#Bigmouth

#Bigmouth

Bigmouth, the new animated series on Netflix, is just terrific. Really–many moments of pure hilarity, so I can’t recommend it enough (assuming you like laughing and having fun). I anticipate the show will be a big hit, and I certainly hope so.

For me, it’s been incredibly fun to watch it, since the show was created by two of my oldest childhood friends, Andrew Goldberg & Nick Kroll, and features memories from our childhood together.

Andrew & Nick both told me about Bigmouth about a year and a half ago when the show was first green-lighted, so I’ve eagerly anticipated its arrival ever since. Candidly, I worried a bit about whether or how I might be depicted in the show (the character of Jay, which is my oldest brother’s name, is loosely based on me and another classmate), but my desire to see their comedic rendition of our childhood certainly trumped any concerns I had about their revealing the details of my adolescent deviance. That, plus I figured I could explain away anything too embarrassing as fiction!

MANSo when the show was released a few weeks ago, I hunkered down for two straight nights to devour it, and I loved it and was very impressed with what they created. Among and between the moments of laugh-out-loud, shocking antics, are moments of pure tenderness and sweetness, informed by the common experiences that stem from the roller coaster that is puberty. It is this common experience that will make the show successful–since we’ve all been through it.

Andrew & Nick, along with Eytan Oren and Jon Eger, were classmates of mine, and my best friends growing up. All these years later, they remain a part of me–my past, my present, my thoughts, my heart.  I think you’ll enjoy learning more about them:

Nick Kroll

Nick was really…amazing as a kid. Incredibly lovable and charismatic. As the show rightly depicts, he was very small in stature, but also adorable, confident, funny, and adventurous. He did not hit puberty until much later than the rest of us. In fact, when we all went our separate ways after 8th grade, I don’t know whether Nick had hit puberty by then or not. By contrast, Andrew hit puberty at around 8 years old, and was shaving shortly thereafter. By the time Nick started shaving, Andrew had already started losing his hair!

Nick was tons of fun as a kid. In his bedroom were two basketball hoops that we used to play one-on-one death matches on, and he was a force to be reckoned with despite being much smaller than I was. And he was pretty tough on a real basketball court too. Although he was not able to dominate the boards, he made a huge impact on the game, running around the court, disrupting passing lanes, getting steals, and pulling off miraculous plays for a guy of his size. I recently spoke with our old Coach, Steve, who is also caricatured in the show, and he confirmed that Nick, Eytan, and I were his best players. Eytan & I, I dare say, had grace. Nick had grit. And Nick was also a terrific baseball player having learned the game from his father, Jules, who was drafted, if memory recalls, to the minor leagues out of college.

What separated Nick more than anything was his tenacity. He was fearless in all things–not just in sports, but socially as well. He loved being in the center of everything, and felt comfortable there. I remember on one school trip, he was sitting in the back of the bus telling jokes and singing dirty nursery rhymes.  The other kids and I ate it up, and it was fun. When he was done, he invented a song that went, “I’m an attention grabber, yes I am, I grab attention, whenever I can.” He knew himself, and he knew what he wanted at all times. I think the same is true of him today. He sees a goal, and tenaciously goes after it.

Those bus rides also foretold of his comedic bent. On that same trip, we were headed to an old age home in the Bronx, and on the way there the bus passed a graveyard.  A ten-year old Nick saw the gravestones poking out from the ground and yelled out, “We must be getting close!”  He was always clever and funny. Years after that, we were in Oklahoma! together (for a second time), and when another actor messed up a line, Nick rolled with it, quite hilariously. Sadly, I don’t recall the details, but it was funny stuff, and an early sign of his improv abilities.

About 8 years ago, when I moved to LA, Nick and I had lunch, and he told me about his single minded pursuit of his career. It was obvious to me he would achieve whatever he set out to accomplish. That’s who Nick is–an unrelenting go-getter. I can only imagine what it’s taken for him to achieve what he has. Enormous energy, drive, ingenuity, talent, and passion (and possibly a covert deal with the devil).  In short, the Nick of today is a magnification of the Nick(y) we grew up with. It’s fun to see how he has blossomed.

I will always love and admire him.

Andrew Goldberg

Though less famous than Nick, Andrew too is a force to be reckoned with. As an only child, Andrew spent years in his room and imagination, doing… god only knows what. But in those hours, he evolved into something very rare, with his unrivaled combination of imagination and incredible brain power.

Andrew is, to my mind, a certifiable genius. I’m not sure it’s a matter of debate or subjectivity actually.

As a kid, he would receive baseball card sets as a gift for holidays and birthdays. Each set had hundreds of cards, and each year had multiple sets, resulting in thousands of unique cards released for collecting every year.  I collected baseball cards too, but I would buy little packs with 10 cards or so. As a result, I cherished each card, and when I was lucky enough to get a great player’s card, I would frame it in a little glass case to make sure it stayed well protected. Each card was so rare and valuable to me that I wanted to savor each one by treating it with care and respect.

By contrast, Andrew was so inundated with cards sets each year, that he kept them in the only containers large enough to hold them: huge GARBAGE bins. In his bedroom were multiple bins of cards, strewn all over the place in no discernible order. For Andrew, the lack of organization didn’t matter though, because he never needed to find the cards after viewing them just once…

…because he had already committed them to memory.

Much like Rainman’s, Andrew’s brain is a supercomputer of memory and processing power. He can do things that truly look like magic. For instance, you can reach into any of the garbage bins and pull out any of the the tens of thousands of cards. If you show Andrew an area of the card no greater than 1 square centimeter, he can extrapolate which card it is, and then proceed to tell you all of the statistics on the back of the card. Tens of thousands of cards with hundreds of thousands of stats, all available to him as simple recall. In fact, he tells me, he can still do it 30 years later. He is…not normal. Here’s a clip of it made a few years ago:

 

After elementary school, Andrew and I continued on to White Plains High School together, where we remained close. At a certain point, his brilliance hit fifth gear. He would score perfectly on almost all standardized tests, earning him a spot at Columbia where he graduated with a 4.0 GPA, Magna Cum Laude. After that, he went to film school in California, and then got a job writing for Family Guy after a few shorter stints with other shows. Like Nick, his career has been blessed. I know tons of writers that constantly have to look for work, and it’s a grind. Andrew, for all the time he’s been here, has remained 100% employed at all times, and in fact, does side projects in addition to his formal “jobs”. It’s a level of intellectual production that can only come from the most fertile of brains.

Andrew as a kid–he was just a lot of fun. He loved baseball. He loved comedy. He was hilarious. He was eccentric. He was…terrific. In high school, he and our dear friend Dan Isenberg started a cable television show called Prime Time with Dan & Andrew.  Andrew wrote many/most of the skits, and they were hilarious. The show gained a following, and Dan & Andrew were like celebrities within the class. Dan, another terrific talent, became a rapper, and we are all still in touch to this day. Here’s one of my favorite clips from their show, a skit called “Name that STD!”:

In Bigmouth, Andrew’s childhood household is hilariously depicted–because it really was a crazy place. I remember one time touching one of the walls to his staircase, an offense so egregious that his father threatened to make me repaint the whole house! In the final Episode of Bigmouth, Season I, there’s a reference to Andrew’s dad going crazy over drywall, and it’s pretty hilarious.

It was a crazy place (though my house had it’s own craziness!)–but a terrific breading ground for comedy. As the saying goes, comedy=tragedy+time. Bigmouth capitalizes on this…#Bigtime. Many of the funniest moments were not so funny at the time, but are hilarious in retrospect.

Eytan Oren

Eytan Oren was a big part of our childhood, despite the fact that no character in Bigmouth is clearly based on him. That said, his impact on all of us was undeniable.

When we were very young, Eytan used to watch MTV pretty much around the clock. He wanted to be a musician, maybe even a rock star, and he practiced diligently to improve his chops and achieve his dreams.  Today, he plays numerous instruments, sings fabulously, and has performed in many, many bands over the years. A number of years ago, one of his bands released a music video called “Everything Changes” that went viral. Here it is!

 

As a kid, Eytan was also a terrific athlete and student. Come to think of it, I can’t think of anything he wasn’t good at. My mother loved his gorgeous eyelashes, and today he remains quite blessed with an impressive head of hair.

Eytan & His Hair!

Eytan & His Hair!

He’s just a great guy. Brilliant in many ways himself. And, although we don’t speak often, we remain close. I know that on my end, I will always love him.

Jon Eger

Jon has made no attempt to lead a public life. And I will respect that here and keep it brief.

Jon comes from a family where both parents are psychologists, and he himself is a practicing psychologist in NYC today. He is a very solid person–incredibly capable and talented at abstraction. He is a great listener. He is empathetic and compassionate, while remaining conceptually honest. He is exactly the type of doctor you’d hope to find when the need arises.

As kids, Jon and I were very close, and we were into “guy” stuff. We shot guns, wrestled, hiked, played baseball with his dad, and communicated with each other nightly using our high powered walkie-talkies. Most noteworthy–Jon got me hooked on magic. He knew a few great tricks (coin matrix, for instance) that piqued my interest in magic, and we spent much of our adolescence and early high school years practicing and learning magic. On Saturdays, he and I would take the train into Manhattan and go to Tannen’s Magic Shop & Rubens Deli. Then during the week, we would practice what we learned from the weekend, only to return the following weekend to come back for more.

Jon and I remain very close to this day. So close, in fact, that he called just moments ago while I was writing this paragraph. He will always be a rock for me, someone who will be there through the ups and downs that life presents. And I will be there for him. Always. I love him.

Michael Friedland

I guess it’s weird to write about myself, but watching Bigmouth certainly caused me to reflect on my childhood in ways that I never have before. Like Nick, Andrew, and Eytan, many of my interests were in the arts. But rather than being focused on a career in the industry, I’ve spent my life on a different type of journey, more fraught with ambiguity and questions.

I was a philosophy major in college, where I loved studying the mind, consciousness, psychology, political philosophy, and was fortunate enough to study with Daniel Dennett, one of the world leaders in the subject. Evidently, I enjoy theorizing, finding patterns, and making connections from one subject to the next. Turns out–these are useful skills for an entrepreneur, and I guess that’s what I am. A very artsy entrepreneur.

My path probably could have looked very different. I thought for some time that I wanted to be famous. As a kid, I performed quite a bit. I had a great ear for impersonations and was an excellent mimicker. I learned to play guitar and piano on my own. I sang in an a cappella group in college, and in two professional groups while living in NYC in my 20’s. I performed a one man magic show in the east village before moving to LA, where I began performing at the magic castle. And I was even one of the primary characters in The Magic Life, a documentary about pursuing a career in magic.magic_life

But what the movie shows is my ambivalence for pursuing a career in the arts. While I always loved and (I believe) excelled at performing, I never felt it was the correct business model or lifestyle choice for me. I learned over the years that I wanted a family, and kids. I learned that I wanted to be home for dinners at night, and create passive income to support myself in years to come. I learned that fame, in this country, is a curse of a predictable pattern, and I wanted no part of it.

 

I don’t know how to close this section, because it’s about me, and I don’t know where the story goes from here. But I know where I’ve been, and who has been with me along the way.

To my friends Jon, Eytan, Nick, & Andrew–l’chaim my friends. You’re in my heart.

“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”-Quote from “Stand By Me”

From Left to Right: Andrew,me, Nick, Eytan, Jon Back: Andrew's Mom, Linda

From Left to Right: Andrew,me, Nick, Eytan, Jon
Back: Andrew’s Mom, Linda

 

Adam Silver’s Bad Decision on JR Smith

Adam Silver’s Bad Decision on JR Smith

Earlier this week the Cleveland Cavaliers played the Boston Celtics.  During the game, two outrageous events occurred.  The first was the dislocation of Kevin Love’s shoulder by Celtic’s center, Kelly Olynyk. If you watch the play, it doesn’t look like a basketball play, but at least in happened in the midst of vying for the ball and can be written off as such, despite remaining an unequivocally dirty play.  Kevin Love is now out for the remainder of the playoffs, radically reducing his team’s chances of winning the championship. This, all because Olynyk can’t tell the difference between what force is reasonable, and what is completely out of line.  Kevin Love didn’t fall, or twist an ankle–he was injured by another player. As punishment, Olynyk is suspended for ONE GAME. Yes, that’s right, just ONE GAME.

More egregious, and by far, is the spinning back fist thrown by J.R. “I’m a repeat offender” Smith, the player jettisoned from every previous team for which he’s played for lacking any semblance of character.  During the same game, Smith “wildly slung” his arm at the face of Jae Crowder, knocking him to the ground, practically out cold.  The shot to the face actually has a name in Mixed Martial Arts, and it’s called a Spinning Back Fist; it’s a move that has ended many, many fights by knockout, and is known for its force and lethality.  Crowder not only got knocked to the ground, but twisted his knee in the process, a common injury resulting from a knockout while standing.  For this, JR Smith was suspended for, wait for it…two games.

Two games.

It’s just…beyond belief.

I have rarely felt so strongly that Adam Silver and the NBA completely misjudged a situation, but this time is different. JR Smith did not get into a basketball tussle, he threw a very dangerous punch, that landed, to the face of another player.  Sure, he was ejected, and now he’ll miss two games, but what of the fact that he committed a crime? Since when is a basketball court asylum from state court and our legal system? Smith should be charged with assault.

Adam Silver–you blew this one, and badly. One and two game suspensions, respectively, are totally inadequate punishments for the transgressions committed.  By failing to mete out punishment that is proportionate, you have tacitly approved of such behavior, setting a dangerous precedent.  JR Smith should have been banned for the season. More generally, the league should punish players more severely for injuring another player if the injury stems from conduct outside of that which is normative to the game.  I’ve never seen someone yank on another players arm as Olynyk did, nor have I ever seen such a violent punch to the face that JR Smith threw, in the context of a basketball game.

I am very disappointed, even disgusted, with the NBA’s punishment decisions. I hope you are, too.

The Evolution of Magic

The Evolution of Magic

Magic is a terrific hobby, profession, and field of study, largely because it is intellectually gratifying on many levels.  The serious student of magic learns not just how to fool people, but larger lessons about how the mind and perception work. Magic teaches psychology and a deeper understanding of how we process information.  For this reason, in recent years, researchers have gone to magicians as a resource for their keen insights into perception and consciousness.  In fact, my favotie college professor, Daniel Dennett, describes consciousness itself as a magic trick, an illusion of sorts that our minds create to engage and form a relationship with objective realities; it’s a fabulous analogy and parallel that he expounds upon in his writings and TED talks. If you’ve never heard or seen him speak, you’re in for a treat–he’s a brilliant man.

The field of magic is constantly changing, and for good reason.  Once a trick’s method is exposed and becomes known to the public, it no longer works, so new innovations are constantly required. And as technology changes, so also do the possibilities for magic.  For instance, 200 years ago, a magic trick could have been something like instantly squaring any number between 1-1000. Today, we have calculators that do this instantly, and while it’s impressive, it falls decidedly short of miraculous.  Similarly, 200 years ago, a magic trick could be getting from Europe to the United States in under 10 hours.  Today, it’s called an airplane.

The same thing is true today, and always, which is the reason for Clarke’s III Law:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

So as life evolves and technology advances, so does magic, which keeps things ever changing, interesting, and fresh. There will always be magic, because magic itself evolves. It evolves by necessity, with the times, and using the latest technological innovations and secrets.

I was 15 when my friend Stephen Hobbs first published a move and routine of mine in his magic ephemera, Labyrinth. In his kind and flattering introductory words, he remarked insightfully that for some time, he had anticipated the fallout from the explosion of new magic media and mediums.  He was alluding to the fact that when the only way to learn was from books, the information was difficult to create, disseminate, and engage, and thus magicians were truly the rare few who had the focus and drive to seek out and study the information.  By the time I was starting out in the early 90’s, there were VHS tapes on magic that taught incredible routines along with fabulous performances. Those tapes cost $75 each, and had about five routines per tape. I was only able to get one or two tapes a year as gifts, mostly from my grandmother, because of their price. Books, too, were expensive, and remain so even now.

However, today, the technological landscape has changed dramatically.  Not only do we have video tutorials (not VHS, of course), but the cost and time to create them has decreased from astronomical to nearly nothing.  Same goes for its distribution. We all have smartphones that take video, and today’s SLR’s are affordable and take fabulous high definition footage.  The effects on magic have been commensurate with the changes in this technology–that is to say, a complete and total paradigm shift, comprised of rapidly spreading ideas, presentations, and techniques. The result of all this information sharing–profound innovation.

For instance, in my teens, I thought I had mastered almost all card flourishes extant: the fan, the pressure fan, the ribbon spread, the Le Paul spread, productions, split fans, and so many more.  Since that time, though, the number of flourishes has EXPLODED, to the point where card flourishing is now its own field called Cardistry or XCM (Extreme Card Manipulations).  The students and practitioners of this type of flourishing study each others’ moves, riff of them, and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. This video speaks for itself:

Pretty awesome?  I think so.  The video, and indeed the genesis and evolution of cardistry, encourage me to dream and wonder what will be next. Of course, card flourishing will continue to evolve, but more important, and also inevitable, is the fact that new areas of magic will continue to emerge. I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next.

The Incomparable…Fred Kaps

The Incomparable…Fred Kaps

Fred Kaps is a legendary name in magic.  Responsible for some ingenius techniques and plots, Kaps brought an incredible level of mastery to his performances. This clip is a great example of his work–wherein he makes challenging techniques look completely effortless and, well, like magic.

Kaps died in 1980. We are lucky there are clips like this available to keep his legacy alive.

Performances @ The Little Theater

Performances @ The Little Theater
Performances @ The Little Theater

Join for an evening of Comedy & Magic!

Come join for a memorable, fun evening of comedy and magic.  Comedian Trevor Smith starts the night off--he's sure to have you rolling and set the mood! Then, hold onto your seats--Michael performs dazzling magic that you'll love and think about for days.  The perfect night out.

Please arrive at the theater 30 minutes before show time for seating and drinks.

If you have purchased a voucher, you can redeem it below during the checkout process. In the event your voucher is not working, don't worry, it just means it hasn't been added to the ticketing system yet.  To have it added quickly, feel free to fill out the contact form. Otherwise it will be added within 24 hours.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Is the show right/okay for kids?

Generally, the show is not intended for kids.  It's at night, and is catered to adults.  The comedy is not dirty, but is adult oriented. The magic is sophisticated and also catered to adults.  Kids will enjoy it, but in general the material is PG13 or higher.

2. When are performances?

A list of performance dates and times can be viewed in the dropdown menu below as part of the ticketing system.

3. Where is The Little Theater Located?
12420 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

New Year’s Magic!

New Year’s Magic!

Many years ago, “The Professor”, Dai Vernon, one of magic’s greatest legends and teachers, was asked by a student to help him with his magic. The student wanted to know the really big secret(s) that made The Professor so skilled with his technique and performances. Vernon recounted the story, and told that what his students wanted to hear were things like “Always use hand lotion before handling a deck of cards” or “only practice magic before bed” or “only use bicycle cards” or some other big secret.

The truth, he went on, is that there is no big secret, but rather a collection of thousands of little secrets that taken together create the perfect illusion, like a work of pointillist art.

All these details come over time with the right systems and habits in place. When I have cards and coins laying out on my desk, I practice.  When my guitar is out on a stand, I play.  When my exercise ball is out in the open, I exercise.  Conversely, when the cards are in a drawer, the guitar is in a case, or the exercise ball is in the closet, I do nothing. Positive change really is not about will power; it’s about habits and systems.  We don’t need will power or to change our minds–because the mind is actually physical. Changing our physical habits and routines makes the change for us and our minds follow suit automatically. Honesty, attention to detail, self reflection and awareness are key components to improving at anything by allowing us to implement the necessary systems.

To that point, for all of us hoping to make improvements in our lives in 2014, this is a great video that was recently forwarded to me. Make improvement easy on yourself by setting up routines, habits, and environments that foster the change you’re trying to make.

Good luck to you, and have a magical 2014!

From the Magic Newswire

From the Magic Newswire

The following is excerpted from The Magic Newswire, a great website devoted to magic and magicians.

The Magic Life is a film by Nelson Chang featuring Juliana Chen, Jonathan Levit and Richard Turner. The film chronicles the journey of three magician hopefuls: a 17-year-old from Beijing (Yang Yang) who travels to the U.S. to attend magic school, a 25-year-old trying to make rent by performing on Hollywood Blvd for tips (Mathew Noah Falk) , and a 32-year-old New York University MBA graduate who moves to Los Angeles to perform at the world famous Magic Castle (Michael Friedland). The film depicts the challenges of following an unconventional career path. Forget about parents, family, or friends who may not understand or support your choices – there’s almost an invisible societal pressure in terms of what types of jobs are acceptable. “The Magic Life” is about those who are willing to risk everything to take the road not normally taken. Sometimes the risk pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Just came back from seeing The Incredible Burt Wonderstone with my wife. I had no idea what to expect, and certainly didn’t expect much.

First the bad: i could have lived without the (rare) magic jargon and method divulsions. As I’ve previously written about, it’s not my favorite when secrets of magicians are divulged to the public, especially when belittled.  That said, there’s not much of it, and whatever.

The good: almost everything else, especially Jim Carrey. Every time he is on the screen, be prepared to laugh incredibly hard–don’t put any food in your mouth, and certainly no liquids, as you will surely spit up  or choke trying to stop yourself.  The guy is simply unreal. I love him. I always have, and in this film he’s just as electric as ever.  You can count on his delivering pure hilariousness every time he’s on screen.

Carrey plays a character that is a blend of David Blaine, Chris Angel, & Ace Ventura.  He attempts over the top stunts, each one more gruesome and absurd than the next.  For one of his spectacles, he gathers an audience around a large area of flaming red coals.  The expected trick is for him to walk across the coals unscathed. Classic.  Nearly every adult male in India can do that no problem (uh…kidding….just in case). Instead, Carrey’s stunt: he spends the night sleeping on the flaming hot embers bare chested. I don’t want to give away, well, anything, but it’s too late for that. So I won’t give away anything else.  Just go see it. If you love Jim Carrey, you’re in for a treat.

Oh yeah, Steve Carrell is also in it and he’s good too.

Tough to share a stage with JC.

Upcoming Performances @ The Magic Castle: March 8,9,10th

Upcoming Performances @ The Magic Castle: March 8,9,10th

I’ll be performing next week at The Magic Castle in Hollywood.  Should be a great show and I’m super excited to be working with my close pal and incredible magician, Andrew Goldenhersh.

If you would like to be added to the guest list to enter the castle, sign up below.  There is a cover and a dress code, so make sure to check with the Castle about details. All I can do is provide access with a list. Show’s are the 8,9, and 10 starting at 8PM.

Sign up below and you will be allowed access to castle.  There is a cover and a strict dress code so best to check with the castle for details.