Jeff Strate: A Mike “Stretch” Gelfand sighting

Joan Rivers, Lewis Black, Jackie Vernon and Phyllis Diller were among the comedians Mike “Stretch” Gelfand and I talked about yesterday (September 4th) during a retreat to a Linden Hills caffeine pump, a kind of comfort zone for chronically under employed Wi-Fi junkies. We were unaware that Joan had passed away in Manhattan earlier in the afternoon but understood that she was on her way out.I recalled a scene in the riveting 2010 documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” in which a stoked-up heckler in a rural Wisconsin casino fails to shame Rivers for pitching one-liners about Hellen Keller. With cinema verite footage, the film (co-directed by Edina native Annie Sundberg) essays a survivor recapturing her perch as one of America’s most funny and edgy comics.This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.We inconclusively pondered why Joan had allowed herself to be booked into a dead end comedy club in Wisconsin. Late of the KQRS Morning Show and with a textured life as a newspaper man, Canterbury Park horse racing tout, public relations flak, sports cableTV co-host, and cab driver, Mike Gelfand has also earned pocket change by booking Twin Cities comics into upper-midwest clubs. Continue Reading

Jeff Strate: Meeting the Macbeths in St. Louis Park

Sunday evening I threaded through the buzzy, sidewalk tables of McCoy’s Restaurant in St. Louis Park’s nifty “new town in town,” Excelsior & Grand. I was on my way to re-discover Shakespeare’s Macbeth in nearby Wolfe Park’s open-air amphitheater. Set on a slope that levels into a great lawn with a lagoon and a stand of towering cottonwoods, the venue has been home to the Public Theater of Minnesota for four years.I was there because a few days earlier I desperately needed an afternoon break from my Eden Prairie environs where I live, work and fight writer’s block. Without a solid escape plan, I ended up in Wolfe Park ambling through its amphitheater. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Eden Prairie’s SWLRT Municipal Consent Hearing

The recommended preliminary plan to align light rail and freight rail through the Kenilworth corridor in Minneapolis or (during earlier considerations) routing freight rail through St. Louis Park, has so fascinated the scribes at the StarTribune and MinnPost and local television news assignment desks that Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie have attracted minimal reportorial interest.  Journalistic coverage of their light rail issues has only been generated by Sun and Eden Prairie News community weeklies and occasionally by the excellent Finance & Commerce.That changed somewhat this week.  The City of Minnetonka held its SWLRT “municipal consent” public hearing on the recommended preliminary route and station location within its city boundaries on Monday June 2nd.  Residents and owners of the stately looking Claremont Apartment complex were among those who requested a slight re-route and an LRT station. The current alignment in their neighborhood cuts along the top of a forested escarpment within earshot of the rambling south side of the apartment complex.  Even though residents and owners have had more than a decade’s worth of SWLRT community meetings to lobby for an alignment and (more recently) a chance to sit on the project’s citizens advisory committee, it seems that few if any of them were dutiful in representing their interests in an ongoing manner to City and SWLRT planners. That said, the purpose of the municipal consent hearings in each of the five SWLRT cities is to provide residents and businesses at this early stage of the project a formal opportunity to comment on track alignments and station locations to possibly make them better.  Both elements, of course, are subject to environmental, cost, safety, engineering and political concerns. Minnetonka Mayor Terry Schneider and his City Council colleagues and staff will seriously consider the Claremont requests but unlike Minneapolis, Minnetonka will not stop the entire light rail project for a local problem that is either unsolveable or could be fixed after the municipal consent votes. The Strib and Finance & Commerce did report on the Minnetonka hearing but they and the rest of the regional media ignored the far livelier municipal consent hearing in Eden Prairie two weeks earlier.  The embedded video is my take on that hearing and is featured in the current edition of Democratic Visions, the independent, cable access and Internet program I produce with help from other un-paid volunteers.  (See below for cable schedule.) I was interested in the tone and content of my hometown’s municipal consent hearing.  With our in-your-face, right wing Republican Party and Tea Party operatives, Eden Prairie politics are edgier than those of our suburban neighbors.  EP’s right wingers have attacked light rail as vigorously as the anti-light rail, DFL insiders and PBS liberals said to live along the Kenilworth Corridor.   Who would have thunk it? –  Bill Moyers viewing NIMBY’s in Kenwood and Fox-TV News addicts in Eden Prairie on missions with the same goal – kill light rail.  From reading the objections to light rail of each platoon, one can assume that light rail transit would be as sure an end to La Vida Minnesota as an Al Qaeda incursion into both the city of lakes and the suburb of cul-de-sacs.Municipal consent kinds of public hearings do attract folks who have reasonable requests for change as well as the smug, self-involved, anti-government, Bill O’Reilly populists of our times.  This was the case at the Eden Prairie hearing.  Local bullhorns Sheila Kihne, Donna Azarian, Frank Lorenz and Steve Smith spoke of their disdain for light rail. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | My Friday night on Lake Street

I share a small tippy table with a bowl of vegetarian chili and a candle.  Other patrons, except for a nearby woman, sit in duos, trios and quartets behind us on risers with eating counters. I flee from Eden Prairie to the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater for the comfort of knowing that there’s a good chance that I’ll be in the company of sly and off-center storytellers, humorists and revues. The cabaret is linked to a small, bowling alley and saloon/café on Lake Street in Minneapolis. The woman next to me moves off to a table with an unobstructed view of the stage. Another woman, trim and purposeful, futzes around with a camcorder perched on an arthritic tripod.With no idle social chatter required, all I needed to do was let the performer, Jon Spayde, re-introduce me to some of his invented characters – the Polish Professor of Negativity, Zen Master Zero and a womanizer named Manuel.  They explained why after Harvard, Spayde fell through the grad school cracks at Stanford while backstroking through a boozy haze.  As Jon and his imaginary pals tell it, he was on a quest to earn kudos as an intellectual guerrilla from the likes of, say, his academic advisor and Grove Press.  Spayde’s ordeal was the murky, flitting-about journey of many a student scratching out a doctoral dissertation; of a sensative, liberal arts tourist from the east stuck in the exhausts of money-driven, California-blond, beautiful and bright colleagues. Even with a well intended but labored bit of audience participation, my hour with Jon and his characters and the chili was splendid.  But my personal muse was humming the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song “Knowing When to Leave.”  She and I like show tunes and this one from Promises Promises provides sound advice for both the love struck and cabaret rats of this world.  I parted the Bryant Lake Bowl coasting on the high of a sharp entertainment for think time at a cigar lounge across the street. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Jim Oberstar remembered by Senator Al Franken

Hours before Senator Al Franken was to address the convention of Minnesota Congressional District Three Democrats at Maple Grove Junior High School, he learned that his adviser and friend, former Congressman Jim Oberstar had died at home in Maryland, peacefully in his sleep.  Saturday May 3rd was to have been just a rip-roaring, lets-get ’em fired-up for the coming election rally and endorsement fete.  With the endorsement of Sharon Sund to dethrone Eric Paulson, it certainly was that.  The convention also became a venue of tribute to and affection for one of the most effective, citizen-centered politicians to ever come from Minnesota and to ever sit in The House.  Jim Oberstar from Chisholm had served 17 successive terms in Congress and was one of the world’s foremost authorities on transportation.Legendary columnist and sports writer Jim Klobuchar (also from The Range) shared his thoughts and read a letter to the gathered about Jim Oberstar sent by his U.S. Senator daughter, Amy.  Southwest suburban DFL leader Steve Kelley and others payed their respects.   When Al and Frannie Franken entered the auditorium, the cheers and applause swelled, tapering off a full minute later.  The junior senator from Minnesota, searched for words and then, after a pause, found them.  This video will appear on the next cable cast version of Democratic Visions in a few weeks. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Humor emerges: Jon Spayde and Mary Stanik

 I have been described by the more rakish of my TV producing colleagues as a cultural scold who becomes aware of trends in fashion, music, politics, social media and technology a yawn or two after said trends are no longer “trending.”  I am among the last to “get it.”I’ve only known about TED talks for less than a year even though they began to emerge from Silicon Valley obscurity back in 1990.  The increasingly popular TED conferences and short lectures remain inspired by the confluence of technology (T), entertainment (E) and design (D) in explaining the human circus, the natural world and science.  The talks are presented by articulate, succinct and appealing, top shelf thinkers, movers and shakers, scientists, clergy, entrepreneurs, artists, economists, etc.  Since 2006, TED Talks have been available for free on the Internet.  According to the November 13, 2012 TED blog,  more than 1 billion views had been counted and were then occurring at the rate of 17 views a second.My favorite Twin Cities improv humorist, Jon Spayde, channeling his character Post Digital Visionary TED, appears on the current edition of Democratic Visions, the cable access program I produce with lefty southwest suburban volunteers.  The buzz sphere of digerati, literati, cognoscenti, texters, YouTubers, word-of-mouthers and Tweeters that has propelled TED Talk viewer tallies into the nosebleed elevations occupied by cute kitty and plane crash videos, has yet to discover Jon Spayde or Democratic Visions.  But dear possums, do ride this link to meet Post Digital Visionary TED. The segment has a Nichols and May or Bob and Ray kind of appeal – sly, satiric and good-heated – but in this instance, improvised.   This Friday at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater, Mr. Spayde begins a set of live shows through May pegged to his misadventures in grad school to become an intellectual guerilla. MinnPost contributor Mary Stanik returns just three weeks after her debut on Democratic Visions; not to pitch her current book, Life Erupted, but as a commentator.   The talented Miss Stanik describes her communications career as “ … writing pretty words for them.”  “Them” being the likes of U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, Northwest Airlines and the Minnesota Academic Health Center.  Her words about Condoleezza Rice’s six-figure fee for a recent talk and coffees at the University of Minnesota aren’t so pretty; nor are they bitter with the recall of the former Secretary of State’s trail of diplomatic spoor in the Mideast. Stanik was not among the protesters gathered outside Northrup Auditorium on April 17th.  They had their points, Mary has hers. Here’s the link to her commentary. Democratic Visions is hand crafted by volunteers (mostly DFLers) from Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Edina and Bloomington and can be seen on the following cable systems:Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie – Comcast Channel 15 – Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ; Mondays at 3:30 a.m.;  9:30 a.m. 2:30 p.m Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.Here’s the full current program on YouTube. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | North Minneapolis Transit Forum: SWLRT

A little after 4 pm on Wednesday April 9, the Met Council will consider a slightly revised recommendation for the scope and budget of the Southwest Light Rail Project.  When completed, the new light rail line will become the westerly length of what the Met Council has branded “The Green Line.” It will link St. Paul’s Union Station to Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie – and the hundreds of businesses and scores of communities along the line.Over the past year, major regional media has obsessed on controversies prompted by recommendations by planning engineers and SWLRT project committees of citizens, businesses and municipal, county and state officials, to route light rail along an active freight line through the so called “Kenilworth Corridor.”   Hundreds of recreational and commuter bicyclers travel through corridor between Kenwood and Cedar Lake neighborhoods every day.Teams of planners, consultants and citizens have addressed the challenges of co-locating freight, light rail and bike trails though what folks have come to think of as a recreational area.  The prospect of moving the freight trains to St, Louis Park or Chaska has now been rejected as unfeasible several times.  Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback and frosh Mayor Betsy Hodges (in a SWLRT Project committee) have consistently argued against Kenilworth co-location plans called for running LRT through tunnels hidden by the bike trail and vegetation.With pinched sound bites and careless headlines, bolstered by hundreds of reader comments (caustic spitballs for the most part) in the Strib’s coverage, the Kenilworth controversy trumped all other aspects of the $1.6 billion project.  Light rail, if one only browsed Minnpost, the StarTribune and TV news one of the following:1. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Timid Video Parody: gallery & garret

Timid Video Theater has shaped an improvised walkabout of two superb art galleries with humorist Jon Spayde and Minnetonka’s Pam Scherling into a kind of skewed but whimsical parody of TPT’a arts magazine, mn original. The bit is included in a line-up of segments featured on the current edition of Democratic Visions; a political and cultural issues program handcrafted on location and at BCAT, the cable-TV access studio at the Bloomington Civic Plaza, by lefty volunteers. The sketch was mostly lensed in the Inez Greenberg and Atrium Galleries that are adjacent to the studio.  The three spaces are part of a theater and arts center that also includes black box and proscenium stage theaters, rehearsal halls, a gift shop and municipal meeting rooms and offices.  The art galleries host top drawer exhibits of paintings, assemblages, sculptures and photography infused with wit and variety.  Visual Arts Director Rachel Daly Flentje and her staff have proven that Art (with a capital “A”) can thrive even when tethered to the officious culture of city hall.The two current exhibits are examples.  Through April 4, The Greenberg features “Art in the Home” – residential living spaces assembled by 4 teams of interior decorators.  Through April 27th, The Atrium features the kinetic abstract paintings of John Wells whose kinetic paintings are created using a process that harness a genetic condition that causes Mr. Wells’ hands to shake uncontrollably.   Here’s a link for more information.The Timid Video parody is by no means art but, using Jon and Pam’s improvisations and archival sketch-video of hard-boiled artist Brick Mason nested in a small Lake Street apartment, is a light-hearted take on public television’s reverent packaging of the arts and of the dilettantes who frequent the galleries and adore Antique Roadshow. The current edition of Democratic Visions also includes Minneapolis Author Mary Stanic, the Junk Yard Democrats with an assortment of fans and barflies and an update on the SW Light Rail project.  Democratic Visions is carried by community access channels in Minneapolis and six famous suburbs.Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie – Comcast Channel 15 – Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m. Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.You can also click to the Democratic Visions Channel on YouTube. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | The Junk Yard Democrats: Break on Through

The Junk Yard Democrats, their fans and some bar flies in a suburban rock dive, weigh in on climate change, right wingers, the NRA, and Egyptian democracy in their new video “Break on Through.”  The bit is featured in the new edition of Democratic Visions which is cable cast in Minneapolis and six well known suburbs.  See the schedule below.The faux rock group performed at the March 8 Senate District 48 DFL Convention.   I am the group’s musical director and posed as an emissary from the GOP SD 48 convention to the DFL gathering (with a metaphorical olive branch and a fist full of apologies for bad behavior). I attempted to lead the trio in singing “We’re in the Money,” the hit song from the Warner Brothers movie  The Gold Diggers of 1933 figuring it to just the right song to use as a means of finding common ground through music.  Several attempts were made to begin the tune, but the boys instead launched into Woodie Guthrie’s version of “This Land Is Your land.”  Their effort sparked an enthusiastic convention-wide sing-a-long.  Most of the younger DFLers seemed confused by our gambit and used their smart phone apps for clues to what was afoot. Their elders, however, enjoyed the scam. YouTube’s Democratic Visions Channel sports nearly 180 videos.   The monthly program is handcrafted by Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Edina volunteers (mostly Democrats) in a Bloomington community access studio and on location throughout the metro area.  The program is also cable cast in Minneapolis and six famous suburbs -Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie – Comcast Channel 15 – Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.   Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Clinically depressed motivational speaker advises Republican and DFL power players

I first met Jon Spayde at the Bryant Lake Bowl Cabaret maybe a year ago, on a Sunday night that is otherwise memorable only for the slush, cross walk puddles and snow that crusted Minneapolis. Mr. Spayde, who I soon learned, had done turns in theater, Harvard, internet editing, The Utney Reader and counseling, has a one man cabaret show featuring more than ten characters of his own creation including a clinically depressed motivational speaker, a Catholic priest, a ladies man and a ghost from the Snoose Boulevard era when Scandies got drunk and brawled a lot outside the saloons and vaudeville halls in Cedar Riverside. To my delight that night, Mr. Spayde was more than an impressionist – each of his lightly satirical characters was fully etched within the historic, pop culture and/or current issues contexts from which they emerge.   At Bryant Lake Bowl, Mr. Spayde invited members of the audience on stage to engage with the character of their choice in a conversation or line of questioning or even a faux psychiatric counseling session.  I chose Vic of Rhode Island.  Vic, through Jon, knew stuff about Providence, pizza and working class brio.   So do I.   He’s been there and the laughs perculated through the small theater. There ain’t nothing more comfortable for me on a drudgey, wintry night, than to hang out in hardscrabble improv comedy clubs like the Huge Theater or venues like the Bryant Lake Bowl and – during the twentieth Century – Dudley Rigg’s Brave New Workshop and Barbara Contardi’s kinetic, First Amendment on Bond Street in Manhattan. Of late, however, despite scores of improvisational riffs that spark ripples and waves of laffs and groans at Stevie Ray’s, Comedy Sportz, The Huge, and the post Dudley Brave New Workshop, and despite all of the improv groups (Hooray!!), the most consistently satisfying improv artist I’ve encountered is deceptively, low-amp Jon Spayde.  Why?  Well, dear possums, Spayde provides his characters with rich and informed contexts.  The man clearly reads books (and writes them), has himself been through hard times, frustrating times and great times, is good-hearted and intuitive and swims in a life stream with lots of different fish, snakes, anglers. poachers and game wardens.  Spayde, like Lorna Landvick (who also writes books and plays Bryant Lake Bowl), delivers more than a clever or risqué punch line; provides the ticket buyer with more than the shell of an archetype.  And he knows political issues and players – few other comedian performers in the local goldfish bowl of improv and cabaret comedy share his level of awareness.  Most are unfunny and trivial. We recently produced four new segments with Jon for Democratic Visions, the cable and internet program that is handcrafted by mostly DFL volunteers in the southwest ‘burbs.  The current program also features ex-blogger, vinegary scold Eric Pusey (late of Minnesota Progressive Project); a report on DFL Senate District 48’s precinct caucuses and an award-winning, short film on environmental activism.In the first of his new segments, Jon takes on the guise of his clinically depressed motivational speaker character to advise well known Republican and Democrat candidates and power players.Democratic Visions can be seen in Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie – Comcast Channel 15 – Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.Segments of the program are posted on the web at  Continue Reading