Friday, November 30, 2018

Citizens Organize to Protect Neighborhood Bar With Wall, Moat

Posted By on Fri, Nov 30, 2018 at 1:58 PM

Community organizer Bing Hampton knows his audience. "Big Development's not gonna get their grubby paws on Alex's Tavern," he shouts into his trusty bullhorn. There's no reason to believe developers of any size are looking to acquire the Jackson Avenue institution, but that did not allay the concerns of roughly two-dozen Midtowners who waved signs with all-cap messages like "THE DIVE MUST SURVIVE," and answered back, "Hell no."
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"We've started a GimmeGimme fund to build a wall around this treasured drinking establishment," says Hampton, whose career in activism began when he organized protests to prevent a new Taco Bell from being built over the old Taco Bell that was built over the even older Taliesyn Ballroom where British Punk band the Sex Pistols played on their disastrous 1978 American tour. Hampton says he's still sore about losing that fight but counts his campaign to prevent the Union Avenue Kroger from being built in Germantown as a total win.

"I've shown the power of getting out in front of a problems that don't yet exist," Hampton told the crowd, recalling how he was shocked at first by news that his favorite Midtown bar,  Zinnie's, was closing as the result of neighborhood gentrification. Then he was disgusted when he heard it probably had nothing to do with gentrification. Then he was dismayed when he learned that sometimes stories are complicated with many shifting perspectives and no discernible hero or villain.

"The big takeaway for me was, we've got to save Alex's," Hampton announced to even greater applause. "And Murphy's too," he added. "But not right now because you've got to start somewhere and Alex's seems doable. Besides, the Murphy's guy heckled my band once, so whatever, dude."

Hampton told Fly on the Wall he'd already raised $80 toward erecting "a substantial
Bing Hampton
  • Bing Hampton
   fence," but won't be able to move forward with his multi-phase plan until he hears back from tavern owner, Rocky Kasaftes, whom he's yet to contact.

"We want to do a crocodile moat too, or maybe a snake pit," Hampton said, in his address. "Snakes. Snakes. Snakes," the crowd chanted.

"It would be nice to see a developer eaten by either crocodiles or snakes," says former Midtown resident and dive bar enthusiast Chelsea Lamar. "I miss all these shithole places I used go to before I moved," she adds. Lamar, who swears "shithole" is a term of endearment, now lives in Cordova. "Even if I can't patronize any of these bars anymore, it comforts me just knowing that they're there," she says.
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Yes, this is a parody. Didn't you see the black and yellow tab up top?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Consultants Plan Monument To Consultants On Memphis Riverfront

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2018 at 11:49 AM

Sign greeting visitors to Consultants Park.
  • Sign greeting visitors to Consultants Park.
Claiming they have “bridged the gap between perception and reality,” a group of consultants has proposed Consultants’ Park, which will be dedicated to the many consultants hired to determine what Memphis should do with its riverfront.

“Since 1924, the city of Memphis has been trying to figure out what to do with this unique space, which overlooks one of the largest, brownest bodies of water in the world, and also Arkansas,” says the Preamble to the Executive Summary of the 2,667-page report issued by the Memphis Riverfront Consultants’ Coalition (MRCC). “Like the hundreds of consultants who came before us, we puzzled about how to polish Mud Island into a Mud Diamond. Then, three days into our recent ayahuasca trance charette, it suddenly hit us. What is more dependable and integral to the Memphis Riverfront experience than the Big Muddy? For the last century, the answer has been, consultants. That’s why we are executing Consultants’ Park, a reminder to all Memphis and the world that consultants matter, and that they must be paid.”
“That’s ‘Consultants’, plural,” says the first of the document’s 1,300 footnotes. “Because consultants love company.”

According to the design documents, Consultants’ Park will stretch the entire 2,348 mile length of the eastern bank of the Mississippi. It will include a specially designed “Consultants’ Safe Space Play Area”, where businesses can bring their consultants to frolic in the fresh, humid river air and socialize with other consultants. There will also be a Consultant’s Corner, where citizens can interact with and ask questions of a real live consultant, and then pay them directly in cash for their advice. “We see this as a way to get people off the streets and into cushy consulting gigs,” says the MRCC.

The centerpiece of the park will be a 1,923-foot tall statue of a consultant riding triumphant on a rearing steed. “It’s 1,923 feet tall, because 1923 was the year our consultant forefathers first discovered the Mississippi riverfront,” says the MRCC.
As for the rest of the 2,000+ mile park, the MRCC says “We’ll get food trucks or something.” 
Signage directing visitors to Consultants Park
  • Signage directing visitors to Consultants Park

The project is estimated to cost $1.2 billion. The MRCC points out that only $1 billion of the budget is allotted to consultant’s fees. “It’s a bargain for the taxpayers!”
As of press time, no city officials were available for comment.
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Yes, this is a PARODY. Didn't you see the black and yellow tab at the top.

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Roll Local with Memphis Made Comic, Stoned Ninja

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2018 at 11:43 AM

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Gabriel DeRanzo and Greg Cravens seem like unlikely partners. Cravens is a veteran illustrator, cartoonist, and comic strip creator. DeRanzo has a sterling reputation as a bartender, but when he and Cravens met at 901 Comics in a networking session for artists interested in contributing to Bad Dog comics first Memphis-made anthology of graphic fiction, he had no idea what he was doing. What did the inexperienced DeRanzo possess that nobody else had? A completed script. According to Cravens, who's been around the block a time or two, that made all the difference.

“Other people may have had ideas,” Cravens says, explaining why he gravitated toward DeRanzo. “But he had a completed 5-page script.” According to all involved, it wasn’t a very good 5-page script, but it was a spark — a beginning. There were plots to be hammered out and characters to develop. There was also an ethos to explore: The weed should be freed — and it would be too if not for those meddling, “Pharmaceutical companies, the alcohol industry, and organized crime," and money spent on “politicians to keep it illegal.”

Enter the Stoned Ninja. 

The meet-up where DeRanzo and Cravens first teamed up is part of the origin story for 901’s house brand, Bad Dog Comics, which published its second anthology earlier this month. Bad Dog will soon publish the second installment of DeRanzo and Cravens’ Stoned Ninja, which is currently receiving its finishing touches. Meanwhile, the creators continue to produce t-shirts and other fun, useful merchandise that, if things go according to plan, may ultimately position Stoned Ninja for wider distribution than most indie comics ever see. What has Stoned Ninja got that other indie comics don't? Its own brand of ninja-approved, 100 percent hemp rolling papers, that's what. 
Samples from 901 Comics Anthology Vol. 2
  • Samples from 901 Comics Anthology Vol. 2

“When I was a kid, comics were in every grocery store and quickie mart in the country, and they aren’t anymore,” Cravens says explaining the potential for head shops to expand comic distribution. “The market has narrowed down to where you have to go hard target search for a comic shop to go get comics,” he says. “What we’ve got is something we can sell in another store to another targeted audience. So, that’s the pitch when we approach larger publishers. There are potentially 25,000 more shops you can put your comic into, if you’ll just pay attention.”

“Given the content of the comic I figured there was no reason to go less than 100% pure hemp,” DeRanzo says of Stoned Ninja rolling papers. “So it’s as good a quality paper as anything out there and we’re offering fun packaging. On the inside flap there’s a comic and we’re going to change that flap every time we put in a new order. So Stoned Ninja will be like Bazooka Joe Bubble gum.”
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Stoned Ninja was originally inspired by the classic Kung Fu comedy Drunken Master, and developed as a means to explore pot culture beyond the usual burnout stereotypes.

“So I asked myself, if there can be a Drunken Master, why can’t there be a Stoned Ninja?” DeRanzo says.


Don’t anticipate kung fu Cheech and Chong, or Jackie Chan-inspired antics, even. Stoned Ninja is packed with fun stuff. Pizza boxes (featuring DeRanzo’s face) make cameos. The hero, Japanese American college student Kazunori Takagi, appears and disappears in clouds of dank smelling smoke. But, for being the story of a young man granted ninja superpowers by toking on a special strain of marijuana, the narrative content is fairly straight-faced.

For 10-years DeRanzo daydreamed about Stoned Ninja while he tended bar. “I had this insane amount of story content for movie ideas,” he says says. Comics weren’t in the plan so when Shannon Merritt from 901 said he wanted to start making comics DeRanzu said, “That’s great, I will buy your comics!”

“No,” Merritt answered. “I want you to help me make these comics.”

One problem: DeRanzo couldn’t draw. Okay, two problems: He had no experience writing either. But the characters were there. And after a decade of thinking about it, the stories were there too. So DeRanzo leaned on Cravens’ experience in graphic storytelling, and Cravens trusted DeRanzo’s vision. Inker Josh Lindsey has since joined the team.

“I drew the knives all wrong,” Cravens says, admitting a learning curve of his own. DeRanzo gave his illustrator some sharp examples as a gift. “I nearly cut my toe off twice,” Cravens says of his sample cutlery experience. But now his knives are proper.
Samples from Stoned Ninja
  • Samples from Stoned Ninja


"Right now we're trying to build the first six issue story arc at a pace that lets us be normal people. Once it's done we plan to release it on a monthly schedule. Ideally going mass distribution," DeRanzo says.

For the completely appropriate price of $4.20, comics are available locally at 901 Comics, Whatever stores, The Wild Hare smoke shop, Tobacco Zone, and Memphis Made Brewery. Stoned Ninja starter packs, which include a comic book, a t-shirt, and a pack of Stoned Ninja rolling papers are available online at stonedninjacomics.com.
DeRanzo, Cravens, Lindsey
  • DeRanzo, Cravens, Lindsey

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?

Kevin the Kid

Posted By on Thu, Nov 15, 2018 at 10:42 AM

Kevin McDonald
  • Kevin McDonald
If Monty Python are the Beatles of TV sketch comedy, The Kids in the Hall are Duran Duran. I borrowed that line from Kids co-founder Kevin McDonald, who’s been known to use it in his standup routine. It’s a great gag because it’s a terrible metaphor. If we’re being honest, The Kids are more like The Zit Remedy of comedy. Or maybe the Triumph of comedy. The point is, they were Canadian. Like Loverboy. They were also smart, savage, and over-the-top.

If the first season of SNL is the Citizen Kane of sketch comedy, Kids in the Hall is American Psycho (but Canadian); full of dark fantasy, cutting satire, satirical cutting. Etc.


Critics were mean to Brain Candy, but the Kids only feature film looks pretty good in hindsight. What’s not to appreciate about an evil Pharma company’s mad, mad, (mad, mad, mad) rush to commodify health, market an untested happy pill, and warehouse a nation? It’s a dark, borderline cynical fable of success and corruption that, for being implausibly white, pairs beautifully with Boots Riley’s surreal romp, Sorry to Bother You. Both are comic book-style journeys to the dark heart of the Winning class — A tour through the gilded rooms where the real party (inside the party) never stops and things are always weirder, dumber, and way more evil than you’d ever expect. But mostly dumber.

Local comedy fans have good reason to be excited. McDonald is on his way to town to lead a pair of workshops and perform an intimate program of comedy three ways: Standup, sketch, and an improv jam with Memphis’ own Bluff City Liars. Here’s what McDonald told The Flyer about being a Kid, teaching comedy to people who are terrible at comedy, and whether or not super dreamy TV host Darcy Pennell ever got to roll with The Hell Riders. (Spoiler alert: SHE DID!!!)



Memphis Flyer: Okay, I’ve been waiting 25-years at least to ask this question.

Kevin McDonald: Okay.

MF: Darcy Pennell. Did she ever finally get to roll with The Hell Riders?

KM: Sure. It’s my imagination, sure she did. She did a story. It was supposed to be a story for one weekend but she fell in love with Ace, the second in command which was frustrating because his name was Ace, so you’d think he’d be in command. But he was second in command. And she fell in love with him and they stayed together a year and then he broke her heart and she went back to the TV business. There, I made that up.

MF: Fantastic. Good for Darcy.

KM: Darcy Pennell was based on a local Toronto host of a TV talk show named Dini Petty.

MF: I didn’t know the character was inspired by one person. I’d assumed it was an amalgamation.

KM: Well, the name was. She sort of acted kind of forceful and strong. I can never do impressions, so I took this one aspect of her show that I really found interesting and I put it in Darcy Pennell.

MF: Nice. Can you tell me a little about the thing you’re doing in Memphis with Bluff City Liars? They said you’d reached out and found them. Is this a thing you do regularly? Find regional improv groups and then do workshops and a show with area comics?

KM: Yeah. I’ve been going around North America and doing that for the past four or five years. I spend weekends and I go to theaters with improv troupes and I teach them the Kids in the Hall method during the day. When I’m not doing cartoons or shooting stuff or doing my big podcast Kevin McDonald’s Kevin McDonald Show — I’ve got one coming out with Weird Al Yankovic and Tim and Eric.

MF: Oh, cool. I just saw he’s on tour and coming to The Orpheum in Memphis. Weird Al. Not Tim or Eric.

KM: He won’t be there this weekend will he?

MF: No, I don’t think. I think that’s a 2019 date. I just saw the announcement.

KM: It would be amazing if he was. He’s the nicest guy in the world. He sorta looks like he’d be the nicest guy in the world, and he is the nicest guy in the world. Anyway, I spend my weekends teaching and performing like I will Sunday night.


MF: It’s a cool thing. Gives comics and writers access to your process. To a Kids in the Hall experience. And also we get a chance to see you perform. What’s the origin story for this project.

KM: Well, I moved to Winnipeg. And I thought I wouldn’t get as much TV and film work as I’d been getting. I still get a lot, but I have to fly to places. So I had to think of something else. So, I have these boring theories about sketch comedy that I’ve been bring people for years with at cocktail parties. And I was performing at Toronto Comedy Fest with Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall, and they asked if I could teach. And I said I could throw something together. And I kinda liked it. And then I developed this thing. I guess it’s been six years, actually.

MF: I remember one time hearing you talk about the writing process with Kids in the Hall. About how you really thought the writing was the strong suit. Is that a focus of the workshops?

KM: Yeah. I think writing was sort of our strength. I think we’re all really good performers, so that gets into the writing. I teach the students writing through improv. So writing and performing are the same thing. But it all starts with the idea. And I think we were all very good with the idea. Then we learned how to go from an idea to a whole sketch through improv. Then when we got the TV show we had to actually write them down. Then we became like writer-writers. And we had to be performer-performers.


MF: I don’t want to say dark, that’s kind of an attitude, but there was a tone. I was watching some old sketches today and thought they were funnier than I did the first go-round. And prescient.


KM: Funny you say that. There are some things about the show that if I watch today by accident I’ll be like, “Oh, why was I complaining about that scene? That’s a really good scene?”

MF: Funny that way. And the film Brain Candy, looking back from 2018 it’s like you were looking into a crystal ball. I know you were just responding to the advent of Prozac and drug marketing…

KM: Yeah, exactly, it was. It was Prozac, but that was like the beginning of all of it, wasn’t it?

MF: There’s that line after your character has been invited to the secret VIP party inside the VIP party and wakes up with two women in bed. They’re called over to sign legal waiver saying the night never happened.

KM: It’s nice of you to say that. I don’t know if it’s a fluke or…

MF: It’s anachronistic, I know...

KM: But I’m very proud of the movie. It’s not just a good comedy movie, it’s sort of a good movie movie. It is sketchy, but we wanted to do a movie that was a whole movie but had great parts because we were a sketch troupe. And by whole I mean W-H-O-L-E not H-O-L-E.

MF: Yeah, that would be awkward.

KM: Bad plan.

MF: When you go out and work with troupes are the ideas they bring in already kind of Kids in the Hally?

KM: I don’t think so. Maybe I’m to close to it. Sometimes it’s an idea that reminds me of an old idea of ours and they don’t know it. But a lot of times it’s more Saturday Night Live or Key and Peele. And a lot of times it’s just bad because a lot of them are just starting out on sketches and I know my first hundred were probably horrible.

MF: That’s the learning curve. But what do you do with that, just rip the Band Aid: “You’re horrible, let’s work on that.”

KM: At first I didn’t know what to do, but now I know how to work with lots of things. What we do is, on the first day I break everybody up into groups and we improvise. Then that afternoon we work on turning those improvs into sketches. But then they get homework. The have to bring in a comedy premise on Sunday. I pick my five favorites and we work on that all day. Sometimes there’s a lot of good ones.

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

Gannett Digital Sees Revenue Increase. That's the Good News

Posted By on Sat, Nov 10, 2018 at 3:35 PM

G. CRESCOLI, UNSPLASH
  • G. Crescoli, Unsplash
Gannett Co. shared its Q3 earnings Thursday and the report contains some good news for The Commercial Appeal's parent company. Digital revenue is up by $3.3 million over last year. Unfortunately, digital gains couldn't keep pace with the $5.5 million in revenue lost from declining circulation. Publishing revenue is down $43.9 million with advertising and marketing taking a $26.5 million hit.

MarketWatch had a more detailed look at the numbers.

Revenue was $711.7 million, missing the FactSet consensus of $724 million and down from $744.3 million a year ago. Publishing revenue fell to $616.4 million, down from $660.3 million in the year-earlier quarter. Advertising and marketing revenue fell to $403.4 million, down from $429.9 a year ago. Print advertising revenue fell 16.7% to $204 million from $244.8 million a year ago, but digital advertising and marketing revenue rose 3.2% to $105.8 million from $102.5 million a year ago. Revenue from circulation fell to $258.9 million, also down from $264.4 million a year ago. 
The disappointing economic news arrives shortly after Gannett's latest letdown to loyal print subscribers. Deadlines weren't extended to allow even allow for even rudimentary coverage of the midterm elections. The news shouldn't have been surprising given the way out-of-state editing impedes timely sports coverage. It's also what you'd expect from a company now self-identifying as "an online news organization that continues to publish a daily, morning newspaper."

Industry analyst Ken Doctor's response to the election news practically anticipates Gannett's Q3 report. Writing for NiemanLabs, Doctor wrote, "that road to a mostly/fully digital future gets narrower month by month."

"Digital subscriptions — which sell at much lower prices than print ones, though with lower marginal costs — are gaining ground much too slowly. Given the combination of higher prices, a lesser product, and even increasingly erratic home delivery, print subscribers may provide less of a lifeline to the digital future than Gannett and other publishers now assume in their whiteboard calculations."


There's some evidence Gannett may be looking to cut employee costs again. A recent memo offered early retirement to employees 55 or older who'd been with Gannett for at least 15-years. 

"The Commercial Appeal is offering an Early Retirement Opportunity Program ("EROP") to eligible Guild-represented employees in the newsroom," the memo said. "Time is of the essence. We, therefore, ask that that you sign and return this document to me within 48 hours. The severance deal is based on 30-35 weeks' pay with a transition bonus of up to $5,520 determined by years of service."

But how about that digital? Up 3.2 percent! 

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Friday, November 2, 2018

No Next Day Election Results For Gannett Newspapers

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2018 at 10:54 AM

If there was ever a news item worthy of the "Dammit Gannett" tab, it's this. Via The Nashville Scene:
"Editors at the [Gannett] chain’s papers around the country were informed two weeks ago that deadlines for the print edition could not be extended in order to cover elections. As a result, Wednesday’s editions of The Tennessean, Commercial Appeal and Knoxville News-Sentinel will not have final results for some of the most closely contested statewide races in years."
JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks

“We do not believe print is a vehicle for breaking news," Tennessean vice president   and editor Michael Anastasi was quoted as saying.

Anastasi's not wrong, of course. Broadcast and online media do have advantages when it comes to live and breaking news. How that absolves daily print editions from obligations to print subscribers and expectations of  mere currency remains a mystery.

Folks who pay for paper say it with me now: Dammit!

UPDATE: NiemanLab weighs in:

"Conceptually, the push to separate print — “not a vehicle for breaking news,” that Gannett memo notes — from digital makes a certain sense, of course. And not adding any extra pages of newsprint for election results does save money. (“As you plan for print, please remember that we have tight controls on newsprint costs,” says the memo. “Any pages added need to be ‘made up’ by the end of the year preferably in November.”)

At the same time, it is those incredibly loyal print readers — the ones who have stood by newspaper companies through cut after cut in staff and in the product — who will now see that loyalty tested, again. Gannett, like a number of other newspaper companies, has more than a third of its print subscribers ages 70 or above in many markets. Most read in print; digital is a second and lesser option. (E-edition readers, who essentially get the print paper in digital form, will also be impacted by this decision.) Those subscribers, at Gannett and elsewhere, have seen their subscription rates hiked again and again, raised to the very limits of econometric modeling."
Ken Doctor's column notes that, in an effort to push more readers online Gannett is dropping its paywalls for 48 hours, enabling anyone with internet access to read Gannett's election coverage. It's a good read that takes a hard look at recent economic and subscriber history.

"What those numbers tell us is that that road to a mostly/fully digital future gets narrower month by month. Digital subscriptions — which sell at much lower prices than print ones, though with lower marginal costs — are gaining ground much too slowly. Given the combination of higher prices, a lesser product, and even increasingly erratic home delivery, print subscribers may provide less of a lifeline to the digital future than Gannett and other publishers now assume in their whiteboard calculations."
Read it all here.

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