photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
its difficult to downplay the cultural impact of THE NATIONAL LAMPOON on MODERN HUMOR. what are now considered heralded comedic institutions such as SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC, 1975-present), ANIMAL HOUSE (UNIVERSAL, 1978), CADDYSHACK (WARNER BROS, 1980) and even THE SIMPSONS (FOX, 1989-present), were built on the collective INSPIRED work of generations of WRITERS (PJ O'ROURKE, MICHAEL O'DONOGHUE, GEORGE W.S. TROW, ANNE BEATS, SEAN KELLY, MIKE REISS, AL JEAN, TONY HENDRA), ARTISTS (SAM GROSS, CHARLES RODRIGUES, M.K. BROWN, RICK MEYEROWITZ, BRUCE MCCALL, GAHAN WILSON) and COMEDIANS (JOHN BELUSHI, GILDA RADNER, BILL MURRAY, HAROLD RAMIS, CHEVY CHASE) famously associated with the publication. the publication, which was started by two preternaturally GIFTED HARVARD undergrads DOUGLAS KENNEY and HENRY BEARD in 1970, grew to be unrivaled in its INTELLIGENT deconstruction of cultural and political events, while simultaneously producing some of the RAUNCHIEST, borderline OBSCENE material meant to probe and titillate at the same time. its beyond INTERESTING that they had both poles so expertly covered during a period of such cultural and political turmoil in the UNITED STATES with the VIETNAM WAR sill very much in effect as well as the aftermath of the FEMINIST, ENVIRONMENTALIST and CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENTS from the previous decade.
i feel i understand why the DRUNK, STONED, BRILLIANT, DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON (NETFLIX, 2015) documentary came out when it did almost a decade ago. the SAD reality is that those involved with THE NATIONAL LAMPOON are dying of old age. in fact numerous PROMINENT WRITERS interviewed for this film have passed away just in the past three years. in many ways this film is meant as a testament to their legacy in-their-own-words a la recent efforts to the same effect by other INFLUENTIAL upstart and/or legacy publications like MAD, CURVE, PLAYBOY, BIG BROTHER and CREEM. not to mention the surviving members of MONTY PYTHON, who are a comedic universe and institution unto themselves to rival that of THE NATIONAL LAMPOON. one aspect of this retrospective lens a work in this film that i found COMPELLING was how the HUMOR itself wasnt examined that deeply, i.e. all the SEX-CRAZED stuff from an obvious MALE GAZE perspective that would absolutely not play in recent decades. it feels that such an examination is meant for another film by another party as DRUNK, STONED, BRILLIANT, DEAD seems more concerned with faithfully explaining their mindset as they saw it. not how such somewhat RETROGRADE comedic tropes would fit into our current more INCLUSIVE era. given how influential films like ANIMAL HOUSE and CADDYSHACK have been on subsequent decades of comedic films, a cottage industry unto itself, that examination would be fruitful if pursued elsewhere no doubt.
i appreciate this film for what it is: a timely reminder of the legacy of a major publication that helped mold AMERICAN HUMOR. interview participants beyond the surviving WRITERS, ARTISTS and COMEDIANS included numerous ACTORS (KEVIN BACON, TIM MATHESON, BEVERLEY D'ANGELO, JOHN GOODMAN, BILLY BOB THORNTON & MEAT LOAF) and DIRECTORS (JUDD APATOW & IVAN REITMAN). its an INSANE story but i still feel this film was a bit of a hagiography and a bit of a MISSED OPPORTUNITY to examine how their comedic perspective was reshaped, morphed or completely discarded down the line by subsequent HUMORISTS, COMEDIANS and WRITERS since the publication went under in 1998.
there were several points while reading CELEBRATED actor/director/comedian SETH ROGEN's IDIOSYNCRATIC memoir YEARBOOK (CROWN, 2021) that made me laugh so hard i needed to put the book away and calm down for fear of fainting. not that i think his ambition or objective with this memoir was to HUMOROUS per se, more that it presented a COHESIVE WORLDVIEW throughout various anecdotal happenings in his life; from discovering drugs and pornography in CANADA to dealing with NICOLAS CAGE during meetings with an inexplicably forced BAHAMANIAN accent. that and other MEMORABLE stories revolving around RIDICULOUS encounters with the likes of KANYE WEST, GEORGE LUCAS, TOM CRUISE, his grandparents, SACHA BARON COHEN, STEVE WOZNIAK, EDDIE GRIFFIN, JERRY SEINFELD and KIM JONG UN among many others.
whether dealing with anti-semitism or making sense of an absolutely INSANE situation (with or without the added variable of drug intoxication) the through line the connects all of these disparate anecdotal essays is ROGEN's VOICE. it is readily apparent that he is a TALENTED writer and that one can effortlessly imagine him narrating this memoir as the combined CADENCE, RHYTHM and SARCASTIC TONE of his well-publicized public PERSONA is so effectively captured throughout these narratives. one can only imagine that reading one his scripts would be a similarly hilarious experience. you also get the sense that ROGEN at his core is an INCLUSIVE soul whose motivation is to entertain while diving headfirst into the absurd and find nuggets of TRUTH and HUMOR, rather than to trade on the character assassination of people. even the celebrities he mentions in these anecdotal stories are mentioned, at times, due to the excessive lengths to which their ACTIONS and BELIEFS have led them astray from anything resembling a normal REALITY. ROGEN in this sense is VIRGIL leading us on a curated tour through the various levels of WARPED realities encountered amidst HOLLYWOOD power players as well as the CONVOLUTED and INEFFABLE process by which the sausage of moviemaking is conducted. for whatever reason (maybe his nuanced marijuana advocacy or public support of sex workers) ROGEN's public PERSONA would have him pegged as BUFFOONISH or an unreliable narrator, but within YEARBOOK he is a CONSIDERED, ARTICULATE, CREDIBLE and DELIBERATE voice of reason in a sideshow circus profession that is often too FARCICAL to be believed.
whether or not you are fan of his films like SUPERBAD (COLUMBIA, 2007), PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (COLUMBIA, 2008), THE INTERVIEW (COLUMBIA, 2014) or THIS IS THE END (SONY, 2013), his writing on the last season of THE ALI G SHOW (HBO, 2004) or his notable acting roles in KNOCKED UP (UNIVERSAL, 2007), DONNIE DARKO (UNITED ARTISTS, 2001), STEVE JOBS (UNIVERSAL, 2015) or ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (WEINSTEIN COMPANY, 2008), YEARBOOK is well worth checking out as it unveils the CREATIVE mindset and HUMOROUS perspectives of an ENGAGING comedy mind. that and its one of the funniest things ive read in a long time.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
to call BILL HICKS a COMEDIAN is a bit REDUCTIVE. its also misleading because his work at its peak functioned on an entirely different plane of consciousness than mere jokes and cheap laughs. i liken him more to a PROPHET. or even an ORACLE marking the cultural path for humanity to evolve as a species. if that all sounds a bit HOIGHTY TOIGHTY and PRETENTIOUS, its probably because to his legions of fans, HICKS was a ONE-ONE-ONE. a true AMERICAN original.
AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY (VARIANCE, 2009), is a documentary that attempts to uncover and inform the viewer regarding the personal experiences and motivations that informed his legendary CONTRARIAN and CONSCIOUS-EXPANDING stand-up routines. this is done through archival footage of HICKS, as well as more recent interviews with his peers and collaborators and most of his surviving family at the time of production.
HICKS grew up and went to school for the most part in HOUSTON, where his parents settled after a few years of peripatetic existence around the AMERICAN SOUTH when he was very young. his family was part of the SOUTHERN BAPTIST church and he was raised in an EVANGELICAL community. after a brief dalliance with the idea of becoming a veterinarian, HICKS discovered COMEDY while watching JOHNNY CARSON on television and subsequently thereafter reading a book about WOODY ALLEN. HICKS being the force of nature that he was, he very much took concept of being a COMEDIAN to heart and self-taught himself as well as local friend DWIGHT SLADE to write and perform at school. this led to them trying out and becoming regulars at the recently built COMIX ANNEX in nearby HOUSTON as teenagers. SLADE's family didnt like this and moved to OREGON abruptly, leaving HICKS to find his voice in isolation.
a failed stint in HOLLYWOOD where he couldnt get off the ground as a scriptwriter and a bought of alcoholism after returning to HOUSTON later, HICKS took his drug intake to the extreme and somehow walked it back. that sense of SELF-DISCOVERY and SELF-KNOWLEDGE gained through experience, both physical and chemical (as well as a healthy sprinkling of EASTERN PHILOSOPHY), informed his new material that transcended the form. this is the period of his career for which he is much CELEBRATED and has become something of a CULTURAL ICON and FOLK HERO for his acolytes, including ALTERNATIVE METAL band TOOL whose album AENIMA is an extended MEDITATION of sorts on the METAPHYSICAL CONCEPTS in HICKS' routines regarding the NATURE OF REALITY and the COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS being the manifestation of a single expression, a single vibration. that WE ARE ALL GOD and that we are all of each other.
HICKS in his later years was causticly POLITICAL in his STAND-UP, being unnerved by the televised wanton death of the first GULF WAR and the ATF's alleged overreach in firing first on the nearby WACO BRANCH DAVIDIAN compound headed cult leader DAVID KORESH. for HICKS, who had recently been diagnosed with late-stage PANCREATIC CANCER and had a failed appearance on LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN (of which his brilliant turn was excised from broadcast due to supposed "standards and practices" by LETTERMAN himself), the two examples of government overreach for him translated to an infringement on FREEDOM. we armed IRAQ during their war with IRAN and then turned on them when they got in the way of our oil interests. footage shows that the fire that took out the BRANCH DAVIDIAN compound originated with the ATF contrary to reports at the time. for HICKS, this all meant that if you were POLITICAL and monetarily WEAK, you had no voice or rights worth defending in the UNITED STATES.
in the years since its difficult to not see our current predicament with CLIMATE CHANGE, ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM and POLITICAL CORRUPTION in a HICKSIAN light. in the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown, homeowners got screwed and thrown on the street while powerful banks restored despite their insatiable GREED being the root of the disaster. and dont get me started on the second GULF WAR in the aftermath of 9/11. the continued prescience of his ideas regarding the AMERICAN culture and politics is remarkable to say the least. but his insight into the sad VANITY and stale MYOPIA at the heart of the AMERICAN DREAM is the dagger that continues to pierce the veil of our collective national SELF-DELUSION. the ILLUSION that we are a force for good in the world, that we are somehow EXCEPTIONAL or WORTHY of the power and influence we've nurtured through the past two centuries. for me, his pointing out and evisceration of that extended FALLACY for what it is, a DELUSION, is what cements his cultural legacy as a COMEDIAN of the first order and modern MORAL PHILOSOPHER in my humble estimation. he is someone i continually check in on and reacquaint myself with his ideas, as they are always relevant to my identity as a QUESTIONING and INQUISITIVE AMERICAN.
seriously, i should have known better reading anything by NORM MACDONALD.
this "memoir" ironically entitled BASED ON A TRUE STORY: NOT A MEMOIR (RANDOM HOUSE, 2016). comes from none other than MACDONALD, a man whose job description is to DEFY EXPECTATION. can't say it is not an accurate title, since being "based on true story" is an admittance of sorts that what you are about to enter is not entirely factual, true or based in any demonstrative reality that humans encounter on a daily basis.
the world of this "memoir" is one that allows MACDONALD to go on a series of inane trips and encounters that have NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING. things like going on a drug fueled bender in LAS VEGAS gambling away life savings to hopefully garner funds for a ranch in MONTANA while reminiscing about how you once took a MAKE-A-WISH patient to CANADA to help him fulfill his dream of stabbing a baby seal between the eyes. and so on. only interspersed between this seemingly random INSANITY are brief asides about SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, meeting CHRIS FARLEY, hosting WEEKEND UPDATE and his film DIRTY WORK (MGM, 1998). and how did he go about securing the much heralded WEEKEND UPDATE gig you may ask? through peddling opiates to show producer LORNE MICHAELS, of course.
reading this book is akin to listening to MACDONALD's legendary "moth" joke (embedded below from a celebrated CONAN appearance). in fact, the joke is included in BASED ON A TRUE STORY as being said by a doctor at a hospital before getting into a fight with MACDONALD.
this non-memoir is in essence an ENDURANCE TEST. all premise and no punch line or paint. but maybe that is the joke. the joke is on me for spending time and energy to read it expecting anything. and that is why i love MACDONALD. just the fact that he would write a memoir that defied all expectations of the genre. talk about playing the long game. well played sir, well played.
you are still missed.
RIP NORM MACDONALD
touring is an activity that often gets romanticized in the public consciousness since it reeks of personal freedom and the seemingly endless enticing possibilities that come with a constant change in scenery. the REALITY is much different, as witnessed in NEW YORK CITY comedian TODD BARRY's tour memoir THANK YOU FOR COMING TO HATTIESBURG: ONE COMEDIAN'S TOUR OF NOT-QUITE-THE-BIGGEST CITIES IN THE WORLD (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2017) which effectively journals his time on the road at small secondary and tertiary stateside markets.
this memoir is less about his craft as a writer and comedian and more about trying to not get ripped off by small-time promotors, enduring multiple connecting flights and combatting BOREDOM on tour by seeking quality COFFEE and FOOD, as well as small museums and eccentric roadside attractions. the nearest comparison i could relate to this memoir is HENRY ROLLINS' similarly constructed GET IN THE VAN: ON THE ROAD WITH BLACK FLAG (review linked HERE) which follows the personal hardships of a life on the road with no guard rails or safety nets. BLACK FLAG at the time was trailblazing a new path and establishing a network of nontraditional venues and communities and ROLLINS account gets into the MINUTIAE of what said travails meant on a day-to-day basis. it also gets at the PERSONAL TOLL of such an extreme NOMADIC existence, which is similarly relayed in BARRY's less extreme memoir.
you really get the sense in THANK YOU FOR COMING TO HATTIESBURG, that the sheer REPETITION of the experience is what leads to all these cycles of experiencing new physical situations, such as commenting on the quality of hotel accommodations, backstage green rooms, bathroom cleanliness, venue layout and REFRESHMENTS available on site. i imagine once you have your jokes down and your routine polished, the routine physical details of your predictable day-to-day existence are what take over, which is the opposite of the romanticization of being on the road for a living.
which is the point.
but i think BARRY is doing a service in promoting and, in essence, glorifying these small venues in out-of-the-way cities and towns in his memoir. it shows that meaningful ART and CULTURE can happen anywhere, even ASBURY PARK or rural MISSISSIPPI. kind of ironic it took a NEW YORKER to make that point. THANK YOU FOR COMING TO HATTIESBURG is definitely a quirky yet thoroughly enjoyable look at life on the road and as a solitary entertainer. i dont know how standup comedians do it, i would be absolutely petrified having to walk into new surroundings and attempt to make a room full of strangers laugh. respect.
in VACATIONLAND (PENGUIN, 2017), writer/actor/humorist JOHN HODGMAN presents a bittersweet memoir concerned with the inevitable struggles of growing older while simultaneously surviving summers on vacation at his second home in MAINE. he full admits how at length how WHITE PRIVILEGE that all sounds. and he's right. it is.
HODGMAN, of course, is primarily known for his work as a contributor to THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART as well as his famous stint in APPLE commercials, playing the role of a PC. his humor is dry, eccentric and bitingly clever. but this book in tone veers clear of what i would consider his persona. instead he focuses on what MAINE means to him, which is an extended metaphor for coming to terms with yourself and your own DEFICIENCIES.
you see, HODGMAN is a NEW ENGLANDER and only child from a comfortable suburban town outside BOSTON. after the death of his mother he inherits her house in WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, which is really his introduction to home ownership and by extension ADULT RESPONSIBILITY. he adroitly mentions that apartment living in BROOKLYN is an extended adolescence free of the headaches of homeownership, as any and all problems are taken care of by the property superintendent. being a home owner by contrast requires some semblance of AUTONOMY, PREPAREDNESS and SELF-RELIANCE.
eventually he and his wife purchase a second home in MAINE. he presents a vision of MAINE as a serene, beautiful and thoroughly harsh place that creates a certain breed of individual. privacy is so widely respected that help is only given upon request. HODGMAN provides examples of help rendered by the local community with little regard for niceties such as etiquette or even extended conversation.
its difficult to read about this mode of existence without thinking that this "LIVE AND LET LIVE" mentality reverberates in HODGMAN's own SELF-IMAGE. growing older means effectively coming to terms with who you are and not what you think you are. its a painful realization that comes with the finality of being near death, as he experienced vicariously through his mother's passing. endings somehow bookend a sense of MEANING or mission in your life.
i remember years ago in NIGERIA attending a wedding for one of our gardeners. there was an elevated stage with the bride and groom, each on their own side. and both were facing the family of the other. before they wed there was a roast of sorts whereby each family member basically stated for all to hear everything that was wrong with them PHYSICALLY, INTELLECTUALLY, EMOTIONALLY, PSYCHOLOGICALLY, etc. i remember hearing someone say that the bride's hips were too narrow, that she'd only be able to birth no more than four children. it was BRUTAL yet in a ABSURD sense very POIGNANT, because what they were doing was publicly accepting them into the family as they actually were. warts and all.
i hear echos of that line of SELF-REALIZATION in this memoir. of realizing that you are not as clever, cool or knowledgable as you thought you were and being fine with that. i'm not gonna lie, i used to live in WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, so its always interesting for me to read someone's thoughts on the area, especially NORTHAMPTON, GREENFIELD, AMHERST and the like.
this is a unique and eccentric book but ultimately rewarding because of its focus on SELF-ACCEPTANCE and BUILDING COMMUNITY. a compelling read.
i first became aware of AMY POEHLER via her short-lived cable show UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE (COMEDY CENTRAL, 1998-2000). in essence i was such a big fan of MR. SHOW (HBO, 1995-1998) after the fact that i went back in search anything similar from that period which led me to shows like THE STATE (MTV, 1993-1995) and KIDS IN THE HALL (CBC, 1989-1995). i was made aware of her again when i discovered the UCB THEATER in NYC when a friend from graduate school and his improv group did a show there in the late 2000s.
her memoir YES PLEASE (HARPERCOLLINS, 2018) is a playfully sarcastic take on being a woman in COMEDY. she tackles everything from WRITING, DIVORCE, MOTHERHOOD, CHILDHOOD, THE ART OF IMPROVISATION, CREATIVITY, DOUBLE STANDARDS, WRITING ROOMS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, SECOND CITY, TOXIC MASCULINITY, FORGIVENESS, OWNING YOUR MISTAKES, WHITE PRIVILEGE and the like with poise, dignity and more than a little self-flagellation. she comes across as someone cognizant of greater forces that affect her psychological and emotional well-being and seems somewhat on top of combating such with humor and grace.
for me the most interesting aspects of this book revolve less around her career and more around her personal and professional relationships. reading about how she interacts with COLLABORATORS, FAMILY and even her EX-HUSBAND really gives you a sense of the impossible complexity of maintaining the balance of a career and family life. you also get the sense that while she seeks outside affirmation and the "pudding" of winning awards, she similarly gets equal gratification from devising up some group hijinks among the nominees to combat the misogynistic trope and bad optics of woman battling each other. awards are dumb and ultimately meaningless compared to the work itself and the collaboration between partners and ultimately the shared communication with an audience. that interaction seems to be the heart of this book, POEHLER's efforts to communicate the COMMON HUMANITY of her characters, whether on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (NBC, cast member, 2001-2008) or PARKS AND RECREATION (NBC, 2009-2015) among her previously mentioned projects.
my only gripe with this book is how she seems to routinely quote and lionize LOUIS C.K. as some sort of zen master who has a pithy quote for every difficult life situation. obviously that didn't age so well and is a little awkward to read, yet entirely understandable given their past collaborations pre-scandal.
what did age well is everything related to frequent collaborator and "wifey" TINA FEY, who as a writer and producer seems to utilize her platform(s) to promote women (and men) that she feels deserving of the opportunity. i think ultimately that is the model that POEHLER wants for her legacy as evidenced by her grassroots involvement with IMPROVISATIONAL COMEDY and the UCB THEATERS in both NYC and LOS ANGELES (along with their associated training centers). IMPROVISATION by definition is the giving of oneself to the premise of an absurd collective identity that only works with total commitment. seems as fitting a metaphor as any other for her efforts.
its funny how that concept of "paying it forward" never gets brought up with all the biographies i've read concerning male artists and musicians. must be a guy thing, i guess?
arguably the greatest parody film of all-time and the most painful for touring musicians to watch. i can't even count the amount of musicians in interviews i've read who namecheck this film as the most painful thing they've ever seen. SLASH himself said that THIS IS SPINAL TAP (MGM, 1984) ruined an entire GUNS N' ROSES tour for him since it hit the mark with such precision.
where this film excels is in its mocking of the utter ridiculousness of nearly all forward-facing aspects of ROCK N ROLL, everything from album covers, lyrics, gear, stage set design to JESUS-complex surrounding musicians that drank the kool-aid on their image.
in my estimation all the classic lines of this film have that core ribbing as its moral center. i remember once GENE SIMMONS saying that all bands (at the time he was referencing the then-current GRUNGE bands out of SEATTLE) were in the KISS business. they all sold records and merchandise. such is true. no matter how "serious" or "artistic" your band is and no matter how respected they are by those whose opinion carries sway, at the end of the day you are a product that is being sold. THIS IS SPINAL TAP showcases a band that didn't get that memo and seemingly trample over every fault-line a band has to negotiate throughout their recording and touring cycles. having been around musicians in studios to some extent, the ridiculous nature of it all has never been lost on me. that is what makes it compelling and not part of the straight world.
the music is also classic. its obvious they are mocking specifically post-OZZY BLACK SABBATH and DEEP PURPLE and late 70s/early 80s METAL in general with their silly set designs and focus on the macabre. but my favorite song in the movie is their send-up of BRITISH INVASION-era songwriting in "GIMME SOME MONEY." never fails to make me smile.
classic movie with classic lines that still stings its subjects. quite an accomplishment.
leave it to AARP of all places to produce this gem of a YOUTUBE series where the late comedic legend DON RICKLES (R.I.P.) gets taken out to eat and talk shop with various comedians including ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, AMY POEHLER, JUDD APATOW, SARAH SILVERMAN, SNOOP DOGG, ROBERT DENIRO, MARTIN SCORSESE and MARISA TOMEI.
i know his insults were not exactly the most politically correct or compliant with our current age's cancel culture, but shit that guy was funny. and sharp. even in his late 80s which in a sense makes the AARP thing make perfect sense. here is an elderly dude giving these young bucks a run for their money. you see him not missing a beat with witty comebacks and razor sharp barbs. its totally endearing. you also just get a real sense of how much he was loved and cherished by comedians, actors and directors. almost like a surrogate family.
definitely worth checking out if you haven't already.
i remember when living in VLORA, ALBANIA during my time as a PEACE CORPS volunteer i told new, incoming sitemates that there were three rules to being a good volunteer. now you have to remember that PEACE CORPS had all these maxims and without a doubt, they were all effectively bullshit. here were my three rules. rule #1: don't be a dick. rule #2: dont be a dick. rule #3: whatever you do, don't be a dick.
i remember going around town and hearing different ALBANIANS i knew complaining about my sitemate, the fact that he said all these nasty things to their face. i had to explain to them that he was just repeating things that i already said to them earlier a few weeks back. their response was "yeah, but you didn't mean it." i would tell them they knew i meant it and we'd all laugh.
i feel like what RICKLES did was similar in that he tore down the walls that we put up against each other in order to inhibit honest communication. in a sense he was creating a shared sense of affection through his comedic barbs. i almost see it as a kind of empathy in the way that the ALBANIANS i knew really felt i saw things from their perspective because i was so adept at mocking it and throwing it in their face repeatedly. it definitely went both ways and it was all love. for my sitemate they werent convinced he knew where he was and it came off as spiteful and full of hate. oops.
BOOK REVIEW | "THE CHRIS FARLEY SHOW: A BIOGRAPHY IN THREE ACTS" BY TANNER COLBY AND TOM FARLEY, JR.
i've already made explicit my love for comedian CHRIS FARLEY and his all-too brief career (check out that article HERE), but after reading this loose oral biography THE CHRIS FARLEY SHOW: A BIOGRAPHY IN THREE ACTS (VIKING, 2009), co-written by his older brother TOM FARLEY JR and compiling quotes from his friends, family, colleagues, childhood acquaintances and peers alike what becomes apparent was his complex humanity that far transcended his public persona.
what struck me about this book was not the stories of his kindness towards strangers or even the revelation that he was a vulnerable, deeply empathetic person that drew strength from his catholicism. no what struck me about this book was his relationship with his father. in my estimation this book is not about CHRIS FARLEY, it is about TOM FARLEY SR and CHRIS FARLEY. TOM SR was an academic standout who graduated from GEORGETOWN and was a rising talent with within the WISCONSIN GOP, even knowing then-SENATOR JOSEPH MCCARTHY. he was destined to become a lawyer but shortly after beginning law school had two heart attacks a promptly moved back to WISCONSIN and supported his family by running a company that paved roads for the local government. his job was basically to take people out to restaurants and schmooze them over lunch/dinner. he'd do this several times a day throughout WISCONSIN depending on the clientele.
in essence, CHRIS (much like his brothers) adored his father and sought to please him throughout his career. CHRIS' only ambition was to be on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, the show whose member JOHN BELUSHI was a favorite of his father. throughout this narrative of his life, CHRIS made fateful decisions based on the flawed logic of his father. whether that be delusions about whether or not they both had a problem with food or alcohol (both were alcoholics that were morbidly overweight). even when he got to 600 pounds, his father held psychological sway over CHRIS, who wouldn't lose weight as a means of solidarity with his father. even creative choices that were detrimental to his career, and against the advice of peers, agents and his own better judgement, were made by the outsized influence of his father. for one, he did BEVERLEY HILLS NINJA (SONY PICTURES, 1997) not because of the quality of the script but because TOM SR had convinced him to take the money.
to me this makes sense given that they had an IRISH-CATHOLIC clan mentality and again, for CHRIS his goal in life was to make his father laugh. its just tragic that he didn't get help because his generosity and sense of humor was inclusive and such a positive force in an unseen number of people's lives. there was a vulnerability to his work. a humility. this was a sad painful book to read if only because he was such a singular talent that was beloved by his peers at every step of his career and to this day he is still such a beacon of unbridled joy.
the fact that he self-destructed so spectacularly and was such a lonely figure is heart-wrenching. selfishly, like so many others i would have loved to see the DAVID MAMET-directed "FATTY" ARBUCKLE biopic that was in development at the time of his death. what an apt project.
anyway, this book was beyond compelling and well-worth seeking out if you are interested in SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE or the history of AMERICAN COMEDY. its a tragedy that is so GREEK Its uncanny. what a sad, sad story.
i think character development is overrated. SEINFELD made a killing by having multi-dimensional characters that from the get-go we recognize as archetypes for friends, neighbors, colleagues and family members we've come in contact with in the past. and then they put them in crazy situations that they largely wondered into unknowingly but somehow with hubris and passion. each show is concluded and nothing is carried over from episode to episode. nothing gained. nothing referenced later on (that i can remember at least). each episode is its own universe.
for me IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA has that same basic format going on accept in their reality, each one seeks a downward trajectory of moral depravity and dehumanization in futile hopes of clawing their way out of the psychic morass they collectively created. the writing is ingenious and you get the sense that the bar is lowered significantly from season to season. each episode attempting to out-pathetic and the one before with no carry over. no lessons learned. no character development.
since there are three sets of real-life marriages represented in the actors that portray the characters, there is an interesting subtext utilized for comic effect that i've never seen beforehand. One main character (CHARLIE) is routinely rejected by his love interest (THE WAITRESS) in increasing savage and emasculating fashion (the two are married in real-life) while another main character (SWEET DEE) who is visibly pregnant is essentially called a tramp all season by the cast (including her real-life husband) who question who the father might be.
its brutal. but that is what makes the show work. it showcases modern AMERICAN life as pugilistic with little to no safety net or realistic professional opportunities. the only thing constant in this show is conflict and, oddly, family. this group is a family unit of sorts, dysfunctional beyond repair, but a cohesive surrogate family nonetheless. they all can be counted on to mock, injury and defame one other. its almost enduring. given that the growing economic disparity and structural racism in our country has pushed our democracy to the brink and left any notion of our AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM as a sad biting joke, in my eyes this show is right for the moment. it both displays what moronic self-interest leads to on a micro scale as well as mocks the development of that depraved worldview from inception to execution. itd be funny if it wasnt so real since we are all living through a REALITY TV show right now. a shitty one at that.
oh check out the songs from the show though. they're great. embedded below
ok admittedly this last one is just genius editing by someone in youtube land.
for me the FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS (HBO, 2007-2009) is indicative of a definite place and time. the wildly popular TV SERIES, which only lasted two seasons, followed the antics of newly transplanted KIWI musicians to QUEENS and their inability to acclimate to their new surroundings. essentially its THE BIG LEBOWSKI premise minus the whole film noir plot line. in essence all the plots are excuses to showcase the inventive genre parody songs the duo had built up in their preceding standup career. once those songs, and their corresponding albums, were all published, the series ended.
as someone in the late 00s who had moved to NYC to attend graduate school at COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, the themes of displacement and isolation and the problems of integration with new surroundings was very prescient to me at the time. there is also a slight undertone of gentrification and hipsterdom that follows this film, as the music is wildly eclectic and relays an interest in global sounds and rhythms. in real-life INDIE ROCK bands such as VAMPIRE WEEKEND were being criticized for cultural appropriation at the time, much like PAUL SIMON had a generation before. i think in the contexst of the show FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS got away with it 1) because they were foreigners and 2) the songs were explicitly homages that paid respect to their origins with an eye for details. with INDIE ROCK bands of the time these corresponding sounds just smelled of rank opportunism and the use of foreign tropes as a way selling "exotic" music to a conservative white audience.
its still interesting to rewatch the show and see how they handled that dubious territory that is the intersection between PARODY and HIPSTER CULTURE. in many ways we are still living through that prism today as notions of WHITE PRIVILEGE and INSTITUTIONAL RACISM have only become more apparent in the decade since. i really wonder at times how this show would look like if the duo had come from SENEGAL, PANAMA or THAILAND. is there something about an anglophone country like NEW ZEALAND that gives them the ability to navigate this divide while still being foreign themselves? just a thought.
for me the songs still stand and the TV SERIES is funny and reminds me of the years i was constantly a foreigner in a foreign land. beyond ironic that i feel that way now in my own country after returning to TRUMPLAND after being abroad so many years.
regardless, great show worth revisiting.
arguably the greatest buddy comedy of all-time, CHEECH & CHONG's UP IN SMOKE (PARAMOUNT, 1978) is a classic film that draws on the systematic oppression of hispanics by the AMERICAN political class and police apparatus and the rejuvenating power of ROCK AND ROLL and counterculture lifestyle as the spring from where its humor is rooted.
that and marijuana.
its almost as if the cultural exchange that occurs as a result of immigration is part of what makes the fabric of american society so compelling and rich. its our strength and what truly makes us "exceptional" to borrow a phrase from my lug-headed compatriots on the right. culture is what unites us. the flow of ideas and information and the constant reaffirmation of core principles and beliefs over generations and geography.
my favorite part of this film is when CHEECH needed to attend a wedding in TIJUANA, so he called INS and got a free ride. him and all his cousins are dressed up in suits ready to party. what a great scene.
being originally from southern CALIFORNIA, it was part of my social studies classes in elementary school the level to which our culture and history was intimately intertwined with our neighbors to the south. that is why i never understood the hardliners i was surrounded by growing up who demonized hispanics yet paid them to do unskilled labor off the books. its beyond hypocritical. i was there when former governor PETE WILSON promoted PROPOSITION 187, which sought to deny education to the sons and daughters of unregistered foreign aliens. out of all my friends' parents, only one was against it. just them and my parents. all my teachers spoke in favor of it.
probably the greatest gift my parents ever gave me was getting me the hell out of ORANGE COUNTY and exposing me to the world they seemed so bent on shutting out. when i watch UP IN SMOKE, i am just reminded of the fear of these WHITE SUBURBAN SOCCER MOMS, those being that these blazed-up hispanics and their seductive music and alternative beliefs will seduce and ultimately corrupt their daughters.
so yeah, huge fan. and i don't even smoke. honest.
sometimes you feel so connected to a piece of art that you start to wonder what you were like before encountering it. such is the case with me and the work of MEL BROOKS in general. as i think i mentioned before in my REVIEW of SPACEBALLS (BROOKSFILMS, 1987), my first viewing of his movies was early, like around kindergarten.
so that should explain quite a bit about me.
i remember during one of my first semesters at RUTGERS UNIVERSITY as an undergraduate attending a required class that was focused on the gifted and all-too-human cultural prodigy that was PAUL ROBESON. somehow with a fellow classmate, who was AFRICAN-AMERICAN, i got into a heated discussion about whether or not BROOKS was racist. if you haven't seen BLAZING SADDLES (CROSSBOW PRODUCTIONS, 1974), it is a send-up of WESTERN films in the tradition of JOHN FORD, HOWARD HAWKS, JOHN WAYNE, ANTHONY MANN, etc. and really just eviscerates them. the language alone is something that likely wouldn't be allowed in today's political and cultural climate, as it regularly used racial epithets and ethnic, gender and sexuality-oriented slurs. but you have to ask at whose expense in the film. the answer to that is the white men. the only people being debased and pilloried in BLAZING SADDLES are the dumbass white frontier folk (men, women, young and old) that use it.
during those arguments i eventually won given that i mentioned that one of the co-writers of the screenplay was none other than RICHARD PRYOR, arguably the greatest comedian of all-time (he has my vote). if you didn't know, he's also black. years later i watched the director's comments by BROOKS and learned that all the great one-liners in the film are more or less PRYOR's, but the racist stuff was all BROOKS. hilarious.
i understand that now life is more complicated given that foolish people think that given media where people use unfortunate language that somehow gives them permission to do the same. i am talking about white people here. this phenomena is something famously that CHRIS ROCK, DAVE CHAPPELLE and countless other comics of color have had to deal with over the years, white appropriation. forget about it now in the age of TRUMP. so i get why this film still chafes at people.
but for its ability to utterly annihilated the tropes of a bullshit genre that was created to showcase the primitive superiority of the white man (a la MANIFEST DESTINTY), i am a huge fan of this film in its original savage context. not how a moronic TRUMPIST may misinterpret it and weaponize it for their own regressive agenda.
i can think of few things in life that have brought me as much joy and probably informed my sense of identity from a young age as MONTY PYTHON (the other being the films of MEL BROOKS). it is my opinion that the boundless, kinetic enthusiasm of ERIC IDLE was a big part of their formula, perhaps only matched by the droll, domineering physical encroachment of JOHN CLEESE that seemed to counteract such, propelling their comedy with forward momentum.
regardless, IDLE is well aware of his mortality at this point and his recent memoir ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE: A SORTABIOGRAPHY (BROADWAY BOOKS, 2018) is a concise, thoroughly hilarious look back at his childhood, career and friendships over the years. i think it is a testament to his humility, and quite possibly his ENGLISH modesty, that as much as this memoir is about his achievements, it is equally about his collaborations and the uplifting, connecting power of humor.
it seems compelling that for a life so thoroughly lived and enjoyed, his childhood was one of deep isolation, with his father having died shortly after the war in a freak accident and duly being shipped off to boarding school at a tender age to fend for himself. now i attended boarding school and dealt with bullying in my early teens, but nothing like his situation where corporal punishment was the norm and having a personality was deemed antithetical to being a good ENGLISH schoolboy. something they literally tried to beat out of you.
like some of the PYTHONS, he went to CAMBRIDGE (others attended OXFORD) and got involved with THE FOOTLIGHTS comedy society and gained the experience, confidence and connections that propelled him forward into his career, much like CHICAGO's SECOND CITY, LOS ANGELES' THE GROUNDLINGS and NYC's UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE have done so stateside in recent generations.
his back history and intelligence is impressive, but what i enjoyed most about this book were his insights into deceased friends like GEORGE HARRISON, ROBIN WILLIAMS and MIKE NICHOLS. each are lovingly given chapters dedicated to their misadventures and wicked sense of humor. you really get the sense that during his heyday in the 1970s, comedy was as much part of the counter-culture as ROCK AND ROLL and the commonalities of the two was something i wasn't aware of to the extent he presents it in the book. in the case of their two legendary films, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and LIFE OF BRIAN, it was literally the BRITISH music community that funded them when no other corporate entities would dare touch them.
the memoir ends with his recent international touring with MONTY PYTHON counterpart JOHN CLEESE, where they find themselves utilizing comedy to sooth AMERICANS traumatized by the election of DONALD TRUMP. he even includes one of the best extended putdowns of TRUMP that i have read to date.
so the memoir was worth it on that alone. if you are a fan of his work or comedy in general, i highly suggest you consider reading his memoir.
REST IN PEACE GRAHAM CHAPMAN & TERRY JONES
i always find it slightly odd to see AMY POEHLER attempting to hawk cable internet services in commercials, but maybe that is because i am her target demographic. perhaps most are familiar with her 7-year run on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE which was highlighted by her turn co-hosting WEEKEND UPDATE with partner-in-crime TINA FEY, but for me her work in the subversive UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE sketch show was the high-water mark.
along with MATT BESSER, IAN ROBERTS and MATT WALSH, their brand of comedy was not unlike the MONTY PYTHON-esque brand of oddly juxtaposed sketch routines common to peers like MR. SHOW. whereas MR. SHOW definitely had a bitter streak that informed their comedy, where the subjects of their routines were almost being eviscerated for full impact, UCB had a more distant perspective that seemed to highlight life's innate absurdity without passing judgement. this was achieved through the ongoing connecting narrative that the members were part of some god-like, all-powerful chorus of extra-terrestrial beings that manipulated human history. the sketches were essentially their observations on human emotions, desires and relationships.
for me, neither show was better, more differing perspectives that made up a generation of comedians that were attempting to navigate their way in the 90s through a new media landscape and burgeoning internet revolution that would only prove to fragment society as time wore on. i still feel that as a culture we are dealing with how to find common ground with one another, as ultimately comedy is a unifying art form. to find something funny it is a requisite that you share an outlook with the comedian. in the end comedy is about empathy.
one of the other more concrete achievements of this troupe is the ongoing UCB Theatre in MANHATTAN which caters to underground improvisational comedy. in grad school i went once to watch a colleague's comedy troupe and was taken aback by the atmosphere of the place. it really felt like a clubhouse. a place where people connect. seems emblematic of their brand of comedy as well.
i've written before about my deep admiration for NORM MCDONALD, CHRIS FARLEY and BOB ODENKIRK & DAVID CROSS of MR. SHOW, but right up there as well is ROBERT SMIGEL.
never heard of him? he was a writer for SNL for a number of years but is probably most famous for his quick barbs as TRIUMPH THE INSULT COMIC DOG. in my opinion this sock puppet is the modern equivalent of HUNTER S. THOMPSON, as it can gain access to any cultural or political event and cast aspersions and biting commentary in real-time in a manner GONZO JOURNALISM could only dream. after all, he is only a sock puppet. who gets mad at a sock puppet. answer: EMINEM.
oh my god. i was crying laughing so hard rewatching these, especially the one below where he visits CHICAGO's WEINER's CIRCLE. i had to stop because i was going to faint.
just watch them and thank me later.
the longer this TRUMP national nightmare rages on the more i realize what a treasure JON STEWART was when he was host of THE DAILY SHOW. some may contend that his influential show contributed to a modern national discourse that puts a premium on humiliation via parody and satire as a means of pushing a political perspective, but this misses the point. much like 18th century BRITISH pictorial satirist WILLIAM HOGARTH, utilized satire to lambast the the hollow soaring rhetoric aristocracy with the grime and filth the defined the lives of their subjects, so has STEWART utilized similar tools to point out hypocrisy and violations of the public trust in both AMERICAN ruling parties. i also liken him to a modern day H.L. MENCKEN, whereby utilizing intelligent wordplay and the power of the written/spoken word as a righteous cudgel against his opponents.
what always amazes me is how the right attempts to mimic STEWART to promote their repressive agenda and myopic, self-satisfying policies. it always fails, whether its DENNIS MILLER, GREG GUTFIELD, BILL BURR, TIM ALLEN, ADAM CAROLLA, NICK DIPAOLO or even JIM NORTON. comedy seems to be at its core about empathy. the idea that you and i see the ridiculousness of some aspect of daily life enough to laugh about it. if you have a closed mind, or rely on others that share your shuttered perspective than thats no longer comedy any more, or at the very least its an inferior version of it in mind because there is no friction, only confirmation of a rigid belief system.
when STEWART was at his best was when he was lampooning his targets with their own words, often replacing his role as the presenter of the joke to that of a commentator on the joke. i loved it when this meta-discussion happened because it confirmed the cognitive dissonance and verbal gymnastics that conservative politicians had to go through pre-TRUMP.
now, nothing matters. facts. truth. shame. accountability. its a sad time.
we need STEWART back, not that his brand of comedy would somehow change the political landscape. but his return would bring hope at a time when such is in short supply.
as an aside his work on behalf of 9/11 first responders is the work of a true PATRIOT. not the phony flag-waving, jingoistic bullshit we have come to associate with that word. an actual PATRIOT. god bless him.
oh my god, i love NORM MACDONALD. dude is my spirit animal.
he is quite honestly the funniest comedian ever. my opinion. what i love about him is his ability to self-sabotage and decimate every premise available with absolute conviction. watching him is watching a tight-rope act of the most highest order. he is the comedy equivalent of a sledgehammer, disregarding form, audience and even time limits.
in other words he is beyond unique and a comedian's comedian. dude hosts the ESPYS in the 90s and eviscerates his audience, a RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL audience full of athletes. he hosts SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE within a year of being fired for making fun of his boss only to eviscerate his former boss and the show in his opening monologue. NORM even does a roast of his peer BOB SAGET with unfunny jokes designed to bomb. then there is his legendary moth joke. i could do this all night. but i wont.
dude is a legend.
whenever i am down i just search for his guest appearances on LETTERMAN or CONAN and just laugh. to me he is the ultimate because he is absolutely unhinged. other comedians feign like they are out of control, but NORM truly doesn't give a shit. his career is so up and down because of his unpredictability, but im telling you, when its all said and done he is the LENNY BRUCE, the RICHARD PRYOR, the GEORGE CARLIN of this era.
him and CHRIS FARLEY are my two favorite comedians ever. please check out his material embedded below.
for whatever reason, the four seasons of 90s cult classic comedy show MR. SHOW (HBO, 1995-1998) starring BOB ODENKIRK (BREAKING BAD, BETTER CALL SAUL) and DAVID CROSS (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) is criminally overlooked. an outgrowth of the alternative comedy scene in LOS ANGELES at the time, its cultural impact can be seen in the varying careers of its many collaborators including that of BRIAN POSEHN (METALOCALYPSE, THE BIG BANG THEORY), TOM KENNY (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, THE POWERPUFF GIRLS, JOHNNY BRAVO), JILL TALLEY (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, THE BOONDOCKS), PAUL F. TOMPKINS (BOJACK HORESMAN, BOB'S BURGERS, THE DAILY SHOW), JACK BLACK (TENACIOUS D), SARAH SILVERMAN (THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, BOB's BURGERS), JAY JOHNSTON (THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM, MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENHOLE), BEN STILLER (THE BEN STILLER SHOW, ZOOLANDER, DODGEBALL), JERRY MINOR (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, COMMUNITY), MARY LYNN RAJSKUB (24, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE), JOHN ENNIS (TWIN PEAKS, WALK HARD, ZODIAC), SCOTT AUKERMAN (BETWEEN TWO FERNS WITH ZACH GALIFIANAKIS), MARLON WAYANS (IN LIVING COLOUR, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) and JANEANE GARAFALO (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, 24, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW). the "Titannica" skit was referenced in the name of a BLINK-182 song ("Adam's Song") and the show even become the springboard for a TOOL side project (MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN's PUSCIFER) and TENACIOUS D, who themselves had an HBO show that was co-created and co-produced with ODENKIRK and CROSS.
the show takes its sensibility from MONTY PYTHON in that live and prerecorded skits are connected tangentially from segment to segment with no narrative arc. this frees the material to be the focus. a product of the CLINTON-era, much of the focus of the humor is derived from lampooning the stupidity of american life (reality tv, jingoism, sensationalist journalism) and public institutions (the police, government officials, corporate america). in many ways the lack of intellectual curiosity and selfish nature of the american general public is a target just below the surface and for that reason, this show has aged remarkably well.
given the political nature of their comedy, the creators and select cast members have done mix-media tours of theaters over the years. i saw them in NYC around 2003 as they lampooned the build-up to the misguided return american military adventure into the middle east on their HOORAY FOR AMERICA! tour. to me MR. SHOW holds a special place in my heart as they were consciously articulating a perspective and using comedy as a mirror to articulate just how far from our professed ideals we had fallen, especially during a time of compliance and plastic patriotic fervor rooted in raw, uninhibited xenophobia.
again, MR. SHOW still holds up. definitely worth your time to investigate.