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Template:Infobox person James Underdown has been the executive director of The Center for Inquiry (CFI) Los Angeles since 1999. The Center for Inquiry is a non-profit educational organization with headquarters in Amherst, NY, whose primary mission is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI Los Angeles is the largest branch in the organization outside Amherst.[1]

Underdown founded the Independent Investigations Group IIG, a volunteer-based organization, in January 2000 at the Center for Inquiry-West (now Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles) in Hollywood, California. The IIG investigates fringe science, paranormal and extraordinary claims from a rational, scientific viewpoint, and disseminates factual information about such inquiries to the public. There are Independent Investigation Groups in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Denver, and Alberta, Canada. Altogether, the Independent Investigations Groups are the largest paranormal investigations team in the world.[2]

The IIG offers $50,000 to anyone who can prove paranormal or supernatural ability under test conditions, and has in the past administered preliminary demonstrations for the James Randi Educational Foundation JREF's $1,000,000 Paranormal Challenge.[3][4]

Underdown is a 1982 graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, IN, where he received his B.A. in English with an emphasis in composition.[5][6][7] He was also the starting defensive end for the DePauw Tiger football team which recorded a 9–1 record in 1981.[8] Between 1982 and 1999, he worked as a school teacher, truck driver, painter, limo driver, hotel clerk, furniture mover, football coach, carpenter, and bouncer.[9]

After moving to Los Angeles in 1992, Underdown taught comedy traffic school for the Improv Traffic School, and worked as a carpenter until joining the Center for Inquiry in May 1999. During his time in Los Angeles, He wrote and directed 2 short films: A Day in the Life of Frank Sinatra, a docushort about a homeless man with a famous name, and Dear Father, a black comedy about a priest who gets a letter from a man he molested 20 years before.[10] He also wrote and directed a one-act play called Party of 13, a secular retelling of the Last Supper. Party of 13 has run 3 times in Los Angeles.[11][12][13] He is also the host and creator of "The Peep Show", a humorous roundtable discussion that ran for 2 dozen episodes on public access TV in the mid-1990s.[14]

James is lead singer of "The Heathens", a rock and roll band dedicated to freethought and skeptical themes. Band members include lead guitarist and musical director Craig Else, keyboardist Dino Herrmann, bassist Joel Pelletier, and drummer John E. Skaare. The Heathens have played at The Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood, CA, and at Patriot Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

In 1988 James declared himself Poet Laureate of Calumet City, IL, and began touring Midwest comedy clubs as Jim U-Boat, a moniker from high school.[15] In response to Underdown's claim to being Calumet City's poet laureate, its mayor Robert Stefaniak stated that Underwood was "a lousy poet" who was "not recognized by the community".[16] Interviewed by WKQX radio station in front of City Hall, Underdown states although he has never lived or worked in Calumet City, it "reflects the blue-collar nature of my poems".[17][18][19]

Notable shows Underdown performed in during the late 1980s/early 1990s include the Serious Art Comedy Show at the Roxy (Chicago), "The Best of Blue Collar Art" at the Elbo Room (Chicago), and "Mr. Saigon" also at the Elbo Room which featured Matt Walsh and Matt Besser of the Upright Citizen's Brigade.[20] In the play written by Terry Curtis Fox, Underdown played a uniformed police officer in Cops. NoHo LA writes "one wishes his role was a bit longer".[21]

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Underdown created the Steve Allen Theater in 2002 and hired Amit Itelman to be its founding artistic director soon after. According to the NY Times, "...the Steve Allen Theater is not just any is known for its willingness to embrace controversy. (In June -- 6/6/06 to be exact -- it held a Satanic High Mass for leather and tuxedo-clad devil-worshippers.)"[22]

James Underdown in the media Edit

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James Underdown has appeared in various media, including with Mentalist Mark Edward who were featured on Discovery Channel's episode of Weird or What? "Mind Control War".[23] He has made two appearances on Penn & Teller's Showtime series Bullshit!, Yoga and Tantric Sex where he scams the Tarot Card readers by changing his appearance and behavior.[24] And on the "Talking to the Dead" episode of Season One.[25]

On the Oprah Winfrey Network Miracle Detective show Underdown was called in to investigate an angelic apparition that people claim cured a 14 year old severely disabled child at Presbyterian Hemby Childrens Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. The "angel" was shown to be sunlight from a hidden window, and the little girl is still severely handicapped.[26]

Lecturing at skeptical events, Underdown recently spoke on the topic “Are there similarities between the paranormal claims people make today and the miracles found in the Bible?” Underdown takes a look at 5 miracles in the Bible and relates them to real-life paranormal investigations at ReasonFest May 2011.[27][28] And using only invisible thread, a very long pole and a Mr. Coffee pot lid Jim Underdown shows the audience at JREF, The Amaz!ing Meeting: TAM9 From Outer Space how to fake their own UFO photographs.[29]


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  • "State Sponsored Quackery" Article in the November/December 2009 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Owen Hammer & James Underdown report on the IIG's on-going investigation into California nursing standards concerning teaching therapeutic touch as continuing education units (CEUs).[30]

  • "Mother (Nature) Dearest" OpEd in the August/September issue of Free Inquiry magazine. Can three hardcore atheists have a spiritual experience while hiking into the Grand Canyon?

  • "They See Dead People: Or Do They?" Article in the September/October 2003 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. How do TV mediums John Edward and James Van Praagh appear to be talking to the dead? The IIG discovered that what was actually said on the tape day, and what was broadcast to the public were "substantially different in the accuracy. They're getting rid of the wrong guesses... Once you pull back the curtain and see how it's done, it's not impressive at all."[32][33]

  • "The Evolution of Thought" OpEd in Spring 2001 issue of Free Inquiry magazine. Is secularism making progress? Seen through the lens of history, yes, it is![34]

  • "Nonsectarian Prayer is Oxymoronic" OpEd in Daily Breeze newspaper, July 20, 2000. How can the act of praying be nonsectarian when it assumes a religious perspective?

  • He also contributed to The Chicago Reader's December "Year in Review" issues in 1995 and 1998.

  • He is also a regular on Bear Down: The Chicago Bears Podcast as Jim U-Boat and Fireman Pete.[45]

  • James Underdown once wrestled Victor the Wrestling Bear at the International Amphitheater in Chicago. Victor was there with trainer Tuffy Truesdale as a part of the Outdoors and Sportsman's Show. Underdown was one of the few challengers who knocked Victor to the mat, though the bear eventually won the match.

References Edit

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  5. Springfield Journal, June 30, 1988 "Calumet City Wants Poet to take his Title Elsewhere"
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  8. Barbara Snyder Wintner, Daily Herald, January 27, 1992, "Poet may be Witty, but not in Calumet City"
  9. John K. Hoffman, The Daily Journal, June 20, 1989, "Wheaton-bred 'Poet Laureate' Ryhmes of Life from Calumet"
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  15. The Times, July 8, 1988, "Today"
  16. Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, June 29, 1988, "Calumet City seems to take Little Pity on Self-Proclaimed Poet Laureate"
  17. Mary Glynn, Daily Calumet, July 8, 1988, "If He's a Poet, Officials Don't Know it: But Support, Residents Show it"
  18. USA Today, June 30, 1988, "News From Every State"
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  21. Jacob Clark, NoHo LA, March 1–14, 2005, "Cops", page 16
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External links Edit


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