Hug Blog Day #6: Now with Pictures!

Had a performance in Algoma, Wisc today. Their elementary school’s theatre is being rebranded as the Algoma Performing Arts Center. It’s more than just a cute idea. They’re bringing in music acts , comedy, other performance. Open to the public. Any profit they make after paying the performers goes to local charity groups. It’s a neat idea. Really cool theatre and excellently nice people.


On the way got my first hug (since the start of this project) from Jessica Blavat. One of my long-time, loyal and funny friends and performers. She’s also my neighbor. Good hug. I’ve noticed that people now are hugging me longer. I think it’s from knowing about this… or maybe I’m giving out the signal that it’s okay to hug me longer.

Show went very well. After the show we were saying “good-bye” to the crowd. A young lady who had… I don’t know what you call it. I’ve been told that “mental retardation” is the wrong term now, but I don’t know the equivalent term. Large glasses, distorted facial features, stunted posture. Her language skills were minimal. Another young lady was escorting her around.

“She says you’re ‘crazy’… she means it in a good way.” she said. The the girl with the glasses tucked her head down and moved her arms out a little bit. Mike from a week ago *might* have read the cue, and *might* have hugged without feeling self-conscious. Probably not. Mike one week into this project though went in and had a great hug for both of us.

Returned to the club (Oh, for those who don’t know me and are reading this blog… first off, “HI!” Secondly, I own an improvisational comedy troupe called ComedyCity and we perform at an art bar I own called The Green Room. I refer to both as “the club”) I got a number of hugs from various troupe members. Got a first hug from Nick Wallander. This hug was delivered with the instructions that it was coming from Nick’s ladyfriend Amy Jo Vigue. She couldn’t make it there. She follows my blog. She told Nick to give me a hug… oh, and this pumpkin.


Nick gave a twice as long hug. Second half was from Nick.

Thanks everyone! And thanks for the pumpkin, Amy Jo.



Hug Blog Day #5

I need to figure out a way to spread the hugs throughout the day. Yesterday I collected all 5 (and more) between 7 – 8 p.m.  People are on board with the idea. Some approach me, mostly I still do the approaching. I go and seek the hugs.  I did, however, get called out for giving a “one-arm man-hug” that’s where you go in half-way and are non-committal about … some how that makes it “not count” as man-on-man action…right? I had a legitimate excuse (drink in hand) but being called on it was good, and I went in for the full hug. Thank you Jacob.

Let’s talk a bit about the effects of this test so far. Actually, let’s talk about suicide and depression for a bit. No, this isn’t a call for help or a weirdly veiled suicide warning. We’re just talking here.

I’ve heard that sometimes when people take medication for depression it increases their risk of suicide. Which, at first glance, seems counterintuitive. But the theory is the depression was keeping the person so low that any sort of action was an effort and/or too much work. When the medication kicks in, it motivates you to do something and sometimes that “something” is suicide. I don’t know how medically accurate this is, or if it’s even true at all. But, it does sound reasonable.

Now, to what I’ve noticed. The hugging has bettered my mood. In general, I’m feeling pretty happy. But, one of the ongoing problems in my life currently, is an acute loneliness. I spend a lot of my time alone. Generally, I like it. I write, draw, play piano, watch movies… all things that I can certainly do alone, in fact some of the things are better done alone. However, when being alone isn’t a choice… that’s when it can get to me.

There’ve been times in the past couple years when I’ve been alone with no one that I feel comfortable talking to (in person or online) and certainly no one I feel comfortable asking to be with in person. And I’ll sink into a depression. Where it’s just dark desperate thoughts. And I get literally sad and teary eyed. It’s weird. It’s often borne out of nothing. It sucks.

So, in this last week, the thing I’ve noticed is that sensation;That feeling of loneliness, and wanting someone to be with me, rears it’s ugly head, however the sadness isn’t there. I mean, it’s still sad, and I still want the situation not to be happening, but the “unreasonable” sadness feels like it’s under control.

Don’t know yet. Will have to keep track of that.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that other people aren’t hugging each other after hugging me. I kinda thought this sort of thing would spread. The sensation is that I’m the hug center and people are benefiting a little from me, but I’m benefiting a bunch from them because I’m getting hugs from everyone. Not sure why it’s not spreading. I’m not going to force the issue, just keep observing.



Hug Blog Day #4

Got my hugs in later in the day and all within an hour. I wonder how I can spread these out through the day. Got a bonus hug from the kid today, normally I don’t see her on Thursdays… hooray for volleyball games!

The other hugs. I went in to work (ComedyCity. Last night was Stand-up comedy night.) Got a hug from Owen Boardman, stand-up comedian, improvisor, writer and friend. He actually approached me and asked if I had met my hug quota for the day. The initiation on his part was nice.

Third hug Rochelle Allen. She was just coming to see the show. She came in with friends, saw me and said “Oh, I’ve got to hug this guy.” while in the hug she said, “Oh, that’s right, you’re doing that hug project thing.” Which made me thing what she said earlier was either a sincere need to hug me, or she was subliminally tricked by knowing about this project. Either way, good hug.

Then I just went forward with her group. Hugged her roommate, who I had by chance met the other day at the dentist office, so we weren’t total strangers. Then I hugged her roommate’s boyfriend who was there too. He have me a one-arm “man hug” but I went all in. Not sure how he ultimately felt about it.

We had a brief talk about how women are better than men at hugging. Rochelle believes it’s because boys are taught not to touch people. I said I think it’s because women are squishier in general. We’re probably both right.

I was at my quota, and leaving for the night, but saw Aaron Kornowski (friend and musician) coming in to perform the post-show. I just went in for the hug as a way of saying “Hi.” Don’t know if he knows about the project or not. I just took the hug. Took it! He didn’t seem to mind, he laughed about it, actually.

So, really I ended up with 3 hugs that I initiated without really asking for consent. But, they were all received well enough. And, really, is a free hug that bad of a thing?

Went home and later felt lonely… well, I live alone, so not surprising. What was interesting was that I felt lonely, but not the sad desperate lonely I’ve felt before. Difficult to explain. I’ll talk about this more in upcoming blogs. Loneliness and being alone is an ongoing theme with this project.



Hug Blog Day #3

Wednesdays are the night that I get to see my improv troupe, so there were plenty of hugs to be had. In fact, so many that I hesitate to give a number or list off the people because I don’t want to leave anyone out. (perhaps an incomplete list: Craig, Sean, Jeff, Josiah, Jacob, Laurie, Jon, Chad, and of course early in the day my daughter.)  That’s a lot of man hug in there… what can I say? Small town mid-west improv troupes tend to have more men than women. The hugs were enthusiastic and people really seemed on board with the idea. I hope they received some of the same effects and benefits that I did on Day #1 of this project.

The immediate rush of pleasant feeling is still there. The euphoria that lasts through to the next day, not so much. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just confirms that the excitement of the project had a lot to do with the good feeling that lasted through the next day.

What’s notable now is the enthusiasm of those who’ve participated. There were  a couple of guys who didn’t hug and kinda slipped out the door quickly and quietly. Which is a shame, because I feel like those are the guys who could benefit most from a hug. Maybe this on-going report will convince them. Has this project given me more empathy? Perhaps. We’ll keep testing.


Hug Blog Day #2

I have to admit I was a bit concerned about today’s hugs. As I said previously, Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays are days that I potentially don’t see anyone except my daughter. I put out a post saying I needed to get 4 more hugs today. This time, there were less “likes” and no direct offers.   Oh-oh.

Did get plenty of hugs from the Kid. She pulls extra duty when others aren’t around. I was still also feeling residual happy vibes from yesterday’s hugs.

In the call for more hugs I also threw out there that we were going to see “The Martian” tonight. Which, by the way, you should all go see, it’s an excellent movie. Only heard back from Josiah Hensler “maybe”. Wasn’t looking good for hugs.

Arrived at movie and Josiah was there, as was another friend, Ken Goltz. Both manly manly men. I’m a tall guy (6’2″) Josiah towers over me and has a lumberjack’s beard. Ken’s about my height and runs marathons. Manly men.

Watched the movie. Afterwards as we were walking out, I did the open arms indication of “gimme a hug” Ken gives a nice solid hug. Little longer than a normal “guy hug” which was nice. He’s got two daughters now, I think it’s softened him up in a good way.

Josiah seemed to either want to prove something, or be really sincere. He squeezed tight. Not painful, but … he is a strong guy. Josiah is also the first time that I recall being the “little spoon” in a hug. It’s nice I kinda wish I got to snuggle in there more, but I was distracted by his bear hug and had to make a joke about it.

There’s no denying that I was in a noticeably better mood today in general. Currently, I can feel a kind of residual light tingle around my upper shoulder area.

It all still feels a little awkward but less forced than it did yesterday.

Collected hugs from 3 people today. Had an offer to go “cash in on some hugs” at a trivia night that some friends were at. If it wasn’t a school night I might have gone.

Early results, as expected, are positive.


Hug Blog Day #1

Future Entries will be shorter, but ya’ gotta have the set up entry first:

“I’ve been reading a lot lately about good mental health and simple ways to get happy. One thing I’ve read over and over is getting/giving 5 – 8 hugs a day. (The other methods to happiness don’t necessarily require help from others.)

I’d like to test this hug therapy theory. I need people to hug. Guys, girls, don’t matter. I can come to you, or you can swing by where I am. Contact me to make arrangements (920) 983-0966 mike.eserkaln@gmail.com

Currently, I haven’t had a hug in 40 hours (last hug was with Conrad Kamschulte on stage… it was a good hug.)

This is not a joke. This is not intended to be “creepy”. This is a sincere test.

In this current world, I’ve never felt more connected and at the same time disconnected, and it’s really starting to feel unhealthy.

“Virtual Hugs” don’t count.

Bonus: You get a hug too.”


The above was my Facebook status today. It go 17 “likes” 2 offers for hugs today. 2 solid offers for hugs in the immediate future. And one offer for a hug next time I see the person (I haven’t seen her in person for at least 5 years, so who knows about that one.)  Anyway, for starters, my first observation is that it’s way easier to click “like” than to follow through on some action. And the “likes” were nice, but did not give me anywhere near the same good feeling as the people who offered actual hugs. I think that’s already a big take away… not that it’s not obvious, but somehow it’s more obvious to me having actually experienced it. Virtual connections with people are a much much weaker connection than actual ones.

The hugs.

#1. From my daughter. These are always good. I’ve known all her life that she has the same effect on me as Vitamin D, only x1000. She knew I was doing this experiment, so she did make the comment; “Is that why you hugged me longer than normal?”  Yeah, yeah it was. I don’t get to see her every day, so it’s not a given that I’ll get to hug her every day. I do enjoy the hugs from her.

#2. My neighbor. He lives 3 doors down from me. He’s in a band (guitar and singing) we’ve talked before about performing, and music, etc. I was strangely really nervous about this hug. He was the first to offer, and I didn’t see that coming. We’ve talked… I don’t think we’ve ever shaken hands before (probably did, but I don’t recall.) But, I honestly felt nervous. Was this too weird of a request? Will I be perceived as “strange” or “needy” or “gay” or … any number of other things. I almost didn’t do it. I was supposed to swing by at 5:30. He said he’d be home making some kick ass Marinara sauce.  As it turned out, my landlord stopped by right at 5:28 to fix my bathtub and was getting chatty. I probably should’ve offered him a hug, but I don’t think he’s ready for that, and I’m certainly not ready to hug my landlord yet. The point is, I was now running late (still had to get dinner ready for the kid) and when I went to my neighbor’s (Johnny Mazz, by the way.) I was feeling nervous, and frantic. The hug was good. A little longer than a normal “guy” hug. We talked about hugging. We talked about the addition he’s putting on his house. It was nice to learn a little more about him and his family.

#3. Johnny’s wife, Amy was home too, so I got a bonus hug. I knew this already, but confirmed, women are better at hugging than guys are. There’s more sincerity there. Johnny actually woke her up for the hug, she’d been napping on the couch. To her credit, she took a couple minutes to wake up completely before hugging.

They both wished me well. They asked how long this was going on for and I said “Four weeks… or, maybe the rest of my life if it really works and makes me happy.” I really have no larger goal in mind, but Amy said “who knows, it’s these small changes that become bigger movements in the world.” She’s probably right.

#4. Reanna Reimer. She has Hot Yoga about 1 minute away from my house. She let me know she was done and I zipped right over. Reanna suggests that the average hug is usually 3 seconds, but to be effective they should be 20 seconds. Our hug was a little longer (not 20 seconds… that’s a long time.) She apologized for being sweat, which she wasn’t that I could tell, just warm like you’d be after hot yoga. It was raining a light drizzle. We talked about her goal of not having sugar or alcohol for one month. It’s going well, but now she craves salt… weird.

The goal is 5 hugs from 5 people a day. Started the project a little late in the day, so I’m excusing myself from getting to all 5 on the first day.

Immediate results. Well, there’s no denying, it feels great. Not just the hug, the hugs were all good. The after effects. I felt bubbly. Musical. I felt a bit of euphoria. The actual euphoria wore off back to normal levels within 15 – 20 minutes. But the general happy feeling lasted longer. Not sure how much was due to the excitement of a new project vs. the actual hugs.

Writing this, I’ve noticed that I can feel the adrenaline rush of excitement (I just got back from Reanna.)

On days when I don’t run into people normally, besides my daughter (Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays) it’s going to more difficult to get the hugs in, but I’ll do my best. On those days, sometimes I can manage to not encounter or talk to anyone.  I hope this experiment changes that.

Thanks for reading. I’ll keep posting daily results as they happen. And, as always, if you want a hug, just let me know.


250 Improv: React Like a Human

There’s a lot of pressure to “be funny” when doing improv. Especially if you’re performing on a stage, with lights and a paying audience. People paid real money to see some funny, so you’d better be funny. That’s a lot of pressure.


Unfortunately, this pressure makes us not act like normal humans. The term we improvisors use is “getting stuck in your head.” Thinking too much. Worrying about what witty thing to say next, or funny face to pull instead of being present in the moment. What you should be doing is; Listening with your eyes and ears. Reacting to your fellow performer like a human.


When in doubt, just react like you would in everyday life.


Forget there’s an audience. Forget that you want to make funny. Just be REAL. If a girl asks you to dance, do what you’d do in real life (ie. look shocked, stutter/mumble something like “mmoohokey”) Don’t bother trying to figure out the funniest thing to say at the moment. Just do what you would do. It’s both the easiest and most difficult thing to do.
You instinctively know how you’d react in most situations, if you allow yourself to really listen and be there. (pro-tip hint: most of the time the most human reaction is to not say anything.) If you react like you normally would, that means you’re reacting like a human, and you’re performing in front of humans. They LOVE that. They love to see people acting like real people.


250 Improv: Listen with your Eyes

I have a phrase “Listen with your eyes.” It’s basically saying “look” instead of “see.” Like the difference between “Listen” and “Hear.” We’re hearing things constantly. Currently, I can hear my keyboard clicking and the box fan whirring, but I’m not really Listening to them. When doing an improv scene with someone there are times when I’m Hearing them say something but I don’t really know what it is, because I’m not Listening to them. I’m not giving them attention because I’m caught up in my own head thinking about… something else. It takes focus and concentration to Listen to someone on. The benefits are great; new ideas and something solid to react to.


There isn’t a satisfactory word for higher visual attention. There’s See and Look. I guess when you tell someone to “Look” it implies more attention should be paid. We usually add on to it; “Look closely” or “Look here.” We also sometimes say “I See what you mean.” or “Are you Seeing this?” to imply closer attention being paid. So that doesn’t help us.


I say “Listen” and sometimes mean/say “Listen with your eyes and ears.”
When you Listen with your eyes, you can see what emotions your fellow performer is displaying, you can empathize with them. In improv and other performance where mime is used, you can really see what they are miming. The actual object, but also your fellow performer’s relationship to the object.
Listen with your Eyes as well as your Ears.



250 Improv: Suggestions from Fear

I’ve been performing improvisational comedy for more than 25 years. Only recently I’ve noticed something about getting suggestions from an audience.

Here’s the theory; when we’re put on the spot, it’s frightening. Not scary like being attacked by a lion, but there’s the feeling that everyone is looking at you. That you’re suddently the center of attention. Most people don’t like this and the response is fear.

The audience wants to impress us. Individuals want to impress other audience members. This causes further panic in their minds.

When we’re frightened, try to comfort ourselves. We revert to childhood.

We find a time when we were happy, stress-free and didn’t care what others thought of us. Our minds go back there and we answer with what a child say.


  1. If we ask for an occupation, we invariably get “Doctor” or “Teacher”  The two occupations that we first encounter as children. It used to baffle me. How many doctors or teachers could be out there in the audience? Then I realized (and I’m amazed it took me so long to realize this) that people weren’t suggesting their own occupations, they were reverting to childhood.
  2. If we ask for a word that starts with a specific letter, we’ll get a word they learned on those flashcards for kids. “A” Apple. “F” Fish. “D” Dog, etc. etc.

It’s interesting the group mindset of an audience. We have hundreds of different people through our door every week and we still get the same suggestions.