The very word "comedian" actually doesn't do Mike Polk justice. Sure, you can catch his stand-up act at the Improv or at Hilarities 4th Street Theater, but that hardly scratches the surface of his brilliance. What's more impressive is the guy's uncanny ability to formulate a concept, write it, direct it, and appear in its YouTube incarnation. Polk's videos — among them "The Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video," "One Semester of Spanish Love Song" (an ode to Kim Kardashian), and "Ooh Girl! An Honest R&B Song" — have become viral sensations, the truest test of a funny man's mettle these days. Polk got his start as part of the popular sketch group Last Call Cleveland, which formed while the members were Kent State students. And dare it be said that Polk's also really easy on the eyes: Soccer moms and cougars all over town would be relieved to know that you stand a pretty good chance of catching him in a Marco's Pizza commercial during the daytime talk show/soap opera block of the space-time continuum. If not, there's always YouTube.
On the web at mikepolkjr.com
Detroit-Shoreway, the aging working-class neighborhood on the West Side, has undergone a rather amazing $30 million renaissance in recent times. The area now gleams with a funky renovated streetscape, theaters, galleries, shops, condominiums, and an expanding selection of exciting restaurants at multiple price levels. Using the arts as a tool, a trio of nonprofit organizations — Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, Cleveland Public Theatre, and Near West Theatre — came together to raise funds for the reclamation project, which is expected to produce more than $300 million of economic output for Cleveland by 2013. The redevelopment isn't just about gentrification: There's also a $1 million neighborhood responsibility fund earmarked to provide local residents and businesses with loans, tax abatements, transportation, day care, and job placement services. The project, which received a Cleveland Arts Prize, is an attractive model for future arts-driven economic development in Cleveland.
When Danielle DeBoe decided to start her own business three years ago, she opened the boutique Room Service in Gordon Square — now one of Cleveland's white-hottest neighborhoods. With its growing number of restaurants, bars, stores, arts organizations, and upscale residents, Gordon Square made a perfect fit for her shop, which is stocked with unusual and handcrafted items — many of them locally made — including candles, cards, posters, clothing, and totes. But DeBoe didn't simply make the smart business decision to bask in Gordon Square's heat. She's throwing her own coals on the fire. Twice a year, she organizes Made in the 216, a showcase/sale for local artisans that occupies an empty storefront across from Room Service. It gives her a chance to promote creative folks she doesn't have room for in her 600-square-foot store.
Relocating soon to Ohio City; 216-281-4221, roomservicecleveland.com
Admission to New York's Metropolitan Museum and Museum of Modern Art will set you back $20; the Art Institute of Chicago charges $18. And Cleveland's own Rock Hall is $22. But the internationally renowned collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art is still free — all the time, not just on "free Tuesdays" or some such. Six days a week (they're closed Mondays) you can browse the museum's outstanding collection of ancient art from Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Near East, and Africa, recently reinstalled in the renovated 1916 building; its old masters like Caravaggio, El Greco, Hals, and Rubens; and its dazzling new modern/contemporary wing, which culminates in a glass-walled gallery dedicated to Auguste Rodin. You'll need more than a day to absorb everything, but at least you can afford to come back — over and over and over again.
11150 East Blvd., Cleveland, 216-421-7350, clevelandart.org
Attend any show at historic Playhouse Square and you can't help but wonder what goes on behind the curtains. What few among us know is that Playhouse Square is happy to reveal exactly what goes on in its normally off-limits nooks and crannies — and they do it for free. Public tours of the city's grand old dames are available the first weekend of most months, with tours leaving every 15 minutes from the State Theatre lobby. Guides are versed in tell-all tales, secrets, and lore surrounding the stages of the country's largest performing arts center outside of New York. Itineraries vary for the 90-minute tours, but stops along the way might include the seven floors of dressing rooms that are stacked behind the elegant curtain of the Palace Theatre, the Allen's decorative "Daylight Atmospheric" side boxes, and the story behind those massive murals in the State Theatre lobby.
1519 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-771-4444 ext. 3251, playhousesquare.org
In the wake of LeBron James' traitorous "Decision," 19 Action News' Sharon Reed placed a call to the one other man who had previously carried the mantle of being Cleveland's most reviled former resident: Art Modell. She managed to conduct nearly a 30-minute, uninterrupted interview with the longtime recluse, gaining a unique perspective on what it means to piss away an entire metropolitan area's mountain of goodwill. It's that type of ballsy journalism that's made Reed a force to be reckoned with in the Cleveland media. As anchor on 19 Action News — the station that never met a cheesy story it couldn't make a little cheesier — Reed delivers hard-hitting news stories and exposés with courage and class. She is perhaps best known for appearing on the news naked in 2004 in "Body of Art," a story on photographer Spencer Tunick's Cleveland project, which featured 2,700 other naked people and landed Reed on David Letterman's show. If there's an exclusive opportunity in the air, Reed is the one most likely to get the goods.
On WOIO-TV Channel 19
Whiskey Island is one of Cleveland's most historic and strange places. It was once home to Lorenzo Carter's farm, a distillery, Irish immigrants (who occupied 22 streets!), the "pest house" hospital (which catered to victims of the unpleasant cholera epidemic of 1832), and no less than 13 saloons. Today it houses the mysterious Cargill salt mine, a marina, a quiet park, mountains of ore pellets and stone, a bevy of railroads, and what's left of the Hulett ore unloaders. The once mighty Huletts were massive steel monsters that dipped into the bellies of ships such as the Edward B. Greene and the Joe S. Morrow or the E.M. Ford. They scooped out the ore and deposited it into waiting railcars that would fuel our ravenous steel mills. The Huletts fell obsolete when self-unloading freighters became the norm, but a solid fight ensued over saving and preserving the industrial giants. Alas, they offered a reverent nod to our region's glorious past, but the Huletts were also the best piece of public art we've seen before or since. The effort to save them fizzled over the years, leaving two disassembled Huletts to rust unceremoniously amid a tangle of weeds and vines. Who says there are no dinosaur graveyards in Cleveland?
Behind a fence adjacent to Ed Hauser Way, Whiskey Island, Cleveland
Only a helicopter or airplane can give you as breathtaking a view of our fair city as the Terminal Tower Observation Deck. It's found on the 42nd floor of Cleveland's most iconic building, which turns 80 this year. Closed since September 11, 2001, the deck underwent a five-year facelift before reopening to the public for four weekends this summer. Now there's hope they'll reopen the deck permanently to provide visitors with rare panoramic views of the city, from Lake Erie to the Cuyahoga River. On clear days, you can see 30 miles from the deck — to the west, the skyline of Elyria, and to the east, the Perry Nuclear Power Plant. The deck's interior has been restored to its original Art Deco look, with checkered floors, exposed radiators, circular lights, and window railings. At its 1930 unveiling, the Beaux-Arts Terminal Tower was the tallest building in the world outside of New York City. Although eclipsed in height these days by skyscrapers of considerably less style, the Tower remains the ultimate symbol of Cleveland. As the tall, redoubtable lady reaches octogenarian status, she is no doubt pleased to once again be its most gracious ambassador.
On Public Square in downtown Cleveland
The music on 91.5-FM WKHR is old and so are many of the volunteer DJs. But there's one voice among all the raisins that stands out: Bette Moss, who goes by the moniker "The Satin Doll." Moss may have some miles on her AARP card, but her velvety bedroom growl is so comfortable to listen to you just want to curl up in her lingo, as she spins classics from the Great American Songbook. With flashes of impish wit and a saucy sense of humor, the on-air Moss is aural sex for people of all ages. And close to her in listenability is Cleveland radio icon Tall Ted Hallaman, whose ham-on-wry stylings recall a different and mellower time on local radio. Those days may be gone, but their embers still glow at the low end of the dial.
Between his critically acclaimed, bestselling debut and his imminent sophomore release, Cleveland's Kid Cudi (born Scott Mescudi) turned heads on the HBO dramedy series How to Make It in America. The show chronicled the travails of New York City twentysomethings gunning for good times and career breakthroughs. In a small recurring role, Cudi played Domingo Brown, some guy with a hot girlfriend. He clocked maybe 15 minutes of screen time in the whole run, but it was a respectable outing. His pearly whites and presence carried over from stage to screen. In the final episode, he delivered an inspirational monologue about an uncle in Cleveland. Details are scarce about How to Make It's second season or other future acting gigs for Cudi. But based on the promising start, an acting career appears to be his if wants it — assuming that music thing doesn't get in the way.
No offense taken if the idea of a bunch of reporters and newshounds sitting around talking current events sounds like the depths of entertainment programming. But every Friday, 90.3-FM WCPN's The Sound of Ideas grabs a mix of mainstream media hacks, throws on the mic, and lets them talk shop — and the result is some of the most compelling local radio out there for those curious about what's going on around town. The show sifts through a week's worth of headlines, homes in on the most important stories, and recaps them with the very people responsible for peddling the scoops in the first place. It's a unique peek behind the curtain at the personalities hidden under the bylines. The show's success, however, lies in its moderators: Original ringleader Dan Moulthrop knew how to ask questions that simultaneously hit the nuance and overall context of a news event while also steering reporters clear from wonkishness. Since Moulthrop's July exit, The Plain Dealer's Michael McIntyre has proven he's an able pinch hitter.