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Art Weingartner Lives On Forever: Rick Ducommun Dead at 62

20 Jun

Perhaps best known for playing nosy neighbor Art Wiengartner in the cult classic film The ‘Burbs, Rick Ducommun’s career started in stand up and lead to a string of supporting comedic roles in the 1980s and 1990s.  Rick Ducommun died on June 12, 2015 at the age of 62, due to complications from diabetes.  Ducommun’s performance as Art was a comedic triumph and a delight for anyone who saw The ‘Burbs.  Art Wiengartner was the perfect overzealous neighbor, inviting himself to eat at Ray Peterson’s house and sharing his theories on the new neighbors who move into the Klopeck house down the street.  Ducommun’s comedic timing was on point, especially with the delivery of his most quoted line: “Satan is good, Satan is our pal…”.

The Burbs - Art

Here is a best of compilation showing some of Art’s classic moments:

The ‘Burbs was a film favorite for me in my childhood, but Ducommun also appeared in movies like Little Monsters as the villain Snik, and as Gus, one of the bar patrons who spends his night with Phil Connors over and over again.  He also appeared as the limo driver in Blank Check.  Ducommun was also an accomplished stand up comedian, with an HBO special airing on HBO called “Rick Ducommun: Piece of Mind”.

Groundhog Day - Rick Ducommun

LITTLE MONSTERS, Rick Ducommun, Howie Mandel, 1989.

LITTLE MONSTERS, Rick Ducommun, Howie Mandel, 1989.

Rick Ducommun certainly had a huge stage presence, and he was a scene stealer in many of his roles.  His career never blew up like many of the stand-up comedians who went on to have their own sitcoms or starring film roles, but Ducommun is memorable, and I certainly count him among my comedic influences.

Pour one out for Rick Ducommun.

Robin Williams: the Pain of Laughter

22 Aug

I was lucky enough to see Robin Williams live in person on two occasions. The first was sometime in 2009 when I attended a taping of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon at 30 Rock, and the second was early last year at the Macky Auditorium at the University of Colorado at Boulder, for An Evening of Sit-Down with Robin Williams.  Both of these occasions were amazing, and the audiences were treated to the genius mind of Williams, which was frantic, manic, and tinged with a unique ability to move in and out of endless characters and voices.  He was an utter genius, and anyone who was a fan of his comedy and films was well aware of this.  He surely will be missed by millions of people around the world.

When the news that Williams had committed suicide spread, some of the first reactions were of complete disbelief.  Not very many people could believe that a man who brought so much laughter and joy to others could possibly have wanted to take his own life.  However, there have been many well-documented studies that link the personalities of comedians and performers to psychotic personality traits.  Earlier this year, a study performed at Oxford University concluded that “stand-ups of a modern era are likely to have greater levels of extraversion – a form of impulsiveness – yet be more depressive and unsociable at the same time”.   Making people laugh is viewed by many comedians as a form of self-medication.  One thing was clear about Robin – he loved to laugh and to make others laugh.  However, there is often hidden pain within many people, and Robin’s battle with depression is one shared silently by many others, including myself.

The odd thing about depression is how it comes and goes, and the dark surprise by which it takes you when it returns.  When I attempt to discuss my depression with people close to me, I am more than often met with disbelief.  People refuse to believe that “someone like you” has any right to be depressed.  Depression is not a right, nor is it a conscious choice.  Depression is a disease that encompasses not only mental effects, but physical effects as well.  My struggle with depression began early in life, perhaps around the age of thirteen, when years of bullying caught up to me.  For years, I was tormented regularly by children in elementary and junior high school, for a multitude of reasons.  I was the favorite target, most likely because my tormentors knew how easy it was to make me cry.  Years later, second and third waves of depression hit me following a difficult breakup and the death of  my best friend.  I am currently in the process of recovering from the third major depressive episode of my life.  This most recent depressive episode coincided with my starting stand up comedy.

A sensitive heart and soul is often a feature of an artist, and comedians in particular tend to have addictive personalities and tendencies toward mental illness.  As someone pursuing a career in comedy, I can easily say that a depressive personality is common among comedians.  Many fellow comics struggle with anxiety and depression, among other mental afflictions.  This does not mean that comedians are completely dysfunctional, but there is a quality that attracts people to quality that directly corresponds with some sort of need for validation.  I know that for me personally, my experiences with being teased for many years in school is a contributing factor toward my desiring a career in the creative arts.  It is part of a drive to leave a legacy and somehow show those who put me down that I am indeed valuable in some way.

Although none of us will ever know the exact factors that drove Mr. Williams to take his own life, it is important for an conversation regarding mental illness and depression to commence in this country.  Far too many people suffer in silence, unable to discuss their feelings with their own family members.  The stigma of depression is what leads to acts of suicide shocking so many people.  However, to acknowledge the pain and struggle of depression is to become more self-aware as humans and as friends to one another.

You will be missed, Robin Williams.

Everbody Dies, Even Steve Jobs.

5 Oct

Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Steve Jobs died on Wednesday, a day after the latest iPhone incarnation debuted without his famous black turtleneck and friendly smirk by its shiny side. Jobs was a veritable innovator, visionary, and, in my opinion, a genius.

Steve Jobs was born in 1955 in San Francisco, California to Abdulfattah John Jandali, a Syrian Muslim immigrant, and Joanne Schieble, though later adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs of Mountain View, California.  While in high school, Jobs attended after-school lectures at Hewlett-Packard, where he would eventually land a summer job and meet his future business partner, Steve Wozniak. Jobs enrolled at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, though he dropped out after only one semester. He continued to audit classes while sleeping on the couches of his friends, and one class he audited, a calligraphy class, would help Jobs to shape the creative vision of Apple, Inc.

Jobs founded Apple Computer, Inc. on April 1, 1976 in Cupertino, California, alongside Steve Wozniak and the little-known Ronald Wayne, who would voluntarily sell his share in the company for a mere $2,300.  Jobs and Wozniak built their first machine, the Apple I, to fulfill an order made by a local computer store known as The Byte Shop.  The original Apple I sold for $666.66, and would lead to the creation of several innovative machines that would change computing forever.  The Apple II and Apple III debuted in 1977 and 1980, respectively, but many Americans would first encounter Apple computers when the Macintosh debuted in 1984.

As a young elementary school student in Kingwood, Texas, I recall learning how to use a computer on a Macintosh. I first typed on a Mac, played Oregon Trail on a Mac, and accidentally hit the escape button on a Mac. After moving to Colorado, all the computers in the schools I attended continued to happen to be Macs. When I entered NYU as a freshman, Apple, Inc. dominated the education world – though really, just the entire world.

In 1985, Steve Jobs left Apple to co-found Pixar.  When he returned to Apple in 1997, nothing in the world of computing would ever be the same again.  After Apple, Inc. introduced the multicolored iMac in 1998, the new Apple revolution unfolded.  In 2001, Jobs introduced the iPod, which would lead to the creation of the MacBook, iPhone, iPad, and a new series of iMacs.  The founding of the Apple Store in 2001 would cement Apple as a technology powerhouse.  All of the new products introduced by Jobs would continue to boast an increasingly simple yet beautiful design aesthetic. As a college student who had the honor of working as an Apple Campus Rep on the most Mac-friendly campus in the United States, the Apple revolution was underway.

In 2004, Jobs was diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer.  Though pancreatic cancer typically has a very poor prognosis, Jobs continued to work for Apple, appearing at keynotes to introduce new products. Wearing his signature St. Croix mock neck turtle and Levi’s, Jobs introduced every major new Apple product with a signature style that no individual will likely replicate in the future.

When Steve Jobs died on Wednesday, he left behind a legacy that is both beautiful and controversial.  He was the purveyor of simplicity in technology, yet he was also the head of an empire that many may view as the source of evil. The controversy of how Apple products are made – primarily in Chinese factories at the hands of young laborers – will likely continue to grow in the wake of his death.  However, Apple, Inc. is now one of the most profitable companies in the world, with a revenue of $65.3 billion in 2010.

I could not imagine a proper life as a creative and artist without the help of Apple. Most of my peers in the creative field depend on Apple as a source of help with their work, and I intend to continue my use of Apple products for years to come.

Steve Jobs made a living doing what he enjoyed, and it is this simple action that will guide any person to success.  As Jobs described the search for one’s “dream job”: “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”

Pour one out for Steve Jobs.

Amy Winehouse & the Poeticism of “The 27 Club”

31 Jul

Amy Winehouse 1983-2011

There’s some place in the universe where fallen rock stars and actors congregate, a place mere mortals will never get the chance to see. The fascination with dying young and talented once again surfaced in the news this past weekend when Amy Winehouse left our world last weekend. She left through the portal of London, but there’s no doubt that she’d be allowed entrance into the post-mortem clubhouse occupied by the likes of Hendrix, Morrison, and Joplin.

When I first heard the news, it was over the radio. The disc jockey made a tasteless joke about Amy’s hit song “Rehab,” and her famous declaration that “no, no, no,” she would not be going. There’s a stigma against addicts that exists constantly but seems to become more strong when a famous addict dies. Amy Winehouse’s rebellion song against something that is expected to help her (And she attempted rehabilitation several times, only to seem to have to return again.) came back to haunt her as she faced the death that many tragic figures meet.

There is no glory in dying slowly from the abuse of alcohol and drugs. There are people in my life I fear will one day succumb to years of abuse of alcohol and drugs, and the thought of having to find them after everyone else leaves them to die truly scares me. Unfortunately, there’s really nothing you can do for people suffering from addiction until they themselves realize how they are hurting themselves and others.

The night of Ms. Winehouse’s death, I listened to Back to Black  for the first time in years. The album, of course known for its huge hit “Rehab,” is a multi-layered journey capturing the heartbreak of life and love. One of the songs I identify with is “You Know I’m No Good,” displays the conflicted feelings Amy Winehouse had about loving men who she knew sucked, but she just could not seem to help to stop. This is often the case with many women, and it seems that Amy allowed several of her relationships, especially her marriage to Blake Fielder-Civil, affect her in ways that only the use of alcohol and drugs could soften. Perhaps my favorite song on the album is “Tears Dry On Their Own,” a tragic song disguised by fast beats and a chorus of women in the background. Amy sings, “I fucked myself in the head with stupid men.” Unfortunately, I identify with this, as I suspect many women do.

The pain displayed in her voice gives Winehouse a place in the kingdom of female singer-songwriters suffering over men, loneliness, and struggles with sadness. Without Amy Winehouse, there would be no Duffy, no Adele, and likely no interest at all in female singers pouring out their hearts about things that matter.

The 27 Club now has a new member, though it’s still unclear what impact Winehouse’s music will continue to have in the years to come. Winehouse did not likely peak artistically, but the art she left behind will serve as a reminder of the pain and struggle that comes with genius. She is perhaps not a Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison in terms of artistry, but she stands alongside them as another example of what dying young can do for one’s talent. It seems as though no one truly appreciates anyone until they’ve died, and Ms. Winehouse appears as yet another recruit for post-mortem legend status. Pour one out for Amy Winehouse.

Lesson Learned: What the Death of Ryan Dunn Taught Us

25 Jun

In case you have not yet heard, Ryan Dunn, star of Jackass and Viva La Bam, among other classic MTV offerings, died very early last Monday morning when he crashed his 2007 Porsche 911 GT3 in Pennsylvania. The passenger in his car, Zachary Hartwell, also died. The accident happened after a night of drinking by Dunn and friends at a local bar, and many are placing the blame for the accident on Dunn’s reputation as a daredevil with a disregard for self-respect or for the lives of others.

Many of the comments I heard about Dunn’s death are extremely self-serving and opportunist. There’s quite a bit of talk of how he “wasted” his entire life only to selfishly take someone down with him.  I cannot agree with this sentiment. Dunn made a living having fun with his friends, and I am quite sure that many of the young people who have decried his death probably watched Jackass a time or two.  Additionally, the fact tat Dunn’s passenger also died presents multiple issues regarding responsibility.  The passenger chose to get in the car with a driver who drank.  The likelihood of some sort of lawsuit emerging from this horrible, fiery car crash is inevitable. However, the truth is that Dunn’s demise is the fate of quite a bit of young people who disregard laws about drinking and driving.

A post on (I cannot believe I am referring to that site) has a poster proclaim, “Ryan Dunn deserved to die”. Really? Does anyone ever “deserve” to die? I cannot say that I have ever thought someone “deserved” to die. I do recall a student I knew in college who was quite mean to me. He ended up dying in a horrible electrocution accident on a film set just a few months later. I remember telling my boyfriend at the time what had happened, and his only response was, “karma is a bitch.” Shocked at this statement and touched by my Catholic guilt, I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and lit a candle for the poor boy. Surely he did not deserve to die.

So what did we learn from Ryan Dunn’s death? Do not drink and drive – a lesson that people should know by now but sadly have not. Do not get in a car with a friend who’s been drinking. Stop them from driving. Do not drive your Porsche 130 mph on a winding road – this could surely be a mistake for anyone, sober or not.

Perhaps the most startling thing about Dunn’s death – for me, at least – is the very young age at which he died. I am always put off by hearing stories of the young dying, especially those with loved ones and friends who will live decades after their friend.  A television interview with Bam Margera at the site of the crash showed the true pain of a young death – a grown man crying profusely at the loss of his best friend, weak and defeated.  My discomfort at seeing Margera cry in turn caused me to cry. Margera will now live without his best friend – someone he considered his brother.  This is what people should consider when recalling Dunn’s demise. Through actions he chose, he left behind those who love him.

What can you do to prevent accidents like the one that killed Ryan Dunn? Make safe driving arrangements on a night of drinking. For those living in the Colorado Springs area, I recommend using the services of No DUI Colorado Springs. This is a FREE service offered at the most popular bars in Colorado Springs. Some of the bars they service are Copperhead Road, The Hatch Cover, The Mansion, Meadow Muffins, Phantom Canyon, Tony’s and Dublin House. You can visit their website at

2010 Sucked Except for Some Select Things

31 Dec

It’s New Year’s Eve and an obligatory year-in-review post seems necessary. I’ll be straight up – 2010 fucking sucked. It straight up sucked for many reasons, including the following:

1. The earthquake in Haiti happened.

2. Alexander McQueen died, then every important celebrity ever continued to die – Dennis Hopper, Elizabeth Edwards, Corey Haim, JD Salinger,and even Rue McClanahan!

3. My student loans became due and Sallie Mae chose to eliminate loan consolidation (fuck you, Sallie Mae, you money-grubbing whore!)

4. The oil spill happened!

5. That other earthquake in Chile happened!

6. I spent the first half of the year in the fetal position due to a horrible breakup. Breakups fucking suck and everyone broke up this year, though the title of worst breakup easily goes to Sandra Bullock and Jesse James. Fuck you, Jesse James and your dirty, dirty penis.

7. Unemployment – I was one of those victims for months, thank goodness I now have almost too many jobs.

8. Someone almost bombed Times Square and that fucking sucked.

9. Those miners in Chile, even though they’re alive, were trapped FOREVER!

10. The liquor store by my house does not sell Korbel Rose, which is fucking lame!

Here are some things I did like in 2010:

1. The Oh Snap Flow Chart – This is my greatest discovery of 2010 (thanks to my fellow Jezzies), and I wish I could tell 2010. Oh snap, 2010, you bitch!

2. Television shows that have titles that play on the word “pawn” sounding like “porn.”  I already adore Pawn Stars,and when I heard about Hardcore Pawn, my head almost exploded.

3. Weight Loss from Depression – I finally learned that I am not the type of person to attach themselves to Ben and Jerry in times of distress, but rather one who loses weight involuntarily. Of course it is shallow to enjoy something like this when people are starving in many places, but maybe I’m just a shallow kind of gal.

4. Being single – This actually turned out okay for me this year. I don’t need no man! Truth!

5. Finally having a real job and learning something from it!

So there you have it – here’s to better times in 2011, and here’s something for you, 2010! Don’t let the door hit you on your ass, you cruel bitch!

History Lessons with Heather: Rasputin

10 Feb

Now that I have tired of the controversy that my post “Two Thoughts on the Superbowl” caused, I have decided to add a new feature to my blog called “History Lessons with Heather”. History is quite possibly one of the most important subjects one can study. Although you will find that most people equate the study of history to underwater basket weaving, and if you do study history in college, many will simply squint and ask, “So you want to teach?”, it is still one of the most useful and interesting subjects one can undertake.

Rasputin: owner of big hands and another big thing.

The first subject of “History Lessons” is Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916), or the “Mad Monk,” a Russian mystic hired by Tsaritsa Alexandra to heal her son, Tsarevich Alexei, of hemophilia. Rasputin, born in Siberia in 1869, reportedly had mysterious powers early on in life, though he did not gain a following until he arrived in St. Petersburg in 1903.

Alexandra, wife to Tsar Nicholas II, heard through the grapevine that Rasputin could potentially heal Alexei of his hemophilia. It is unclear what Rasputin did for Alexei, but many believe that he hypnotized the young royal. Hypnotism lowers stress levels and it could have allowed Alexei to rest long enough to allow his body to heal itself. Alexandra called for Rasputin each time Alexei had an injury, and Rasputin was always able to alleviate his symptoms.

Rasputin’s involvement with Alexandra did not stop with Alexei. Many believe that Rasputin was politically influential and contributed to the demise of the Russian empire. Rasputin advised the Tsar to lead his army in World War I, and while he was away, Rasputin took it upon himself to appoint personal acquaintances to government posts. Rasputin’s personal beliefs were akin to a self-developed spirituality, and he believed that to achieve repentance from God, one had to sin. Rasputin purposely participated in excessive sex and drinking to become closer to God.

The most interesting thing about Rasputin is not his life, but his death. Rasputin was murdered by a group of nobles, among them Prince Felix Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. First, the men tried to poison Rasputin with wine and cakes laced with cyanide. Rasputin was reportedly unaffected by the poison (though many believe that he developed a tolerance for large amounts of poison), and the men then resorted to shooting Rasputin. After he was shot once, Rasputin apparently lunged at Yusupov to defend himself, at which time he was shot two more times. The conspirators, shocked that Rasputin was still alive, continued their task by clubbing Rasputin repeatedly and then binding and wrapping him in a carpet, which they then dumped in the Neva River. The river, icy due to freezing December weather, was the final foil for Rasputin. When pulled from the water, it was evident that Rasputin freed himself from the binding – some say that his arms were sticking straight above his head when he was found. An autopsy determined that Rasputin had water in his lungs – the “Mad Monk” could not be destroyed by poisoning, shooting, or beating – only a force of nature could claim the man whose powers some believe were at odds with nature.

One of the items that fascinates me most about Rasputin are the rumors surrounding his sexual appetite and menagerie of lovers. If you have no stomach for frank talk about sex, you should likely discontinue reading now.

Russian historian Orland Figes wrote of Rasputin’s purported sexual deftness:

“One woman confessed that the first time she made love to him her orgasm was so violent that she fainted. Perhaps his potency as a lover also had a physical explanation. Rasputin’s assassin and alleged homosexual lover, Felix Yusopov, claimed that his prowess was explained by a large wart strategically situated on his penis, which was of exceptional size.”

Hmmm. Let that sink in for a moment. Rasputin was likely schtupping Alexandra, and Rasputin’s member is probably the most famous physical remnant of his life. Rasputin’s severed penis is on display at a Russian museum of erotica, and if you would like a NSFW (depending on where you work) peek at what everyone’s favorite Russian mystic was working with, click here. If you actually clicked that link, you probably are both disgusted and impressed at the same time. Or perhaps you just feel inferior.

That’s today’s history lesson: the man, the myth, the legend, Rasputin.

You Goddamn Phonies! A Tribute to J.D. Salinger

3 Feb

I did not think of writing a tribute to J.D. Salinger until I started writing this sentence. By now it’s likely old news that he died and we are waiting to see whether he spent the rest of his hermit years writing more great literature. However, I cannot deny the impact  The Catcher in the Rye had on my adolescence and literary ambition.

I first read The Catcher in the Rye in ninth grade. I checked out an old, tattered copy from the Cheyenne Mountain High School library. No one had checked out this particular copy since 1991. This made me feel as though I had superior taste, and that I was as cool as someone who grew up in the grunge era. I can remember reading each sentence and pausing, thinking something akin to, “This is just like my life,” or a simple “Fuck yeah.” Holden Caulfield was me, and I was Holden Caufield.  Despite the obvious physical differences and the more obvious fact that he was fiction, I strongly identified with angst-filled Holden. The universality of Holden Caulfield is unparalleled by any other character in American literature. Although some may argue for the superiority of the portrayals of Humbert Humbert, Tom Joad, or Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield is the quintessential American fictional protagonist. Jaded by his charmed private school life and running away to New York City after his expulsion to escape the “phonies” that plague him, Holden is the picture of American teenage frustration.

The Catcher in the Rye is a novel that people tend to read to appear normal. Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s murderer, carried a copy with him at the time of his crime. Mel Gibson’s character in Conspiracy Theory hoarded copies of the novel and would buy another each time he went to a bookstore to feel at ease. I am unsure of where this is going, but The Catcher in the Rye is the novel of the normal and the abnormal; the sane and the insane. Holden is your average, frustrated teen, and by the end of the novel, he’s speaking to us from a mental hospital, completely powerless and strapped to a bed.

Perhaps the most ironic thing about The Catcher in the Rye is Holden’s disdain for “phonies” and the seemingly universal appreciation for the novel. Holden would likely hate that we care about his story. You can immediately tell whether someone is a phony if they tell you that The Catcher in the Rye is their favorite book. When someone asks me that question, I tend to say anything but CatcherIn Cold Blood, A Confederacy of Dunces, etc. But of course, I’m a goddamn phony, and my favorite book is The Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger is one of the authors who inspires me to want to write for as long as my mind will allow for it.

Pour one out for J.D. Salinger.