A few months ago, my buddy Steve, aka the Cat Drawing Guy, asked if I wanted to accompany him to the LA Feline Film Festival in September. Steve was to be one of the VIPs of the festival, along with internet sensation Lil Bub. This was essentially the same thing as someone asking if I wanted a million dollars. Needless to say, I was in.
I flew out late Saturday night. I officiated a wedding earlier in the day, and had to deal with plane delays, but made it to California at about 3am Chicago time, so I was beat. We got up early the next morning for breakfast and to head to the festival to set up. Along the way, we saw another celebrity cat:
(Felix, looking like he's doing Sasha's "be cool" walk if "we have a fire" in Don't Spit the Water.)
We got everything set up and ready to go for a day of commerce. I would sell the drawings, t-shirts, etc, and pet all the cats, while Steve would draw the cats on the spot. We had a good system.
Once we were set up, I looked across the way, and saw a very familiar face. "There's Lil Bub" I said, and Steve was like "Oh, let's go meet them." So we did.
Her owner/Bub's Dude/ Mike Bridavsky was super nice and real and let me pet Bub and take some pictures of her. I surprisingly didn't cry.
She was so soft and sweet.
She told some secrets to Steve.
We also met other celebrity cats.
Cats were welcome at the festival, so many people brought their kitties with them in bags or on leashes. Like these:
(Yes, this cat is wearing deely-bopper sunglasses and sitting like that)
The festival was also an adoption event, so many shelters were there hopefully pairing numerous kitties with their new homes.
(This was taken before all the people arrived. The adoption kitties were very popular.)
There were also tents of other merchants selling their cat wares. I saw so many things that Parker would have loved (costumes, toys, treats), but not so much for our tiny old little Latte. I got her some treats.
We were slammed all day. The place to sell cat drawings is, by far, a cat festival. And I don't think it was an exaggeration to say that I was in my own personal Heaven. We met so many amazing people, and so many amazing cats. I felt very at home at a cat festival.
Then, early the next morning, we were on a flight back to Chicago. My second time in California was way too short. But it was nice to get home to my own little kitty and to my amazingly sweet husband.
I'm grateful to Steve for the invitation, and to the festival for hosting. It was a long day, but an awesome one, and one I will never ever forget.
Check out this LA Times feature and video, with a cameo by one of Steve's drawings!
Today I had the weirdest sensation--I opened one of several promo emails for 5ks that I get, only to find this image:
WHAA?? I know those guys!! I was confused--target marketing? Or DID EVERYONE GET THIS IMAGE?!?!?!
I always try to look energetic in photos with the hopes that one day I will get used in marketing AND IT FINALLY WORKED!!! And I love the Nature Museum, so all the better.
Because we at Blewt! can't sit still for over 5 minutes, today we've launched an epic fundraising campaign for a 26 episode second season of Steve Gadlin's Star Makers. We are going big this go round, filming in a state-of-the-art studio and potentially pitching to television buyers from all over the world. It's no secret that this show is amazing, and it is a project I am incredibly proud of. We are using this kickstarter to not only get support from our friends and family, but also secure larger advertising sponsors.
Take a look at our video, won't you?
There are lots of things in the world that need your support. And yes, this is just a silly comedy show. But the world needs to laugh, and we all need a reason to smile. So please take a look at the page and consider donating.
In April of 1999, I decided to move to Chicago to pursue comedy. My move date was going to be May 2000. I spent that year hustling--I visited several times, lined up 2 jobs, registered for classes, found an apartment, made friends. Somewhere in there, my friend Jason Chin recommended me for a documentary that was being produced about 4 improvisors in various portions of their careers. Jason was one of them, as well as the lovely Rachael Mason and some guy named Jason Sudekis. And I was person #4--the newcomer. Since I didn't live in Chicago at the time, I conducted my casting interview over the phone. One of the producers, a guy named Steve, called me, and we had a hilarious chat about comedy, art, life and our shared love of the movie Waiting for Guffman.
Sadly, the project fell through a few months after my arrival, but I stayed in touch with Steve. He invited me to sit in with an improv group he was putting together. I did. That group (The RIngmasters) performed for just a little while, and then turned into a different group at the Playground Theater (Pastor of Muppets, which I didn't join at the beginning, but would later on). Steve was a brilliant thinker and would often put together a night of spectacle. One night, he put together a mystery improv team, Shuddupyaface--we were each given codename (of African American actors--I was Agent Jackson) and we were to show up to the theatre but not mention to anyone that we were performing. He called us one by one to the stage where we performed together for the first and last time. The only kicker was that there was almost no audience at the theatre that night, so if you weren't in one of the other 2 established teams performing, it was correctly assumed you were in the mystery team. It was a super fun night.
There were video projects and other one-offs here and there. Along the way, I met some other guys that Steve went to college with--other comedians with the same sensibilities. In October 2004, Pastor of Muppets famously signed up for a sketch show slot for 4 weeks, and then didn't write one. Steve and his buddy Paul threw together a concept for a gameshow that they would host along with another friend Bryan as timekeeper. They posted auditions for weirdo variety act style comedians, and I of course signed up. Shortly before auditions were to be held, Steve emailed me saying that all but 3 people canceled their audition slots and asked what my bits were going to be. I described them to him, and was cast. And just like that, we put on Don't Spit the Water. After a few limited run engagements, the show ran weekly for years, and took us to SC, NYC, LA and even on TV with our own half hour pilot.
With the start of that show, the official comedy group of Blewt! was formed. Among many other things, we've produced a prank web series (Silly Funny Goof Gang), a standup showcase (Blewtenanny), a weird conceptual show starting Jared Logan and Kumail (The Demon Who Never Appeared), a Kenyan-penned melodrama (The Nairobi Project), a call-in cable access talk show (Talkin' Funny), 8 seasons of a super amazing hit talent competition judged by hyper-intelligent apes from the future (Impress These Apes--season 8 just wrapped last night--crazy) and a performance showcase television show (Steve Gadlin's Star Makers). On the side, Steve launched a stick figure cat drawing company called I Want to Draw a Cat for You and went on to score a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on the show Shark Tank. We've had numerous members of Blewt! over the years, all awesome. Some have moved onto LA, some have moved on to their own creative projects. At the core, though, is Steve, Paul, Bryan, Fuzzy and myself. We're a great team. We are constantly creating and putting more and more weird out into the world. TimeOut Chicago once called the creation of Blewt! one of the top 10 best moments in Chicago comedy in the 2000-2010 decade. Being in one of the biggest comedy cities in the world, that is a huge compliment.
With our 10 year DSTW anniversary approaching and the last season of Apes behind us, I've been thinking a lot about life and comedy and my life in the performing arts world. I have my hand in a lot of projects--I dance, I choreograph, I write, I perform, I direct. I am often full of anxiety and self-doubt. But these last 9 weeks of Apes has been something else--comforting. Being back with Steve, Paul, Bryan & of course Fuzzy is like going to a reunion of family or old friends. It's like going home. It is easy, and it is fun. I laugh so hard with those guys. Working with the same group of people is really a gift--we know how each other works and how to get the best product. We've laughed a lot lately with taking on this last Apes--we used to fight and argue over the smallest details, but now when someone makes a suggestion, the rest of us are like "yeah, that sounds good." As Steve said "We're all so old and agreeable now." Steve, Paul and Bryan are all fathers, and we all have different priorities in life, but we all love to create something stupid for the enjoyment of others--"Comedy to Delight and Confuse," as the Blewt! tagline says.
Sitting on the panel with the other Apes is one of my favorite things. There's no pressure to be stand-out funny up there--we just inhabit these characters and riff off of each other. A spectator last night told me that while the show is focused on the contestants and their performances, one of the joys of watching the show is watching the Apes interact with each other, because of our comfort level and camaraderie. I love that.
Every moment in our lives helps make us who we are today. We are a summation of experiences, and each person we meet enhances our lives in some way. I realize how amazing it is, when talking to people about Blewt! and our shows, to say "I've been working with Steve for over 14 years." I am grateful for all the crazy ideas he has come up with over the years and for all the opportunities I've had to work with him on those projects. I'm lucky to be able to say that he is one of my closest friends.
The world needs to laugh, and it's a gift that I get to help make that happen. I can't wait for what's next.
Hey yo, no bigs, it was the 2014 Chicago Triathlon this past weekend, and we did it again. These things are kind of old hat now for us, I guess. Funny how this used to not be our life, but now it totally is. Its something that I enjoy and do just to do--not to compete at or anything--just to get that rush. And the amazing thing to me is that we are now MASTERS of the event. Not once did I get nervous for it this year, even though I was super undertrained for the bike and run portions of it. I had been on my bike I think 3 or 4 times total since last year's tri, and even though I was doing the Sprint, they added some undisclosed distance on the course. But it was great from start to finish. Even being awake at 3am.
(my number was 6896, which is also a number when upside-down, so that was confusing)
Fuzzy competed in the Triple Challenge again this year, which is all 3 distances of the Chicago Tri. He blogged about it all here! (pics from the SuperSprint, with bonus Zach, here!) His first start wave on Sunday was 6:15am, and mine was 9:48am (the Sprint and International race order was smartly switched this year), so I had oodles of time to kill before I started. Luckily, they implemented all sorts of awesome new things in this year's event, such as the Sprint transition area being open from 6:30-8:30am. BRILLIANT. It was awesome for a number of reasons: 1) when we were there at 5am to set up, the racks for the Sprint were wide open, so I had my pick of spot 2) When Fuzzy got out of the water, I had time to leisurely go back to my transition, drop stuff off, & recheck my gear 3) the port-o-potty situation was WAY better than usual. I never had to wait more than 3 minutes, instead of the usual 20-25, which is BRUTAL when you are a multiple-pees-before-events kind of person like me. So I watched Fuzzy go in the water, then saw my friend Dominique take off, then chatted with my friend Roger (who was also doing the Sprint) while following Fuzzy through the course (and bragging about him). The water looked terrible with waves, but he rocked it, and then I cheered on Dominique through her swim. I ate some food, went to transition, then got ready for my event.
I was SUPER trained on swimming this year, due to the Point to LaPointe, so I was just excited to get in the water. I was in a weird mixed start wave that was literally Women 35-39, Men 20-24 and Men 20 and under. So there were children in our wave. Bizarre. I heard a lot of folks say they were nervous, but me? I was just ready.
I loved the swim. It was my favorite part. I think I did well--there were a ton of people holding onto the wall and on their backs trying to keep afloat, but I was smooth and steady. My offical swim time was 22 minutes, but that time includes a leisurely walk to transition, getting out of my wetsuit, and a stop to the port-o-potty. So I think I was out of the water actually in 17-18 minutes. I wish there was a timing chip on the Swim Out. Then I ate some food, sprayed some sunscreen and was out on Lake Shore Drive. The bike was fine--it was windy and hard, but fine, and I did it in like an hour 10. While biking back, I saw Fuzzy biking out, so I knew he had made his 10:15am wave time. It made me breathe a bit easier.
When that was done, I drank some water, and took off on the run. I think I walked about half of it, but I am ok with that. I had been on a 5 mile walk with Claire a few days before, and knew I could walk the whole thing if needed, but ran as much as I could. I had some nice chats with some nice people, drank some gatorade, enjoyed the spray water mists throughout the route, then finished on my own without any fanfare. I finished in about 2 1/2 hours, which means it was after noon when I crossed the finish line. The spectators were thinned out (though the ones that were there were AWESOME and SO supportive and wonderful), and the announcers likely didn't even see me coming in and didn't call my name (they were talking about the sponsors when I crossed.) I got my metal and my gatorade, then hung out in the chute and waited for Fuzzy to finish a little bit later. I was so proud of him when he did.
So yeah. It's a thing we did. And I am proud of us.
Another fun thing is that Dominique won an entry to another tri in Willmette on September 14th and gave it to me, so I have another one in 2.5 weeks. And I will likely chill out and zen out and enjoy that one, too. Cause that's what we Gerdeses do.
Official Results Here.
Ranked 1249 in swim, 1980 in bike and 2036 in run out of 2132. Not too shabby for a gal like me.
Jason Heidemann of the Chicago Tribune included Impress These Apes in his column this week about the loss of Robin Williams.
Standup Scene: Take a risk in honor of Robin Williams
By Jason Heidemann, Special to the Tribune
AUGUST 20, 2014, 1:10 PM
I was on my way to see a comedy show last week when I learned of the death of Robin Williams. You can say many things about the standup of Williams. His style was manic, intelligent, at times deeply personal and almost always highly physical. He was a comic bull in a china shop. He was political, a great impressionist
and a master ad libber. But what I'll miss most are the risks he took onstage. "You're only given a little spark of madness," he once said. "You mustn't lose it."
Williams was fearless. I think about this going into tonight's "Impress These Apes" challenge.
"Apes" is an eight-week show in the form of a talent competition judged by a panel of hyper-intelligent apes from the future (played by comedians). The annual two-month event happens Mondays at ComedySportz in Lakeview and is the brainchild of Blewt! Productions, the folks behind the Chicago-based game show competition "Don't Spit the Water."
Each week, the contestants are tasked with a challenge they must perform in front of a live audience and tonight their task is to perform a five-minute standup routine with a twist -- each has been assigned their own heckler whose job it is to derail their set. Talk about needing to be fearless. Comedian Shannon Noll is a comic who I last saw at the Laugh Factory's queer-themed "Chigayco" show. When comedian Tiffany Puterbaugh starts lobbing slurs her way, Noll handles them admirably. "I hate cross dressing children," shouts Puterbaugh in attempt to mangle a joke about a food truck with the words 'children crossing' written on the side of it.
Without missing a beat, a whip-smart Noll acidly replies, "Oh my God, you would've hated me as a kid."
The highlight is a ferocious Amy Sumpter who admirably beats back heckler Ramona Mourir by totally engaging her while still making direct eye contact with her audience. "I was scared out of my mind," Sumpter says later. "I found out about Robin Williams right before I left for the show [and] was super sad. But then I had a moment where I thought, 'what would Robin do? He would kick ass.' So that is how I decided I would handle my heckler."
Full Story: http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/comedy/chi-standup-scene-take-comic-risk-story.html
Saturday, August 23rd
Green Bean Day School
2214 N Elston
Taught by Eric Sarb
On Saturday, August 2, Fuzzy and I swam 2.1 miles to an island in Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin.
It was one of the most incredible things I've ever done.
We were concerned about the water temperature and the air temperature, and how are we going to know where to go and how will they get our stuff to the island etc etc. It turns out that it was all pointless worry, because everything was PERFECT.
When we got to Bayfield Friday evening, looking out at the tiny island across the water was super daunting. But we dipped our toes in, and the water was remarkably warm. What a relief! Packet pick-up was easy peasy and we got really great hooded sweatshirts with our registration fee. In the info packet, however, I saw the following, which made me a little uneasy (see highlight):
We had dinner with our friends Amy Jo and Colleen and their 2 daughters, then headed to the hotel to prep for the next morning. We stayed about a half hour away from the swim start, so that gave us time to wake up, eat a bit of food and mentally prep for the task at hand.
I always talk about big events like this--it is so easy to get nervous or intimiated, but the truth of the matter is, if you are a non-competitor like me (I am just trying to DO it, not to win), then all you are going to do is just get in the water and swim. No biggie. I had one wave of nerves beforehand, but mostly was just excited. The water temperature was 66 degrees, and the high that day was going to be mid-80s. The crazy thing was that Thursday, when we checked the weather, the high was supposed to be mid-60s. It was a fluke that it was so warm, and I am so relieved that it was.
The population of Bayfield, WI is 450. This year, there were 450 swimmers in the event. Everyone was so nice and friendly, and when I thanked a volunteer for having water before the start, they thanked me for thanking them. So precious.
The men started first, at 7:20. They got lined up at the buoys, I kissed Fuzzy and wished him luck, and off they went! It was neat seeing them take off into open water and to travel a great distance in such a short time. The women's wave was to start about 6 or 8 minutes later--I actually can't remember. I seeded myself to the back of the pack--I didn't want to be a bumper to all the fast swimmers--and had a lovely conversation with 2 other women who we all figured out had the same general pace time. Then we were off!
My main concerns with the swim were temperature (which wasn't an issue), food (I tried to force as many calories in as I could), having to pee during the swim, and mental. I ran some power songs through my head to keep any negative thoughts at bay. It was so neat taking off and just swimming into the unknown. As Fuzzy said in his blog post, we usually swim in a part of Lake Michigan that is walled in by concrete on one side. Swimming out to Madeline Island was just so neat and freeing--I knew the general direction we were going, but not exactly where.
Ok, so real talk here. About 20 minutes into the swim, I felt a nagging feeling. I had to pee. And when you have to pee and you have nowhere to pee, it is really hard to think about anything else. I tried not to think about it, but I knew I still had over an hour of swimming. It was going to be rough. I swam for a bit more and tried to think of a plan. I have no qualms about peeing in lakes and rivers--my last few years of triathlons and water sports have gotten me over that issue. But I usually have to go where no one is around and sort of focus, you know? So my plan was to swim to a support kayaker, and ask if I could hold onto their kayak for a second to relieve myself in my wetsuit. At just about that time, I had an issue with my right earplug, so I stopped for a second to adjust. Another woman swam by and asked if I was ok--at this point, I was mostly swimming alone, as the fasties were far ahead already--I told her I was fine, thanked her, and she kept going. Just then--the pee started--and I think I peed for about a solid minute. What a relief! Literally! Plus, the warmth of the pee felt great! (I always think of my friend Andrea's dad. He was a surfer, and once she told me that he said the first thing he would do was pee in his wetsuit so he would stay warm. I love it.) Off I went, and the swim went way better. I peed 4 more times after that, during the swim. I joked with Fuzzy after that I was "soaked in urine" but I periodically tried to flush out my wetsuit with lake water.
Ok, so enough about pee.
The swim was transcendant. I did a lot of thinking--I decided to accept a gig I was on the fence about, among other things--and I ran a long list of songs in my head to keep my brain going. I will post those later.
They had told us that there would be a bouy at every 1/3 mile, and a big one at the mile marker. I only saw 4 on my swim, though. At about what I am assuming was my halfway point I saw the smoke signal on the shoreline that they had mentioned before we took off. It gave me a second wind! Now I knew exactly where I was going, and I reoriented myself off that smoke.
Since I was near the back of the pack, it was rare that I saw other swimmers. Towards the end of it, I passed a pink cap (woman) and a green cap (man). I was thinking it could be Fuzzy, but the swimmer breathed on the left, and Fuzzy breathes on the right. As I approached the shore, I saw the finish line and kicked it into high gear. Before I finished, however, I stopped and turned around--I wanted to soak in just how far I had come and enjoy the moment of being almost done. A kayaker helped steer me toward the chute, and then when I started to stand up, volunteers said "swim to the orange!" So I kept going till I saw a series of orange sandbags that served as a walkway. I stood up--and immediately lost my strength and footing and stumbled. Two volunteers took my arms and guided me out of the water, up the stairs to the pier, and over the timing mat. I was grinning from ear to ear--I was deliriously happy!! The announcer called my name "Erica Gerdeees from Chicago!" I stopped for a second, caught my breath, then looked out over the water at how far I had come. I climbed the steps to the yard where we were (a family volunteers their yard each year) and started to peel off my wetsuit. I looked around for Fuzzy, but didn't see him, so I went to get some water and some fruit that was for the swim participants. I wandered for a second, and wondered if he was at the gear check. Just then, I heard the announcer say "Fuzzy Gerdeeees from Chicago!" and I rushed over to the pier. There was Fuzzy! He looked great!
There aren't a lot of photos from this event, FYI, cause we were...you know...swimming.
But here is a view of the lake from the finish line, with the approximate start noted by the arrow.
I was super weepy after and felt like a million bucks. I was and am SO proud of the major accomplishment that we did! It had been such a daunting event in the future, and suddenly, it was behind us. We picked up our gear, changed clothes and checked our times. I finished in my goal time, at 1:30! Fuzzy rocked it, and clocked in at 1:44. Full results are here.
When you think about it, it is really amazing. I have to give Fuzzy all the credit--without him, I never would have gotten into running, swimming, triathlons or any of that. It's because of his determination to do things he has never done and his constant desire to challenge and better himself that I do anything at all. He is such an inspiration to me, and I admire him more than anything.
Plus, he is so super cute.
Afterwards, we met up with our friends and ate what was probably one of the best breakfasts I've ever had in my life. It was just a sausage egg and cheese sandwich on an english muffin with coffee and some of Fuzzy's Hamm's, but DAMN it was amazing. So delish.
Colleen, Amy Jo, Juniper, Maize and Bart (a friend of Amy Jo and Colleen's who finished 34th overall) all headed back to the mainland, but Fuzzy and I stayed on the island to explore. We looked at all the little art galleries and shops and made a couple of purchases. It was so fun. When it was time to head back on the ferry, I was really overwhelmed by just how far we had gone. The ferry ride took about 25 minutes. And we swam that.
Beautiful Lake Superior.
I was on such a high the rest of the day and weekend, and it was such a great experience, I would do it again in a heartbeat. The more we talked to locals, however, the more we learned just what a fluke the beautiful weather was, so maybe it is good to just end on a high note and keep the good memories. :)
Overall Place: 365 out of 412
Place in Gender: 162 of 182
Place in Age Group (30-39): 52 of 54
Here are some of my power songs that got me through the swim (in this order):
You Should Know Better--Robyn
That's What's Up--Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
And a final parting shot: