Meeting Michael Hitchcock

If you’ve seen the television show Glee, or any of Christopher Guest’s fake documentary comedies, or pretty much any big TV show or movie in the last few decades, then you’ve seen Michael Hitchcock’s work as an actor and writer.

Michael, who lives in Los Angeles, is currently hard at work as a staff writer and co-executive producer on Glee, the TV show about singing students in a fictional Ohio high school that’s entering its final season.

But he’s also a well-known character actor, stemming from his history in improvisational comedy. Some of his best-known characters are those in Guest’s movies including Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show.

On a recent trip to LA, I was able to get lunch with Michael in West Hollywood during a rare break from his Glee duties. Click on his picture above or on this link to learn all about his past, present, and plans for the future.

Gaining Their Religion

The elaborate question mark tattoos below belong to Jesse Smith, who struggled for a long time with doubts about his Christian upbringing. The uncertainties were so great that they almost drove him to suicide — until he discovered the hallucinogen DMT.

Although a widely banned substance, one church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has the legal right to use substances containing DMT. They take it in tea at services, saying the visions that the drug triggers enhance understanding of their religion.

It’s a claim that it’s easy to knock as an excuse for going on drug-induced trips, but Jesse and his partner Sarah told me over dinner about their sincere belief that DMT not only saved Jesse’s life, but also opened their minds to omnism: the belief in all religions.

Click on the picture above or on this link to read about my meal with the Smiths, in which they told me about how they met; their experiences with DMT; the pros and cons; and how their religious beliefs have evolved as a result.

Rest In Peace Richard Kiel

“Well, here’s to us.” — Jaws in Moonraker

Sad to read tonight that Richard Kiel, perhaps best known as the villainous Jaws in two Roger Moore 007 movies, died this afternoon.

He was my 51st dinner interviewee. We met in Washington, DC, last November while he was taking part in a James Bond party at the Spy Museum. He didn’t mind being known as the mostly silent assassin Jaws. Rather, he embraced it, and told me he was often at fan conventions and other events, playing up his character by willingly posing with people in all manner of menacing poses (after our dinner, he pretended to crush my head in one shot).

Richard — I use the personal attribution not because he was a friend (we only met once), but because that’s my writing style — was a charming man, patient with my questions, possessing a good sense of humor and ready with a host of wonderful anecdotes about becoming an actor and his time in television and the movies.

But he was also something of a history buff, having researched and written a novel/biography of the 19th century anti-slavery crusader Cassius Clay — the man that boxer Muhammad Ali was named after before he switched to Islam. It’s a fascinating read, and Richard’s love for the subject was obvious. He was perhaps at his most animated when he got to switch the conversation from his Hollywood stories and on to the topic of Clay and his life story, and I’m happy to have learned about it from Richard.

Click here or on the picture above to read about my dinner with Richard.

A Night On The (Old) Town

Living in Washington, DC, means it’s only a short subway or car ride to Old Town in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s a nice place to visit and has a host of wonderful restaurants serving everything from soul food to fine dining.

But I don’t get there enough. So I was glad when Marlene Hall, my latest interviewee, suggested we get dinner in Old Town. Our location for the night was the fish and chips shop (or chipper) Eammon’s.

Click on Marlene’s picture above or on this link to read my interview with stranger number 63. She had plenty to say about her time in the Air Force and her work present day with veterans groups, and more.

Plus, I got to try my first-ever deep-fried Mars Bar. I’m half-Scottish and that over-indulgent treat was invented in my mum’s home country, so I’m glad that Eammon’s offered what has to be a very rare treat.

Tales Of The Crescent City

New Orleans is an amazing city.

Outstanding food, some of the best cocktails in the States, great live music, beautiful architecture, friendly people — these are just a handful of its many perks.

I first visited the Crescent City in May 2004, more than a year before Hurricane Katrina hit it in August 2005. On that inaugural trip, I did all the touristy things: beignets at Cafe Du Monde, watching a jazz show in the French Quarter, eating a roast beef po’ boy at Mother’s, dinner at K-Paul’s. Although most of what I did was cliche, the Big Easy still managed to capture my heart. And so ever since Katrina, I’ve been going back as often as I can, at least once a year, exploring new areas each time.

During my many visits to New Orleans — with hopefully my third visit of 2014 coming in October — I’ve been fortunate to interview an interesting cast of locals. From a voodoo priestess to the host of a daily three-hour radio show devoted to the city’s cuisine, they’ve all had great stories to tell (including their memories of Katrina).

In tribute to the city, here are links to the strangers I’ve met there:

It’s impossible to pick a favorite, but I’m happy to say I’ve kept in touch with a couple of the interviewees. And each stranger I’ve had dinner with down there has just made me fall further in love with the city.

Here’s to New Orleans having a long and wonderful future.

How To Get To Sesame Street

Anyone who grew up watching the incredibly popular children’s show Sesame Street recognizes the theme tune immediately. Several kids sing the question “Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?”

After my latest meal with a stranger, I know the answer.

Turns out the puppets that populate that fictional New York City neighborhood are housed in a workshop in Queens, just across the bridge from Manhattan.

That’s where I met Melissa Creighton, production manager for the Jim Henson Creature Shop. She gave me a tour of the company’s workshop — including a meeting with Cookie Monster! — then we had lunch at a nearby coffee shop.

During the couple of hours I spent with Melissa, she told me how she first got into the world of puppetry, all about her work with the Sesame Street characters, and much more.

Read my interview with her by clicking on this link or the pictures above.

DC Beer Week

It’s Beer Week in Washington, DC, from August 17-24.

Alas, with this site being Dining With Strangers and not Drinking With Strangers, I won’t be writing anything about the celebration. But the festival’s website shows there are a host of beer tastings and other events taking place throughout the week.

One person who would likely enjoy Beer Week is Brendan Kelleher. He’s responsible for Behind The Craft, a website where he interviews owners of craft breweries from across the country while enjoying some of their beverages.

Brendan was also interview #60 for my site. During dinner in the District, he told me what led to the creation of the website, and why he loves writing about beer.

My Dinner With Matt Bauman

There’s a pretty straightforward headline for you: today’s update is interview 61, my night out in New York City with actor/realtor/website owner Matt Bauman.

Click on the picture above or on this link to read about our dinner at Italian restaurant Locanda Verde in the city’s Tribeca neighborhood.

During our enjoyable meal, Matt told me about the various roles he plays in life — not just on the stage, but also selling luxury properties, and running a website that acts as a database putting people in the theater industry in touch with the right coaches.

Interview 62 should be up next Friday, August 14.

Out Of Hands We Go

Back in February 2013 I had an enjoyable and interesting lunch with David Rogers-Berry, drummer for the goth country band O’Death. He told me about his love of good music and how he’s focused far more on ensuring the integrity of his band than churning out millions of albums and raking in money for an inferior sound.

I mention my interview with David because it turns out that O’Death last month announced the upcoming release and tour for their third album, “Out of Hands We Go.”

The album is available starting October 7th, with the U.S. tour kicking off the next day. Check out the band’s website for more details on both the upcoming release and the tour.

Einstein!

Actor and former dinner interviewee Jack Fry is getting great reviews for his one-man show “Einstein!” in which he plays the eponymous scientist as he describes his push to prove his theory of relativity.

Jack and I had dinner one night in December 2009, after I saw his other one-man show “They Call Me Mister Fry.” That play was based on his real-life experience as a teacher in South Central Los Angeles. It was a great show, with Jack deftly portraying several characters in a story that never once lost my attention.

During my interview with Jack in New York City, I learned that when he’s off stage he’s just as interesting and charismatic as when he’s performing.

I haven’t had the chance to see “Einstein!” but based on the reviews on the show’s website, I’ll make a point to see it should Jack end up performing anywhere near Washington, DC.

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