Julia Sweeney: Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat at dawn in Cambodia.


I shut down my social media life.  Basically.  Some of it carried on, me being too lazy to figure out how to actually let it all go.

I wanted to direct a film based on a script I had written.  I had a star, I had a budget, I had producers – but alas, the film didn’t get financed.  Last June the writing was on the wall, it was not going to happen.

I was very, very sad.

I wondered what to do.  Over time, I realized I wanted to perform on stage again.  Well – again, isn’t exactly accurate – I’d been performing here and there: at conferences who’s organizations I support, a few times a year at The Uncab in LA where my friend Beth Lapides hosts, and at the TED conference in Vancouver where I’ve done the comedy wrap-up for several years running.

So here I am, pushing 60 years old (in a year or so.)  And I decide to do a new stage show.  But I didn’t have a big story. My other monologues were about traumatic or dramatic stories I’d lived through.  Thankfully, I didn’t have any more of those.  I realized that I wanted to try observational, short story, randomly-connected-topic Stand-Up.

In the meantime I was fortunate enough to start hanging out at Second City and their new Harold Ramis Film School. I’m good friends with one of the teachers there (Ron Falzone) and the Film School President is also a friend – Trevor Albert – he produced Harold Ramis’ “Stuart Saves His Family.”   I was in that.  Al Franken starred in it based on his SNL character, Stuart Smalley.  In any case, I fell into this wonderful school and therefore was spending a decent amount of time at Second City Chicago – a place many assumed I was from, but in fact had never visited before.

I spoke to them about allowing me to workshop a show in one of their small spaces.  They agreed. So far it’s been a dream relationship.  And now I’m going to do at least 14 shows in their Beat Room, which holds 56 seats.  My show is entitled, “Julia Sweeney: Older & Wider” and who the fuck knows what it’s going to be about at this point.  So far my notes for Friday are: (I’m looking at the cards pinned on my bulletin board right at this moment) Vietnam Trip, Chicago Love, Being Old & Heavy, Mulan Gets a Driver’s License, Thoughts on Pat, Justin from Michigan, Strategies for Dealing with the President Trump Reality Show, #Me Too, 23 & Me, The New Testament, Cancer in North Dakota.

The first 14 shows are just under one-hour long.

See the performance page on this website for information.  If the show turns out good enough, I’d love to tour it.  But we’ll see.

What I used to do with my blog was to list what movies I watched, and the books I read in the previous month.  That seems like a good idea.

Books read December, 2017

Mastering Stand-Up: The Complete Guide to Becoming a Successful Comedian.  Written by Stephen Rosenfield.
Zen and the Art of Stand-Up Comedy, written by Jay Sankey.
Philip Larkin Poems: Selected by Martin Amis, written by Philip Larkin
Vietnam: A New History, written by Christopher Goscha
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, written by Robert Sapolsky
Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, written by Luke Harding
Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, written by Joshua Green
A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, written by Norman Lewis

The first thing I notice from my list is that there is not one bit of fiction in the lot.  That makes me very upset.  I love fiction.  There is so much I haven’t read – classics, books I love that I want to read again, great new fiction writers.  And yet, and yet.  I tend to feel the uncontrollable urge when it comes to non-fiction. I’m determined to read much more fiction this year.

I try to read for about two hours a day.  Often it’s much less, and often it’s much more, but I would say that’s the average.  I do love to read. It’s hard for me to sleep most nights because I am wrapped up in reading.  I would say reading is my primary primal activity, it’s so visceral and personal and intense.

I loved the two books on Stand-Up. I’m not sure if they’ll help me or not.  It’s a new way of looking at my “craft.”  Maybe I’m just a monologist, or maybe I can shape myself into a Stand-Up performer.  Right now I’m going to just try to deal with holding a microphone, which seems like nothing, but let me tell you – it’s really the dividing line between monologue and Stand- Up in my mind.  I will report next month, after six shows, and we’ll see where I’m headed.

The Stephen Rosenfield book was really insightful and even profound.  It’s funny to read a book about something that I feel I’ve done mostly instinctively for my whole life.  I thought it gave me a whole new way of looking at talking on stage.

I love Martin Amis and Philip Larkin and when I saw that Amis had done a selected poetry book, using Larkin’s lovely poems, I couldn’t stop myself from reading it at once.  Yes, we’ve learned that Larkin was a bit of a boob, harbored some attitudes that we might wish we didn’t know about, but Larkin is still my favorite British poet.  Also, I was travelling and realized that poetry is probably the best use of a Kindle.  It’s really nice to read poetry on a Kindle.  I’m also going to read more poetry this year.

Yeesh, already two New Year’s resolutions.

I went to Vietnam and Cambodia with Michael and Mulan over the Winter holidays.  We went on a bike trip and according to Mulan we biked almost 200 miles each.  Vietnam was different than I expected, I thought it would be more rural I guess, but where we went was intensely urban.  I loved Hanoi, we were there five days.  The food is incredible.  The egg coffee, the Bahn Mi sandwiches.  I think 100 years of subjugation by the French might have been worth it for the combination of flavors in the Bahn Mi, and the Vietnamese really got the baguette thang. We ate non-stop.  Every day included a culinary delight.  To prepare for our trip I read Vietnam, A History.  It was a truly frame-changing book about South East Asia.  Goscha got me to think about China and compare it to the Roman Empire, only where the Roman Empire collapsed, China did not.  Goscha also gets you to see the waves of influences on Vietnam over thousands of years.  And he urges you to stop thinking of the world divided into the modern historical period and the period before that.  It’s all of a piece.  His book greatly enhanced my experience of Vietnam.

Another wonderful book I read was Norman Lewis’ A Dragon Apparent.  This is a travel book written in the 50s, long before the American War in Vietnam.  Lewis is a lovely companion, one of those travel writers that you feel so close to and who makes you laugh and cringe and weep with his insights and sardonic perspective. I want to read his other travel books, particularly one about Naples during World War 2 and another about Sicily and the Mafia.

I am the biggest fan of Robert Sapolsky and have read all his other books. I was so excited to read Behave.  There is so much in this book!  I listened to the audio version of the book and then read the hardback version. I’ll read it again very soon, probably this month.  It’s chock full of wildly interesting biology and his style of communicating makes the whole book a joy from beginning to end.

Devils Bargain, the book about Bannon and Trump was fascinating. I am so interested in how Steve Bannon came to his worldview.  All these Catholic guys emerged from the same culture I did: Paul Ryan, Steve Bannon and the list goes on and on. But their Catholic influence pointed them toward an entitled, mean-spirited rejection of modernity.  Personally I feel it all has to do with keeping women down – but maybe I’m biased.  No – Wait!  I think I’m right.  But anyway, the book is good. I listened to the audio and then got the hardback version too.

Collusion, it’s great. I love Joshua Green and I read him whenever I see he’s written something.  I knew most of what was in the book, but it means something to have it all laid out. The most shocking information in the book, for me, was learning that Trump went to the Soviet Union in 1986 and it wasn’t until after he returned (just after he returned) that he started putting those ads in newspapers, those letters telling people what he wanted to happen in the world.  Mostly about breaking up NATO.  It could be a coincidence that Trump started this then, and within weeks of returning from Russia.  But is it?  We will one day know, I believe.

Lordy, how is this Trump Presidency going to play out?  What will happen? It’s just revolting.  Deeply unsettling, frankly.

Okay, for films I’m going to do something different.  I began to log the films I was watching on this website: Letterbxd.  If you look me up, I’m listed under JuliaSweeneyBlu.  You can see what I’ve been watching.

So I’ll go back to my monthly blogging.  I might write about other things from time to time as well. We’ll see.

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