Lex Friedman blogs here.

Lex is the Chief Revenue Oficer for ART19, the world's biggest podcasting company.

He was previously Chief Business Development Officer at Midroll, Macworld's senior writer, and the co-founder of a diet tracking website in the pre-iPhone era. Not all at the same time.

He is the cohost of the Not Playing podcast, a cohost of the Turning This Car Around podcast, a cohost of the The Rebound podcast, and the sole host of the Your Daily Lex podcast.

Lex's first book, The Snuggie Sutra, is exactly what it sounds like. His most recent book is a Dr. Seuss parody for adults; it's called The Kid in the Crib.

You should follow Lex on Twitter.

"Weird Al" Yankovic on Unprofessional

Unprofessional was the second podcast I ever co-hosted, and the first to get any real listens. 

Al Yankovic was always a dream guest for me. We had Jonathan Coulton and John Flansburgh and Josh Malina, and lots of friends, but Al felt unattainable. Until I simply asked, and he said yes.

Apple Podcasts: 102: Weird Al Yankovic — The Quarantine Special

Everyone else: Unprofesh

Posted on July 8th, 2020

Salad Bowl

I enjoy the game Salad Bowl. 

I felt like it should be playable via video chat during these times of social distancing, like other games, but I couldn't find a good version online. So I made one. 

There are many variants of the game. It's sometimes called Celebrity. There are store-bought versions as well, including the beautifully-illustrated Monikers, and a cleverly-designed version called Time's Up. 

Because multiple variants exist, there are multiple rule variations as well. My free-to-use version of Salad Bowl is built to use my rules, but you can probably adapt it for your rules. 

In my version:

Generate a URL, share it with your friends. Everyone contributes names or other answers for the game. (Some folks like to make everything start with the same letter. Others like only famous people. Do what you want! It's your game!) I recommend roughly 10 clues provided per person, but again — it's your game.

In my variant, once all the names are submitted, you can refresh and review the list. I like to allow other players to reject an answer or two if they just have no familiarity with it at all.

Finally, you'll start the game. I have a built-in 60 second timer. You'll have to keep score yourself. The web app will score your current round, but write down your team's score somewhere.

My rules: In the first round, you can give Taboo-style clues to get your teammates to guess the word. No "rhymes with" or "starts with" clues. Once they guess the word, you get the point.

When you're out of time, the other team takes over clue-giving. 

Once all the words are used up, start round two, in which you may only give a one-word clue. You're using all the same answers, but now you get just one word to prompt your teammates. It's hard! It's fun! It's funny!

The third round is charades. Charades over video chat is a delight. 

Good luck. Have fun. It is not the world's greatest web-based app, but it works for my Salad Bowl cravings. Enjoy!

lexfriedman.com/salad/

Posted on April 17th, 2020

Adam Schlesinger

I am a mediocre keyboard player. I don't really read music, my right hand is significantly better than my left, and I have to practice a lot to maintain mediocrity.

I've been in a couple cover bands as an adult dad. In the first, we tried hard to cover Stacy's Mom. If you've never truly sung along to Stacy's Mom, try it sometime. Belt that thing out. I don't want to get too technical here, but it goes from really low to really high. It's got a great melody on top of a great chord progression, and to sing the hell out of that song, you don't need to be Mariah Carey, but it's close.

Stacy's Mom is unfairly thought of as a bit of a novelty song, I think. But it is one hell of a song — it tells a story, it uses humor, but it also has a point of view. It expresses a metric ton of meaning and storytelling with an economy of words. And it's a banger! The instrumentation and musicality of the song — it sounds like one of those songs that's always supposed to have been there, and Adam Schlesinger (with cowriter Chris Collingwood) just plucked it out of the ether so we could hear it.

And it's not even Fountains of Wayne's best song.

I loved attempting to cover that song because not only did audiences love it, but it's fundamentally just a great damn song, by any measure. 

I'd read earlier this week that Schlesinger was intubated but doing okay as he battled Covid-19. Seeing yesterday that he'd died was a gut punch.

Fountains of Wayne is in my top five bands. And Adam Schlesinger is a musical and lyrical genius. (Which, by the way, is so mindblowingly unfair. You should be epic at one of those things; being epic at both is just showing off.)

Fountains of Wayne only made moving songs. Some moved you emotionally because of their melancholy lyrics, but some moved you because they were just so fucking good. Hat and Feet. Hey Julie, one of the great love songs. Somebody To Love, which goes melodically AND lyrically places you'd never expect. Sky Full of Holes, which is beautiful and poignant and painful.

Seatbacks and Tray Tables, a waltz that makes me feel all the feelings every time, after 1000 flights for work.

When I like a band, I go deep. I rabbit hole. I listen to every song on every album, I read the articles. In the early 90s, I would join the newsgroups; now, I find the wiki articles.

When I first discovered Fountains of Wayne, it was probably because Schlesinger had produced so many tracks for They Might Be Giants. He also wrote literally dozens of amazing songs for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And the theme for That Thing You Do! And on and on.

But when I discovered Fountains of Wayne, they weren't like the other bands I listened to. This was power pop, a genre I instantly loved, but for literally years, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was an inside joke I wasn't getting with Fountains of Wayne's approach to power pop. These were often songs in major keys, big fat major chords, but unexpected chord progressions that somehow felt obvious, but deceptively so. I'm not a music analyst; I don't how to describe it better.

Really, though, I couldn't ever shake the feeling that there was a wry joke to these songs, that Fountains of Wayne was having a laugh with its lyrics, melodies, and song structures. That the band was thumbing its nose at something. But after a couple years of having this weird theory, I realized that if there's an inside joke, it's that Fountains of Wayne is embracing their sound and lyrics and approach entirely earnestly. The joke is, you're in on it. The joke is... there's no joke.

Schlesinger is incredibly quotable as a lyricist. I read a few remembrances in the past days where people talked about the songs they were listening to when they experienced major life events — deaths, births, etc. With Fountains of Wayne, those life soundtrack moments couple the music and the lyrics, because they mesh so perfectly.

I am sad and angry that Adam Schlesinger is dead, because he was young, incredibly talented, and very much not done.

"The injuries fade/But the memories last a lifetime"

Posted on April 2nd, 2020

The games we play

I am a board game / party game person. I enjoy games of creativity and laughter and whatnot. Especially whatnot. I literally can't get enough whatnot. There was a time doctors tried to overwhelm my system with whatnot, and it couldn't be done.

I may be slightly stir-crazy. It's possible this post could already use some editing, but editing is definitely a pre-Covid-19 thing, if you ask me.

Here are some of the ways I've been socially gaming with friends during this shelter-at-home situation. Each of these games assumes you'll also be video-chatting live with the people you're playing with.

1. I love the game Codenames. I feel guilty playing knockoff versions, but not so guilty that I don't play knockoff versions. I play an asynchronous knockoff on iOS with strangers, but with real-life friends, I play at the confusingly-URL'ed horsepaste.com. It's great and works intuitively. 

2. I backed Inhuman Conditions on Kickstarter, and it's a great game for two players, particularly those who love improvising. Because it's open source, you can play the entire game online in various ways. It's better in person, and it's better with the cards, but this is a very reasonable facsimile. Get on a call with your pal, share a room code, and get to work figuring out if your opponent is a human or a robot. 

3. I love all Jackbox Games. I love the people who make Jackbox Games, and am friends with some of them. Drawful 2 is currently free at this writing in many places, and the other games range between cheap and reasonable. Buy them. Point a device at your TV screen, point your second device at your faces, and play. These games can also run directly on your computer via Steam, and then you can just share your screen. 

Some Jackbox Games prioritize speed; most don't. Quiplash, Fibbage, Split the Room, Drawful, Mad Verse City, Dictionarium, Joke Boat, and more all work great. 

4. I feel a smidgen guilty about enjoying Use Your Words, which is a knockoff of Jackbox Games. But this game, available on Steam and most consoles, is like Quiplash, but with a rotation of different prompt styles — subtitling movies, captioning/headlining photos, and a less-inspired fill-in-the-blank mode. It works slightly less well than Jackbox over video sharing, but still works and can cause laughter. Assuage any Jackbox guilt by buying every Jackbox game before you buy this one. That's what I did.

5. Scattegories. You heard me. Scattegories is a great game, and it works well over video. Websites make it easier. 

6. Most video chatting apps have some kind of drawing mode. Zoom, despite its numerous privacy flaws, has a solid whiteboard mode. That makes it easy to play Pictionary/Win Lose or Draw style games, or hangman. Or even tic tac toe, if you're desperate.

Stay safe out there. Or rather, in there. Stay home. Play games. Talk to friends online. I care about you. 

Posted on March 31st, 2020

Happy birthday, Liam

I love my kids.

Today, my youngest son, my only son, turned six. He's an awesome kid, and I'm proud to be his father.

Yesterday, back when they young man was still a mere five years old, he told me that while he was excited about his birthday, he was a little sad, too. Because he was "never going to be five again."

I know the feeling, Liam. I really, really do.

But here's the good news. You're never going to be five again, but you are going to be six, and then seven, and then eight, and on and on. And while each of those ages will last just one year apiece... The best news of all is, you'll always be Liam.

And you are one awesome dude.

You make jokes. You laugh at jokes. Oh man, you laugh so hard sometimes you think you can't breathe.

Speaking of your not being able to breathe — I've always been good at segues, son — I told you a story today at breakfast. I talked about how when you were born six years ago, like, RIGHT after you were born, you were in distress. You didn't breathe right away, and a whole slew of doctors and nurses rushed in to smack you around and try to get you breathing. And I stood off to one side, feeling both helpless but dutiful:

I snapped photo after photo, because — at least that moment — you were alive, and I was going to make damn sure I had some photographic evidence of that fact. Spoiler alert: You lived, you thrived, it all worked out.

Again, I told you this story at breakfast. You thought about it for a moment, and then said:

"This is a weird conversation."

Liam my boy, you are my son. And I am so happy you are. Happy birthday.

Posted on February 26th, 2017

I put my son to bed tonight and it broke my heart a little

A decent percentage of my time as a parent is dedicating brain cells to criticizing myself for not being a better parent. This is how I'm built. It's kind of what my role in the Turning This Car Around podcast is about — sharing my neuroses over the missteps I see in myself as a dad.

Lauren and Anya were watching The Neverending story Part 2 in the basement, and Liam didn't like it. (Sierra was at a friend's house for a nighttime birthday party.) After Liam and I came upstairs for him to watch some palate-cleansing Wonderpets, I went to tuck him in. We were goofing around, Liam laughing uproariously, repeatedly, at a moment he'd found simply hilarious in the Wonderpets episode (Ming-Ming told the monkey to STOP IT — hahahahahahaha!). We decided in our silliness that I would snuggle with Liam in his bed until he fell asleep.

We're snuggling. He's holding my hand. He starts laughing again. "Ming-Ming?" I ask. "Yes," he confirms, laughing some more.

"Shhh," I tell him. "You have to go to sleep now.

A moment or two later, he turns, so that he can hold both my hands. I hear his breathing slow down to that telltale sleeping rhythm. I think about how I'm lying next to him so that he can fall asleep — something I haven't done since he was a baby — and then I'm thinking about his wedding day. I'm thinking about him moving out and having a life of his own.

I'm thinking of his older sisters and how they'll do the same, and probably sooner.

I'm thinking how life is funny, and how life is sad, and how we parents have kids and try to teach them well and do right by them so that they can in turn go off and be their own success stories and probably have kids of their own and continue the cycle and it's sad and lovely and beautiful and awful.

And I think, man, I need to just be in the now for a moment and enjoy this, my blond-haired little boy falling asleep next to me, so peaceful, holding my hands. I'm going to be in this moment right now dammit.

But... college. And his wedding day. And his driver's license. And more school days. Probably not in that order.

And I'm vacillating between being in the moment and thinking about these things and thinking about how I want to write this all down, and how I'll inevitably post it on the Internet, and I'm damn sure thinking about whether I'll get some Likes online isn't being in the moment.

We take so much for granted as parents. Well, maybe, you don't. I do. Liam just wanted to play with Snap Circuits most of the day, and he wanted help with some, and I helped, and we experimented, and it was awesome. And then he wanted to do more Snap Circuits on his own, which is fine, but of course he has to show me Every. Single. One.

And if you've seen one Snap Circuits contraption that makes laser noises while playing Happy Birthday, you've seen them all. Even if one includes an LED and one includes a motor and one includes a lamp, they're all the same damn circuit and jiminy, you don't have to show me every single one man, and there he was again this afternoon, walking back into the kitchen holding a completed project, "Daddy!" And my "YES, Liam?" was definitely more exasperated than it needed to be, and that became screamingly obvious when his face was filled with so much pride and so much delight as he announced "I finished the last one! I did ALL the Snap Circuits in the book!"

And he had, and we high-fived, and it was awesome. And then, and then my goodness... And then he told me, "Daddy, I'm a little sad that I finished Snap Circuits, because now that I did them all, it's over."

I wanted to burst into tears, but I didn't, because I could see HE was thinking about crying, and no, no no, we're going to sit here in this moment where you're full of joy at finishing them all and we're going to experience this joy, we're going to embody it, we're going to let joy embody us. You can follow in your dad's footsteps in all kinds of ways, Liam, but dammit you are going to learn to live in the moment, and this moment it's okay if you're just proud at what you've accomplished here with these 101 Snap Circuit projects, and you can wait until later to be sad that the Snap Circuits set is finished.

(Of course you can make them all again. Of course we also have the larger Snap Circuits set you can start in on. But believe me, my son, I know what it is to be sad that things keep happening and becoming "done" and then we're supposed to move on to the next thing. And yet, let's not be sad right now.)

I said none of that, I just high-fixed some more, and we did a stupidly silly dance, and we put Snap Circuits away, and we played piano together, and boy I promise you, when we played piano, we were in the moment together, singing our heads off.

But there in his bed, hearing him fall asleep, I struggled so hard to stay in the moment, and I smash-cut so hard to "I'm a little sad that I finished Snap Circuits," and I was in the wrong moment, and as I tried to sneak out of your bed and your room, you let me know you were still, in fact, a little awake. And I kissed you and I told you that I loved you and that I was going to go so that you could fall all the way asleep. And I was thinking that when you weren't so big, when you weren't so five, that you wouldn't have accepted this, but now, this was no problem at all.

"Good night, Daddy."

"Good night, Liam, I love you."

"You're the best daddy in the whole world."

I'm not, Liam. But I really want to be. You make me want to be.

Posted on July 23rd, 2016

For Anya, on her eighth birthday

Dear Anya—

I don’t know anyone who likes to read as much as you. I know other people—many of them related to you—who really love to read a lot, but no one’s lust for reading quite matchs your affection for books. It’s incredible. It’s awesome. I hope you never lose it.

Today was your eighth birthday. And one thing I really appreciated was that, even though you would have been ecstatic to receive nothing but books, you also rejoiced in receiving the many gifts you got today that instead addressed your other passions. You're nuanced, kid. I love that.

This was a great day. You woke up, and since Mommy had already put out the dress you were going to wear today, you put it on first thing. After all, that’s the rule on school days; get dressed before you come into our room in the morning.

Of course, today was a smidgen more relaxed, and we had to take baths, so we ended up taking the dress off for a bit, but still: You were ready to face the day.

You remarked many times this weekend how it was the best birthday ever, the best presents ever, the best party ever, and so on. And what makes those words ring so true—words which, from other mouths, would sound hollow or cliché—is the very obvious fact that you mean them with every fiber of your being.

I just finished reading to you before bedtime. Then Mommy came in to read to you, too. (We’re each reading you different books. It was Mommy’s turn. I just try to read Harriet the Spy whenever we have a few minutes, because that book is really, really, really long.)

As I cleaned up some party/present aftermath, I marveled at the fact that, hooboy, you’re really eight. It didn’t feel like a milestone birthday to me today for whatever reason. But now that your best day ever is drawing to a close, I can’t help but quietly reflect on the fact that eight is awfully close to ten, which is by my count double-digits, and which is the stepping stone to old. Ten is basically twelve is basically teenager is basically driving is basically college is basically adulthood.

Holy moly.

In truth, there’s still lots of time left when you’re still all ours, still truly a kid and little, despite how big and mature and grown-up you’re so obviously becoming. But I’m seeing it ever more clearly now—”it” being the next parts, the parts where you need us a little less, and then a lot less. The part where you maybe won’t squeal with delight when I suggest we work on Snap Circuits together, and unironically “oooohhhh” in amazement as we work on the experiments.

I want to believe we’ll buck the trend of teenage kids who, by evolutionary necessity, rebel a bit against their parents. I think we might yet. And still, I know there’s a chance that we’re not too far off from a few years where you’ll suffer me as necessary, maybe even hate me from time to time.

I sat down to write this letter to you, a letter I don’t know if you’ll ever read, because it felt important to me. I wanted to write down just how much I love you, how happy you make me, and selfishly: just how loved you make me feel, just how transparent you make it that I make you happy too.

And so I promise you, if those years that feel far away but way too close do segue into your thinking I am the world’s jerkiest human for a couple years, I am going to work hard to remember these feelings from today—the feelings we each make so clear to each other right now—because they are some of the best feelings in the world.

I love you lots. Happy birthday!

-Daddy

Posted on October 19th, 2014

An ending and a beginning

In April 2011, I became a full-time employee at Macworld. My last day at Macworld will be September 16th.

I'm leaving Macworld with a heavy heart. I begged to get hired, I have long loved the publication, and it's been a true delight to write for a brand I read eagerly every week as a kid. So why go?

As you probably know, I've been running a side business called Podlexing, a podcast sponsorship network. I fell into that business, but Podlexing quickly grew into a substantial operation. I now represent fifty shows, and things are going very, very well.

All that said, I have three kids. I love stability, salaries, and benefits. Couple my need for those elements with my affection for Macworld, and there's no way I would quit to run Podlexing full-time. And that's not what happened.

Rather, I started having conversations with The Mid Roll. That's a company a lot like Podlexing, with an enviable roster of podcasts, including WTF with Marc Maron, The Nerdist, Kevin Pollak's Chat Show, Comedy Bang Bang, and By The Way with Jeff Garlin. As The Mid Roll and I discussed the best ways we could work together, the obvious answer became clear. As of September 17th, I'll be joining the team officially to head up sales and development.

Podcast advertising is still in its infancy, and I'm very excited to get the chance to define the industry with The Mid Roll. At the same time, I will miss Macworld, remain ever-grateful for the opportunity to work there, and ideally get to contribute some freelance stories from time to time, too.

If you have a great podcast and it's not represented by Podlexing or The Mid Roll, you should get in touch. And if you have a product or service to promote, I'd of course love to hear from you, too.

Posted on August 28th, 2013

Yes, And

This piece orginally ran in The Magazine, which hasn't accepted a pitch from me in weeks, if you believe that nonsense.

When my parents asked what kind of things I wanted to do at summer camp, I didn't rattle off the typical stuff like archery, fishing, or arts and crafts. Instead, I said that I wanted to go to a camp where I could pursue my three big passions at the time: magic tricks, movie making, and computer programming.

I was a cool kid, if you asked my mother.

I loved that camp, and I followed through on all of those interests over the next 10 summers. But I also discovered two new ones: I wrote for the camp newspaper, and I embraced the joy of improvisational comedy.

When I grew up — if I have grown up —  I became a computer programmer, a professional journalist, and an amateur magician. But it was my aspirations for improv that ultimately had more of an effect, and required more choices in my life, than any of the others. (I'm still waiting for my close-up.)

Room for improv-ment

Boy, did I love improv. I like to talk, and I like to make people laugh, and a lot of improv comedy is about those two things. My frequent scene partner, Seth Brown, and I discovered we were really freaking good at it. (He and I are still friends.) We were asked to appear in the counselor talent show even though we weren't really counselors, because we were quick-witted. Seth and I made people laugh.

At first, though, I was good at improv by unknowingly being terrible at it.

Seth: Beautiful weather for our picnic.

Lex: If you don't mind horrific thunderstorms, sure.

Seth: Oh, I love the rain! The good news is, I brought this giant umbrella.

Lex: Seth, that's a dog.

Seth: Right! But Spot here loves lapping up the water. I hold him over my head, and he guzzles it down.

Lex: Seth, Spot is dead. And a cat.

Now, that exact scene never took place, but it could have. And — at least in front of a summer camp audience — it could have killed.

The hypothetical Lex in that scene made numerous mistakes. Or more accurately, he made the same mistake over and over again, potentially scoring cheap laughs from it — while making any experienced improviser cringe, along with ruining any chance at a deeper, more meaningful scene.

Ask most improvisers what the most important rule of improv is, and they'll tell you — using whatever lingo they've learned while studying the art — don't deny. Improv works best when the actors in a scene collaborate.

In my scene above, I negated everything Seth said: he said beautiful weather, I said rain; he said umbrella, I said dog; he said alive, and then I killed his dog.

Don't kill your scene partner's dog.

Many improvisers are taught the concept of "Yes, and." Even if you don't explicitly speak those words in response to what your fellow improviser just said in a scene, your response should first accept and then build upon the previous line of dialogue. I got cheap laughs negating each statement Seth made, but think how much differently the scene could have gone if I had instead listened to what Seth said and worked with it:

Seth: Beautiful weather for our picnic.

Lex: I just feel bad that I forgot my sunblock.

Seth: I feel worse that you forgot the food.

Lex: Me too. I do have a couple breath mints.

Seth: Well listen: If we don't have any food, maybe we should kick off a hunger strike.

Lex: Yes! There's always something to protest. I'm game.

Obviously, the fun of improv is that either version of this scene could go in infinite directions. Even if the first version that I wrote-improvised above makes you laugh, a performance full of such negation-laden improv quickly grows tiresome.

Yes, and

Eventually, I stopped attending summer camp, but I didn't stop loving improvisational theater. When my then-fiancé (now wife) Lauren and I settled in Los Angeles, I knew I wanted to take classes at the Groundlings Theater & School and Second City in the pantheon of training grounds for stand-up comedians and funny film stars.

Many Groundlings went on to Saturday Night Live, and the school's alumni include Phil Hartman, Will Ferrell, Kristin Wiig, Chris Parnell, Paul Reubens (who invented the character Pee Wee Herman there), Jim Rash, Will Forte, Jennifer Coolidge, Ana Gasteyer, Kathy Griffin, Cheryl Hines, Chris Kattan, Jon Lovitz, Melissa McCarthy, Craig T. Nelson, Laraine Newman, Cheri Oteri, Maya Rudolph, Julia Sweeney, and many more. I see my old Groundlings teachers on sitcoms constantly. Wiig once substituted and led a class I attended.

The school portion charges real, live money, and if you're fresh out of college, the costs aren't insubstantial: each class costs several hundred dollars. And each class is an audition. Instructors — who are themselves Groundlings company members or alumni — determine whether you've passed a class, must repeat it, or are simply unable to move forward at the school.

Different improvisational theaters (and troupes) have their own rules. The Groundlings has specific focuses. One is space work, which is essentially pantomime: you play a character in an environment, not in open, empty space. You should invent things to hold, touch, and interact with. If your character points a gun at someone, you don't aim a finger gun with your pointer out; you hold the invisible gun's handle, your index finger resting on the imagined trigger. Eye contact is also key to its approach. You and your fellow actors start most scenes by looking at each other and doing space work, before a line of dialogue is uttered.

Other common Groundlings rules: Don't ask questions, since that puts the onus of coming up with an answer on your scene partner; make statements. A silly voice or accent isn't a character; it's a quirk. Don't try to be funny; serve the scene first, and with luck and focus it'll be funny — that's more important than aiming for a quippy one-liner. And above all else: Yes, and.

It turns out that some of these improvisational tips are pretty good life lessons. Space work and eye contact is really about being keyed into what everyone else in your scene is doing, and "yes, and" is all about actively listening to what your scene partners say, and genuinely responding. (It's painful to watch two improvisers, each with her own agenda, each ignoring her partner's lines to instead further the scene she has in her mind.)

A good improviser can thus be a pretty good communicator in general. Listen, build on the conversation, don't spend all your time faux-listening but really plotting what you're planning to say next; instead, first be confident and then, when you're done listening, you can contribute meaningfully in response.

Whose line of work is it anyway

I wanted to go through the Groundlings school because I wanted to star on SNL. I've watched that show since I was a kid, and I never gave up on it; each cast is its own vintage, and I appreciate the show — despite its flaws — each season. What I wanted wasn't an Adam Sandler- or Will Ferrell-scale movie career out of it (though I wouldn't have complained). I wanted to be a beloved long-term member of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players, like Darrell Hammond, Tim Meadows, and Seth Meyers.

The Groundlings requires that you audition for classes; I did, and progressed from intro to second-level, where the excellent instructor, David Jahn, suggested repeating it to better master the material. I went on to two higher levels, at which point I hit a teacher who simply found me unfunny, although in her report card, she noted that I was technically on target — despite finding me entirely unamusing. She could have kicked me out, but was fair, if completely wrong about my humor. (I'm not going to say that I delight in the fact that this woman is the rare Groundlings alum who hasn't gone onto entertainment industry success. I mean, I am going to say that: I do delight in it.) I repeated that fourth-level class, this time with Jahn as the instructor.

Jahn is a funny guy, but he is not warm — at least not to his students. So when he told me at the end of my second time through that months-long course that the other students had looked up to me, that he was shocked with my previous instructor's assessment, and that there was no question from the first day that I'd be moving on again, it did more to boost my confidence than my previous instructor had done to crush it.

(One favorite bit of improv acting advice Jahn had offered was the concept of crutch lines. If you get a stuck in a scene, and can't think of anything else to say, Jahn suggested, turn to one of these stock lines, which make coming up with the next line easier. My favorite of those lines was "I have a confession to make," which works in many, many scenes, but is maybe not a great conversation turner in real life unless you have many dark secrets you're willing to reveal.)

Once I'd reached the highest-level course and passed it, I could audition for the Sunday Company, which is sort of the Groundlings Junior Varsity team. Members of that team are continually evaluated, and may be renewed, kicked out, or promoted to the main company over time. Few Groundlings are approved for teaching that top-level class. There's a wait list to take the class.

I waited for 18 months.

Meanwhile, life had continued apace outside of my Groundlings pursuits. My wife and I were ready to start a family, and didn't think we could give our then-hypothetical kids the childhood we wanted in Los Angeles. We decided to move to New Jersey, closer to my wife's family.

My parents weren't thrilled with that plan. My dad was the one who brought up the Groundlings: "You're just kissing that goodbye?" he asked. I explained that the Groundlings offered no guarantees, that I'd been waiting for ages, and that it was more important to me to take good care of my future family.

In June 2006, we moved from the west coast to the east coast.

We planned to spend a week or two at my in-law's home while we waited for the moving truck and furnished our new home. It was literally on our second day in New Jersey that my cell phone rang with a call from The Groundlings. I could finally take the last class.

The road not taken

I could have taken the class, somehow. I could have left my pregnant wife with her parents in New Jersey, spent more money than we could afford on a rental or hotel stay, crashed with friends and family, rented a car, something. It was possible for me to suffer for my passion and take the 12-week class I'd waited so long for. And wow, did I want to.

But I didn't. I didn't say "Yes, and"; I said, "Thanks, but." I can't lie. I cary some sadness that I never took that last class, never found out if I'd make to the Groundlings' Sunday Company, to the main company, or to Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center.

But I also regret that I never told Megan Taylor at summer camp that I thought she was pretty, that I didn't major in creative writing in college, and that I didn't try things, say things, do things I could have done. That's okay. A life is built on the choices we make.

My wife's parents didn't let her go to the University of Pennsylvania, where she'd been accepted, because she got a huge scholarship to Brandeis University. She's still working to forgive them, whereas I am pretty grateful, since of course I met her at Brandeis, and that would have been a bit harder if she, you know, hadn't gone there.

So I'm sad I never took the last Groundlings class, but I don't regret my decision to move to New Jersey. I have a house that feels right for my three kids. Our move here kicked off a series of other fortuitous events led to me getting a job I love, writing for Macworld.

If Lorne Michaels were to read this piece —  he subscribes to The Magazine, right? — and offered me a job as a cast member on SNL right now, I'd probably take it. And yet I know that the job would seriously impact my family in ways that wouldn't be all good.

Everything we do is improvised. I mean, even as I write this sentence, I'm making it up as I go along. It will go through edits and tweaks, but each rewrite will similarly be improvised in this moment.

A series of improvised decisions and reconsiderations led me to where I am. It wasn't always funny. I've said "Yes and" more than I haven't, though, and I'm happy with how the scene is turning out.

Though I do have a confession to make…

Posted on June 20th, 2013

Damian Kulash, Clayton Morris, Matt Drance, Paul Kafasis: An all-star month of Unprofessional

Four great recent episodes of Unprofessional.

We hosted an Accidental Car Podcast with Matt Drance. He taught us more about cars than we ever knew before. Two awesome sponsors:

Soulver: Smart notepad for quick back-of-the-envelope calculations

Squarespace: Everything you need to build exceptional websites! Save ten percent with offer code "unprofessional5" at checkout.

A transcript of this episode is available, courtesy of Mijingo.


Fox News anchor Clayton Morris joined us for an episode we called Jerry Was My Girlfriend. We talked about the lost catacombs of New York, autograph collecting, and how to avoid "pulling a Roker." Two excellent sponsors:

Status Board from Panic: Beautiful data for everybody.

Fission: Crop, trim or split audio. Join multiple files. Batch convert formats too!

A transcript of this episode is available, courtesy of Mijingo.


OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash talked to us about fish sticks, sports, and the joys of evolution in Covering All the Bases. You know OK Go not just for their music but for their insane music videos.

Two incredible sponsors:

PDFpen 6: The all-purpose PDF editor for Mac, now even more powerful and easy to use.

Windows Azure Mobile Services makes it fast and easy to build connected mobile apps that scale. Try it for free.

A transcript of this episode is available, courtesy of Mijingo.


Paul Kafasis joined me and Dave in Australia for a special episode we call Live From Down Under. Few kangaroos were harmed in the making of this episode.

Unprofessional was able to record this episode in Melbourne thanks to our friends at Squarespace, who also unprofesh.com. We love Squarespace. You will too. Start a free trial today without a credit card, and then save 10 percent when you buy, by using the offer code unprofessional6. Thanks!

Posted on June 6th, 2013

Podlexing, the podcast advertising network

Late last week, I unveiled Podlexing, a podcast advertising network. Allow me to explain.

The goal of Podlexing is to help excellent advertisers sync up with comparably excellent podcasts. 

The origin story goes like this: I sold ads for my own show with Dave Wiskus, Unprofessional, and got pretty good at it over time. Another podcast host asked me to sell ads for his podast, also hosted on Mule Radio. And eventually Mule asked if I'd help them sell ads across all the shows on the network. 

Then I started helping out Macworld with its podcast ads.

And then Marco Arment asked if I'd help him sell ads on Accidental Tech Podcast. And then Jason Snell asked if I could help out with The Incomparable

So eventually, the shows I was helping sell sponsorship slots became numerous enough that I figured I should hang up a virtual shingle; Podlexing was born.

If you'd like to sponsor some truly great podcasts, get in touch. And if you happen to host a truly great podcast that I don't already sell sponsorships for, let's fix that.

Posted on May 12th, 2013

Jared Moshe and Unprofessional t-shirts

You have just three days left to buy an Unprofessional t-shirt. Don't make the biggest mistake of your life. And also don't forget to buy a shirt. 

On our most recent episode, we hosted Jared Moshé, the writer/director of the indie western Dead Man's Burden. Take a listen to Eages Versus Giants

Two great sponsors:

Transporter: Peer-to-Peer Storage Solution like Dropbox, except you remain in complete control.

TextExpander: If you're not using it, you're wasting time. 

Posted on May 12th, 2013

Five Unprofessional updates

Here's what's going on in the world of Unprofessional.

1. The Unprofessional t-shirts are here. We're taking orders through May 15. Order yours now!

2. Last week, Jim Coudal guested on the show. We discuss vacations, talking to strangers, and more.

Two great sponsors: Transporter: Peer-to-Peer Storage Solution like Dropbox, except you remain in complete control. Save 10 percent with code "unprofessional" at checkout.

Hoban Cards specializes in beautiful letterpress printed calling cards. Get free shipping with promo code "HUMBLEBRAG" — which is pretty stinking great.

3. This week, our guest was Neven Mrgan from Panic. We discuss swearing and fingernail maintenance. It's very, very funny. And we discuss a great scene from The Wire, too.

Two great sponsors again! Visit Audible.com for a free, 30-day trial and choose from 100,000+ audiobooks. Unprofessional listeners get a free audiobook!

And again, Transporter: Peer-to-Peer Storage Solution like Dropbox, except you remain in complete control. Use "unprofessional" at checkout to save ten percent!

4. When you visit our sponsors, it's a huge help. Check out the Transporter. Get a free trial from Audible. And if you need awesome, letterpress business cards, go to Hoban. We'll owe you.

5. Amy Jane Gruber on Unprofession-Úll Live: Completing her hattrick, Amy visits Unprofessional again, for her second live episode. And we did something special with the show: Instead of being a regular episode, it's a $1 extra. Check it out.

Posted on May 3rd, 2013

Josh Malina and Cabel Sasser on Unprofessional

I mean, not at the same time. That might be too much awesomeness to contain in one podcast.

But it's true, both actor Josh Malina (The West Wing, Sports Night, Scandal) and Internet legend Cabel Sasser (Panic, Buggy Saints Row, Dorito-related Blogging) were both kind enough to drop by Unprofessional in recent weeks. 

Both were excellent podcast guests.

#35 Joshua Malina —  I Offer a More Boutique Experience

Josh reveals the shocking truth behind Michael Ian Black's most offensive tweet. Two great sponsors:

Save Skype calls. Record from the web. Capture any audio on your Mac. Use Audio Hijack Pro

Squarespace: Everything you need to build exceptional websites. Use unprofessional4 at checkout to save 10 percent.

#36 Cabel Sasser —  Same Great Taste, Bold New Logo

Come for Cabel's live cover of our theme song — with lyrics. Stay for the podcast full of Sasser-inspired awesomeness. Including the future hit song "What is the Deal With Tomatoes?"

Fantastic sponsor: Colugo. Share photos and videos privately. Simple. No gimmicks.

Posted on April 22nd, 2013

Shelter in Place

After previous attacks against the country, our elected leaders have urged us to get back to work, to start living life normally again; failure to do so, it is said, means that the terrorists "win."

I want everyone responsible for the Boston Marathon attack caught and punished. But with Boston and its surrounding towns and cities all shut down right now, who is winning on Friday, April 19?

Telling everyone to stay inside and lock their doors seems kind of, you know, terror-ish.

I'm not suggesting that the current response is wrong. I am saying that it's rather disconcerting.

Posted on April 19th, 2013

Ain't No Thing: The Grammar of African American Vernacular English

A different version of this post appeared in The Magazine. Subscribe!

In 1996, the Oakland, California school board officially recognized the legitimacy of Ebonics. Note that no modern linguist embraces the term "Ebonics"; the more accurate — and less politically charged — label is African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Ebonics is more [LF to GF: is "colorful" inappropriate here? It's what I want, but worry about connotation; other term I could use is "fun to say"], but I'll stick with AAVE here.

With that out of the way: When the school board in northern California issued its decree on AAVE, it, controversy erupted. Mostly because people didn't actually understand what the heck was going on.

The educators in California weren't hoping to teach kids AAVE; this wasn't an attempt to get "ain't" in the grammar books. Rather, the Oakland school board's ruling was meant to stop unfairly punishing kids whose first instinct was to speak the way they were taught to at home.

Critics of AAVE attacked strawmen — Jim ScareCrows, if you will: "You can't teach this stuff!" they fretted, though no one wanted to teach it. And, just as wrongly, they claimed that AAVE was sloppy, messy, unstructured language. Let's disprove that falsehood first.

The grammar of AAVE: negatives

Though AAVE doesn't follow traditional American English's rules of grammar, it instead enforces its own. Some of AAVE's grammatical structures closely mirror those of French. (Zut alors!) Here are a couple examples.

A common AAVE construction follows this pattern:

I ain't got none.
I ain't singin' nothing.
I ain't never eat no sushi.

English grammar teachers might cringe at the offensive double negatives on display. They're ungrammatical in traditional English, but they're not without precedent. As you can see, AAVE wraps negators on either side of the verbs. Here are those same sentences in French:

Je n‘en ai pas.
Je ne chanterai pas.
Je n‘ai jamais manger des sushis.

As you can see, French does exactly the same thing. What in traditional English would qualify as an ungrammatical double negative, in French — and AAVE — is in fact the correct and necessary phrasing. Though obviously different from English's own rules, the two-part negation in French isn't wrong in the latter language, any more than it's wrong that the word for "annoying" in French is "pénible."

If you judge I ain't got none as standard English, it's certainly wrong. But judged on its own merits, given its strong adherence to its own rules for negation, AAVE's negations follow its own strict grammar.

An interesting element of AAVE's rules for negatives is that, in negative statements, every possible negation should be used:

I ain't tell nobody nothing about no sushi.

The grammar of AAVE: the imperfect

Another way that AAVE's gramar rules mirror those of French: both employ an imperfect tense. Traditional American English doesn't have such a tense, but it's easy enough to grasp.

The imperfect (l'imparfait in French) is a kind of past tense. In French, the imperfect tense is used for a variety of purposes, most of which are beyond our scope right now. (You can merçi me later for not getting into them.) But one common use of the French imperfect is to describe habitual, repeated actions or states of existence.

"In high school, I read a lot." Au lycé, je lisais beaucoup.

Let's not discuss all the different verb tenses and endings in French, but the "ais" suffix attached to the verb lire (to read), indicates that we're using the imperfect tense here, referring to a habitual reading during my high school years. AAVE offers a very similar tense, but instead of suffixes, it leverages the presence of the verb to be.

The following AAVE sentence indicates that the individual being described is currently in the act of exhibiting craziness, but isn't habitually so:

He crazy, but he don't be crazy.

Prescriptivists* object vehemently to AAVE's dropping of the seemingly necessary "to be" verb "is" before the first "crazy," and the mismatched use of "be" in the latter half of the sentence. Again, though, this isn't sloppy English. It's rule-based AAVE. The rules in question here: Drop any "to be" verb when describing the present tense ("He crazy"), and use "be" regardless of the subject to identify an imperfect tense verb ("He be crazy").

* Prescriptivists decree grammar rules, and identify right and wrong usages. Descriptivists, on the other hand, analyze the rules language speakers actually employ, and study them. Linguists generally believe that the actual rules of grammar are the ones that you can use to describe how speakers of a language really use it.

These are but two of the many grammatical constructs that govern AAVE. The point isn't that AAVE's grammar rules are just like French's. Many AAVE grammar rules emulate rules from other languages: Its use of unmarked past tense (for example, omitting the -ed suffix as in He pass his driver's test yesterday) is akin to similar structures in Asian and Native American languages; its unmarked plurality in noun phrases (I want three scoop [of] ice cream) hews closely to how Japanese works.

The point, then, is that AAVE is a language. Rather than being sloppy or haphazard, it's strictly rule-based; you can speak AAVE incorrectly. If it were sloppy, you wouldn't see AAVE speakers making the same so-called mistakes again and again.

It's easy to ascribe criticisms of AAVE as a language to racism, and probably often accurate, too, but those criticisms are likely just as often rooted in ignorance regarding what languages really are. Critics may claim that AAVE is just "made up," forgetting that American English isn't exactly codified in our DNA, either.

(That said, if you feel like really blowing your own mind, dive into Noam Chomsky's theory of Universal Grammar, to learn how many linguists do believe that the roots of language — and specifically grammar — are hard-wired into the human brain, and that certain grammar rules are endemic to all human language.)

Okay, so AAVE is a language. So what? What the heck was Oakland's point in the mid-1990s?

AAVE, education, and code switching

Ray Jackendoff, currently the Co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, and formerly Chair of the Linguistics Program at Brandeis University while I studied there, studied linguistics under Chomsky at MIT. When I spoke to him about AAVE, he pointed me toward a brief passage in his 2002 book Foundations of Language, wherein he makes this point:

"An important part of learning to read is appreciating how orthography reflects pronunciation. If one is teaching reading of Standard English to a child who does not speak it, it is difficult to establish this crucial link."

Rebecca Wheeler is a linguistics professor at Christopher Newport University in Newport News Virginia. It was Professor Wheeler who schooled me on my use of the term "Ebonics": "When the public uses the term Ebonics, it pulls with it all the societal negative connotations — the ridicule, the jokes, the sneering, all of that, so linguists don't use the term. It's not a technical term, and we seek to avoid negative associations."

Wheeler would also want me to stress this insight she offered me: "To suggest AA[V]E is legitimate because its rules emulate other languages is to make it dreivative and comparitive, instead of focusing on its own inteneral integrity, regardless of its similarites to modern American English and anything else."

When I told Wheeler that my plan was to write a piece on the grammar of Ebonics, she — in the most polite terms — indicated that such a piece would miss the important story.

Remember, Oakland wasn't trying to get Ebonics taught in its schools. Rather, the school board's ruling aimed to encourage teachers to accept that students growing up with AAVE spoke it as its own distinct language; judging their first language as lousy English, instead of accepting it on its own merits did those students a serious education disadvantage.

"It's fifteen years later, and nobody knows this stuff," Wheeler said.

What Wheeler advocates for is teaching students who speak AAVE at home the concept of code switching. The general idea is simply the notion of switching between two different languages as needed.

Rather than labeling their language use as incorrect when students speak or write in AAVE, Wheeler says, teachers should instead coach those students: In formal writing, we say, "I'm not doing anything," not, "I ain't doing nothing."

That's basically it. Schools should recognize the legitimacy of AAVE as a language for their students, and teach those students to recognize when and how to switch between AVE and American English as appropriate. But most schools don't do that. They simply teach students that they they speak is wrong. Don't talk this way, talk our way.

Wheeler wanted me to use this piece to call attention to the fact that the Ebonics controversy of the 1990s didn't end the right way, that we're still not doing right by children who grow up with AAVE.

"The consequences are that students are being terribly misassesed in our schools. Teachers think that black kids are making mistakes, when really they're recreating what they hear and learn at home," Wheeler said. "They're counting as mistakes things that are patterns and rule-based, so [the students are] being placed in lower reading groups, and deprived of education and educational enrichment."

Many of us unfairly judge others based on how they speak. Kenneth the Page on the late, great 30 Rock spoke with a southern accent meant to exemplify his yokel-ness. Maybe you think that British accents sound dignified, or that the Minnesota accent on display in Fargo belies its speakers' intellectual inferiority.

I asked Wheeler what I could do, or what I could encourage The Magazine's readers to do. How would my writing about AAVE — its grammar, the education challenges it presents — help matters along?

"People don't always realize that dialect prejudice still exists," Wheeler told me. "Reminding them, and explaining notions like the grammatical rules that govern AAVE — that's a true ‘Aha!' experience. That alone is important, and people can grasp it — and grasping it, that's actually a big thing… The consequences are big."

And Wheeler's not convinced that linguists have lost this battle yet. "I hope we're not at the end, because nobody" in the education system seems to understand the facts surrounding AAVE — and the educational solutions: "Teachers do not, school systems do not, reading tests do not, textbooks do not — it's as if us linguists have been talking into the wind, and it's dispersed like smoke. We are no-fucking-where."

One issue, Wheeler says, is that even great teachers are still just people — average people. "An average person does not have the patience to deal with the details of understanding standard English grammar, vernacular English grammar, and figuring out what it all means. The testing system remains entrenched in proper grammar, bad grammar, right and wrong. There's no room for anything else. It's appalling."

And that's precisely why Wheeler was happy that I was writing this piece. "Sharing the story of AAVE with lay people is a good thing."

The future soon

AAVE isn't going to disappear. You might assume that the Internet and our increasing connectedness would lead to a general homogenization of language over time — I did — but we'd both be wrong. ""There's some recent work out by William Labov from the University of Pennsylvania," Wheeler told me, "and he has demonstrated that dialects are diverging in the United States; they are not converging. One explanation that is cited is that we change and become similar in language only when we're in true contact, in authentic linguistic contact, with our interlocoteur. So if you and I came from different parts of the country and moved next door to each other for ten or fifteen years, the language contact in promixity would mean that our speech might become more similar to each other, because we're having real conversations … engaging in real, authentic, two-way conversation."

Wheeler continued: "By contrast, media is not an authentic linguistic engagement; it is a one-way system that does not involve a person producing any language at all, so it's not an authetnic linguistic contact. The media actually does not really influence peoples' dialects very much."

Couple the failure of the Internet and mass media to assimilate AAVE with the reality that African American populations are increasingly separated from white populations by socioeconomics, and the only reasonable expectation is, Wheeler says, "the divergence of the language."

So if our language isn't going to merge despite the Internet, maybe there's a chance that our educational philosophies can improve because of it.

Posted on April 16th, 2013

The Icktionary

Many, many moons ago, some folks from Clorox asked if I would contribute some words to a new website they were creating, an Icktionary. I love words, and I love grossness, so the Icktinoary was right up my alley in name alone.

The site is filled with funny words for the grossness you'll encounter everyday life, and the hope, of course, is that you'll use a fine product from Clorox to clean up said ickiness when you see it.

Because I have the maturity of a seven-year-old, I'm a big fan airbola (also known as flyarrhea), the word for when you sit next to a sick person on an airplane. I'm also a fan of Germs of Endearment — when your loved ones sneeze all over your face and clothes. 

Also, I'm a dad. So, you know. Experience.

Posted on April 10th, 2013

Ophira Eisenberg on Unprofessional

NPR has two great gameshows, both of which are a hoot to listen to. Ophira Eisenberg hosts one of them — Ask Me Another. And she was gracious enough to drop by Unprofessional. 

And There's Spit Going Through Your Instrument

She was a great guest, with a lot of very funny things to say. We talked about zoos, music, magic, and the dark side of improv comedy.

Three awesome sponsors. Visit them all!

You'd have shipped your project on time if you kept it organized with Basecamp.

PDFpen 6: the all-purpose PDF editor for Mac, now even more powerful and easy to use.

Squarespace: everything you need to build exceptional websites!

Posted on April 3rd, 2013

Lex at Úll

In addition to speaking at One More Thing in May, I'm also delighted to report that I'll be presenting at this year's Úll conference in Ireland

My topic at Úll will either be Six Ways to Type The Accented Ú in Úll Faster or Learning From Apple's Mistakes

At One More Thing, I'll be talking about how developers should imagine their apps from the reviewer's respective, and — perhaps even more importantly — how to pitch the tech press about your app without making members of said press want to kill you and/or themselves.

I'm honored to be speaking at both conferences, and am looking forward to each.

Posted on March 29th, 2013

Lex at One More Thing

I'll be speaking at the One More Thing conference in Australia in May, and you ought to come. Early bird registration is now open.

My talk will be about how to think about your app from the perspective of the person who will review it — and plan accordingly. And just as importantly, I'll offer some advice on how to pitch and announce your app to the press.

Oh, and Wiskus will be there. Unprofessional live down under. It's happening. And it's sponsored by Squarespace

Posted on March 21st, 2013