Jason Denton–Advice for Sketch Comedy Writers

What is your name? Any nicknames?
Jason Denton. My parents used to call me for some reason Jaycee. A friend ironically called me Jay-Dog.

What do you do with your time?
Middle school substitute teacher and stand-up comedian.

How old are you and where do you live?
39, and in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Behind the Ingles.

Where can we find you on the internet?
I’ll put in a plug for J/K Comedy. You can find us at jkcomedy.rocks or follow us on Twitter @jkcomedy007

The most interesting place you’ve visited?
Chicago, in the sixth grade, I was twelve or thirteen. The Museum of Science and Industry was great. My uncle was living there and my older brother and I took the Amtrak (with a layover in Philadelphia.) A funny thing–Mom and Dad had packed us IBC root beers. They weren’t twist-off, so you had these two young boys carrying what looked like beer bottles to the lounge car to get a bottle opener. We got stopped a couple of times.

Your favorite meal would be?
Cream of chicken soup with turkey sandwich on the side.

Pet peeve?
Not thinking two steps ahead. Doing something without forethought. (This applies to me more than anything else.)

Can you tell us about a time you wish you’d thought two steps ahead?
Heather and I are both bad with money, I guess, making bad financial choices. Early in our marriage we got a timeshare. If we’d taken the afternoon to just think about it that would have been a better thing. I’m also bipolar and one way the mania manifests is buying things. I’m on medicine right now, and doing better. But for instance, If I hear a song I like I’ll go ahead and download the song, then figure out who sang it and buy other stuff they’ve done and go on from there to other albums and by the end of the hour I’ll have bought fifty dollars worth of songs.

Wow, and thanks for sharing. Favorite book, or movie, or TV show?
Book: “To Kill a Mockingbird”
TV Show: The earlier seasons of “The Simpsons.”
Movie: “Dark City,” a science fiction flick, “City Lights,” with Charlie Chaplin, and “Scott Pilgrim Versus the World,” which was the most fun I had at the theater.

Why was “Scott Pilgrim” the most fun at the theater?
Well, this is kind of a downer, but my vision was going and it was one of the last movies where I could really see what was going on. But the audience was really engaged, and the movie was visually interesting with lots of animation and it was also, it feels like, one of the last movies that was made for my generation. Seinfeld, video games, lots of nineties references.

Would you mind telling us about your vision issues?
It’s called retinitis pigmentosa, or just RP. It’s the opposite of macular degeneration. Instead of a blind spot in the middle it’s tunnel vision. Starts out as night blindness, affecting the rods of the eye first, losing your night and peripheral vision, then later starts to affect color and clarity. It affects different people in different ways, and it’s progressive. It’s hereditary–my mother has it and my older brother has it worse than I do. Mine hadn’t been that bad until the last year or so when the peripheral vision really started to really go downhill. I’m now using a cane to get around the grocery store, that kind of thing. Also you tend to develop cataracts early; I had cataracts seven years ago.

If people want to pray for you, they could pray for…..?
Just throw a good prayer out there in general. Good thoughts, good prayers.

I know this answer because I interviewed your wife a few weeks ago, but let’s go ahead and ask: are you married or have you been? Any kids or pets?
Yes, married, and we just had out tenth year anniversary. One dog, Toonie. Did Heather tell you how Toonie got her name?

I don’t think so.
When we got her she’d apparently been named Petunia. I couldn’t see myself calling a dog “Petunia,” so I shortened it, but still kept some of the sounds so she could hopefully recognize her name.

One thing many people don’t know you can do?
Well, I used to be able to do a one-legged squat, but my knees are blown.

Oh, I feel your pain. If you had any spare time (and money), what would you do with it?
Travel to Europe.

Tell us some interesting things about yourself that aren’t already covered?
Well, I do improvisational comedy. I got involved in college, I do stand-up, do character-based humor. I’m moving more to observational, but I may get back to character based. I like to write monologues and sketches; I used to write monologues in college for people for auditions.

What’s the most rewarding part of stand-up comedy?
Hearing the laughter. Getting your point of view out there, your own brand, your sense of humor. There’s lots of different kinds of comedy: observational, one-liners, story-telling, character-driven. The fun is trying to find your own voice.

What’s the hard part of stand-up comedy?
Weirdly enough, the same thing. Something you might think is incredibly funny but you can’t get it out either verbally or physically on stage to where it “reads” for the audience and it’s not relatable.

Can you offer some advice for sketch comedy writers?
The clichéd thing, but it’s true, is to write what you know. If it’s something you know and care about, then it will be relatable. To make it funny, take something that happened to you in real life and by “yes, anding” it, take it to a ridiculous extreme.

What do you mean by “yes, anding” it?
Taking a situation and pushing it a little bit farther as far as stakes go, building on what you have. If you have a scene, for instance, in a space station. One character: “I snuck my pet mouse on board.” “Oh, no, that’s terrible.” “Why, because it’ll use up the air?” “No, because I snuck my pet cat on board.” It’s the ultimate comedy improv rule.

Jason, thanks much for sharing with us. Good luck and blessings on your adventures.

Laura VanOtteren–Advice for College Hunters

Welcome to the blog! Can you tell us your full name and any nicknames?
Laura Michelle Lambeth VanOtteren. One nickname growing up was “Lambchop” and in college I guess you can say I was affectionately called “LaLa”.

What do you do for a living?
I have been a substitute teacher for eleven years (and am guessing I will be starting my twelfth in August). I did teach middle school music for one year. I am also a church pianist and just started that a year ago at Darien United Methodist Church. This church has a neat piece of history: when Sherman was burning his way through Georgia, this church was the only one that did NOT burn.

How old are you?
I’ll let you guess with some clues in future questions. Read on..

Where do you live?
I currently live in Brunswick, Georgia, have lived in the state of Georgia for the last 25 years (that might he a clue to my age), but grew up as an Air Force “brat” for 17 1/2 years, so then I really didn’t know where I was from. (Another possible clue to my age?)

The most interesting place you’ve visited?
Two…Egypt and Israel. It was simply amazing to see the ancient architecture still standing and in Egypt when you went underground into the tombs, you still saw COLOR, like the tombs had just been painted! I got my first proposal in Egypt! I thought I was pretty well hidden in the middle of the tour group, but the guide pointed to me and said, “I’m going to marry you in 5 years.” My braces were what saved me at the moment because he said he wouldn’t marry me if I still had those. Israel was incredible because we went with the church and we did everything correctly. Having Communion where the tomb was found was SO MOVING. Walking Via Dolorosa, going to Bethlehem, we did it all right. Even went up to Masada.

How did the Egypt and Israel trip come about?
In my Air Force “brat” days, Daddy’s best assignment was our three years in Belgium I was twelve to fifteen (seventh grade through freshman year). SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) had a wonderful touring company and the only trip Daddy EVER asked to go on was to Egypt and it was expensive! We stayed in four and five star hotels, I think. I was the youngest in the group. The Israel trip was planned through the English-speaking Baptist church that was in the community. This was a trip Mom found out about and only Mom and I could go because there was a base-wide “exercise” going on that Daddy had to stay behind for.

Your favorite meal would be?
I make a killer leg of lamb dinner for Christmas Eve that I love and learned in French class when we were in Belgium. In French class, we went out the whole nine yards and had ALL the courses down to having REAL wine. The beauty of being in an international school system.

Wow, Belgium. Are there other foreign countries you’ve lived in?
Unfortunately no, but many of my friends from my “brat” days (and yes, that is a very affectionate term) did get to or they got to stay at SHAPE a lot longer than three years.

Pet peeve?
Those fidget spinners that are all the rage were the most annoying thing ever in the classroom. They did not serve the purpose they were made for. Sorry.

Favorite book, or movie, or TV show?
“Charlotte’s Web” was a favorite growing up. I think I lost count how many times I read it. I do like to read John Grisham and I did LOVE “The Shack”. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I want to. Love “Dancing With the Stars” and “America’s Got Talent.”

One thing many people don’t know you can do?
Well, I was required to take two semesters of organ as part of my music degree and I was church organist at First Baptist Church in Douglas, Georgia for nine years, I think. And before I took the church pianist job I have now, I had been singing tenor at College Place United Methodist Church in their choir for eight years. (Sorry, that is two things.)

If you had any spare time, what would you do with it?
Travel the world and get lots of sleep!

Can you tell us some interesting things that aren’t already covered?
I made seven moves in 17 ½ years as an Air Force “brat” and it’s always fun when people ask me where I’m from because I say “pick a year and I’ll tell you where I was” and that just totally blows their mind. Then I explain why. During orientation at college, when we were introducing ourselves and I said I was from Raleigh, they said “no, you’re not.” I said, “Ok, let me explain” and then I had to tell them my life story and explain that we had just moved from Ohio to Raleigh FIVE DAYS before arriving to campus. So, my accent was screwed up.

If people want to pray for you, they could pray for..?
The next year…read on!

Are you married or have you been? Any kids or pets?
Very happily married! Ed and I have been married for 25 years, but only six wedding anniversaries, so when did I get married? (Another possible age clue.) I have two wonderful girls in my house, who are both rising seniors in high school (yikes). We only have one daughter of our own (and yes, she is legitimate, going back to talking about when I got married), but we have guardianship of another wonderful seventeen-year-old that we have known for five years and a situation came up that we knew we needed to open our home to her and we have and we do not regret it one bit! So college hunting has been in the process and applications will be in the near future. This is where the prayer requests are coming from for the next year. There is also a four-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever in this house named Buck and he is just a sweetheart most of the time. I give him the most loving. He was bought to be a duck-hunting dog with Ed, but that is the last thing Buck is interested in.

What’s Buck like when he’s NOT being a sweetheart?
We still see the marks around the house from when he was a puppy and was in the chewing stage. I caught him first chewing on the window ledge! One Sunday morning he got mad when we kicked him out of our bedroom and I think he was bored, so he chewed the wall outside of Josie’s room. And the large picnic table on the porch? Well, he had a dandy time chewing all around that when he was on the porch in his first couple of years. He chewed the benches and the tabletop.

Can you tell us a little more about the other wonderful seventeen year old?
I met Nellie one day while substituting five years ago. She had come to the states for what was intended to be a very brief time and has turned out to be much longer. Nellie has dual-citizenship because her father was Scottish and passed away when she was nine and her mother is American. Nellie, her mother and stepfather came to the states to begin a sailboat ministry. After about a little over a year, her mother went to Scotland to find Nellie a boarding school and Nellie needed a place to stay for the two weeks her mother would be gone. We opened our home to her. Nellie left for boarding school a few weeks later and was very excited about this. She came back in the summertime and continued to go back and forth between her boarding school and Georgia for two and a half years. Then things changed and Nellie could no longer go to the boarding school. This past fall, when she should have been in school again, she wrote a letter to several of us that are close friends and told us everything she had been up to, including the job working at the ice cream shop and mentioned that she was not currently in school. When we read this part of her story, we wanted her to finish school. We face-timed with her shortly thereafter and invited her into our home here in the States and now she is on track to graduate on time with Josie and the Class of 2018! Her goal is to attend Duke University and eventually go into medicine.

So, that is Nellie’s story. I call her “My Nellie” and I have adored her since the day she walked in the classroom and I had her for three days as a student and I was a substitute.

I wasn’t sure how my parents would handle this, but they just opened their arms up wide open to Nellie and they have a second granddaughter who has bright red hair and TONS of freckles. Quite a contrast from my blond Josie!

What’s the most frustrating thing about hunting for colleges? The most fun? And can you offer us some advice for college hunters?
Getting to a starting point, deciding where to look. Visiting the colleges was a ton of fun. Things have really changed since we were in school. A lot more places to eat on campus and the food is SO MUCH BETTER. There are also more choices for dorms – just one roommate like what we had or suites or some have apartments where you can have even more roommates right there on campus. I think living in the suites would be nice. I had two great roommates, so I can’t complain.

Have fun looking for colleges and don’t put it off. Decide on where you want to be…Warm area? Cold area? There are fifty states, so don’t tie them down too close to home. Let them fly the coop! Ed kept telling Josie to apply in Alaska so we could go up in the summertime to go fishing or Maine so they could go moose hunting. He’s always thinking about hunting and fishing.

Laura, thanks much for sharing with us. Good luck and God bless with the college transitions with BOTH your girls.

Chris Harbin–Advice for Substitute Teachers

What is your name?  Chris Harbin

What is your occupation?  Missionary, seminary professor, pastor, author, finance professional, interpreter, substitute teacher

That’s a very impressive resumé.  Okay, how old are you?  Batting at 50

And where do you live?  Davidson, NC

Do you have a website or a blog or a Twitter account or anything where people can learn more about you?

What’s the most interesting place you’ve visited?  Iguaçu Falls in Brazil, the Scarlet Ibis Sanctuary in Trinidad, and the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico.  

Your favorite meal would be?  Groundnut Stew

What’s groundnut stew?  Stew made with chicken and peanuts, served over rice with diced fruit, tomato, onion, bell pepper, & dried coconut. I’m attaching the recipe from Karen’s dad’s first cousin who was a missionary to Nigeria.  

Great!  It sounds delicious.  I’ll include the recipe after this post.

Can I ask you to offer some advice for substitute teachers?  As a substitute teacher, you are in charge of the classroom for the day/hour. The students look to you as the person in charge unless you convince them otherwise. Depending on the plans set for you, you should feel free to add to the material from your personal experience. Tangents in education can be useful for helping students connect to material being presented. If you are not comfortable as the material is new to you, it is also new for the class you are teaching. There is no reason to be afraid to say, “Let’s learn together.” After all, college professors must continue learning in order to teach the subjects in which they are already experts. There is often a student in the class who readily understands the material. There is nothing to be lost by asking them to help explain material to others.

Favorite book?  “Out of Poverty” by Paul Polak.  Movie? “Dead Poets Society.”  Television show?  “The Librarians.”  

If people want to pray for you, they could pray for…..?  Completion of my discipleship cell group material series.

Family and/or pets? Married for 26 years, two kids nearly grown, three exchange students over the years.  We have a dog and a cat and we used to have chickens.

Pet peeve? Discrimination against immigrants and other minorities.

One thing many people don’t know you can do?  Woodworking.

Can you tell us some interesting things about yourself that aren’t already covered?  I performed lead roles in high school plays, I led a barber shop quartet in college, I cook creatively, but don’t follow recipes closely at all, I’ve studied eleven languages and speak three of them fluently, and I’ve lived half my life outside the United States.

What languages do you speak and which ones have you studied?  I speak English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  I’ve studied German, French, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Aramaic, Latin, & Ugaritic (a dead language from Ugarit, on the Mediterranean coast near Tyre).

You’ve had some amazing experiences, Chris.  Thanks for sharing with us.  Following this is the recipe for Groundnut Stew, which I’m going to have to try some time.  

Marian’s Nigerian Groundnut Stew
Ingredients:  6 pounds fryer chicken, 3 cups peanut butter, water, flour, 1 t. cayenne pepper, and a dash of black pepper/


Banana, sliced
Pineapple, chunks or tidbits
Salted, roasted Peanuts
Onion, chopped
Tomato, diced
Grapefruit, canned
Mandarin Orange, canned
Green Pepper, chopped
Coconut, grated

Collard greens, sautéed

1. Stew chicken in water with 2 cups peanut butter until cooked.  
2. Remove chicken and put aside. Measure broth so that enough flour to make a medium white sauce consistency can be added to the broth.
3. Add 1 t cayenne pepper and dash of black pepper.
4. Add 1 cup peanut butter and reserved meat. Simmer.

Serve over rice with one or two tablespoons of each topping item.  Each item should be used unless the person is allergic to something.