Monday, September 21, 2015

Dragon Con 2015 – Phantom’s Recap Part 2 - Friday

There are so many reasons that I’m glad I got my shit together and made it to Schwarza-Panel Friday morning. It started the day off right, it was a fun panel, and I had the opportunity to hang the Needless Things banner pretty early on. But mostly it’s because this is my third year in a row of doing panels with the awesome William Stout.

The Schwarza-Panel went up this past Friday as Episode 73 of the Needless Things Podcast, so you can check it out there. We talked about the science fiction movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and it was a really fun conversation. Plus I got to wear my kickass new Total Recall shirt.

After the panel I needed some food. I hadn’t eaten anything other than a granola bar. This is not because I’m a bad planner, it’s because the coffee maker in my room didn’t work. And no – I wasn’t just going to have coffee. I had brought a bunch of prepackaged cups of oatmeal and grits to eat for breakfast. That’s usually the toughest meal for me to find time for at Con, and all you have to do is add hot water to those and they’re good to go. I suppose I could’ve called the front desk for a new coffee maker, but who wants to sit around the room waiting for that?

Anyway, Sean had come out for the panel so we decided to grab some food and hit Artists’ Alley. I knew I might not make it to the Vendor Halls this year, but I had to get over there and at least try to meet Babs Tarr.

I feel like this was a very good year for Artists’ Alley. There seemed to be a lot more exciting, original art and somewhat less “here’s another drawing of Batman” or “I glued a comic panel to a bottle” type of stuff. There was plenty of interesting sculpture and other forms of non-derivative creativity. Granted, I still dig it when people draw or make stuffed animals of existing characters (I bought two different Harley Quinn prints), but it’s refreshing to see the occasional random-ass octopus or weird fairy creature hanging around.
It was while I was wandering the aisles that my eyes fell upon a curious sign. A sign that read “poopbird”. I didn’t know what this “poopbird” business was all about, but I knew that I had to investigate. As soon as the crowd parted in front of me to reveal the booth of “poopbird”, my eyes beheld the most wondrous sight that I have ever seen at Dragon Con:

We’ll get more into confused boners later when I recap The Dirty Con Game Show, but for now let me just say that poopbird has created perhaps the ultimate in boner confusion. I loved this thing. It was so appalling and ridiculous. I had to have it. I bought that one and a different one for the missus.

Babs Tarr wasn’t due back at her table for a while and I had a panel to prepare for, so we made a quick run through the art auction. It’s always fun seeing the pricier stuff and Kathleen David usually has a display of puppets that I like to see. But this year there was something very special in the back. A huge glass case with an assortment of childhood friends displayed within.

Okay – maybe that sounded creepy.

There was a massive display from The Center for Puppetry Arts with Oscar the Grouch, Kermit, Fozzy, and a number of other significant Muppets. You could get just inches away from them and it was pretty powerful. Unfortunately no photography was allowed, but if you want to see that sort of thing in person I strongly recommend you visit the Center in Atlanta. It’s well worth a day of your time.

The stroll through the art auction represented the last of my free time until 11 PM. I had the Toy Stories panel at 4 and then DCW at 7. There wasn’t as much time there as you might think, though. Being the announcer for DCW meant I had to get straight over to the Hyatt from the Marriott after the panel was done. I needed to find out what the show was and get the card so I could familiarize myself with the workers. Wrestlers come from all over to work DCW, and I don’t know everyone. I don’t even know all of the local boys.

Toy Stories was a blast (and you can listen to it here). I had wanted to come up with a new and more interactive way of doing a toy panel that could potentially travel around to different cons, and I think that this was it. The panelists all had good toys and stories and I think the audience had a fun time. Not as many people brought toys as I had been hoping for, but we did get a few and they were good ones. Overall it was so much more fun and less stressful than other toy panels I’ve done. I look forward to the idea being ripped off.

It happens to me a lot.

But that’s okay, because I’ve always got new stuff and as a great man once said, “They try to walk my walk, but they just end up fallin’”.

Side Note: In order to manage your expectations, I’ll tell you that I’m not doing a full DCW recap this year. There are a number of factors involved, one of which is that last year’s was sub-par. Now that I’m part of the show I just can’t do what I used to do.

I forgot to bring a second mask for DCW, which irked me quite a bit. I was okay wearing a regular mask for Toy Stories, but I had wanted to wear one of the new ones for wrestling. I like to have a little extra razzle dazzle there.

I won’t bore you with all of the pre-show stuff, but it was great to see all of the boys again. I haven’t been around wrestlers since I parted ways with Monstrosity Championship Wrestling and I had forgotten the excitement and fun of the atmosphere backstage. There’s nothing like the anticipation of a big show, and to me there’s no show bigger than DCW.

The show opened with a tribute to Tiny, who passed away earlier this year and who I wrote about here. Tiny started DCW all those years ago and has been a constant force in bringing Con the very best wrestling. His wife, Kim, took the reins this year and is an absolutely wonderful lady. I got to meet her before the show and she couldn’t have been sweeter.

This year every match was a tag match and most were part of a tournament to crown the Dragon Cup Tag Team Champions. This was because Tiny loved tag team wrestling. DCW is always magical, but there was definitely something special this year. The boys worked their asses off and as far as the audience was concerned they could do no wrong. And honestly, they did no wrong. Every match kicked ass all over the place, with the opener of Stryknyn and CB Suavé versus Darkstone and Moseley setting the place on fire. The audience had been waiting all year long for DCW action, and those guys delivered.

A series of excellent matches ended with Iceberg and Tank (accompanied by Reverend Dan Wilson) as the Tag Team Dragon Cup winners. That was followed by a massive DCW battle royal featuring almost every wrestler that was there that night. The action was fast and furious and I knew my voice was going to be gone in the morning (bad news for a guy with a game show the next night), but I didn’t care. I called the match to the best of my ability and – with AJ’s help – I think I called every elimination, even if I did have to make up the occasional name (sorry, Luigi Titterson). After all, it’s how I got the job in the first place. Sort of.

Before I get any further and forget, I want to put over the difference maker this year. The thing that allowed me to go as long as I went and kept me energized and aware all weekend – a water bottle. I brought a 32 ounce bottle this year and kept it full of water at all times. I used to rely on the water placed around Con, but a cup of water from time to time in that situation does not cover your hydration needs. I was drinking water constantly and I could tell the difference all weekend long.

Okay – I wasn’t drinking water the whole time. After DCW I went back to my room and filled up my trusty beer bag. Fortunately for me Puppet Improv was in the Hilton, so I headed straight downstairs.

Puppet Improv is one of my favorite things at Dragon Con. It consists of a group of performers – some puppeteers, some improv performers – that get together to play Whose Line Is It, Anyway-style games using a pile of random puppets. It presents a fascinating look at how puppetry works and how it is performed for television. Also it is dirty and hilarious.
This year’s show was hosted by Tyler Bunch, who has done too much for me to list, but you can check him out here. Among the performers were Mark Meer, Leslie Carrera-Rudolph, Raymond Carr, Stacey Gordon, Mike Horner, and Pam Arciero. In short, this was an insanely talented group of people and everybody in the room that night should feel privileged to have been there.

There’s another reason, too, but I’ll get to that.

Tyler Bunch was a hilarious host. He had a warm rapport with the audience and managed to select some real gems from the slew of suggestions that were shouted every time he asked for them. He also had a talent for explanation. Bunch thoroughly outlined the performance and each game that was being played. I’ve always enjoyed Puppet Improv, but I think this is the first year that it was broken down to the audience just how much the show displays the performance aspect of puppetry.

The performers skillfully worked through several classic improv games, as well as some that catered more specifically to puppeteering. The audience was eating it up. As things seemed to be drawing to a close, Tyler Bunch descended the stage, looking out at the audience. 
And then he stopped.

Right in front of me.

Leaning over the people in front of me, he said, “Hello, sir! What is your name?”

I go by Phantom.” (I was so surprised it’s a miracle I didn’t drop my real name)

Well, Phantom,” he continued, not finding my use of a pseudonym at all odd, “Have you ever operated a puppet in front of a camera?”

I have not.”

We’re going to change that tonight.”

As he said that last, my buddy the Grand Hoff was already taking the beer out of my hand and moving out of my way.

Barely believing what was happening, I followed Tyler Bunch up onto the stage. Once I was on stage, Raymond Carr set me up with a microphone (one of those with the battery pack that clips onto your shirt and oh, if only we’d had some of those the next night for the game show) and before I knew it I was on stage with a live mic in front of maybe five hundred people. Granted, I’ve been in similar situations before, but never in such esteemed company and in front of so many people.

And never utterly unprepared for whatever was going to happen.

Leslie Carrera-Rudolph brought me over to the puppet pile to select a puppet. I was still in a bit of a daze. I didn’t know if I was going to be selecting or what, but a few of the performers got together to find me one of the easier-to-manipulate puppets. I got a classy little pink fellow with a bow tie and rods in his arms. Your basic Muppet-style guy.

Tyler then took me over to the performance area. There was a camera on a tripod with two monitors at the base, floor-level. Performers had to look at the monitors to know what was appearing on the screen to stage right that the audience was looking at. It was an extra step to performing that I had obviously never dealt with before.

Side Note: I’m not trying to sound like I’m some kind of performer with all of this experience, but I have performed in front of crowds a bit and I do feel like I have a certain feel for it. Not like I’m amazing or anything, but I think that I have a feel for audiences that you either have or you don’t. And I for sure hadn’t ever done anything like live puppetry before. Though I absolutely would again, given the opportunity.

The sketch involved Tyler’s character interviewing my character for the position of wasp herder. Leslie’s character was my cousin who was trying to get me the job. Throughout the sketch Leslie did her best to keep my puppet (and me) positioned properly, leading to an absolutely hilarious repetition of, “Stand up straight!” (where she would grab my elbow and forearm with the puppet on it and shove it up higher) and “What’s that thing?” (where the top of my head would pop into the bottom of the shot).

Obviously Tyler and Leslie were fantastic, but I held my own and managed to get some funny lines in while frantically trying to control my little pink friend.


I was okay with the puppet’s mouth and left hand. I didn’t even bother trying to control the right. I just left it dangling. Not leaving anything unobserved, Leslie pointed this out and I claimed it was due to bee stings, which I also blamed for my puppet’s continual posture problems.

In addition to trying to perform, I was also doing my best to live in the moment. You don’t always know when magic is happening, but on that incredible, lucky night I had the privilege of knowing. I was savoring every word, every movement, every second of performing with two of the most talented puppeteers on the planet. It was a blessing and an honor and it’s one of my favorite things that’s ever happened to me.

And that’s the kind of stuff that happens at Dragon Con.

That closed the show. Afterwards I thanked Leslie and Tyler profusely. I also asked Beau if he had set that up and he had not.

I called my wife as soon as I left the auditorium and told her what had happened. She was very proud of me and happy for me. I told her I was going to bed and I meant it. Nothing else any more amazing could happen that night. But as I headed back to my room, I realized I was way too wired to go to sleep. I wandered around for a while and ended up in the Marriott watching a band play. I bought their CD, but I haven’t listened to it yet because I feel like my judgment was probably clouded by unadulterated joy. Also, who charges fifteen bucks for a CD at Con? Calabrese is the best band I’ve ever seen at Dragon Con and theirs are ten or less.

Eventually I ended up back in the room and drifted off to sleep to dream of puppets, wrestlers, and dirty, dirty game shows.

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