One Month At A Time

Improv Comedy: Getting to Know You -Jenna Skeen

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Another one from the No Pants Players, who have a show on Thursday at the Mardi Gras Casino in Cross Lanes. They’d be OK with it if you wanted to come to the show, if you wanted to…

 

Name: Jenna Skeen

Age: 28

Hometown: St. Albans, WV and now reside in Charleston, WV

Occupation: COO at Loved Ones In Home Care and owner of Midnight Justice Films

Jenna
One of these people is Jenna Skeen. The rest are part of a ragtag group of survivors who are living through the worst frozen yogurt recall in history.

What’s your life like outside of comedy?

I perform in local theatre and enjoy traveling, filmmaking and all things geek

How did you get started in Improv/Comedy?

Attended the No Pants Players audition (It was only my second time publicly performing improv)

What was your first workshop or show like?

First workshop was terrifyingly funny and first show was MCing a West Virginia Power Game with the troupe so as a plus size female I was completely in my element.

In comedy or the improv comedy world, who do you look up to?

Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Martin Short, Eddie Murphy, Sid Caesar, John Candy, Robin Williams, Andy Kaufmann, Adam King and Jeff Bukovinsky

What’s the best part about what you do?

Hearing the laughs

What’s the hardest part?

Being funny

What’s (almost) always funny?

Bodily functions and/or politics – Completely interchangeable

Advice for someone who might want to do Improv?

Just do it! –Shia LaBeouf

Are two drink minimums necessary or are they just a rip off?

I think a healthy mixture of both.

Do you believe in Santa Claus, unicorns or global warming (choose one)?

Global warming due to Santa Claus’ reckless use of unicorns.

If you could ask Drew Carey one question, what would it be?

Do I know you?

Is prison really as bad at they say or is that just the media?

Depends are we talking Martha Stewart prison or 1920s chain gang prison?

How good is your spelling?

Perfeck

Do you have any time/money saving tips for our readers?

Quit cruising the As Seen On TV aisle.

Have you ever been to Ohio?

Once

Improv Comedy: Getting To Know You -Brian Hatcher

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We continue our series of (very lazy) profiles about different faces in local comedy. Here’s another member of Charleston’s own, No Pants Players.

Name: Brian Hatcher
Age: 49
Hometown: Beckley WV
Occupation: Professional Raconteur

brian
From left to right -Dude with glasses, girl with glasses, Brian and T-Rex.

What’s your life like outside of comedy?

When I’m not putting fire in my mouth or talking to the dead for fun and profit, I am creating charming little nightmares for adoring readers.

How did you get started in Improv/Comedy?

A good friend, who believed in me more than I did myself, talked me into going to a No Pants Players audition. I left a Saturday book signing and headed straight to St. Albans with no idea what I would be in for.

What was your first workshop or show like?

Nerve-racking. Both cases.

In comedy or the improv comedy world, who do you look up to?

Jonathan Winters. He is the gold standard for improv comedy.

What’s the best part about what you do?

Being surrounded by and performing with great friends.

What’s the hardest part?

Learning to get out of my own way and let the comedy happen.

What’s (almost) always funny?

Jokes which stem from tragic events.

Advice for someone who might want to do Improv?

Learn to listen. Funny comes later.

Are two drink minimums necessary or are they just a rip off?

If you’re being charged at the door to get in, total rip off.

Do you believe in Santa Claus, unicorns or global warming (choose one)?

I believe in global warming. It’s caused by Santa Claus fighting unicorns.

If you could ask Drew Carey one question, what would it be?

“How did you lose all that weight?”

Is prison really as bad at they say or is that just the media?

It’s worse. Much worse.

How good is your spelling?

I’z speel rel gud, cuz I’z a righter.

Do you have any time/money saving tips for our readers?

Taco Bell is cheap, but here’s a way to make it even cheaper: https://youtu.be/okKIBTcU2Ug

Have you ever been to Ohio?

Many times. But don’t tell anyone.

Going Vegan: Vegan Potluck

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Probably, not everybody got the memo, but the Kanawha Valley Vegan Potluck is Sunday night… Sure, sure, I know, this is also Superbowl Sunday and many people will be swilling beer, watching football, and trying to avoid another argument with your Uncle Leroy, who keeps going on about how fantastic the Chicago Bears were in the 80s and like the Superbowl Shuffle is a legitimate dance, which IT. IS. NOT.

Anyway, best of luck with that.

But if you’re not into football, if you can hold off on having a beer until slightly later in the evening, check out the potluck. It gets started around 6:30 p.m at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Boulevard W. Everybody, so far, has been nice. No fights broke out last time, even though there were a couple of carnivores on the premises, hogging the lentils (which were pretty awesome, actually).

vegan2
Tasty stuff to try.

 

The food is pretty good, and if you’re a little interested in trying a plant-based diet, this is a good place to start.  You can also talk to other people who are vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and other folk, who are just trying to eat in more healthy ways, reduce their impact on the environment and/or just don’t want any animals to die to become food.

Those are pretty much the reasons, in no particular order.

I’m going, in case you were looking for an excuse to come have an awkward conversation with me at some point.

cap
This is me. I promise to be 50 percent less squinty.

And the potluck is free, though bring a couple of bucks to help out with the plates and napkins, if you happen to have it to spare.

vegan1
Have dinner, make a friend. It’s a pretty good deal.

Improv Comedy: Getting to know you…

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As a way to get to know some of the comic players in our state and get a better idea about why people decide to take on improv, I sent a questionnaire out to The No Pants Players and to The Fearless Fools with hopes they might give me some insight into why they do what they do.

Also, it was easy.

Name:  Adam King

adamking
Adam is the blurry one toward the back.

Age:  37

Hometown:  St. Albans, WV – The Twin City

Occupation:  President of the No Pants Players, Regional Vice President: Agent Pipeline, Millionaire Stuntman/Half-Narwhal

What’s your life like outside of comedy?

Outside of the troupe I like to design, work on photo/video editing and write scripts which many people that haven’t read find funny.  I am an avid rock climber.  My 8-5 grind is sales oriented and I work with some great folks – I also find multiple times a day for bathroom breaks to catch up on my cell phone games.

How did you get started in Improv/Comedy?

I have always thought I had the ability to entertain but couldn’t find the right outlet.  I’m not a trained actor and that’s apparent.  One day many moons ago I was having lunch at the Town Center and I happened across Kevin Pauley (whom I’ve known since I was in 2nd grade) and he mentioned there were auditions for the troupe and they just happened to be looking for someone who had zero experience on stage, zero performance experience and zero knowledge of improv comedy.  And bam, I worked my way in.  I really thank Sarku of Japan for putting me in the right place at the right time.

What was your first workshop or show like?

Well, I decided to learn/practice for six months prior to putting my talents on stage so I could gain some confidence, also the elder troupe members forced me to.  The NPP has so much amazing talent and they welcomed me with open arms and decades of experience.  It culminated in a series of games where I stood on stage, virtually immobile, whispering to the old lady in the last row.  And it felt amazing.  I knew this was what I wanted to do.

In comedy or the improv comedy world, who do you look up to?

My favorite comedians growing up were Chris Elliott, Martin Short and David Letterman.  I, maybe unfortunately, also looked up to Weird Al Yankovic but I struggle fitting a food theme into everything I say.

What’s the best part about what you do?

My strongest skillset comes with physical comedy.  I’m somewhat gangly and can make some real hideous faces which crowds seem to enjoy.  When I get a little older this handsomeness will probably resemble a cross between Larry David and Lyle Lovett.

What’s the hardest part?

The hardest part for me is character development.  I have characters that work, when I stick to them.  But my lack of stage acting experience can hinder me because I may go from the straight sarcastic guy, to the train-hopping hobo, to a Cockney bartender – all during a scene involving a Latin American astronaut.

What’s (almost) always funny?

Jeff Bukovinsky.  I’m not sure if he’s a what, or a who.  But he’s the kinda funny, that if you could bottle it, would sell like crazy at TJ Maxx.

Advice for someone who might want to do Improv?

Just try it.  Don’t be scared.  Well, do be scared becuase it’s terrifying.  But let yourself go.  Forget about everything that makes you feel insecure because that’s going to be some of your best material.  Find some like minded folks who also think they’re funny and you’ll be surprised what you come up with.  That or you’ll be awful which also rules in the world of YouTube.

Are two drink minimums necessary or are they just a rip off?

Two drink minimums are only worth it prior to the noon hour.

Do you believe in Santa Claus, unicorns or global warming (choose one)?  Since these are all Finnish myths I believe in every one since both of my parents are Laplanders.

If you could ask Drew Carey one question, what would it be?

I’d ask him what it feels like to be funnier than Carrot Top but slightly less so than Gallagher.

Is prison really as bad at they say or is that just the media?

All of my prison knowledge comes from watching Locked Up, Shawshank Redemption, and having gone to St. Albans High School prior to the renovations.  So I’d say it’s pretty bad.

How good is your spelling?

My spelling is akin to the Infinite Monkey Theorem, if the end result is never Hamlet.

Do you have any time/money saving tips for our readers?

All my money is tied up in Vertical Farming and finding a cure for nail biting so ask me again in 30 years.

Have you ever been to Ohio?

I saw an Ohio quarter when the government launched that series back in 2002.  And I read a book about Tecumseh in college.  So, basically.

Going Vegan: Feedback

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One of the cool things about doing this whole vegan trial run is the feedback. Over the last month, I’ve received regular, and generally positive, feedback from all kinds of people.
As a writer and occasional journalist, you love that kind of thing. It’s nice to be read. It’s nice when people are talking or thinking about what you’ve written. My point wasn’t precisely to convince people to take up the broccoli, but maybe take away some of the anxiety and mystery of such a thing.
I’m doing pretty well with not eating meat –and let’s be perfectly honest, if I was miserable, I’d have quit this Monday morning with an steak and cheese omelet from Ihop. At lunch, there probably would have been a cheeseburger and ice cream before and after dinner.
I’m just fine without it.
Still, I have enjoyed the curiosity about Veganuary and going vegan, though some of it has been a little strange. In all my years of writing, I’ve never had conversations with naked people about something with my name attached to it in the local paper. This happened twice in one month in the locker room of the YMCA, which has to be some kind of a milestone. I’ve been approached in parking lots and gotten several emails from all over the place.
This one was, perhaps, the most surprising.
Dear Bill,
Thanks for the column, you may inspire quite a few people to give vegan eating a try.  I hope you stick with it, for you, for your family, for the animals, for the earth, oh a bunch of good things.  May I recommend a website and some books that are all about health.  Exercise is good, but the vegan diet alone, unless you pile on the oils, will do it.  www.PCRM.org  is the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website.  PCRM does NIH-funded studies into health, diabetes reversal, etc., and all with a vegan diet which they have found works wonders.  Dr Neal Barnard is author of several books, the names of which escape me, but they are all to be found on www.pcrm.org so I hope you find them really useful, and they all come with recipes galore in the back of the books.
Rooting for you, and if we can help in any way, please holler, don’t quit!   Show the way to all the others who may end up, without that nudge, in the ER, or the nursing home.
Kind regards, Ingrid Newkirk, president, PETA
Anyway, I wanted to say thanks to everybody who has followed along with this and to everyone who has sent me an email, called or stopped to talk to me (even those sans clothing). Thanks for the support and check back every now and again. I think there’s more to talk about with this vegan stuff.
For instance, I need to find a decent chocolate bar.

 

Going Vegan: Mission Savvy foods

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When I did my visit with Mission Savvy and spoke with Jennifer Miller, she was kind enough (nay, incredibly generous enough) to load me down with a bunch of vegan meals.

The thing about that story is that our visit happened relatively early in the month, but didn’t run until late –kind of the nature of things. So, by the time we got to releasing the story, I’d had some time to get some experience preparing vegan meals.

For instance, today’s lunch was a couple of fairly decent hummus and veggie wraps (with way too much onion), but back then, I had no idea what was even possible, really. I’d only put together a couple of new recipes.

Anyway, the meals Jennifer gave me were worth some sort of mention.

The first was a tuna-less tuna fish sandwich.

sammich

Made with nuts, spices, fresh vegetables, this was supposed to be the equivalent to a tuna sandwich, but really wasn’t, which was fine by me. I’ve never cared much for tuna. It used to be I’d crave a tuna sandwich about once a year, but that’s been ten years now.

I haven’t had a tuna sandwich in ages, but this was pretty good. It was slightly salty with an earthy sort of flavor, but had a meaty texture to it. This was not tofu or textured protein, but something made from nuts.

I liked it, actually, even if it wasn’t a tuna copy. I would prefer it over tuna, but that’s a pretty low bar to stumble over.

Next came the Bento box.

bento

This was a mix of different salads (one of them was a kale salad) and a cashew cheese pate that was pretty wonderful. I liked it enough to share it with a couple of co-workers. Doug liked it. Dawn did not.

When I ran out of veggie sticks to eat it with, I got a spoon.

Finally, there was the veggie tacos.

taco

This was the plate I thought was the most dubious –a cold taco made of veggies and walnut taco meat –but once I got past the idea of it not being the usual hot, greasy tacos I get at Taco Bell, it worked for me.

It had a good southwestern kind of flavor. The veggies were crisp and yes, it tasted an awful lot like your garden variety taco.

I ate this after I finished the bento box. I don’t apologize. I’m a big guy, and even if I’m eating vegan stuff these days, it still takes a bit to fill me up.

Anyway, Mission Savvy had some good stuff. I’ll probably head back at some point. You can only eat veggie subs from Subway for so long.

Going Vegan: Vegan fail

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The thing about getting snowed in was it provided me with the opportunity to try some new things. Usually, breakfast is a half a cup of oats, 3 tablespoons of flax seeds, a handful of walnuts and some dried fruit.

I throw in some cinnamon and some sort of sweetener, and it’s pretty good, has a nice chunk of my daily recommended allowance of protein, but it can be sort of monotonous.

However, it’s fast. About two minutes in the microwave.

With plenty of time to cook, I thought I’d try out some of the fake meat and make a batch of apple fritter rings (The recipe was on Facebook).

sausage
Vegan sausage. Yay!

The good news is they look like sausage. The bad news is they don’t taste much like actual sausage, and they aren’t vegan. I figured that out after looking up the nutritional information for this blog post.

Sigh…

Purchased in the very elaborate healthy foods frozen section of the really nice Kroger’s, they certainly looked like what I was looking for. Made with mycoprotein (that’s protein derived from fungus), I thought I was getting an interesting treat for breakfast, but it also contains some egg white.

Once again, you have to read every single label. Just because the box says meatless and Non-GMO, and just because it’s found next to other similar products that are vegan, doesn’t make it OK.

Ah well, it’s not like the point of this was to see if I could go without for 30 days. The point was to try and adapt to the lifestyle and lots of vegans run into the same problem –you eat something that has some sort of animal product in it you didn’t expect.

It’s really kind of a hassle to constantly have to look.

But, it’s not like this is where I quit. Nope.

So, I tossed the rest of the box –and I tossed the beef patties, made by the same company because they also use egg whites.

At least, my beer is OK.

Anyway, I didn’t like the sausage. It was dry, had a weird texture, and a lingering aftertaste.

Maybe I’ll like the clearly marked Vegan Boca Burger -chicken patty things.

What I did like was this:

rings1
Junk food done right!

There is nothing healthy about apple ring fritters. My doctor would not approve, would probably remind me that blood pressure sucks, and that my blood work suggests I have more Ben and Jerry’s coursing through my veins than actual blood, but they were crazy easy to make.

You slice a couple of tart apples –Granny Smith works nicely. Slice through the core until you’ve got a stack of apple coins. Then take a small melon ball scoop (I, being your average dude, do not own a melon ball scoop. I don’t even like melons. So, I used the cap of a salt shaker) and remove the centers, which contain piece of the core.

In a mixing bowl, dump in about a cup and a half of flour, a teaspoon of cinnamon (more or less according to taste), and then a little over half a can of Sprite (the recipe on Facebook calls for Ginger Ale. I did not have Ginger Ale. I had Sprite and it worked fine).

Mix until you have a batter, adding flour or soda until you have something slightly thinner than pancake batter.

In a medium size skillet, heat a couple cups of oil (or use a fry daddy if you got one) over medium heat.

Coat rings individually (use a fork to flip them in the batter) and then drop them in the heated oil. I was only able to get about four in the skillet at a time.

Heat for about five minutes or so and then using a different fork, flip them in the oil.

rings2
Donuts!

Anyway, they turned out pretty good. The recipe I saw called for dusting with powdered sugar, but I didn’t have any of that. Dipping them in maple syrup was a possibility, but seemed excessive under the circumstances.

They were pretty oily.

Anyway, I ate a bunch of them and then shoveled my driveway.

 

Going Vegan: cornbread

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Well, results for my vegan baking were sort of mixed.

cb1
Not exactly Martha White’s best moment.

On the one hand, it tasted very much like regular cornbread.The chia seed-based egg substitute helped bond everything together and using soy milk instead of the barely nutritive Hawaiian Tropic-flavored coconut milk gave it a decent flavor, but the bread did not rise, not at all.

cb2
My Aunt Joyce would weep.

So, it had the right flavor, but was very dense.

I followed the directions on the bag, as far as the mix, just allowing for the substitutions, but wonder if maybe the leavening agents need the egg or cow’s milk or something to react to? Or do I maybe need to add more baking powder or baking soda or something?

It tasted fine, of course. The cornbread worked with my crock pot of brown beans.

I was just a little disappointed.

Going Vegan: Snowpocalypse 2016!

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silly snow pic

 

Like a lot of people (most people) in Charleston, before impending snowstorms, I tend to race out to the store to load up on essentials. That always seems to be the time when I remember I’m just about out of toilet paper –and yeah, I usually grab a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and a loaf of some kind of bread.

Not this time.

Mostly…

Because I expected I’d have some time on my hands, I collected a couple of vegan “meat” products to try.

I almost bought the coconut milk or soy-based ice cream, but that stuff is like five bucks a pint! My baser, stingier nature took over and said, “Bill, you could spend five bucks on some ice cream you know nothing about –and remember, it’s winter –or you could go back to Drug Emporium and for two dollars more, you could get some Big Timber Porter.”

DSC00102

It was an easy decision.

Still, over the next couple of days, I’ll be posting my thoughts on some of the things I bought (not the beer. I think that’s already covered).

But the fake meat is something I only have a passing familiarity with.

As I’ve said before, I was a very lousy vegetarian in college. I ate some of the Morning Star Farms products, which weren’t bad. I didn’t eat a lot of them, though. I remember liking the chicken patties (which I covered in cheese) and hating the fake bacon.

For this month, I’ve actually stayed away from the faux meat stuff, mostly, sticking with beans, nuts, and grains. It just sort of seems kind of weird to opt not to eat meat for ethical reasons, but then choose to eat something that is specifically crafted to imitate the flavor and texture of it.

true blood
Available next to the Tofurky.

During my grocery run, I also picked up a couple of new varieties of apples and some soy milk to help with vegan baking.

Funny thing: During the last 22 days, the only real craving I’ve had has been for cornbread –not steak, not General Tsao’s Chicken or barbecued ribs –but plain old cornbread.

So, today, we’re going to make cornbread.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Going Vegan: Pancakes!

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While I haven’t been overly concerned about missing obvious things like hamburger and bacon, I have wondered about some of the stuff nobody thinks of as being non-Vegan.

Yesterday, we said good-bye to Terri, one of our copy editors, who took a job out of state, and as is tradition, a cake was brought in to sort of commemorate the event (these are some times called “cake wakes”).

It was a very pretty cake, and being a large American, I like cake, but under the new rules, I cannot have cake. Cake contains milk and eggs. The frosting is (probably) made with butter.

So, after some nice words were said and Terri was made to cut the cake, I stepped away from the baked goods, went back to my desk, and finished whatever I was working on.

I didn’t really mind, but it did sort of illustrate the kinds of things that you can’t eat as a vegan. It’s not just the main dishes, but you have to be careful about the sides and desserts.

I know… seems like a lot of work.

But… there are options out there. You don’t have to give everything up.

Around the time I bought my vitamins, I picked up an egg substitute called The Neat Egg. Made with garbanzo beans and Chia seeds, it didn’t look like much –just a grayish powder.

I’d been planning to use it to make pancakes for a couple of weeks, but had my doubts about whether it would work. Who wants to eat garbanzo bean flavored pancakes? Sounds disgusting.

But I finally got around to trying it out today. I mixed The Neat Egg according to the instructions and then added my basic ingredients for pancakes.

The color was slightly off –probably because I opted to use vegetable oil instead of my vegan butter –but they tasted wonderful.

Yes, Virginia, you can still be a vegan and eat pancakes!
Yes, Virginia, you can still be a vegan and eat pancakes!

And this was even with the crummy coconut/almond milk blend I used.

I drenched the pancakes in syrup and served them with cooked apples.

The 10-year-old picky eater who doesn’t much like my cooking to begin with had seconds.

“These are good,” he said.

Next time, I’ll try them with the meatless sausage.