Learning to Shut Up

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There’s nothing like an international tragedy to bring out the wit in people. One doesn’t have to imagine the comic potential in Malaysia Airlines’ second airplane disaster killing hundreds of people because Jason Biggs does it for you.

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Hard up for a Hamas joke for the next cocktail party you attend this week? Hey, Bill Maher can take care of it on your end:

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And if you happen to be on TV hosting a live show when some horrific news story happens (which, let’s face it, is not an impossibility given the explosion of regular people like us on TV these days), you can always count on some random prankster to call in and lighten things the way this guy, posing as an eyewitness military expert, did for MSNBC’s Krystal Ball this week.

KB: Please tell us what you saw on the ground there in the Ukraine?

Prankster: Well, I was looking out the window and I saw a projectile flying through the sky, and it would appear that the plane was shot down by a blast of wind from Howard Stern’s ass.

KB: So it would appear the plane was shot down – can you tell us any more from your military training of what sort of missile system that may have been coming from?

Prankster: Boy, you’re a dumbass, aren’t you?

Click here to watch the unfortunate interview

Click here to watch the clip… if you can.

We’re all quite witty these days, aren’t we? And nothing’s off limits. Because if you think it is then you don’t understand comedy at all. And you’re too politically correct. Or a hypocrite who will laugh AT things YOU DO like but will become offended if someone pokes fun at something that hits too close to home – like a plane crash.

I mean, hell, even Dick Cheney chuckles in evil, ironic delight at being referred to as Darth Vader – what’s wrong with you?

The new way to be au courant, hip, happening and oh so clever is to publicly comment somewhere on something or, well, anything that is breaking news. And thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Twitter, Instagram and a handful of other people and stuff we all have ample means to do it. Yes, you get Warhol’s 15 promised minutes of fame for doing very little. What he didn’t bargain for is that the words and images you put out there will resonate for days, months or years later – long after your name has faded. Or perhaps even forever, which is a lot longer than that.

Unfortunately, this button does not exist.

Unfortunately, this button does not exist.

I’ve certainly been guilty of this too.   I mean, who could pass up a good rant against the extreme right wing, the US Supreme Court or the uncreative choices that double for mass entertainment from the Hollywood film and television industrial complex these days? Not me, it would seem.

Like many of us, I long to be heard by a world that too often seems either too noisy or indifferent to take the time out to listen to my pearls of wit and wisdom. How great that I get to be alive and in the orbit of Facebook, Twitter and many yet to be discovered systems that will now allow me to get my thoughts out there even faster –- perhaps even by boring a virtual hole through the cerebral cortex-ae of all of my millions of followers? You think I’m exaggerating? Hmmph – that’s what she (he?) said years ago.

It took the sudden death of a dear friend of 30 plus years yesterday to make me remember: Waitit’s actually okay NOT to weigh in on everything – or even anything – if you don’t care to.

This friend, who had an illustrious show biz career in his field and had been sick but died rather suddenly, left very specific instructions for no funeral, no obituary and, really, nothing at all organized to commemorate his death. Having spent a lifetime behind-the scenes presenting the public lives of more famous people than you or I could count in an afternoon, it is not surprising that at some point he learned the hard earned lesson that many of us will eventually realize (and I’m paraphrasing here):

…in the end the spotlight means nothing except the heat of the moment. It’s irrelevant to who you really are or what, if anything, your life was really about. And if you keep chasing it, it will eventually bore a real hole so deep into your soul (Note: your brain will already be gone by this time) that there will literally be nothing left to you at all…

This friend also taught me another valuable lesson, among so many others. And that is that sometimes, more often than one imagines, not commenting might be the best strategy of all. Or at least withholding comments until you’ve had time to think awhile about what’s happened.

First steps are the hardest

First steps are the hardest

My friend lived a lifetime of strategizing in both how to help people sell themselves and also speak to the media and was darned successful at it. It’s not that he wasn’t outspoken and didn’t speak up – it’s just that he knew that to do it all the time meant you were surrendering what little effect one has in the world. But to listen, and then think, and then listen some more before formulating your final thoughts and saying what was on your mind – was not only wiser but ultimately the most potent way of getting your own way.

Broadway legend Elaine Stritch, who died one day prior to my friend and whom I didn’t know personally, might disagree. She spent a lifetime speaking before she fully thought out anything and it seemed to work quite well for her. At least publicly. Or perhaps that was just acting and she kept much of what she really felt deep down inside. The latter just might be more likely, I can hear my friend saying to me and who am I to disagree with him.

She did it her way

She did it her way

No one knew their way around a celebrity better than he did and said celebrities adored him. I mean, can you say you turned down a full-time retainer with show biz’s one-time queen of media manipulation, Madonna, in her eighties heyday – – a moment when a truly skilled person could manage it all and a time, if you can imagine it , long before media was social and when tweeting was the sound of the noisy bird outside your bedroom window you wanted to shoot?

No, I didn’t think so. I thought he was a bit crazy to do so back then but years later I totally get the perils of working for a TRUE QUEEN. Though clearly all he had to do at the time was to take a bit of time to really, really, really think about it.

(Note: I do hope he can forgive me for dropping that one name when referring to him. Though if it’s any consolation, before writing, I did think about it).

In any event, back to the public’s right to know what you and I think about – everything. Do YOU stop and consider why anyone should even care what you think? OK, well I don’t. Not often enough. Forget about cats on Facebook and Instagram – we’re talking about off-the-cuff and immediate thoughts on death, carnage, politics, other people’s family members thrust into the public eye through rape, theft, divorce, robbery, pillaging, as well as attempted murder. On the other hand, it feels good to get it off your chest, doesn’t it? Okay, I’ll answer that, too – yes.

Of course, it is the height of personal irony that all of this is being written to you in a blog – a vehicle whose inherent purpose is to express personal views on a variety of subjects for public consumption. It is also quite paradoxical that you are most likely reading what is being said here through some social media tool whose entire existence has just been tried and found guilty by a jury of one (moi) for the deadened senses of the corrupt social culture we are all so (cue appropriate sarcasm) privileged to live in nowadays.

The Chair excluded, of course

The Chair excluded, of course

Well, yes, I am nothing if not a contrarian, and an often ironic one at that. But in tribute to my late friend, who was quite savvy about this kind of thing even though he didn’t subscribe to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – I’m going to from now on take a beat or two, or maybe even ten or twenty-three, before I open up my mouth, pen and fingers to type out my reaction to the grizzly events of the day. Or, well, at least think about doing so. Who knows, with all the pent up, thought out frustration I might become even more contrarily sarcastic than usual in a much more ironically intelligent way – lest you be concerned all of that self-reflection would cause me to lose my edge.

That’s probably the most fitting tribute I can give to a person who always did both – that is aside from shutting up entirely. Which, god knows, is not a real possibility for any of us anymore. Is it?

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Enjoying the Ride

You can be cynical, opinionated and generally contrary to most things and still be a funny person.  Standing up for what you believe in or challenging the status quo doesn’t mean you’re a chronic malcontent or a socialist.  (It doesn’t even mean you resent the rich).  And going to bed generally disturbed at the state of the world sometimes doesn’t mean you’re not ENJOYING the RIDE.

I just celebrated my 24th anniversary with the person I love and it occurred to me more than once during that day that I am a lucky person.  I mean, few of us get to have a long-lasting relationship (FYI, I did kiss more than a few toads in my day), much less a decent one (no, they are not necessarily the same thing).  I get to make money at things I love doing (teaching, writing).  I have fantastic friends, a great family and a very cool dog. (and blog!)

However, this does not mean that I walk around 24/7 with a hanger in my mouth stretching my lips into a contorted Joker-like smile or don’t often get exasperated when I turn on the TV, go to the movies or encounter the too many idiots who travel the world with me despite my preference that they just go away.  (no, they don’t have to die, just disappear).  I mean, just yesterday I found myself infuriated as I left the 3:30 pm show of something called “Martha Marcy Mae Marlene” (annoying enough, title?).  I was the crazy person you saw in Hollywood at 5:13pm outside the Arclight Theatres audibly muttering to no one in particular “Are they kidding? “ And then to myself in my car – “I can’t believe Sundance still gives awards to such indulgent crap!”

But does this mean I’m not enjoying my life?  9-9-9   Nein, Nein, nein!!!  And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not happy.  It means I am human.  As my Facebook motto says, “You can have fun and get angry.  They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Also, I hate to quote movies, but as the psychiatrist earnestly tells the troubled teen in “Ordinary People”:  “Unless you feel pain, you’re not going to feel happy either.” (Yeah, I know you might think the dialogue is dated but so is Melanie’s music to some people and she still happens to be a goddess.

There is an odd mindset in this country that I can trace back to the more than jovial Ronald Reagan – who presided over the seemingly jovial but actually quite tragic and awful decade of the 1980s.  (which was, incidentally, not all bad for me because I did meet and fall in love with my partner of 24 years).  It goes something like this – people who protest, are insurgent or sometimes choose to scowl or occasionally express real anger at their fellow man (and/or the status quo) are:

a) unpatriotic

b) wrong

c) trouble-makers and

d) generally unhappy, disagreeable people bordering on (or crossing the line to) anti-American.

In fact, the total opposite is true.  Just as stuff makes you thrilled to be alive, things can and do mammothly piss you off!  In my mind, part of the task of any artist, or any generation for that matter, is to externalize the anger and frustration in some way that affects people, influences them, moves them, and then ultimately becomes a cog in the wheel of change.  To something better?  Hopefully.  But not always.  But life often evolves on the basis of trial and error.  That being the case, our real progresses can be charted by an up and down graph, not by one that is a straight line to what might likely be a trip to nowheresville.  The messy, back and forth exchange of viewpoints and ideas, some of which might offend, infuriate (Marcy, Missy what’s her name) is precisely the stuff that we need in order to actually be what people in the eighties thought they were aspiring to – a better world.  And take it from someone who has been in a 24-year relationship – it’s not always Zipppity-Doo-Dah, I can’t wait to get out of bed every morning because that would get as nauseating as eating my beloved pizza for every breakfast, lunch and dinner or as tiring as having to watch this clip over and over (or perhaps even once?)

As for ENJOYING THE RIDE, you can look at certain people in the news and arts and somehow know that their exterior jovial or scowling demeanor does not necessarily equate to the fact that they are truly ENJOYING THE RIDE.  To whit, some totally biased observations:

  1. Herman Cain – Thoroughly disagree with him politically and find him a bit of an offensive buffoon but yes – ENJOYING THE RIDE
  2. Tom Cruise – The biggest, richest, and perhaps most publicly enthusiastic movie star in the world, but in my humble opinion – NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.
  3. Gloria Steinem – Brilliant writer, feminist extraordinaire, life contrarian to American patriarchy but still ENJOYING THE RIDE
  4. Bill Maher – Love his show, agree with him more than I care to admit, thrilled that he has the nerve to offend, but something tells me – NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.
  5. Barack Obama – president during one of the worst times in American history – and yes, ENJOYING THE RIDE (How is this possible?)
  6. Gabrielle Giffords – Arizona Congresswoman shot through the head and still recovering from brain trauma, before and after clearly ENJOYING THE RIDE
  7. Katherine Heigl – Gigantic film star whose movies worldwide have grossed $1 Billion (yes, that’s a “B”), seems as if she’s the most fortunate actress in her age range at the very least yet ultimately NOT ENJOYING THE RIDE.

These observations are unscientific and totally my own yet I’m willing to stand up for them.  Which doesn’t make me right or wrong, or judgmental, just enthusiastically opinionated.  But as you ponder on just how judgmental I really am, consider the observations of current MSNBC female political commentator, business owner and former Congressional candidate with the unfortunate (or fortunate) name of Krystal Ball.  Yes – that IS her real name.  It came from her father, a physicist who did his PhD on crystals (look it up, I’m not lying) and her mother, who is an educator.  Aside from being a businesswoman and CPA, Ms. Ball ran for Congress in 2010 in Virginia and lost but, actually ultimately won.  This might be partially due to how Ms. Ball was able to lead not with her political views but by example of how she lived her life.

You'd think she'd already know the outcome...

In October 2010, one month before the elections, a photo surfaced on a right wing blog of her at a holiday party some years prior dressed as a “naughty Santa” while sucking a red dildo attached to her then-husband’s nose.  (UH, no, we’re not going to reprint it here.  You can google).  Confirming her likeness several weeks before the election and admitting the photos were “embarrassing,” she also saw fit to call the photos sexist and wrote in the Huffington Post “Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are gong to leak into the public sphere.”  Yet, she posed the broader and more powerful issue of how society treats females, making “women into whores” and questioning “this whole idea that female sexuality and serious work are incompatible.”

Ms. Ball, who realizes her very name is both a blessing and a bit of a curse, was subsequently put on Forbes’ List of the “Top 25 Most Powerful Women of the Midterm Elections,” is remarried, has a young daughter and is now a regularly outspoken national voice on the issues of the day, owning the many facets of who she is and what has happened to her in the eye of the hurricane.  Her name is Krystal Ball and yet she seems alternately tough, traditionally feminine, angry, smart, argumentative, thoughtful and sweet.  Enjoying the ride?  You bet.  Most definitely. So am I.  On most days, at least.  Are you?