Stormy Weather

I’m an awful person.

When I heard that right wing radio host gadfly/gazillionaire Rush Limbaugh called the dire warnings about Hurricane Irma part of a liberal conspiracy to further discussion on climate change – and then decided to evacuate his fat ass from his southern Florida home several days later on Thursday – all I could think of was: Keep your fat ass at home.

You know I’m right

Then I heard about right wing author gadfly/gazillionaire Ann Coulter’s tweet a week ago:

And all I could think of then was: Take you and your black Lycra cocktail dress down to Rush’s house in coastal Florida and let’s see how adept the two of you really are at navigating shark and ALLIGATOR infested waters, yard sale Barbie. (Note: Thanks, Tina Fey).

GURL YES

If this weren’t enough, former Growing Pains star and evangelical something or other Kirk Cameron was then quoted as saying this about the back-to-back appearances of both Hurricanes Harvey and Irma:

God “causes [storms] to happen for punishment, or to water His land and demonstrate His faithful love…What this should be doing for all of us is causing us to remember that it’s God who supplies our life, breath and everything else so that you and I would reach out to Him…So think about that, maybe share that with your kids when they ask why this is happening. 

STOP THE MADNESS

I knew there was a reason I didn’t have kids. I’d never be able to explain to them with a straight face that hundreds of people died because the Lord overwatered his flowerbeds.   Nor could I ever be able to explain how I managed to get put in jail for wishing painful venereal warts on a mentally imbalanced former child star on Facebook. (Note: Both he and I, since his pronouncement was in a much read and re-circulated Facebook post).

By the way, did you know that hurricanes are named by something called the World Meteorological Organization and that the names are done in alphabetical order but skip the letters q, u, x, y and z? This accounts for the seeming randomness of Harvey and Irma while causing people like myself too many sleepless nights wondering just what the hell is wrong with the names Zelda, Yanni or Ursula.   (#TooLiberal?)

OK now I’ve gone off the deep end

When I found myself wondering desperately about hurricane names my husband instantly got the answer for me. He’s quick on these things and it’s one of the thousands of the reasons I married him – he either always has or can always find an answer to any question that I ask. This is no small feat, as you can imagine.

Which is why it troubled me when out of nowhere he eventually blew his stack about the right wing doubter responses to hurricanes and their relation to climate change:

What do they need… the Four Horsemen on horseback?

This is another reason I married him. When he blows his stack it is short and often includes some random biblical reference to their jugulars that I could never think of in a million years B.C.

This is love.

I hate to admit that I am now living in a me against them world but I am now living in a me against them world. I mean, there is so little attention to facts and logic I often find myself screaming into my pillow or out towards anyone who will listen. And that’s because most of what’s said is all so provocative and vindictive just for vindictiveness’ sake – fueled by dollops of insurgency, emotion and endless disguised attempts/quests to reign in popularity… said the man who has written a weekly blog for the last five years for no other reason than to… Well, let’s not get off topic.

Truth be known, I have never actively tried to advocate for one side. What one finds as one gets older and has had decades of therapy with at least a few insights, is that the only side one can truly advocate for is one’s personal point of view. Take this little nugget from liberal America which (yes – surprise, surprise) really pissed me off.

Say it ain’t so, chairy!!

Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders went on television (Note: Okay, it was Stephen Colbert’s show) to refute thoughts Hillary Clinton had written about her 2016 campaign for both the Democratic nomination for president and as the Democratic nominee for president.   Deciding for the umpteenth time not to verbally get into the grimy details of a policy debate, Sen. Sanders instead responded to her words with this dismissive retort:

Look, Secretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country—and she lost, and she was upset about that.

Of course, this begs the question that it was Bernie Sanders that first lost to Hillary Clinton. Which most certainly makes him more of a loser than she is because by logic there is only one candidate more unpopular than the winner of the presidency – and that is the person who lost the presidency to him. The candidate Sen. Sanders managed to LOSE TO at the ballot box.

Just move along now please

I don’t know about you but these days I am indeed loaded for bear – liberal, conservative or anywhere in between. And I don’t even know how to shoot a gun. Well, one with bullets anyway.

We’re all finding our ways to cope.

Eurythmics – “Here Comes the Rain Again”

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Sheets of Privilege

I’ve watched Tina Fey downing a sheet cake while she excoriated Trump and the white supremacists at Charlottesville EIGHT times so far – and counting. It’s the only thing that’s made me laugh in quite a while.

You’ve probably seen her now viral appearance on Thursday night’s summer edition of Saturday Night Live Weekend Update – the one where she called the neo-Nazi man boys “chinless turds,” referred to Ann Coulter as “yard sale Barbie,” and countered Trump and his supporters with “who do you think drove that car into the crowd – Hillary’s emails???”– as whipped cream and all kinds of other carbs came pouring inside and outside of her mouth.

If you haven’t – here. And you’re welcome.

Sheetcaking, as she called it, is one answer to the post-racial right wing racism (and all kinds of other isms) that is now sweeping our country thanks to the campaign, election and reign of our first bull-in-the-china shop Electoral College POTUS – Donald J. Trump – or Donny John – as Ms. Fey more aptly derides him and his cheaply made real estate.

Still, however appealing it feels to gorge oneself on sweets and carbs in response to the upside down view of the world that Donny John and his white supremacist followers espouse – it is by no means the ONLY response.   It is the comedic response of 2017 so far and, as in any great satire, should not be taken as an absolute. It is wish fulfillment and is borne out of anger, frustration and a penchant for mouthy snideness that many of us “ethnic types” prefer.

It is the contemporary version of the fictional Isaac Davis’ cocktail party retort in 1979’s Manhattan after he incredulously mentions that he’s heard Nazis may actually be marching in New Jersey.

We should go down there and get some guys together, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.

Even when one guy counters that there is a devastating satirical op-ed piece in the (NY) Times on the subject, Isaac counters:

Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.

Let’s be honest. There is no ONE way to battle the lunacy that is now overtaking our nation. On Saturday morning, I woke up to find that two dozen Nazi white guys marched in downtown Boston but 40,000 people showed up in solidarity to counter the hate-filled rants of a crowd that had mostly dispersed by the time they had arrived.

#BostonStrong

That doesn’t account for the tens and thousands more who were home sheetcaking, talking to their neighbors, exchanging kind words with people of other religions, skin colors or sexual persuasions, or perhaps frequenting ethnic businesses and organizations that didn’t share the world view of the Charlottesville chinless turds.

The Electoral College POTUS response to Boston was classic. The first tweet:

A follow-up one several hours later, presumably after a talking to and some human contact:

Still, it begs the question of which protestors he was applauding – the two dozen or the 40,000. Certainly, it couldn’t be ALL of them.

I couldn’t pretend to know what is in Electoral College POTUS’ heart, mostly because I am sure he doesn’t even have o….well, skip it. Let’s not get sidetracked here.

Just have a good scream…. OK I’m good now #dailyrituals

The point is, you can’t believe anything he says in any given moment. Because at any given moment later – meaning five or ten seconds, minutes or hours – he might say exactly the opposite. Sometimes it’s even in the same run-on sentence.

This requires all of us to be especially aware, thoughtful and conscious about our actions as we navigate what the solutions are to our many problems. As a college professor I’ve learned over the years to avoid the word problem and refer to them as challenges. Yet in these tough times and in this particular instance I’d say problems is the more apt term.

21st century compassion

That being said, let’s not pretend that with all of our PROBLEMS we, who were fortunate enough to be born into this country, are not a heck of a lot better off than those born into third-world poverty elsewhere in the world. Even luckier are those of us born here into a higher economic class, or loving families, or, or, or, or…..

You see where I’m going with this.

There is so much chatter right now about PRIVILEGE – who is and who isn’t and how none of us are going to take it anymore. About safe spaces. About real American values and the lack thereof and who has them and who definitely doesn’t.

Yet it always seemed that the one thing we could agree on is that Nazis were bad.

Pretty much sums it up

And yet – Charlottesville showed not even all of us could agree on that. I hear reports from people I know that outside of the coastal cities and big urban areas that people are hoisting Confederate flags, brandishing their weapons to anyone ethnic — or Jewish or gay like me –- just in case they’re thinking that we’re friends or share any kind of values at all. Of course, that could just be what they normally do on a Saturday.   How would I even really know???

Well, certainly choosing to pretend this isn’t happening is not the solution to all this. Nor is Tina urging us to stay home and away from the white supremacist rallies and choose sheetcaking instead. But neither is Isaac Davis’ idea that we all get together to attend the Nazi rallies armed with bricks and baseball bats.   Two of these are extreme answers to extreme behavior that none of us truly knows the solution to. The other one is just plain dumb. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.

Take your time Elmo

As a teacher whose role it often is to reach compromise I would propose that we need to incorporate not only the extremes but EVERYTHING in between. Unlike the multiple choice SAT there is no one correct answer here – except to rule out the dumb choice immediately.

Therefore, if you want to protest at a right wing, Nazi rally – do it. Yes, this is how they thrive and recruit people – by showing all the people like me and you who are against THEM – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be continually confronted for their hate (and vigorously).

But if as Tina suggests, you want to stay home and instead frequent an ethnic business – e.g. a bakery – then that is also valuable. So is donating money, being kind to a right-leaning friend or neighbor, manning a phone bank for a cause or holding your nose and trying to talk about all of this with a relative who you’ve always loathed – or a colleague who seems to have values opposite of yours.   We have to do them all and we need to do it quickly. And don’t think the thought of this thrills me either. Though I vow to do it if you will.

We can figure out better strategies

This week I heard a former Neo-Nazi named Arno Michaelis, who runs something called the Forgiveness Project and wrote a book about his days of white supremacy in his teens and twenties, say that one of the few things that managed to change him was the kindness he was shown by a lesbian supervisor at work and a black co-worker.

Now I’m not saying kindness and money is THE WAY to fight Nazis. But please can we refrain from the now empty post liberal phrase this is privilege speaking when one dares to suggest anything else except the method you’re arguing for? We need it ALL – especially the comedy of Tina Fey.

The only act of privilege is sitting it out entirely.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Peace, Love and Understanding

Truth! Justice! and the American Way?

As a very little boy I remember watching black and white Superman reruns on syndicated TV where each week a booming male voice announced over the credits that a muscly hunk in tights would fight for truth, justice and the American way.

Like many little boys I became obsessed with Superman, tied a towel around my neck and ran around the house imagining I could fly out the window and…

Just imagine a Judy Miller sketch #gilda4ever

Well, I’m not quite sure what I wanted to do. Certainly, it wasn’t to fight – for justice or anything else. It was more about the journey, the outfit and the power of a muscly hunk via the deep male voice.

Feel free to fill in the rest of the blanks about me from there if you haven’t already – or if indeed there are any. But don’t for a moment imagine for one millisecond the vast array of the rest of us are much different than the slightly fey mini-me.

Don’t hate me ’cause you ain’t me!

In the last year America has clearly chosen fantasy, muscular masculinity over truth. Time will tell whether in the end we will indeed choose justice or instead continue running around our homes in imagined worlds where we truly believe items like towels and TV dialogue will guide us to a better world.

And don’t forget those nosy, listening microwaves!

A pop culture shift in the last week signals a scintilla of hope. Wonder Woman has emerged as THE #1 movie blockbuster of 2017- marking not only the first breakout FEMALE MOVIE superhero but the first time a female director (Patty Jenkins) is at the helm of a major studio tentpole film achieving blockbuster status.

At more than $200 million domestically and $350 million worldwide (in less than two weeks), Ms. Jenkins and her movie have broken a long-standing glass ceiling.

SLAY GIRL SLAY!

Six months ago Hillary Clinton’s campaign rented New York’s Javits Center hoping to literally demolish its glass ceiling in victory but instead found itself unimaginably conceding the following day to an inexperienced male who sold the trappings of masculinity in order to prove he could make America great again.

The electoral college public went for the salesmanship and words rather than deep-seated personal beliefs about us all being part of one fabric of world humanity that is united by doing all the good you can, for all the people you can, for as long as you can.

That message, and Stronger Together, were the key mantras of the Clinton campaign and are offshoots of the Methodist faith she was raised in. For the record, the real quote is:

“Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.’”

One could easily read the Methodist faith and the Clinton mantra into the psyche of Diana/Wonder Woman through not only the way she was raised by the other Amazonian women but by her guiding principles in every decision she makes and each action she takes.

When she finds herself enmeshed behind WWI’s western front and sees the years long death and suffering of the innocent villagers all around her she is appalled and can only simply and boldly ask Why isn’t anyone doing anything? 

Damn right!

Her cohorts argue quite forcefully that they need to ignore the carnage and keep going for the greater good of the big victory and to leave these people as simple casualties of war.   But that doesn’t fit her core principles so instead she climbs out of her foxhole, weaponizes her superpowers and smashes through enemy lines where, eventually, even her doubters aid her in vanquishing the enemy and saving this small, but in her eyes, more than worthy swath of townspeople.

In an even more climactic third act moment later on, when the notion is raised that mass humanity might not deserve to be saved, she has an even simpler retort:

It’s not about deserve, it’s about what you believe! And I believe in love. 

Cue my best Oprah empowerment ugly cry

Now see, taken out of context this might seem….well, conclude what you will, once again. No one ever accused comic books or movie superheroes of speaking Edward Albee-esque dialogue. Yet within the context of what we’re watching, it has all the best resonance of the Hillary campaign’s aspirational message and of Methodism.

  • We have an obligation to help each other – even strangers.
  • One always first errs on the side of love and compassion rather than indifference, hate and fear.
  • There is no greater good. There is only doing good. That will result in the greater good.

If this doesn’t sound Trumpian – well, it isn’t. It’s exactly the opposite

America’s unique place in the world has always been as an experimental, imperfect democracy. There is a reason why for centuries we’ve been lauded as a nation of immigrants where everything seems possible even if – in reality – it’s not.

In the actual world, one can’t achieve everything. But what is also true is that one will achieve nothing unless they believe what they’re trying to achieve is possible.

JUST KIDDING! REACH FOR THE STARS!

To have no overriding principle other than the betterment of one’s self or one’s immediate family to the detriment of all others is a recipe for perhaps temporary success but ultimate abject failure.

This is exactly the opposite message of Wonder Woman’s more compassionate one and that is why it is currently cleaning up at the global box-office and leaving all the naysaying, mummified macho men in the dust.

IF ONLY!

It is the 360-degree counter to Make America Great Again – which is fast being recognized as nothing more than a bloated, synthetic phantom cudgel through which to reject multiculturalism, the global community and social change.

Or, to put it in more movie specific terms we might all understand —

No superpower EVER emerges victorious unless they’re fighting for the greater good.

Think about it.

Florence + The Machine – “Kiss with a Fist”

Powerful Women

Screen Shot 2015-04-12 at 8.48.31 AM

My stepmom, who I loved very much, died this week – the same week that Hillary Clinton announced she was running for president. If Mrs. Clinton succeeds she will be the first woman to run our country. My stepmom – who from now on I will refer to as my Second Mom because that is what she really was and that was how I felt about her – ran and successfully raised a blended family of five children from two very different sets of parents for almost 45 years. This was not a first in the world but was certainly one of the firsts in a plethora of blended families that began en masse in the U.S. as a result of the changing social mores of the very early 1970s.

Meet Shelly

Meet Shelly

When my folks split up in 1969 it was not so much rare but extremely uncommon. Divorce was slowly on the rise and the myth of the idealized, perennially happy nuclear unit one saw advertised in the media was being exposed for the smoke and mirrors bit of real imperfect unreality it often most certainly was.

Numerous women have run countries of note over the centuries – Cleopatra, Indira Gandi, Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher immediately come to mind – especially if one leaves out post B.C. royalty, which I most certainly am happy to do since I believe the anointment of kings and queens should stop at one’s high school prom. But interestingly enough, no female in our last 250 years has ever had or come very close to getting the top job in the United States.

This lady excepted, of course

This lady excepted, of course

That the most powerful country on Earth for many decades, if not centuries, has never had a female at the helm feels counterintuitive. This is especially true when I consider that many women like my Second Mom have proven time and again they intuitively know how to run things – especially people, bringing out the best qualities in them and their encounters with their environments.

Of course, this might not hold true across the board. We all have heard and/or experienced isolated parental horror stories. But overall these are often about both sexes – the horrible, harridan mama and the absent and/or abusive papa. So taking those many tales as a whole we can safely say that this argument at best produces a wash. Which leaves us once again with the question of the day – why are women so often undervalued and why do we not fully appreciate them in the moment of their greatest triumphs?

I've been saying this for years!

I’ve been saying this for years!

My Second Mom had the unenviable task of intermittently (meaning each summer and for various weeks in the year) incorporating the two existing children of the man she had married into a new life with this new husband who in turn she was asking to become the father and therefore breadwinner to the three other children she was bringing along from her previous marriage. Really? Now that I’m two and a half decades older than she was at the time she took all of this on my mind reels at her task at hand. It’s taken all I could muster to handle her death this week. Merely getting out of bed and doing the work I’m tasked to do – which doesn’t include raising ANY kids at all except myself – has me pretty much hog-tied. (Note: I think that is the first time I’ve ever used the term hog-tied in a sentence but nevertheless it somehow felt appropriate). And I’m a man. In 2015. Not a female with five children aged 3-15. In 1971.

A toast to my Second Mom

A toast to my Second Mom

Yet she did this, for many years, and with great humor, wisdom and a big open heart. There are really no books to teach such things. I had barely become a teenager when we met and was sharp, smart, had an attitude and determined to hate her. In other words, leave out the hate part and I was pretty much what you read now. Yet it took a simple game of bowling with my Dad and my much younger sister for her to totally win me over in less than five minutes. How does a Mom, much less a Second Mom, manage to do this? Was it her fringed, faux suede poncho, her long, wavy auburn hair, her penchant for throwing in a snide retort in every fourth sentence? More likely it was the fact that she immediately got me.

To be a great parent is to understand things about your children that they themselves haven’t realized and to guide them into discovery, acceptance and, finally, joy in being the best of themselves. She knew I was gay before I did (Note: I used to wonder how but now well, I mean I can’t even believe I once asked that question); realized I should be a writer way before anyone else in my family ever thought I should; told me I could achieve and handle stuff I felt sure I never could or secretly fantasized I might; and comforted and held me when I was hurt and scared, even when I was far into my adult years and on the surface seemed way, way, way beyond mothering. I couldn’t ever repay her for those many moments and even in recounting this tiny portion feel as if I can barely write about it. On the other hand, if she were here right now I know she’d smile and tell me I was being ridiculous and to just wait – I could not only handle this but a lot, lot more that I had in front of me. (Note: Damned if she wasn’t right again on all counts. Oh well).

shelly's advice

shelly’s advice

To do this sort of thing not only against all odds but to a sometimes hostile audience, is a feat that I will not quite ever understand. It can’t be a guy thing for this not to compute because certainly there are great Dads in the world who have exactly these qualities and understand innately how to do it. Just as there are females who can’t and don’t. Yet like all things great – these types of people are rare. Like all great leaders.

lead·er

  1. the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.

It takes all of the above qualities and more to effectively run a country – especially one of the size, stature and power of the good old US of A, which thus far has rejected every Mom in its history from ever getting the opportunity to do so. Talk about unappreciative, ungrateful or just plain clueless kids. Well, ahem, I guess that’s par for the course. We kids never quite realize the stuff we should until it’s almost too late. The important thing is we do realize it at some point, take what we’ve been taught and put it into practice.

#YES

#YES

Make no mistake – Hillary Clinton should not be elected president because she is a woman and a Mom. Those assets are only a small part of the experience she brings to the job. But to pretend that these are not assets and to not add them to the list of her many qualifications is its own form of acting out – like the mouthy teenager who believes their Mom is an annoying pain who is constantly crawling up their butt for no reason instead of a person with the patience of a saint who is infinitely smarter about certain things because of their experiences and love of their job.

Hillary Clinton has been:

  1. First Lady of the state of Arkansas
  2. First Lady of the U.S.
  3. U.S. Senator and the first woman to represent the state of N.Y.
  4. U.S. Secretary of State
  5. A respected lawyer
  6. A tireless human rights advocate and
  7. A national punching bag who has been dragged through scandal more times than most any one of us reading this AND has lived long and large enough to tell her tale to the world.

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I am not quite sure why at 67 someone with that history still aspires to endure a grueling 18-month election to be the leader of the free world but if I had to guess it would probably be precisely because that person has the sort of history that they do. People make their own choices (Note: Hard Choices – yuk yuk) and it is never an accident the uber-successful are where they are. I tell my students this every time they question me about why a gigantic movie star is a gigantic movie star. Plenty of people have talent but it does take a Village of determination, among other qualities and people, to get there.

See, she gets it!

See, she gets it!

As I posted on social media earlier this week, one might not AGREE with Mrs. Clinton (Note: Why did we all feel, from her earliest days on the national scene, that we have the right to call her “Hillary”) on the issues and instead have their own candidate of choice. But to scream that somehow she is unqualified, not intellectually up to the task or – and this is the most popular – morally lacking (uh, consider her predecessors in the last 50 years) is to be just plain…MAKING STUFF UP. In 2007, I once heard the blogger and former Republican now turned Democrat Andrew Sullivan whining disgustedly on television to Bill Maher that he can’t imagine listening to that voice for the next four years in some pathetic effort to devalue a Hillary Clinton presidency. And that’s coming from a learned guy who agrees more than disagrees with her on any given subject. This gives you just a preview of what is to come in the next couple of years, and then even more, should she get elected. So fasten your seat belts, as both Margo Channing and Ralph Nader once warned.

giphy

Yet if nothing else Hillary Clinton has certainly proven she can take care of herself on that and many other scores. Like many women of her time, she’s had to wear many hats in a large variety of styles and shapes over the years. My Second Mom wore a lot of hats, too. In fact, one of my favorite things she once told me occurred when we were walking through some overdone Las Vegas hotel into some fancy five star restaurant. She had her hair tucked into an unstylish short brimmed cap and when someone took notice of it she turned to me and said, “Oh fuck it, I don’t look like those other women anyway.”

No, she didn’t. She looked, and was, a lot better.

Hillary 2016.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 3.35.24 PM

Don’t forget to revisit the Chair’s interview with SNL expert Stephen Tropiano here… and then read on.

Watching the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special was very much like attending a fun family reunion with home movies from the past that you get to revisit once more along with all the cool aunts, uncles and grandparents you haven’t seen in years. A great television show can be like that – spending time with the fantasy clan you once were and will always be a part of – the one that, when you get together, you always want to hang out with just a bit longer.

When it’s a series that is a rarity like SNL – one that is celebrating a four-decade long run and is still somehow going strong, well, just multiply everyone’s feelings – both good and perhaps bad – and you get a sense of what the reaction will probably be from various quarters. In the end it is not unlike the feelings one’s own family engenders.

So happy together

So happy together

I can only say that for me the show was a wonderful mix of past and present served up with a lot of care and class with most of the people who made the show what it was returning one more time. It also occurred to me that one’s enjoyment of the event could perhaps be somewhat commensurate with one’s age. Like viewing a 16mm film with scenes from your parents’ honeymoon or your great Uncle Sol’s bar-mitzvah – a time when you were not even a thought or a twinkle in their eye – it would be entirely possible that some of the moments those of us over 40 thought were great could likely have fallen flat for you.

Though I may find that hard to believe

Though I may find that hard to believe

On the other hand, that might be selling the younger generation short – something Saturday Night Live has never done. Part of the magic of the series is that it reinvents itself with a younger and younger cast that turns almost totally over every five to ten years. In that way, the show and the special did and do have something for everyone. And you can’t say that for many things these days.

Sure, I loved Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon doing the opening musical bit with SNL catchphrases. Pretty funny. But not as funny for me as seeing Steve Martin “hosting” once more and making fun of himself and the general “whiteness” of the show for so many years. Then when Paul Simon and Paul McCartney came out and sang 30 seconds of I’ve just Seen A Face, well…they had me at Paul and Paul.

Except then there were moments like Dan Aykroyd, one of the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players (Note: As if!) reprising his famous Bass-O-Matic sketch, complete with blender, dead fish and the flick of a switch. Which was followed by a killer Celebrity Jeopardy! where I got to see Darrell Hammond’s version of a sexist Sean Connery pick the category of Le Tits Now instead of Let It Snow. See, you had to be there…oh, never mind.

If you’ve ever been to Los Angeles or have even resisted coming to the west coast because you hate all of us pinko commies who live here then you probably LOVED The Californians sketch, complete with guest appearances by Bradley Cooper, Taylor Swift and Betty White.   And I won’t even talk about the power trio of Jane Curtin, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler doing the news. Well, I will because Jane Curtin had one of the funniest bits of the night.

Jane: Times have changed since I first sat behind this desk.  For example, I used to be the only pretty Blonde woman reading the fake news. Now there is a whole network devoted to that.

Cue Logo of Fox News with the image of one of its many interchangeable bottle Blondes.

Touche Jane

Touche Jane

This SNL also got me to belly laugh at Adam Sandler for the first time in years when he reprised his Opera Man, and had me giggling like…uh…use your imagination…when Maya Rudolph showed up as Beyonce with a continuous wind machine blowing back her fake flowy tresses. Yes, there was this strange, odd stand alone tribute to Eddie Murphy – as if he were the only huge star to emerge from the show – and a moment when I noticed a few people on social media were down on Paul McCartney’s voice when he soloed on Maybe I’m Amazed. To the latter I say: He’s Paul McCartney. Just deal with it, fool. He’s freakin’ Paul McCartney!!

Remember when you were in the Beatles?

Remember when you were in the Beatles?

I loved Paul Simon closing out the show with Still Crazy After All These Years but who would have ever thought that by far my favorite musical moment of the night would be Miley Cyrus doing a slowed down, twangy version of Simon’s own 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover? Not only was she not born when SNL started she wasn’t even alive when that song first became a hit. And I don’t care much for country music. (Note: Except for Dolly Parton but hey, c’mon). Still, this is also some of what the show has always done best. Introduce or reintroduce young talent to people who either don’t know them or choose to dismiss what they do out-of-hand. Bravo Miley and cheers to SNL for once again getting it right.

He's been fooling us this whole time!

He’s been fooling us this whole time!

It doesn’t matter if you didn’t understand why including Jon Lovitz in the tribute to the dead SNL cast members was funny, wondered why Bill Murray ended the touching tribute to the deceased with a joke about Spain’s General Franco having just died or scratched your head over Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey doing Wayne’s World, still pretending to be goofy Midwest teenagers Garth and Wayne. Scratch the latter. I’ll bet there were very few people who didn’t get the value of Wayne’s World – one of the few SNL sketches and characters to become a successful feature film aside from The Blues Brothers. Yup, some characters do reach across generations and just don’t age.

On that note, I hope to be watching Stefon 40 years from now, cheering for more Cowbell once again, and getting on the bandwagon for some as of yet unwritten comedy gem that will make me laugh even more than Roseanne Rosannadanna did the first time I saw her. That might seem as unlikely to you as the fact that 40 years from now I will be watching, much less understanding anything, especially SNL.

But you underestimate both of us at your own peril.

All About SNL: Live from LA

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 8.06.31 AM

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

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

The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor

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

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

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

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

Not Ready for Primetime Superstars

Not Ready for Primetime Superstars

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

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

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

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

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

ST: Wow, you are old.

C: No comment.

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

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

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

Iggy is that you?

Iggy is that you?

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

ST: You’re on your own there.

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

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

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

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

Just a wee lad then

Just a wee lad then

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

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

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

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

Mr. Marvelous

Mr. Marvelous

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

ST: Though not everyone does. It really depends.

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

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

From one desk to another

From one desk to another

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

ST: He will be relieved.

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

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

C: Are some eras just funnier than others?

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

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

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

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

C: What is one of your favorite political sketches?

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

Click here for the full video

Click here for the full video

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

ST: You’re really bringing down the room.

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

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

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

Word Associate with Chevy and Richard

Word Associate with Chevy and Richard

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

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

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

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

ST: I also loved The Sweeney Sisters.

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

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

The Queen

The Queen

C: No fair, she was mine!

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

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

Toddddddddddd

Toddddddddddd

ST: Probably?

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

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

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

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

... and the King

… and the King

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

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

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

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

Stefon-Final

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

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

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

"Allegedly"

“Allegedly”

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

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

ST: Are you being snide?

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

LOLz

One of the most memorable numbers from the classic 1952 film “Singing in the Rain” is a little ditty called “Make ‘Em Laugh.” On the set of a not-so-good movie, the best friend pianist (Donald O’Connor) of its depressed male star (Gene Kelly) tries to cheer him up by doing a series of pratfalls, funny faces, odd dance steps and various other musical twists and turns while dispensing reassuring adages and advice guaranteed to lift his buddy, and pretty much everyone else, out of the doldrums.  Of course it works, and by the end of that film everyone (well, mostly) lives happily ever after, as most popular movie characters in the 1950s did.

In some ways, times have not moved forward all that much.  These days humor is constantly being used to change people’s thinking, or at the very least help them escape and/or make them feel better.

We live in an iron ironic age when everything is fair game and, unlike years ago, is easily accessible.  Google any outrageous or filthy word, phrase or comment and you’ll find some sick or hilarious joke somewhere.  (I know this to be true because I just did this for a birthday message to someone only a matter of days ago).  Research any big issue and you’ll find someone somewhere has done a parody of it in film, television, the web or in your own back yard.

On the flip side, today’s popular humor is often unintentional, whether in real life or on the pop culture scene.  What one person says seriously sometimes becomes a national joke.  On the other hand, what another person off-handedly cracks jokingly can resonate to great affect worldwide.  And – on yet another flip side – it can also land with as much deftness as a lead balloon and be met with everything from deadly silence to international outrage.  In short, we don’t live in a Warner Bros. musical anymore (if we ever did) even if our humor sometimes feels right out of the 1950s.

I prefer Andrew Rannells pre-New Normal

I couldn’t help reflecting on all of this and more in the last two weeks, especially since seeing the L.A. production of our South Park boys’ Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “Book of Mormon” – a musical that is about as far away from “Singin in the Rain” as you can get but no less entertaining.  Granted, I have a sick sense of humor – but any show that sends up religious hypocrisy by featuring a fever dream where Adolph Hitler and Jeffrey Dammer have sex with misguided Mormon missionaries as live dancing Starbucks coffee mugs look on, is doing something right in my book.   And before you dismiss me as being the twisted, sick, immoral far-left liberal that I admittedly am, just note that this show also won 9 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, this past year and is touring all around the U.S. (and eventually the world) with a record zero protests at its door.  That’s a far cry from when I was a kid and the sight of some live naked draft-dodge talking hippies onstage in the musical “Hair” caused a national freak out.

With a presidential election looming in less than two weeks, religious and political humor is in full swing at the moment.  In this season alone we’ve been treated to the meme of The Eastwood Chair –Clint Eastwood’s embarrassing or perhaps hilarious, depending on what side of the aisle you’re on, attempt to lampoon an inactive Pres. Obama at the Republican convention; Pres. Obama’s self-admitted long onstage “nap” at his first debate with Mitt Romney (also spawning alternating doses of hysteria and hilarity dependent on your left or right leaning); Mitt Romney’s trumpeting “Binders Full of Women” from his Massachusetts past in their second encounter (which, you gotta admit, is sort of funny all around); the “Horses and Bayonets” Pres. Obama joked were Mr. Romney’s weapons of reference for a ready 2012 military during the third debate: and various other uber-meme-y catch phrases like #Romensia,” “#legitimate rape?,”#Obamaloney,” #YouDidntBuildThat, #The47%” and #BigBird.

Meta meta meta.

A small group of humorless talking heads, mouths and pens can regularly be seen or heard self-righteously bloviating on television, radio or in print, stamping their feet and bellyaching about the political correctness of any one or more of these phrases. But to all of them I say this – plainly and quite simply: BITE ME.

I’d much rather have a lot of word-play, offensive though it might be to some group of us all than have the political violence of 1968, when disagreement over race, politics and social mores spawned a lot more than hurt feelings, hate speak and, (heaven forbid!) an attempt to re-secularize American society away from the doctrinaire fundamentalist views of a particular national religious doctrine.  (I mean, most of the wars of the world – historically and, in fact, currently – are fought over the latter alone, if you think about it).

And yes, because this is my blog, I’m particularly singling out those who Tina Fey so aptly named several days ago in a speech on reproductive rights — all you self-proclaimed ultra religious “gray-faced men with the $2 haircuts” who want to lecture women on what rape means.

Ms. Fey’s jokes about these older men who see a child conceived through the violent crime of rape as a “gift from God” for women would not exist without the middle-aged male politician who made this unintentional sickly humorous remark, much in the same way that Ms. Fey’s brilliant impression of Sarah Palin wouldn’t exist without the former Alaska governor turned reality TV star. In fact, speaking of Ms. Palin and humor, the mother of single Mom abstinence crusader Bristol often likes to use her own unique brand of 2012 yuk-yuks in her incessant Facebook posts.  Her last noteworthy attempt, categorizing our bi-racial president’s policies in Libya as “shuckin’ and jivin’,” an old Jim Crow term widely used to categorize a certain type of shuffling, irresponsible Black man, was seen as downright hilarious to her many loyal supporters.   I find this, Ms. Palin and almost any remark she makes to be particularly offensive for various reasons but remember – I also found the religious fever dream in “Book of Mormon” hilarious, which would no doubt in turn be deemed humorless and probably equally offensive to at least some of the Romney clan (I’m not naming names) if I could muster enough tickets (or even one!) or get them a group rate for a family theatre party.  Plus, we haven’t even gotten to what the reaction would be from Donny and Marie Osmond, who in a weird and hilarious twist of fate are actually scheduled to follow “Book of Mormon” into the Pantages Theatre with their new live Christmas show.  Talk about equal opportunity offending!

Remember to wear your magic underwear!

The contract that is America, as opposed to the 1990s era Contract For America that Newt Gingrich and the Republican majority in Congress unsuccessfully tried to push during the Clinton administration, calls for inclusion of all opinions: humorous, deadly serious, and everywhere in between as long as no laws are being broken.  This is as true for jokes by and about the Tea Party as it is for all the down home humor you get at, say, a meeting of the Green Party.  It’s as true for Bill Maher as it is for….well, I can’t think of a right wing equivalent off the top of my head but let’s say that unintentional huckster by the name of… Glenn Beck?

We now interrupt talking about Glenn Beck with Jon Hamm in a bathing suit.             YOU’RE WELCOME.

It also goes for all things apolitical.  I mean, the one movie in November my students are insisting we all watch together is Lifetime’s “Liz and Dick,” starring Lindsay Lohan.  (I am choosing to take this not as a personal failing of mine but to own it as my own little successful attempt to show them there is no differentiation between “high” and “low” art).  Sure, they all are dying to see Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” and are anticipating “Life of Pi,” “The Impossible” and “Cloud Atlas.”  But for unbridled sick humor – well, they’re under 30 and Lindsay is their gal.  Yes, it’s a new world.    But in some ways, it hasn’t changed it all.  (Does anyone aside from myself and a few gay friends remember “Valley of theDolls?”)

Ladies in Red

All this is to say that I, for one, am looking forward to the humor in the 2012 election results – no matter how they turn out.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m entirely partisan and will want to slit my wrists if every important candidate of my choice doesn’t win – which means ALL OF THEM.  But I will resist because there is good chance that if most or even one or two of my main picks win – especially Pres. Obama, Elizabeth Warren (Mass), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Tim Kaine (PA) and Alan Grayson (FLA) – or in the unlikely chance that they all win and the Dems take back both the Senate AND the House, thereby giving Nancy Pelosi back the Congressional gavel – I will also have lived to see Ann Coulter’s head explode on national television… live and over and over again in blood-curdlingly graphic, murderous sound bites.

Oh relax, I’m just joking!

Sort of.