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.)