Jenn

Learning From the Lieutenant

Hello, lovely lurkers! Say, I have a wee work-in-progress that I think you’d enjoy. Check it out: I was asked recently to discuss how Lieutenant Columbo (of the self-named 1970s detective series) and his masterful way of getting self-important murderers eating out of the palm of his hand, can relate to marketing techniques in business scenarios.

What a fascinating correlation! And I was rereading bits of Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference, a book on negotiation techniques and how they apply to the biz world, at that time, and so my brain got into a fun spin. Here below are some rough-spun ideas in both those veins, that I’ve been playing with. I would very much appreciate commentary, creative tangents, explosions, or, maybe just One More Thing, to help with my revisions…

How to Columbo

The concept that I want to talk about is that of STATUS. Actors use status shifts all the time to convey clear character relationships. Status in this case refers to social status, not economic status (though of course the one can influence the other). 

Humans are herd animals—we constantly microadjust our status in all social situations, professional or personal. You can raise or lower your own status, or raise or lower someone else’s. We do this in the things we say aloud and in our body language. 

You might think that in an important business interaction that it would be best to always try and be the highest status person in the room, that a higher social status would be the most powerful. Very often that’s not true. Frequently, it’s lifting the other person’s status or even lowering your own that’s the most potent choice. How is this possible?

Nobody in all of fiction better exemplifies the power of lowering one’s own status and raising another’s than Lieutenant Columbo, of 1970s’ TV fame. This show’s pleasing pattern is to pit a rich, powerful, intelligent and arrogant murderer, who thinks s/he has taken care of all their loose ends and is above the law, against little, rumpled, scruffy, shambling and cigar-smoking Columbo. In almost every instance, you can see how the doughty Lieutenant paves the way for the self-satisfied murderer to paint themselves into a corner. He does this by precisely and systematically lowering his own status while raising the murderer’s. The murderer thinks Columbo is slow and stupid and clueless until it’s far too late. 

You’ve read those sales and negotiation manuals that maintain it’s a great idea to not out-power the other person but to deftly guide them into thinking they’ve made all the choices you wanted them to make. You can’t do that by commanding them, most of the time. 

So how do you actually do this? Well, how does Columbo do it?

Let’s look at a specific example: 

Season 1, ep 2: Death Lends a Hand

-I highly recommend watching the whole episode (contact me for my house Columbo drinking game). 🙂

-But! the scene I’m dissecting begins at 25:32 in the free Amazon Prime Video version. The scene begins with Mr. Kennicut entering a lavish red room with Columbo following doggedly behind.

-CHARACTERS:

  • Mr. Kennicut, a huge newspaper mogul, widowed husband of the murdered woman.
  • Lieutenant Columbo, most brilliant detective in the world, though very few people know this. 
  • Private Investigator Brimmer, former police detective, now a high powered and very wealthy PI with his own state-of-the-art firm. Just recently investigated Mrs. Kennicut for adultery and attempted to blackmail her. This turned into an accidental murder. 
  • BACKGROUND NOTE for this scene: Kennicut doesn’t know anything about Brimmer’s part in the murder, nor that his wife was having an affair (Brimmer told him she had a “clean bill of health” after having hired him to find this info). Columbo has not met Brimmer before he enters this scene. 
    • Also: notice before anything is spoken aloud: how Columbo’s physical mannerisms, posture, and mode of dress already establish him as someone of lower status. The moment a rich and egotistical murderer takes one look at him, any danger he may have felt from him pretty much goes away. There’s no way *this* guy is the smartest one in the room. Right?

Now let’s see how Lieutenant Columbo gets vital information out of these two very high status men:

Watch the scene in question, and look for these moments:

MOMENTS OF NOTE:

  1. Talking to commissioner the other day / I’m only here in a supplemental capacity
  2. You worked security for him? / no a personal matter 
  3. I’m grateful for all the help I can get 
  4. I suddenly feel much more optimistic 
    1. Launches right into palmistry 
  5. Seizes Brimmer’s hand before he asks for permission 
  6. Wrong door—praises the look of the clubs
    1. Questions about clubs, says they’re not important 
  7. Brimmer: police techniques have changed

What do these moments tell us?

  1. Notice how Columbo is letting the two high status men talk as much as possible. Brimmer comes right in with raising his own status, saying he was at a party with Columbo’s boss. He puts him in his place while condescendingly referring to his “understanding” of Columbo’s working class problems. 
  2. Columbo hasn’t spoken hardly a word until he asks how the two men know each other. Brimmer makes the mistake of mentioning that his work for Kennicut was a “personal matter,” which of course would make Columbo immediately see it must have had something to do with Kennicut’s wife. Already Columbo has gotten the idea that Brimmer is somehow involved with her murder, since he’s horning his way into the case, and was involved in that “personal matter.”
    1. In the scene just before, Columbo echoes Kennicut’s odd phrase, “a clean bill of health” to mean his wife was faithful. Not a normal way to describe that, and so already Columbo is thinking maybe there was some kind of professional investigation. Brimmer then mentioning “a personal matter” pretty much verifies that he was involved. 
  3. By saying he’s grateful for the help, Columbo is going along with Brimmer’s assertion that he needs the help. By doing this, he affirms Brimmer’s high status, while lowering his own. He also makes sure Brimmer feels comfortable involving himself—that is, Brimmer won’t likely notice any suspicion on Columbo’s part since he’s being so buttered up. So now, Columbo can keep him close by, to keep an eye on him too, without him knowing he’s doing so.
  4. “I suddenly feel much more optimistic about this whole thing” is a pretty clever piece of snark by Columbo—he’s basically thanking Brimmer for walking right into his hands.
    1. Columbo then launches immediately into all that palmistry nonsense here, just to keep Brimmer still feeling superior and to lower his own status again (also probably to ease whatever sharpness that earlier phrase may have shown). But look what powerful moves he’s able to accomplish by prattling along this way. The men let him do this because they don’t feel threatened.
  5. Columbo looks at Kennicut’s palm first because he’s already created a rapport with him (he can also pretend to read his recent calamity accurately in his palm). Notice Columbo grabs Brimmer’s hand before asking permission. Just in case Brimmer gets offended or worried by this (or tries to pull his hand away), Columbo comes up with a whole lot of nonsensical praise: he touts Brimmer’s ambition, distinction, power, etc. This both continues to lower his own status while raising Brimmer’s even more. And it keeps Brimmer’s hand in Columbo’s–he’s got plenty of time to gather clues.
    1. At the end of the episode when Brimmer is caught, Columbo admonishes him: “You should never have let me read your palm.” During this whole palmistry bit, Columbo is getting the details of Brimmer’s ring, which is a damning clue as it matches the cut/bruise on the murdered woman’s cheek. But Brimmer is so caught up in the praise and in his own condescending amusement at Columbo’s antics that it doesn’t cross his mind at the time.
  6. Whether or not Columbo meant to open the wrong door, the bumbling further lowers his status (I happen to think he opened that door on purpose, but I can’t find textual evidence either way). This means he can pepper Kennicut with all these new questions without there being any worry on Brimmer’s side. Brimmer basically thinks Columbo is an idiot, while Columbo continues to extract some very important clues.
    1. Columbo praises the clubs before touching them, which is what allows him to grab them, which is how he discovers they’re ladies’ clubs and belonged to the murdered woman, which is how he discovers she was taking golf lessons. He would never have gotten all this new information if he hadn’t bumbled into the closet. 
    2. The golf clubs are a big clue, as the man Mrs. Kennicut had the affair with was her golf instructor. Had Columbo attempted high status choices here, he would never have gotten this far. 
      1. The camera does cut to Brimmer during Columbo’s golf club interrogations but if he starts to feel like Columbo is getting anywhere, Columbo assures them that his questions aren’t important. Columbo further lowers his status once more and soothes Brimmer by cutely asking, “is this the right door?” before leaving. 
  7. Success! Brimmer’s smug comment about police techniques being different these days tells us he’s sufficiently been pumped up, is feeling superior and safe, and sees nothing sharp or dangerous in the Lieutenant. 

Now obviously I’m not saying you should dress like a slob and act like an idiot in order to soothe your potential clients into entering a deal. But in Columbo’s extreme example you can see how the high status choice isn’t always the most powerful, and that letting the other guy speak, or praising them and listening for a while, instead of plowing forward with your own agenda, can often work much better. 

What Day is it?

I mean, what even is time anymore…

Not that that’s an excuse. It’s really that I’ve been using other types of social media, the microblog type ones, to do colorful updates, commentary, and all that jazz. But I have missed this longer form platform for more composed musings, and so here I am. And now the party can start again.

I thought I’d begin anew this Fall-into-Winter by doing one of those life activity summaries that those of you who are left seem to enjoy reading. Here tis, in a nutshell:

WORK: I’m concluding a course at DU called Genres, in which a dozen Professional Writing Program students peruse various literary genres, analyze them, and even create some of their own. I always wish we could go over *actual* genres like Mystery, Fantasy, Romance, etc. but that’s not the way PWRI be. Which is okay. That’s over in a couple weeks. At Metro, the Intro kids are concocting their big final projects, which are one-act plays. I’m very excited (as I always am) to see how these turn out. This semester, they’re required to make a trailer for them, too, which should be a lot of fun. The Staging Cultures kids are winding up reading their last two plays (M Butterfly and Angels In America), and then they’ll be finished up too.

Once a week or so of many holiday snacks go by, I’ll be back online at DU teaching Art and Interpretation, as well as a translation class! That ought to be quite the hoot—I’ll have to revisit my Cyrano or Arsene Lupin translations. Then it’s Staging Cultures again at Metro at mid-month. It’s not looking likely that I will ever be given Stage Movement again there, so. We’ll see how much longer I linger there, before I get fully shouldered out. After momre than 20 years, 16 at that department. Hey, it’s adjuncting. What can you do…

Well, one thing I maybe can do: I’ve been serving on MSU’s Faculty Senate as affiliate (adjunct) rep, and will soon be also on the Faculty Welfare subcommittee. So we shall see what kind of things I can make better there…

Speaking of one-acts and adjuncting, I’m WRITING (about) both right now. I will be writing a holiday themed one-act for TCL’s festival again—last year, I wrote a play using the lyrics and situation of ”Baby It’s Cold Outside.” This year? I’m not quite sure yet, but I get the feeling that the Grinch may be visited by Scrooge’s 3 ghosts. The memoir project is officially complete. That is, I finished the writing part. Now to do a bunch more editing and get some paratext stuff together (like Tables of Contents, a query letter, etc.) and it should be ready to shop out by my birthday. Yipes and wow.

In THEATRE land, Blue Dime Cabaret came back and conquered! We had two shows at Dangerous Theatre, one of which completely sold out! The high level of talent that came back to appear for us never ceases to amaze me, but especially this time. I even got PB to come do a song with me. We plan on doing a First Fridays thing at Dangerous once the new year breaks, but of course everything depends on the pandemic still at this point. I had a great time doing the fights for Always a Bridesmaid at TCL, and I might have another fight gig coming up at Vintage, but I haven’t had confirmation on that one yet, so maybe not. Oh, and one thing that counts as both writing and theatre? I read some of my work at a Punketry show, accompanied by a punk/jazz band.

As far as just LIFE stuff? I’ve been finally, after too long, getting things like prescriptions and dental work done for myself, which is a good thing. I’ve been suffering recently from a bout of some kind of piriformis syndrome / sciatica type thing which has flattened me nearly completely for almost two weeks. That isn’t such a good thing, but having my body put the brakes on for me does make me perforce do some stopping, and thinking.

And writing. Which is a good thing to come out of that.

More longer form stuff to come. No, really—there’s a few things fleshed out in my notes that have gone dormant since my book project, that I would like to wake up and see if they take. Stay tuned.

Punketry was a hoot. My Beat profs at Naropa would’ve been proud.

Link is the Hero, Not Zelda

Well here we are again, lovely lurkers–time for a list of links, for your educational and/or entertainment needs. Please to follow any and all of these, and enjoy!

Denver Unique Week of Fashion was the first in-person live theatrical type event I did as the plague began to clear up a bit. It happened in April of this year, and it’s happening again at its normal Fall time of year. This event is focused on local designers and showcasing those designs on all kinds of beautiful models (not just the conventional type). I know right know I’ll be walking for Misfit Missy on that Friday, and will likely be strutting the catwalk on M and W as well. Keep up on my Insta to see more.

Speaking of live events coming back, we at BLUE DIME Cabaret are in talks to come back in September. We are still in very early preliminary talks, so no deets yet, but the place to find updates is our FB page.

Burlesquey friends of BDC are doing a horror themed burlesque show called HQ of 1000 Corpses, over at HQ Bar in Denver, in early October. I’ll have a sexy bloody act, and will be helping the whole show with the gory bits, too.

The Problematic Tropes (both of Badass Women and Toxic Masculinity) series of mine on Writers’ HQ were defunct for a short bit whilst they updated their website, so all those links in the earlier posts here aren’t working. Now they’re back, with all working gifs and such. And of course, the last few in the series are still up on Friend Jason’s blog.

My memoir is going swimmingly, as coached along by author Herb Childress. His book was an inspiration for the project, and his blog is also some very well written food for thought, on a much more regular basis than my posts here.

Finally, as I have had the hesitantly joyful experience of shooting some firearms over at a range near the SO’s family’s place, I have therefore become more interested in firearms in a theatrical context. I’m a sword guy–the gun thing is a big gap in my expertise when it comes to stage combat. Luckily, a local-ish colleague of mine is an expert in these things, both having written a stellar textbook on the subject, and heading the fantastic video content over at his Youtube page, called, cutely enough, PewTube.

Me awkwardly shooting a pewpew. It’s pretty fricking fun, as bad as I am at it.

Catching Up

Yowza. How about that heat, amirite? And that pandemic thing? whewww…

So let’s see… It has been A While…what have I been up to in all this time (yeesh, it’s been MONTHS) since I wrote last? I mean yeah there are several reasons that are totes legit why I haven’t given all you lovelies anything to lurk over (like, not having any real events happen on account of… well, the PLAGUE), but really that’s only reasons and not excuses. So here I am attempting to air out, fluff up, and put out this blog again. let’s hope on a regular basis. (I know, I know, you’re all holding your breath…)

And so, I thought it’d be mildly amusing to do one of those What Is Jenn Zuko Up To Right Now posts that used to be much more frequent. /cracks knuckles/ Here goes…

WORK:

My teaching is, ironically, still going strong. Remember how, before the pandemic, I was attempting a career shift? Well that got derailed in the shutdown, and I was relegated to sticking with the shitty job I have, than fly to others which I know not of. Plus, as an adjunct, I don’t get paid for unemployment. Better safe than sorry, and hey–I got to teach stage combat (in a pandemic-modified way), and have been given consistent online courses at DU /knock on wood/. Some of the DU courses were new to me, too, so that was fun. Masterworks of Fiction? Cool. Visual and Physical Communication? Sign me up! And the Capstones I’ve advised have run the gamut from a comedic memoir about trauma, to a volume of poetry, to this quarter where I’m working with a student’s High Fantasy novel about a world where cat-people engage in meditation and spiritual practice. Pretty cool stuff.

Speaking of current classes, I’m just in the first phase of both Summer sessions of DU and Metro. At the former, I’ve got the abovementioned Capstone to advise, as well as two online Visual and Physical Communication courses. I’m loving those–we read some of Paul Ekman’s work, and I get to nerd out about Lie to Me, one of my favorite shows… and at the latter, I’m doing that online course called Staging Cultures you’ve heard me describe before.

As far as near future when it comes to work?

No idea yet what’s in store for me in the Fall at DU, but at Metro I’ll be doing Staging Cultures again and a fully revamped Intro to Theatre course. It’s been de-colonized by a new prof, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the class is like to teach now. No idea if I’ll ever be getting a Stage Movement class ever again–said prof has basically taken it over, but time will tell. Also not sure when I’ll be back into attempting a career change yet (speaking of), but I’ll keep you all in the loop on that. Boulder Startup Week was a travesty, mainly because of the platform they were using, but don’t let them hear me say that…

THEATRE:

I was in a couple Zoom theatre productions through the pandemic, but you saw me advertise those. Especially if you’re following me on the Visage Tome. Live theatre is only now crawling back out of its hole, and I’m swooping in as best I can.

I have a couple potential fight gig irons in the fire for the near future but I haven’t gotten confirmation on each, so I’ll wait to announce those once I know for sure.

Denver Unique Week of Fashion was a hoot–it’s rare that a woman of my stature gets to be a fashion model, and I walked the catwalk for four different local designers that week, at various cool Denver venues (a few of which gave me ideas for the future of Blue Dime Cabaret…).

Friend Kerry form college is a filmmaker now, and she brought me on to her upcoming dystopian fantasy movie, called Suffer. I choreographed and directed the fight scenes for it, and did so over Zoom, which was a fascinating process. I haven’t done a lot of fighting for film–most of my experience is in live theatre–so that was neat. I look forward to seeing how that turns out. The stills and updates they regularly share on Instagram look really cool.

Future theatre stuff?

Besides those two fight gigs that I haven’t heard from yet, we at Blue Dime Cabaret are in talks to return to regular shows as soon as may be. Nothing set in stone or on calendars yet, but our return is indeed imminent.

WRITING:

I hope to be a bit more regular here on this blog, and I also have ambitious ideas of picking up my pen-name blog again too. This is a lot of writing for a woman whose job entails a lot of writing, but again–not an excuse. We’ll see how it goes. I can at least be, say, weekly, here? At the very least. Okay, now I’ve promised you. So be it.

I’m working on a big BIG project, too–a memoir-ish book tentatively titled A Strong Woman Under The Gaslight. It parallels the emotional abuse I suffered in the same 20 years from both my husband and my job as adjunct faculty. Now that I’ve plunged full speed ahead in the writing of it, I’ve also added the third thread of the abusive nature of a life in the theatre. It’s exhausting work, but important work. I think it’s going to be a pretty damn good book, too–it’s shaping up.

Said memoir wouldn’t be… well I was going to say it wouldn’t be as good as it is, but if I’m honest, it wouldn’t be at all if it weren’t for the brilliant and intrepid Herb Childress, author of The Adjunct Underclass, Slush, and others, who has agreed to the insanely difficult job of being my writing coach and guide through the process. It’s because of his work on my weekly submissions to him that this work is going at all, let alone so well, and I am quite excited to see how this whole book pans out.

Near future of writing stuff? Well eventually I do want to get this memoir thing published, but that’s neither here nor there, and that’s more like far future. But eminent SAFD-connected journal The Fight Master is publishing another of my articles in an upcoming issue. This time, it’s a cobbling together of a bunch of material from my many presentations on The Fight Is The Story. I’m passing revisions back and forth between the editor and me on that right now, so that’s a thing that’ll happen soonish.

Another reason why I haven’t been writing here. But again, not an excuse. Just a reason.

OTHER:

I’m living mostly with the SO in Centennial/Greenwood Village right now, with brief forays into Boulder to visit doctors and dentists and the Birdhouse. Less liminal, but still a bit so. Going to Goth Prom but no longer Denver Comic Con, which has been fully rebranded and has lost me, frankly. We”ll see about Page 23.

And I’m fully vaccinated. So. Pucker up.

From Insta, the other day. The gladius I’m wielding was a birthday gift to the SO.

Boulder Startup Week

Well good golly gee, lovely lurkers—looks like I’m presenting at Boulder Startup Week again this year. They’re doing a virtual thing again this year, and again, my workshop is focused on body language in business. This year, though, my talk will be more hands-on (more like a workshop), and I’ll be focusing more on subtext and first impressions. I’m super-psyched!

Here’s the description:

“Tell Us What You REALLY Feel”

It’s been said that honesty is the first component to cultivating healthy relationships. But do you know what you’re sharing in your interpersonal communications that isn’t being said aloud? Is your body betraying you? What sort of a first impression do you give potential clients, partners, or investors? How do you know? Do you know how to read a room? In this hands-on workshop, join body language expert Jenn Zuko as we explore the multiple ways in which we read and transmit messages under and alongside the words we say. Breakout room exercises will include: basic body language vocabulary; what is subtext and how can we clarify it; how we can (literally) position ourselves to maintain the best relationships possible, in business and beyond.

Here’s the link to the event. It’s free, and it should be a heckuva lot of fun: https://emamo.com/event/boulder-startup-week-2021-1/s/tell-us-how-you-really-feel-oG3ljo

Unarmed Pandemic Violence

The MSU Denver Stage Combat students have concluded their first unit, which was Unarmed. Since Unarmed usually takes being closer together than pandemic rules allow, we decided to do one of those linked-clip videos you’ve seen so many other stunt groups do during social distancing mode. Here’s the final, knitted-together version for your enjoyment. And remember, if you’re moved to comment: these are beginners. And it’s a pandemic.

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #4: fighting on film

I’m going in a brand new direction in the stage combat course this Spring: we’re going to be doing our unarmed unit all online! Check out this video in the vein of those stunt compilations you’ve seen around during lockdown: the participants are all MSU theatre students, alumni, or faculty. Oh, and my partner, too.

Sign up for stage combat so it won’t get canceled!

Stage Combat in the Pandemic #3c: Swords (broadswords)

Me, Brian, and Geoff performing at CO RenFaire, 1998. I like to call this pic “Broad’s Swords.”

We have this lovely little collection of hand-and-a-half broadswords at Metro, and before now I’ve never had the time to bring them out and play with them in class. But now that I’m shifting the course curriculum a bit and making the semester more about having long weapons in our hands (easy social distancing), I thought I’d go ahead and fit them in this coming semester.

Broadswords are a bigger, heavier, thicker-bladed, and earlier type of sword than the rapier, though many of them tend to be no longer. The ones we have at Metro aren’t heavy, solid-steel, enormous longswords or claymores, though—they’re built a bit lighter than most I’ve used and learned on; they are about the same length as the rapiers (though obviously the blades are much wider), and the hilts are your basic cross hilt and with a grip that’s easy to use with one hand, or the hand-and-a-half technique, where you steady your hold with your off hand on the pommel. This will be a lot of fun and will be an easy segue either from or into the lightsabers, which can also be used one handed or two.

Plus, our broadswords make this gorgeous chiming sound as they clash together, with proper stage combat technique of course. We haven’t really used these weapons hardly at all, so if you’re a Metro, CCD, or UCD student, you won’t want to miss this iteration of the class—I don’t know when or if I’ll be able to use them again, if we go back to “normal”…

There’s still just 5 people signed up. Register now!