Concrete Jungle

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The city landscape gave way to the puzzle of buildings stacking up block by block. The familiar rays of the sun shine less bright, having to fight crevasses to break through. Rain drops seem to love the challenge and come down in torrents when they’re ready. The wind whips up in the urban tunnels. The city of dreams and the city of lost souls. ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.’ For those seeking discovery, this urban maze becomes whatever challenge you least expected. Highs as tall as these buildings, and lows further beneath the surface than the subway tunnels. The hard concrete a clue into the struggle it takes to survive here. The majesty of her architecture a symbol of what inspiration can do when met with struggle and opportunity. People packed into subway cars, buildings, city streets and never meeting. On their way to something they should have taken care of yesterday. The only thing that does stand out here are the eyes of the novice. The overwhelmed girl trusting a bit too much in the sincerity of others. “You’re so nice” they say. “Just wait until you’ve been here long enough.”

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An Interview With Nick Kocher

nick kocher, comedy, actor, writer

Nick Kocher is the person I’ve known the longest. He was born in January 1986 and was a quiet baby until, three months later, his mother brought him to the hospital to visit me right after I was born. He and his mother rounded the hallway of the hospital and that’s when the screaming started. He used to hate coming over to our house growing up because my brother and I would teach him cuss words and tell him about the real world, which disturbed him greatly. At some point, his fear of me subsided and he became one of my closest friends.

Today, he is an actor/writer/comedian living in Los Angeles. He is responsible for writing, producing, acting, and editing this YouTube video (with over 1.9 million views) in just a weekend. He is one-half of the comedy duo, BriTANick, and performs stand-up, sketch, and improv regularly. I wanted to know more about where comedy has taken him.

Comedy requires a lot of travel. You often perform at sketch comedy festivals and colleges. What is on a comedian’s travel itinerary? What do you pack in your suitcase?

Before I moved to LA from New York, there were frequent trips to the west coast. It’s important to go to LA for pilot season, so all the networks can see you in person and go “No, thank you, too ugly.” Some comedians perform out of town every weekend, for us it’s more sporadic. The occasional college or festival. In my suitcase: consistently there’ll be two more changes of clothes than I actually need. A toiletry bag. And props. Depends on the show we’re doing but often there’s a large fake knife, a silly shakespearean shirt, an old timey hat, fake blood, and two helmets. That’s if it’s a light show. I’ve definitely packed a sillier suitcase than that.

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What are some of the most memorable performances/audiences/venues?

When we played Brandeis, we thought we’d been officially hired for the school’s comedy festival. But it turned out we’d been brought out by just one student. She had gotten into an argument with the faculty who organized the official comedy festival and said something to the effect of, “I can throw a better comedy festival than you.” So it turned out we were playing the unofficial comedy festival thrown out of spite by a single student. The venue was a coffee shop in the middle of the day. I still have no idea if we were even allowed to be there. We couldn’t black out in between sketches because the coffee shop had huge windows through which daylight was streaming through. So in between sketches we told everyone to close their eyes while we did the scene transition. As slapped together as this show was, we had a lot of fun and it still remains one of our favorites.

You do a lot of travel for fun. What impact does that have on your work? Why is it important?

Traveling for fun hurts work in that it takes you away from it. But it helps work, because inevitably, good stories will come out of it.

It’s often hard to fill seats for theatrical shows. There is a strong social element to your work. Many of your friends and fans come out to support BriTANick on a regular basis. What makes BriTANick so socially sticky?

No idea. We try not to worry about promotion too much. We believe if you work hard and deliver a good live show/video/whatever that people will find it eventually and if it’s really good they’ll keep coming back. In promoting things, I just try to have as much fun with it as I can (designing silly posters, making jokes within promotional tweets).

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Who/what made you laugh growing up?

I loved the comic strips in newspapers. Specifically Calvin and Hobbes and Foxtrot. I strongly believe those two strips were how I learned to be funny.

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What drew you to comedy?

As a kid I was often teased and bullied. Things started to turn around when I took a page out of a bullies’ book and began making fun of myself. When people are laughing they have a hard time being mean to you. I like when people are not mean to me.

When did you realize you were good at making an audience laugh?

Well I really enjoyed comedy movies, the funny pages, and standup. I would often just parrot back to my friends the funny lines from various things and that would make them laugh. In my experience that’s how a lot of comedians got their start. By stealing. I did that, then I would change a few words to make it funnier in my eyes. Then eventually I began making up whole jokes.

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I loved stories. Personal stories about something interesting that happened over the weekend, or in math class, whatever. I loved telling them and I loved hearing them. I started noticing that whenever I would relate my version of something that had happened, people would laugh even if I wasn’t trying to be funny. I always liked comedy, but I fell like I kinda fell backwards into being funny. I don’t quite understand it.

You studied acting at NYU and remained in New York City for the better part of a decade afterwards. What made you decide to stay in New York City after college and how did that influence you?

I just really loved New York. I still do. It inspires me, there’s always something going on, and you don’t have to drive. I hate driving. I’m glad I spent my twenties in New York. Plenty of people have said this in the past, but I think it’s true: You go to New York to get good at your art, then move to LA to make money off of it. The first part is way more fun.

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Check Him Out

Juicy Fruit

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SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! SQUISH! SQUISH! CHEW!

As she went for yet another piece of gum, before her sharp, yellowing teeth could kill the rubbery devil already occupying her mucus cavity, I knew that she would be the reason this flight was a rough one.  I had already sucked it up, and paid an extra $86 to upgrade my seat from the back of the plane to the front, but I was still doomed to occupy a middle seat. Why were so many ATLiens headed for San Francisco so soon after the New Year that I couldn’t pay my way up to an aisle seat?

My eyes were still a little blood shot from the lack of sleep the night before. A kidney stone had sent my mother to the hospital my last night in town. After a three hour resting period, the chimes of my iPhone alarm startled me out of bed, and in to the bathroom to wash my face. Drowsy from the tease of sleep, my father chauffeured me to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

By the time I got to the lengthy bag drop and security lines,  I had reached a state somewhere between being awake enough to get myself to my gate and sleepy enough to view it all as a weird dream sequence. By the time I got to T17, I could see that gate crowding had already begun in eager anticipation of hearing “Boarding Group 1 is now permitted to board”. Perhaps I’m a terrible person, but scanning the crowd I could see multiple sets of young families desperately trying to keep their kids from running amok, and I thought to myself “this is effective birth control”.

Allowing myself space from the cluster-fuck that was the boarding process, I finally made my way to seat 10E. “You’re 10E” she asked as she unclipped her belt and stood to allow me entrance. “Indeed”. As I crammed my way into this flight purgatory, I was just thankful to be surrounded by two women instead of any of the 3 and under demographic on the plane. I grabbed my headphones from my backpack, pushed it underneath the seat in front of me, and swiped my credit card to ensure I had unlimited access to Direct TV for the duration of this 5 and half hour flight.

About half an hour into our flight, I was hit with the overwhelming stench of a manufactured fruity substance. It was invasive, finding it’s way into every cilia. It was as pungent a smell as one would expect from an empty New York City train car. I had to cover my nose and hope that the sweat shirt I had been using for warmth all weekend was somehow more bearable. I scanned the plane, looking for the source. Was it the couple in front of me, using this disgusting tactic to keep their two year old from screaming? Didn’t appear so. Whoever it was clearly disregarded the fact that some of us might find the sound of chewing to be like that of nails on a chalkboard and the smell to be so strong that it was as if someone doused themselves in a stinky perfume before walking in to a crowded elevator. We were trapped.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the woman next to me in the aisle seat I wanted, reach forward into the seat pocket in front of her. As I glanced over, I saw her reach for a piece of gum, stick it in her mouth (where another piece was still being mangled), reach in an pull out the older piece, stick that in the seat pocket in front of her, all while reading the book she grasped in her right hand. I felt like a detective at the end of an episode of Law and Order who, all of a sudden, is hit with the awful truth. There was nothing I could do for the rest of this flight. This woman was compulsively chewing gum, something that makes me cringe from the inside out, and she chose the most potent smelling one of them all: Juicy Fruit. She might as well have dumped a bucket of cockroaches on me to crawl all over me the whole flight. It was disturbing and creepy and I could do nothing about it because, ultimately, my phobia of gum is my problem.

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As I glanced over to take in what she looked like, a mousy middle aged women with thin, straight hair and CVS reading glasses, I could see that she kept looking up from her book to see what I was watching before shaking her head and looking back down at her novel. It was then I realized what my only means of silent retaliation would be, the one thing that middle aged, intellectual white women can’t stand: trashy reality shows. For the next three hours, I gleefully indulged in a Christina Milian Turned Up marathon followed by several episodes of The Real Housewives of Cheshire. I could sense every time she looked up because she would cough or shift uncomfortably, wanting to ask me to turn that shit off but knowing she couldn’t. She was trapped. There was nothing she could do but be distracted by glaring images of anti-feminist characters.

In the end, nobody won here. We were both just trying to deal with the nightmare of traveling with strangers, all of whom carried their own frustrations and particular irritations, and get the hell home. I have never been so happy to get to baggage claim.

 

 

 

Yolanda’s

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“$30! Mani/Pedi!” screamed the Barney purple sign outside of Yolanda’s Nail & Spa on 2nd Avenue and 45th Street in Manhattan. Big enough, purple enough, and loud enough to lure in the hip, young corporate-types and this wandering tourist.  It’s cheaper to get your nails done in New York City than most anywhere else in the continental United States, but that comes with the price of making sure you pick a salon that treats their employees fairly. It was a Friday, which meant the city’s salons upped their prices for the weekend. There’s something about $30, though, that seems both perfectly reasonable and not demeaningly inexpensive.

“Hello! Mani, pedi?” inquired the owner, perched behind her hostess desk. “Yes, please. Thirty dollars?” “Yes! Thirty Dollar! You, go! Pick out nail color!” Aggressively happy to have my business, I walk over the the white column in the middle of the salon, wrapped on all four sides with colorful Essie and Opi nail polishes, and start the arduous task of picking just the right shade of pink.

My nail artist, Zoe, started the process of cleaning up the mess of uneven nail ends and messy cuticles. I’m thankful for her diligence. A good manicure, like a great haircut, is something you appreciate if only because you can never recreate it nearly as well on your own. As she started to apply the light pink nail polish, she stopped abruptly. “This not good. You want white” she advised. I nodded my head, and knew she was spot on as she applied the color I really wanted, but had overlooked.

“Massage?” In New York City, this question holds so much weight. When you’ve been hustling around all day, dealing with hoards of people on the subway and on the sidewalks, constantly being almost late for everything, being asked if you want a massage felt like Mr. Rogers wrapping you in one of his comfort sweaters. “How much?” “Twenty dollar for thirty min” she replied. “Yeah, ok”. Zoe walked me towards the back of the salon and sat me down in the tilted massage chair. I thoroughly melted away as she began to crunch and work the multitude of knots that nested near my shoulder blades. My brain released every bit of dopamine it could produce. I immediately lifted my head, just enough to be heard, and offered to pay for another thirty minutes. I dare say, it was the most relaxed I have ever felt in New York City. I kept thinking how stupid I was for never taking advantage of this when I lived there. It was so relaxing and so recharging that when I got up after it was all over, Zoe and I hugged. It was such a sincere moment; me being grateful to her and her acknowledging how good her work was. I felt as though I found the best nail place, and best nail woman, in New York City. This is my gift to you.

 

 

Taglio

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In the middle of the hustle and bustle of the main drag in downtown Milan lies a quaint, warm farm-to-table spot called Taglio. Finally, a place with such an authentic menu that I could barely understand the choices that lay in front of me. “Caprese” and “burratta”, an obvious ‘yes please’. Risotto Milanese, check. The guys were told there was just one two and a half pound t-bone steak left so it was ordered with a quickness. Our waitress came to see what kind of water we wanted (only in Europe can you guarantee that every restaurant, from white table to casual cafe, will make sure you make a decision between still and sparkling) and I took the chance to humbly ask if she spoke any English. “A little ” she said hesitantly. I pointed to what I believed to be a pasta dish. “Yes. Pasta. Very good.” Fine. Sold. The veal, which shows up on every menu in Milan, was the last dish to round out our feast.

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Perhaps it was the electric mood of downtown Milan, or maybe it was the bottle of white wine we consumed, as if it were water, from room service before we left the hotel, but I’m sure we were the easiest customers to please that night. “Mi scusi, two glasses of rosatii. Grazie.” I didn’t need another glass wine but…yes I did.

Our dishes were spaced out perfectly giving us plenty of time to eat, savor and laugh. Also enough time to allow our waitress a chance to sneak outside past the ‘Vietato Fumare’ sign to, one could easily assume, fumato.

The guys went after the steak tartare like privileged cavemen. By the time the two and a half pound steak arrived, so did a fit of laughter. Consuming this much meat felt ridiculous and we all knew it, but the dilated pupils of the guys was evidence enough that these two were fully ready to consume this meat, the size of a teenage human head.

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Eating too much good food is a lot like drinking too much, your eye lids drop to half-staff and you start to stoop over the table in defeat, but if offered more it’s hard to refuse. Our lack of Italian is the only thing that kept us from ordering everything on the dessert menu. We were too exhausted to attempt any lame translation.

As we got up to leave, the waitress walked over to the stereo, surrounded by stacks of CDs and records, and put on some reggae. Mood set. Time to go. Back to the streets of Milan to see if we could hail a taxi before we got dangerously close to a gelato shop.

Fanspiration

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“What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?” Lewis, the young photographer, didn’t realized who he was asking. Ben and Platz, bassist and drummer, have tried some weird shit. And then some. “Crispy pig’s head. For sure” answered Platz, easily. “The insect larva in Korea was weirder than the Balut” countered Ben. By the end of this fifteen minute long answer, the catering hall had all but cleared out. Google “balut” and you’ll know why.

I was side stage during the show, watching Lewis weave in and out of the crowd, climbing stairs and flimsy-looking scaffolding to get the perfect shot. Radioactive is the blow-out hit for every concert (obvi) so the guys always end with it. They rushed off stage to sneak behind the curtain and catch their breath before popping back on stage for a surprise encore. Platz, our drummer, runs off stage and before disappearing behind the curtain, walks over to Lewis and hands him his show drumsticks. It’s hard to capture the pure disbelief and overwhelming joy that streaked across his face. His jaw fell so hard, I thought it might actually hit the floor. “He’s fan-boying out” said his friend Mr. Combover.

Fan boys weren’t the only ones enjoying the night. There were two girls, couldn’t have been older than 12 or 13, constantly standing and looking at each other, looking at the band, and screaming. This was clearly the best night of their pre-teen lives. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say they listened to the entire rock album while they got dressed and did each other’s make up. If their parents were there, they were clearly banished to a section far enough away that no one would guess that these girls were chaperoned. They kept looking at each other for reassurance that yes, in fact, this was the best night ever and yes, the lead singer did, in fact, make eye contact with them. I pointed out these two to the lead singer’s wife who, like me, could totally relate to this teen-girl freak out. “We have to do something for them” she plotted. A few moments later, she returned to with two signed photographs of the band and walked right up to them and handed them over. Much like Lewis, the overwhelming euphoria covered them. And us. We’re all fans of something and this night, I was a fan of the fans.

Bears, Witches, Wolves & The Dragons

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“We’re in a forest!”

“Oh no! Look over there! What is it?”

“Those are witches!”

“Ok, we gotta put a spell on them so they leave us alone.”

Jumping on tour with a grammy award winning rock band was not supposed to be like this. There’s supposed to be much more booze and debauchery. Instead, backstage is a mix of young musicians and their families. I jumped on for the homestretch of this European tour. This particular three year old is all about her princesses and princes. In fact, she claims my boyfriend as her prince and had a hard time accepting that fact that I was the ‘other woman’. But, not this day of tour. This day of tour, we flew to Mars and explored our way through the forest (duh, of course there’s a forest on Mars) and dodged bears and witches and wolves. We picked berries off of bushes to feed ourselves, and poisoned a witch, scared a bear, and made friends with the wolves. “Now, let’s go to sleep” she said. Moments later, a scared sigh as we woke up, “Do you hear that?” “Yeah” she said, letting me add something to our forest. “What is it?” “It’s a bear!” We made ourselves big and tall and yelled at the bear to not eat us. It worked! “Now, we have to go back to sleep” she said. So we slept. We slept until one of us was startled awake and a new adventure waited to be experienced before we caught back up on our princess beauty sleep.

When was the last time you played with a three year old? Allowed yourself to let go and share your imagination with someone who sees the world as completely limitless? It’s a humbling experience as a adult. The world is full of challenges that fog your view of all the possibilities that still exists. The older we get, the foggier it seems to get sometimes. And, sometimes, all it takes is the imagination of a three year old, a bright and hot beam of sunshine, to clear your view. Play on.