Sunday, June 3, 2007

Candidates Column

Do candidates care about students?
by Scott Bolohan
Staff Writer

Last week, I participated in a conference call with Sen. Barack Obama, which brought us college students closer to the campaign than ever before, giving college newspapers a chance to talk right to the candidate about the issues of financial aid.

However, after this call, I couldn’t help but feel used. The Obama campaign sent out a press release talking about how Obama had announced his financial aid plan to college reporters before the event had even started. I understand the need to get out the news as quickly as possible, but it seems like the campaign was only using the college newspapers as a publicity ploy to make it appear as if it prioritized college students as an important part of their campaign.

In my experience, this isn’t true. Writing here at The DePaulia, I’ve been trying to attend Sen. Obama’s speeches and other events in the Chicago area. I thought it was a great news story to have someone from our city be a serious contender and I wanted to cover these events and try to bring out the issues relevant to college students from the speeches. You’d think that the Obama campaign would love some press, especially for an audience that has been very much behind him, right?

Well, so did I. However, when I’ve attended the events, I’ve run into the issue of not having "press credentials" to present to the people at the media tables to get media access. I would say I was from The DePaulia and it didn’t buy me anything. Now, I can understand that they don’t want Joe Schmo coming off the street and being granted media access, but for some of the events I was being shut out of because they closed to the public.

The Obama campaign had been very good early on with college newspapers, hosting conference calls with his press secretary Bill Burton, so I thought I could just attempt to contact the press secretaries to be granted media access for his events, but I never heard anything back. I told The DePaulia advisor, Mike Conklin, about this, thinking he might have more power to get me credentials, but he too never heard back from Obama’s people, other than being put on a mailing list that would encourage him to donate money to the Obama campaign.

After the second college newspaper conference call with Burton held on March 8, all contact between the Obama campaign and The DePaulia had come to a standstill, besides the almost daily press releases that I must have been put on a mailing list for. Even an e-mail asking for information about possible future conference calls went unanswered.

And then I got an invitation to participate in the conference call with Sen. Obama the night before it happened. Which makes it seem like college students are really only important to the Obama campaign when we can be used for political purposes.

On top of that, I received a call from one of Obama’s press secretaries, Kate Hogan, asking me for my e-mail account, because the press secretary I called the day before didn’t write it down. She said they had received ‘a million e-mails from me before’ but wasn’t sure what my e-mail address was. They had been receiving all my attempts to contact them, and still disregarded them like they were junk mail.

In the first conference call with Burton, held on March 1, he said, "He’s [Obama] committed to making sure college students and young folks everywhere are an important part of this campaign. If you listen to what he says, he specifically points to the fact that at every important juncture in our history, it was young folks that stepped up and forced the change to happen. He considers this to be another such opportunity and looks forward to all that students have to offer."

These words seem almost comical to me given the events that have unfolded. The Obama campaign is now able to say they have been communicating with college students, even though communication broke off months ago, other than a politically motivated conference call last week. It would appear we were just used for a political tool, something I feel used about, as I thought this campaign really cared about us young people.

But that’s also not to say that the other candidates have been any better. The John McCain and John Edwards campaigns have not responded to e-mails asking for information about their plans for education and plans for the college aged person. This isn’t even counting the interview requests I put in to Obama, McCain, and Edwards. I understand The DePaulia isn’t Time Magazine, but getting no response from any of them, not even a ‘sorry, he’s busy’ response seems like a poor choice to make for a group of people that ‘forces change at every important juncture in history.’

I also would have loved to attend Hilary Clinton’s recent stops in the Chicago area, but her Web site offers no links to contact her press secretaries or any way to come into contact with media access. The same goes for Rudy Giuliani’s and Mitt Romney’s Web sites. So even though I’m upset at not getting a response from Obama, McCain, or Edwards, at least they have been open to contact from the media, while the others have not even made it possible for college media contact.

To be honest, the Obama campaign really has been the best campaign, in my experience, at being in contact with college press. Heck, on the McCain Web site, it doesn’t even mention a word about his plans for education. Perhaps I’m being too critical of the Obama campaign and expecting too much from them. Or maybe I just expected more from someone who so many young people have seen so much hope in.

Perhaps Burton will be right when he talks about young people stepping up and making a change, but that change will come when college students have a candidate that really does care about them, instead of using them for political gain.

Barack Obama Conference Call

Proposing a change
Sen. Barack Obama discusses his ideas of reforming student loans in an exclusive interview

by Scott Bolohan
Staff Writer

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) held a conference call with student newspapers to discuss his plan for reforming student loans on Tuesday.

Under his plan, Obama would eliminate loans from the Federal Family Education Loan program (FFEL). Under the FFEL program, Obama said the federal government makes subsidy payments to banks that ultimately costs taxpayers billions of dollars every year, and over $15 million a day in subsidy payments.

"Today I’m proposing the elimination of these subsidies all together, just as I did in 2004. By removing private lenders from the process, requiring that all federal loans are provided directly from the government, we’ll save billions we can use to make college more affordable," Obama said. "This year, my plan would have saved us roughly $6 billion that could have been used to provide us with more than one million new Pell grants and other forms of need-based aid that could have gone to students struggling to pay their college bills."

Recently, the FEEL loans have been a topic of controversy following the uncovering of funds and other unethical practices including bribes paid out by lenders to schools.

Obama’s announcement comes on the heels of former Sen. John Edwards (D. N.C.) announcing he was in favor of eliminating the FEEL loans on May 11. However, Edwards would use the money to start a program he calls the "College for Everyone" program, which would provide two million students with scholarships to cover one year at a public college if they agree to work part-time in college and to take classes in high school that would prepare them for college.

Obama cited the increase in tuition costs in colleges as another reason for the need to reform the student loan system.

"Tuitions and fees to private colleges and universities have gone up 11 percent in the last five years, nearly 6 percent the last year alone, and this is an even bigger problem at public institutions. Over the last five years, the costs at public institutions jumped an unbelievable 35 percent," Obama said. "As a result of these increases, there are at least 200,000 students who were qualified to go to college but couldn’t go because they were priced out of a college education."

According to DePaul’s Web site, $284 million is awarded to DePaul students in the form of financial aid, with 65 percent of all undergrad students receiving some sort of aid. In the last year, the tuition at DePaul will increase 6 percent for next year.

"It seems to me that it’s nice to have the option of choosing a private loan, but I think that putting the $6 billion toward Pell grants can be more beneficial to those who truly need federal aid to attend college," said Patrick Powers, a sophomore philosophy and religious studies student.

Obama said he personally experienced the struggles of paying for college, although things have become worse since his time in school.

"When I went to law school, all my student assistance came in the form of aid and my wife went to law school as well. Just to give you some sense of the magnitude of the debt, our combined loans were bigger than our mortgage for our apartment for eight to nine years," Obama said. "We were lucky, as folks practicing as lawyers, we could afford to service the loan. But had we decided we wanted to go into teaching for example, there’s no way we could have afforded to pay them off. I think that’s a problem for students looking at careers and professions that students have to end up confronting."

Obama also criticized the schools, themselves, for frivolous spending and passing the expenses to the students.

"I think a lot of universities will spend money on state-of-the-art facilities and trying to attract the celebrity professor instead of just focusing on the nuts and bolts of a good education," Obama said. "I think it’s important for students to ask where the university budget is going, and how is it being spent."

Obama cited many reasons for why young people should be interested in the presidential election. There will be challenges that young Americans will need to address, such as the cost of college, federal debt, globalization and sustaining long term progress in economic growth and jobs.

"I think the feeling of many young people is that we keep kicking the can down the road when it comes to these challenges, and unless we step up now and start making some significant decisions…," Obama said.

Nick Swardson Interview

Swardson's sharp humor

by Scott Bolohan
Staff Writer

Nick Swardson’s career seems straight out of a movie. And at this rate, he’ll probably be starring in it soon.

After starting as a stand up comedian at age nineteen, Swardson, 30, now has written and appeared movies such as "The Benchwarmers," "Malibu’s Most Wanted," "Blades of Glory"and "Grandma’s Boy." He also makes regular appearances on "Reno 911!" as Terry the roller-skating prostitute. But it wasn’t always that way.

"I used to sleep in my car or sleep in a park when I traveled across the country. I remember one comedy club when I slept in my car and I washed my face and my hair in the sink of the club." Swardson said. "Things have definitely looked up from that."

After Adam Sandler saw his "Comedy Central Presents" special in his bed, he called Swardson up the next day. Now, Swardson is working with Sandler’s Happy Madison production company and is set to star in movies alongside him, and is in the works on his own starring movie. You can catch the rising comedian at the Improv from May 11-13.

The DePaulia (TD): How did you start with comedy?

Nick Swardson (NS): I just started doing open mics in Minneapolis. I’m from the Midwest so I know Chicago really well. I’ve had family live here, and had friends go to college here and all that crap. I’ve partied here many times, I love it. It’s one of my favorite cities.

TD: Where do you usually hang out in Chicago?

NS: I usually spend a lot of time in Old Town. There’s a comedy club there so I spend a lot of time up and down North and Wells. Like the Ale House and all those bars by Second City. That’s probably the area I know the best.

TD: You were the youngest person with a "Comedy Central Presents" special. Why is it so hard for people to break into comedy when they’re young?

NS: I think it’s basically just a relating game, you know what I mean? I think if you're really young, because most comedy clubs are at least twenty-one and up. For the most part, comedy club audiences are in their thirties and forties. I started when I was nineteen, so it was just kind of tough to find common ground with people like that. When I started comedy, it felt like all the comedians were talking about their wives and the differences between men and women, and dating, stuff that was kind of corny. It’s just tough because if you try to be dark and weird you can lose them too.

TD: What’s the hardest part about being a comedian?

NS: You have to really want to be a comedian. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I think a lot of people think because they are funny or their friends think they are funny that they can be funny. But to do it as a career, you really need to commit 100% of your life. You can’t be like, "Hey I’m up here telling jokes."

You have to commit to struggling and not doing well for a long time, and realize there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful. It’s a really brutal business. I don’t think people understand how hard it is.

TD: Yeah, I know what you mean, everyone thinks of it as a dream job, but they don’t really think of how they get to that point.

NS: It’s like the exact opposite. I mean I love my life, but I’ve been working on it for twelve years. I really had to bust ass. It’s not like I just sat back and things came to me. I was trying to write and do every possible thing I could.

TD: Have your movie and TV roles made you more popular as a stand up comedian, or is that a different realm?

NS: No, I think they definitely complement each other. I think the only weird thing for me is I have a lot of stand up fans and a lot of fans from my movies and TV things, and when I do my live shows it’s a mix of old stuff and new stuff, just because I have so many different fans there. It just kind of annoys me sometimes because some of my stand up fans are like, "I’ve seen that joke before," and I’m like, "Yeah, well the other fucking 500 people haven’t, give me a f***ing break."

TD: It seems like if you do movies and you get big like that, like Carlos Mencia or Dane Cook, people will turn on you. Why does this happen? Are you afraid of that happening to you too?

NS: I don’t know, I think that with Mencia he became more of a target because anytime you are in people’s face and trying to be edgy, you are going to draw haters. Especially with that thing about him stealing jokes, I think people turned on him there.

As far as Dane, he’s a friend of mine, I’ve known him a long time. I think one thing that drew haters for him was how fast he arrived, even though Dane has been around a while it was like, boom and Dane was here.

The press was like, "This is the funniest guy in the world." And I think once you put that label on someone, they are going to want to hate you. People who don’t know him are going to be like, "Oh yeah? Then make me laugh." It’s like music, like popular music, they’ll look for any reason to hate it. But I think I’ve had a slower build with it.

I mean I have haters now, but hopefully it won’t be that bad. If people are going to hate me, they’re going to hate me. I do what I think is funny and do my best, and if people don’t think that is funny, then go fuck yourself (laughs).

TD: How did you get started with screenwriting?

NS: Literally, Jamie Kennedy got me doing screenwriting. He had the idea for "Malibu’s Most Wanted" and he talked me into writing it.

TD: Was it something you thought about doing before that?

NS: I mean I had, but I never realistically thought about doing it then. I was 23 or 22 when I started doing it, I was a raging alcoholic (laughs). It was the furthest thing on my mind, but he really forced me and pushed me into doing it. I always thought about it, but I never thought I would do it that early.

TD: Is it easier for you to write stand up than movies, or is it two different things?

NS: They’re really two different things. With movies, I can sit down and focus and write, but with stand up I never was like that. I never sat down for an afternoon and was like, "Today I’m going to write jokes." It was always like, "If I think of something weird, I’ll do it on stage." But stand up is all over the place; it’s stories, it’s one-liners, it’s weird observations, it’s all when it comes to me, not controlled at all.

TD: Do you have a preference between working on TV or on movies?

NS: People do ask that question, and I really do love doing all of them. It sounds so generic, but they are all so different and they all complement each other. I love going and doing stand up now because I have so many great fans and I’m starting a movie, called "Zohan," it’s Adam Sandler’s next movie, in July which I love. We’ve been shooting for a while now.

TD: What is Adam Sandler like?

NS: He’s great. He’s the most down-to-earth guy you’ll ever meet. He’s just like a normal guy. After a while I don’t even think of him as Adam Sandler, I just think of him as one of my buddies, I mean not 100 percent but still. Literally he’ll call me up and we’ll go eat or play basketball. He’s just really down-to-earth. It’s not like he’ll call me up and be like, "Hey, do you want to go juggle diamonds?"

TD: A lot of those big guys seem like they could be jerks.

NS: I’ve never met anybody who was a jerk. The only person who was an asshole was Dennis Miller, who was a raging a**hole. Everyone else, I’ve met some pretty big guys, and I know everyone in comedy, they’re all great. I also kind of feel bad for those people. I was in a cab and this guy has pictures of all the celebrities that were in his cab and he goes, "You know who was an a**hole? Steve Martin. I took him to the airport and I wanted to get a picture with him and he was like, ‘No, I’m late for my plane,’ and I was like ‘F*** you.’"

And that’s not his fault. I’ve had people come up to me and say weird shit and be weird and I’ve been like, "Can you just leave?" and they’re like, "What a fucking a**hole." It’s just weird. If you are any kind of celebrity you are always a target.

TD: Is it hard for you to always try to be the funny, cool guy and not get to be like a real human around people?

NS: It depends on my situation. I’ll take pictures with anybody anytime, I’ll do anything. The only problem is sometimes in interviews is when it gets weird. I’ll do radio interviews and people will be like, "Ok, be hilarious." Sometimes I just want to answer a question serious, and they’ll be like, "Oh no, be funny." And I’ll be like, "But you just asked me a serious question." But I’ll go out drinking and I’ll be crazy in public, there’s a time and a place.

TD: Do you get complaints from the gay community for some of your characters?

NS: No I don’t. The only gripe I’ve ever had was the character of "Gay Robot." I had a waiter who was gay when we recorded the sketch for Sandler’s album and he heard it and pulled me aside at this club and said I set the gay community back 20 years and I just went off on the dude. Terry has got no flack at all.

TD: What are you most proud of accomplishing in your career?

NS: Honestly, probably this thing I just did, this movie with Sandler that I helped write and produce and act in, "Chuck and Larry." It was a big accomplishment because I was a writer/producer on this huge budget movie with Adam and it was a lot of pressure and I felt like I did a great job. Working side by side with Adam on one of his huge movies was a challenge and I’m just glad I survived that.

TD: What are your goals for the future? What do you want to accomplish still?

NS: I want to go to the moon. We’re working on my starring movie that I’m writing. I just want to move into stuff where it’s my starring vehicle. I’m still developing a handful of movies, and "Gay Robot" animated on Comedy Central, more stand up tours, everything. So basically I just want to not die, that's my goal for the future.

TD: I've got to ask this one last question, it just seems out of place on your Wikipedia page. It says you are an excellent ping pong player. Is that true?

NS: I’m pretty good at ping-pong. I’m not like Chinese good where I stand a mile behind the table and hold the paddle upside-down, but I’m pretty good at ping pong.

The Actual Interview

Actual rock stars
by Scott Bolohan
Staff Writer

"I’m doing a crazy driving maneuver here, I keep forgetting I have a trailer on the van, and I’m trying to navigate L.A. traffic here," said vocalist Max Bernstein. "I have to make an ‘I’m sorry’ face to the car behind me."

When Bernstein is not actually driving though crowded highways, he’s the driving force behind the power pop band The Actual. Bernstein, the son of Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein and screenwriter Nora Ephron, is embarking on the biggest musical journey of his life.

The Actual will begin a trek across the U.S. opening for Velvet Revolver after being picked by lead singer Scott Weiland to be the first band to sign to his new Softdrive Records label. Weiland, who also co-produced their album "In Stiches," which will be released on May 29, has called The Actual "the smartest sounding band in punk-pop in a long time."

"I’m very excited, a little bit nervous, but very excited," Bernstein said of the tour. The Actual will appear at the Riviera Theater on May 10 with Velvet Revolver.

The DePaulia (TD): How did you form?

Max Bernstein (MB): I recorded a few songs with me just playing all the instruments and went out and tried to get people interested in playing them. I found Jeremy Bonsall, our bass player, through an advertisement then we got his brother, Aaron, to play drums. I’ve known Ben Flanagan, our other guitar player and singer, for nine years. When his band broke up, we were all very excited because we wanted him to be in our band. We said, "Hey it’s great your band broke up, you are joining ours, you don’t have much of a choice."

TD: When did you know you wanted to do music?

MB: I’ve been playing guitar since I was five; I’ve always been pretty serious about it. There wasn’t much of any time when I thought I wanted to do anything else. I’m not one of those people who is like, "Music is everything in the world, and if I can’t play music, what will I do?" This is what I want to do and always has been.

TD: How did you meet Scott Weiland?

MB: We were working with his engineer and co-producer Douglas Grean who works on a lot of stuff with him. We got hooked up with him when Scott was on tour. We started making this record and when we had done three songs, Doug played them and he said, "This is the band we’ve been looking for." Because they had always said if they found the right band they’d like to start a label. Since then it’s been really been smooth and organic, we’ve really got to know him well. It’s been a really great partnership.

TD: When you open up for a band like Velvet Revolver do you try to do anything different than you normally would?

MB: Not really, except talk less. We don’t really pander the set too much. There’s a song or two that we play sometimes that we wouldn’t play for Velvet Revolver, but we pretty much play our regular set. When opening for someone like that, we like to keep the set moving really fast and maybe stop once or twice for a quick chat. We try to impress the crowd quickly and not overstay our welcome.

TD: I’ve always thought that opening for a big band would be one of the hardest things in music because no one knows your stuff and everyone wants to get to the headliner.

MB: It depends who you are opening for. We opened up for Velvet Revolver a long time ago and the circumstances were pretty different than these shows coming up. For them, these shows are all at small clubs, for us these are gigantic. These are now all sold out shows for die hard Velvet Revolver fans. On one hand, people who know about our relationship with Scott might be more inclined to give us a chance. For those who are not, they might be like, "Why is there a power pop band opening for Velvet Revolver." These are people who want to see Slash rip. I think it’s going to be interesting, it’s not going to be like opening for Slayer, which is notoriously difficult. I think if you have an opening slot for a band with a young following, like Bowling for Soup, that’s got to be a piece of cake. But we’ll find out in about 11 hours.

TD: You described yourself as a power pop band, but there’s also the hint of punk and maybe even emo. It seems that if you get labeled that as a band, you turn off half the listening population. How do you go about saying what kind of music you play without offending anyone?

MB: First off, I know a lot of people who are in bands and you ask them what kind of music they play and they say it’s such a hard question, and then I listen to them and I’m like it’s not a hard question, you guys are an emo band. I think that for the sake of convenience and not being pretentious, I just say we are a power pop band. I think that works fine for us. I think that when some bands insist on being described in more than 15 words just have it coming to them.

TD: When you write songs, what do you want the listener to get out of the experience?

MB: I would say I’d like them to think that the song has said something to them that they already thought, in a new way. I feel like all the songs that I really like, there’s a lyric in there that I think is a new way of saying something that I have heard that makes me feel different about it. That’s what I think really great pop songs do. I’d like them to feel bowled over especially live, because live we are a really loud band, not just a catchy radio band. For our songs in particular, I’d like them to feel like they got something that was packaged a little differently. I hope we present these radio-friendly songs with intelligent lyrics in a much more aggressive and glassy package. I want them to walk away bowled over and a little sentimental as well.

TD: What is your writing process like?

MB: The chorus arrives all at once, and with the title as well. The title often comes first. I’m not into those songs where the title has nothing to do with song which are very popular in the hardcore community. So the chorus arrives at once, title, lyrics, melody, and if it’s good then I’ll write the rest of it. I’ll bring it in about 75 to 80 percent finished to practice and we'll finish the rest of it. We put the last stage on together.

TD: When you write, do you focus mostly on the chorus and the catchy hooks?

MB: I focus on them, in that I think it’s the most important thing, in that if I don’t have a good one, I don’t even bother writing the rest of it. That’s always the first thing I write. Let me put it this way. You know when you are writing a term paper? If you have a thesis, the rest of that paper is going to be good because you are going to be able to find some points to support it. But if your thesis sucks, the rest of your paper is going to suck because you're just going to be washing around trying to find something to focus on. A good chorus is like a good thesis for one of those papers when you're saying something that is really interesting. If you got one of those, then the rest of the paper is going to be really good and it’s worth writing.

TD: When people mention you in articles, your parents are always brought up. How do you feel about that?

MB: It doesn’t really bug me because I’m a pretty big fan of what both of them have done. My dad has a book coming out and I haven’t read it yet and I’m pretty excited for it, I know he’s worked really hard on it. And I relate to my mom’s movies. I think it’s really cool to be related to that. It’s fine if people bring it up. As far as I’m concerned, bringing down Nixon, good thing, "When Harry Met Sally," good thing. My stepfather wrote "Goodfellas" which is a really good thing. I’m totally down with that, I’m not ashamed.

TD: Do you think it might even help you draw in fans to an extent?

MB: I think it does not at all. I think that the number of kids who are listening to punk and emo who care about romantic comedies from the early ‘90s or American history is pretty slim. I don’t think it makes a bit of a difference. Sometimes it’ll get a press piece in a magazine that people who are into that type of music again don’t read. I don’t really think that it has that much cred in that world, and that’s fine by me.

TD: What are your goals for the future and where do you want to end up?

MB: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but that’s an unrealistic one there. I would just like to end up to keep going, to keep playing as long as possible in this format. We hope to keep playing enough to get a reputation and a solid and original band. That’s good enough. Anything on top of that is a treat.