Post-Collegiate Life Lessons: Chevy Chase Edition

When I was kid, my mom would take Baby Sister and I to Blockbuster every Friday and let us rent five videos for family viewing over the weekend.  The break down of the rentals usually went something like this – 1.  New Release, generally action or family-friendly comedy, 2.  Children’s Movie, selected by Baby Sister and automatically disdained by me on the mere virtue of being the selection of a younger child, 3.  1930s-1960s Movie Musical, because I was that kind of a kid, and 4/5. Classic Comedies, culled from Blockbuster’s back shelves.  I would spend a significant amount of time going back up and down the aisles, trying to curate the perfect viewing experience.  My mom (or occasionally my dad, when he had the odd Friday off) would casually suggest that Animal House or Blazing Saddles might be a good pick and then I would be instantly hooked, spending the following weekends trying to watch the rest of the Brooks oeuvre or researching in my Maltin guide what other films the original SNL cast had produced.

A Friday in 1998 that stands out to me, even amongst so many nights of picking up movies that would find their way on my best-of lists for years to come, was the night that Post Collegiate Dad suggested we try a Chevy Chase double feature – Fletch and Spies Like Us.  I knew Chevy from the Griswold flicks and had recently seen Caddyshack for the first time, although I was more taken with Bill Murray’s Carl, dropping “it’s in the hole, it’s in the hole!” into most of my casual conversations.  But up to this point in my life, Chevy Chase was Clark Griswold and nothing more.

That Chase double-feature night changed everything.  I’m not sure if anything I had encountered in my life up to that point.  Whether it was Fletch insisting his name was Babar and that he didn’t have any elephant books or the entire “Doctor” exchange that I still reference in my daily interactions with the doctors here, that night made me a Chase devotee.  I was too young and too uninformed to know about the problems with employers, drugs, ego, and on-set difficulties – all I knew was that he was Chevy Chase and we were not and it was hilarious.

Harboring plenty of good will left from his 80’s classics, I was excited when I learned that Chase was going to be part of Community.  Throughout the past three seasons, the character of Pierce Hawthorne has been sometimes difficult to take but the show has provided a seemingly ideal outlet for Chase’s talent – physical comedy, a blissful lack of self-awareness paired with an overstuffed ego, and misguided bantering.  Watching Pierce try to slip in an Eartha Kitt sex story reference into each of the timelines of the episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” (it came up organically!), I really felt a glimmer of the old magic that made me want to dust off my Three Amigos VHS.

It saddens me to see the recent rumblings of discord between Chase and creator/executive producer Dan Harmon.  I am not as unaware as I use to be and I know that this is just one in a long line of professional disputes that Chase has been involved in that will likely result in his leaving the show, but I am still just as disappointed.  While I often try to ignore the behind-the-scenes antics and personalities when evaluating my pop culture intake, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to do so as the creative process is shared in real time over social media and spread so quickly over the Internet.

With that said, I also can’t help but feel that hopefully a few lessons can be learned from Chevy Chase’s most recent professional troubles, one that may well-serve those fresh out of college and diving into their first few jobs:

  • Be careful who you say things to.  Part of Chase’s job is promotion – Community has never been a ratings powerhouse, so each cast member has been deployed generously to talk to reporters and journalists ranging from major publications to tiny entertainment blogs to help drive buzz.  This means that even the most casual quip or jibe made about his time on the set has been repeated, circulated, and quoted ad nauseum.  What may have been a careless remark about a gag or joke he didn’t like has now become gospel just by sheer repetition.  This just as true for office gossip, whether or not your office is on-set.
  • Don’t take things at the work place too seriously.  Maybe you and your boss don’t get along great or perhaps one of your coworkers tends to exclude you from lunch outings.  Sometimes it’s best not to let life at work upset your actual life outside of work.  While Chase could take the mature route and ignore what he perceives as slights and attacks from Harmon, he is only adding fuel to the fire by taking things personally.  It’s a paycheck and sometimes, that’s all it has to be, especially if you’re good at what you’re doing.
  • It’s prudent not to bad mouth your boss, especially in public.  And at the end of the day, it’s your boss who makes sure that paycheck keeps coming.  When you do have a problem, it’s always best to go straight to the source and try to have a measured, calm conversation.  Airing your grievances publicly, even after you’ve left your job, only makes you look bad and burns bridges behind you.
  • Try not to make the same mistakes twice.  The most aggravating aspect of this debacle is that Chase has done all of the above multiple times in the past.  This most current conflict, likely exacerbated by Harmon’s own prickly personality, could have been avoided if Chase had tried to learn from his previous mistakes.

What do you think?  Is my affection for the comedy genius clouding my judgement on this one?  Have you ever had some Chase-like moments of unprofessional behavior?  Still not sure what Community is?  Leave it in the comments!


Lady Hero: Lena Dunham

New York Magazine

Let’s just get straight down to real talk – I love Lena Dunham.  I have loved her since my first of multiple viewings of Tiny Furniture and I have been breathlessly anticipating her HBO-debut with Girls.  Dunham, despite being two years my junior  (insert depressing parenthetical thought about how my life is disappearing before my eyes), has an innate ability to translate the actual reality of life for many twenty-something women and project in a way that’s affecting, hilarious, and poignant.

The best thing about Girls’ impending debut (Sunday, April 15th, mark your calendars!) is that there has been a wealth of great features on the fascinating Ms. Dunham.  In a full-length profile at New York Magazine, Emily Nussbaum perfectly encapsulates how many Millennial females may feel about Dunhams – “an unstable blend of worship, envy, and disdain, particularly from her peers, some of whom resented her ‘voice of a generation’ press. ”  For many of us, Dunham is the voice of a generation – or at least “a voice, of a generation” as her Girls character, Hannah, reasons in the show’s trailer.

Nussbaum also uses Dunham’s comfort with her body on-screen, her ability to parade around half-dressed or in painfully-real sex scenes that negate the Hollywood ideal of a pencil-thin twig with fake breasts showing strategic side-boob as perfectly natural sexual representations.  As the article points out,

“[She] films herself nude, with her skin breaking out, her belly in folds, chin doubled, or flat on her back with her feet in a gynecologist’s stirrups. These scenes shouldn’t shock, but they do, if only because in a culture soaked in Photoshop and Botox, few powerful women open themselves up so aggressively to the judgment of voyeurs.”

Amen, sister friend!

From Tiny Furniture (2010)

Over at The New Yorker, Lorrie Moore features our favorite multi-hyphenate on the Culture Desk, highlighting Dunham’s ability to find comedy in life’s depressing moments.  The piece includes a great conversation lifted from the pilot that so eerily echoes conversations I’ve had with my own parents, I almost wonder if Dunham was accidentally copied on a mass email to friends.

In a recent piece in the Village Voice, where she is described as a “humble narcissist, chronic oversharer, and compulsive exhibitionist”, Dunham shares some of her favorite girls on film, further convincing me that she and I were destined to be spiritual soul mates.  For a film series she’s curating at BAM, Dunham chose such smart and clever representations of young women, ranging from The Craft to The Last Days of Disco to Clueless to This Is My Life. If you haven’t seen all four of these, get thee to your Netflix queue!

New York Magazine

Sure, maybe there’s a little bit of Dunham media saturation going on and maybe the hype of Girls will inevitably invite some backlash from the Interweb denizens who can’t bring themselves to enjoy a good thing, but just as Gawker snarks, “As a 20-something female narcissist currently making a ton of mistakes in [life], am going to watch the shit out of it.”

Profiles in Post-Collegiate Courage: Lianna Carrera

New blog feature! For the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring interviews with interesting post-collegiates who will be sharing some of their experiences and offer some advice.   Want to nominate someone to be featured (including yourself)?  Email postcollegiateblog [at] gmail [dotcom]

As many of you know from my first post, I graduated from a small single-sex college in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  One of the greatest legacies of my time in college is all the fabulous, fascinating women I had the opportunity to know and, for my money, there are few as funny as comedian Lianna Carrera.  The gay daughter of a Southern Baptist minister and a deaf mom, Lianna’s comedy is uniquely rooted in her personal life experience yet totally relatable – and hilarious!

Inquiring minds want to know who Lianna Carrera is.  Feel free to throw in a random facts – I love random facts!

I am currently a professional stand-up comedian based in Chicago, IL.  I earned my undergraduate degree from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, VA with a major in Political Science.  Random Fact: I love quaint flower shops. Nothing makes me happier than arranging seasonal-bloom flowers in a mason jar.

What was your initial life plan on the day you graduated from R-MWC?

To get a job that would pay the bills while I navigated the prospect of pursuing art professionally.  This included interviewing for several nine to fives.

In the last three post-collegiate years, what things have you done that were not part of your plan?

Touring internationally was something I never realized I’d be able to do.  It’s pretty surreal when you find yourself walking about in a totally different culture and thinking “I’m getting paid for this?” I also didn’t think I would ever be a “writer” – certainly not sitcoms or film. As I sit down to write these days, I often wish I would have taken more English or Creative Writing classes in college.  I wonder if I should have studied script writing in my undergraduate years. Alas, if a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his ass when he hops either.  [Ed.note – This is my father’s absolute favorite adage.  High five!]

What paths have you wanted to pursue but haven’t yet and why?

I am really looking forward to moving to LA!  I’ve spent the last year touring and building experience so that when I do arrive in LA, I’m better prepared for it.  Incidentally, I am moving there at the end of August to give it a go.

What have been the greatest challenges in your life after college?

I think it’s been wrapping my head around the fact that things don’t happen overnight.  It’s a precarious balance – having that drive to change the world, but accepting that sometimes changing the world happens in baby-steps.

I’m a big believer in crazy, random happenstance.  Do you have any examples of that in your life since college?

I do believe life is a series of random happenstance.  That might be the very definition of it.  I found myself interning in Chicago for someone who eventually gave me the opportunity to write a spec script for 30 Rock on NBC.  I’ve purchased a hamburger from the Improv from the bookie who eventually gave me a spot to perform on stage.  I’ve performed comedy on the streets and been spotted by someone who happens to own a prominent magazine and expressed interest in doing a spread. It’s all happenstance, really. It is about putting yourself out there. You never know what the universe has in store for you when you do.

Not many people graduate college with the career goal to become a stand-up comedian.  What are the benefits and challenges of taking on a less-traditional career path?

When you’re talking about a less-traditional career path, the first thing you’ve got to accept is that the challenges are the benefits.  If you’ve got grandiose dreams of becoming an overnight sensation, good!  Keep that spirit alive because it will fuel you on many occasions.  But know that there are going to be more days when you’re broke than not, more days when you feel dejected than not, more times where you sacrifice than you don’t.  With that said, there are many a-ha moments as an artist that make all those trials worth it.  It’s not the destination but the journey where you will find the most joy. When you figure that out, you’re golden.

Resisting the urge to give it all up for a more traditional idea of ‘normalcy’ is definitely another challenge.  To pretend it’s not wouldn’t be honest.  I have moments where I catch myself wondering if I need to pack it all in for a steady paycheck.  Maybe get married, buy a house in Vermont (I’ve never been to Vermont but it seems nice enough).  Maybe have a few kids and take lots of pictures of my kids eating cake and upload them to Facebook.  Buy a grill, a boat, watch my wife grow her garden.  That kind of life is surely tempting.  Honestly, it sounds and feels beautiful. As an artist rigorously pursuing a less-traditional career path, I know one day that life will come, but the longing to go away and make it happen right this instant has always a bit of a pull for me.

You’ve definitely been an inspiration to those that have the good fortune to know you personally.  What advice would you give to others hoping to pursue creative outlets professionally?

Understand that we all have this voice inside of us telling us we can’t. And if you keep putting it off until tomorrow, you won’t. The War of Art is one book that really does a great job of examining this issue; the author delves into the idea that we as artists allow ourselves to succumb to an inner-resistance.  That we find all kinds of excuses to put off what it is that we know we are being led to do.  It teaches the artist how to recognize this resistance and disarm it. The book gives a pretty powerful example that often surfaces in my mind when I am procrastinating.  The author writes:

“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist.  At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study.  He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture.  Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I.  Resistance beat him.  Call it overstatement, but it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

That’s pretty powerful stuff.  So my greatest advice is to live up to your calling, even if you have to do it kicking and screaming away from expectations being placed on you or the self-imposed limitations you are placing on yourself.  Believe you can do it, because you can.  Surround yourself with people who edify and inspire you, who hold your feet to the fire; who check in to make sure you’re making moves to get where you want to be.  And build others up.  It is a scorned artist who puts others down to justify sating their own resistance.  Do not do that to someone else.

As for you, recognize the difference between making a plan to accomplish your goal and making plans that are safe; plans that you carefully lay out to temporarily sate the ache in your gut of wondering what a life more abundant would look and feel and be and taste like, if you went for it.

Final question – if you could go back and tell yourself anything on your graduation day, what would you say?

You are more prepared than you think, you are more ready than you know.  But you also don’t know shit.   Keep an open mind.  Make sure that in all that you do, you speak in love.  Be earnest, be honest, be humble and leave entitlements at the door.  Protect your heart.  Use your gifts more than you dream about them.

Many thanks to Lianna for agreeing to be our first featured post-collegiate!  If you are in the Chicago area, you can catch her at the Gorilla Tango Theatre on July 25th at 7pm for the very funny Father, Son, and Holy Gay (or Where in the World is Jennifer Knapp).  Visit her website for additional upcoming performances and hilarious video footage of Lianna in action.  You can also become a fan on Facebook and follow her on Twitter!  Feel free to leave additional questions for Lianna in the comments section!