590 The Fan: From warehouse to radio

It’s okay to do what you want to do until it’s time to do what you need to do. What if those two things merged, though?

Working in a warehouse isn’t for everybody, but I did it for seven years. Five different warehouses over those years but the one constant that connected them all. No air conditioning. Yes. The odor I projected after a 10-12 hour day of lifting, shipping, and receiving rivaled the pandas at the neighborhood Zoo. Sweaty days with a large fan blowing hot air around the dock area is not a way to live if you have a passion to do something else. You do it though to provide for a home and hope something better exists.

I’m not a fool. I don’t have a college degree. I took three swings at MU and Forest Park Community College and struck out everywhere but leaving others and myself in debt. After working in the movie theater and a warehouse briefly out in Hazelwood, I worked for Whelan Security and wore an outfit that would make Paul Blart blush.

In 2007, I joined the team at Senoret Chemical and worked there until 2012. Afterwards, it was unemployment. It’s not easy from making 15.50 an hour with quarterly bonuses and benefits to accepting 9-10 dollars an hour. I don’t care what kind of person you are. It’s bad. I had cups of coffee with Bommarito Wines, Conway Freight, and more time with Ronnoco Coffee before moving to Arkansas and becoming a stay at home parent/writer.  Continue reading “590 The Fan: From warehouse to radio”

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‘Kingdom’ delivers soulful season finale 

“You ride like lightning and you’ll crash like thunder.”

Ding ding! Kingdom on Audience viewers and addicts, take your corners! The Season 2B finale packed a punch and left viewers floored at the physical entertainment and the drama that lingered afterwards.

It was never about the rematch in the first place. In a classic twist on a show about fighters that focuses on their battles outside the ring, the Season 2B finale was relentless in closing sub plots and reopening old wounds while opening entirely new threads.
The Rematch

Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria) and Jay Kulina(Jonathan Tucker) taking the ring in a rematch that looked like the world ender to every fan in the audience but inside it was a bittersweet tale that every Kingdom fan knew how it was going to end. Jay, unfit for any overly lit room much less an octagon with blazing bulbs flashing all over the place, taking the ring days after his girlfriend Ava was brutally murdered. Ryan, a King Beast seeking revenge and the alpha badge of Navy Street, trying to block out the fact that his best friend needs a true friend and that he has to hurt him. Two friends meeting again.

Pale imagery and the polar opposite of what took place in Episode 203, where Jay was on top of the world and Ryan was less than 100 percent and wrapped up in demons. It goes to show you that winning a fight and a title doesn’t make a fighter whole. It just pushes his destiny further and further away. When Jay won the title, he didn’t feel anything. He didn’t feel the long lost fever of a championship belt. He felt incomplete so he attached himself to Ava and the allure of drugs.

As the fight begins and all the odds are stacked against Jay, it’s almost as if you want the beating to be over so Jay can recover properly. As fans, we never know what is going through the mind of a fighter. If you ask them, they won’t tell you. In a similar fashion that Jay used Ryan’s physical injury against him, Ryan takes advantage of a distant and ill prepared Jay in the rematch. In a testament to Jay’s “heart of a lion”, he holds it together until the early moments of Round 4 before Ryan finishes him off.

As Ryan screams for his belt, you get the idea it’s all a show. Ryan didn’t want to fight in the first place back in Season 1. He does it to please others and also to keep the demons inside his head quiet or to a dull roar. After the fight talking with Alvey, he gives him the belt as a way to show a hunger still exists. I think he wants to get rid of it so he doesn’t get close to it or the fact that, like Jay, he feels nothing for it. It’s a belt. Something you hang in the office or at the gym. It’s as meaningful as Chapas’ ashes sitting on Alvey’s desk. It is meant to embody that you won something but in the end, it hinders a fighter.

Ryan won and Jay goes to the hospital. Let’s take a few steps back to the beginning of the episode.

Jay Kulina: The Pale Rider

Jay standing outside his hotel looking at the clean up crew taking apart the crime scene is a great stand alone acting effort from Tucker and he has no dialogue. The pure strength of an actor isn’t a big speech. It’s what he can do with what isn’t spelled out or written for him or her. What can you do with your eyes, face and movement? Tucker excels at this often. In a 2-3 minute sequence, he shows the audience a pale rider. Someone who has had the life sucked right out of him.

Ava may have hindered him as well as Alicia(Natalie Martinez, absent from the finale) but it was more than that for Jay. A man who learns something new and painful every season. Tucker doesn’t hide a single bit of pain in his expression. Imagine a paper airplane hitting the ground and catching fire. That’s Jay Kulina. Only after defeat did the man recover and smile.

Alvey: A Man Apart

The season started with Alvey drinking himself into a stupor and the finale features him alone once again. That reunion with Lisa(Kiele Sanchez, burning her own candles elsewhere) never materialized. Roxanne(the lovely Wendy Moniz) broke it off with him early on because of the messy drama fires around him. His son Jay is in the hospital and his younger son Nate is in the midst of a comeback but still mixed up in personal anguish. Everything Alvey fought hard to push himself from while staying attached is going on without his effect. He’s a man apart and this gave Grillo the seeds for a performance that SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN Emmy consideration.

I love the way every seasonal break has ended with Alvey alone in the gym. A man ready to fight his demons yet unequipped for battle. Here’s a guy who trains harder than anyone in the gym, drinks his meals, and has enough rage to fight three guys at once. With Alvey’s torment and disconnect at the moment, all he has is the gym. All he has is what he is going after. 

Grillo is at his best when Alvey is at his worst. The emotional volcano spill that the elder Kulina causes allows the seasoned actor to go anywhere he wants with Balasco’s writing fueling his car like an engine with horsepower to spare. 

Nate and Jay: Brothers Looking Out

As he cleaned out Jay’s room, Nate found Will’s business card next to the bed. Instead of raging against his brother for intruding into his personal life, he just walks into the hospital room like a wounded puppy looking for a little protection. The relief that has to fall off his shoulders that some part of his family knows that he is gay has to be enormous. Jay has always been someone Nate could trust, and Jonas and Tucker are beautiful in this scene together.

Leave it to Tucker to sprinkle some true comedy on the room when he jokes about positions with Nate. After all the pain and anguish Jay has gone through, the internal trust he has with Nate gives him some resemblance of a win. Well done men. 

Christina(Joanna Going) also makes amends with Jay at the hospital but it reads more like an apology to her own identity as a mother. After pouring so much drama on the Kulina household this season, she writes him a letter that covers ground that fans didn’t even see. Here is a mother who has treated her oldest son unlike a son. Christina depends on Jay more than any mother should and seeing Tucker do the dialogue-less torture reaction locks horns perfectly with Going’s dialogue. These two have given television the most emotional mother/son pairing since Jax and Gemma Teller on FXX’s Sons of Anarchy. Bravo. It’s not an easy balance to maintain but Going and Tucker make it look easy.

After so much waiting and wondering, Ryan and Lisa finally share a warm moment and a kiss. It happened near the end of Season 1 but was more lust than passion. Lisa, needing something that isn’t broken in her life, finally sees something in Ryan that hasn’t been there for a long time. Protection and love. It was only a kiss but it surely turned into more.

This sets up another uncomfortable yet highly entertaining dynamic in Season 3. Alvey isn’t going to be pleased about this development. While he knows it can’t work with him and Lisa and there is history there, do you really think Alvey can train Ryan during the day and then watch him leave with Lisa at night? Fire, ladies and gents. Fire. The Ryan-Jay showdown was the driving force behind Season 2B and the Alvey/Ryan/Lisa tripod of doom will puncture Season 3. They may not fight in a sanctioned fight but they will come to blows.

Every television show should aim to get better each year. Instead of resting on your laurels and dishing out potent yet similar entertainment after acquiring people’s attention, a creator and his cast/crew should keep pushing. Balasco, Grillo, and company have done that with this latest batch of episodes. Every 52 minute episode felt like a brilliant edited film and something to dissect and wonder about for days. It didn’t feel like ordinary television. Kingdom ascended higher this season with pulse pounding drama and knockout worthy action. It’s something else. A signature blend that isn’t afraid to take bold risks in order to spin a story few have told.

For all the people who wanted a real dynamic show about fighters and their lives, look no further than AT&T’s Kingdom. It’s got everything. This blood drunk drama knows how to hit a person where it counts. Unlike most TV shows, Kingdom doesn’t aim to merely please. It aims to knock you out. Season 2B did just that. There are 30 episodes at your disposal folks. What are you prepared to do? Take the plunge.

The pilot featured a weary yet wise Alvey Kulina jogging through the streets with peace in his mind and hunger in his back pocket. He had everything. At the end of Season 2B, all he has is what he is going after. A bottle, a bag, and nothing else.

Great television challenges you every week. Thank you Kingdom. Please come back for Christmas.

 

 

STL Up Late interview: Bobby Jaycox and Eric Christensen

Bobby Jaycox and Eric Christensen are just like you. They get up every morning to grind away at a day job to pay their bills and keep wood on the fire of a regular life. It’s not until after the sun goes down that these two men get together with other notable and talented STL comics(RAFE WILLIAMS!) and produce gold record caliber television with the KMOV talk show, STL Up Late. 

After speaking with We Are Live co-hosts Chris Denman and Travis Terrell last month,  Jaycox and Christensen sat down with me to discuss the show’s intentions, how real life hot topics play on their series, and the value of storing enough energy to chase their comic dreams. What followed was inspirational dialogue that should light a damn fire under every aspiring funny bone specialist with a dream of entertaining. 

Buffa: Tell me about STL Up Late. 

Christensen: I was doing improv at the Improv shop. I had been doing comedy for a long time in Chicago and thought St. Louis needed some of that. People told me STL needed the cool stuff I was doing in Chicago. STL Up Late was a way to show people there is cool stuff here and also follow my passion at the same time. 

Buffa: Why watch STL Up Late over the other mainstream late night talk shows like Fallon and Kimmel?

Jaycox: All those people are career people. When you see us, you see people that are working for no money and putting in long hours in during the week to make something for people to enjoy. I feel like we set a bar pretty high for the stuff we put together. 

Buffa: Comedy is at a high point right now. Do you see it as a means to heal a soul or merely produce a distraction?

Christensen: They’ve always said laughter is the breaking of tension. I definitely think doing comedy is therapeutic in a lot of ways. 

Jaycox: I can imagine a lot of things missing in a society but I can’t imagine comedy not being there. So it’s everybody’s job to keep it on the trajectory of doing new and good things. Some people hit a plateau and think they can’t do anything new. Look at Louis CK, who does a new hour every year. Anything is possible. There’s people who start on YouTube and then are on Netflix. The people who continue to do new things and drive it. 

Christensen: Since the beginning, it’s important to keep the serious things in check. That’s comedy’s job.  

Buffa: Rafe mentioned something on Tuesday’s WAL broadcast about using heavy hitter topics like the election, gay marriage and gun control in his sketches and comedy in a different way. What is your take on using those real life topics?

Jaycox: I definitely think that part of hitting on political stuff is kind of like growing up. It’s not what your age is. It’s how long you’ve been doing stand up. In order to make those points, you have to be like the Beatles and make those first few albums. 

Christensen: You have to earn it. 

Jaycox: Yeah. Bill Burr was at the Fox and he was hitting all those hard topics and even his fans were getting uncomfortable. That’s his job. He’s going to give you laughter and make you think about coming onto my side by the end. 

Christensen: On STL Up Late, we’re never going to attack those points. We don’t look at gay marriage and think we have to make a joke. If there’s something there that is funny, we will do it. 

Jaycox: It’s like putting your finger on the pulse and trying to see if there is anything we could do. Like Rafe did with the finger gun. 

Buffa: If you can get one of them on your show, who would it be? Hilary or Trump?

Christensen: It’s gotta be Trump. 

Jaycox: Trump. There’s too much material. We’ve done stuff with Trump.


Buffa: The We Are Live crew is on STL Up Late this weekend. How did you meet Chris and Travis?

Christensen: They’d asked me a while back to be on and then Rafe was on. Josh McNew(STL Up Late director) shot a lot of their stuff. 

Jaycox: I’d met Chris at Helium when he judged a contest there recently. 

Buffa: What’s the harshest part of producing comedy and chasing this dream? The sacrifices. 

Christensen: Time. 

Jaycox: You have to have a day job. I don’t know anyone just doing comedy. You have to do a day job, have a social life, and do comedy. Trying to fit more time into comedy. 

Buffa: You have to commit energy to it. 

Jaycox: That’s exactly right. I knew I had a show so I had to reserve my energy. You can’t go out late. You have to save energy. 

Buffa: You run into an aspiring young comic. What’s the first thing you tell him?

Jaycox: Don’t listen to anyone. Listen to yourself. Don’t worry about trying to be someone else. It’s hard enough being yourself. Whatever you’re inspired by, do it. 

Christensen: Start creating. Don’t worry about the next step. Put your stuff on paper and start recording. Start making something and it will take off. 

Jaycox: A great quote I heard is “you don’t have to be great to start. You have to start to be great.” Just get out there and start. It’s an immediate fail or pass on stage in front of an audience. If you are more determined than anyone else, you’ll make it. 

Buffa: What’s the pre-show routine?

Christensen: We will run scripts. Dry rehearsal. Block them out. Dress rehearsals are next. I’m writing the moment I wake up until I get to the theater. Focus on the scripts. 

Jaycox: I try to be as present as I can. If I’m thinking about the next thing, that takes a toll. If I’m in the moment, things go well. You can tell when any of us aren’t present. 

In order to make it in comedy, you have to give a shit. Every day. Every time on stage. A message that is re-affirmed when you talk to Jaycox and Christensen about their work. They do it for the love of the game and the hope that the road leads to bigger and better things. 

Watching STL Up Late, you see all the hard work and sacrifice come together on stage. It’s a living breathing thing. See how hard these guys work to create original unfiltered comedy now that you know their story. 


Bobby Jaycox, Eric Christensen, and company are trying to make comedy great again in STL and it’s a goal they don’t take lightly. Be a part of the experience.