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Gratitude: Or Death

“Cake or death?” is arguably the most quoted line from comedian, actor, ultramarathon runner, and all around renaissance executive transvestite, Eddie Izzard (@eddieizzard). And why not? It’s an existential question we’re all destined to ponder at one point or another. While my personal preference is the same as most people’s ("uh cake, please"), it’s worth imagining what could possibly make the “or death” choice more desirable than the stuff of Paul Hollywood's handshake. Conclusion: death is not fun, but playing dead is! Therefore, I wish to dole out some gratitude to those who find beauty and humor in the macabre.

Black and white image of a character dressed as an undertaker juggling while laying down amidst a cluster graves.

On My Playlist: "Dead Man's Party" by Oingo Boingo. "For Whom The Bell Tolls" by Metallica. “Eulogy” by Tool. “Prayer For The Dying” by Seal. "Living Dead Girl" by Rob Zombie. "Gravedigger" by Dave Matthews (solo). "Lie In Our Graves" and "You Might Die Trying" by Dave Matthews Band.

On My Bookshelf: Eddie Izzard: Dress To Kill. True, this stand-up special that won Eddie Izzard two Emmy Awards does not have a "dead" aesthetic per se (unless you've ever seen an icy blonde laid out wearing an embroidered quipao top and pleather pants), but it is the piece for which she conceived the immortal "Cake or death" bit. Also on my shelf is Eddie's memoir Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens. Let your imagination run wild.

Deathtrap: This past fall, I took an acting workshop in which I prepared, with a partner, a scene from Ira Levin's Deathtrap. Holding the record for Broadway's longest-running comedy-thriller, it was one of those plays that I had known about for years but never read or saw. Upon my first reading of the script, I spent the first fifty or so pages asking myself "What is all the fuss about with this play?" Shortly thereafter, the "aha" moment happens, and the play's longevity makes total in I threw my head back laughing and said "Oh shit" many times (sorry, no spoilers). The process of reading the script is good fun for actors because it is a play about making plays. By that, I mean two things: 1). The events onstage unfold as a play within a play and 2). The staging is such that you say "This is why we go to see live theatre!" Five characters on one set does not sound terribly flashy, at first, but, in fact, it is one of those pieces where both the comedy and the suspense are optimized by their visual format: a proscenium stage where you see a very specific, complex environment over the course of the entire play. For our scene study, I pleaded for the role of Helga ten Dorp, a Teutonic, D-list celebrity psychic. Thankfully, our fantastic instructor approved my choice and gave me very clear instructions: "Your job is to have as much fun as possible creating Helga." Check!

In My Neighborhood: Allegheny Cemetery. Cemeteries intrigue the hell out of me. On one hand, they conjure up painful memories (specifically being a little kid who lost three grandparents in less than two years; and, heaviest of all, losing my dad suddenly when I was thirteen). On the other hand, their imagery inspires a poetic impulse in me that is hard to replicate elsewhere. Between the vibrant species of nature and the solemn artistry of the monuments, I observe what I can only describe as turbulent tranquility - a beautiful, silent language spoken in concert by the living and the dead to remind us that our grief is evidence of our capacity to love. Pittsburgh has many historical cemeteries in and around the city where I have taken myself for little adventures. My favorite is Allegheny Cemetery, a 300-acre area in Lawrenceville where some of the buried notables include familiar Pittsburgh names like Mellon, Baum, McCandless, Neville, and Negley to name a few. I've shot five Punk & Pie pieces there including Requiem, a short, silent film in which my pal, O'Ryan The O'Mazing (@oryantheomazing), and I put on a little circus for the dead (click here to see the post with the full video). That, punks, is the perfect segue into the next thing I'm grateful for...

In My Wardrobe: Requiem Hat. I mean get a load of my hat in that video! I styled it to look like a Victorian mourning top hat, and it instantly upgraded my look from confused barmaid clown to punk undertaker clown! Moreover, it kept my melon warm through that chilly November afternoon O'Ryan and I spent grave hopping on camera.

Black and white image of a male character and a female character confronting each other in front of two headstones.

On My Playlist (Cont'd): Films To Be Buried With. Who is Brett Goldstein (@mrbrettgoldstein)? Let's run down the list. He's a comedian, a writer, a director, an actor who won himself an Emmy for his performance as Roy Kent on the hit AppleTV show, Ted Lasso, and he loves films! He also has a lot of funny, pithy friends who he hosts on his podcast, Films To Be Buried With, where he tells his guests that they've died, and they go on to chronicle their lives through the films that have impacted them. Past guests include the likes of Ricky Gervais, Brendan Hunt, Brené Brown, Bobcat Goldthwait, Yvette Nicole Brown, and scores more. The conversations are full of surprises, both playful and poignant - the kind that make you want to sit down with a friend and drink beer as you hash out each other's lists: "What was the first film you ever saw?" "What is the scariest film you ever saw?" "What is the best film you ever saw that you never want to see again?" And so on until you ultimately decide on the one film that's going in the casket with you as you cross The River Styx. You can access Films To Be Buried With on major podcast streaming platforms (e.g., Spotify, Apple, Podcast App, etc.).

What are some of the dearly departed things you're grateful for, Punks?


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