Monday, August 30, 2010

Close, but out

"Tonight we celebrate those who dream, succeed and expire."

—United States Tennis Association chairman and president 
     Lucy S. Garvin at the U.S. Open opening ceremonies

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bringing it all back home

The great standup comedian Kumail Nanjiani returns to Chicago tonight, headlining the Hideout at 7 and 9:30. My Flavorpill preview is here.

To get you in the mood, here's Kumail making his first appearance on the Letterman show:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dude looks like a menace

Steven Tyler has long been a poor man's Mick Jagger, but who knew Joe Perry was a poor man's Carl Edwards?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Live from Chicago, it's Saturday night."

Lornie Mikes is at it again.

For the fourth time in the last year, Lorne Michaels has plucked a talented unknown from the relative obscurity of the Chicago comedy scene, changing a life by offering a writing job on "Saturday Night Live."

First it was Pigeon-Kicking Black Person and ace standup Hannibal Buress, whom Northwestern alum and "SNL" head writer Seth Meyers discovered when they both appeared on the Michaels-produced "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." Then my old IO Theater classmate Michael Patrick O'Brien got the call, recently followed by his best friend, Shelly Gossman.

Now it's Tom Flanigan's turn. He's been a dependable Second City e.t.c. cast member for several years now, currently starring there in The Absolute Best Friggin' Time of Your Life. In the years before, Tom played innumerable Harold shows at the ImprovOlympic, co-founded a science-oriented improvisation troupe called the Galileo Players, and paid hella dues toiling for Second City on van tours and cruise ships.

Through it all he's been a brilliant comedy writer, a solid improviser, and an excellent guy. He also demonstrated his good taste when he interviewed longtime Conan O'Brien writer and FOBB&B Brian Stack for Time Out Chicago.

This boost is a well-deserved next step. Congratulations, Tom!

p.s.  Over the past year, for various reasons, numerous good friends of mine have moved away from Chicago. Throw in the four above comedians and it feels like everyone I know is leaving. If the three people I still know here would like to play some doubles on Saturday, please let me know.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Whither the Basstard?

Sorry I haven't checked in much lately. I've been busy writing a People magazine profile entitled "The Girl Who Read Three Terrible Novels."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nature corner

These American goldfinches enjoyed the morning at 
Lincoln Park Tennis Club, just like I did.

Eventually they moved up the wall to get a better view of my match.

This guy's line calls were impeccable.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Freakish skills

Speaking of Federer...

It's tautological that the best tennis players can consistently hit the square foot they're aiming for; that's what makes them the best tennis players. So by extension, it stands to reason that the best of the best are even more accurate.

An acquaintance of mine played against former American pro David Wheaton in Minnesota high school tennis. My friend was a senior when Wheaton was a freshman, so they only faced each other during one season, but my buddy quickly learned not to leave stray tennis balls on his side of the court. Wheaton had both the ability and the inclination to hit a stationary ball with a live ball in play, which would end the point in his favor. (The rule is, you leave tennis balls on the court at your own risk.)

It should come as little surprise that Wheaton won the Minnesota state singles title as a ninth grader. He would also become the #1 junior player in the United States, an NCAA champion at Stanford, and eventually the 12th-ranked player in the world.

Another guy blessed with otherworldly skills, Andre Agassi, could also hit a target as small as a tennis ball, even when it was moving. A New Yorker Talk of the Town story described the circus sideshow he staged one year on the U.S. Open practice courts, delighting fans by lining up tennis balls along the service line, walking to the other end of the court, then hitting one after the other with served balls, like Annie Oakley at a carnival shooting gallery. His finale was to hit one tennis ball high into the air, then fire another ball at it. The two balls would collide in midair.

Roger Federer has that kind of prodigious talent, as he demonstrated during a taping of a Gillette television commercial:

Sticking with sports for a minute, let's forget about the last year or so and think fondly back to when Tiger Woods was just a really good golf player. This good:

Of course, not all crazy skills are in athletics. Yesterday's New York Times crossword puzzle was the debut appearance by crossword constructor and FOBB&B Michael Sharp, also known by his nom de blog Rex Parker. It was a nifty puzzle, and quite tough for a Tuesday.

Because the Rex blog is prominent in crossword circles, Michael's maiden voyage in the NYT got a lot of attention. For example, another friend of this blog, insanely talented speed-solver and 2010 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion Dan Feyer, posted an online video of his own solving the puzzle in a lean, mean 2:17. (It took me almost six minutes.)

Here's Dan's video complete with his amusing running commentary; needless to say, you should not watch (or even look at) this if you still intend to solve the puzzle:

Monday, August 16, 2010


They're ending and beginning all over the place.


According to this New York Times article, for the first time since the ATP Tour introduced computer rankings 37 years ago, there are no American men ranked in the top 10. There have been times with 3 or 4 Yanks in the top 10, and times with only one, but in the 1900 weeks since the rankings began, there's always been at least one American until this week, when Andy Roddick slipped from #10 to #11.

The sport is more global than ever, with 9 countries currently represented in the men's top 10, but despite the lack of Americans at the highest tier, U.S. tennis is in decent shape. Wimbledon marathon match winner John Isner is ranked #19, Sam Querrey is #21 (and second to Rafael Nadal with four tournament wins this year), Mardy Fish is #34, and Bob and Mike Bryan recently won their 62nd title to become the winningest doubles team of all time. On the women's side, Venus and Serena Williams continue to contend for major titles, and youngsters like Melanie Oudin are on the rise.

As ever, it's all about the juniors, and developing young American players remains a primary focus of the United States Tennis Association. That is how the next era gets underway. We've been spoiled by a wave of great players over the past 20 years (Sampras, Agassi, Courier, Chang, Martin, WheatonWashington, Krickstein), but another American era will eventually come along.

It's far too early to deem the Roger Federer era over—he just played in the finals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto yesterday, where he lost 7-5, 7-5 to Andy Murray—but there are cracks in the veneer.  If you like Federer you might enjoy this recent New Yorker profile of the dashing Swiss.


The Ben Bass era at Texas A&M has resumed:
The other big pleasant surprise of the camp so far is defensive end Ben Bass, who completely left the game of football to concentrate on academics after a poor freshman year that left the Plano West product ineligible and kicked out of Texas A&M.  He went to school last year at Blinn on his own dime and made straight A's. His improbable comeback is almost complete as Bass has soared up the depth chart this week and is now running with the first unit, although Sherman is quick to say that the competition at the right defensive end spot is ongoing with Jonathan Mathis and others in the mix.  


One era ends and another begins because the great Shelly Gossman has just been hired to write for Saturday Night Live. The brilliant improviser and sketch comedian wraps up her hilarious run this week on the Second City mainstage as she prepares to decamp from Chicago to New York City.

Shelly and I started performing around the same time at Chicago's IO Theater, me indifferently, she exceptionally, and she's paid so many dues since then that she should be considered in good standing with the union for the next 1200 years. I still remember the night she stole the show as part of Second City's Las Vegas residency at the Flamingo Hilton. The least Vegas-y person I know, Shelly was spending her free time far from the Strip, teaching improvisation classes to local residents.

Shelly is a rare and prodigious talent, but more importantly a thoughtful and empathetic person, the kind we all rooted for and cared about even before her courageous and ultimately triumphant battle with cancer. I'm just one of many friends and well-wishers who are thrilled and excited at this wonderful news. Congratulations, Shelly. You deserve it.

Here's Shelly giving a recent interview about her own path to Second City and auditioning for "Saturday Night Live":

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Caught on the Web

Names in the news
A 22-year-old mother from South Yorkshire, England, formerly known as plain old Ceejay Epton, has changed her name to Ceejay A Apple B Boat C Cat D Dog E Elephant F Flower G Goat H House I Igloo J Jellyfish K Kite L Lion M Monkey N Nurse O Octopus P Penguin Q Queen R Robot S Sun T Tree U Umbrella V Violin W Whale X X-Ray Y Yo-Yo Z Zebra Terryn Feuji-Sharemi.
[from my Flavorpill colleagues over at Flavorwire]

Newborn baby already a golf champion
Frank Bensel has a story to share with his newborn son, who came into the world on Friday, after closing with a flourish and winning the Metropolitan PGA Professional Championship yesterday at Rockland Country Club in a playoff.
[The Journal News, White Plains, N.Y.]

Search at your own risk
Web porn? But I was only after wild Asian ass
A CROSSWORD fan aged 89 used an internet search to solve a clue about a donkey - and was bombarded with hard-core porn.
Jack Sedgewick got stuck on 14 across: "Wild asian ass."
The great-grandad typed "asian ass" into Yahoo's search engine in the hope of finding the answer to the newspaper poser... 
[The Sun, U.K.]

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Off the wall

Don't stop watching this until, well, you know.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Two down

As I did last May, I have once again guest-written Rex Parker's hugely popular New York Times crossword blog.

I don't usually do the Sunday puzzle, but when the president calls, you serve your country.

Check it out here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Don't call him Steve

The great standup comedian Robert Buscemi lit up the Chicago comedy scene then, like so many before him, the Steve Carells and Frank Caetis, the Rich Talaricos and Sara Gees, moved on to Los Angeles.

But he's back this weekend headlining the Annoyance Theatre, Sunday night at 8pm.  A mere $8 gets you not just Buscemi's latest, but local stalwarts Marty DeRosa, Jet Eveleth, Brian Babylon and Jenni Lamb, an estimable quintet, to be sure.

Here's my Flavorpill preview of a past Buscemi appearance; other than the DVD taping, it equally applies to Sunday's show.

Robert Buscemi appears Sunday 8pm at The Annoyance Theatre, 4830 N. Broadway Avenue, Chicago. (773) 561-4665;

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rex in effect

I will once again be sitting in for the noted crossword blogger Rex Parker this Sunday.

Rex is traveling this week (to a distant planet in superheroic style, judging from his avatar) so a rotating panel of brilliant guest writers is handling things in his absence.

It all builds to a underwhelming conclusion as yours truly grabs the steering wheel to guide you through the big puzzle in the Sunday New York Times.

Until then, crossword fans, keep your pencils sharp.

Insert lawyer joke here

Notwithstanding the above T-shirt, the Bluhm Legal Clinic at the Northwestern University School of Law does not include something called the Center on Wrongful Business Opportunity.

There are, however, a Center on Wrongful Convictions and a Small Business Opportunity Center.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The least necessary disclaimer of all time

Reading Patricia Marx's entertaining New Yorker article about buying eyeglasses (Four Eyes, March 29, 2010), I learned that a blob-like Italian conglomerate called Luxottica has bought up much of the American eyewear industry, both manufacturers (Ray-Ban, Persol, Oakley) and retailers (LensCrafters, Pearl Vision, Sunglass Hut, Target Optical, Sears Optical).

Luxottica also creates and distributes frames for many leading fashion houses (Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Prada, Oliver Peoples, Tiffany, Versace, Club Monaco, Anne Klein).

That's a whole lot of influence in the hands of one company, which might start to explain why you and I pay hundreds of dollars for a small piece of plastic with two smaller pieces of plastic in it.

At least that is what the proprietor of would have you believe. It's the brainchild of a New York eyewear professional with very strong negative feelings about Luxottica, as you might infer from the following details:
  • The front headline reads "SUXOTTICA: exposing a soul-crushing, wallet-grabbing giant"
  • The main page sections include "How LUXOTTICA Hurts Us" and "Three Easy Ways to Beat Them While Our Government Sleeps"
  • The tagline on its web window reads "SUXOTTICA | Stop opening your wallet for Luxottica"
  • Readers are invited to submit their email addresses to "stay on top of Luxottica's activities" 
  • Did I mention the site is called Suxottica?
  • In case you didn't get the message yet, there is also a post on the site (awesomely) entitled "Luxottica Suxotticas"

Despite all of the above, the following disclaimer appears in small type:  

"Legal: This site is in no way connected with 
Luxottica Group S.p.A. or any affiliate thereof."

You don't say.