So Much FunCon

On June 5, 2012 by Eden M. Kennedy

I went to MaxFunCon again this year and I’m not even sure where to begin.

Saturday I got to sit at breakfast with Bill Corbett. (If you’re a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 you might be dying a little right now because Bill was the voice of Crow T. Robot.) Bill and his wife, Virginia, came to the reading Alice and I did in Minneapolis last year and he laughed, loudly, in all the right places. Bill is the tops. (Bill’s Rifftrax partner, Kevin Murphy, is not pictured, but he is also the tops. They are co-tops.)

About six months ago I cobbled together a small life list which included the item “take an improv class.” Since Maggie (who’d prompted me to make the list in the first place) was with me this weekend along with Alice (from whom I’d stolen the idea of putting an improv class on my life list), and both of them had signed up for the improv class, all three of us (along with Alice’s husband, Scott) went together.

The class was taught with kindness and simplicity by Jordan Morris, and it wasn’t due to any defect in his teaching that I fell flat on my face (metaphorically) several times. In fact it taught me a good lesson: don’t try to be funny. When I stopped trying, I actually got a couple of laughs but, wow. Developing a character, a relationship, a location, and an obstacle on the spot with two or more people is nuts.

I had originally signed up for the pub quiz after lunch, but I guess I wasn’t really in the mood for the nap-inducing effects of mid-day drinking and trivia, so I decided to crash the artisanal pencil sharpening class instead. “Crash” is probably a little strong for what I did; “audit” would be more accurate.

Artisanal pencil sharpening may sound to some like the apex of dandyism, but believe me, David Rees is somewhat dead serious about the art of using a box cutter to carefully shave a shaft of yellow-painted, eraser-tipped cedar to a lethal point. It was satisfying as well as somewhat frustrating and awkward, as learning a new skill can be (cf: improv), and it left me with a lot of questions. At one point David posited that the act of carefully sharpening a pencil and then destroying it through use could be viewed as an exercise in futility, and I wanted to raise my hand and say, But isn’t use an act of love? Don’t we transfer, though the labor of sharpening and wearing the pencil down as it transports our thoughts to paper, a bit of ourselves into this humble tool? You’ve sharpened 600 pencils and call yourself an expert, but didn’t George Leonard say that only after you’ve done something a thousand times can you call yourself a master? But because I was just auditing, David charged me a dollar every time I asked a question. I only had three singles so after asking some basic points of instruction I pretty much had to shut up. Also, I didn’t want to be a dick.

I did most of my sharpening sitting on a bench next to Maria Bamford, who as you can see sharpened her pencil to a tremendous and frightening point. She gave David $5 so she got to ask more questions.

The morning and afternoon speakers this year were Mary Roach and Susan Orlean, both of whom had blurbed Let’s Panic!, so it was a tremendous honor to have two women of their stature treat us like peers. We’re not, of course, but they don’t know that (shhh).

I also got a little contact high from shaking John Hodgman‘s hand and having him tell me he loved my license plate.

(Here’s my post from last year.)



14 Responses to “So Much FunCon”

  • Maria Bamford! Come on! I think she is such a hoot. My sister and I actually communicated w/her mom on email (for some reason Maria posted her mom’s email address on her website) and she was also a gracious, funny lady. Lucky duck — and artisanal pencil sharpening skills to boot! Sounds like a great wknd.

  • Take an improv class is also on my list and one of my 5 for this year… I will be sure to bring friends. Sounds like a fun weekend!

  • That sounds way fun. So glad you posted. What cool people-all at one place, huh? Sounds lovely.

    I can’t really get over the fact that other people share my pencil sharpening fetish. Can’t you give me more details about the sharpening and how they did it? I don’t mean this in a sick way…but yeah, I do want to try this at home. Box cutter did you say?

    • I believe David Rees talks about many different techniques in his book, How to Sharpen Pencils, but until my copy comes I can only tell you about the boxcutter method. Get a simple boxcutter, which is just a long handle with a razor blade poking out at one end. Hold the pencil in your non-dominant hand and then put your thumb along the shaft at the top (non eraser end) of the pencil. Starting at about a knuckle’s length down, use the boxcutter to carefully shave off just the paint of the pencil. Then slowly, without gouging, shave down to the graphite. Then keep shaving until a good length of graphite is exposed. Then you actually sharpen the graphite by rubbing it against sandpaper. (I forget how sandpapers are graded, but it was something like 30? Maybe? Not too fine, not too gritty.)

      He also showed us an amazing European pencil sharpener that cost $400. So, it’s an inexpensive pursuit for the most part, unless you’re buying European pencil sharpeners.

      • Thank you so much. It is such a strange thing to have this little quirk–a love of a certain type of sharpened pencil–and then find that someone has invented a ridiculously expensive machine to satisfy that quirk.

        I gave out pencils at my wedding. I worked at one university that had amazingly well sharpened pencils in the library (for FREE!) and I missed that perk more than any other.

        But it makes me a bit sad, too. Artisinal pencils? God forbid.

        I predict this is the next episode of Portlandia.

  • Your license plate is pretty cool, but I think you’ll agree mine is rad too: MST3K. My husband’s dream came true when we bought those plates. We’ve moved states and those plates are going to end up on the wall of his office.

  • Please tell me the pencil sharpening class was just something you made up as part of your stand up routine. Please?

  • So much coolness! I just don’t know where to start.