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best of 2015

I do a lot in a year. I eat a lot of food, drink a lot of milkshakes, and generally find enjoyable ways to spend my  525,600 minutes. Here are the best of those moments. (See previous bestofs here.)

Best Achievement – Visiting 47 States

OK, technically this achievement was not on the goals list at the beginning of the year… but I think the fact that I visited (and spoke or performed in) 47 states is quite impressive. And when you add West Virginia, North Carolina, and Hawaii which I’ll get to by February 11, I’ll have hit all 50 states in a 12 month time period.

Runner-Up: 107 speaking / coaching / training engagements

Best Personal Development – Writing More Stories

A by-product of my nomadic travels (see below) has been that I’ve been more conscious of the stories happening in my life. By searching for “story worthy” moments, it’s helped me better appreciate the experiences I’ve had, whether they be the not-at-all kidnapping of Italy or a Walmart Parking Lot in Maine.

Runner-Up: Allowing myself to relax

Best Business Decision – Going to the National Speakers Association Conference

The NSA Conference in 2015 was a great event for me. Not only did I present to fellow speakers and find success, I also met with a bureau (thanks to an event I did at P&G) that has started to represent me. I also met some pretty awesome people.

Runner-Up: Going Nomadic

Best Personal Decision – Going Nomadic

Since March 1, 2015, I’ve been a corporate nomad. I’ve lived out of two bags and have traveled to 47 states and 7 countries. While I’ve certainly missed having a homebase, the experiences of traveling have far outweighed any challenges of being on the road. Having an awesome friends in so many places doesn’t hurt either.

Runner-Up: Staying in Touch

Best Speaking Engagement – AIN 2015

I spoke at a lot of events in 2015 and enjoyed every single one of them. However none were as enjoyable as presenting to my fellow applied improviser in the beautiful setting of the AIN Conference 2015. I did two sessions, and based on the feedback, they both went very well. You can also now see my talk in improvising conversations online.

Runners-Up: Procter & Gamble, OSU Young Alumni, General Assembly

Best Personal Performance – Throckmorton

Thanks to a great connection, I was able to perform in the 200+ seat Throckmorton Theater in the Bay Area. It was a great lineup of performers and I got to do a mix of stand-up and a cliche bit I’ve been working for over a year on. Based on the audience reaction, during and after, it was well received.

Runner-Up: ComedySportz in New York, San Antonio, Seattle, Richmond, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Quad Cities, Provo, Twin Cities, Detroit, Los Angeles, Portland, Indianapolis, Sacramento, and Houston.

Best Travel – 17 State Road Trip 

A year of being a Nomad is likely to lead to some incredible journeys. From my awesome adventures in Norway to great moments in Ohio, I had a phenomenal year of travel. But my favorite part of the journey was the 17 State Road Trip I went on with my brother. It started with my ComedySportz family in Illinois and ended with my real family in Ohio, and I visited 17 states along the way.

Runners-Up: Norway, Grand Canyon, Multiple New York Trips

Best New Restaurant – Sandy’s Donuts

According to Foursquare, I checked into 830 places in 2015, a majority of them restaurants. I’ve had some interesting concoctions in some interesting locations, but the one I keep telling people about is the Smores donut I had from Sandy’s Donuts in Fargo, North Dakota.

Runner-Up: Dognvill Burger, Plan Check

Best New Food – Chicken Alfredo Burrito

Some might see Chicken Alfredo pasta wrapped in a burrito with added cheese and think “Why?” The folks at La Parilla think, “Why not?” So I tried it. And no it wasn’t the most amazing thing that I ate the entire year, it was definitely the most indulgent from an American standpoint. And it was delicious.

Runner-Up: Bunny Bites

Best Live Show – ComedySportz World Championship 2015

Can the best live show I saw be one that I was in? Well it is. The ComedySportz World Championship 2015 versus Quad Cities was such an incredibly fun match to play in, and it went down to the wire for the winning team (Quad Cities). It was great to participate in but even better to watch.

Runner-Up: Honey at SF Improv Festival

Best Movie (I Saw) – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Were there things that could be improved? Yes. Did it have some similarities to A New Hope? Yes. Was it the movie I was most excited to see and thoroughly entertained in the entire time? Yes.

Runner-Up: Straight Outta Compton

Best TV Show (I Watched) – Daredevil 

Since I didn’t really read much last year, I decided to add a type of media I did consume a lot: TV. And not in the traditional sense, but more in the Netflix and binge variety. For me, my favorite show of the year was Daredevil. It’s superhero meets grungy detective show which is a great combo for me.

Runner-Up: Archer

Best Tweet – Efficiency

While I’ve selected my 20 best tweets from 2015, here’s my favorite of the year:

Efficiency should be a one syllable word.

There you have it, my Best of the Best from 2015. See you next year!

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best tweets 2015

2015 was another down year for Twitter for me with only 114 tweets (compared to 123 last year and 323 the year before). Overall it led to 61,452 impressions, 135 retweets, and 221 likes (aka the new favorites).

Here are my Top 20 Tweets of 2015:

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A talk I gave at the AIN Conference 2015 on how I use improv to converse with other humans.

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A 5-minute set I did at The Stand in NYC.

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walmart parking lot

11 May 2015. Somewhere outside of Portland, ME

I awoke at 06:30 in the morning. It wasn’t the most restful sleep I’d ever had, but that’s somewhat expected when you are sleeping in a Walmart parking lot in a Ford Fiesta.

I had done a standup show in Montpelier, VT the night before and had driven through state of New Hampshire on my way to Maine, and decided to stay the night in my rental car. I certainly could have gotten a hotel room, but I was curious about what the “car in a parking lot” experience was like. That and it did save me a bit of money.

I had done a little bit of research online before attempting the non-luxurious slumber, at least enough to learn that Walmarts were among the most popular car-sleeping destinations. They’re typically a safe spot to set up car camp as they’re regularly patrolled and have a policy that allows for overnight stays.

Despite my research, I had made a couple of rookie mistakes, the biggest being that I had forgotten to confirm that the Walmart was of the 24 hour variety. This one wasn’t.

I had been surprisingly productive before going to bed. Thanks to the mobile hotspot on my T-Mobile plan, I was able to send emails and catch up on a few things that I’d missed during the day because of all of the driving.

Around midnight, I looked up for my work just in time to see some employees locking the front doors to customers. I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet and needed to use the bathroom, so I had to start the car and find a nearby gas station.

Once arriving at the gas station I decided to skip the “brushing my teeth part” for the night as it somehow felt dirtier to open my mouth in the bathroom than just letting the night go by without a rinse.

I finished up and headed back to the Walmart parking lot, trying to find a spot that was reasonably away from other vehicles, not too directly under a light, but also not so far away that it was easily accessed by creatures of the night.

I had woken up a few times in the night to turn the car on briefly to get the air going a little bit, crack the window some, change positions, use my hoodie as a blanket, throw it off as a blanket, try it as a pillow, try other things as a pillow, etc. But in between those moments I actually got some rest. Again, not the most restful of sleeps but it did seem to suffice.

In the morning, as the sun shined through the windows, I awoke. I got out of my car/hotel room and made my way into the now open Walmart so I could brush my teeth, go to the bathroom, and grab a box a Pop Tarts for breakfast.

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brussels shopping center

25 April 2015. Brussels, Belgium

I cringed slightly as I took the picture. Up until that point, it was the creepiest picture I had ever taken. Sadly, in less than an hour, it was going to become the second creepiest picture I had every taken.

The picture was of Manneken Pis. I was in Brussels and my companion, friend, and tour guide, Sebastian, a fellow 8th Floor alumni, was showing me around his city.

As we walked around the downtown area, Sebastien shared with me what he had learned in the two years that he had lived in Belgium.

Neither French Nor Freedom Fries

He shared the various Belgian foods that were popular: beer, chocolate, waffles, and my favorite, French Fries. Although to call them French Fries in Belgium is quite insulting.

I was told that fries were invented in Belgium, and it’s clear that today they are still a big part of their culture, with their tiny forks and myriad of dipping sauces to choose from.

The story goes that, during World War II, American soldiers came to Belgium and fell in love with the fries.

However, the Americans weren’t very good at geography, so they assumed that because the Belgians were speaking French, they must be in France. And thus upon their return to the states, referred to the delicious potato treats as French Fries… something the Belgians have not yet forgotten.

Maury Povich of Statues

Brussels BuildingAnother great story, though one likely made up by high school students, was that of a series of statues in one of the squares. 

There, atop one of the buildings, is a statue of a woman holding a baby, but instead of looking at the baby, the woman is looking at another statue.

Supposedly, she is looking at the other statue, that of a man, as if to say, “you are the father of this baby.” That statue, however, is pointing to a third statue, as if to say, “No, he is the father.” Statue #3 is pointing to a fourth statue, who’s looking down, to say, “Yes, he is in fact, the father.

At this point, I started to wonder how true these stories actually were, but ultimately didn’t care as they were thoroughly entertaining.

The Story of the Weird Statue

However, my favorite story brings us back to Manneken Pis and the awkward picture I had just taken.

The great story attempts to answer the question: how did a 3-foot bronze statue of a little boy peeing become the icon of an entire city?

And when I say little boy, I mean little. Not a 10-year-old but a 4- or 5-year-old. And when I say icon, I mean it’s a place where tourists flock with their selfie sticks to take pictures of themselves with a boy peeing in the background.

Mannekin Pis

I don’t know if that just speaks to the uniqueness of the statue or perhaps people’s lack of imagination for other things to do in Brussels, but alas, here I was still in front of the peeing boy, still taking a picture.

The reason for the iconic statue isn’t exactly known, but there are plenty of stories to say why it’s so important, and that’s what I love about the statue.

Some stories are more mundane, such as a witch found the boy peeing on her property so she turned him into a statue, or a father, who had lost his son, promised to erect a statue of his boy in whatever pose he found him in.

There were also a number of stories turning the boy into a hero. One story suggests that the statue was meant to honor a boy who had discovered an effective way of warding off enemy soldiers: by standing in a tree and peeing down on them. Another said that there was a bomb in the city and the little boy had peed on the fuse to prevent it from going off.

But my favorite story was a little bit more elaborate. It claims that there was a great fire way-back-when in Brussels that tragically happened during a great drought. The townspeople didn’t have any water and so they had no way to put the fire out. The town was doomed… until this little boy decided to put the fire out by peeing on it.

Now of course the boy didn’t have enough pee to put the whole thing out, duh, so he had to constantly drink beer so that he could maintain a steady stream to extinguish the fire.

Not only is it a hero story but also one that includes the Belgian beer.

One other great tidbit about the statue is that at one point, French soldiers stole the statue from the town. Later, Louis XVI decided to give the statue back, and as a way to apologize, gave the statue a metal honor. Meaning, anytime a French soldier passes the statue of the little boy peeing, they must give it a salute.

But alas, the tale does end there. For the last stop on our tour of downtown Brussels was where I took the new creepiest picture I had taken, of yet another statue.

This statue depicted a little girl peeing in a squatting stance, weirdly behind a fenced-in area. It was a companion piece to Manneken Pis, but for obvious reasons, wasn’t nearly as popular. It also sadly didn’t have any cool stories to go along with it, other than, “I guess we should make a girl one too?”

Jeanneke Pis (and the Weirdest Picture I've Ever Taken)

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amsterdam canal at night

25 April 2015. Amsterdam, Netherlands

My boots landed with a heavy thud as I ran down the Amsterdam street. With every step I took, every move I made, I was missing Biggie Smalls… but also making my way closer to Central Station in Amsterdam.

I had just finished a standup show at Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. It had gone really well; the audience was a mix of expats and Dutch people and they had enjoyed my nerdy brand of humor. I had spent much of the time after the show conversing with people and talking with a few booking agents about possibly coming back to Europe to do more shows.

Those conversations delayed me till after midnight and I was now 12 minutes away from Central Station with the next train leaving in 10 minutes. If I missed the train, I was spending the next 90 minutes or so in Central Station waiting for the train to Utrecht.

I was staying in the Amsterdam suburb because I had discovered on AirBNB there was a houseboat that I could stay on, and I figured if I’m in Amsterdam, why stay in a regular hotel when I can stay on a boat in a canal.

The houseboat itself had been really nice, the bed was small but the shower was surprisingly bigger than the showers I experienced in other spots in Europe so far. The problem with the boat was that it was 40 minute train ride from Amsterdam Central Station, and and even longer wait if I missed the next train.

So my boots hit heavy on the ground as I continued to make my way towards the station.

As I ran, I’d take a few pauses to cross streets against the traffic lights. Not to avoid cars but to avoid getting hit by one of the way too many bikes that were still out on the street even though it was after midnight.

The number of bikes in Amsterdam was crazy. Everything that people normally do walking, people in Amsterdam do while cycling: hold hands, carry umbrellas, take up too much space on the sidewalk. Everything.

So I made sure I was cautious in my hurried movements. At one point, I noticed a nice picturesque view of a canal. It was my first night in Amsterdam so I stopped to take a picture, thinking that even if I miss the train, it was probably worth capturing the moment. Maybe (said picture is at the top of this post).

I then picked up the pace on my jog the Central Station, arriving with two minutes to spare but still in need of getting a train ticket. Luckily I had been in the train station quite a few times and knew the process, but as I arrived, I saw only crowded ticket kiosks.

I decided to take a calculated risk and got on the train, sans ticket (sorry, Mom). In my previous trip from Central Station to Utrecht, no one ever checked my ticket. And I figured that if I was caught, I could plead ignorance as a dumb American and hopefully get by with puppy dog eyes.

Fortunately I didn’t have to use these lyin’ eyes as I made it all the way to Utrecht without incident. I had successfully left Boom, crossed a bridge, and made it to the boat.

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top of preikestolen

20 April 2015. Preikestolen, Norway

My feet hung over the cliff, where 600 meters (1980 feet) below, the blue water of the Norwegian fjord settled like blue concrete.

My right hand held a Kvikk Lunsj chocolate bar (basically a Norwegian Kit Kat) as my left hand held on for dear life. My friend and travel companion, Harald, took my picture as I tried to look as relaxed as was possible while sitting at the edge of a 600 meter drop.

I was at the top of Preikestolen, aka Pulpit Rock, named the #1 most breathtaking platform by the Lonely Planet.

My travel companion, Harald, was the reason I was there; not just there at Preikesetolen that specific day, but also the reason why I was in Norway to begin with.

I had met Harald three years ago at The Humor Project in Silver Springs, NY. He was there to improve his own humor education and I was presenting on how to effectively use humor at work. We connected afterwords over a shared love of standup comedy and stayed connected after the conference via the Facebook.

A few months after that, a friend of his was visiting New York City and he put the two of us in touch. She happened to be the producer of a comedy festival in Norway and was looking for talent from New York City. We hit it off and six months later I was in Norway for the first time to help her kickoff her production company.

Now, in 2015, I was back for the second year of her comedy festival which had taken place over past weekend. Harold had offered to take me to Pulpit Rock and I agreed. He even took the day off so he and I would be free to make the journey, and a journey it was.

To get to the top of the rock required a 3.8 km hike (2.3 miles) up 334 meters (1,095 feet). And though the temperature was 10°C (50°F) down on the ground, the trail still included quite a bit of snow once the elevation increased.

Preikestolen Route

During the climb, Harald and I caught up, talking about a wide variety of things, from nature to comedy to having kids to the hike itself (“Whoa, this is more strenuous than I thought.” “Yup.”).

We eventually got to the top where we took in the stunning view. There were quite a few other people hanging around, including a group of Frenchmen who were preparing a slack line to cross one of the gaps between the two rocks.

I had started off very cautious at the top, army crawling my way to the edge. My confidence slowly grew until I finally felt comfortable enough to sit at the edge (while holding on).

Sitting on the edge of a cliff while feeling a slight breeze as you eat chocolate has a way of making you think philosophically.

I thought about how spectacular view was. I thought about how so far on my journey, some of my best experiences had taken place in the company of other people, despite the fact that I consider myself very much an introvert. And I thought about the nature of effort and reward.

The view was naturally stunning. But it felt even more amazing because it had to be earned. There was no driving up to the top, there was no tram, no shortcut, no elevator. It required a somewhat strenuous hike that included ups and downs, wide rock landscapes and narrow snowy paths, easy strolls and hard climbs.

The hike up had taken 90 minutes. The hike down would take another 90. Depending on how long you stayed at the top, you might spend more time getting to and from the destination that actually enjoying the destination itself.

The same is true for setting goals in life. It’s not just about the end destination, it’s also about the journey to get there. And most of time, there’s more work to be down, even after you’ve reached the top.

My grip on the rock loosened ever so slightly as I took another bite of the Norwegian Kit Kat. I had enjoyed the journey up. I would enjoy the journey down. But for the moment, I was enjoying being at the top.

Peering Out

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