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My Evening With Carol Burnett

CarolBurnettBeing a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has its perks, however, living in Portland makes it rather difficult to take advantage of most of them. Members of the Academy often get free passes to movie screenings, plenty of DVD screeners for TV shows during Emmys voting season and countless invitations to evening events where networks parade their stars on panels for every TV show you can think of.

I have been telling myself for years, one of these days I’ll buy a plane ticket and actually attend an event where I don’t have to wear an uncomfortable floor-length gown and heels. That event showed up in my Inbox on July 1, at 10:56am. The subject line was:

“An Evening With Carol Burnett – July 22.”

I immediately clicked through because I have tried to attend these events before, and my experience has been if you snooze you lose. I signed up, me +1. Yes, I agree I will really show up and you won’t be sorry you gave me these two seats. Submit.

The confirmation came back immediately, and then I panicked. I needed a plane ticket and I needed a plus-one. Think, think, who would actually buy a plane ticket to go see Carol Burnett with me? Wait a minute, who lives in SoCal who might want to go? Hmmmm.

I ended up taking my sister Shannon who lives in Laguna Beach. She picked me up at the Burbank Airport on Monday at 2:20pm, and we made our way to NoHo (North Hollywood) to try to find a place to eat and drink. After all, we had three hours to kill before heading over to the Academy.

We parked the car near the Academy and started walking around looking for a place that served decent food and had a bar. I had no idea this would be so difficult! After passing several restaurants that served burgers, pizza and soft drinks we noticed a sign on the sidewalk just down the road that said “$4 Margaritas.”

“Who cares what kind of food they have,” I said. “They have $4 margaritas!”

We sat at that bar in Bow & Truss for the next two and a half hours eating Mahi Mahi tacos, shrimp ceviche and an odd kale salad while Bartender Ben looked on and occasionally interjected. Oh, and we had a few margaritas and they were well worth the $4.

At 6:25pm we walked across the street to the Academy and got in the back of a line that snaked its way back and forth across the courtyard in front of the building. I had been warned to arrive an hour early if I wanted to ensure I got a seat, because they had given out way more tickets than they had seats in the theater. They often do this because so many people sign up but don’t show up. Not tonight.

We did get in, and we did get good seats, but if we had come any later we would have ended up in the overflow room with the other 100 people who didn’t get into the theater.

The lights dimmed promptly at 7:30pm, and the evening started with a short reel of clips that chronicled Carol’s history in television. Then the lights came up and the President of the Academy introduced Carol Burnett and the moderator/interviewer for the evening, Kristin Chenowith.

There isn’t enough room in this blog to hold all of the stories Carol told, but I will tell you that she did talk about growing up poor with her grandmother, roller skating in the hallway and the day she met Julie Andrews. And of course there were stories about Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Vicki Lawrence. Wow. What a comedic team they were.

After about 45 minutes of chit chat with Kristin, Carol finally called for questions from the audience. I had spent the entire plane ride thinking up what I would ask her if they actually called on me and handed me the microphone. I really wanted to know what the boundaries were for sketch comedy on the major networks back in the day of the Carol Burnett Show.

The first person raised his hand, then the second, then the fifth. I was wiggling in my seat, do I raise my hand? Is it a stupid question? I just knew if I didn’t ask a question I would regret it. I noticed an attendant with a mic just a few rows down from me, made eye contact with her and shot my hand in the air like a 5-year old who has to pee. Okay, here she comes, now I really have to do this. Shit.

There were three more questions from the other side of the room before the woman handed me the mic, motioned for me to stand up, whispered something into her headset mic and told me I was next. Then she pointed at me at me in that silent TV way and mouthed the word “go.”

I swallowed hard and hoped something intelligent would come out when I opened my mouth.

“Hi Carol,” I called from 20 rows back, waving so she would know where the voice was coming from. ”Were there ever any characters you wanted to play or skits you wanted to include on the show where the network just said no?” The audience mumbled in approval of the question. Oh yes, it was indeed a good question.

Carol paused for just a second and then she said, “No.” Silence.

Crap. This can’t be happening to me right now. Are you kidding me right now? Nothing? Never? Nada?

Then she continued. “Oh wait, there was this one sketch…” And she proceeded to tell the story of the sketch she and Harvey Korman did about a nudist camp. Her character was positioned behind a fence with just her feet and her head showing, and Harvey was on the other side talking to her about what it was like in the nudist camp. His line was something like, “Well how do you dance in a nudist camp?” And she responded, “Very carefully,” to which the network responded, “You can’t say that on TV.”

She said the best part was that the line they finally agreed on seemed even more suggestive than the one the network nixed in the first place. During the live taping when Harvey asked, “How do you dance in a nudist colony?” she answered, “Cheek to cheek.” Yes, really.

The story got lots of laughs, and I stood there grinning from ear to ear, holding that microphone like it was a stolen Emmy. Because I knew that as soon as I let go of that microphone my moment with Carol would be over.

There were a handful of questions after mine and then Carol and Kristin were gone. But for a few brief minutes that evening I felt like I, Kelly Jo Horton, was having a personal conversation with the legendary Carol Burnett.

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Sitting with the Geeks at The Hunger Games World Premiere

Hunger Games SutherlandI am one of the few people on the planet who has already seen the Hunger Games movie. I have never had more people–men, women and children–ask to be my date until the day I found out I would be getting a ticket to the premiere. The key word in that sentence is “a” ticket. I got ONE.

It all started back in August of 2011 when I accepted a job at Crowd Factory, which is a company whose product is social media widgets. My boss is the one who divvies up the accounts, and I was privileged enough to end up with Lions Gate Films. So far I’ve been part of the social media teams for Abduction, One for the Money, Good Deeds, and now Hunger Games.

I spent most of last year eating, breathing and dreaming up ways to make the Hunger Games fans engage online. I worked diligently with some very creative people at Lions Gate and two external digital agencies. My tiny piece of the pie in all of the Hunger Games digital magic was the “Race for Mayor” campaign on the 13 District Pages (12 Districts and The Capitol) on Facebook.

At 4:30 am on Monday November 14, 2011, there was an open conference line for the incredible group of people with whom I had spent so much time building this amazing immersive experience with. When the Hunger Games movie trailer went live at 5am we simultaneously pushed 13 new Facebook tabs to the District pages on Facebook and held our breath, waiting to see if the fans would respond. The CTA (Call to Action) was simple: I Want to Run for Mayor!

Within a week there were thousands of fans running for mayor. They had created video campaigns on YouTube, and Facebook pages to get people to endorse them, because you see there was a hook. The fan who got the most endorsements would be elected mayor of their District on Facebook, and at the time what they didn’t know is that they would also be invited to attend the world premiere of the movie in Los Angeles.

On Monday March 12, 2012, I proudly sat in Row A of the Loge section at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles with a group of geeks I had spent countless hours on the phone with, but had never met in person. I was grinning from ear to ear when Joe Drake, the President of Lions Gate, came out on stage to introduce the movie and commented on how wildly successful the marketing effort had been for the film so far. According to Fandango, Hunger Games has outsold Twilight Eclipse in pre-sales, making it the most successful pre-sales movie on record.

Then the lights dimmed and adrenalin took over as some of us saw the film for the first time. After the credits rolled we all made our way to the after party. I watched the newly minted stars enjoy their exploding celebrity status, and the veterans like Donald Sutherland graciously pose for photos with everyone who asked, including me.

There were so many moments that evening that were once-in-a-lifetime type moments. The palpable anticipation in the theater before the first frame of the film appeared on screen, and the excitement when the final credits rolled and we all realized we helped create this phenomenon. But the moment that I will never forget was when someone who I really respect at Lions Gate introduced me to someone as a “social media genius.” That made the journey all worthwhile.

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Recent articles:

How ‘Hunger Games’ Built up Must-See Fever. - New York Times

‘Hunger Games’ Dominates Facebook, Online Ticket Sales – Mashable

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Storm Large Puts Exclamation Point on Portland Run

I originally published this article in The Portlander on August 20, 2009. Since then, Storm Large has published a gripping memoir that is a great ride and a great read. If you did not get to see her one-woman show, go buy the book and imagine her performing it for you right there in your living room.

This is my nod to Storm. You go girl!

Storm Large in Crazy Enough

It’s Sunday at 2pm, and the Ellen Bye Studio at the Portland Armory is sold out for the last performance of Crazy Enough, the one-woman show that is Storm Large’s life story. The sign at the door warns of explicit language and adult subject matter, so you wouldn’t expect to see your mother or your grandfather there in the audience, but they are.

On the small stage: three male musicians and one very tall microphone stand, which has everyone whispering, “Is she really that tall?” The lights go out, the music comes up, and when the lights slowly return there she is: all six feet of her, wearing sneakers, loose black pants, and a fitted tank top that leaves nothing to the imagination.

There is some small talk, and then the tall confident woman on stage quickly transforms into a vulnerable young girl who is desperately trying to find some stability in a home that has none. And thus the gritty ride begins.

The audience is rapt as they watch Large try to navigate the completely unpredictable nature of her schizophrenic mother, who is there one day and institutionalized the next. Large painfully relives the moment when a doctor tells her that insanity is in her genes, and she too will be fighting the same demons some day. She soothes herself with promiscuity, alcohol and a heroin addiction.

The audience is stunned to silence, brought to laughter, and tempted to tears, watching her gripping life story unfold at their feet. She has their hearts in the palm of her hand as she takes them willingly on a journey of wanting, desperation, hope and finally love.

By the end of the performance there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Storm Large is not just another voice talent, but a formidable actress and incredibly engaging performer. She reminds the audience that, “Life isn’t safe. It isn’t always quiet. And it certainly isn’t small.” The lights dim, and she exits the stage one last time. It is clear that although her run with Portland Center Stage has ended, this show will live on if Large is willing to revive it in another venue.

Storm Large is in fact crazy enough and her life is indeed one big exclamation point.

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Dear Jesse James

bullock-oscar_1598983cDear Jesse James,

Let me just start by saying “Fuck you!” There, now that we have that out of the way, we can continue.

Your wife Sandra Bullock stood up on that Golden Globes stage a few weeks back and thanked you for having her back. Well apparently you also had Michelle McGee’s back, and front too I imagine, while your wife was off creating an Oscar-winning performance for The Blind Side.

There is nothing more humiliating than taking a woman’s trust and trashing it by having an affair. I know, because I’ve been there.

My Facebook status once said, “I want what Sandra Bullock has, a man who has her back.” Today my status says, “I do NOT want what Sandra Bullock has after all.”‘

You may not have Sandra’s back but I do.

Sincerely,

Kelly Jo Horton

Single mom, actress, geek

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Honoring George Carlin, and Swearing My Ass Off

Today I’m using cuss words. How can I not? Class Clown was the first album I ever bought with my own money. I was eight or nine, and my mom let me buy it! I could repeat it word for word. I wore that album out.

So, in honor of George… the seven words you can’t say on television: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cock sucker mother fucker and tits.

George Carlin 1937-2008

R.I.P.R.O.T.F.L.O.L.

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