photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
ive been rewatching CONAN O'BRIEN clips for months now and basically rediscovering the COMEDY GENIUS that is comedy writer BRIAN STACK in the process. i just gradually came to realize that he was at the heart of many of my favorite sketches that are absolutely RIDICULOUS. over his 18 years following CONAN on all three of his shows iterations, STACK created and played on so many great sketches like "THE INTERRUPTER," "STEVE ST. HELENS," "JOE GALLIANO," "THE FANTASTIC GUY," "THE SLIPNUTZ," "THE GHOST CROONER, "INAPPROPRIATE RESPONSE CHANNEL," "TWO GUYS FROM ANOTHER DIMENSION," "BULLET-PROOF LEGS," "WIKIBEAR," "HANNIGAN THE SALESMAN" and "FRANKENSTEIN WASTES A MINUTE OF OUR TIME" among many others.
what makes STACK so funny is his unflappable FEARLESSNESS and ability to fully commit to being irredeemably ABSURD, no matter how JUVENILE or BRILLIANT the material is. if im having a bad day, my go to move for the longest time was to watch anything NORM MACDONALD-related. that still stands but now trying to find classic STACK sketches on CONAN is close behind. STACK has been writing for fellow SECOND CITY alumni STEPHEN COLBERT on his LATE SHOW program on CBS since taking over for comedy legend DAVID LETTERMAN in 2015 and is celebrated for his voice over reoccurring sketches like "GOD," "CARTOON DONALD TRUMP" and "THE GHOST OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN."
if you are not familiar with his work, definitely check out some of the clips below from both CONAN and COLBERT. BRIAN STACK is most definitely worth it.
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.
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?
DESUS & MERO is some of the funniest shit i have seen in years.
i know DESUS NICE & THE KID MERO represent a different voice in comedy and bring a much needed urban perspective to late night, but forget all that. they are just hands down funnier than the competition. and their takedowns of industry goons (cough, cough, DJ ENVY) are both savage and legendary.
in a perfect world these guys would have a network show, but sadly we dont live in that world. thus JIMMY FALLON. until then i have to hand it to SHOWTIME for outbidding VICELAND to bring these guys over.
their show is definitely worth checking out. you're welcome.
i cant recall when i became aware of the classic BRITISH comedy show YES MINISTER (BBC, 1980-84) but the premise of the show still feels relevant today in a political climate full of commonly used conspiracy terminology like the deep state and fake news.
the premise deals with a lowly minster newly sworn in to a minor department in the BRITISH bureaucracy. idealistic, wet behind the ears and naive to the machinations of government he is routinely put in ever more dire situations by his aide. every statement he makes is taken and interpreted in a manner that makes the minister look weak, uninformed and daft. as the aide and other "backbenchers" of the civil service are present and unchanging throughout all administrations, the show gives off the impression that it is really they that hold the reigns of power, not public officials. the main aide to the MP, expertly played by SIR NIGEL HAWTHORNE, is as ruthless and linguistically manipulative a character as SHAKESPEARE's IAGO.
comedy-wise it is a much smarter version of any BUGS BUNNY / ELMER FUDD cartoon, often lampooning the OXBRIDGE and ETON/HARROW/RADLEY crowd and their pretensions of incontestable refined sophistication and intelligence. the fact that an aide and an anonymous sea of civil servants could upend this dunce is almost a victory for common BRITAINS.
obviously now in the age of TRUMP this who premise is reversed, these civil servants seen at best as obstructionists to the will of the people and at worst an enemy within.
beyond interesting, and deeply hilarious, example of BRITISH comedy made even more timely in our current climate. whats even more biting is the fact that the follow-up series was YES PRIME MINISTER (BBC, 1986-88) as the blabbering idiot of an MP, deftly played by PAUL EDDINGTON, moved up the food chain, kinda like our resident idiot.
years ago i spent a week the summer before i started graduate school at childhood friend's place in MONTREAL. what a gorgeous enchanted city, especially during the summertime. i'd never been to CANADA, only made fun of it my entire waking life at that point. besides eating smoked meat late night at the famous SCHWARTZ'S DELI and hanging out with my friend's peers and acquaintances, what i remember most fondly is watching this reality show KENNY VS. SPENNY (CBC, 2003-2010) on repeat.
it blew my mind.
first off, i hate REALITY TV as a matter of principal. i just feel that they are mindless dribble and the worst kind of voyeurism since they elevate attention-seeking cretins hungry for 10 minutes of celebrity. but this was different. the show is basically two friends (KENNY HOTZ and SPENCER RICE) that have a competition each week. they agree on a challenge and then the person that loses said competition gets humiliated by the other at the end of the show. KENNY is basically the devil incarnate, always trying to find loopholes to the rules and taking advantage of his friend SPENCER, who is likewise a stand-up yet gullible figure. some of these competitions are brutal, such as:
this show was on network television (CBC no less) and it was easily, scripted or not (i still dont know), the most mean-spirited thing i have seen on television to date. for the DEAD OCTOPUS episode KENNY slips SPENCER LSD and convinces him that he is being chased, resulting in SPENCER lying in a fetal position crying for help. for the KISSING THE MOST WOMEN episode KENNY decides to kiss SPENCER's sister in front of him. for the 10 MILE RACE episode KENNY knew SPENCER was more athletic so he got him away from the track where they were to race at a predetermined time by having SPENCER's mom convince her son that she got cancer and needed him at the hospital. the cruelty is absolutely boundless on this show, which blew me away because its CANADIAN. out of 80+ episodes i must have watched 50 over a few days. i was obsessed.
it was a weird trip because at some point on television there was a televised debate for some public office where one candidate said to the other that he "disagreed intensely based on firm principles." it was so CANADIAN because they didn't demean one another. fast forward a few nights of watching KENNY VS SPENNY and my opinion of CANADIANS has permanently shifted. plus deep down i know im more SPENCER than KENNY, sadly.
im telling you, this is the most debased, depraved, irredeemably cruel show i've ever watched. I TOTALLY RECOMMEND IT.
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.
what's funny about ZOOLANDER (PARAMOUNT, 2001)is the fact that it is one of these cult films that initially bombed at the box office but totally destroyed when it came out on DVD and was put in movie rental chains (remember those?!) like BLOCKBUSTER and HOLLYWOOD VIDEO. other films i'd put in this category include OFFICE SPACE, THE BIG LEBOWSKI and A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY.
what makes ZOOLANDER such a fun movie is the piss it takes out of a pre-TMZ, 24-7 on-demand digital CELEBRITY culture and the high fashion/glamour industries. the very premise that a new "look" by model DEREK ZOOLANDER would set the world ablaze is so preposterous and self-absorbed that it is the perfect foil that director/actor BEN STILLER take for all its worth.
i think imbedded in this film is a NAOMI KLEIN-esque critique of BRAND CULTURE and the idea that the logo of your garment somehow belies some deep aspect of your personality is a inherently hollow, narcissistic and just absurd. yet our consumer culture and the marketing that underpins it relies on such. i think its easy to laugh at DEREK ZOOLANDER but the real joke is on me every time i purchase anything from NIKE or LEVI'S despite their labor practices abroad and lack of real support for AMERICAN manufacturing capacities.
ZOOLANDER is the kind of film i regularly return to throughout the years because its message is only more intense given the age we live in now with its even more corrosive form of micro-targeting and digital marketing where our choices are even more thoroughly analyzed and manipulated. DEREK ZOOLANDER to me is the patron saint of our current predicament where fast fashion chains, shoe culture and equally vacuous figureheads (cough, cough, THE KARDASHIANS) influence our collective self-image.
and how depressing is that? ZOOLANDER is a must-watch. the sequel not so much.
so when OFFICE SPACE (TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, 1999) came out i was in boarding school. it was my sophomore year and the way things went was that my dorm head would go off-campus on friday and rent a movie or two for the students that would sit in the lounge area on the first floor. if it was particularly good than more often than not students would watch it again on saturday and drag others who hadnt seen it to do so.
i distinctly remember OFFICE SPACE because we had that movie rented out for something like 2 weeks. it got to ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW proportions in that people were reciting lines and whole scenes of dialogue before the first weekend was out. it was the biggest hit of my two year stint in prep school.
i feel part of what makes that film so endearing and funny is how much suffering and pain showcased through the characters. they all seem to aspire for greatness yet live in the mundane corporate labyrinth of TPS reports, multiple bosses and malfunctioning xerox machines and printers.
the characters of this film are just such exquisite vignettes of the rich diversity of human suffering and existential dread. this seems to be a specialty of writer/director MIKE JUDGE who famously gave the world BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD and KING OF THE HILL. from the worthless human garbage who feed off power like clueless boss BILL LUMBERGH and corporate executive goons "THE BOBS," to loveable ambitious losers like TOM SMYKOWSKI, MICHAEL BOLTON and SAMIR NAGHEENANAJAR and the various supplicants and reptiles that make up the backstabbing groupthink culture portrayed in OFFICE SPACE, this movie portrays the corporate workplace as a war-zone. i literally could go on at length about any of these characters, even the main protagonists, but to me there is one that sticks out among all others: MILTON ADDAMS.
in my mind, we are all MILTON. we are all hopeless, inept, misplaced rejects looking for a home. in essence we are all victims. even the "THE BOBS" and LUMBERGH himself are victims to a corporate structure that deprives them all of their creativity and humanity. it sucks them all in and gives back nothing. no security, no enjoyment, no satisfaction. they are literally all rats in a cage clawing each other in a never-ending fratricidal fever dream.
i always found it funny that the only character to actually effectuate change in the plot is the most isolated, socially-deprived, mistreated misfit of them all. maybe there is hope for all of us.
cover by nacrowe
if you were ever a fan of the animated series SEALAB 2021 (CARTOON NETWORK/ADULT SWIM) or ARCHER (FX) then you are pretty much beholden to seek out its more insane antecedent FRISKY DINGO (CARTOON NETWORK/ADULT SWIM).
the show deals with a would-be hapless super villain named KILLFACE who is hellbent on enslaving the people of earth if he can just get over his complete incompetence and terrible people skills. there is also a playboy tycoon/superhero named XANDER CREWS/AWESOME-X that can't support his fighting force the X-TACLES after conquering the last of his villains. much like ARCHER deals with the mundane internal paper-pushing business of being an international super-spy, FRISKY DINGO equally finds humor mined from efficient PR strategies and the business implications of being too good at your job of being a superhero. basically, FRISKY DINGO takes the superhero construct to its logical conclusion and mines it for all its worth comedically.
unlike ARCHER, FRISKY DINGO has basically little to no character development and an ever expanding internal network of inside jokes and catch phrases. in fact the whole show just seems to be an excuse to expand on these in unexpected situations. the plot is minuscule and largely not the point. whether or not KILLFACE is successful is not the point. his futile efforts in organizational management and networking allies in his evil deeds is far more interesting. perhaps this is why this show was killed off after its second season, a blunder not made in the aforementioned follow-up series ARCHER, which uses its characters to parody a myriad of films, locations and tv shows.
but i prefer FRISKY DINGO for its almost MONTY PYTHON level of insanity and ever shifting plot points to no avail. it was quite the ride.
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.
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.