November 28, 2015

ISU students gain confidence through comedy

ISU Engineering student Nick Seymour. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

ISU Engineering student Nick Seymour. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

If members of a new club at Iowa State University get laughed at, they’ll consider it a job well done.

ISU’s Stand-Up Comedy Club was founded by Nick Seymour, a junior from Urbandale who’s studying mechanical engineering.

Seymour took a semester-long seminar called Comedy College, sponsored by ISU’s honors program, and his “final” was going on-stage and doing his ten minutes stand-up act.

“That first seven minutes was terrifying for me and then I finally got a huge laugh,” Seymour says. “I told a really funny joke and I realized people thought I was funny. That was something that was new and interesting to me. Telling other people’s jokes is one thing but telling a joke you wrote and having people laugh at it is awesome.”

The final three minutes breezed by and Seymour says he was hooked and wanted more, so he formed the club, which now meets every week.

“The main goal of the club is to get performance experience,” Seymour says. “We’ve all done performances before, for the most part. Some of the newer members, we’re working on getting them up to the level where they can perform. After that, we just look for places to perform, look for opportunities and look to get our names out there.”

The comedy gigs they’re getting often do pay, though not a lot, he says. The benefits however aren’t necessarily monetary, but they’re coming in the form of a confidence boost.

“I had probably talked to 15 employers before taking that class and not really any of them gave me a second glance,” Seymour says. “After taking that class, I was able to talk with employers and had seven interviews the next career fair and I had a job offer that upcoming summer.”

The club, and the course, aren’t designed for students to make a career out of comedy, but to see how the skills of standup can benefit their education, their careers and their lives.



Iowan’s book focuses on the celeb baby bump obsession (AUDIO)

PregnantMany Americans are obsessed with celebrity pregnancies and a central Iowa educator has published a book about it.

Renee Ann Cramer is a professor and chair of the law, politics and society department at Drake University in Des Moines. Cramer says her book, “Pregnant With The Stars,” examines our culture’s fascination with — and judgment of — stars and their reproductive cycles.

“The press coverage manages to reinforce a lot of the ideas we have about femininity when we see the coverage of pregnant celebrities,” Cramer says. “A lot of those ideas also very much rely on established ideas of race and the ability to have the kind of body that’s trumpeted in the press depends on some significant class privilege.”

There’s much debate over body image and how traditional Sports Illustrated swimsuit models don’t represent how the majority of women really look, but little analysis is being done about the perceptions versus the difficulty of getting back in shape after giving birth.

“You cannot have Gwyneth Paltrow’s post-baby body without a staff,” Cramer says. “She has said it. You need a cook, a nanny or two, a personal trainer and the ability to spend three to four hours a day in the gym. There are some class necessities, some wealth necessities to having that body.”

Renee Ann Cramer

Renee Ann Cramer

While the growing interest in “baby bumps” may seem innocent, she says it’s reinforcing a troubling standard, while boosting the surveillance and regulation of women everywhere.

“Britney Spears was treated pretty horribly by the mainstream press after her pregnancies when it seemed as though she probably had some post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis,” Cramer says. “She was really just treated like a bad mom. Some of the language around her way of being a mom and her way of being pregnant replicated some of the ideas we have about race and class and how women are supposed to act.”

The nation’s obsession with celebrity pregnancies is continuing to increase, she says, as evidenced by the exponential growth in websites, magazines and infotainment television devoted to the topic.

“It’s amazing how it permeates and it doesn’t always have to be bad,” Cramer says. “We can look at it critically and still enjoy it, but there’s definitely a message being sent about you’re supposed to bounce back and even be better than you were before pregnancy. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on women and men notice it, too.”

The book is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Stanford University Press.


Hear Matt Kelley’s full interview with Renee Ann Cramer below.




BBB urges Iowans to beware of ‘computer doctor’ phone scam

ComputerIowans may be sitting down to a turkey dinner soon, but don’t be surprised if, even today, the phone rings and it’s someone offering to help you and your “ailing” computer.

Jim Hegarty, with the Better Business Bureau, is warning Iowans to beware as it’s a scam, often involving con artists claiming to be with a company called Team Viewer.

“Somebody that claims to be representing Microsoft, they’ve detected malware on your computer, they need to log on remotely so you give them access to your system so they can analyze the situation,” Hegarty says. “People will give them this access, which is mistake number one.”

The next mistake, he says, is giving them permission to fix something on your computer that’s not really broken.

“Once they’re in your system, they’ll say they’ve identified the problem and it’ll be like $399 to get it cleaned up,” Hegarty says. “Of course, you’re always able to put that on a major credit card.”

No matter how good the story may sound, he says not to believe it and certainly don’t give them any personal financial information or computer passwords.

“Not only have you allowed them remote access into your system and Lord knows what they’ve done when they’re in there, you’ve also given them access to your credit card information,” Hegarty says. “Very typically, we’ll almost immediately begin to see unauthorized charges being made with those cards that people have given to them.”

Hegarty says if you get one of these calls, the BBB wants to hear about it. You can log on to to report the scam or call it in. He says they have “first responders” ready to help.



Iowa native returns home to star in national ‘Bridges’ premiere (AUDIO)

Iowa native Elizabeth Stanley and co-star Andrew Samonsky. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Iowa native Elizabeth Stanley and co-star Andrew Samonsky. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The Broadway production of “The Bridges of Madison County” is opening its national tour in central Iowa this weekend and one of the musical’s main stars is an Iowa native.

Elizabeth Stanley plays Francesca, the Iowa housewife who has a whirlwind four-day romance with a traveling photographer. Stanley was born in Cedar Rapids, grew up in Denison and has a host of relatives across the state, from Creston to Stanton to Gilbert.

She says it was natural for the tour to debut in Des Moines and it’ll be a tremendous holiday homecoming.

“Oh my gosh, it absolutely is,” Stanley says. “It’s really special for me. Even though I lived there about half my childhood, it so really feels like the state that I’m from and where my roots are and generations of my family have been from, so it’s really, really special for me to be there again.”

Based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller, the story is set in rural Madison County, famous for its decades-old covered bridges. Since the real bridges of Madison County are a matter of 35 miles from Des Moines, Stanley says she and the entire cast know how necessary it is to start their nine-month national tour here and to give a stellar performance for Iowa.

“Probably no other place we go will people know the story so well and be familiar with it, and in addition to that, really know about the place in which it’s set,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of care and thought that’s put into making it be as authentic as possible.”

Her father’s job with the Rural Electric Cooperative forced the family to move several times, and the Stanleys left Iowa for Illinois when she was in junior high. She’s planning to have Thanksgiving dinner with family members at her uncle’s farm in Stanton and Stanley says she’ll likely need to borrow a car.

“It will be imperative that, at some point, I just take a drive and I get lost on some country roads and just spend some ‘alone time’ amongst the fields,” Stanley says, laughing. “It feels kind of right. It’s very similar to where I grew up, even in Illinois, just the rural life and that’s very much what my character is doing also but I happen to like that myself so I’m sure that’ll be happening.”

The character Stanley is playing onstage was first portrayed by Meryl Streep in the popular 1995 film, a role for which Streep was nominated for Best Actress. Streep has won three Oscars and is considered one of the world’s greatest actresses, so Stanley realizes many people will compare her Francesca to Streep’s version. At first, she says, that was “terrifying.”

“Usually I don’t watch a film if I know I’m going to be playing that role in some other capacity because I don’t want to confine my creative ideas to what that person has done,” Stanley says. “Sometimes, when you watch a performance, it’s hard to get that version of it out of your head, even subconsciously, but with Meryl Streep I felt -not- scared about that. I thought, you know, fine, I’ll watch the movie and if some of that sticks in my brain, I would be so lucky!”

The show opens Saturday and will run through December 5th at the Des Moines Civic Center.

AUDIO: Hear Matt Kelley’s full interview with Elizabeth Stanley.





Be sure to check your car and tires before heading out

Check the tread on your tires with a penny.

Check the tread on your tires with a penny.

Rain, ice and snow are in the holiday forecast and Iowans who are traveling for Thanksgiving are urged to take a few minutes when filling the gas tank to check their tires.

Dan Zielinski, at the Rubber Manufacturers Association, says don’t just give one tire a kick and a glance, use a tire pressure gauge on all four of them.

“Today’s tires are constructed so well that they can be 50% underinflated and not appear flat at all,” Zielinski says. “You need a tire gauge. They only cost a couple of bucks and they fit right in the glove box.” Check the sticker inside the driver’s side door for the proper pressure. Many cars are equipped with gauges inside the tires that monitor the pressure, but they’re not always accurate.

“Almost six out of ten vehicles have at least one underinflated tire,” he says, “and that’s significant because underinflated tires can cause damage to the tire that can lead to failure.” He says you should check your tire pressure once a month and before every long trip. While you’re at it, remember to check the spare tire so it’s ready in case you need it. Also, motorists should check their tires for wear and make sure they don’t need to be replaced by doing the “penny test.”

Zielinski says, “All you do is take a penny, turn it upside-down, so Lincoln’s head points down, then put that penny into one of the tread grooves and if you can see all the way to Lincoln’s head, the top of his head, then it’s time to replace the tire.”

A recent survey shows nearly one-third of drivers do not know how to tell if their tires are bald. Bald tires can’t properly grip the road which leads to slipping, sliding and crashes.


Iowa fans can expect lines, extra security at Nebraska game

tiger hawkHawkeye football fans who are headed to Nebraska for Friday’s final game of the regular season need to plan to leave early — due to the weather, the crowds and increased security measures.

Forecasters says icy roads could make travel a challenge, and once in Lincoln, up to 90,000 fans are expected to pack into Memorial Stadium.

University of Nebraska spokesman Steve Smith says there will lines at the entrance gates. “We do ask for fans’ patience while they’re waiting in line,” Smith says. “We know it’s going to be cold but we do expect the lines to move, with fans’ cooperation, fairly quickly.” Smith says additional security measures are being put in place for this big game. “People should rest assured, there’s no specific threat against Memorial Stadium or the game,” Smith says, “but these are consistent with adjustments being made at other sites around the country following the recent international events, including the attacks in Paris.”

High temperatures are only forecast in the upper 20s on Friday, so fans will be allowed to bring in blankets. “Be prepared to have permissible items, which are small-sized purses, camera bags, things like that which would be allowed on a normal day, to be searched like usual,” Smith says, “but also to have your outer garment, your coat, be open and ready to be subject of a quick visual search.”

Officials are asking fans to follow the “If You See Something, Say Something” approach at Friday’s game and to report any suspicious activity to authorities. The gates open at one P.M. with kick-off set for 2:30.

Iowa heads to Lincoln undefeated and ranked number-three in the country, while Nebraska is 5-6.


‘Mythbusters’ making stop in Iowa as TV show approaches final season (audio)

Adam Savage

Adam Savage

One of the most popular and longest-running cable TV programs is taking its show on the road with one Iowa stop planned before the last season starts airing in January.

Adam Savage co-hosts “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel with Jamie Hyneman, and after 14 years, 248 episodes and 2,950 experiments, the final show will air next year.

Savage says the program’s unexpected legacy is inspiring generations of kids — and adults — to love science. “In the beginning, we got emails from people saying, ‘Thanks for getting me through high school science,’ then we got emails from people saying, ‘Thanks for getting me through college chem,'” Savage says. “Now, we’re getting emails from people saying, ‘I’m a doctor of engineering and I’m raising my kids on your show,’ all because of Mythbusters.”

The stage version of the TV show, called “Mythbusters: Jamie and Adam Unleashed,” will be at Stephens Auditorium in Ames next Monday at 7 P.M.

Savage calls it “science-based entertainment” on a grand scale. “It operates very similarly to a magic show, ultimately in its overall format,” Savage says. “We have multiple vignettes, each vignette has a great finish, but the finish isn’t a magic illusion, it’s a scientific bit of clarity. We use audience members, brought up on stage, to help us tell the story.”

On the show, the team uses science to test the validity of rumors, myths, movie scenes, adages, Internet videos and news stories. Over the past 13 years, it’s gained a global following of devoted viewers. The adoration of fans around the planet is astounding, Savage says: “It’s as close as Jamie or I, a couple of old men, will ever get to feeling like genuine rock stars.”

Much more importantly, he says, the program has had a dramatic impact on many thousands of lives and minds, getting people — young people especially — to think about math and science in a new way.

“Making this show has fundamentally changed me as a person and turned me into a scientist, genuinely, in my mind and in the way that I approach the world,” Savage says. “I am incredibly grateful for that and I will never be the same.”

Before “Mythbusters,” Savage worked as set designer, prop master, art director and producer while pursuing welding, pneumatics, hydraulics, electronics and robot-building. His special effects and prop work was in movies including: “Star Wars: Episodes 1 and 2,” “Galaxy Quest,” “Space Cowboys,” “Terminator 3,” “The Mummy,” “The Matrix Reloaded” and many more.

With the global popularity of “Mythbusters,” Savage says he has many career options ahead, in front of and behind the camera. “It’s the most humbling, remarkable, astonishing thing,” Savage says. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is tell a story about curiosity and satisfying curiosity and that has resonated and reverberated out in the world. It’s more than anyone can hope for when they set out to tell a story.”

The 48-year-old Savage is a New York native who now lives in San Francisco with his wife, twin boys and two dogs. The 14th and final season of “Mythbusters” premieres on January 9th on Discovery with the series finale airing about 11 weeks later. Savage promises, it’ll be explosive.

Audio: Matt Kelley interview with Adam Savage. 8:33.