Category Archives: Improv Olympic

Hot Air

Yes And…

“Life is much richer when you say ‘yes’ than if you say ‘no.'”

So said Richard Branson to the Chicago Sun-Times some years ago, as reported by Neil Steinberg in his column today.


Richard Branson

Apparently Branson’s bank account (accounts?) would bear this out. He’s one the the richest guys around, natch, making his dough through such ventures as Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways. It isn’t just money, though, that makes for a rich life. As long as you have enough to eat, a roof over your head, health care, an education, friends, and family, your life can be as rich as Donald Trump’s (or richer because I can’t imagine Trump’s world being at all fulfilling — either to me, theoretically, or him, in reality.)

Anyway, Branson appears to be one of those guys whose def. of success does not include the annihilation of you, me, or anyone else. He’s a win-win type of primate. Capitalism of late seems a hyena-versus-lion proposition, as in I’m eating and if you’re starving, what do I care?

Today’s world, as defined by Trump, the Kochs, the oil companies, and the Wall Street banksters, is a win-lose prop.

So huzzah for Branson and his riches, pecuniary and otherwise.

Saying Yes has been a philosophy I’ve tried to adhere to (often with success, even) ever since I studied comedy improvisation under the late Del Close and Charna Halpern at the improvOlympic (since renamed, thanks to trademark lawyers, iO Chicago). I started going up on stage to create skits and scenes without a script back in the winter of 1986. I even was part of an improv troupe that put on a weekly stage soap opera called “Children’s Hospital,” along with such notables as comedy guru Mick J. Napier and musician Jim Tomasello. At the then-improvOlympic, I worked with and watched such future Hollywood stars as Mike Meyers, Chris Farley, Lili Taylor, Joel Murray and a raft of others.


Del Close & Charna Halpern

The single defining commandment of iO was “Yes and….” In fact, boss Charna Halpern‘s business card read “Yes and….”

It’s a simple idea. Whatever suggestion or proposition someone makes on stage, you go along with it. You build on it. You say to the person who proposed it, “Yes, and…,” and then you build an even taller skyscraper of imagination. If your stage mate says, for instance, Here we are an a spaceship to Mars…, you don’t say, Aw, that’s crazy. You say, Yes, and when we get there, we’re going to hunt for extraterrestrial badgers with our ray guns. Won’t that be fun?

On our first day in class Charna (who taught the intro course) told us the Yes and…. thing not only would make us good improv performers but would actually help us in our daily lives. It sounds almost cultish or at least self-help-ish to say this, but she was right.

I’ve striven to say Yes rather than No as much as humanly possible in the ensuing three decades. Think of all the arguments you’ve ever had; as a rule, they arise when someone, maybe you, says No.

Some examples:

  • Wife: You know, sometimes I feel you don’t pay attention to my issues.
  • Husband: No. You don’t pay attention to my issues.

  • Person A: Life is bleak. I wonder why I should go on.
  • Person B: No, it isn’t. You just need to snap out of it.

  • Person X: The Israelis must be able to defend themselves.
  • Person Y: No. They’re murderers!

  • Person 1: The Palestinians must be able to defend themselves.
  • Person 2: No. They’re murderers.

On the other hand, one can go too far, albeit rarely, in saying Yes to everything. To wit:

  • Rush Limbaugh: Sandra Fluke is a slut.
  • Sane person: No she isn’t. You’re an asshole.

The No-sayer (in most cases) puts a halt to the progress of any conversation or plan. The word itself is combative. It’s fearful. It stops time. I try to say Yes whenever I can (and, as I say, I occasionally succeed.) Yes is freedom; No is not.

Try saying Yes all day today. You might be surprised.

Career Counselor

Who is this son of a bitch, Abdul Hakim-Shabbaz?

That was the first thing that jumped into my mind when I read his horribly mean-spirited piece in Tuesday’s Indy Star recounting his clever, fun prank of asking panhandlers for money.


Abdul Hakim-Shabbaz, Social Reformer

He wrote:

There is nothing more annoying than trying to enjoy a meal, cigar or just some quiet time and have people come up to ask for money. And since the City-County Council Democrats continue to block any meaningful proposal to get these guys off the streets, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I decided to turn the tables on the panhandlers and start asking them for money.

So he hectored panhandlers for money. What a wit, no?

No — as if it’s necessary for me to answer that for you.

In order to put these poor, homeless bastards in their place, he actually asked them for a handout. Pardon me, while I catch my breath; I may laugh myself into a heart attack.

And that would be because I, unlike Hakim-Shabbaz, actually have a heart.

He thinks a lot of the panhandlers he must endure as he digs the good life in downtown Indianapolis are really frauds and leeches. There’s the woman who “claims” she’s disabled but is able to push around all her Earthly belongings in a shopping cart (now there’s a great con job, eh?) Then there’s the kid who’s selling candy for charity but the sharp-as-a-tack Hakim-Shabbaz notes the charity is a different one every day.

Hoohoo, haha! — he began asking them for money. Oh man, he’s killing me!

So who is this social observer on a par with Wilde, Dickens, Sinclair, or even Marie Antoinette? Turns out he’s a talk radio host/attorney/standup comedian/college law instructor. Here’s his own bio on his website.

I suppose Hakim-Shabbaz might advise Indy’s crew of panhandlers to do as he did; that is, get jobs as talk radio hosts/attorneys/standup comedians/college law instructors. Then they wouldn’t ruin his day by asking for money.

You know, it may be easy to become a talk radio host/attorney/standup comedian/college law instructor just like him. All you have to do is work hard at being an asshole.


Here’s the latest on the passing of RE Paris.


According to her son, Eric, she began having trouble breathing at home Wednesday morning. She managed to call for an ambulance but by the time it arrived, it was pretty much too late. No details yet on why she had trouble breathing, although she’d been physically ill for a while, thanks in large part to being too broke to afford health insurance premiums.

The Pencil Today:

HotAirLogoFinal Friday


“A huge amount of what goes on in the Middle East has to do with people being fed bad information.” — Jimmy Wales



So, how about Time Warner Cable dropping Current TV after the Al Gore snore-fest was purchased by Al Jazeera?

That’ll show them there Ay-rab terrorists, won’t it?

Al Jazeera English

Plotting The Takeover Of Middle America

Al Jazeera is one of my half dozen daily news sources. That and BBC America give me the non-parochial slant on the day’s events that I need.

And, try as I might, I’ve yet to glean any anti-American or even pro-Arab skew to the channel’s news coverage.

But, y’know, it’s got that furreign name and it has a lot of brown people on camera, ergo, it must be one of the clandestine sponsors of our Mark of the Beast, Manchurian Candidate, puppet prez.

I used to watch Current TV, but only for Sarah Haskins, who hosted the “Target Women” segment on the “InfoMania” weekly news recap series. She was funny and incisive in skewering advertisements directed at the girls and ladies of our holy land (trust me, none of those messages was aimed at “women”).

Haskins/Current TV

Haskins’ takes on commercials for personal safety, yogurt, and — naturally — diets were laugh-out loud funny. (Scroll down for three clips from “Target Women.”) Haskins is a native Chicagoan who graduated from Harvard as well as what used to be known as the ImprovOlympic, but after the International Olympic Committee’s cease-and-desist is now legally monickered iO.

So we are fellow alumni — no, not of Harvard (I’m not that dopey) but of iO.

The time I spent at iO in the 1980s was unquestionably the best education I ever got. Improvising live on stage gave me confidence, honed my quick-thinking skills, and brought out in me a certain mentally agility. It taught me, more than anything else, how to listen.

And it gave me a chance — however briefly — to work with Lili Taylor.


Lili Taylor

Anyway, outside of Sarah Haskins, there wasn’t all that much of interest on Current TV. As soon as Haskins left the network, I stopped watching.

I have no idea what airs on Current TV of late. Nor am I the only one. In an article last year on the channel, New York Times reporter Brian Stelter wrote, “Current TV’s audience is small — very small.”

Still, Time Warner Cable‘s decision to dump the channel at this moment is suspect. Al Jazeera, which is spending half a billion dollars on the deal, plans to kill Current TV and replace it with a new operation called Al Jazeera America, something similar to the BBC America transoceanic split.

You’ve got to figure the new AJA would draw more viewers than the low-five-figures audience Current TV puts to sleep nightly.

So why would TWC give the heave to a service that is almost guaranteed to grow? Why, indeed.


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