(March 17, 2009 - Santa Monica, CA) McKinley Elementary School in Santa Monica is the little schoolhouse that could. It could be a role model for school spirit and parent involvement. It could be a haven for celebrity parents past and present. It could, in awful economic times, find ways to raise money for music and arts programs. It could build a community of generous and fun-loving parents who take their kids' well-rounded education to heart.
All this I learned from attending McKinley's Ninth Annual Comedy Night and Live Auction on St. Patrick's Day evening at the classy Shutters on the Beach Hotel. Alumna parent Bobby Collins and alumna and present student parent Paula Poundstone put on a comedy concert that attracted a sizeable audience of over 200 - not only parents from the school, but also friends and comedy fans from the far reaches of Los Angeles. Thousands of dollars were raised, which will, along with the contributions of PS Arts secure the continuation of these desirable cultural programs for the students. PS Arts is a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring arts education in public schools.
Charming Master of Ceremonies Miriam Billington kept things moving throughout the evening. As the audience was getting settled, we were regaled with Irish music from McBand, professional parent musicians who play Irish music. They also played in the lobby after the comedy. We participated in a sing-a-long. The words for "There's No One As Irish as Barack O'Bama" were handed out to get us in the mood for silliness.
Comic Rob DeLaney opened the show with some sly jokes about putting audience members in his van.
Soon Bobby Collins was upfront and center - better in person than on TV. He came across with some zingers that had us holding our bellies. A native New Yorker who is bicoastal, Collins says his New York friends are fascinated with California car chases. They see the cops following cars for hours and they are so curious to know "When do they shoot?"
Bobby's lovely wife Jill was good-naturedly helping collect tickets at the door. I suppose she didn't really mind his funny act-outs about their relationship. To me some of his funniest bits had to do with her taking him to yoga class. He acted out his role in class as an ignorant dufus - making fun of people carrying their mats in "mat holders" and describing people's mats as their safe territories. The most hilarious was when he pretended not to understand the traditional parting "Namaste" Sanskrit for saluting the spirit in us all, mistaking it for "Monostat."
After Bobby left the stage, Miriam conducted the "Live Auction." All the items auctioned were "dates" - for dinner and a movie with flowers, theater and dinner, basketball, hockey, and even an overnight date at Shutters (and donated by them) in a room valued at over $700. (Who stays in such a room?) A lot of money was raised and it wasn't too painful to sit through.
Rob DeLaney returned with a few more sexual innuendo type jokes to warm us up for our headliner.
Then Paula Poundstone burst onto the stage with thunderous applause from the crowd. She is an Emmy-winning genius who manages to reach into her most personal life sagas and pull them forward for the audience to absorb. It takes a little time to completely plug into her unique voice and humor. But it is centered and penetrating and extends outward to the far reaches of the audience where she will think nothing of putting an unsuspecting audience member on the spot for a good ten minutes of teasing. She encompasses the full spectrum of standup skills from personal to societal commentary to sheer improvisational fun.
She confided that she is financially challenged and that she suffers a back injury. Since she can't afford specialists, she goes to various doctors' waiting rooms to find other patients who seem to have similar body distortions as hers, then waits until they come out of their appointments and asks what the doctor told them.
She is an atheist who is not ashamed to admit it. Also, she is not afraid to say f**k a lot, even when it gets her into trouble. It has appropriate uses with her kids, she explained to us. Then she went on to describe a sock that was left on the floor for several days. She pleaded sweetly with her son to remove it to the laundry, until it was no longer possible to keep her composure.
Paula spent quite a bit of time making fun of McKinley and its policies in the classrooms, such as the "effort point" given her child for geometry, the practice of meditating on a number, the kindergarten teacher who could explain everything with a felt board. It was a scream to McKinley people and was still humorous to us outsiders. She claimed that the teachers at McKinley who looked young and fresh were the ones who haven't had to deal with her three kids and their tantrums.
You could tell that the popular comedienne who travels quite a bit doing shows was very intimately involved with every aspect of her children's lives and would do anything for them. She revealed that soon she will be going to Canada for a gig. She considers Canada to be America's hat. Canadians resent us because they have to study us but we know nothing about them. This was the impetus for her brutal teasing of the one Canadian in the audience. She said the Canadians don't have enough self-confidence. That's why even their national anthem goes, "Oh...Canada."
After the funnies we were treated to coffee and dessert. It was an enjoyable evening for a great cause. Perhaps all kindergartens should start having round-up recruitments of their funny people, as Paula suggested, hosting open mikes to discover more talented parents.
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Photos courtesy of McKinley Elementary except where noted.