a representative of the ACLU, about the NYPD’s stop and frisk strategy, which violates individuals’ civil rights.

Kamau sheds a light on this racially charged strategy and ends the segment with a list of impractically funny items to put in your pockets “to make it a little more awkward for them, and a little more fun for you.” It’s truth mixed with absurdity as only W. Kamau Bell can do.

For me, a white man who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn – or someone who never gets stopped and frisked on the street – W. Kamau Bell pushed me to research the issue. The New York Times has a great analysis of the strategy, along with a documentary short featuring the neighborhood of Brownsville.

It’s super to see Kamau simultaneously making it in TV-land and making a difference. Here’s to many seasons of thought-provoking, hilarious comedy.

Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell – Thursdays at 11:00pm, after Louie.

Sources: NYTimes.com, Totally Biased YouTube

how to win a sand castle contest (or, zen and the art of sand castles)

As I prepare to head into the desert for a week of art and fertility, it feels appropriate to linger for a moment on the subject of sand. Add the other item I won’t touch again this summer – the ocean – and we delve into the subtle art of sand castles.

A few weeks back, I had a fantastic experience with a three-year-old when we manifested a turtle named “Tippy” from millions of grains on the shores of Montauk, NY. If you have never made a sand turtle with a three-year-old, I highly recommend it. The minutes slip away while you reclaim childhood fun.

There’s been a brew-ha-ha recently over the first 3D printing of parts for a gun. It’s no secret people use technology to create destruction, but some are using the cutting edge technology to create art. Israeli sculptor Eyal Gever harnesses 3D printing to freeze frame the abstract beauty of tsunamis, bus crashes and oil spills. Now, a team of designers calling themselves The Stone Spray Project are on the beach creating mind-blowing delicate sand castles.

Stone Spray Project from Stone Spray on Vimeo.

Until the day when everyone has a personalized 3D sand castle printer, shovels and buckets will have to do. Just this past weekend, Creative Time launched its inaugural sand castle building contest. Artists erected precise architectural structures and detailed sculptures of human forms, but the winners of the competition came from a crew whose mission in life is to have fun cultivate community. Jennifer Catron and Paul Outlaw built a living water fountain, integrating friends and themselves into the sandy tower.

The impermanence of sand sculptures, along with the playful joy that arises from creating these temporal works of art, offers a meditation on fun and life. Sure, 3D technology is cool and may one day replicate a life-sized castle, but the feel of sand between toes and fingers reinforces the here and now while recapturing one’s childhood.

Realizing this unique paradoxical gift is when you truly win the sand castle contest.

Sources: NYTimes.com, PC World

fat shaming and stealing: tosh.0 style

I want to let you know about Daniel Tosh’s theft of Substantia Jones‘ photograph that features my friend Janie Martinez. Below, is the original, fantastic photo, used with permission from Ms. Jones. If you need to see the vitriol currently being spewed out onto it at the Tosh.0 website, go here. (The page has been removed.)

Over and over, fat people are the butt of jokes, and it must stop. To add insult to injury, Comedy Central and Tosh.0 are using Substantia’s photo illegally. Substantia is a professional photographer who features professional models and every day folk celebrating their beauty and life.

To have Mr. Tosh or anyone steal these photographs for the explicit use of mean, snarky jibes continues a cycle of bullying culture. We wonder why people, especially women, have body image issues, yet the fat shaming entertainment industry encourages this belittling of people. It perpetuates a myth that one cannot be beautiful at any size, and it encourages trolls and bullies to believe what they write is actually funny. It’s not. It’s angry, spiteful and hurtful.

You can do something about this illegal, immoral activity. Please contact comedy central to protest Daniel Tosh’s theft of intellectual property:

Phone: (212) 767-8600
Fax: (212) 767-8592
Email: mail@comedycentral.com

It may not seem like a big deal in this day and age where we right click on photos and share them like toys in a sandbox, but Comedy Central and Daniel Tosh make money off stolen images like this. Reach out, stand up for artists, and help renounce sizeism.

___________

UPDATE

Lindy West at Jezebel reports the post has been removed from the Tosh.0 blog. Thanks to all who wrote or called in. Kick ass.

Jezebel article by Lindy West

the secret city’s carnival of love

For the past three years, I’ve regularly attended The Secret City. I’ve written about the good this arts organization does, and this February 14th, they’re throwing their annual fundraiser at The Gym at Judson Memorial Church.

“For this year’s benefit, we wanted to offer folks an artistic and adult version of a carnival as a fun alternative to the highest pressure date night of the year,” said The Secret City’s artistic director, Chris Wells. “Each of The Secret City services are centered around a different theme, so it made sense to create a playful and one-of-a-kind experience for which we are known.”

Called the Carnival of Love, the event will feature gourmet carnival food, a kissing booth, photo opps with Cupid, a mix and mingle in Cuddle Corner, and Love Tarot readings. Against this backdrop will be live music, champagne, chocolate truffles, and a marvelous silent auction featuring original works of art by Secret City members and unique love themed prizes – an erotic photo shoot, custom made lingerie, hotel getaways and more. For this raucous but sweet evening, we’re asking people to dress in Valentine’s attire.

The New York Times called The Secret City “Sort of a Salon, Sort of a Church… From its origins as a kind of fortifying ritual for beleaguered theater artists, [it] has grown into a half-irreverent, half-earnest blend of revival meeting and group meditation session.”

I highly recommend checking out what will surely be a fantastically fun time.

Carnival of Love, a Valentine’s Day Benefit for The Secret City
7:00 PM – 10:00 PM, Tuesday, February 14th
The Gym @ Judson Memorial Church
243 Thompson Street at Washington Square South
$25 before the event, $35 at the door
For advance tickets, go to: www.thesecretcity.org

About The Secret City
Part tent-revival, part-cabaret, and part ceremony, the Obie Award-winning Secret City is a place where people come to connect with the creative community of New York, and artists come to reconnect to their calling. The Secret City occupies a unique place in the heart of New York’s artistic community. Chris Wells, executive director, said he created The Secret City, “to make a special place to focus on the arts, and for everyone and anybody to connect and feel inspired.” The Secret City typically meets the last Sunday of the month at 11:30am, at Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie St. between Rivington and Delancey.

the secret city – join me

This past Sunday, I returned home.

For the past three years, I’ve attended The Secret City, a monthly gathering of artists and art worshipers. Chris Wells, the dynamic director of this innovative, not-for-profit arts organization, started the community driven pseudo-church five years ago, receiving accolades from The New York Times and the Village Voice Obie awards. Last season, we outgrew our modest space on West 14th Street in Manhattan to our current home at Dixon Place on the Lower East Side. Every September, The Secret City celebrates the town in which we reside with The Manhattan Wonderwalk, a 14 hour expedition from the northern tip of the island ending at midnight on the Brooklyn Bridge. Along the way, participants discover the city through fresh eyes and enjoy performances by various artists at site specific locations.

To say The Secret City has impacted my life is an understatement. For anyone who’s ever felt spirituality in art, our community aims to nurture this core principle: within all of us, there is a nugget of creativity, a light that sustains us from this moment to the next. The Secret City fosters that light.

Once a month, Chris devises a service modeled off a traditional western Christian church service. It’s not religious. It’s spiritual. There’s song, there’s call and response, we pass the plate to support the organization, and, of course, there’s lots of art.

photograph by Beth Rudock

Typically, The Secret City Singers, the church’s choir and Chris’ ad hoc backup singers, kick off the service with the org’s anthem “This is the Secret City”. Its communal refrain, “WE’RE CONNECTED,” is the interdependence themed mission that begs the community to dig deeper and find “it” (Can you…feel it? Can you…touch it? Can you…make it live?) within ourselves.

The service is a trip because initially it feels like it might be tongue in cheek, but upon further familiarity, earnest message of each service permeates the congregation. Each service revolves around a theme. October’s service revolved around “Persona.”

We listened to Nina Simone’s “Who Am I?”, which gave a grave but emotionally reflective tone to the moment, only to be split open with the monthly food offering: sliced apples. We talked about the personality of apples. What makes them unique? How each apple is propagated asexually by grafting. We also did a cultural mapping exercise in which Chris asked questions starting with the phrase, “You identify yourself as…” Examples: You identify yourself as homosexual. You identify yourself as American. You identify yourself as an artist. We stood up for each statement with which we identified and sat down when we did not.

photograph by Leah Coloff

The visual art for October was, perhaps, most moving for me. Sarah Kate Beaumont, an art teacher, makes all of her own garments by hand. The only articles she doesn’t sew herself are shoes. Otherwise, every stitch of clothing is made with her fingers. It was humbling and fascinating to hear Sarah Kate discuss her work, for it was clear: every item is personal to her. She doesn’t just grab something off the rack at Macy’s. She has a deep relationship with her wardrobe.

As with every service, Chris concluded with a sermon. This month’s sermon was a funny and poignant anecdote about Chris’ ten year high school reunion. He compared his high school self to his 28-year-old self, which were drastically different portraits. Then he contrasted those personas to his current incarnation. Chris’ motivation to share stories from his life to buoy others is a special gift.

The theme for the next service is Community. It’s an important topic for many reasons, not the least of which is The Secret City’s annual food drive for the Food Bank of New York. Chris challenged everyone to bring at least one canned goods item to offer the charity.

Chris also put out a second challenge to the congregation: Bring one friend to the next service. He encouraged us to invite new participants to join this community that seeks spiritual nourishment through personal reflection and celebration of art.

So, I’m going to do one better. Or, hopefully, ten better. Part of the reason I’m writing this post is to invite you to join me. My goal is to bring ten new people to the next service. Most likely, if you’re reading this, you’re a friend or a fellow artist (or both). Perhaps, you randomly follow me on one of many social networks. There’s also the chance you dropped by because a search directed you here. Whatever the reason, I highly encourage you to join me at the next service. All the details are below, and it’s coming up quickly.

Join me on November 20th. It’s a fun, moving and grounding affair.

We’re connected.

THE SECRET CITY
COMMUNITY

11:30 am
DIXON PLACE
161A Chrystie St.
http://www.thesecretcity.org