A Twee Too Much

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There are a few things I need to get off my chest.

  1. I won’t be seeing the Jurassic Park reboot.   I found the first one interminably dull after a short while and this was at a packed screening in cushy seats where other people were loving it.
  1. My flat screen TVs, all of which are smart (certainly much smarter than me) have become the enemy. If I so much as graze one of their buttons in the wrong way I am left with nothing. No sound, no picture, snow or a frozen image. This can then only be remedied by calling one of five sources for help (all of whom I’ve bothered more times than I can remember) – a call which is even more embarrassing than admitting this problem publicly to all of you.
  1. I’m tired of people who can’t carry a tune or barely can sing but seem to do so quite well because of modern technology, passing themselves off as musicians and singers – and convincing the record industry and downloading public this is so.   You can’t croon or play if you are unable to achieve the effect without the help of heavy machinery.giphy
  1. Losing ones hair and figure is not fun nor is working out more than you ever did in your lifetime just to maintain status quo, health or to just look presentable enough to avoid scaring small children. On the other hand, cutting into your face or having fairly recent medical school graduates inject you with poisonous waste products from exotic animals so your skin can seem as taut as the sheets on a new recruit’s army cot seems even worse. And certainly more expensive.
  1. Ronald Reagan was a TERRIBLE president and don’t let anyone reinventing history in the forthcoming election year try to tell you any different.
because a picture of Reagan would make me barf, enjoy this litter of puppies

because a picture of Reagan would make me barf, enjoy this litter of puppies

This all started with a screening I attended of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl this weekend. No one likes a good cancer movie more than me, and certainly there isn’t a guy on the planet who gravitates more to an indie tearjerker – especially one that sold for near record millions at Sundance like such predecessors as Little Miss Sunshine – one of my all-time film festival (or any other kind of festival) favorites.

Now I hope all the filmmakers who made Earl go on to have long and happy careers (Note: They all inevitably will), not to mention most of the actors, who mostly did stellar work (Note #2: You can decide the muggers for yourself when/if you see it) and seem to have been enjoying themselves during filming. But if I have to watch one more hip, young, piece of cinema demographic filled with endless snide, deprecating dialogue bouncing off of colorful, macramé-like images shot through endless gradations of a fisheye/crooked/or skewed lens, I WILL just spend the rest of my life inside, watching my smart TVs, where I vow I WILL call one or more of you to figure out the problems with each and every one of them.

And just know by that time there will be many, many more.

It’s writer-director Wes Anderson time – meaning that’s what 100 minutes of Earl longs to give you via an unfresh and un-new visual and storytelling style– which in turn is unsurprising since WA’s frequent producer, Indian Paintbrush, distributes this one. Yup, it’s Quirky McQuirk-Quirk, Jr. with just a dash of sincere 60s/70s film homage and postmodern emotionless emotion thrown in.

And now I'm exhausted

And now I’m exhausted…

Question: If Odd is the New Norm then what is the New Odd? Would that be Mundane? It brings to mind the master originator of contemporary postmodern, David Lynch, and when he made The Straight Story in 1999, a pretty conventional tale of an older man crossing several states to visit his dying brother. The director publicly admitted that he had gone just as far as he could go with strange in his past so he decided the truly revolutionary strategy for him was to go plain. So just who will step up and assume the mantle of the then mid-career David Lynch? Anyone? Bueller?

Or perhaps let’s put it another way:

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE — will someone make an impression out there doing PLAIN – which these days merely means unadorned and with a lack of tricks???

And not from this guy.. please

And not from this guy.. please

I knew the moment I saw Wes Anderson’s Rushmore 17 years ago and was left dazed and confused – something I have never been when watching a Richard Linklater film, by the way – that I was in trouble. But never did I dream that Mr. Anderson would be responsible for a commercial cottage industry of distanced, strange and bizarre just for strange’s sake.

This, of course, is how I also felt as a very, very young man when everyone was making such a fuss about National Lampoon’s Animal House, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Ghostbusters. I mean, they were fine, all fine – but the notion that they’d spawn endless sequels, reboots and their own cottage industries? Well, no wonder the president of Columbia Pictures didn’t hire me for that film development job in the 1980s – especially when I answered my personal favorite studio film of the previous year was Ordinary People. What an idiot I was. Though Ordinarily People could clearly be rebooted today – albeit with hand drawn animated inserts for the teary parts and with Mark Ruffalo and Parker Posey playing the parents of – the young new Miles Teller?

Coming soon to a theater near you

Coming soon to a theater near you

By the way, I think Miles Teller is among the best of the best in Whiplash and The Spectacular Now. He might yet one day win an Oscar even though his older generational acting doppelganger, Michael Keaton, never has (Note: He should have this past year). I also believe Miley Cyrus is very talented, imaginative and not a flash-in-the-pan, Amy Winehouse was not for a moment ever overrated and that the pastiche conceits of American Horror Story works every bit as well in its way as do the broad and stylized comic turns of both Broad City and Girls do in theirs. (Note: Coincidentally, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl was written by American Horror Story alumn Alfonso Gomez-Rejon).

But sometimes it is the job of each of us, especially those who have no other platform to do so other than in an obscure personal blog, to rail against the popular – to call out what we perceive to be The Emperor’s New Clothes.

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The gay community, not to mention any number of other un-American US citizens tried unsuccessfully to do this all through the Reagan years of the eighties – when during that president’s stewardship AIDS became a pandemic and tax cuts for the rich and corporate deregulation helped spawn the economic meltdown of the late 2000 naughts we are all still recovering from.

Yes, I am on a soapbox but how else do our collective voices forestall Jurassic Park 33 – which you all may think you want now but, trust me, your grandkids will be cursing you for. Those same kids will also likely be listening to the new 2100-age, as-of-yet unborn Sinatra singing live in each of their rooms through some kind of still undiscovered clone entertainment mechanism.   And by the way, these kids will have all also adopted their own brands of voluntary male pattern baldness for their inevitably overweight selves because certainly by that time they won’t want to look like their grandparents – since at that point they will all be sporting perfect bodies without exercise and be tossing around their long luxurious manes of intact original hair thanks to some new, priceless and certainly voluntary (Note: Though we all know socially it won’t be, not really) medical option.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone

Welcome to the Twilight Zone

I’m not sure I’ll be around then – yet given the aforementioned advances there is a possibility I could at least still be carted about like an old embryo in a trendy Mason jar. However, I am 100% positive I still won’t get Rushmore, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl or Ronald Reagan.

Generation gap, my eye – the latter of which might actually be all that is left of me. If so, it will still be just as discerning as it ever was despite what the majority is saying.

This, as Martha Stewart says – and you know that SHE will definitely still be around then – is a good thing.

All About SNL: Live from LA

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The pop culture event of the moment is NBC’s Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special. It’s hard to believe more than three generations have grown up watching what is essentially a sketch comedy/variety show that has not deviated much in its format since it began in 1975. But that is part of what makes SNL unique. It is the longest running comedy show on television and the three and a half hour live tribute live celebration (Note: Though, as usual, it is tape delayed for the west coast – poor us) will be (Ed. note – And was!)  a marathon featuring many of its rotating cast of regulars through the years as well as many of its most famous – and infamous – sketches, hosts and musical acts.

I have actually managed to wrangle an interview with Dr. Stephen Tropiano, author of Saturday Night Live FAQ: Everything Left to Know About America’s Longest Running Comedy. Don’t ask me how. But it seemed there was no better way to write about pop culture this week than to speak with a person who would be so willing to correct and comment on my every comment, mistake and opinion when writing about this show. The following are some of the uncensored excerpts of our conversation:

The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor

Chair: The first time we met, on a Saturday night 27 years ago, we wound up watching SNL hosted by Sean Penn. This was when he was still married to Madonna and they were making jokes about him punching out paparazzi. Do you think a lot of people tie the show to specific personal memories or is it just a handful of crazies like us?

Stephen Tropiano: I think people think about the show in two ways. First in terms of where they were in their life – in college, out of college, their first job in their twenties and so on, and secondly in terms of the cast. For me, I was in eighth grade at the very beginning and…

C: Eigth grade? Okay, stop right there. And your parents let you watch it?

ST: My parents let us watch anything we wanted. And at that time, I’m not sure they knew much about it anyway. I watched it with my two older brothers and I remember laughing at John Belushi and Gilda Radner – and I remember Chevy Chase falling down. That was funny. And imitating Gerald Ford even though he didn’t look like him.

Not Ready for Primetime Superstars

Not Ready for Primetime Superstars

C: I was in college when it first started and I remember at that time we all thought of it as a younger person’s show – our show. Even though the people in it were a little older than me it felt like a place where you could see your contemporaries. It’s changed a little over the years but do you think there’s something to that, especially for young people, and maybe that’s why they get hooked on it and stay with it because they relate to a lot of the cast members?

ST: I think it depends on the era because sometimes there were younger cast members on the show like Adam Sandler or Eddie Murphy, who was one of the youngest cast members, even a little younger than Pete Davidson is now. But then there were also casts where people were in their thirties and forties, and more established like Billy Crystal and Martin Short and Michael McKean in the 80s.   But in most ways it always was and is a contemporary show. I mean that certainly has always been the challenge – how do you appeal to both audiences.   Both a younger audience and to as many other people as possible.

C: One way is to hook a younger audience and keep them as they get older. I guess I fit in that paradigm given that I went to a dress rehearsal of the show at the end of the first season when Lily Tomlin hosted and Chevy Chase pretended to be the Jaws shark delivering a Candy-gram.

Before Katy Perry's Left Shark there was.... LANDSHARK

Before Katy Perry’s Left Shark there was…. LANDSHARK

ST: Wow, you are old.

C: No comment.

ST: But I’m also old now and I still watch the show too.   I think another way they attract younger viewers is with the musical guest. Now because I’m old there are musical guests that I’ve never heard of but what they’re hoping is that people will be tuning in for them, young people particularly.

C: I couldn’t imagine my parents or people in their fifties or sixties watching the musical acts or comedy we were watching back then.

ST: Well, at the beginning it WAS a show for baby boomers. The idea was definitely appealing to that specific demographic of people and I think with the musical guests, this was before MTV and there were a lot of musical acts they had on that you just didn’t see on television very much.   There were more mainstream people like Paul Simon but also performers like Gil Scot-Heron, Loudon Wainwright III and Esther Phillips. Even Janis Ian, though she had a hit record, you didn’t necessarily see someone like her on TV.

Iggy is that you?

Iggy is that you?

C: That’s true. She was the Iggy Azalea of her day if you took away Janis’ songwriting ability and sensitivity and added, well, I’m not sure. Care to chime in?

ST: You’re on your own there.

C: There ARE so many outlets to see everyone now so it’s not quite the same. Even with comedy and political satire. Stuff like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report in some ways did supplant SNL among younger audiences. Though not entirely.

ST: A part of it has to do with viewing habits. Those are daily shows broadcast every day (Note: That’s why they’re daily shows) and they peaked when DVRs came into popularity. Also, they’re attached to a network like Comedy Central – it was branded to that generation. SNL is considered to be an older generation in terms of branding because it’s on NBC. But still, it has younger audience appeal. Comedy Central is more something they tune into automatically when they come home. They also tend to think of Jon Stewart as a voice of their generation.

C: Even though he’s in his early fifties.

ST: It’s more about the idea that he is on Comedy Central. Which is their channel. Plus, he’s been doing the show for a lot of years. He was in his thirties when he started.

Just a wee lad then

Just a wee lad then

C: Why do you think SNL has been able to stay on the air for 40 years? I can’t think of anything else other than maybe Meet the Press…

ST: And some soap operas. Well, it’s the longest running comedy on television but when you say that you can’t think of it as being like a sitcom. In this way, what the show was always able to do was kind of reinvent itself – become an updated version of itself – and it usually did that because of the talent and because of the writers. Also, just the format of the sketch-variety show kind of lends itself to it. It would not have worked if all the people who were the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players stayed on the show. It just couldn’t.

C: Which is not to say the ratings were always high or that every season worked.

ST: Yeah, they had trouble throughout most of the 1980s. It wasn’t until Lorne Michaels came back that it started to become more popular again. But when he first came back they were struggling and they put in very young cast members like Robert Downey, Jr. and Anthony Michael Hall and it didn’t really work. They tried Billy Crystal and the others earlier and went with experience and it improved but he was only really on for a year. Probably because it was far too much work for him.

Mr. Marvelous

Mr. Marvelous

C: And for very little money. Why continue on the show when it opens up so many other opportunities for you? That is certainly the case now when so many cast members leave and become movie stars.

ST: Though not everyone does. It really depends.

C: Yes, it’s tricky and unpredictable. You had people like Chevy Chase, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray and then Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler. Followed by Will Ferrell and now, in some sense, Kristen Wiig.

ST: And Jane Curtin became a big television star as well as Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Also recently, they have also starred in movies. But then there were a whole tier of people who might not have become major movie stars – like David Spade and Chris Farley, or Joe Piscopo and Dana Carvey – who did star in some films. Billy Crystal was a movie star. Christopher Guest went on to direct all of his movies. And let’s not leave out Senator Al Franken.

From one desk to another

From one desk to another

C: A political star. I still can’t get over that. Though I’m not unhappy about it.

ST: He will be relieved.

C: I hope so. I can be dangerously scathing. Which brings me to how people enjoy loving or hating SNL. It really seems to be all over the place depending on who you speak to, though mostly I think the reaction is pretty positive, not to mention nostalgic since most of us tend to remember the sketches and characters and performers we did like so fondly.

ST: Well, everybody loves to say, ‘oh, the show was so much better back in the day,’ but back in the early years people were a little bit more forgiving because it was a newer show. Also, there were always a lot of things that didn’t work, often on every show, I saw that doing research for the book. You tend to block those out, though. But the sketches that do work – those are the ones that live on and that’s kind of what we remember the most. And there are a lot of those.

C: Are some eras just funnier than others?

ST: I think the show tends to ramp up around election years and depending on who is president. Sarah Palin was like the Golden Goose in terms of comedy when she was running for election and Tina Fey’s impersonation…

Tina-Fey-as-Sarah-Palin-are-we-not-doing-the-talent-portion-GIF-from-Saturday-Night-Live-SNL

C: You never felt she had to change much of the real Pailn dialogue.

ST: She didn’t! The sketch where Amy Poehler played Katie Couric interviewing her is almost verbatim! But I mean, the Bill and Hillary Clinton years – Bill Clinton was a great person to impersonate. And Will Ferrell doing Bush lends itself to comedy. It also depends on what’s going on in the world. Barack Obama can be parodied but he’s not like Bill Clinton who is bigger than life.

C: What is one of your favorite political sketches?

ST: Well, I like the one where you have Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush having tea at the White House when the Reagans are leaving…

Click here for the full video

Click here for the full video

C: And Nancy Reagan’s is grasping on to the furniture for dear life in an attempt not to leave and you see security dragging her out. It felt so real! But I have to admit I found it hard to laugh at some of the Dubya sketches with Will Ferrell saying strategery. Even though it was really funny it was hard to laugh because of how true and sad the whole thing was.

ST: You’re really bringing down the room.

C: You’re right. Clearly, if I were a sketch I’d be cut. One of my absolute favorite sketches, I have to admit was the first Debbie Downer where Rachel Dratch starts breaking up in close-up. I still makes me scream.

ST: Part of the reason that one was so memorable is that there really isn’t a sketch where everyone is breaking up. In that one, everybody is losing it. I think six or seven people.

C: What are some of the memorable ones for you?

Word Associate with Chevy and Richard

Word Associate with Chevy and Richard

ST: Well, probably the best and most famous was the Chevy Chase-Richard Pryor sketch that was about racism. It was written by Richard Pryor’s writer Paul Mooney because they felt that Pryor’s humor was not going to represented on the show.

C: That is one of mine too. It’s less funny than wonderfully true and real satire. I also LOVE Dan Aykroyd playing Julia Child cutting her finger while preparing a chicken and bleeding to death onscreen.

ST: If we’re going to go there I have to mention The Claudine Longet Invitational Ski Tournament where people competing get shot by her while skiing down the slope.

C: I remember they had to apologize for that one. And for those who don’t know about it, they can look it up.

ST: I also loved The Sweeney Sisters.

C: Oh My God, Clang, clang, clang went the Trolley. Now you have me thinking of Delicious Dish and Shweaty Balls. Not to mention Maya Rudolph doing Donatella Versace – GET OUT!!!!!!!! Your favorite all time performer – the most unfair question?

ST: Hmmm, I guess it would be Gilda Radner.

The Queen

The Queen

C: No fair, she was mine!

ST: The characters she did – Roseanne Rosannadanna and Emily Litella, as well as the Judy Miller Show. They were just very real. And we should also say she had people like Alan Zweibel and Marilyn Suzanne Miller writing specifically for her – that’s why she got so many characters on.

C: I loved Lisa Loopner – the nerdy girl – and her best friend Todd, who Bill Murray played. Especially when he gave her “noogies” and she couldn’t stop giggling. I think I probably related.

Toddddddddddd

Toddddddddddd

ST: Probably?

C: You were supposed to say – ‘oh no, I can’t imagine how you would relate!’

ST: That was not one of the lines I was given.

C: Best host? I know this one is also unfair.

ST: Hmmm. I would say Steve Martin. His type of comedy seems to best fit the show because it tends to be in smaller bits.

... and the King

… and the King

C: Or when he did stuff like the King Tut song, which actually became a hit on the radio. It was sort of like the precursor to viral videos like Lazy Sunday. For me the best host in recent years is probably Justin Timberlake.

ST: He’s sort of the perfect person because aside from being musical we had no idea that he was truly funny. It was unexpected and he was game for anything. Lorne Michaels has said some of his favorite hosts were sports guys because they’re fearless. They’re used to giving their all and don’t care how they look. I mean, who thought Peyton Manning would be funny?

C: Or Charles Barkley. Favorite character? Mine is Stefon. I can’t help it.

ST: Part of the reason Stefon was so good– aside from how great Bill Hader was doing him – was that it was extremely well-written. The amount of items and dialogue John Mulaney, who wrote the sketches, would come up with allowed Bill Hader to not only be great but break up because they’d add one or two things to the list when he’d be doing the show live that he didn’t know about.

Stefon-Final

C: There’s something about people breaking character in the right way that never fails. So who are some of your faves, other than Stefon?

ST: I’d have to say – The Sweeney Sisters and Roseanne Rosannadanna. I also thought in terms of characters, Mike Meyers did some of the most incredible work.

C: Rather than discuss them perhaps we should end with them. Since apparently his Dr. Evil is partly based on Lorne Michaels – who started SNL to begin with.

"Allegedly"

“Allegedly”

ST: Mike Meyers has said that isn’t true. That just vocally it only sounds like him because they are both Canadian. But it is his favorite character.

C: Well, I’ve learned something new. You are a fountain of information.

ST: Are you being snide?

C: Me? Certainly not. I am not an SNL character. Yet.