Off Limits

Ben Kronberg knew something was up when nobody would let him go to the gym. His brother was hanging out at his apartment, as was the twin sister of his girlfriend, photographer Anna Newell, and they were adamant that he not work out.

"I didn't know what their problem was," recalls Kronberg, a local filmmaker and standup comic. "So I assured them that I would not be long, and left. I guess that really threw a monkey wrench in everybody's plans."

His brother was still there when he returned, and soon after, they heard a loud knock on the door. His brother went to answer it and was jerked out into the hallway. Kronberg sat inside, alone and baffled, until a massive jumble of family and friends spilled in, followed by a full camera crew, lights blazing. "I still had no idea what was going on," he says. "I thought it was an intervention."

It wasn't until Kronberg and the newly arrived Newell were seated on the couch that they learned the secret: They'd been nominated for What Not to Wear's "Worst Dressed Couple in America." Newell's sister popped in a tape featuring clandestine footage of the couple shot over several weeks, as well as the show's co-hosts and fashion experts -- bossy Stacy London and giggly Clinton Kelly -- talking directly to Ben and Anna. Just because you tell jokes, they informed Kronberg, doesn't mean you have to dress like a clown.

"We were a little offended," he says. "I would describe our styles as 'eclectic.' But I've never thought of that as a bad thing. Although I have had homeless comments made, that's just because I don't really care if things match, and I like to layer."

Kronberg and Newell were whisked away to New York City, put up in a nice hotel and promptly dropped into the whirlwind of activity that is reality TV. They met the two other nominated couples, shopped till they dropped, and did their best to compete for the $5,000 new-wardrobe grand prize. But did they win, er...lose? You'll have to tune in to the Learning Channel at 8 p.m. on Friday, March 18, to find out.

"I just hope this leads to getting booked on a talk show," concludes Kronberg.

More funny business: As the finance director for the Women's Bean Project, Gina Trammell knows her beans: She counts them all day long. But it's her night job -- as a Comedy Works performer -- that might land her in a hell of a hill of beans. Fifty thou worth, to be exact.

Trammell was recently awakened by a frantic 1 a.m. call from a friend telling her to turn on Nick at Nite. She did, and saw her face on the tube. The network was running a promotional spot for Nickelodeon's "Funniest Mom in America Contest" that featured a few seconds of the audition tape she'd sent in over a month before. "I freaked out," says Trammell.

She freaked out again last Sunday night, when Nick producers called to tell her that she was officially a finalist -- along with eleven other moms who made the cut from 600 entrants -- and would be flown to New York to compete at the Laugh Factory on March 23. "I'm like a complete psychopath, running around the neighborhood all excited," Trammel reports. "I'm so psyched. I want to hail a cab, find a New Yorker to bring home."

The winner will get not only the cash, but also a chance to develop her own show. Even if she doesn't win, though, Trammel says she's thrilled to have any role in a contest that brings attention to female standups. "There are very few women who do standup comedy," she explains. "Of the women who do, there are generally three types: lesbians who talk about being a lesbian, ditzy females who talk about being ditzy females, and women who only do PMS and dick jokes."

The divorced 38-year-old mother of two fits into none of those categories, even if her humor is more suited to Nick at Nite than Nickelodeon. "I had to tone it down a bit on the audition tape," she reveals.

Here's one zinger that didn't make the cut: "I recently lost my job. The cool thing is, I get to take my kids to and from school and yell things at my sixteen-year-old as she's getting out of the car! Like, 'Look at you! You're walking so much better!! That cream must be working!!'"

On the Record

University of Colorado president Betsy Hoffman called it quits last week, resigning her post before the Board of Regents had a chance to force the issue. Did it take more leadership to step down or stay put? Off Limits asked former Colorado first lady Dottie Lamm , who's familiar with the hazards of both high-profile leadership and academics, since she now teaches at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Social Work and lectures in the school's Pioneer Leadership Program.

Q: I f you were using Betsy Hoffman as a case study, would she be an example of good or bad leadership?

A: This is really interesting. There are many types of leadership, but I'm just going to deal with two of the classic types: transactional leadership as opposed to transformational. Transactional leadership is more of a manager; transformative is someone who is hired to give vision and make change. Betsy Hoffman was hired as a transformative leader. The thing that I think is interesting is that she's going out as a transformative leader. She is seeing that it is necessary for her to step down for transformation to continue. A lot of people are not this smart or this brave. When she was so besieged by so many, taken over by events -- some of which she handled well, some of which she didn't -- you saw a manager jumping from crisis to crisis. She had the self-knowledge to know she could no longer fulfill the dream. She had the sense and the vision and self-sacrifice to say, if the dream is going to continue, I have to leave.

Q: What do you try to teach your students about leadership?

A: I always try to instill integrity. You have to be true to yourself, true to your values, and go with your strengths. We tend to view transformative visionaries as the absolute top. However, there is enormous need for transactional leadership, too. If you are the greatest manager for someone in a company, you are doing really good work. Some students get intimidated in leadership classes and think, if I'm not going to bring around cosmic change, then I'm just not a good leader. That's just not true.

I think we idealize the person who charges forth, and that makes it hard in our country to quit. It's hard to lose, hard to quit, even over integrity. All of our examples are winners, the person who climbed the mountain, braved the storm, etc. -- even when probably they should have turned back. So I think we have to give credit to people who know how to lose graciously, who stood up for their ideas and know when to get out.

Q: You're a high-profile leader in Colorado. When do you feel you've been most effective?

A: My leadership has been strongest when I wrote a column for seventeen years and when I used the Governor's Mansion platform to work for the Equal Rights Amendment and a variety of feminist causes. When you are put in a symbolic situation, people can denigrate it, say, 'Oh, she's only symbolic,' but I think those things are very important, because most people don't get put into those positions. I did my homework, so as a symbol, I had some substance. Clearly, I was more successful in that than when I ran for the U. S. Senate. I lost. I didn't seem to have the same persuasive power of my message in that role that I had as a columnist or as a first lady. You do learn where your skills are. I would never run for public office again. But if my name would help a cause and I could learn substantive things, then I would do it.

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