Saturday, January 24, 2009

Improv, Scientology, And My New Favourite Celebrity

Monday brings us to the final chapter of my adventure in California - it was goodbye to my friends and off to LA for a solo couple of days in the city that's stolen my heart.

After a delicious and nutricious (cough) lunch at In-N-Out, I was on the road. I got off to a later start so I didn't get into the city until nearly dinnertime, putting me majorly behind schedule. I had planned to visit the Hollywood sign and hit up Robertson Boulevard (ie the place where all the paparazzi live) this trip since I didn't see either the last time but by the time I got in and dropped my stuff off at my cousin's, it was nearly dark and time for dinner, so it was off to Pink Taco for the little piece of heaven called crispy mini beef tacos. (There are so many vagina jokes to be made in that sentence...)

After tacos, I headed east across Franklin Avenue to the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre. Some of you might remember me mentioning the UCB back in the halcyon Michael Cera days when he hosted a live theatre version of the show during the writer's strike at the UCB theatre in NYC. I've always been down with the UCB because my very favourite nerd used to improv there, and it lists Amy Poehler, David Cross, and Jack McBrayer as alumni (fun fact! Amy Poehler actually co-founded the UCB!). I had no clue they had a West Coast branch until the guy who runs my improv school (Impatient Theatre Company what?) told me to check it out. And boy, was that a good idea.

I rolled up to the theatre about 5 minutes before the 9pm show and there is a throng of people mulling about outside. I quickly ascertained that Monday is the busiest night at the UCB and if you don't have a reservation, you probably won't get in... which is exactly what happened to me. I was able to confirm a spot at the 11pm show though, jet lag be damned.

The area that the theatre is in is ecclectic - beautiful old apartment buildings built into the hills, trendy restaurants, and yet lots of sketchy people who skulk about. The biggest eye-catcher, though, was this:

It spans about half a city block and is by far the biggest, strangest building of its kind that I've ever seen. It was clear to me, as I stood watching it from across the street, that it was not a business, not a hotel, not a house: it was a weird blend between the three. Simply put, it stands out - and not just because of the giant sign affixed to the roof reading "Scientology Celebrity Centre".

Oh, yes. You read that right. It was the Scientology Celebrity Centre. As soon as I read that, it alllll made sense.

Apparently the building used to be called the Chateau Elysee and was a popular hotel/celebrity hang out back in the 20s and 30s. As for what they do there now? It sounds like they try to convert people and hold lavish parties where you may or may not see Travoltas or Cruises. Check out this interesting article by the New Yorker - it's fairly long, but it runs down all the basic stuff about Scientology, its presense in LA, and the history of the castle. A very interesting read.

Also interesting was that there was security up the wazoo patrolling it. I was a little afraid to take pictures but surprisingly I was given no trouble. Although, my name is probably on some super-secret list somewhere and my phone tapped... Maybe they'll start monitoring my blog and up my readership? 'Cause I would be down with that, just saying.

(Also interesting is that this same security force shot and killed a man last November outside of the the Chateau. At first, I was all, "WTF Scientology!", but then I found out that dude was weilding double machetes and was trying to kill them first. So, I mean, I get it.)

Moving on from my creepy Scientology discovery, the show at the UCB was great. I saw my first and only celebrity at the show. I mean, he's no James Van Der Beek, but I recognized him right away and got super excited: Paul Scheer!

(For those not as obsessed as me, he's the one on the right beside Jack McBrayer).

Paul Scheer played Donny Lawson opposite Jack McBrayer's Kenneth Parcell on 30 Rock. So technically I was, like, one degree away from Tina Fey!

But wait - there's more. I was also technically one degree away from My Ex-Boyfriend Michael Cera! Paul is starring alonside My Ex-Boyfriend Michael Cera in a movie called Year One that comes out in June. Dude, this is getting a little too coincidental, right?

Alsoooo... In perusing the performers section of the UCB-LA website, I see that My Ex-Boyfriend Michael Cera's current real-life (and, I assume, non-airplane stalker) girlfriend performs there. All I have to say is thank God she wasn't there that night because I'm pretty sure she'd recognize me as the creepy picture-taker that ruined Her Real-Life Boyfriend Michael Cera's trip home. Um? Phew.

So the show as great - it was more multi-media/stand-up than improv, but it was good to see nonetheless. Also, there were a lot of innapropriate dirty pictures, which always make me laugh (think old dude threeway. Not joking!).

I also learned something very important at this show - everyone in Hollywood is either famous or works for someone famous. As I was standing in line before the show, this group of people about my age were chatting about the improv classes they were taking at the UCB and apparently one girl was Adam McKay's (another UCB alum, heavy hitter in the comedy world, and married to Jeremy Piven's sister) yoga teacher (extra interesting because she mentioned she was Canadian and working there illegally!) and another guy worked for Steven Spielberg. For really! I intend to try and prove this theory as soon as possible and will, of course, keep you posted.

Now on to Tuesday! I spent the day in Culver City, trying desperately to get a bit of a tan outside the Bonnie Hunt Show studio while waiting for my taping to begin. This was my second (and third, since I went to two tapings in one day this time around) time seeing the show and I have to say, it cemented her as my new favourite celebrity. She is honestly one of the nicest and least affected people I've ever met - and to be able to say that about someone who has lived and worked in Hollywood is one of the most remarkable occurances in the world, I think. She was so genuinely interested in what people had to say and really very caring and outgoing. Not to mention that she's fucking hilarious - her off the cuff comments to guests (both on and off the air) had me in stitches the entire day.

Also interesting was that I got to chat with her briefly and mention the "no-end job" story to her: apparently one of her staff members also gets hilarious half-insulting messages from her mom (about her haircut and how it's not as cute as the haircuts the celebrity guests on the show have). I was super nervous (it's so weird - the first time I met her I was pretty chill, but this time I started shaking a little - not Michael Cera-level or anything - and got a little tongue tied. I guess I get randomly affected by certain celebrities in certain moments? Or perhaps my airport incident has taken the wind out of my sails a little?) so it didn't come out totally right, but she got the gist and laughed a little. More than that though, she just seems so genuinely interested in what everyone has to say. She chatted with this guy about doggy dandruff for like 10 minutes!

If you don't watch her show, you should. Trust me.

After my TV-filled afternoon, I decided to go to In-N-Out for my last California meal and then drive through the hills for the rest of the evening. Now, in theory I thought this was a great idea - drive around, relax, get a feel for the city, and take in the beautiful lights from up above. In practice? It was absolutely fucking terrifying. I was driving up hills that were so steep they were practically vertical. At night. By myself. Without a GPS or a map.

I'm not going to lie, there may have been a little poop dans le pants at certain points.

In the end though, it was pretty worth it. I took Laurel Canyon all the way across the mountains and into the Valley. I know a lot of people complain about the Valley, but I didn't think it was that bad. It felt like Burlington or Mississauga: not quite at the centre of things, but close enough and easy to get around in. I cut back the same way and then drove both East and West through Mulholland drive and caught some of the nicest views of the city and of the Hollywood sign. Unfortunately they don't light up the sign at night (why???) and they don't let you stop to take pictures (damn you park ranger and your stupid flashy flashlight!) so I don't have much to offer in the way of stunning photographic evidence, but here's an idea of what it looked like:

All in all, it was another lovely trip to a lovely city. I know most of the world hates LA, but if you loathe with your entire being the cold and snow like I do, you would understand why I love it. In fact, you could throw me in a ghetto in Calcutta and I would probably love it more than living in Toronto in the winter (minus the infectious diseases but plus all the naan I can eat!).

Which brings me to my big announcement: I am going to move to LA next January. That gives me a year to get my poop in a group (poup in a group? poop in a groop?), save up some cash, find a job (if possible) and a place to live and pack up the kitties and go. I figured January is a perfect time because I'll be here for Christmas and yet will miss most of the winter's worst. I keep saying things like "hopefully" and "probably" and "aiming for" but I keep correcting myself to refer to this in the definitive or else I think I'll chicken out and not go. It's actually a pretty scary move for me, even though I want it so badly. Damn Canada for not having some sort of better job-share arrangement with the US so I could just move there in a flash and not have to worry about being an illegal alien. But anyways, there it is. Out in the blogosphere for all the world to read and hold me to.

So please, hold me to it okay? Also, find me a way to work there legally while you're at it. Thanks.


Rikki said...

you should move in with amy and i.


lets chat.

i so wish i was with you, but i was thinking about the griddle that past monday, tuesday and wed. mmmmm

Liana said...

Mel! You're a stick to your guns kinda gal and I want a reason to visit Hollywood. I'll see if I can get you a job with BJ Novak, sometimes I pretend that he and I are best friends!

I miss you and I love reading your blog!