Freak out!

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 8.28.51 AM

I don’t know about you but when I read on the front page of the New York Times that …the Islamic state is seeking to attack, infiltrate or sabotage nuclear installations or obtain nuclear material or radioactive material at vulnerable facilities in Belgium and elsewhere it raises the moderate yet consistent level of anxiety I walk around with each day to high.

But, being a master of denial, I quickly remembered that my beloved Times was also the paper that once employed Judith Miller, who once acted as a shill for former Vice President Dick Darth Vader Cheney and printed all kinds of misleading stories about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities under President George W. Bush – stories that in turn created a groundswell of political and public support for probably the worst foreign policy blunder in modern American history – the Dubya-led march into Iraq – which in turn led us into the current massive destabilization of the Middle East.

Stefan only speaks the truth

Stefon only speaks the truth

Yes, I know this is what the terrorists want – for me/us to be terrorized. And it would sort of be working on me had I not lived much of my early life in terror and, in turn, become a master of denial. This, of course, led to decades of therapy that allowed me to understand there is no point worrying about stuff I can’t control – like my own personal demise and the end of the world. But at least I know how to block it out and put it in perspective. For me that means – oh hell, may as well enjoy what little time we have left while we can, because clearly we’re all doomed.

On an existential basis this is not all surprising. I mean, aren’t we all doomed anyway? Not to bring down the room with homilies like – no one gets out of here alive but…uh…guess what…you don’t. And this whole afterlife thing really needs to take a rest. Because if there is an afterlife then doesn’t that mean all of these terrorists are celebrating with a dozen virgins somewhere you and I can’t see? Since who is to say whose after-life is it, anyway?



This being the case I refuse to become preoccupied or outraged anymore about potential nuclear wars. Yes there are exceptions that will get me – like the 31 dead several days ago in Belgium and any time the proliferation of gun-toting Americans decide to shoot up a movie theatre or classroom full of people. Not to mention the next time any white law officer shoots a non-White young (or old) person. Or vice-versa for that matter. Still, that seems to happen only every month – well, let’s say every few weeks to play it safe. I can certainly handle that amount of sadness in monthly or weekly increments if it stays at that level because I’ve learned to portion it out.

Yet there are any number of news and pop culture events I refuse to get upset or even annoyed about anymore.   I’m actually rather enjoying the food fight The Republican Apprentice and Grandpa Munster are having over whose wife is prettier, smarter or more worth staying monogamous with. Frankly, I’d cheat on both of them, though not with either of their husbands – nor any of the other deposed competitors for GOP presidential choice. I might, however, consider one of the deposed competitors on the Democratic side who has dropped out. Not that I’m naming any O’Names.

Uh... Abssssolutely

Uh… Abssssolutely

I also don’t give a rat’s ass that the just-released Superman v. Batman is by all accounts a leading contender for next year’s Razzie awards; Ben Affleck’s sad sack expression when being unfairly ambushed by a journalist on a press junket who asked him how it felt to have the movie so poorly reviewed; or the fact that the movie has just grossed more than $400,000,000 at the box-office worldwide in its opening weekend. Yeah, you heard it right.

Certainly this, more than anything else, makes a case for the proposed company The Screening Room filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams have been touting the last few weeks.

This new venture/platform/vehicle would provide us all – for the mere price of about $50 – the opportunity to legally beam in any movie to our large home screen mechanism of choice on the exact day it opens at movie theatres.   Industryites are objecting all over the spectrum but really – I’m not upset in the least. Nor should anyone else be in the industry. The only chance they have of more people going out to theatres to see much of their sort of corporate swill is if it’s offered in the comfort of one’s own home where one can freeze it for bathroom breaks or group hate watch it amid chugs of wine or puffs of their prescriptioned pharmaceutical of choice.

OK, maybe I'd miss these little fellas

OK, maybe I’d miss these little fellas

Certainly, the above applies at least to me. I’ll pay $50 to have friends over so I can luxuriate on Mr. Cavill’s shirtless image with my eyes while downing a glass of Chianti. Or perhaps that’s vice-versa in the case of the latter two phrases. Well, whatever works. As for Mr. Affleck, he’d be old news at that point. Literally.

Yes, the world is cruel and old age is not for sissies, as Bette Davis once said. Do you know there are theatres where I can now get in as a senior citizen? That’s cruel but I’m also enjoying the irony of continuing to pay full price. I think of it as my middle finger at the patriarchy still in charge and a revolt against the yet one more category it’s attempting to throw me into against my will.

Senior discount realness

Senior discount realness

People will, of course, always try to throw you into categories you don’t see yourself a part of or, by any objective (or non-objective) measure are clearly not a part of. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton but still consider myself a liberal. I like but am not voting for Bernie Sanders yet fellow Democrats consider me a privileged white male sellout. My GOP friends consider me misguided. Others in the GOP think I’m… Oh, I’m lovin’ all the nasty adjectives the latter throws at me. I’m like #Drumpf – every time you challenge me my contributions to her, like his Wall, get the equivalent of five feet higher.

I am unsure how long my newfound light-heartedness will last but I’m betting given the current news cycles of the last few months, not to mention the world at large, it won’t be ending any time too soon. There are too many clowns and clown cars to laugh at these days. As the great and prescient George Carlin once so cleverly said:

God Bless America

God Bless America


I’m Rubber, You’re Glue


I was listening to talk radio this week and heard Ann Coulter referring to Pres. Obama as a monkey three times in 3 minutes.  Then I heard Rush Limbaugh calling the Obama policy in Syria Operation Shuck and Jive twice in just one minute.

Normally I don’t pay attention to this kind of stuff or these kinds of people (that’s hate-speakers, not conservatives) because, well, I’ve learned over the years we have a limited time on Earth and really should pick and choose who and what we spend our time on.

But to not pay attention to this sort of thing is also absolving your responsibility as a thinking member of society.   That’s not right and it’s insidious.  And the more you ignore the more it becomes a kind of allowable “norm” people can get away with.

George Carlin famously talked of the seven dirtiest words you can’t say on television, all of which you can now say on cable and some of which you can periodically get away with on the networks. (They are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits – all of which you can say in a blog!).  Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and a long list of many others also challenged us with language that could be deemed offensive.

Don Rickles, the last of the old school Rat Pack-related comedians from the bygone Vegas era of entertainers, pioneered a variation of this kind of thing in the most mainstream way in the sixties when he evoked racial epithets for pretty much any ethnic group you can think of.   But part of his success was being an equal opportunity offender – no group, including his own, was safe.   Andrew Dice Clay tried another brand of this humor two decades later in the eighties by personifying the most chauvinistic black-leathered jacketed working class asshole from the boroughs or Jersey or anywhere else you can think of.  But he quickly faded away, mostly because he almost solely went after women in a very ugly way and partly because he committed the cardinal sin – he wasn’t nearly as funny as his predecessors (Note: ADC portrays a defanged version of this character in Woody Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine, a performance that probably works a lot better for those who don’t remember the Diceman’s original act).

What do you do with all this?   Are words, in themselves, offensive?  Why could Richard Pryor (and now Chris Rock) say the “N” word but when I say it, it takes on another meaning.

It’s all about context.  And intention.

I shudder to even post this image.

I shudder to even post this image.

Moreover, why do Windbag Rush and Annie the Terrible purposely use their offensive terminology in order to provoke favor with like-minded thinkers and non-thinkers alike who are salivating for some new form of socially acceptable hate speak?

It’s all about changing the Norms of Context.  And it’s very, very, very intentional.

Also this week, Soviet president Vladimir Putin chastised the US in a NY Times op-ed piece for daring to talk about American “exceptionalism,” concluding with this thought:  We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.  Well, that sounds good but some months ago Putin began strictly enforcing new laws that allow his government to exorbitantly fine and arrest anyone who engages in homosexual activity, or even publicly approves of any sort of pro-gay activities.  Gays can’t marry, adopt or, if they’re vocal about it, teach (Note to Self: Cancel my trip to Russia).  So there goes his written plea for equality for all of God’s creations– right out the Kremlin window and right behind anyone listening to a Bette Midler album.  This also begs the question of what he plans to do with Atheists – who don’t ask the Lord for any sort of blessings because they don’t believe a God created anyone.  One shudders to even consider the punishment for that.

Forget about context and intention.  You now can add truth and hypocrisy to the list.

There are ways to think about our differences and there are ways to exploit them.  More importantly, there are many ways to express them.  Not all, but many people who are in the public eye are smart enough to know exactly what they are saying.  Certainly there is the occasional gaffe and arguably there is nowadays a whole class of speakers who just wander into the spotlight and are uninformed.  But you and I usually know who they are.  And we certainly know that’s not who we’re speaking about here.

Ya'll talkin' bout me?

Ya’ll talkin’ bout me?

When Putin, Coulter, Limbaugh, Carlin, Clay and all the others speak they know EXACTLY what they’re saying and why.  They choose their words for particular reasons because it is their living to do so.  They get (or got) paid handsomely for it.  And as such, they’ve earned an answer when they go over the line.  This is also the case for people in your life, or those within earshot adjacent to your life.  They’re not getting paid but they’re occupying your space and opening their mouths.  At last check, the US (not Russia) was essentially a freedom-of-speech-loving country where you not only get to say anything but get to be answered back within the confines of the law.  Hate speakers don’t get to have a one-sided conversation as they call you out for being too politically correct while they hide behind the mantle of free speech.  The latter cuts both ways.  If they have the right to speak as they do (and they do), we all have the obligation to call them out when we believe their heinous words and thoughts are polluting the environment in which we must live – both literally and figuratively.

That’s why comedian Richard Belzer was totally justified to call Ann Coulter a fascist party doll in 2006 when he threatened to walk off of Real Time with Bill Maher as Maher began to introduce her.  He was reacting to a myriad of Coulter statements that came before this appearance, stuff like My only regret is that Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) didn’t go into the NY Times building or that the 9-11 widows are reveling in their status as celebrities…I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s deaths so much.

Of course, all of those were said several years before we had our first Black president so Ms. Coulter, a best-selling author in the tens of millions, has had to up her game.  How do you answer an educated person who knowingly likens the most famous Black Man in America (nee the WORLD) to a phrase that was commonly used and drawn in the antebellum South to describe the Simian nature of their former slaves???

An American artifact from 1900.

An American artifact from 1900. That would be 113 years ago…

The correct answer is not:  she doesn’t deserve an answer.  The correct answer is to tell the Ann Coulter in your life, or the one you overhear, exactly what you think – in a word, or phrase, or something longer (and perhaps, preferably, with something sharper).

Don’t take this for a second to mean that we’re letting Mr. Limbaugh off scot-free.  If these are truly our public airwaves, what do you now say to someone who uses the term “shuck and jive” to describe a Black president’s policies?  As Mr. Limbaugh understands, that’s a phrase that came into being when black slaves sang and shouted gleefully during corn-shucking season and evolved in common usage as way to indicate Black people who were clowning and lying.

Obama’s a sla-ave, Obama’s a sla-ave, O- ba-ma’s the N word, O-ba-ma’s the N word…,

you can hear Limbaugh taunting.

Well, you can now see why current Senator Al Franken had no other choice than to write:

Rush Limbaugh’s a big fat idiot, Rush Limbaugh’s a big fat idiot!

But that book was almost 10 years ago and Rushbo has gone into entirely new territory here.  What do we, or anyone, say back to him now?


I’m waiting….

No – the correct answer is not to ignore him.  Not for this.  Not in this case.


Certainly, we all make our own choices in these situations.  In 1993, the only African American female Senator in the history of the US Congress was Carol Moseley Braun.  (Note: Ms. Moseley Braun served as a senator from Illinois, a seat Barack Obama would 10 years later be elected to).  This week, The Rachel Maddow Show reported on a much repeated story of what happened in the Senate elevator at that time when ultra conservative and virulent racial separatist, North Carolina’s five term (that’s 30 years) senator, Jesse Helms, found himself riding up in the elevator with Sen. Moseley Braun.  This very white senator from the South looked this very Black senator from the North straight in the eye and began singing “Dixie” (Oh, I wish I were in the land of cotton…)” in the elevator, turning to Utah Sen. Orin Hatch and saying “I’m gong to make her cry.  I’m going to keep singing Dixie until I make her cry.”

Yes, this is a true story and it took place in the nineties.  And no, it is not about Mr. Helms being a product of another time and place.   It is about a particular type of viciousness that needs to be addressed in the moment – or after – not by turning your cheek but by turning into the punch and retorting in some way that you see fit.  In the case of CMB, she decided to respond by looking straight back at him, saying: ‘Sen. Helms, your singing would make me cry if you sang ‘Rock of Ages.”

You go, Carol.

You go, Carol.

Incidentally, this encounter was supposedly prompted by Sen. Moseley Braun successfully leading a fight on the Senate floor the previous month to defeat an amendment by Helms that would allow the renewal of the patent on the Confederate flag insignia by a group called the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Get the point, yet?

Have times changed in 2013 when a person thought to be a minority (Pres. Obama) chooses to live or govern in a way that a particularly vocally virulent person in the public eye thought to be in the majority (Mr. Limbaugh? Ms. Coulter?) doesn’t want them to live or govern?  Clearly not.  And what about then Senator Moseley Braun’s response?  I, for one don’t think it went nearly far enough.  But the deafening silence to Coulter and Limbaugh’s remarks seems to indicate we’ve backtracked from there to a strategy of no answer necessary.

It would be nice to think this is because we’ve come far since then and incidents like these are fading into the woodwork.  But I don’t think so.  In fact, I think it’s quite the opposite.

For years I had my own response to people like Sen. Helms, who all through his terms (which only ended in 2001) refused to fund AIDS research and was virulently anti-gay  (e.g. homosexuals are “weak, morally sick wretches”).  As I watched him trying to defund gay artists of any kind from the National Endowment of the Arts (and the entire NEA itself) at a time when I was also watching many gay friends and acquaintances die left and right from AIDS, I signed petitions against him, wrote letters and gave money.


And — in my bathroom for years hung this famous Robbie Conal poster that read ART OFFICIAL with Helm’s hideous image drawn below it.  It served as a reminder to me and everyone who ever stepped in front of, on, or near my toilet that Sen. Helms was totally full of shit.

Hey, we all do what we can.

Note:  I’ve purposely left out of the conversation Sarah Palin, who has used monkey, shuck and jive and many other terms to describe the first Black president.  This is because Cruella (as Aaron Sorkin so aptly labeled her several years ago) has a dwindling audience and now falls into the don’t waste your limited time on Earth category. Well, unless it allows us to bring back Tina…


Taste Free

After a hiatus from performing in the seventies, Bette Midler was asked by a reporter whether her new live act would contain her usual tasteless material. “Actually, no,” quipped the diva, “The new show will be taste free.”

I’ve thought of this comment periodically over the years, especially when family, friends or the general public tell me they find one of my jokes or comments “tasteless.”  What the heck is tasteless, anyway?  And I’m not talking offensive, as in disparaging a specific ethnicity.  I’m talking tasteless as in….well, you decide.

The argument surfaced this week all over the blogosphere when Casey Anthony was found not guilty for killing her two year old daughter Caylee (Oh, you haven’t heard about it?  Lucky you, who lives under a rock like the caveman in the Geico commercial).  Anyway, I casually glance on Facebook and Twitter later that day and am immediately bombarded with witticisms like: “Casey Anthony, meet Dexter Morgan.” “Don’t worry, Dexter will take care of her.”  “Dexter’s headed to Orlando with knives sharpened,” etc. etc.  (For those who don’t know Dexter, he’s our larger than life TV serial killer hero who only kills particularly heinous killers who have managed to avoid justice).  Lately (meaning today), the comments have gotten even more taste challenged — “Is Casey Anthony available for birthday parties now,” “Would that jury let Casey babysit for them?” and my favorite from the Borowitz Report: “Casey Anthony got off light – the Judge had considered sentencing her to one hour with Nancy Grace.”

I cop to laughing, to varying degrees, at all of these.   Are they in bad taste? Well, they don’t tar any particular group of people.  But they do rag on a person who has been in jail for three years and was just found NOT guilty by a jury of her peers and is now INNOCENT under our justice system.   HASN’T SHE SUFFERED ENOUGH?

Do you find this last statement tasteless despite the fact that this woman has been declared innocent under our justice system?  Hmm.  Now we’re getting into murky waters.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I don’t know what else to do but laugh or crack my own joke when faced with an awful subject or uncomfortable situation over which I feel as if I have no say or power.  And the more outrageous the joke or reaction from the audience, the bigger the release seems to be.   George Carlin first said it best for me when I was in high school with his classic comedy routine about the seven dirty words you can’t say on television.

This was, of course, before cable television – which regularly features any of those words nightly on a given series, movie or special event program.  My, how times have changed.

Carlin was greatly inspired by comedians before him such as Lenny Bruce and Dick Gregory, who dared to venture into uncharted territory of language and race.  There were also a whole slew of female Jewish comedians, often performing in Florida or the Borscht Belt, who made people laugh with “taste free” jokes.  Goggle names like Rusty Warren (hint: one of her record albums was called “Knockers Up!” – yes, those knockers!) and Belle Barth, who used to sing to packed houses in Miami Beach, “I lined 100 men up against the wall, and bet $100 I could…“ well, you listen and you’ll see what inspired some of Bette Midler’s seventies antics.

None of those acts are particularly shocking today, though some are still probably considered tasteless.  But are they funny? Hell yes!  Are there people who don’t find them funny and find it/me tasteless? Hell yes again!  Do I want to be friends with those people? Hell, no!!!  Many times!!!

Consider this – there was some degree of hoopla when the fabulously terrific late actress Jill Clayburgh, Oscar-nominated for her performance in Paul Mazursky’s “An Unmarried Woman,” visibly upchucked onscreen when her husband of many years blurted out he was in love with another woman.  I think at the time more people were disgusted by having to look at vomit than the sexual politics of the moment.  Imagine if they were around now (some of them still could be!) and had to look at the tour de force food poisoning scene of the four gals in “Bridesmaids?”

I'd lay off the Brazilian food, ladies

One of my proudest moments as a screenwriter and taste-free, soap box standing liberal was when I was late for a meeting at Disney in the nineties, got lost in the animation building and ran smack into a tall man carrying an attaché case and wearing a plain suit.  I profusely and hurriedly apologized and as I looked into his eyes and rushed away I realized, “Holy sh-t, That’s John Waters!”  Who could have imagined when I clandestinely watched that bootleg copy of “Pink Flamingos” with my friends (where drag queen star Divine ate dog excrement), that one day its director would be rubbing shoulders with Mickey Mouse.   How subversively taste free of all of us!!!

I’d like to also add to this that several years after watching “Pink Flamingos,” when I was still in college, the student film society SPONSORED a midnight showing ON CAMPUS, of the popular X-rated porn film, “The Devil in Miss Jones.”  I went to see it, my first exposure to big screen movie porn, and I’ve managed to live a relatively moral life (depending on your morals) since.  How many college campuses across the country do you think would allow that now?

There’s no sense arguing for a mass acceptance of porn (unless it would increase tax revenues and solve the debt crisis, which it might, so we could) but I will go out on the line for 85 year-old Mel Brooks.  (Note:  I saw him six months ago at LA Chinese restaurant Mandarette and he was still sharp and hilarious).  He mainstreamed tastelessness in 1974’s “Blazing Saddles” and it’s famous bean eating scene.   Was that crass, stupid and tasteless?  You bet your sweet derriere it was/is!

It should be noted that Mr. Brooks hasn’t stopped.  His Broadway juggernaut musical of his movie from the sixties, “The Producers,” featured a homosexual Adolph Hitler sitting at the footlights of a New York theatre eight performances and six nights a week imitating Judy Garland.  I mean, if that’s not taste free, I don’t know what is.

I’m going to try to remember all of this the next time I blanch (not Blanche as in DuBois, but as in repelled by) when someone tries to get me to watch one of the “Hostel” movies all the way through or tells me I have to rewatch the original “Last House on the Left,” one of the only movies that has ever given me nightmares.   I might even try to remember it when I’m watching Sarah Bachman or Michelle Palin (oops!) giving a speech, though for me that will be a lot tougher. It is then you can come to my door (or blog) and shout me down with the inimitable words Oscar nominated and Emmy, Grammy and special Tony winner Bette Midler has shouted numerous times from stages all across the world,   “F—k ‘em, if they can’t take a joke!”