The First

I love Kathy Griffin and loathe Donald Trump. I like Rosie O’Donnell and am fed up with Rosanne Barr, who I would probably loathe if I didn’t believe she was in the grip of a severe mental health crisis.

Of course, I believe that Trump has severe mental health issues too and I still loathe him.

Maybe it’s because he occupies the office of what used to be the Leader of the Free World and can actually change the course of history, not to mention end the entire world as we know it.

All Roseanne can do is hate tweet, post ranting videos and be on a sitcom I wouldn’t watch.

This all bubbled up on Thursday night after seeing Kathy Griffin do a hilarious, dishy, touching and sometimes sad three-hour solo comedy show at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

The sad part wasn’t so much about the comic as it was about us and the cesspool of faux outraged, social media manipulated, human rights curtailing, conspiracy-based citizenry we have become.

I’m taking bids now

Many of us falsely believed that the social upheaval of the 1960s gave birth to a new time where we left McCarthyism behind and people could feel free to express their politics in any way they saw fit as long as they didn’t physically hurt anyone.

I, for one, can recall the late 1970s when, as a Jewish kid in grad school in Chicago, I heard the Nazis had chosen, of all places, to hold a big rally in the nearby heavily Jewish neighborhood of Skokie.

How could I be studying journalism in the U.S. and deny that these Hitler acolytes had the legal right to march right down the streets of that neighborhood? I couldn’t if I believed in freedom of speech, of religion, of the press and of peaceful assembly.

I mean, sure – I could will them to eat shit and die but I couldn’t actually poison it myself or let anyone else do it. I could show up in a counter demonstration where I sang Barbra Streisand songs or played the score of Fiddler on the Roof from my boom box but back in 1977 I’m not sure anyone would have gotten it.

sing it with me now: PEOPLE WHO NEED PEOPPPPLLLEEEE….

There was always the option of hurling rocks at them and starting a brawl but at 20 years old I was not ready to betray anything I believed in…quite yet.   And even if I could, I’d never be able to throw straight.   At that point I was having a hell of a time even being straight.

The above all refers to rights enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which reads as follows:

Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In the last 40 years we have evolved on many issues.   Gay people have the right to be married; public schools are integrated, as are most private institutions. Women can work and get closer to equal pay (well, 80 cents on the dollar) and, as of this weekend anyway, they still have the right to choose.

Very win-win, right?

Not feeling super confident on all of these points, Chairy.

But what we are beginning to fail at miserably is holding up the very basic tenants of the first amendment.

We now have elected (sort of) a president who ran his campaign on, and is actively trying to, ban Muslims and any other number of non-whites from entering the country in the name of national security; defends the point of view of white nationalists and foreign dictators as good people and strong leaders; and attacks the mainstream, fact-based press daily by calling its multi-sourced, fully vetted stories fake news and its reporters very bad people.

This, of course, has nothing directly to do with the cost of health care, whether or not we’ll make more money at the end of the year or if we can even get employment next year.

Until it does.

I need a nap

When you strip us right down to the studs (Note: And these days, who’d NOT want to), the core attraction of America is our FIRST amendment. Theoretically everyone here has the same rights and can say whatever the hell they want under the law. Even if it doesn’t always work out perfectly, from the top on down we have always strived for that ideal. Or, at least, pretended to.

Now the president is proposing that football players get suspended for taking a knee during the National Anthem and fired if they do it more than once. This is a far more stringent punishment than any of the Nazis got who marched in Charlottesville last year and actually killed an innocent woman.

Which brings us back to Kathy Griffin.

Spilling the T

The job of comedians is to make us laugh by being — provocateurs. They share their lens of the world by telling stories and jokes, pushing boundaries in the ways they see fit. It is their very point of view, mixed with some truth telling, that makes them unique and, in essence, defines their talent.

Last year, in response to Trump’s bull-in-the-china shop approach to tearing down the norms of government and insulting anyone who disagreed with him in a shockingly offensive manner by using coded graphic words and actions (and, behind-the-scenes, pornographic ones), Kathy decided to use her comic chops in a photo shoot that would shock us all to attention as to just what this man was doing not only to the country, but to the world.

So she had someone buy a $12 rubber Trump mask, doused it all over with ketchup, held it up as if it was his severed head, and then took a picture…which she then posted on social media.

I, for one, thought it was a hilarious, outrageous and very necessary political statement/response to the times we were and still are living in. In fact, I still do. So, in solidarity, here it is again:

blood coming out of his.. wherever

But because Trump is technically our Electoral College POTUS and has a lot of power, as well as a large following (Note: Though not as large as Hillary’s) here is what she got in return for 6-12 months and counting:

1- Her name on the no-fly list

2- Her name on Interpol (an international criminal police organization)

3- Daily death threats

4- The cancellation of all of her bookings in the U.S., often because venues were afraid of bomb threats.

5- Daily character assassinations on Fox News and TMZ, both of whose owners are rabid Trump supporters.

6- Marginalization by all the major network powers-that-be, who were terrified of offending potential sponsors (nee corporate $$) and the new Trump power base.

7- An international P.R. campaign, spurred on by Fox, that convinced millions of conservative viewers that she had become an actual member of ISIS.

8 – A relentless social media Russian bot patrol attack.

9 – Investigation by the Secret Service, the FBI and others about her plotting to actually assassinate our Electoral College POTUS.

10 – A Trump supporting next-door neighbor who cursed at her and verbally harassed her so consistently that she eventually had to sell her house and move.

She explains it much more thoroughly and with a great deal more humor in her current LAUGH YOUR HEAD OFF (Note: Yeah, that’s right) tour.

In addition, there are also GREAT and unexpected stories about Ellen, Stevie Nicks, Kim Kardashian, Jim Carrey, Jamie Fox, Billy Bush and even Stormy Daniels if you’re as much of a star/media f-cker as I am.

We’re with you KG

But what stood out the most to me leaving the show is that political protest has swung back about a century here except for the use of technology and social media by the powers-that-be doing the oppressing.

When Roseanne sends out an offensive racist tweet comparing a non-white person not elected to office and no longer in the zeitgeist to an ape for no other reason than she felt like it, it is hard to see what she is satirizing other than herself with a bad one-liner.

Nevertheless, she is covered by the first amendment and is free to do so. Much in the same way the corporations that employ her are legally able to fire her.

The same applies to Kathy and those also choosing not to work with her.

The difference is – Roseanne was NOT put on the no-fly list, NOT listed on Interpol, NOT checked out by law enforcement officials for a crime, and NEVER victimized by Russian bots.

my version of hell at least

However, she WAS publicly supported and tweet cheered by THE ONE PERSON person who is still the de facto Leader of the Free World – our current sitting Electoral College POTUS. With all the power that HE is allowed.

Think about that the next time you sit down for dinner with Trump supporting friends and relatives or find yourself in an impromptu political discussion with those who say you’re being too sensitive, paranoid or reactionary.

But don’t laugh your head off quite yet. You will need it – and A LOT more – in the coming months. COMRADE.

Little Anthony & The Imperials – “Goin’ Out of My Head”

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Living in an ADD World

Do you find your mind shifting from topic to topic these days?  Do you interrupt people far too often? Perhaps you’re jittery, nervous, impulsive, argumentative or – all of the above?

A qualified medical professional or experienced lay person could quickly diagnosis you with A.D.H.D. – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder – a condition that affects at least 8 million adults in the U.S. and approximately double that or more in children.

I know that because I am one of those adults and, though undiagnosed at the time, was one of those children.

I told you I was busy!

Relax, it’s not such a terrible condition. Medication can change your life. Simple organizational exercises and psychological coping mechanisms allow you to be highly functional and quite effective at any task at hand.   And even untreated, the condition can come with the ability to hyperfocus – which in my case meant the inordinately handy superpower of waiting until the last minute to complete absolutely everything (Note: And humblebrag, often to great results) for the entire first half of my life.

Still, if you’re just discovering all this in 2018, I’m sorry to say the overwhelming chances are YOU DO NOT HAVE ADHD.  

C’mon chairy!

Much as I’d like to welcome you into the club, I can’t.

Because what I believe, more than anything else, is that:

You simply have…HAD IT.

I can’t with all this, and neither can you. Who can? No one – not and remain fully functional and optimally effective.

YES TIM

And don’t tell me to turn off the news. What if this is 1936 Germany? (Note: If???). Would it be prudent to turn off the news? I just hate people whose diagnosis is to turn off the news. So don’t be one of those people.

Or, as Big Edie lectured to Little Edie in the brilliant musical Grey Gardens:

When are you gonna learn, Edie? You ‘re in this world, you know. You’re not out of this world.

Musical theatre aside, see if anything about this is familiar:

I started one morning this week walking my dog and reading, on my phone, a Business Insider story someone posted on the 90 Best picture Oscar movies ranked by top critics. Yeah, I was hoping to find Forrest Gump at #90 too but it was #84, which wasn’t too disappointing.

But then you have to live with things like All Quiet On The Western Front at #4 and Lost Weekend at #3? Have you ever suffered through either of them? Good, because before you do you’ll also want to know The French Connection is #10 while Midnight Cowboy is #54 and The Sound of Music is #64.

Nope. Don’t ask. NOT GOING THERE.

So f-ck this list.

Or any list because then I’m reading the actual paper (Note: Yeah, I do that sometimes) and see that Trump is saying his approval numbers are up to 50% in one poll and that they are higher than Pres. Obama’s at the time. And they’re particularly up among African Americans, which he attributes to Kanye West’s big fat virtual bear hug this week.

Well, it turns out Trump’s sort of right, but partly because it’s the Rasmussen poll, which always leans far right, but primarily because he has not taken an average of all polls across the board – which have him trailing Obama. Still, it’s in the ballpark and now I’ve spent too much time aggravating myself. But, well, at least I’m informed. Right?

Oh AMEN… on loop… forever #oruntil2020

Which leads me to seek some entertainment and I watch the work of two of my former students on DVR who write for the new Zack Braff sitcom Alex, Inc., which turns out to be a perfectly charming diversion from anything in my life. Except that it’s on ABC and one of the episodes I watch directly follows the dreaded, phony star of the people herself, Roseanne – a show and person I have vociferously boycotted because in 2018 I know there is nothing real or funny about her except her uncanny ability to get attention for herself under the guise of some fictional high ground (Note: Who does that sound like?).

Nevertheless, because I want to be loyal to my students I had set the DVR a few minutes early for Alex, Inc. so as not to miss a second of their show and instead am now stuck with the sickening spectacle of the new/old Roseanne sitting at her kitchen table, pretending she is a member of the white working class. Who, it seems, in real life, actually voted in the majority for Hillary Clinton and NOT for Trump. Yeah, that’s right.  Read this and think #NotFakeNews:

We’re talking nonfiction here people

At which point I later I see on Twitter that Stormy Daniels – my new hero because who doesn’t like a pissed off porn star with a real sense of humor who has an attorney smarter and way better looking than the president – dogging Roseanne. Which, okay, I cop to LOVING but not when I realize it’s only because Roseanne first dogged Stormy by categorizing her this way in a far larger fonted tweet:

To which Stormy responds:

To which I tweet back to both of them, and to Patricia Arquette, who was also somehow in the argument to begin with, don’t ask me to explain how:

And you think I should turn off the news? Or take my meds? #NotAChance.

delicious

Because then I would’ve missed Trump lying to a misguided (by him) crowd in Cleveland about bringing back jobs en masse to the Midwest that will never return, which allowed me to then laugh totally without guilt at Seth Meyers that night when Kathy Griffin referred to his First Sons as Date Rape and Eddie Munster.

Sure, I know it’s not right but I’m not perfect and when you’re desperate enough you will laugh at and/or vote for almost anything – as that rally in Cleveland so aptly demonstrated.

Still, this leaves me totally disarmed when Friday night I catch up with David Letterman’s new Netflix show, My Next Guest, where he interviewed Tina Fey and she actually apologizes for the last line in her brilliant SNL sheetcaking segment from last year that was in response the alt-right/Nazi /White Supremacist protestors of mostly young men marching in Charlottesville, VA where an innocent young woman was murdered (and many others injured) when one of their brood decided to drive a sports car into the crowd.

No regrets Tina

That was the line where Tina urged us NOT to show up to protest the Nazi brood there or in any other city but instead do precisely what these “chinless turds” don’t want us to – act like it’s the opening of a thoughtful movie with two female leads, don’t show up.

But because of all the blowback she got at the implication of silence as a strategy to resist Nazis she said she wishes she had a time machine to go back and change that line to something more like: fight them in every way except the way that they want.

Which then led me to ponder – do I now tweet Tina and tell her that despite the social media kerfuffle she needn’t rethink one line of her brilliant piece because these days there is no politically correct way to #Resist that will please everyone?

The fact that Tina wrote this line (from Mean Girls) is not lost on me

And thank God, or whoever you believe Her to be, for that because the next great moment of Resistance in my mind is scheduled for this summer in England. Trump is planning a state visit there July 15 and a crowd of 1000 drag queens (and growing) has already signed up to meet him at the airport in a massive demonstration. There is even a Facebook page for the event that states: Due to the appalling way the Trump administration has regarded the rights and welfare of LGBTQI communities of the US, the idea of a Trump visit to the UK is unacceptable.

CALL BACK TO RU 

Still even better is this further explanation by one of the organizers, Cheddar Gorgeous, stating that the strategy is really to be:

In solidarity with many other groups who feel marginalized along lines of race, class and gender.

Which finally leads me to accept this one simple fact –

Any world where someone named Cheddar Gorgeous can lead a massive anti-Trump rally in a country with one of the largest economies in the world (UK is #6, right behind….California…HQ of the #Resistance – ok, not a country but a state…of mind) — is not one where you to turn off the news – or to anything else – any time soon.

Meds or no meds.

Diana Ross – “I’m Coming Out”

Heads of State

Let’s look at the images side by side.

No – let’s really look.

I mean, there’s free porn all over the Internet featuring people (and god knows what else) doing sexual things you never dreamed of. And your kids – or nieces and nephews – have accessed this stuff more than once or ten times.

NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. #denial

Trust me, I know – I teach college juniors and seniors who reached puberty in the Digital Revolution.

But this week we’re not talking about sex, are we? It’s about political violence via comedy – or imagery – or something in that area.

So, how far is TOO FAR? Does it depend on the person being depicted in the image? Maybe it’s about the amount of blood or how vivid the photo is? Can a drawing be as offensive and tasteless as a photograph? What about taking iconic commercial photography and transforming it with a few clicks and inserts into something vile and offensive?

Oh.. so more offensive than this?

Well, I remember Judge Potter Stewart once famously said in a Supreme Court case that he couldn’t tell you what obscenity was but he knows it when he sees it. So I guess that would include not only sexual images but also violent ones, since in a broader definition the latter could also be considered pornographic, right?

I’m getting to the images.

Yes. imageS.

Having grown up in the sixties and seventies, I still subscribe to the Fairness Doctrine, which ostensibly ensured that when reporting on current events one needs to present both sides of a story.

This also works.

So it’s not enough to look at the comedian Kathy Griffin holding up the bloody severed head of our current Electoral Potus in a bizarre photo shoot.   If you’re going to critique an offensive image from one side, you need to show one perhaps equally offensive (Note: Or not, it’s your call) from the other.

Now, let’s really study them and see what we think because, really – if they’ve been on the Internet once, they WILL be there a million times more. I know it. You know it. And THEY all know it. Whoever the collective condemning THEY are in any particular moment.

Okay – ready. Here goes. Make your kids leave the room and make sure your heart medicine is nearby – that is if you need it or have any room left in your said, perhaps damaged, heart, for those on the side you particularly despise.   And yes – we’re all taking sides on this one.

Now. Once again. Ready, get set and…….go!!!!!!!

BEHOLD

There.

That wasn’t so bad, was it? Or was it??? Is your heart still even beating???

Take a breath.

Gimme a minute, Chairy!

Now you might be more offended by one or the other. Or perhaps you’re not offended at all. Maybe you think it’s all good under freedom of expression.

Or – maybe it’s nothing like that at all.

Maybe the severed head of a sitting president particularly offends you when its held by a popular left wing comic with whom you vehemently disagree with and never found funny.

Still, maybe taking the iconic campaign image of the previous president – the first BLACK president – and depicting him with a lynching rope around his neck as if he were a runaway slave who was caught and hung in the pre Civil War south – might bridle you more. Especially since it was also circulated when he was in office. 

I’m not one to judge for you. Only you can judge for you.   I mean —

As Rod Serling once wrote, it’s all in the “eye of the beholder.” Right?

Twilight Zone or how I imagine all Twitter Trolls?

Here’s what you need to understand. The image of Barack Obama lynched was widely passed all around right wing Republican circles and beyond with nary an apology or much massive regret at the time. And oh yes, what’s that I see, there’s even some red blood dripping down from the rope around his neck. Right above his tie. Which is right above the word ROPE – which substitutes for 44’s much quoted catch-phrase – HOPE.

Here’s what you also need to understand. The California Republican Party has just this weekend started using the Kathy Griffin/Trump beheading image in a FUNDRAISING EMAIL/LETTER.

Pretty much sums it up.

That’s right, they are so offended that are actually referencing and passing around the image over and over again in order to — make a buck.

Now — if that doesn’t make America great again, I don’t know what will.

#Resist

And save the outrage for real life. That goes for both sides. God knows, there’s enough to go around.

Seven more innocent souls were killed in London on Saturday and the blood they bled was real.

Stay strong london

Think about it the next time you decide to pile onto the tar and feathering of a comedienne in our virtual town square by supporting all those on your side of the aisle who feel the need to separate themselves from the motley pack of the rest of us by grasping for what is now our non-existent high ground.

Higher Ground – Playing for Change

A Real Piece of Work

Screen Shot 2014-09-07 at 12.22.38 PM

Nothing is permanent but change, said a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus around 500 BC. Well, one doesn’t have do be an expert in Greece or philosophy to know that this was rather prescient.

Imagine saying something – anything – that is still relevant 2500 years later?

Joan Rivers stayed relevant for at least that long. Okay, maybe it’s more of a “Jewish” 2500, which in my tribe would translate to a lifetime. But if you play it right, one lifetime is enough. And who knows, maybe all those centuries later someone will still be saying, Can we talk, as they dish the latest fashions on a show someone else is watching via some random iPhone. Which at that point will probably be an invisible Nano chip implanted directly into their EYE, rather than the i’s we now all know and love.

The death of Ms. Rivers this week – or Joan, as I was fortunate enough to call her the several times we met – collided with a lot of other renowned celebrity deaths and worldwide news in the last few weeks. But none so strangely 2014 Joan-worthy material as the massive iCloud cyber theft of naked photos of Oscar-winning actress and reigning American sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence, among others, that went viral. It’s sort of beside the point – or perhaps it is the point – but I keep wondering, what would Joan have had to say about all that?

Oh please, if I looked like Jennifer Lawrence naked you could’ve seen those pictures on every website in the world – but never for free. Dumb bitch!! Doesn’t she know one day those boobies will be mopping the floors for free?? (Insert Joan miming a boob mopping visual).

Or maybe she would have taken a different tack about any woman misguided enough to even snap pictures of themselves unclothed-

What is wrong with them? I’ve never even seen myself naked! How do you think I lived this long? (beat) And you wonder why Edgar killed himself.

Oh, grow up!!! You think she wouldn’t have gone there? Well, maybe she would have but surely she would’ve been funnier – a lot funnier. A lot, lot funnier. Which is one of so many reasons why we still need her around.

Would you expect anything less?

Would you expect anything less?

I tweeted this week that Joan Rivers was the only person who could offend me and make me laugh at exactly the same time. I meant it as the highest of compliments. I tend to lose my sense of humor about certain subjects that cut too close to the bone. For instance, I don’t find AIDS jokes funny. In the same way my parents’ friends don’t like to yuck it up about the Holocaust, Mel Brooks’ The Producers not withstanding.  Yet on the latter point here was Joan just a few months ago on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, explaining why she arrived to the studio late.

…They sent this big stretch Mercedes limousine for us and it got stuck – it wouldn’t move for two and a half hours! And I’m thinking the whole time, the Germans killed 6 million Jews and you can’t fix a f-cking carburetor?!

Oh Joan, Joan, Joan.

There is a brand of groundbreaking comedians who changed comedy so drastically that we will never quite see the likes of again because the times have changed so drastically since they started performing in the early and still uptight 1960s. Little-known names like Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen (not to mention the tail end of Lenny Bruce) scrounged around the seedy little Bohemian nightclubs of Greenwich Village, New York hoping to board the train of fame and fortune but happy just to be making a couple of bucks.

That was a time when there were exactly two mainstream female standup comics in the entire world – Phyllis Diller and Totie Fields – neither of whom were in their twenties. But every so often through force of will and talent – and often it takes both – someone breaks through the glass ceiling that Hillary Clinton so famously referred to in her 2008 concession speech for the Democratic presidential nomination. This does not mean that even now we live in a post-racial, post-feminist, post-Holocaust or post-gay world – as any number of recent news events certainly bare witness to. It only means that occasionally an individual comes along that won’t be stopped, and they open the door for a few others of their kind who manage to sneak through, which makes the entrance even bigger for a larger but still select group of some more of their types to come in. That is, until it’s the turn of another totally different individual of still yet another group or sensibility – when the cycle starts all over again.

We can thank Joan for paving the way for these ladies

We can thank Joan for paving the way for these ladies

The Bottom line – or – to put it another way: It’s never particularly easy – ever – for anyone who aspires to be at the top of anything when they do not act or look like everyone else at the peak of that mountain that they aspire to.

The terrain one takes to get to the top of the mountain keeps getting updated but the climb is not dissimilar. And it’s an ongoing, lifetime fight that’s a lot more difficult to deal with than the cyber stealing of a celebrity’s private nude shots. Sure, the latter seems particularly sleazy and heinous at this time but is it any worse than the distribution of previously unseen nudies some unscrupulous photographer took that caused now famed TV and musical theatre actress Vanessa Williams, then the first black Miss America, to be deposed from her throne in 1983 for something she did when she was broke and needed the money? Those same types of photos were also taken three decades earlier of another young, aspiring star – Marilyn Monroe. But both didn’t do too badly for themselves (well, relatively) even as they tried to exploit, and in turn found themselves exploited by, the business they so very much wanted to become a part of.

One might argue that it is different in the case of the Jennifer Lawrence photos since they were private and not done under contract or paid for like the others. But that is precisely what is NOT the difference in 2014. NOTHING. IS. PRIVATE. Especially when it is committed to film or still photography. And most especially when its owner posts it anywhere online. Rule of thumb: assume once you’ve posted it anywhere it can easily be accessed ad infinitum everywhere.

Truth!

Truth!

Joan Rivers recognized where this was all going decades before any of the rest of us did. She operated from the idea that nothing was sacred – especially when it applied to the rich and famous – meaning the people who could afford to take it. And most especially when it came to her stock in trade – laughter.

When another funny woman, Nora Ephron, died several years ago, many of the post mortems cited one of her mottos that she claimed was given to her early on by another comedy writer – her late mother and Hollywood screenwriter, Phoebe Ephron. And that advice was:

Everything in your life that happens to you is material.

Joan took this adage one step further– Everything that happens to anyone else, everywhere else is your material.

And she would tell you where to stick it.

And she would tell you where to stick it.

Joan used this material for her comedy and she was fearless about it. She may or may not have meant it as a motto or way to live in the new 21st century world we are all forced to inhabit but when you stop and think it just might be a pretty smart strategy to realize that:

Nothing is sacred and not much can be hidden. So it’s probably a lot better to be open and honest about it all than to try and pretend you or it are something you’re not.

After all – as one speech teacher said to me years ago when I confessed I was quite nervous to get up in front of a room full of people – everyone goes to the bathroom the same way. Just picture them doing that – or naked in the shower. That should set your mind at ease. (Note: Yes, a teacher in school once told me that. And you wonder why I followed in that person’s footsteps).

But back to Joan, who I’m very happy not to ever have to follow even though in some small way I am.

The early days

The early days

Longevity and fearlessness are rarities in the Business of Show and even more infrequent in the Business of Life. People flame out – their fires doused by others or the group efforts of the unfriendly worlds that cohabitate all around them. That’s why a career of almost 60 years with its countless ups and downs, triumphs, offenses and reinventions – and most importantly – unerring ability to stay relevant to audiences and pop culture no matter what the cost – is worth saluting. Can you name another 81 year-old entertainer starring in three television shows and still doing 300 club dates per year cracking up people all over the world (or even offending them – it’s just the opposite side of the exactly the same coin) up until the night before they died? I certainly can’t. (Click here to take a small break with some of Joan’s best work)

Full confession: Despite having some mutual friends, I only got to speak to Joan at any great length more than a year ago at a friend’s birthday party. She was funny, self-deprecating and incredibly smart and well read – a softer, more thoughtful version of her stage persona – and a lot more gracious that I expected. After several hours together – and in one of the rare moments when the laughter died down – I decided to go for it and share something I told her I had always wanted to say to her. A long beat went by and she looked at me a bit fearfully and said, uh, oh.

My own "Can We Talk" moment

My own “Can We Talk” moment

Oh no, I responded, it’s nothing bad.

Okay, she said, still not quite believing.

It’s just that – I always wanted to thank you. See, in the early eighties you did the first AIDS benefit I ever went to at Studio One (NOTE: A small gay nightclub in West Hollywood) and it was at a time when no one else famous was really speaking up. I just so really appreciated it. As did many of my friends who are no longer here.

She looked back at me sincerely and said thank you and revealed that she had received several death threats that evening if she dared to perform.

Weren’t you afraid, I wondered?

A little, she responded. But we hired a couple of big bodyguards, who I’m sure everyone thought just worked there. I would never NOT do the show because of that.

Fearless.

In the middle, at the beginning and to the very end.

Your Evil Empire

Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 2.05.57 PM

I received an email the other day that the Center Theatre Group will be presenting the first ever L.A. production of David Mamet’s 2009 Broadway play, Race, at the end of the month. Now, normally when there’s a new (or even newish) Mamet I’m there. Even if the play doesn’t quite work for me, Mamet’s a master provocateur and always writes about stuff that either interests me greatly or fascinates me deeply, albeit from a safe distance.

Yet I found myself physically recoiling at the idea of giving Mr. Mamet even one nickel since he’s turned into a right wing conservative and gone on a diatribe against brain dead Hollywood liberals. Not that I’m in an upper enough tier of Hollywood to even be considered as such but, well, I do live here, am a writer and most certainly am and always will be a LIBERAL.

Oh honey, going on Fox News... really?

Oh honey, going on Fox News… really?

By the way, many friends of my parents’ assured me this would change as I got older but it has not yet occurred – nor do I ever expect it to. Perhaps this is because when they said it they didn’t realize I was gay and thus failed to take into account the unlikelihood of me ever belonging to a political party that legislatively hates the idea that I exist. Well, what else am I to think when the overwhelming majority of the literature and leading voices from the Republican Party – an umbrella coven for conservatives that comprises one half of all major political covens parties (that would be two) in the U.S. – throw a major temper tantrum every time a new law is amended or passed guaranteeing me the same rights as everyone else?

Of course, what are they and any of us to make of the approximately 1 out of 5 LGBT Americans who still belong to said coven and, when confronted with the paradox, claim to be working for change from within? How do I know they answer this way? Well, that’s the response I’ve gotten for approximately 25 years of asking the question calmly. If any other excuses were offered I was probably seething, yelling or being physically restrained from strangulation (Note: theirs) at the time so I might not have heard them.

The gospel according to Kathy

The gospel according to Kathy

But back to Mr. Mamet and the five pennies of royalties (I’m estimating the amount based on his shelf full of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for drama) he will not be getting from me this time.

I do realize I am being a bit short sighted here. I mean, how are any of us to rectify our political and social points of view with our choices as consumers? For instance, I vowed I would never ever buy Barilla pasta again since last year their CEO proclaimed gays unfit to raise children — and haven’t. Yet last weekend I conveniently forgot this and a box of their multigrain rotini snuck into my basket at Gelson’s because I wanted to make something healthier and lighter for Sunday night dinner and the Significant Other wanted his favorite tomato eggplant toss to cheer him up.

Well at least after this week's news, I can go back to Target!

Well at least after this week’s news, I can go back to Target!

This summer a friend brought my attention to the website hollowverse.com, which has massive lists of the political and religious affiliations of the rich and famous in show biz and other bizzes. This dear friend, who is even more liberal than myself if such a thing is possible – and most certainly more virulently vocal about it (which doesn’t seem possible but is) – will do whatever is necessary to avoid the work of any single person on the list who voted against his beliefs. And if they do appear in or make something he does have an interest in seeing or buying he will be begrudgingly hard on them and their work now and in the future – voicing his disdain for them to whoever he meets – meaning many, many, many people. I can’t say I haven’t done this and still don’t continue to do so at times. On the other hand, I find it quite tiring at other moments and just want to turn it all off and put on HGTV – a place where no one has politics and everyone advocates for an open concept, or at least secretly longs for one.

Gay or straight I think we can agree this much space would be fab.

Gay or straight I think we can agree this much space would be fab.

The other problem with that website, as I pointed out to my friend, is that like all websites it markets in the occasional inaccuracy. Case in point: it lists Anderson Cooper contributing to the Republican Party and, by inference, claims he is a member of that coven.

Trust me, Anderson Cooper is NOT a Republican,! I insist to my friend.

He’s gay, he’s best friends with Kathy Griffin, and he lives in New York. Plus, I know someone who used to sleep with him (Note: Which gay guy in America doesn’t) and, well, he would have mentioned something.

When my friend still wasn’t buying it I pulled out the Trump (not Donald) card:

Listen, he’s a Vanderbilt and is probably on one of their boards that contributed and his name got attached. Seriously!

I mean... this is who he's photographed with. Let's be real, people.

I mean… this is who he’s photographed with. Let’s be real, people.

That seemed to calm him down but only slightly and I’m not sure it will hold in the long term. Unfortunately, it also got me to thinking – what if I’m wrong? Well, thank God (or whoever you imagine Her to be), AC doesn’t have a show on HGTV or I would be in serious trouble.

Of course, when Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon came out vociferously against the Iraq War in the post-9/11 climate, they were lambasted in much of the mainstream media, referred to as anti-American by many others on the fringe (Note: Is there a worse epithet from the extreme right wing except maybe being gay, poor, an immigrant or an unwed mother on food stamps?) and, as a result, their star power suffered.

Then there’s Jane Fonda – who has still not been forgiven by a group of my friends’ more conservative fathers for her virulent opposition to the Vietnam War. Forget that the years have pretty much proven all three of them correct – well at least in my unbiased left wing opinion.

But maybe looking this good at 76 should make me hate her?

But maybe looking this good at 76 should make me hate her?

Yes, we can take this further and we will. What about………………..…Woody Allen?

Do you not go to any of his movies if you believe any of the accusations hurled at him about his personal life by his estranged daughter Dylan Farrow; his ex-long term girlfriend, her mother Mia Farrow; and his estranged son, MSNBC’s Ronan (formerly Satchel) Farrow? (Note: The latter could conceivably be Frank Sinatra’s child in the final analysis, making his expertise on the subject almost beside the point, though the circumstances of his birth certainly could contribute as to whether members of any coven at all believe the accusations (or anything else) coming from the mouth of mother Mia).

Oy vey! I don't think Ronan's jewish!

Oy vey! I don’t think Ronan’s jewish!

Well, if I were a character in one of Mr. Allen’s movies I might avoid answering the question altogether and say this:

I don’t feel entirely comfortable equating Woody Allen to the artistic works of, say, Leni Riefenstahl – who filmed aesthetically seductive Nazi imagery under the protective wing of Adolph Hitler and German nationalism in the 1930s. Still, is her work on Triumph of the Will and Olympia 1 & 2 any less, well – beautiful – because what it sells is abhorrent? Can’t you admire the art while repeatedly hitting the artist with 3 dozen baseball bats and a sack of manure until she dies, you nihilist you?

I found myself making this very argument in my mind last week with all the publicity surrounding the HBO broadcast of its Nixon by Nixon – a documentary that included never released secret tapes from the former president. (Note: Yes, there were more of them). I really loathed the guy and his politics, even as a young teenager. He smeared Helen Gahagan Douglas in order to win his first seat in the US Senate; hated the free press and sought to control it; and sold the country a non-existent bill of goods about a secret plan to end the Vietnam War in order to get elected president in 1968, taking four years plus to do it as many thousands of young men died needlessly. Not to mention finally capping it all off with using an illegal financial slush fund and his vast presidential powers in order to spy on political opponents via the Watergate break-in and then lying about it, thus bringing down his presidency and almost the entire country in the process.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Dick!

Happy 40th Anniversary… DICK

Add to that the guy was a classic Jew hater (Copyright Woody Allen) as confirmed on his new (and old) tapes, his “friendship” with Henry Kissinger notwithstanding.

Nevertheless, as a young man I still did watch the entire 1977 broadcast of Nixon’s multi-part interview with David Frost about all things Nixon, including Watergate – and waited for him to say anything to make me understand where he was coming from at the time. So I did and still do want both sides. But with some people or in some cases we all finally just have to say ourselves:

Enough is enough and really, I have little to no interest in you or the warped POV you rode in on anymore.

This is not necessarily a good thing and the truth is I will probably weaken and watch at least a portion of Nixon by Nixon at some point because I like to stay current.  Yet this also doesn’t mean I have ever quite forgiven Diane Sawyer for going to work for Nixon in the White House (as a press aide from 1970-1974) through the writing of his memoirs in her younger days and then using that experience to advance her career. In fact, it’s always caused a larger dollop of doubt in my mind about anything she’s said as a news anchor despite her sweet as silk, honey-dripping delivery and smile. Yeah, she married Mike Nichols and show business friends who know her tell me I’m being ridiculous, petty and small-minded because I’d really like her if we met. And to this I answer:

I might be ridiculous and petty but someone with a truly small mind would not remember the fact that she worked to maintain and then rehabilitate the image of the most corrupt president in US history. AND got paid handsomely for it.

I just can't shake the "ick" factor here.

I just can’t shake the “ick” factor here.

Of course, everyone we support (even ourselves) has probably said or done something we disagree with or perhaps loathe. Certainly every time we buy a product manufactured by a corporation or large institution we put what little is left of our high-minded moral principles in jeopardy because if some magical fairy (Note: Not Me) were able to take the time to learn ALL the facts about what we just bought or who we bought it from, the world economy and everyone in it would come to a disquieting and paralyzing standstill.  I’m thinking Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream might be one of the rare exceptions, though that too could be wishful thinking. After all, there must be a conservative, anti-gay version of the two hippies who built that billion dollar empire somewhere in this world – though perhaps none living in Vermont who made their fortunes making highly fattening dessert items. Still, I can’t quite claim to know any of that for sure.

What I do know is that I have zero plans to see the new Mamet play at the Kirk Douglas Theatre this month or any other month, at least for right now. That’s MY five cents – for what it’s worth. It may or may not concern Mr. Mamet in the long run but is certainly not going to him any time soon.

Pop Culture Crack

<> on October 19, 2009 in Santa Clarita, California.

The Oscars are the crack of pop culture.  And like any drug addict, we culture vultures out there have a love-hate relationship.  We love the idea of it but when we indulge too much we feel sick to our stomachs.  We fetishize everything about it – what it looks like, how it will feel when we get a good dose of it (because like any good vice, all you can remember is how great you felt the very first time you indulged and not how awful the last time), what the excitement will be like when we’re in the midst of all the cool friends we’ll get to hang out with when we are partaking, and how we’ll experience all the glamorous surroundings we’ll be able to live in for those few (or too many?) hours we are feeling its effects before being dropped back into the harsh realities of everyday life the next morning, suddenly feeling lousy and realizing we’ve once again participated in something that, in the long run, really isn’t good for us.

Am I exaggerating?  Well, as one of Will Ferrell’s most memorable characters once stated on Saturday Night Live: “Maybe I am and maybe…I am.”  But that doesn’t make it any less true.  Chances are if you’re still reading, you are a pop culture vulture, as addicted as I am, and will continue to be so.  The Oscars (no longer called the Academy Awards, per the announcement by this year’s producers, who decided the term sounded too musty) are just made (born?) that way no matter how disappointing, boring, over-the-top, inappropriate, endless or just plain bad they are in any given year.  And let’s face it, they’ve been all of that and more, year after year.  So let’s do what any self-respecting pop culture addicts do – give in and – INDULGE.

Yes, Mother Monster.. I was born this way.

Yes, Mother Monster.. I was born this way.

Think of this post in three sections – the television show; drinking game ideas (or merely soft drink/party games for those under 21); and my best attempt to give you some informed predictions so you can, at the very least, win the Oscar (NOT the Academy Awards) pool.

THE TELEVISION SHOW

It’s going to be a long one this year and it’s going to be very gay. Like even gayer than I am.   And that’s pretty gay.  But not as gay as this show. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of us.

What do I mean by gay? (And yes, of course I’m stereotyping – but only in a good gay way).  Well, one of the themes of the evening will be Oscar devoting itself to musicals.   No more movie music being relegated to a tacky medley of nominated songs or no medley at all.  Still don’t believe me?  Okay, here are a partial list of some of the singers: Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey (she sang the original Goldfinger for everyone under 30), Adele, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the reunited cast of Chicago (because there’s been an outcry), as well as Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and the reunited cast of this year’s multi Oscar-nominated Les Miserables (because it’s been too long). Plus – there’s a singing host who the producers claim sounds “exactly like Sinatra” (their quote, not mine) named Seth MacFarlane, who will be closing out the evening in song with Broadway diva (divette?) Kristin Chenoweth in a specialty number that is being kept under close wraps.  What little information we do know is that this musical number will be sung AFTER the announcement of best picture – the usual close out moment of the evening.  Why do I say this is gay?  Because if there’s one thing about my tribe, it’s that when we throw the party we not only make our own rules but WE – NOT YOU – and certainly not TRADITION – decide when it’s over.

Yes, it can get gayer than this.

Yes, it can get gayer than this.

Okay, so then – why am I guessing it’ll be a long show?  Well, aside from the James Bond tribute, the salute to musicals, Seth MacFarlane’s monologue, the crew from the accounting firm that tabulates the written and, for the first time this year, online ballots, the In Memoriam segment, the backstage hosts, and the web shout outs, this year we have an unusually long list of famous people who have been announced to be participating on camera.

Among these are an all-star presenters list that includes but is not limited to: Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, Jamie Foxx, Melissa McCarthy, John Travolta, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Liam Neeson, Reese Witherspoon, the cast of The Avengers (that’s Robert Downey, Jr, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Walberg with his teddy bear Ted co-star Seth MacFarlane TED.  Plus last year’s acting winners – Meryl Streep, Jean Dujardin, Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer.  Plus – and this is my favorite part – special appearances by Charlize Theron, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Daniel Radcliffe.  What’s a special appearance?  Tune in and be afraid, be very afraid..  But here’s my suggestion: food and drink, some blankets and some pillows and…some attitude.  Lots of it.

PARTY GAMES!

Another delightful indulgence

Another delightful indulgence

If you want to challenge your friends, relatives, enemies or professional rivals, here are some thoughts for possible moments during which you can raise a glass, a cup or a goblet.  Or wager a bet.

  1. The number of candid camera shots in the audience of the golden couple du jour, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner (this year’s Brad and Angie).  (Answer: 8?)
  2. Each time or total number of Meryl Streep references, jokes or shout outs.
  3. The number of times (or each time) Catherine Zeta-Jones sings off-tune in her musical number.  (Hopefully, there won’t just be one – number that is – I’m hoping for at least 3 clunkers).
  4. Ben Stiller appearances in a stupid costume (even though he’s not scheduled on the show I still don’t rule it out)
  5. One out-of-place star of an ABC television show who will sneak in as a presenter or participant in an over-the-top moment of network hubris.
  6. Longest standing ovation lasting longer than 30 seconds.  Or any standing ovation if you get particularly thirsty.
  7. Biggest surprise appearance with extra points (or drinks) for each decade of age or each decade of not having been in the public eye.
  8. Number of times Seth MacFarlane breaks into the voice of Family Guy’s Stewie, another animated character, or into song.
  9. Number of Harvey Weinstein jokes or thank-yous.  (And if the thank-you and joke are in the same moment then it only counts once).
  10. How many times, or each time, the camera catches the Tommy Lee Jones scowl. (I’m so hoping for the number 10).

Certainly, feel free to use your imagination in this section and add and subtract as you see fit.

PREDICTIONS

Blogging the Oscars!

Blogging the Oscars!

This is an imperfect science at best, even for veteran Oscar watchers like myself.  The trick is to not get sucked in by what you want to or perceive will win but to try to think like you are one big mass of Academy, uh Oscar voters.  That means you’re likely white, over fifty, somewhat liberal, somewhat opinionated, and a little personally petty but still idealistic enough to want to reward someone who makes you feel good by representing the best of humanity with their movies.  (Note:  You might even give the odd vote to a filmmaker who sends a political message as long as its not too overly threatening or out of the mainstream of cable news subject matter).

Rather than be coy like this year’s show we’re going to start with the most talked about awards and work our way down. There is logic in this since what will give you the edge in the pool is you getting the vote right in the “smaller” categories people know the least about.

Hollywood on Hollywood? Oscar bait much?

Hollywood on Hollywood? Oscar bait much?

1. Best PictureArgo (fuckyourself).  It’s won every guild award and the Oscar voters are also all individual guild members.

  My Personal Choice:  Silver Linings Playbook – I’m a softie and it’s really tough to do those kinds of movies and get them right.  Plus, I’m all for dramatic license but I can’t get past the idea of advertising a political film that says “based on true events” and then distorting facts in order to create a dramatic point.  It’s okay to condense situations or create a composite character – that’s dramatic license.   Blatantly changing facts to suit a dramatic need is a no-no.

2. Best Actor – Daniel-Day Lewis, Lincoln.  He has as much chance of losing as I do of winning in this category.

My Personal Choice:  Daniel Day-Lewis because it was a resurrection, not a performance.

3. Best Actress – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s a showy part in which she never overacts and where she shifts from drama to comedy and somewhere in between on a dime.  She is not going to get eclipsed by Emanuelle Riva in Amour or Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty because I like my television and do not want to destroy it with a glass object on Oscar night.

My Personal Choice:  Jennifer Lawrence.  See Above.

3. Best Supporting Actor – Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook.

Yes, we're talking to you.

Yes, we’re talking to you.

His studio ran a great campaign reminding voters that DeNiro hasn’t won an Oscar in many decades (see Meryl Streep Oscar campaign playbook of last year).  But more importantly, DeNiro gave an honest, raw and vulnerable portrait of an older man without making it treacly or obvious.  That’s why other actors practically genuflect in his presence and that’s why he will win.

My Personal Choice: Robert DeNiro. See Above.

4. Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables.  Let’s put it this way – I was at the Motion Picture Academy screening of Les Miz and there was about a minute’s worth of applause during the film after her song.  Enuf said.

My Personal Choice:  Don’t hate me – Anne Hathaway.  You try singing that song and making it something we’ve never heard sung before

5.  Best Director – Steven Spielberg, Lincoln.  This is the toughest category.  I was about to write in Ang Lee for Life of Pi because a. there’s been a groundswell of support these last few weeks and b. Pi breaks new ground technologically.  But something tells me Oscar voters, many of them mainstream Hollywood types, really do want to reward Steven for helping to keep the industry afloat.  Plus, even though Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, the movie is a bit of a kiss off from liberal America to Congressional gridlock coupled with a warm embrace to a president who tries to reach beyond Washington, D.C. directly to the people.

My Personal Choice:  David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s not his year but it’s the film with the most inherent booby traps by which a director can go terribly wrong.  And he didn’t fall into any of them.  In fact, he ran with them and created something quite unique – a feel good movie that isn’t cliché.  Try it some time.

6. Animated Feature FilmWreck It Ralph.  The Academy isn’t hip but the video game patina, the reviews and the general feeling that it IS the best animated film of the year will buoy Ralph to victory.  Brave is a close second.

My Personal Choice:  Paranorman.  Not because it is the best but because I WAS (am?) PARANORMAN.

7. Cinematography – Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi.  For filming what everyone in the industry thought was the unfilmmable.  And for giving a boost to the art of 3-D.

My Personal Choice: Robert Richardson, Django Unchained.  He’s won three Oscars and is one of the best that’s ever been in the business.  He brought a beauty and ugliness to the Old West and the Civil War era and did it without a lot of trickery.  I like that.

OK time for a bathroom break while those boring accountants stoll out..

OK time for a bathroom break while those boring accountants stroll out..

8. Costume Design – Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina.  It’s won almost everything in this category elsewhere.  Personally, I thought the clothes were a little overindulged, like the rest of the film.  Clearly, I’m a philistine.

  My Personal Choice:  Joanna Johnston, Lincoln.  The clothes reflected the characters and felt real.  I can’t imagine making Lincoln’s stovepipe hat not seem like a prop.

9. Documentary Feature – The Gatekeepers.  I watched ALL of the documentaries and, truly, any one is worthy of the win.  An exceptional group.  The majority opinion is on the seemingly unbelievable but true story of a once lost and now found singer in Searching for Sugarman.  But there is something about watching the various former heads of the Israeli CIA talk about the real and ongoing history of war, torture, espionage and the like that has international resonance for today.  Plus, Academy voters seldom pass up anything that has to do with this part of the world.

   My Personal Choice:  A tough one but…The Gatekeepers

10. Documentary Short SubjectInocente. I know the least about this category because I haven’t seen the nominees.  But awarding a good short on immigration seems timely and prognosticators seem to give this one the edge.

My Personal Choice – I’m blindfolded.  Don’t make me choose.

11. Film Editing – William Goldenberg – Argo – I guess it’s about the final escape sequence that didn’t really happen.  The America/John Wayne type thing and all that.  Or perhaps the opening documentary-like footage in the Middle East crosscut with Washington, DC.  But this looks like a sure winner.

My Personal Choice:  Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty.  Re-creating the capture of Osama Bin-Laden and not making it rah-rah glossy.  They deserve an award for that.

12. Foreign FilmAmour.  Ever go to a party where everyone had a meaningful or great time and you were just bored?  That’s me at Amour.  Don’t hate me.  I do have a soul.  Just not during those two hours.  I don’t get the hoopla but hoopla, in this case, is inescapable.  Meaning, take the bet.

My Personal Choice: Anything but A.

13. Makeup and Hairstyling – Lisa Westcott and Julie Dartnell, Les Miserables.  So many rags, so many dirty faces, so many close-ups.  The Academy loves this movie and, as a group, know so little about hair and makeup that doesn’t make you look good.  Therefore, they will be very impressed.

Although I'm sure that's how Helena showed up to work that day...

Although I’m sure that’s how Helena showed up to work that day…

My Personal Choice:  24/7 personal hair and makeup for moi.  More hair than makeup.

14. Original Score –   Mychael Danna, Life of Pi.  Certainly the most original score.  And it’s the only score people keep talking about.  It is close to a certainty.

My Personal Choice:  To listen to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever (which didn’t get any music nominations) on a loop instead.

15. Original Song – Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth, Skyfall. It’s ADELE.  Please!!!

My Personal Choice:  You’re not serious, are you?

The ultimate Bond girl.

The ultimate Bond girl.

16. Animated Short FilmPaperman, John Kars.  Boy meets girl thanks to a piece of paper.  It’s sweet, clever and lovely.  And the best in the category (where I’ve again seen all the nominees) by a lot.

My Personal ChoicePaperman – It’s a writer thing.

17. Live Action Short FilmAsad, Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura.  Another difficult category in which I have seen all five nominees.  At first this story of a young boy trying to survive the perils and poverty in Somalia felt earnest but derivative.  But as it went on it turned expectation and convention on its ear and delivered in a light-handed yet very meaningful way.  It feels like something the voters will want to reward.  Close second would be Buzkashi Boys – a more heavy-handed young boy coming-of-age story in Afghanistan.

     My Personal ChoiceCurfew, Shawn Christensen.  He made the kind of short I’d like to make and did it with an unexpected dance, a lack of post-modern irony and without backing away from very real human drama.  Bravo.

18. Sound Editing – Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton, Life of Pi.  It’s not easy to figure out the right balance of animal sounds, the ocean, the jungle, and a lot of voice-over narration.  But Argo, Les Miz, Lincoln and Skyfall were all very tough challenges.

My personal choice:  I’m unqualified to choose.  Okay, Life of Pi.

19. Sound Mixing – Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes, Les Miserables.  It won the Guild awards and when the Oscar voters hear sound mix the obvious thought is – vote musical.

My personal choice:  Same as above.  In this case only, I am no smarter than an Oscar voter.

20. Visual Effects – Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, Life of Pi.  The perception is that this is what this film is primarily about.  It will win.  The end.

     My Personal Choice:  I’ll bite – Life of Pi

Note:  I have saved the writing categories – my favorites – for the finale.

21. Adapted Screenplay – You don’t know how much I DON’T want to write this.

Though I'd love to sit in on that development meeting..

Though I’d love to sit in on that development meeting..

Chris Terrio, Argo.  It wasn’t a bad film but I don’t get the outpouring.  Does Hollywood love seeing itself cast as the heroes?  Are Americans in general just hungry to see something, anything good portrayed about US foreign policy?  Has Ben Affleck, or at least his work, seduced more people than he himself has done personally?  Probably all of the above.  But this does not explain why a screenplay that condenses and fictionalizes numerous events, and to my mind has A LOT of lagging moments that feel written, especially in the first half, has become the critical darling of so many.  As for Academy members – writing awards unfortunately can sometimes be seen as big consolation prizes.  Even though Ben didn’t write Argo, it’ll be yet another olive branch to him.  (Note:  I still think his movie Gone Baby Gone is terrific – AND his best).

My Personal Choice:  Hmmm – can I vote for both David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook and Tony Kushner, Lincoln?  No?  Damn.  Okay – I have to go with Mr. Russell for being real, clever, dramatic and a bit Hollywood all in one.  Mr. Kushner did a Herculean job on an impossible task.  How do you tell a microcosm story of Lincoln in two and a half hours?  By playing a bit with the facts – maybe a bit too much in the climactic vote scene.  Hence my vote for Russell.

22. Original Screenplay – Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained.  The key word is ORIGINAL.  He didn’t win for Inglorious Bastards.  Mark Boal did win for The Hurt Locker so voters probably won’t be swayed this time by his work on Zero Dark Thirty.  And if Michael Haneke wins here for his script of Amour, that’s the sound of my flat screen crashing out the window that you’ll hear.

  My Personal Choice:  Django, mother-f-ker.

The Passion of the Chair

Watching the hour-long NBC fundraising concert special for Hurricane Sandy survivors, one saw A LOT of talent on passionate display.  And not so coincidentally, this talent all hailed from the affected areas.

Christina Aguilera: Staten Island Girl

Bruce Springsteen: Jersey Boy

Billy Joel: Long Island Boy

Steve Tyler: Yonkers, NY Boy

Mary J. Blige: Bronx Girl

Sting: Okay, he’s the exception but since Sting is not his real name we’re not going to deal with him right now.

It can be enough to be extremely talented. But if you want to deliver 200% on your potential you also have to figure out what aspects of your talents in your passionate sweet spot you can use to take you to, as Stevie Wonder once sang, your Higher (Highest?) Ground.  As a writer, what are the stories you lived or saw others close to you live that you have to tell?  As a visual artist, what moves you the most and what do you urgently even require to express to us visually?  What kinds of people and situations hit home for you as an actor that you are compelled at all costs, especially embarrassment, to embody?  Most people have one area where they are best or at least most emotionally connected.  And yes, it is possible to be very good and financially successful at stuff you don’t love or care about. But you will never reach the heights in that field the way you will by using a skill in an area that truly unleashes your inner passion.

Meet Jack Passion. Yes, that is his real name. I bet you can all guess what he is passionate about.

Most actors are not equally adept at comedy or drama. But for the few that are there is still a universal depth of character in all of their performances that accounts for their stand out work, rather than timing, lucky breaks or a facility in a particular genre.  For example, Sean Penn is a rare actor who can do both.  In comedy, no one can forget his iconic Malibu stoner Spicoli in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” but I would argue this is partly because he grew up in Malibu among stoners who attended schools like Ridgemont High and admittedly carried that memory deep inside.  Mr. Penn won his second best actor Oscar for playing political crusader Harvey Milk but it would also be logical he was particularly able to rise to one of his greatest roles in part because Mr. Penn has been a real-life political crusader for 20 plus years (no I’m NOT saying he’s in Harvey Milk’s category, please…) and can innately understand how that feels.

Righteous, Dude.

In particular, real-life politicians also fit this bill.  Bill Clinton is never better than when he is charming crowds of people with the Southern charm he grew up on.  Barack Obama is also inspiring to large crowds but usually emits a coolness that seems to imply he does not suffer fools gladly, or, at least, does not feel their pain in the same Clintonesque fashion.  On the other hand, Pres. Obama seems to have a very strong personal moral compass, instilled in him by his Kansas born and bred mother and grandparents that Mr. Clinton doesn’t always have, that seems to engender likeability and respect (well, mostly on the latter).  He and his staff also know how to marshal forces in a conspicuously effective way partly because of the traits that enabled Mr. Obama to be the outstanding community organizer in Chicago he once was and, as some would argue, continues to be, only now on a national and international stage.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who tried to take apart the President as Mitt Romney’s keynote surrogate at the Republican convention, has a talent to be a plain talking everyman, albeit one who is brash and pushy.  Some people dismiss this as simply an ability to bully people into his beliefs rather than based in talent or personality.  Perhaps it is a talent to use one’s personality to a bigger goal.  Clearly, we all might have these hidden talents that we reserve for actions with family and friends but using it outside our inner circle in work and in public life allows us to transfer these traits into other arenas and enables us to develop them as one of our truest talents. If we don’t choose to work at them and go public, these traits are still ability but not one we might put to maximum talent effect.

Proof that we can work together

Yet if all this is true, why was Gov. Christie’s speech as a scripted attack dog roundly panned at the Republican convention when his impromptu brashness at press conferences – most recently this week’s performance praising Pres. Obama for his quick Hurricane Sandy disaster response in New Jersey – consistently seem to get him praise?  I would argue that’s because Mr. Christie’s brash abilities are put to their best use when he finds a cause that hits home, in this case literally.  When his beloved New Jersey found itself devastated this week by a hurricane, mostly out of love of his birthplace and partly out of self-preservation as governor, he dropped his negative attack dog mode and with the best of his passion and talent reached across the aisle and gave everything but a tacit endorsement of the man (Pres. Obama) he tried to take apart to millions of television watching voters just several months earlier.  Mr. Christie’s talent for impromptu passionate speaking – okay, perhaps bullying plain logic –worked in an entirely different and arguably much better way to greater effect when he found a cause that hit closest (again, literally) to where he lives rather than in the philosophical, issue-oriented faux world of politics.  More simply put, recovering his state from natural disaster could have provided something perhaps equally valuable — a tipping point for national bipartisanship in a hopelessly polarized political landscape across the country.

Watching people rise to the height of their talents and potentials in a certain area can be dizzying, thrilling, emotional, sweet, lovely, fun or just plain nice.  I’ve had any number of careers and have been good at all of them.  But some took much better advantage of my talents than others.  I find that teaching makes the most of many of them.  When all I did was write for a living I got lonely.  When I worked as a reporter I found myself not being creative enough by solely sticking to the facts.  I enjoyed the money I made doing publicity but disliked being a salesperson who had to often push “items” (nee movies) I didn’t personally believe in.  While I could marshal my talents in discourse, writing and general geniality to do well but as a sales person, something always felt off for me even when I was successful at it – as if I was in the wrong place at the right time.

Creative people are faced with this all of the time in the commercial marketplace.  I teach my students to work on what they care about but to also understand the outside world and take steps “to be able to eat” in choosing at least some of the work they do.  The latter can be either inside their discipline or in taking “day jobs” outside of it to pay the rent if the former isn’t comfortable. Clearly, no creative person feels equally passionate about each creative job they’re paid for.  But part of the task in doing your work well is to find a glimmer of passion in that particular task that will enable your talent to shine through and bring your work on that particular task to the best of your professional levels at the time.

Even icons in the entertainment business have to deal with the issue of passion.  Here’s a pop quiz:

Who is the only recording artist to have five #1 singles on the Billboard  charts – one each decade – in the1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and aughts?

No — It’s not Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joe, Barbra Streisand or Frank Sinatra.

It’s….Cher.

Cher-fro

Yes, Cher.  But as much as she’s achieved over the last 50 years, one could argue that Cher’s creative life has probably not been best displayed or utilized in the public arena in the last decade.  She seldom makes films and when she does (“Burlesque”) they’re more campy rather than memorable.  Her records are few and far between; her stage shows are fun but sort of walk-throughs down memory lane.  And yes, at this point of course she’s entitled to have taken some time off from talent, passion or whatever.  However, she hasn’t.  Not really.  What’s publicly moved Cher lately to her greatest effect is being the politically active mother to Chaz Bono  – perhaps one of the most famous members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community.  In the last few years, Cher has taken to Twitter, gaining respect and fame as a plain-talking mother hen spokesperson for the cause.  She has over a million Twitter followers and advocates tirelessly not only for LGBT rights but also on women’s issues – often getting into trouble for tweets like this:

Friends who’ve known me for years might be surprised at my Cher shout-out since they all also know I worked with her in the mid-eighties and, let’s just say, didn’t have particularly favorable anecdotes from the experience.  This was solidified a few years later when I found myself with her and a friend in a post movie screening social situation and the subject of life as a gay person came up in conversation.  While I tried to argue one could be gay and have just as happy and fulfilling a life as anyone else, Ms. Bono Cher argued that I only thought this because I was young and that as gay people got older their lives would be quite lonely because their world was particularly youth-oriented, they couldn’t marry and that the vast gay majority would, inevitably, age and die sad and alone.  And no – I am not embellishing what she said.  Not.  At.  All.

Which is why her transformation to what she most clearly and publicly believes today is all the more impressive and worth noting.  The world has changed in so many ways.  This is part natural evolution and part due to many individuals, especially creative people and their personal passions to fuel whatever they deeply believe in through whatever work they’re doing.  That work is at its best when it comes from a particular and usually awfully private place from way, way back or from a more recent but no less personal place that one finds themselves newly invigorated by.  That’s why it’s important to stay engaged in the world – you never know how a change in thought will move you, or others, to a cause – artistic and/or political – that you once believed, or have yet to believe in.  Or how it can move it into whatever spotlight (either large or small because it doesn’t matter – all spotlights inevitably lead into each other) that you will eventually cast.