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Teaching takes balls
Nerf balls, beach balls, dodgeballs...
My classroom has over a dozen balls whose primary purpose is throwing. Kids want the dodgeball, but that requires supervision. It’s my go-to ball for Silent Ball (you’re out if you drop it or make a noise) and Arm Hockey (circle up, the goal is between everyone’s legs). Before advisory or fiddling after-school, it’s a lot of foam balls. I once told kids it was hard to hurt yourself with them, then I proceeded to take an off-brand Nerf ball to the eye. Still better than a basketball in the nose. I’ve long billed my beach ball as an Essential Teaching Tool, both for games and the novelty of throwing something so big in your English classroom. If you count tennis balls on chairs, I have maybe 150 balls in my classroom.
Returning seventh graders always romanticize sixth grade no matter how indifferent they were at the time, and one reason is we play games. One difference between 6th and 8th is how they react to the silly: YAY! vs Meh. My morning advisory features games as much as time allows, and I try to work in a game at the start or end of class, often using a ball. We’ll do a Ball Toss Greeting (circle up, greet someone and throw to them) or a Group Juggle Greeting (Ball Toss, but the second time through I add more and more balls until it becomes glorious mayhem).
My ball supply is so well stocked that twice I’ve loaned one to a seventh or eighth grade teacher and told them to keep it. I have an embarrassment of riches, plus at least one dog toy, plus it’s a lot easiest path to spreading my pro-ball philosophy than just yakking about it. The eighth grade teacher would throw it at kids as a way of calling on them. We’re innovating our ball usage in teaching. It only can lead to good things.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Vee to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
Strictly speaking, rabbi(t) wouldn’t be an autocorrect error… but I plead it being a comic. I’ve since had one too many What the he’ll moments and turned off my autocorrect, and I’m in love with its absence. Plus, I have all new spelling errors! I’ll write The Awesome Wife, I live you, what do you want fir dinner?
Vee and I are cooking up some Halloween tomfoolery… plus she has her own substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
My number one favorite song of all time? A strong contender would be John Lee Hooker’s 1948 “Boogie Chillen.” The guitar sound is insane, especially for 1948, plus the metronome-resistant rhythm, the hypnotic groove of the riff and how he makes it sound almost like drums, that one-note bridge break, the way he barks out “Boogie chillen.” And there’s a deep philosophy in the lyrics, central to my teaching: “Let that boy boogie-woogie, ’cause it in him, and it got to come out.” As I was told during my student teaching, sometimes middle school boys just need to punch each other in the head. Some of these kids, it in them and it got to come out. I recommend finding this track to open The Legendary Modern Recordings,” whose first three tracks are quite a run. “Hoogie Boogie” is nearly as good, or is it better? A fraternal twin brother.
My Back Pages
In 2004-5 I booked and hosted a comedy show at my friend’s coffeehouse in the city of Hollywood. I was a lousy standup and a mediocre host, but I was an EXCELLENT producer, and because everyone’s in LA, I regularly booked amazing comics. It was a small coffeehouse, audiences were often less than a dozen. But comics dug the vibe and kept asking for spots. I’ve since cited my time hosting as formative to my lack of fear in public speaking. When you’ve bombed 30, 40 times, you stop fearing crowds.
At some point I attempted a history of the show with a quick blurb about what I could remember about each show. From some time in 2005:
This was supposed to be Tacky Jackye and friends, and it was, and she brought audience. But more importantly this was the one where Bone TORE IT UP. And where we had a legitimate celebrity performer in Zachary Levi. Andy Dick came to this show, and the next day I tried to give him an Organic Comedy card and he blew me off.
That’s right, Shazam did my sixth comedy show. LA! At the time, I was working on a television sitcom with Zachary Levi and Andy Dick. (If you’re a Dan Tobin completist, here’s the episode I wrote. proof at 2:39. Be forewarned that only 90-95% of it was rewritten by others.)
I had been given gold and I had no idea. Maria Bamford was incredible and is one of our biggest comedy names, and Jackie Kashian is huge and one of my favorites. Plus, Jason Dudey was as good as advertised.
Our Jeopardy Tournament of Champions runner-up-slash-biker dude, I booked him because I was scared not to.
My main man Jay was college friends with Jen Kirkman and she referred me to all sorts of interesting people. Somehow I never went to other comedy shows, never saw the actual scene, maybe my clueless attempt was part of the charm. I think it was Wednesdays? A show was happening May 6, so I noted the 15th anniversary of my bar mitzvah.
The bar mitzvah! Booked opposite the Friends finale and while Meaghan’s dad was in town. Nobody showed up, but it was a good show. For the first time, I truly killed. The laugh off the fuzzy torah was outstanding.
I lived in the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles, and there were all sorts of Judaica shops. Apparently I was an aspiring prop comic.
It wasn’t all success.
The. Talking. Bird. I booked a talking bird act. There, I’ve said it. A talking bird. And his magician operator. I knew I’d made a mistake when he showed up a week early to watch the show. Then he said he wanted the bird to enter to “I’m Too Sexy.” (I guess by this point we were doing music between comics.) It was so bad he left without saying anything or getting his CD back.
I produced 77 shows but only made it through writing about 27. I never got to the high school talent show, where I reunited most of my band that won back in the day — and we won again! Or my two John Kerry fundraisers that raised less than the first grader he name-checked in his concession speech. But I did book Patton Oswalt for that, and other regulars included Sherri Shepherd (The View), Chris Hardwick (Nerdist), Eddie Pepitone, Matt Iseman (America Ninja Warrior), and Jen Kirkman, who was our first and last comic and did so much to build the show.
Gee, Dan Tobin, it seems like you booked a lot of women?
Why yes, every show I produced was at least 50% female, and there was plenty of diversity all around. As Retta (Parks and Recreation) said when she started one of her sets, “I love that it’s not ‘Black Girl Night,’ there just happen to be two black girls on the show.” Those terrible comedy bookers we all heard about? Organic Comedy was thoroughly all right. I even booked the writer of that Times oped. But I’ve now retired from standup; audiences have been rejoicing ever since.