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October 25, 2018 - Image 10

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4B —Thursday, October 25, 2018
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com

Marc Evan Jackson only plays

a demon on TV, or so he told me.
The man behind the all-knowing
judge of all matters in the afterlife
is Marc Evan Jackson. Despite his
role as the devil in charge Shawn
on “The Good Place,” Mr. Jackson
is anything but evil and, like me, a
self-professed, incurable, devout
improv nerd.

In a phone call with The

Daily, Jackson described his first

comedy as “life-opening.” He
discovered improv by playing
piano at rehearsal for River City
Improv, a group formed by his
former Calvin College classmates.

“I was there for 10 minutes,”

Jackson explained, “and I was like,
‘Oh man, we got to find someone

else to play piano because I want to
do what you’re doing for the rest of
my life.’”

There was something about

improv that drew him in. It was
magnetic, it was energetic, it was
everything he loved but he didn’t
know it yet. He recalled about that
first rehearsal: “They were the
smartest, funniest, kindest, most
empathetic people and I was like,
‘Oh, I would like to be among you
please be my friend.’”

After his initial introduction to

the wonderful world of improv,
Jackson went on to join The Second
City in Detroit where he spent four
years. Although his time in Detroit
was short-lived, Jackson said that
he was intoxicated by the city and
that “Detroit became home far
more than Buffalo ever was, or even
more than Grand Rapids.” In 2001,
he moved to Los Angeles where he
joined a long-form improv group

made up of former Detroit residents
at Second City Hollywood called
“The 313,” named after the area
code of the city. The 313 still
performs today and includes the
likes of Tim Robinson and Sam
Richardson (“Detroiters”), Keegan
Michael-Key (“Key and Peele”),
Larry Joe Campbell (“According
to Jim”) and Maribeth Monroe

Hanging out in Los Angeles


expatriates, Jackson and his wife

and secretary at Detroit Creativity
Project) wanted to know what they
could do to help revitalize the city
they loved.

“It became clear immediately,”

Jackson said. “The thing that made
us all good at what we do, made
us all agreeable, nice, interested,
interesting people and gave us
careers is improvisation and the

Why Marc Evan Jackson
teaches kids to ‘Yes, and’


Senior Arts Editor



I tried Trump’s TV diet
and it almost killed me

Students from The Improv Project / COURTESY OF JACKSON

Donald Trump and I don’t

seem to have much in common.
He takes his steak well-done, I’m
a lifelong vegetarian. His father
hails from central Queens, mine
from northeastern Queens. He is
overseeing the dismantling of our
democracy, I’m … you know, not.
But one habit we share has been
gnawing at me: Despite having
better things to do, we’re both
known to watch an obscene amount
of television.

The consequences of my TV

watching are — I’d like to think —
pretty minimal (maybe a gratuitous

there). But his is a different beast
altogether. It’s now a defining
feature of his presidency and shapes
his politics in real, fascinating ways.

What could a medium I love

teach me about a president I don’t?
In a quest to better understand

Chief, I challenged myself to an
experiment: a week of watching
everything Trump watches on TV
and nothing else.


reporting (and the president’s own
tweets), we have a general sense of
what Trump’s TV schedule looks
like — it’s anywhere from four to
eight hours per day, and heavy
on morning shows (he watches
about three hours of them before
beginning his official workday at
11:00 a.m.) and the Sunday political
talk shows.


the 6:00 a.m. hour of MSNBC’s
“Morning Joe,” a show that decided
what Americans would most like to
watch first thing in the morning is
a bunch of Beltway-types gloating
about that Red Sox win last night.
Guess again, Joe and Mika.

It’s followed by an hour or two

of “Fox & Friends,” so notorious
for its influence over the president
that The New York Times TV
critic James Poniewozik called
it “the most powerful TV show
in America.” When the Martian
anthropologists descend on the
wreckage of our climate-ravaged
planet in 20 years, they should

take a look at “Fox & Friends,” a
beguiling cultural artifact that’s
now the most-watched cable news
morning show in America.


with fluttering pop music and
chipper hosts, that it’s easy to
forget what the show really is: a
daily Macy’s Thanksgiving Day
Parade of conservative talking
points, all served with a preening
smile. “Hmm, Steve, seems like
immigrants are going to kill us
all, doesn’t it? Anyway, next up,
Charlotte Pence is here to talk about
her new book!” And despite their
millions of viewers, the hosts are
keenly aware they’re performing
for an audience of one; a few times
over the course of the week, Trump
tweeted out headlines scrolling
across the “Fox & Friends” chyron.

To their credit, the “Fox &

Friends” gang was very much on top
of the week’s biggest news story. No,
not the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,
but that Keira Knightley will not let
her daughter watch “Cinderella.”

If Trump’s morning TV is

designed to slowly rile him up, his
evenings are designed to leave him
seething and stewing. It’s a vicious
lineup: “Tucker Carlson Tonight,”
“Hannity” and “The Ingraham
Angle.” Oh, how I long for those
naïve days when I thought being
subjected to an hour of “Hannity”
was the worst thing that could
befall me. The one thing worse than
an hour of “Hannity,” I learned,
is an hour of “Hannity” featuring
special guest Rush Limbaugh, who
joined us — oh joy — for the full hour
Thursday night.

The big story the primetime

shows were following this week
was a caravan of Central American
migrants headed for the southern
border. Never mind that the caravan
is at least a thousand miles from the
U.S., Fox News covered it like CNN
covering a hurricane: flustered
reporters on the ground, ominous
breaking news graphics, alarmist
headlines ticking across the screen.

And it worked. On Thursday,

with a prideful grin, Tucker Carlson
played a clip of a Trump rally in
Missoula, Montana. “Remember,
it’s going to be an election of the
caravan,” Trump said. “You know
what I’m talking about.” At the same

rally, he presented his slogan for the
midterms: “Democrats produce
mobs, Republicans produce jobs.”
It was a clever line, if a familiar one:
Jesse Watters had coined it earlier
that afternoon on Fox News’s 5:00
p.m. roundtable show, “The Five.”

A week of pandemonium ended

tamely. A rerun of “SNL,” some
empty punditry on Sunday’s “Meet
the Press.” And finally, a low-key
“60 Minutes,” which featured
segments on genealogy websites,
falconry and the shoddy state of the
New York City subway system. Ah!
Here’s an issue where I’m happy
to bash Democratic politicians.
President Trump, I’ll even write
the tweet for you: “Under Governor
Andrew Cuomo of New York
(Highest Taxes), the failing NYC
subway system (very important) is
a disgrace. Totally out of control —
BAD deals!”

It was a week that left me angry,

stressed and anxious. And it was a
reminder that, for all the unifying
power of television, it has as
much power to leave us miserable
and outraged. Trump watches

might watch old game footage, as a
measure of past performance and
as a playbook for the next week.
It’s good to want to improve, and
natural to care about what others
think. But it’s unhealthy to spend
eight hours a day doing so. It makes
Trump a worse person and a worse
president. And if he’s going to spend
all that time watching television,
he might as well watch something
good. We’re in the golden age of TV!



unsolicited recommendations at
the ready. The President might
try NBC’s “The Good Place,” a
chronicle of the frustrating human
struggle to be better. Or maybe
The CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” full of
the twisty backstabbing he seems
to relish, and with — fittingly — a
hotel business in the backdrop.
There’s always Netflix’s sumptuous
“The Crown,” about the perils of
mixing governing and family. If
scripted TV is really a no-go? I’d
recommend the delightful rebooted
“Queer Eye,” which reminds us of
the importance of empathy — and
proper tailoring.

tenants of that, the yes and, the
collaboration and the agreement.”


and Hagenlocker formed The
Detroit Creativity Project (DCP),
a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization
that provides improv training to
Detroit middle and high schoolers
by partnering with schools and
community organizations.

What does bringing improv

into Detroit public schools do?
According to two years of research
conducted by the University to
determine the program’s impact,
some really good stuff. Jackson
explained that it’s “legit science.”

flagship program, The Improv
Project – a semester-long course
and summer workshop series
that fosters social and emotional
learning – do self-assessments
at the beginning and end of the
program. Jackson reports that
many of the students at the start of
the program self-identify for social
anxiety, social phobia and even
depression. However, at the end
of 10 weeks of one hour of improv
a week, those numbers were
significantly reduced, attendance
increased, test scores improved
and – Jackson’s personal favorite
anecdote –“students who have
otherwise skipped school that
day are sneaking into the improv


underperforming and students are
constantly reminded that their low

test scores mean they are “at risk.”
For most kids, it seems easier to stay
under the radar, to not raise their
hand, to not get involved. However,
Jackson said, “Improvisation is the
opposite of that because in order to
improvise you have to be involved.”

Therefore, these kids who are

told again and again that they will
fail, that their schools will fail, that
they don’t matter are reminded
that their voice matters. Improv

collaboration and agreement.

“Improv teaches such good

and respectful give-and-take and

patterns that just makes life go
better,” Jackson added. “It makes
you a better person.”

Improv is not only for wannabe

actors or people like me; it is for
everyone. “Everyone should do
it whether you have any interest
in being on any stage of any
kind,” Jackson said. “If my family
improvised, I’d go home for

“Improv is good for everything,”

Jackson reiterated. “It truly is
great for not only finding one’s
voice and finding what you care
about and what matters to you but
also breaking down that barrier of
defensiveness about there being
only one answer and it opens you
up to hear and to listen to and to
accept other people’s points of view
as well. Improv is so wonderful in
that regard, and I think it can be a
launch point for activism and for

getting people involved.”

“It’s one little parenthesis in

their (the kids’) day where what
they say matters and they’re getting
laughs, they’re having fun and they
are finding their voice,” Jackson
added. “And they are being told not
only what you say is important, we
need you to be here, we need you to
participate and it’s your mind, your
body, your voice that is creating
this work and without it, without
working together, without one
another, we have nothing.”

The Detroit Creativity Project

reminds kids that their voices
matter, their ideas matter and most
importantly, they matter. Because
when you create a scene out of
thin air, you do the impossible and
suddenly, anything is possible.

“When you step off the back

line in improvisation you enter
a white room with nothing in it
and then you paint such vivid
pictures,” Jackson said. “It’s simply
impossible except that it’s not if you
do it together.”

You can catch Marc Evan

Jackson wreaking havoc on “The
Good Place” as head demon Shawn
or as Captain Ray Holt’s husband
Kevin Cozner on “Brooklyn Nine-
Nine.” You can also tune into a
behind-the-scenes look at “The
Good Place” on “The Good Place:
The Podcast” hosted by Jackson
with guests like show creator
Michael Shur and cast members
like Kristen Bell, Ted Danson,
D’Arcy Carden and more.


Daily Arts Writer


Marc Evan Jackson / NBC

Politics & Kanye language



late aughts, Kanye West was
perpetually a figure within
my peripheral understanding
of pop culture. I couldn’t tell
you who sang the song “Gold
Digger” when it burned up the
charts in 2005, but a VHS tape
somewhere in my mom’s closet
plays to reveal a six-year-old
me popping and locking to it at
my then 16-year-old cousin’s
birthday party. Fast forward
to the 2009 VMAs, and I could
identify him as the guy who
stormed onto the stage and said:
“Yo Taylor, I’m really happy
for you, I’ll let you finish, but
Beyoncé has one of the best
videos of all time.” From the
beginning, I knew people loved
him for his music and people
hated him for his actions.

By the time the internet

became an integral part of my
daily teen life, West fascinated
me not in his creative potential
as a musical artist, but in his
contributions to meme culture.
My brothers and I laughed
ourselves to tears, spilling hot
popcorn on the floor when
he infamously announced his
decision to run for president in
2020 at the 2015 VMAS. When
he broke into a monologue
on “The Ellen Show” in 2016,
justifying his appeal to Mark
Zuckerberg for $1 billion in
funding for creative enterprises

dead. Steve Jobs is dead. Walt
Disney is dead.” I used the
phrase for comical effect in my
high school speech class. These
events were parallel to my first
encounters with rap music on
a less-than-radio-single level,
as artists like Kendrick Lamar
and Travis Scott began to pique
my interest — in no way could I
have envisioned West as these
rappers on an artistic level when
his antics spoke louder than his
music to the public.

My relationship with Kanye

West has changed since high
school. After a semester’s worth
of Shazam-ing my roommate’s
playlists during my freshman

year, I caved in and downloaded
The Life of Pablo, “Highlights”
and “Fade” making frequent
appearances on my playlists. I
then downloaded The College
Dropout, and Late Registration,
and Graduation and — well, you
get the picture. The point is, I
saw Kanye for the artist he is
for the first time, with his bold
storytelling, profound skits and
dynamic and influential sound.
It is near impossible to find
a popular hip-hop artist that
has risen after Yeezy who is
uninspired by him.

It’s for this reason I consider

2018 more the polarizing year
for Kanye West than the year
of his downfall. His outbursts
were unhinged enough for my
mother to call me two weeks ago
and ask, “Diana, what is wrong
with Kone-yee West?” But his
three main music projects of
2018 — Daytona, Kids See Ghosts
and ye
— rank amongst my top

20 albums of the year.

I couldn’t care less about

what celebrities have to say,
even when they are about the
president. However, I’d be lying
if I said I didn’t think Kanye
being Kanye was a bit too Kanye
this time around. His claim that
400 years of slavery “sounds
like a choice” is reprehensible,
especially given the platform
he used to speak on behalf of
Black rights in the past. His
recent conversation with and
in support of President Trump
was haphazard and chaotic, to
say the least — it struck me that
he had a lot to say, but couldn’t
coherently communicate it. It’s
also eerie how an SNL parody
got away with borrowing lines
directly from this conversation
in their recent skit.

Kanye West’s visit to the

White House, ostensibly to
discuss criminal justice reform,
was a hot mess and further
defaced his already polarizing
image in the media. Several
people have spoken out on
the meeting, calling it West’s
betrayal of a Black community
that looked up to him as an artist
and does not feel supported
by the policies of our 45th. He
has faced severe backlash and

Tha God canceled a discussion

he was meant to have with
West on mental illness and
its intersection with race. To
many people, these antics are
perceived as departures from
an “Old Kanye” that famously
declared “George Bush doesn’t


efforts after Katrina wiped out
much of New Orleans. A Kanye
that was proud and Black. This
was not the same Kanye that
rapped “racism is still alive, we
just be concealing it” on The
College Dropout.

Perhaps there is some validity

to these claims: Even West
says that his opinions have
changed over the years. But he
perceives it as something more
fluid, his thoughts evolving
rather than him losing touch
with his past. After all, this
isn’t Yeezy’s first time flirting
with alt-right imagery; in 2013,
he unsuccessfully attempted to
re-appropriate the Confederate
flag by selling it on his Yeezus
tour merch. This also isn’t his


announced he would’ve voted
for Trump in the presidential
election at the tour for an album
in which he raps “Hands up we
just doing what the cops taught
us / Hands up, hands up then
the cops shot us.”


as he may be, Kanye West is
more complex than we give
him credit for. He shows this
in his response to criticism,
claiming that the divisive power

help to solve racism, hence
his acknowledgment of praise
for Trump — it’s worth noting
his non-album single “Ye vs.
The People” explores the same
idea. Though far-fetched, the
rapper’s ideas by no means stray
from nobility to the roots that
shaped him. Perhaps things
stand out more now than before
because they come from a time
where we listen to what Kanye
says because he’s Kanye, not
because The College Dropout
is performing well. At a time
where his personality earns
more critique than his music,
it’s not hard to misunderstand
the musician.


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