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Creatively Speaking: Monty Hall

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Most people know Monty Hall from his brilliant game show, Let's Make a Deal. Others know him because of the famous math puzzle/paradox known as The Monty Hall Problem (definitely worth a click over and reading about if you're a math geek). But you might also know Monty as the emcee of shows like Beat the Clock and Split Second. Trivia buffs might know him as one of only two game show hosts with stars on both Hollywood and Canada's respective Walks of Fame. (Can you name the other?) Or you may know Monty as the father of Broadway star/actress Joanna Gleason, who won a Tony for Into the Woods (I also loved her in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors). You may also know Monty from his guest appearance on shows such as Love Boat, The Odd Couple, The Wonder Years, Hollywood Squares, That 70s Show, or Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

However you know Monty Hall, I'm sure you never had the experience of getting this up close and personal with him. So click on through for my in-depth interview with him about his life and Let's Make a Deal, as well as some more fun Let's Make a Deal clips.

DI: First let me say that Let's Make a Deal was one of my favorite game shows when I was growing up and I still love watching it today on GSN. I frequently lament the lack of good humor and fun in today's programming, as I'm sure many of us do. And while I want to ask you a pantload of questions about Let's Make a Deal, let's go back a little first. Certainly you had a life before the show. Tell us a little about your upbringing, where you're from, where you went to school, what you majored in, etcetera.

MH: I was born in Winnipeg and got my Bachelors of Science from the University of Manitoba, where I studied chemistry and zoology. I couldn't get into medical school after completing my undergraduate degree. But I'd always starred in the school musicals and plays, so I went into radio broadcasting. I hosted some shows and wrote others. In Toronto I had a successful show on where listeners had to guess a mystery person by writing in through the mail. Each night I'd give another clue until someone got it. We got a lot of mail for that show. I also created shows for Colgate Palmolive. When TV came along, I thought I'd get in on the ground floor and be a big star in Canada but I couldn't find work. So in 1955 I moved to New York City to try my luck there.

DI: Eventually you made your way out to Hollywood and sold your first television game show, Your First Impression. How did that one work?

MH: There were 3 panelists and five celebrity photos. One of the celebrities was in a booth, revealed to audience, but not to the panelists. Their job was to figure out which celebrity was on the show by playing a free association game. They'd say things like, "˜It bothers me when________' or "˜I never forget the first time I _____________.' Eventually a pattern would start to evolve and they'd figure it out. Then they'd have to show their logic, how they figured it out. "˜So-and-so would never say something like that,' and so forth.

DI: The second show you sold was Let's Make a Deal, which you emceed, of course. Your producing partner was Steve Hatos. How did you two come up with the idea for the show?

MH: We were kicking around ideas. I told Steve about a show I'd done in Canada where I'd walk into the audience and ask them for crazy things, which was a big hit. I'd say, 'If you have a hard boiled egg on you, I'll give you $100,' and so forth. It was the last 7 minutes of my show in Canada. Steve liked the idea and he said he wanted to do a show about the Lady and a Tiger. You have your choice of two tents, if you pick the right tent, you get the lady; pick the wrong tent, you get the tiger. So that became the basis for the three doors. And then we started talking about buying and selling and trading. So we brought a rubber chicken for the zonk, a few envelopes for the curtains or doors and started playing the game around town whenever we could. And everywhere we went and played it, it was a hit. People loved to trade for the unknown. We did it for a senator; we did it for a Latter-day Saints quilting bee for 9 ladies at 8 o'clock in the morning in the West Valley; we did it at a supermarket -- and everywhere it was a smash.

DI: So you pitched it to which network first?

MH: First we went to ABC and invited an audience to come in. And a few hundred people showed up. When the show was over, we got a standing ovation. I'm feeling like a million bucks and walk in the back room where my partner is waiting and my agent and the studio execs and they've all got glum faces. I said, "˜What's the matter?' My partner said, "˜The studio doesn't like the show.' I said, "˜Are you kidding?! They're still standing out there.' He said, "˜Yeah, yeah, but they don't know what we're going to do on the second day.' I said, "˜You do the same thing with variations! What kind of question is that?! What do all shows do the second day!' I was so upset, we went across to the Carriage House and I had two martinis"¦ and I don't drink.

DI: Hilarious. So then you took it to NBC?

MH: Exactly. We did the same thing again a few weeks later and got the same reaction. Another standing ovation. And again the execs said, "˜What do you do the second day?' We were in shock. Two different audiences, same reaction, and nothing.

DI: But you had a savior this time in Bob Aaron, one of the NBC executives, right?


MH:
That's right. He went back to New York and pushed and pushed and pushed. So we finally shot the pilot in April 1963. And again, no one would pick it up. No one would touch it. Then, months passed, and in October or so they decided to replace a show that wasn't doing well with our show and asked us to get it ready by Jan 1st. When we finally got our chance, we were an immediate hit

DI: I guess you figured out what to do for the second episode.

MH:
For 4,700 episodes.


DI: So let's talk about the show. Who came up with the fantastic idea that the contestants would dress up?


MH:
The contestants themselves. You see, in the beginning, people came dressed in suits and dresses just like on any other show. But when they realized I was picking people in the audience at random, one woman came with a sign that said, "˜Roses are red violets are blue, I came here to deal with you.' And I picked her. Well, the next week, everyone had a sign. Then they started wearing costumes and NBC said, "˜What are you going to do about this mob scene outside? It looks like Halloween out there.' I thought it was very pictorial. I said, "˜We're on television and that makes a good picture. It's a different kind of an audience out there! It's colorful. It's new. It's fun. Why not? Let them do what they want!' Would you believe we had to fight off NBC's protests?

DI: After learning that you had to pay for the cars you gave away, sure, I'd believe anything. That seemed like such easy, free advertising for the car companies. Tell our readers how it worked.

MH: Every new car we gave away we bought at wholesale. They didn't give them to us for advertising. If a car was $5,000, they'd take 500 off the price every time we mentioned it on the show. If it was a nighttime show, they'd take $2,000 off the price of the car. But it was never free.


DI: What were some of the challenges you faced doing the show?

MH: There was no script. You're running up and down the aisle thinking about the deal, the ramifications, the permutations, what if he says no, what if he says yes, what if he goes for this door or that. All that is going through your mind while you're conversing with the contestant. You have to know where the prizes are. You have to know what the deal is. You know what you're going to do, depending on what they chose, you improvise from there. It's a murderous show for an emcee to do. Sometimes a door or curtain would accidentally open before it was supposed to, while I was making a deal. And we'd have to pay for those mistakes.

DI: On and off, you were with Let's Make a Deal for 27 years. Ever get hurt?

MH: I sure did. I had to learn to hold the mic in a certain way to fend them off. They used to jump at me. They wanted to kiss me. People jumped on me wearing a box and the corner would hit me under the nose. Some had football helmets on that would hit me in the head. It was dangerous. One time I got pushed down the stairs into the seats.

DI: After all those episodes, you must have perfected the art of figuring out what motivated people to trade in what they had.

MH: It was something we talked about all the time. We eve had a research team from the psychology dept at Yale that tried to figure out what motivated a person to make the trade. It's not greed. At the end of the show when I get two people to go for the big deal, if a contestant had already won a TV set during the show, they'll give it up to go for the big deal if they already have a new TV set at home. Others have a philosophy like: this is my chance to make a killing. Where else are they going to get a chance to do that? I'm going for it. One time, a woman came on show from out of town. She won herself $200 and I was ready to get her to the next part of the deal but she quit. That was it for her. After the show, I asked her why. She said, "˜My husband is sick. I took a bus to town. I took another bus to the studio to get to the show. I stood in line. They picked me for the floor. I got called. I made $200, which to me is precious; I'm not going to give it up. I want to go home with my $200.' To her $200 was everything; to another $1,400 is nothing. He wants to go for broke.

DI: You must have enjoyed meeting all those people over the years.

MH: For me, the best part was the contestants reactions when the door opened to reveal a) a great prize or b) a zonk. That was the basis for the entire show: Would you give up what you have and go for the unknown. That was it. And I enjoyed every minute of it. The audience and contestants were always new and I loved their reactions.

Browse through past Creatively Speaking posts here >>
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Creatively Speaking: MeetingBoy
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Read on to win a new Meeting Boy wall calendar!

We have a nice interview/contest today with someone you need to know about if you don't already. PC World named him one of the 10 Funniest People On Twitter. Like Racer X, no one really knows who MeetingBoy is, but whoever is behind this madness is one hilarious, talented fella. Tweeting out quips and one-liners, he's amassed close to 80,000 followers on Twitter as @MeetingBoy. I first got to know him (well, as much as you can know a masked-man) after he re-tweeted a Twaggie (illustrated tweet) we did off one of his tweets over on my start-up, www.twaggies.com.

Then one day, MeetingBoy asked me if I'd like to give away one of his new MeetingBoy wall calendars in a contest. I said sure, under one condition: he do the following interview. So read the interview and follow the contest rules at the bottom of this post. We'll pick one tweet/comment at random and send you the calendar in time for Christmas! Good luck!

DI: First of all, where do you take your meetings? Tell us about your day job.

MB: I work in a glass & steel high rise in New York with lots of lazy idiots. The managers spout buzzwords to impress each other, and my boss is a clueless, bullying hypocrite more concerned with covering his own ass than getting things done. Does that narrow it down?

I am stuck in 3-5 meetings a day, so if there’s a way to waste someone’s time, I’ve seen it. And I’m sick of it. I must have really bad karma to deserve this. I must have been something truly awful in a former life, like maybe a manager or CEO.

@MeetingBoy: 125 PowerPoint slides? Well, I hope you're not presenting a case for how efficient our department is.

@MeetingBoy: Definition of insanity: holding the same meeting with the same people every week and expecting different results.

@MeetingBoy: Four meetings today. And then later, no doubt, a meeting with my boss about how I'm not getting anything done.

@MeetingBoy: I'm confused by this article about Bernie Madoff. I thought "white collar prison" was just a euphemism for my office.

@MeetingBoy: 7 hour conference call, though my lawyer says I'll be paroled in 6 with good behavior.

DI: How’d all this Meeting Boy stuff get started? Walk us through the early days.

MB: Since my biggest pet peeve in meetings is people who ramble on and on, Twitter was the right place for me to vent. The forced brevity was just right. If only I could force the people who write PowerPoint presentations to stick to 140 characters instead of 140 slides!

I’d been on Twitter before, but mentions of work had become a problem once people knew I was tweeting and started following me in the office. After I got a new boss last year, I created the MeetingBoy account so I would stop hearing about it. Since then I only tweet under my own name after hours.

@MeetingBoy: I'm married to my job. I don't love it. It was a shotgun wedding; I had knocked up my credit cards with all sorts of debt.

Early on as MeetingBoy, I was getting positive responses. People identified with my complaints-- in fact the most common response to MeetingBoy is “do you work at my company?”

Of course I hate buzzwords, and so many of my rants result from sitting through an hour of them. The word I hate the most is “robust”:

@MeetingBoy: At the end of the day I think we can all agree how tired the phrase "at the end of the day" is.

@MeetingBoy: When the revolution comes, I'm shooting everyone who says "robust". Well, except the coffee roasters.

DI: When did your first little break happen?

MB: Last October, PC World named me as one of the 10 Funniest People On Twitter. My following increased dramatically as a result. This was a huge surprise to me. I had no idea I had broken out of the Favstar community of internet jokers. After that my friends who weren’t on Twitter insisted I start cross-posting my material to Facebook and MeetingBoy.com so they could follow along too.

DI: And then your big break?

MB: Earlier this year someone at Twitter added me to their Suggested Users - Funny list. I was pretty excited; after all, as my friend said, “It sure beats being on the Suggested Users - Not Funny list.”

Though some people would say my “big break” was when I got a boss that didn’t get my sense of humor, forcing me to put more of it on the internet. Speaking of my boss:

@MeetingBoy: We have high expectations for him - he got his MBA in business jargon from Wharton.

@MeetingBoy: You're right. It was wrong of me to question how another layer of paperwork would speed up the process. I apologize.

@MeetingBoy: Hey, everybody! My boss is running a special on poorly thought out, unworkable ideas today. The discount code is YESSIR.

@MeetingBoy: "Dumb it down. Remember, you're presenting it to management."

@MeetingBoy: "I didn't read the executive summary you sent. Can you just put the idea in a few quick sentences and send it to me? Thanks."

@MeetingBoy: New line on my job description: "maintain high morale". Told HR I could do it, but not if my boss keeps trying to motivate me.

@MeetingBoy: My boss is very susceptible to food poisoning. Apparently this occurs when he stays out late drinking.

@MeetingBoy: The boss sent an email at 11:30 "reminding" everyone that he's working from home today. He sent it from his Blackberry.

DI: Did you set out to achieve Internet fame or did the idea sort of take over by itself?

MB: I set out to vent about work in an amusing way, in part because I was so annoyed at how people in the office reacted to my being on Twitter. I certainly had no idea how to get people to write about me or who at Twitter to sweet-talk to get them to recommend me.

Being famous and anonymous is a little odd though. None of the benefits of fame have come my way. I’m not getting a better table at Sparks or celebrity gift bags at the Oscars. And no matter how many followers I have, I’m still stuck in the same meetings every day.

I would like to see a MeetingBoy calendar make an appearance on The Office. Seems like something Jim Halpert would have (though since he gave up his office, I’m not sure where he’d put it). Or maybe Michael Scott because he’s a “cool boss” and none of it applies to him..

DI: Talk about the tweets themselves. Mostly they are things you think up in these meetings every day?

MB: They are responses to things that happen in meetings. Or things I wish I could say. In a few cases I’ve actually said these things. Of course the names have been removed to protect the boring, the rude, the jargon-spewing types, the lazy, the bullies, and the people with “bad grammer”.

@MeetingBoy: I know, I know, but if your idea is so good, why hasn't some VP passed it off as their own yet?

@MeetingBoy: Sorry, I have to leave your meeting. I have something I need to do. I need to not be bored to death.

@MeetingBoy: This PowerPoint needs an art director? Wow! I never thought I'd say this to you, lady, but you're overthinking this.

@MeetingBoy: That email you claim I never sent you? Here it is. Along with your REPLY TO IT.

@MeetingBoy: No, I wasn't playing Devil's Advocate. I really think your idea is stupid.

@MeetingBoy: You are mean, incompetent, and ignorant. Life did not hand you lemons; life handed you CONSEQUENCES.

DI: But other times I see you attributing the tweets to other authors/publishers. How does that work?

MB: Sometimes I see a tweet that I wish I wrote. Other times my followers send me one I missed. Either way, if it’s something I think my audience would appreciate, I share it. After all, I don’t want to be like that guy in my office who thinks the only good ideas are the ones he thinks of.

For example, some of my favorite tweets that someone else wrote are:

@swimparallel: I've recovered from my death sickness. Now I'm back in the office. It feels like a lateral move.

@summersumz: Evaluating data, making conclusions. LIVING THE DREAM!

@kerissmithJA: Your cc list doesn’t scare me. I still refuse to respond to your email.

DI: So now you have this cool wall calendar. How’d that come about?

MB: A friend makes up a calendar with photos of his family, which I dutifully hang in my cube. I thought it would be cool to have a MeetingBoy calendar. I’d hoped to make a 365-page-a-day calendar, which I think would really work for my short quips, but I couldn’t find a way to publish it. So I went with a wall calendar, and asked for illustrators among my followers.

Of course once I had printed the calendar, I realized I couldn’t possibly put the calendar on my desk. I can’t have my boss or coworkers know that I’m MeetingBoy, and it’s probably better if they don’t even know he exists. Clearly I hadn’t thought this through.

I think the calendar makes a great Secret Santa gift. I think coworkers across the English-speaking world would love to get one.

Calendar available for sale online at http://meetingboy.com/calendar

DI: Have you learned any profound lessons going through the self-publishing process?

MB: I’ve learned that self-publishing isn’t very profitable. I’ve been very happy with all the illustrations I got, though paying for them before I sell the calendar has made money tight.

I was going to try to sell them directly myself over the internet, but I couldn’t be sure that my secret identity would be safe. Luckily one of the illustrators owns a comic shop and they agreed to carry it for internet sales.

And I’d still like to make a 365-page-a-day calendar if anyone knows how to go about that.

DI: What’s next for you and what’s your ultimate goal?

MB: Next up I’m starting to do regular illustrated tweets on MeetingBoy.com. Of course I can’t draw, so I’m using some of the same illustrators from the calendar, and any new ones I pick up along the way.

My ultimate goal is to be the boss on The Office after Steve Carrell leaves at the end of this season. Though I would also accept President Obama declaring my birthday, June 23rd, to be a national holiday, maybe National Out-of-the-Office Day. Write your congressman to make it happen.

DI: Will you always hide your true identity Meeting Boy? Or will we one day find out you’re actually Racer X’s older brother?

MB: I can’t reveal my identity without losing my job and potentially risking never working again. After all, who would hire MeetingBoy? A surly, sarcastic person who will mock your every shortcoming on the internet to tens of thousands of people. Even I might balk at hiring that guy. He kind of sounds like a loose cannon.

Okay, contest time! Of all the tweets mentioned in this post, by MeetingBoy or someone else, which would you like to see illustrated on Twaggies.com? RT it with the hashtag #twaggies and we'll pick one of you at random to get the calender. If you're not on Twitter, leave your vote in the comments below. The tweet with the most RTs will also get twagged on twaggies, too!

For my interviews with Jason Alexander, Monty Hall, Mitch Albom, xkcd and more, browse through past Creatively Speaking archives here >>

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A chat with Jeff Garlin
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Jeff Garlin co-stars and executive produces the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. The unique comedy, which is one of the rare television shows to become part of the national zeitgeist, stars Seinfeld creator Larry David, with Garlin portraying his loyal manager. Born and raised in Chicago and then South Florida, Garlin studied filmmaking and began performing stand-up comedy while at the University of Miami. He has toured the country as a stand-up comedian, is an alumnus of Chicago's Second City Theatre, and has written and starred in three critically acclaimed solo shows. I was fortunate enough to get this interview with him when he spoke at an event a charity I work with produced.

DI: Which do you prefer: writing, directing, or producing?

JG: I prefer to direct what I write.

DI: If you were to retire, what would you do with your time?

JG: Nap and eat puddin'.

DI: What's your favorite food?

JG: Puddin'.

DI: Of all the comedians and actors you've worked with over the years, who has been the most enjoyable.

JG: Larry David.

DI: Is Larry David as obnoxious in real life as he is on the show?

JG: See my answer above.

DI: What's the biggest difference between Chicago and L.A.?

JG: Human contact. In Chicago you get it on a regular basis.

DI: What's one of your favorite films?

JG: Sullivan's Travels by Preston Sturges.

DI: If you could have lunch with anyone deceased, who would it be?

JG: My grandfather Harold.

DI: Who's your idol?

JG: My wife.

DI: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

JG: A comedian.

DI: Where do you like to go to unwind when you're not working?

JG: Wherever my wife tells me.

DI: If you could change one thing about Hollywood, what would it be?

JG: The street names.

DI: Shakespeare wrote: "Brevity is the soul of wit." What do you think the essence of comedy is?

JG: A plate of fresh cornbread.

DI: I heard you studied law in college and almost graduated before deciding to pursue a career in comedy. Do you think you would have been a good lawyer?

JG: That's on Wikepedia.com and it's not true. I studied film.

DI: What's more difficult: performing stand-up comedy before a live audience or performing on camera?

JG: Actually, my personal life is harder.

DI: Do you own an iPod? If so, what's the most unusual music you've got on it?

JG: Chin Ho soundbites from Hawaii Five-0.

DI: Who is the funniest comedian of all-time?

JG: Jack Benny.

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