Feel the Burn by Max Johnson via Alliance for Young Artists & Writers on Vimeo.

Comedy is a difficult medium. What’s funny to one person can be a bore to another. This week’s Gold Medal Portfolio recipients, Max Johnson and Ron Anahaw, took a chance with using humor in their art and writing, and it really paid off. What’s really impressive about Max’s work is his distinctive animation style–as soon as you see the title card, you know it’s from Max. Ron infuses his writing with a lightheartedness that makes his characters feel like someone you already know, or want to know. Both of these students know a good joke when they hear it, and are experts at using humor to enhance their work.

Max Johnson is from Falls Church, Virginia, and attends Falls Church High School.

“While I was growing up, there were two places in which one could find me. I would either be glued to the television watching cartoons, or at a desk, drawing my own. I have always loved to make people laugh and create characters, putting these two things together to form stories is what I’ve found to be my passion in life. Sharing my ideas with others through art is something that I have fallen in love with. I constantly try to take in inspiration from the world around me, observing how people act and the way things work. My goal is to show off the fun side of life in my work and make the world a little bit funnier.”

Bed Head by Max Johnson via Alliance for Young Artists & Writers on Vimeo.

Ron Anahaw is from Nottingham, Maryland, and attends George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

“Per person and per situation I can decide which voice to adopt, and from there I can follow suit from my decision. If I were standing in front of a tense audience, mic in hand and ready to do a reading, I would use the same casualness and candor that I use in my personal essays to admit that I’m nothing more than a funny guy with a pencil, and I would hope that that would put them at ease. When I meet someone for the first time, I simply picture the two of us as characters in a play I’m writing–the dialogue between us, then, is only as entertaining as I make it. And if I feel inclined to impress a girl (since everybody knows girls swoon at the mere mention of poetry) then I could point out how her hips are like the ocean’s curves, or how her hair has managed to capture the sun’s rays within each strand. And my journalistic background doesn’t hurt whenever I have a discussion in English class. I am no Neruda, no Sedaris, no great master of a great form. I’m a guy who likes to think he’s cool, who can spin a few cool rhymes, who can put together a joke or two inside a mess of words.”

 

How to Do First Dates

Bring several pounds of washcloths. Hide them. You’re prone to sweat and she’s got skin like a glossy leaf. Don’t be a cliché. When you compliment her, which is a must, stray from things like “You’re pretty,” or “You’re beautiful,” or “My god, you’re so hot, damn, girl.” That last one got you slapped. Hard. Your dignity faded faster than the mark on your face. Say things like “Your hips are the ocean’s curves,” or “Your eyes have stolen the stars tonight,” or “Te amo. Tu tienes mi corazon.” (Chicks dig Spanish.) Wait–scratch all that. Too creepy. Dial it down. Wait till you’re married to say any of that. “You look nice tonight,” that’ll do just fine. If you feel so inclined, create hypotheticals in your mind of you two pumping out two-and-a-half kids, adopting a dog, and erecting a white picket fence in the suburbs, but by no means should you verbalize any of this. She’s trying to enjoy her salad. You’re at a diner, for God’s sake. This is not the time or place to have a salad thrown at you in disgust. Even if you feel like your souls throb at the same wavelength, even if your lips are itching to pull apart and let loose a “We’resoulmateslet’sgetmarriedrightnow,” resist. Resist. Focus on your burger. Its nice, tender beef. The fries go well with ketchup. Bite, chew, swallow, nod, laugh at her jokes. Plate’s empty. Dessert. Yum. Wipe the sweat from your forehead. The stars giggle while you try small talk. Only ask for water if she does too. You don’t want to seem too thirsty. You want to seem the right amount of thirsty. Oh no. Oh God, no. You notice that she has the kind of lips that wars are fought over. This is going to be tough. “Are you enjoying the apple pie? Good, a question; it will distract you from her lips. Anyway. She has no idea the factors that affect your answer. For example: Is she enjoying it? Is it warm or cold? Have you used your fork or spoon or–God forbid–your hand to eat it? How big is it? Does it make your lips itch? Wipe your hands, you’re sweating. Say the pie is fine, that’s safe. Your tongue is so parched–hold. Don’t ask for water. Dessert is done. She’s still talking to you. She doesn’t care that the food is done. My God you’ve made it this far. Keep it cool. Don’t worry, you’re smooth, you’re slick, you know how to spin a few cool rhymes. “I’m chillin’ in a diner / with a cool girl, I like her / almost as much as this apple pie / hope she likes this nervous guy.

What. Did. You. Just Do. Yeah, that’s right, inwardly groan at the pure cheesiness of what you just said! In fact, outwardly groan! You idiot! You– “Was that a love rap?”She’s smiling. She’s giggling. Wait. Maybe you didn’t just screw up. My friend, you can do it. Lean in for the kiss. Do it.

 

from Inheritance

We drove in silence.

This was my first time behind the wheel in months and, despite the ease with which I handled our minivan, both my father and I were slightly nervous. The highway was a long stretch of chances for me to crash the car. The thought made me grip the wheel tighter and my father passively told me to relax. I did so. Despite the tension and nervousness and chances of steely, glass-ridden death, I was bored. I sped up a little; I changed lanes; I adjusted the rearview mirror; I played with the windshield wipers, and my dad sharply asked me if it was raining. I stopped playing with the windshield wipers.

My dad asked me if I had a girlfriend yet and I admitted that I didn’t. I laughed when he pointed out that I promised I’d get one before the year ended. It’s true. Even if it’s meant to be endearing, I think my dad holds me to a certain standard. When he was my age he was a bona fide lady magnet as an attractive teenager in the Philippines. And I’m…awkward. Even though he’s lost all his hair, he’d probably still be more charming.

“Dad, up to how many girlfriends did you have at once?” I asked.

He answers without hesitation. “2.”

“Wow, really?”

“Ah, no, that’s wrong.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Yeah, it was 3.”

I gave a low whistle and he grinned.

“How’d you pull that off?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, why’d the ladies like you? Just because you were attractive?”

He took a moment to think. “Yeah.”

I laughed. “No, I’m serious,” he said. “You see these eyes?” He pointed to his eyes and I nodded. “What about them, dad?”

“These gave me my nickname, ‘Beautiful Eyes.’”

I laughed even more and he wiggled his eyebrows. “Girls back in the Philippines like the big eyebrows. I had the biggest eyebrows in my school, and I was one of the only boys who wasn’t ugly. So whenever the ladies at school saw me, they’d scream, ‘Oh! There goes Ronald! Ohhh!’”

Through fits of laughter and questioning my dad ended up telling me all about his love life as a handsome young man, the runt of his family, youngest of eleven children. He told me about how his girlfriends would give him envelopes. And how, on the bus rides back home, he would open the envelopes and find coins and bills falling onto his lap. Never a lot, but enough to make him tear up a bit because he could afford food that week. If a girl liked him enough, he was given a new pair of shoes.

I had a good grasp on the car. I was moving it like it was my own body, making smooth and quick decisions. It didn’t feel like I was driving a car, it felt like I was just moving along the highway. I didn’t feel that tension or boredom or fear anymore. But it started raining and my father wanted me to avoid hydroplaning, so I pulled over and we got out to switch seats. And when I buckled up, and he found he didn’t have to adjust the driver’s seat, I realized that not only did I earn an ease with driving, but with my father. Now I take the chances to practice driving so that, not only can I get familiar with roads, but with my father as well. I’ve found that I can laugh while he tells me about his girlfriends and I can drive in an understanding silence when he talks about his father and siblings. There is so much in him that I see in me. Sometimes I think I can see my future in that bald head of his. And I can’t help but smile when I see him playing with the windshield wipers.

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