Category Archives: Writer

Actor, Writer and Greek God Kevin Sorbo

Kevin Sorbo, Greek God.

Kevin Sorbo (web|wiki) is an actor, writer, and the nicest Greek God I’ve ever met. Born in Mound, MN, he attended Minnesota State University Moorhead before he realized he could do literally anything else – and so he went west. There he became famous for the title role in Hercules: The Legendary Journey (’95-’99) and, later, as … someone… in Andromeda (’00-’05).

When I met Mr. Sorbo at the 2011 Twin Cities Book Festival speaking about his memoir True Strength, I’ll admit that I expected the worst. Even as an outsider I knew him only as “Hercules” and presumed he, like a long list of others in similar positions, would actively distance himself from the role(s) that made him famous. Oh was I wrong. Leaning on the podium, unscripted, Mr. Sorbo casually chatted with the audience, gladly answering the questions fired at him ranging from “What was it like to have a stroke – and how did it affect your sex life?” to “Tell us about Kull the Conquerer”, which isn’t even a question.

I can only imagine what kind of questions he gets at conventions.

Enjoy!

Why this giraffe has a water hose for a leg, I don’t know. (I’ll let this disability modulation slide, though, since Mr. Sorbo is such a nice guy).

John Hodgman

Author and Comedian John Hodgman

John Hodgman is a comedian and writer whose most recent book is That is All (2011). Odds are you have probably seen him on The Daily Show or may recall the fact that he played the “Windows PC” on those “I’m a Mac; and I’m a PC” commercials. If those are the only mediums you know him from, I would encourage you to check out his contributions to NPR’s This American Life, which are actually pretty good.

Recently Mr. Hodgman (wiki; Twitter) did a show in Morris, MN, and even though I was unable to make the first two hours (I had to speak at a banquet) I was able to cut the drive back a bit short and make the last 45 minutes or so. Unfortunately, after the show when I was approaching him for a giraffe, my colleague Lucas Felts beat me to the punch – and what was I supposed to do? Ask for a second giraffe?

Please.

Let’s not flood the Hodgman giraffe market, now.

He's trying to look grumpy. I just have chronic grump-face.

So I simply sunk away, thinking that I would never get a chance to share a few words with one of my favorite comedians (I was actually invited to have lunch with him before the show but couldn’t make it as I was at the aforementioned banquet). After hanging around long enough chatting with friends, I ran into someone I knew who was Mr. Hodgman’s guide around campus and he was willing to let me into Mr. Hodgman’s green room  to get an autograph.

This is the conversation as I recall it; I assure you it is neither interesting nor funny. If anything, it provides insight into how awful of a conversationalist I am (hence this website’s ability for me to BS small talk).

Closing the door behind me, I leaned in to shake his hand: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, John.” As the words slip from my lips, my inner Southern Gentleman regrets being so informal. Who am I to refer to him by his first name? It’s not like we’re friends. I’m just some dude. Now I feel like I have to overcompensate: “Uh, well … I was hoping you could sign my copy of … The Chomsky-Foucault Debate (2006).”

He looks at it for a moment, silent.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t actually own a copy of your book,” I say. It was either Chomsky-Foucault, which is actually a pretty good read, or Augustine’s Confessions.

Studying the cover, “Of course. In fact, I shall sign it in this orange crayon that happens to be lying right here.”

Yeah, we’re clearly a public school.

"Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault ... And John Hodgman"

Unable to think of an exciting question, I remembered that he had referenced in his set the fact that he went to Yale. “When you studied at your own accredited four-year institution, what was it you studied?”

“I studied literary studies, so this isn’t exactly too far removed of what I did. I don’t remember this debate specifically, but it was this kind of stuff that came up a lot.”

“Yeah, well I would like to thank you for taking the time to sign my book. Also, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your show … even though I didn’t feel as though there were enough Foucault references.”

Hell, there aren’t enough Foucault references in general.

“Oh ….”

“… So it goes, I guess.”

“Well, next time I’m around I’ll be sure to throw some in just for you.”

“I’d really appreciate that. It was a pleasure meeting you, sir, and I’ll be sure to get out of your hair because I know you have to fly out in the morning.”

We snap a photograph. He makes an effort to appear grumpy. I have chronic grump-face and can’t help it.

“It was nice meeting you, sir.”

“It was a pleasure meeting you as well.”

And that’s the time I told John Hodgman he didn’t reference Michel Foucault enough.

Also, it was when I realized that tea cup pigs are freaking adorable.

An Awful Giraffe Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci

Polymath and “Painter” Leonardo da Vinci,

On this Friday the 13th I thought it would be appropriate to post a particularly awful giraffe, and as I began searching my files I received an email. Innocently enough, I unsuspectingly opened it to find the most … I can’t even find the words. How does one describe the failed efforts of the most gifted polymath that has ever lived, Leonardo da Vinci? Do I posthumously congratulate him for the effort? Do I lie down and hope the nausea goes away? Do I try and mobilize Pretty Awful Giraffe-ites to contact the Louvreand have this mockery removed?

“Painter”? Yeah, and I’m Queen Latifah (I’m not Queen Latifah)

I think I’ll go with the second option and let Mr. Lucas Rayala take the wheel from here:

This well-known painting by LDV, while beloved by many in the world, is in fact a very horrible attempt to draw a giraffe.  Perhaps the worst ever.  While the neck length approaches believability, the snout is completely wrong, utterly failing to incorporate the mouth and nose in a cohesive semblance of an ungulate mammals jaw structure.  Intended to be a picture of a giraffe standing on its hind legs and eyeing a leafy branch somewhere behind the viewer, the front hooves have been mangled and forced into a crossed pattern to amateurishly fit inside the canvas space.  Also, proper giraffes are two-toed, not four (or five?!) as LDV depicts.  This beast’s habitat has been purposefully blurred in the background because LDV, despite his much-flaunted intellect, was obviously uncertain of its native environment.

I think I’m going to be sick.

Theoretical Physicist Lawrence Krauss Awful Giraffe 4 23 11

Theoretical Physicist and Author Lawrence Krauss

In light of the holiday season I thought I would treat everyone to a gift that has been sitting in the giraffe library for quite a while. Unfortunately, there is no exciting, adventure-filled story behind this as Dr. Krauss simply said, “Everything I do is better than Kaku” when I showed him Michio Kaku’s Uni-giraffe (he really doesn’t like that I guy), but you be the judge!

Theoretical Physicist Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss (wiki; web) is a theoretical physicist who teaches at Arizona State University and is the director of its Origins Project. Perhaps best known for his book The Physics of Star Trek (1995), Krauss is a popularizer of science who has written editorials in many publications and is a frequent guest on National Public Radio’s “Science Friday”. In January 2012 he has a book coming out that will address why there is something rather than nothing; in fact, in A Universe from Nothing he will make the case that “not only can something arise from nothing, something will always arise from nothing.”

Seems straightforward enough.

Though sometimes nothing is better than something.

David Eagleman's Pretty Awful Giraffe

Neuroscientist and Author David Eagleman

Dr. David Eagleman

Let me begin by saying that if you ever get the chance to meet Dr. David Eagleman (1) he is one of the coolest guys ever to just sit around and shoot the breeze with and (2) it may seem like a joke when he corrects your calling him “Mr. Eagleman” to “Dr. Eagleman” but he is totally serious (trust me on this). Unfortunately, my hoodie-wearing professors at my small public liberal arts college have corrupted my understanding of hierarchy, which I am slowly learning will likely lead to my inevitable inability to secure long-term employment.

(Note: it is not uncommon for me to refer to my Ph.D.-wielding professors as “Doc”, “Supreme Commander”, “Citizen”, etc. In fact, I am certain that I could have avoided some of the awkward moments between Dr. Eagleman and I had I simply referred to him by the latter title. I mean, Citizen Eagleman sounds like it should come with a slice of apple pie as the national anthem plays in the background.)

But I’ve digressed.

Dr. David Eagleman (web; twitter) is a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action and Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. He author of four books (with two more forthcoming) including the bestsellers Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (2009) and Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (2011) and has written for an array of publications including Slate Magazine, New Scientist and Discover Magazine. In addition, when he is not studying synesthesia, time perception, and the intersections of neuroscience and law he spends his free time being a Renaissance Man by geographically mapping Asp Caterpillar populations and the symptoms of their venom, inventing philosophy, and drawing giraffa camelopardalis.

Actually, as I write this I am beginning to realize why he stresses the prefix before his name – it’s an act of humility.

He must know that he could easily get away with being called The All-Knowing Dr. David Eagleman, Keeper of Time and Multi-Sensation.

Michael Shermer's Awful Giraffe

Writer and Editor Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer (web; twitter) is a humanist/atheist/nontheist/skeptic thinker best known for his seventeen books on psychology, biology, history, and … cycling, the former of which includes the popular Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (2002) and his most recent The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths (2011). In addition, Shermer is the editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine and also writes a monthly column for Scientific American. So, as you can probably infer, if you give this guy a pen, he will probably return it completely drained – along with an essay.

Approaching him at a convention in Fargo, ND, Shermer was happy to contribute though with the proviso that he have full artistic license to do as he wished. Having no problem with this, I let him do as he wished. After a matter of minutes he returned my notebook with what I can only call a classic. Unlike his giraffe-drawing contemporaries, Shermer saw this as an intellectual challenge; instead of just creating a reflection of the social construction we call a “giraffe” he broke it down to its barest essence. And while I am by no standard (but my own) an art critic, I do believe Shermer to be a noble successor to Duchamp and contemporary of Damien Hirst.

This is the future of art.

… And what a sad future it is.

Ben Greenman's Pretty Awful Giraffe

Writer and Editor Ben Greenman

Ben Greeman (web; wiki) is a staff journalist whose writings have appeared in Rolling Stone, Mother Jones and The New Yorker (the last of which he actually serves on the staff of). Besides publishing several books of his own fiction he is the ghostwriter of both Gene Simmons and Simon Cowell’s memoirs. Lastly, he really really really wanted his giraffe posted and was willing to tolerate my general procrastination.

On May 9, 2011, during the great Golden Age of GDBPWSNBDG I received a pleasant surprise in my inbox shortly after I invited him to contribute via Twitter (because, like many reasonable people, he was confused by the blog’s thesis). He wrote,

Hi. I found your site and am now submitting a giraffe. I was going to
use pencil and paper, or chalk and chalkboard, or pen and ink and
paper, but instead i used a cheap program I have on my iPhone called
SimpleDraw. Let me know if it doesn’t pass muster or if there’s
something else you need me to do with it. Once I was in Africa,
because my brother used to work there, and I saw a real giraffe. It
was pretty impressive and bizarre. They probably look at us and think
the same thing, that we have impossibly short necks and completely
un-alien ears and eyes.

He’s an artist, I thought, aware of the Conceptual Art Registry he invented to license out conceptual art pieces to young artists, and he’s breaking the mold! Revolutionary!

And then I saw it.

Ok.

Of course I know very little about art and, without judging, move forward with every intent to post it. Tomorrow.

Next thing I know it’s August 29, 2011, and as I sift through my email I realize something must have slipped my mind.

HI — just wanted to see if you ever posted this giraffe…

It’s really the ellipses that cause the guilt to flow over me. Feeling terribly rude, I try my best to make amends:

Hey Ben,

I would like to begin by apologizing for the four month delay in posting your giraffe. Though in my defense, like a fine wine such work knows only how to age with the utmost grace and beauty – why settle for a $3 bottle of Tisdale when one can have something that I, being an impoverished college student, cannot even name? Upon reviewing your piece again I can see that the experts do not lie: magnificent!
Being in charge of this blog I kind of feel like it’s expected of me even if the humor is stale, stilted and just generally lame. But I try not to be too self-conscious of it and accept it for what it is – it’s just the opener: the beginning foreplay to a great consummation of comedy, if you will.
But in all seriousness: my bad. Most of the summer saw me whisked away and lately I’ve found myself busy with both school and working with a group to plan a conference around Richard Dawkins, which will be taking place in a small, white Lutheran town and thus will likely inflame the region. (Throwing shit at the fan actually requires a fair amount of planning, oddly enough). Unfortunately, this means I’ve had to slow down a bit with the website. Regardless, I’ll make sure your giraffe gets up very soon.
See? I’m not that big of a procrastinator; I have an excuse.
Is there anything else you would like to say about your contribution? Right now I expect I’ll just be writing up a brief blurb about who you are, what you do and include parts of this brief email exchange for humorous effect (hopefully; if that’s all right with you). I should also inform you that this is published in our campus newspaper and if The New Yorker wants to get in on this now is the time.
Josh
Another joke! Ha! A real knee slapper. Clearly I’m forcing myself to be silly since I’ve already explained that I’ll include our email exchange as part of the article and since it’s a humor site surely he’s going to say something equally silly and zany. Jest, Ben, jest with me! Together let us dance like monkeys for the masses!
cool.
here’s what I have to say about my contribution:I have a friend who recently had a baby. I want this crappy giraffe I draw to take over the world so that he and ever other baby thinks this is what giraffes really look like. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Today is September 23, 2011, and Ben writes:
did the giraffe ever run?
Robert Bly Giraffe

Poet and Author Robert Bly (And the Gary Snyder Incident)

Gary Snyder reading at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, MN.

On April 18, 2011, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and environmental activist Gary Snyder came to Minneapolis to do a reading of his work, and being a fan of his poetry I was sure the event was marked on my calendar, post-it noted on my laptop and entered into my phone the very day the news came out. When the date finally came, it just so happened that I was growing this blog and therefore thought the event would be an opportunity to get a big name. Unfortunately, having only received drawings from people generally-receptive to the idea, I naïvely walked into what would come to be a cold rejection from a personal hero.

Robert Bly is Pretty Fly*

Arriving early to the Plymouth Congregational Church early so that we could get seats near the front, my friend and I squandered away the time watching the crowd pour in. Then suddenly, I saw a familiar face come in; at the time I could not put my finger on it, but the man’s features and crop of snow-white hair reminded me of … someone. Was it Robert … Bly? I leaned forward to the people in front of me and asked, assuming (for whatever reason) that they might know; they didn’t. And lest I let the ambiguity fester, I pushed the question out of my head. Yet even as I tried to draw my attention elsewhere, I found my eyes wandering to where the man sat a few rows away.

Short of approaching the man and asking him who he was, I knew there was nothing I could do. That is until I remembered I was a youth in the 21st century, an era where speculation has effectively been eradicated: I pulled up his photo on my smart phone and compared the two. Yep, it was Robert Bly (website), a Minnesota author and poet with 50+ books under belt written over just as many years.

Poet Robert Bly drawing a giraffe.

When Gary Snyder’s 90-minute reading was over, I allowed myself to be carried with the crowd until I approached the man. Nervous, “Mr. Bly?”

In a mumbling voice, he answered: “Yeah?”

“May I have your autograph?”

“Sure.” He pulled a pen from his pocket and signed a sheet of paper in a single, slow stroke not lifting his pen once. As the Y in his last name began to trail, I moved in.

“And can you draw me a giraffe?” Without missing a beat or giving it any second thought, he complied. The person who only a few hours before I could make out as “someone” drew me a wonderful picture of … something.

Shaking his hand, I thanked him not only for the favor but also for all of his work. Unfazed by the entire exchange, he slipped his pen back into his pocket, said it was no problem and moved on with his life.

The Dharma Bum Bums Me Out**

I retrospect I should have known that he would have turned me down; for instance when he said that he was not interested in having a question-and-answer session nor that he was going to speak up just because those on the second-level could not hear him. Also, I should not have overlooked the fact that some of the most well-known beats are notorious for being … impolite.

By the time I made my way to the front of the line, a knot formed in my throat, which had the effect of pitching my voice to the higher notes on the scale. Being a writer myself and someone who carries around The Portable Beat Reader (1992) edited by Ann Charters like it’s the New Testament, here I was (after all) paying my respects to a contemporary of Kerouac and Ginsberg, the “Thoreau of the Beat Generation” and a 1975 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of poetry entitled Turtle Island (1975). For all of three minutes I could speak in nothing less than a falsetto.

Handing him a few books to sign, which he did without so much as batting an eye to me. In fact, save for what felt like a forced greeting he probably would have let the moment pass in silence were I not willing to fill it. “And this book here,” I said while pulling out a copy of No Nature (1992), “it’s from the University of Minnesota library where I go to school. Would you be willing to sign this, too?

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder about to break my heart.

He looked up to me, his west-coast accent a (surprisingly) soothing monotone: “In my experience, I don’t usually sign these because they tend to get stolen.”

What does one say to this? All I could do was stare, watch him slowly sign his name as guilt washed over. Yes, I felt guilty doing what I thought to be a nice deed for my library. Again, in retrospect, I should have learned from this moment, but as they say: ‘In the pursuit of giraffes, you’re bound to get a few horses, but you’ll never know until you –‘

“Before I go, sir,” I knelt down so that our eyes were even, “I have a favor to ask you.”

His worn, bespectacled eyes gave away none of his thoughts.

“I run a blog dedicated to pictures of giraffes drawn by people who should not be drawing giraffes, and being a great fan of your work, I was wondering if you could do me the honor of drawing me a giraffe?”

The pen and paper was ready – the very same Robert Bly had used.

But there was only silence.

(As I tried to hold my charming grin, I could feel the corners of my lip quiver.)

Nothing.

And then, “I don’t see why I should do that.”

Our contact didn’t break, the silence growing caustic, as my heart began to race. People were watching, I knew, perhaps offended that a plebeian would ever step on the robes of a king. In that moment, I knew only shame, thinking, You’re right, there is no reason for any of this. My life is a waste.

Without knowing it I had been holding my breath, and as I let it go I squeaked out a mousey “OK” and rose to my feet. Like a dying animal, I scurried away to hide myself so I could shake pathetically, die, without embarrassing myself further. Had this really happened? I thought, Did I just make a complete ass of myself in front of Japhy Ryder, Jack Kerouac’s spiritual guide in The Dharma Bums (1958)? Now when I write will the literary gods forever look down on me, cursing me for my offense?!

There are times where I still think back to this day, Snyder’s voice as clear in my head as though he were there … hacking away at my self-worth.

 But at least I got a sweet drawing of a car.

———————

*Please ignore the awful word play and puns.

**Or should I say, the Dharma Puns?

Writer and Comedian Paul Provenzas Pretty Awful Giraffe 4 22 11

Comedian and Filmmaker Paul Provenza

Paul Provenza is a comedian, filmmaker and writer perhaps best known for his long list of acting roles and 2005 documentary The Aristocrats, which is about the infamous joke of the same name. For those who may be not familiar with it,

Comedian and Filmmaker Paul Provenza

“The Aristocrats” is a longstanding transgressive joke amongst comedians, in which the setup and punchline are almost always the same (or similar). It is the joke’s midsection – which may be as long as the one telling it prefers and is often completely improvised – that makes or breaks a particular rendition [Wikipedia].

For those in the audience comfortable with vulgarity in its many films, it’s something that I would recommend; for the queasy, you should probably refrain. Here’s the trailer [SFW]:

So following my traumatic experience with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, I have actually become a little nervous when soliciting giraffes (and yes, I am not blind to the irony of this). Thus I have been working to develop new approaches that will (hopefully) make me feel like less of a tool in my quest to Catch ‘Em All. Obviously it’s a work in progress, but my experience with Provenza may have led me on to the slyest approach yet ….

One of the guests at the 2011 America Atheists Convention, Provenza did a brief reading from his book ¡Satiristas! (2010). Catching him as he was leaving the room, I pulled him aside to ask a few questions about his work (his documentary was a Holy Grail of Naughty in my neighborhood). Slowly edging himself away to make a book signing, I seized the opportunity and asked him if I could have his autograph. Happy to do so, he wrote a nice note (“Fight the Imaginary Power!”) punctuated with what I can only assume to be his name. While he still had the pen in hand, I decided to strike:

“… And draw me a giraffe?”

He looked up from the paper, “what?”

“A giraffe. It’s for the internet.”

He just looked at me. What else was there to say?

I’ve never tried to do the Aristocrats joke myself, but I’m sure it would go something like this: “A family of giraffes walk into a talent agency hoping to be a part of the best agency in the country, capable of scheduling a meeting without much delay (they’re fucking giraffes i.e. hard to miss) one agent asks to see their act … [UPON REFLECTION - DELETED] … And that’s why this giraffe’s neck hurts.”

Dan Rather's Pretty Awful Giraffe

American Journalist Dan Rather

For the last few weeks an old friend of mine has been eerily hinting to me he had discovered the Holy Grail and that I should expect to see it soon. Whether it was giraffe related or if he had actually followed the Kensington, MN, Runestone to the Holy Grail in my own regional backyard, he did not say. So in suspense I waited. And waited.

And finally it came.

Groggy, my eyes glazed over and my emotions boiling because of my coffee maker’s inability to do so, I was able to find solace in the form of an email. Opening it, I was blown away:

Sir.-

American Journalist Dan Rather

Journalist Dan Rather

Enclosed is a giraffe drawn by world-renowned journalist Dan Rather, the first man to report on JFK’s assassination and who brought America through every other major event int he 20th century.

He came to St. Olaf College to give a little speech about his life’s work, full of adorable old-man anecdotes and wry smiles. Afterward, my friend Thomas Hegland asked him to draw a giraffe on my behalf. The room went silent, as if everyone was saying “Awww shit. We’re going to be remembered by Dan Rather as ‘that giraffe school.’” However, Dan was more than genial about drawing this pointy creation, but warned my friend Thomas that “If this giraffe ever reaches the public domain, I will deny having anything to do with it, and will place the blame on the world’s greatest Dan Rather impersonator.” The room became less tense, and this giraffe became history.

I’d say Dan should definitely stick to his day-job.

Best,

-Jordan Montgomery

Upon further prying it was clarified that – unlike every other giraffe obtained so far – this was not something done before a limited crowd. In fact, “the giraffe was drawn in a room full of the leaders of the [St. Olaf's] Political Awareness Committee and school administrators (about 40 people), definitely a tough crowd.”

Thomas, you’re one brave motherfucker; I tip my hat to you.

For those who may not know who he is, Dan Rather is best known for his 43 years of work for CBS News (24 of these as the anchor of the CBS Evening News). Over the course of these 43 years Rather was the first network television journalist to report the assassination of President Kennedy, went head-to-head with Presidents Nixon, Reagan and even Saddam Hussein. Along the way he picked up some Emmys, seven Peabody Awards and for good measure guaranteed historical immortality by coining the phrase: “This race is shakier than cafeteria Jell-O.”

He also once said, which could double as commentary on where GDBPWSNBDG is going, “This one’s a crotch-grabber, folks, and I’ll bet a handful of nuts it won’t be over any time soon.