Laugh riot

Ellen cracks us up, on stage or page

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4 out of 5 stars
SERIOUSLY… I’M KIDDING
by Ellen DeGeneres
(Grand Central Publishing, 2011). $27; 241 pp.

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Sometimes it’s hard not to laugh. When your 4-year-old says something hilariously profound, you bite your lip, knowing that you’d be in trouble if you bust a gut.  If your beloved does something silly but well-meaning, you twist your lips to avoid the outburst you know is coming. When your great-aunt shows up at holiday dinner dressed like that, you know there’d better not be even one “Ha!” to escape your lips.

Yep, sometimes it’s hard not to laugh — but you’ll want to when you read this book. “As it turns out, writing a book is hard,” Ellen DeGeneres says.

This is her third book, each one sharing the ellipses-in-the-title feature. She didn’t think writing it would be difficult because, after all, she has a lot to say every day for at least an hour. There’s a lot of talking on a talk show, you know.

There’s a lot of listening, too, and daydreaming is not allowed. DeGeneres listens to many famous people — one of her favorites is her wife, Portia de Rossi, who is “beautiful and one of the nicest people [she has] ever met.” No, she tells nosy people, they aren’t planning on having a family because “there is far too much glass” in their house. Besides, first you have to give birth.

“I won’t go into specifics,” says DeGeneres, “but ouch and no thank you.”

In case you’re thinking that this book is all fluff, you’ll also find useful advice in its pages. DeGeneres gives readers hints on being a supermodel and how to know what clothes will come back in fashion. She writes about polls and why people shouldn’t put too much faith in them. She offers several ways to gamble in Las Vegas, gives kudos to funny women who’ve paved the way for people like her.

But will you find laughs? Yes … but.

Seriously… I’m Kidding is like having a 241-page monologue in your lap. DeGeneres’ wicked wit beams bright from almost each page. But there are times when she dives below silliness. An entire page devoted to sound effects? Four pages of drawings for your child to color? Jokes like these and a few go-nowhere “short stories” may leave readers scratching their heads.

But if you’re a fan of DeGeneres’ talk show or standup, you’ll find a treasure-trove of classic humor that you won’t want to be without. For you, Seriously… I’m Kidding will be a hard book to miss. And we’re not kidding.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

‘Camp Death’ tonight at Pocket Sandwich

Keep that Halloween feeling

Pocket Sandwich Theatre keeps the frights going along with the laughs in their latest popcorn-tossing show Camp Death. No block parties to struggle through this time. Just sit back and enjoy as Pocket Sandwich spoofs on Friday the 13th and other ’80s horror flicks. And stock up on the popcorn. It’s just as fun to toss at your friends as it is the onstage villains.

DEETS: Pocket Sandwich Theatre, 5400 E. Mockingbird Lane, Ste. 119. 7:30 p.m. $10–$18. PocketSandwich.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Weekly Best Bets • 07.15.11

Friday 07.15

FIT for a queen
The Festival of Independent Theaters (FIT) returns with an inspired schedule of shows including works by Steve Martin and David Mamet. We’re curious though about The Madness of Lady Bright with Larry Randolph, about an aging drag queen’s descent into madness.

DEETS: Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive. Through Aug. 6. $12–$16.
BathhouseCultural.com.

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Sunday 07.17

Walk this way
Not often do we get to see both men and women compete in drag pageants together, but Miss LifeWalk is different that way. Everyone can make a run for the tiara, but the goal is to raise funds for AIDS LifeWalk and the amazing things they do. But for real, these contestants are still gonna do all they can to snag the crown.

DEETS: Round-Up Saloon, 3912 Cedar Springs Road. 6 p.m.
AIDSLifeWalk.org/Miss-LifeWalk.

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Thursday 07.21

Givin’ up the Love
We don’t have to rely on Chelsea Lately or America’s Dumbest Criminals to get some Loni Love up in here. The comedian brings the laughs with her signature sass and we’re all the better for it.

DEETS: The Improv, 309 Curtis May Way, Arlington. Through July 24. $17–$20.
Improv.com.

—  Kevin Thomas

Latin flair

comedy
MUY FUNNY | Dan Guerrero works for laughs while being gay and Latino in his one-man show.

Before he could write ‘¡Gaytino!,’ Dan Guerrero first had to find his roots

rich lopez  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Growing up gay and Latino can be a tough hand to play. In a culture that revels in religion and machismo — hell, the word “machismo” is Latino — coming out poses pitfalls.

But Dan Guerrero lucked out. With some artsy upbringing by a musician dad and a not-so-practicing Catholic background, Guerrero’s closet was easy to open. In fact, it was harder for him just to be Hispanic.

“Los Angeles never made me feel like I was good enough,” he says. “I fell in love with musicals in junior high. I wanted to hear Julie Andrews in Camelot! Who gives a rat’s ass about mariachi?”

His dad might have given one. He was famed musician Lala Guerrero, the father of Chicano music who popularized the Pachuco sound in the 1940s (the beats most associated with Zoot suits and swing dancing). While Guerrero appreciated his father’s legacy, he established his own identity by moving to New York to become an actor. That didn’t work out so much, but becoming an agent did.

“It was kind of by accident, but I ended up being an agent for 15 years,” he says. “I got into producing and I loved it.”

Although he stepped away from performing, Guerrero finds himself back onstage Friday and Saturday at the Latino Cultural Center with ¡Gaytino! The autobiographical one-man show is part comedy, part cabaret, with Guerrero recounting in lyrics and punch lines his experiences growing up gay and Latino, life with father … and having to rediscover his roots after moving back to L.A.

“The main reason I did the show is, I wanted to know more about my dad and my best friend. I was already fabulous,” he laughs. “So I don’t think of this as my story. I wanted to embrace his legacy and celebrate him and our lives, but also tell of being a born-again Hispanic.”

In L.A., Guerrero rediscovered his heritage. While still working in entertainment, he noticed a lack of Latinos behind the scenes. He started a column in Dramalogue to change that, interviewing actors like Jimmy Smits and Salma Hayek and producing shows that spoke to Latin audiences.

And then came ¡Gaytino!

“Well, the word itself hit me first so I trademarked it. Then it was madness as I set about writing it,” he says.

When the show debuted in 2005, Guerrero hadn’t performed in 35 years. He was a different man, no longer a young buck with nothing to lose and untarnished optimism. He was a behind-the-scenes producer and casting agent. He was — gasp! — older.

“I remember thinking, ‘What am I gonna do? What if I forget my lines?’ I’m an old codger,” he says. “But I got onstage and it was like I had did it the day before. Performing is just part of who I am.”

With his successful day job (he once repped a young Sarah Jessica Parker), a healthy relationship (32 years this November) and irons in many other fires, why bother with the daunting task of writing a show and carrying it alone?

“It still feels like I’m breaking into show business. At least when you’ve been around as long as I have, you can get the main cheese by phone,” he answers. “But really, I had something I wanted to say and I love doing it. I’ve been lucky to stay in the game this long but it’s not by accident; it’s all been by design.”

What he loves isn’t just doing his show, but how it pushes positive gay Latino images. He’s dedicated this chapter in his life to that. Guerrero now feels parental toward the younger generation — maybe because he has no children of his own.

“I do feel a responsibility and not just to younger people, but to all,” he says. “For ¡Gaytino!, I first want them entertained, but I hope audiences will leave more educated about some Chicano culture and history and Gaytino history.”

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QUEER CLIP: ‘BEGINNERS’

screen

 

Beginners is such a dreadfully forgettable and generic title for what is the year’s most engaging and heartfelt comedy, you feel like boycotting a review until the distributor gives it a title it deserves.

Certainly the movie itself — a quirky, humane and fantastical reverie about the nature of love and family, with Ewan McGregor as a doleful graphic artist who, six months after his mother dies, learns his 75-year-old dad (Christopher Plummer) is gay and wants to date — charts its own course (defiantly, respectfully, beautifully), navigating the minefield of relationships from lovers to parent/child with simple emotions. It’s not a movie that would presume to answer the Big Questions (when do you know you’ve met the right one? And if they aren’t, how much does that matter anyway?); it’s comfortable observing that we’re all in the same boat, and doing our best is good enough.

McGregor’s placid befuddlement over how he should react to things around him — both his father’s coming out and a flighty but delightful French actress (Melanie Laurent) who tries to pull him out of his shell — is one of the most understated and soulful performances of his career. (His relationship with Arthur, his father’s quasi-psychic Jack Russell, is winsome and winning without veering into Turner & Hooch idiocy.) But Plummer owns the film.

Plummer, best known for his blustery, villainous characters (even the heroic ones, like Capt. Von Trapp and Mike Wallace), exudes an aura of wonder and discovery as the septuagenarian with the hot younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic, both exasperating as cuddly). As he learns about house music at a time when his contemporaries crave Lawrence Welk, you’re wowed by how the performance seethes with the lifeforce of someone coming out and into his own. His energy is almost shaming.

Writer/director Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical film suffers only being underlit and over too quickly. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to spend more time with these folks.

—Arnold Wayne Jones

Rating: Four and half stars
Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Tom Sime’s ‘Bloodletters’ staged reading at Pocket

Staged reading delivers horrors and laughs

Blood is thicker than water in more ways than one in Bloodletters. Former DMN critic turned playwright Tom Sime combines horror and comedy when suspense author Grace brings her inspiration too close to home. With her dysfunctional family as inspiration, her story begins to parallel that of those closest to her — and that’s not good. But is it coincidence or is she making it happen?

A staged reading won’t make it any less scary. Or fun.

DEETS: Pocket Sandwich Theatre, 5400 E. Mockingbird Lane, Suite 119. 7:15 p.m. Free. RSVP to LoneStarStudios@yahoo.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Oat, bray, love

Gay men in Argyle, Texas, give lives to livestock with Ranch Hand Rescue

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer stevencraiglindsey@me.com

When Bob Williams walks into the barnyard, there’s a near stampede as miniature horses big and small, llamas and a donkey run to greet him. This is the man who’s given them a better life of love, safety and, most importantly, hope. At Ranch Hand Rescue in Argyle, Texas, it’s easy to believe that animals can have such complicated feelings and emotions. You can see it in their eyes, and in the case of Ozella the donkey, hear it in her enthusiastic brays.

For the former telecom executive, rescuing farm animals was never part of his long-term plan. But a stroke in October 2007 changed everything.

“I decided it wasn’t about money any more. The stroke was pretty devastating and scary. I decided to do something I loved, but I never pictured myself with farm animals,” Williams laughs.

But that’s where he ended up. After the stroke, Williams retired and began helping out more with his partner Marty Polasko’s business, the American Spa & Pet Resort.

“Marty’s whole philosophy for the pet resort was the best of everything, Disneyland for dogs. That’s why you’ll see swimming pools, play parks and suites. When people come here, they see that it’s all about animals. It’s designed for dogs and cats. Everything he’s done is just overwhelming,” he says.

Soon, rescuing horses and donkeys became part of the equation.

“We started off saving them one at a time,” he says. “Then about a year and a half ago, a guy walked into the lobby and said he wanted to make a $250 donation to us for our animals. I thought, ‘Wow, what are we going to do with that?’ We couldn’t take his money because we’re not a private charity.”

Williams soon realized that he and Polasko were all about the animals and giving back to the community. Thus Ranch Hand Rescue was created. What started out with donkeys and horses has grown to encompass everything from neglected and abused ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, rabbits, goats, even turtles.

The goal is to rehabilitate the animals and bring them back to good health, then adopt them out into loving homes as companion animals. In a few instances, the animals remain with Ranch Hand Rescue and join the on-site sanctuary to live out their lives in comfort and safety. Goats in the sanctuary will never be milked again; horses will never be ridden; turkeys enjoy a permanent pardon from Thanksgiving dinner.

Since forming in April 2009, Ranch Hand Rescue has saved more than 85 farm animals. The efforts have required building a new barn, creating a quarantine area for the sickest of animals, hiring staff and leasing additional land, all of which is costly and ongoing.

“We get three to four calls per week from people reporting possible abuse or neglect,” Williams says. Cases are turned over to the sheriff’s department and investigated before Ranch Hand Rescue is tapped to make an assessment. In most cases, people are given the opportunity to take corrective action to bring their animals back to health, but that often never happens.

During a recent tour of the facility, a call came in to Williams from Deanne Murillo, an animal cruelty investigator making a site visit to a farm. Neighbors had complained that they’d noticed horses that were tied to a fence post with a rope, limiting their ability to run and roam. They appeared seriously malnourished with no access to food or water.

“There was not a blade of grass on their property,” Murillo says. “The [owners] were very nice to me, but things were all very iffy. There were 20 or more puppies there, too. Some were walking on three legs and had sores on their bodies.”

Bob Williams
FARM  TEAM | Bob Williams, right, tends to Lips, an abused horse; Ozella the donkey, facing page, enjoys a good life now. (Photos by Steven Lindsey)

The horses in particular were suffering though.  “I’m going to go back and check in three weeks and if things haven’t improved, they could have their animals seized,” Murillo says. “I left copies of the law, I read the law to them, I told them where they were in violation and we don’t want to take their horses.”

Even though the family was cooperative and seemed concerned, it was doubtful things would improve. That’s when Ranch Hand Rescue would rescue the horses, adding the new horses to four others currently in the quarantine barn.

“This is Lips,” Williams says walking up to a stall. “He’s a stallion that needs to be gelded. He has severe nerve damage to the face. Lips was beaten, so he’s skittish.”

Indeed, Lips immediately cowers, moves to a far corner and begins to shake. He won’t even look up because there’s somebody else there besides Williams, whom he’s just barely beginning to trust.

“One of the ways we get them to get used to people, I take a lawn chair and I come in and sit down. The best way for them to rebuild their trust with humans is to spend time with them, so I’ll bring a newspaper or magazine or the Dallas Voice and just hang out. He’s getting a little better, but only time will tell if the nerve damage is permanent.”

It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories and see the fear in an animal’s behavior, but simply seeing Williams’ passion for the animals prevents the mood from being one of sadness. Instead, there’s a palpable energy of healing and compassion. Perhaps it’s because this former executive who never dreamed of this new life has clearly been won over by the beasts in his care. He calls each animal by name, softening his voice and cooing like a doting father to a newborn child.

“Hi there, Sweetie! Come to daddy,” he calls to the horse. “It just brings tears to your eyes. There’s no reason any person or animal should have to go through this,” he says as Lips finally raises his head and slowly makes his way to the front of the stall, stopping halfway. It’s progress, but just barely.

Rehabilitation can be a very slow process and patience is paramount, which Williams and his staff have in abundance. Spending time with the animals that have been brought back from the brink of starvation is all it takes, however, to understand that it’ll all be worth the wait. And in the end, Ranch Hand Rescue is the best place any of these animals could ever hope to be.

The cost to maintain one horse averages $3,000/ year. Donations can be made either to Ranch Hand Rescue, Inc., 8827 Hwy 377S Argyle, Texas 76226 or online at RanchHandRescue.org. Tours available Saturdays, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Volunteers always needed.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens