Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Chronic Insomnia Christmas Special: Behind the Scenes!

We Just Finished the Christmas Special!
Today we finished recording what I believe is the most deliciously inappropriate Christmas special in the history of audio transmissions. This year's X-Mas extravaganza is a lot more fun than last year's edition, which was pretty good, but the only real holiday content was me taking a whack at a Leonard Cohen carol and another song about Christmas rape. Which was not that uplifting, really.

The new edition features a nog guzzling Santa Claus, a transvestite hooker, Grant Morrison, and Tiger Woods. Things go downhill pretty fast for Old St. Nick and it's up to us to save Christmas! And save Christmas we do, in the typical Chronic Insomnia style, which involves various bodily fluids and a good measure of blasphemy. You're welcome!

Quincy giving me the "donut" symbol in studio B. He's not asking for a breakfasty baked good. He wants something else entirely.

The Method Behind the Madness
Before there was a Chronic Insomnia, Mike & I used to do a lot of improv. We still do a fair amount of that. For a regular show, I generally show up with a half dozen pages of notes as a skeleton to keep me on track, but 85% of everything you listen to is unscripted, unrehearsed, and done in one take.

Skits are usually different, though. About 10% of the time, Quincy will produce something entirely on his own that I won't even know about until I get into Studio B and Mike will say "check this out" with a devilish grin on his face. That's how "Love Taco" got done.

Maybe 20% of the time, I will come up with something completely on my own with a full script, bring it to the show, and then beg Quincy to figure out how to produce everything I have written on my sheet. Usually when I go full script, very little gets changed and I take tighter control of the reigns, using Mike to take care of some voice work for flavor. Examples of bits like that: "Black Lantern", "The Growler", and the Didio/Lindelof interviews.

If you find my beard super's OK. Roll with it. It just means that you're human.

Most of what you're hearing when you listen to a Chronic Insomnia sketch is a Mike Lamere springboard with a Ryan Lee script. Mike is the Mark Millar/Stan Lee of the group. He's a fountain of ideas. So Mike will come up with a concept, like.... "Hulk shows up on the Starship Enterprise and Sulu likes him, and then Hulk kills him engaging in hot gay sex."

And then Mike will look at me and say; "Does that sound like a good idea?" And then we'll laugh for about 10 minutes. And then I'll say; "I don't know if it works or not, you'll have to write it and then we'll see if it lands." And then Mike will give me that look that says "What the hell are you talking about? I just did write it."

And then I will generally sit down with a pen and paper after listening to Mike give me the major beats and pound out the actual dialogue. Mike almost always comes up with the skeleton, and I almost always put the meat and skin on it.

Mike at the helm of the controls in Studio B. This is where the real magic happens, folks!

And then we record it. And by we, I'm mean Mike. I couldn't record a show if you paid me $1,000. After two years of watching Quincy do what he does, I've picked up less than 3% of what it takes to be functional with the equipment. (insert joke here)

This year's Christmas special was sort of a return to our true improv past. Mike provided most of the springboards and beats, but there was never any script. It was Old School "ready, fire, aim" broadcasting. Mike would say something like "OK, Santa's going to wake up and get into his sleigh to deliver presents to Sly Stallone, or Harry Caray, or whatever." Then we turned the mics on, I'd take about 3 seconds to figure out something to say and -bang!- spit out whatever came to mind.

And that's how the story unfolded. 85% of what you're listening to was done in one take with no script....and it shows in parts. Every once in awhile the material I spat would be so choppy or wrong that we couldn't use it.

But it turned out shockingly cogent for total improv, and some of it crackles with the spontaneity. I'm particularly proud of the "wiping" bit in Santa's sleigh, which completely button-hooked Quincy and he rolled with it lightning quick like the old pro he is.

My opinion? The thing that separates us from the chaff is our experience performing together. We're probably too vulgar, but we've got undeniable stage chemistry. Recording was fun, hope you all enjoy our saucy little dish!

- Ryan

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