Now that the Democrats have officially tapped Barack Obama as their presidential candidate, comedian Ralphie May can finally come clean about his political ignorance. He'll fess up at a slate of shows at the Improv this week. "I gave money to Barack Obama because I felt guilty," admits the 394-pound May, whose Comedy Central résumé includes the one-man show Ralphie May: Girth of a Nation. "I felt guilty because I didn't know he was black until last January. The whole time, I thought he was Puerto Rican." The 36-year-old May is better at keeping track of his own career and family. He credits his success to a second-place finish during Last Comic Standing's first season in 2003. A couple of years later, he married fellow funnyperson Lahna Turner. (The couple raised a few eyebrows last year when they named their daughter April June May.)
But being a first-time dad hasn't mellowed May's longtime passion for rap. Just don't get him started on 21st-century hip-hop. "Except maybe one or two great albums, the rest is garbage," he says. "It's not what it was in the '90s, when it was really at its high. Now it's just a hook and a catchphrase. Have you listened to 2Pac? Have you listened to Notorious B.I.G.? It went from being hip-hop to hip-pop." May takes the mic at 8 tonight, 8 and 10:15 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Improv, 2000 Sycamore St. on the West Bank of the Flats. Tickets are $37 and $40. Call 216.696.4677 or visit www.clevelandimprov.com. - P.F. Wilson
Of the more than 40 flicks that Deborah Bobrow and her committee screened in preparation for today's start of the Cleveland Jewish FilmFest, the 2006 Israeli drama Bridge Over the Wadi was the toughest to watch, she says. The 55-minute film, by directors Tomer and Barak Heymann, is one of 10 movies that made the cut for this year's festival. "It's about folks who are trying to create a peaceful coexistence for their children in a school where Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews learn together," says Bobrow, who's the special-projects coordinator for the Mandel Jewish Community Center of Cleveland. "It's a story about real-life challenges of people who are living day to day and trying to make a difference for the next generation."
The fest kicks off with today's 7 p.m. opening reception and screening of the British comedy Sixty Six, in which World Cup fever threatens to ruin a boy's bar mitzvah. At 9:30 p.m. Saturday, viewers will see Claude Miller's romance Un Secret, about love, rejection and guilt in France's Jewish community. It's followed by Sunday's 10 a.m. showing of My Father My Lord, about an Orthodox rabbi who spends his time studying the Torah and preparing sermons. "It's a very quiet but beautifully done art piece," says Bobrow. "But it's a very difficult film because it's a parable filmed with symbolism."
At 7 p.m. Sunday, Nadav Schirman's 2007 documentary, The Champagne Spy - about Egyptian secret agent Oded Gur Arie - will screen. After Monday's 7 p.m. showing of Bridge Over the Wadi, the fest continues at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday with Steve Suissa's Le Grand R™le, in which an American filmmaker travels to Paris to cast a Yiddish version of The Merchant of Venice. Joseph Cedar's Beaufort will take the audience behind the scenes of an Israeli military troop in Lebanon during its 7:30 p.m. screening on Thursday, September 11. Then Avi Nesher's The Secrets unreels at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 13, with a story about a group of Jewish women at a seminary in northern Israel. The fest wraps up on Sunday, September 14, with a 2 p.m. showing of Rachel Talbot's Making Trouble, about female Jewish comedians like Joan Rivers and Fanny Brice. Then it's a 7 p.m. unspooling of the Ayelet Menahemi comedy Noodle, in which a flight attendant's life is turned upside down by an abandoned Chinese boy.
"It was overwhelming to pick just the right films for the festival," says Bobrow. "There are so many out there with Jewish content that are lesser-known and don't make it as blockbusters. But they're so worthy to be viewed, because there really are some gems out there." The fest runs through September 14 at Shaker Square Cinemas (13116 Shaker Sq. in Shaker Hts.) and at Cedar Lee Theatre (2165 Lee Rd. in Cleveland Hts.). Tickets are $7 for matinees, $9 for evening shows and $20 for tonight's opening reception. Call 216.831.0700 or visit www.clevejcc.org for a complete schedule. - Cris Glaser
For seven years, Lake County has been giving props to pimped-out rides at its annual Mentor Cruise-In. It still leaves organizer Chuck Dowling awestruck, because the carfest was originally created as a one-time-only event. "The business of cars will never be dull to people," he says. "We are a car culture, and this celebrates America's love affair with automobiles."
No kidding. The fest typically draws more than 1,000 cars and trucks made before 1980. The first 600 auto buffs to register will score dash plaques. Expect to see some familiar rides, says Dowling. "We've seen way too many classics to pick just one that was the most impressive," he says. "But one of the coolest we've had was a replica of the original Batman car. Who would have thought a superhero would participate?" The fest runs from 2 to 8 p.m. today at the Mentor Municipal Center, 8500 Civic Center Blvd. in Mentor. Admission is free. Call 440.350.9999 or visit www.cityofmentor.com. - Chad Felton
The Cedar Lee Theatre dedicates every Saturday in September to midnight screenings of a genuine cult classic at its Rocky Horror Picture Show 20th-Anniversary Party. And you're invited to do the Time Warp with Kev Boycik and the Simply His Servants theater troupe as they re-enact the movie in front of the giant screen. "The first time I saw it, everybody's singing, dancing and throwing stuff in the theater," says Boycik. "And I said, 'What in the hell is that all about?' People wear it like a badge of honor if they've seen the movie every week."
The Cleveland Heights movie house first screened the 1975 film on September 17, 1988. In early 1994, Boycik pooled together a cast of Rocky Horror fans to re-create the story of a newly engaged couple who seek refuge in the castle of Transylvanian transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his circus of bizarre guests. Since then, the theater has shown the movie at least once a month. "It's always been an underground type of thing," says Boycik, who's so obsessed with the movie that he's collected more than 500 versions of its soundtrack. "[The screenings are] so popular that when my friend from Cincinnati was in town, he said, 'Jesus Christ! You'd think the Stones were in town.'"
The Cedar Lee will also host costume contests at each showing. Tonight, it awards prizes for the best-dressed Riff Raff and Magenta. (Other characters get their due in the coming weeks: Eddie and Columbia on September 13, Frank-N-Furter on September 20, and Janet and Brad on September 27.) "I can't think of any other thing out there that's so open-door," says Boycik. "No matter what you look like, what color you are, if you're gay or straight, you're always welcome. If you really dig it, think about joining the cast. For some people, they're taking their fandom one level higher." Do the Time Warp at midnight Saturdays through September 27, at Cedar Lee Theatre, 2165 Lee Rd. in Cleveland Hts. Admission is $8.50 ($5.75 if you come in costume). Call 216.321.5411 or visit www.clevelandcinemas.com. - Glaser
Alabama-born author Mary Monroe can't shake childhood memories of sneaking away from her job in the cotton fields to read everything from cereal boxes to the Sears Roebuck catalog. She's still amused by the fact that she borrowed books from the white families her own sharecropping kin worked for. "I'm from a family of Bible-thumping farmworkers and domestics," says Monroe, who's in Woodmere tonight to talk about her sixth novel, She Had It Coming. "At one point, I was thought to be crazy because of my passion for literature. When I got my first library card, I went hog wild. But I used to get whuppings for having my nose stuck in a book, when I was supposed to be mopping a floor or cleaning a fish."
In Monroe's latest novel, protagonist Dolores Reese marries a businessman after her ex-boyfriend is sentenced to life in prison. After new evidence proves the guy is innocent, she makes a fateful decision to live a double life by devoting herself to two men in different cities. The story, says Monroe, comes from a "larger-than-life imagination." "Even before I left Alabama, I had fantasized about writing my own material so that I would always have something to read," she says. "I just want people to be able to say that I had a voice and something to say." The book-signing starts at 7 tonight at Barnes & Noble, 28801 Chagrin Blvd. in Woodmere. Admission is free. Call 216.765.7520 or visit barnesandnoble.com. - Glaser
For five of the past seven years, the Big Valley Cycling Festival & Mountain Bike Race has been hit by rain, turning the 9.5-mile route through Cuyahoga Valley National Park into a muddy mess, says organizer Kevin Daum. "The trail definitely has got some climbs in there," he says. "But it's got some pretty smooth single-track riding, some gravel roads and some parts that are more technical, with rocks and streams crossing here and there that ascend through fire pits with remains of ancestral totem poles." At today's festival portion of the two-day event (the race takes place tomorrow), bike vendors will show off some of the latest models, which festivalgoers can test-drive on a one-mile loop. The Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association will also be there, hosting clinics for beginners and bike-repair workshops for kids. Plus, they'll tell cyclists how to get along with the horseback riders they share trails with. "Since you're basically not allowed to ride mountain bikes anywhere on the Cuyahoga Valley hiking trails," says Daum, "this festival allows you the one day out of the year to do it." The fest runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, and the race starts at 10 a.m. tomorrow at the Manatoc Scout Reservation, 1075 Truxell Rd. in Peninsula. The fest is free; $35 to compete. Call 330.242.4737 or visit www.bigvalleyrace.com. - Glaser
Before 73,000 football fans file into Cleveland Browns Stadium for today's home opener against the Dallas Cowboys, hundreds of other Browns backers will hang with the Bud Girls on the Velvet Dog's rooftop at the club's Pre-Game Tailgate Party, which it'll host before every home stand this season. For longtime fan Jack Edwards, the bash leads up to a game that could set the tone for the entire season. "This is going to be a big test for the Browns," he says. "My dad remembers watching the Browns win their last championship. And this could be the team that brings us another one." Before the 4:15 p.m. kickoff, the bar will serve burgers and hot dogs, with potato salad and chips, and pour $2.50 Budweiser long necks. Then it's off to the stadium for the game. "The Browns have a great offense, and it's fun again to watch the game," says Edwards. "I just hope the defense can hold up this year." Tailgating starts at 11 this morning at the Velvet Dog, 1280 W. 6th St. Admission is free. Call 216.664.1116 or visit www.velvetdogcleveland.com. - R.C. Out
Bell-bottoms and mod patterns make a comeback tonight at Lauren Ward's Noto Launch Party, which unveils the Akron designer's very first fashion line. The 25-piece collection of cotton dresses and blouses was inspired by her passion for everything '70s. "We don't have any midriff-baring tops, like halters," says the 22-year-old Ward, whose mother-in-law runs Akron's Funky Hippy vintage shop. "But we have skinny jeans, which are totally in right now. It's vintage-inspired but also new."
As the ex-manager of the Wet Seal women's apparel store, Ward is counting on gals between 18 and 30 to dig her clothes. And she's looking at designs by Stella McCartney, Frida Ginanni and Caroline Herrera for inspiration. "These clothes are for women going out and really being noticed," says Ward, who'll open a boutique on September 16 on Main Street in Akron. "It can be from day to night and flattering for all women's body types. The clothes are just feminine and girlie." The line makes its debut from 7:30 to 9 tonight at 43 E. Market St. (above the Big City Chophouse) in Akron. Admission is free. Call 330.990.4724 or visit www.zelionoto.com. - Glaser