News outlets were reporting earlier this month that President Donald Trump would not be filling out a March Madness bracket for the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament, as had become a sort of unofficial tradition with President Barack Obama, a hoops aficionado. Well, those reports might as well be classified as “fake news” because Trump, thanks to comedian J-L Cauvin, has made a video predicting his Final Four, champion and, as a special bonus, his own “One Shining Moment.” Trump has Duke, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky as his Final Four, but trust me, you will want to watch this anyway:
Get J-L’s new stand up albums KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER & ISRAELI TORTOISE on iTunes, Amazon & Google.
Race seems to be the issue that can never go away. I have a few jokes in my act about how we will know when racism has been eradicated (when the interracial porn genre no longer exists). President Obama’s election was hailed as some sort of landmark event and yet the two most successful tactics against him are 1) painting him as some sort of exotic outsider without American values 2) or yelling that he is a socialist, with fervor usually only reserved for outright slurs, not proxies for them. With the election of Barack Obama and the aftermath of that election it has cause me to more deeply examine my own racial experience. I still can remember Glenn Beck saying President Obama had a “deep seated hatred for white people,”and was “racist.” That of course struck me as strange (and offensive) because Obama’s mother was white. The grandparents that helped raise him were white. But we live in an interesting time racially – we are busy congratulating our society for electing a mixed race president as some sort of baptism to wash away the sins of racism, while simultaneously trying to use that event as a shield from legitimate criticism of a society where discrimination is still rampant. It is still present, just in more subtle ways. As the late, great comedian Patrice O’Neal said, the reason there is still anger is because white people have that racism that can’t be proven.
I need to say that this is not meant as some anti-white screed by any means, but my experience between black people and white people who do not know I am half black has been very different. Although there are exceptions in each group, black people tend to be immediately welcoming, whereas white people become immediately skeptical.
Like President Obama I am the son of a black immigrant father and a Caucasian American mother. I also have a law degree from a prestigious law school. Needless to say the similarities abruptly end there. Not only is his major accomplishment of POTUS slightly more impressive than my one performance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, but he is “black” and I appear “white.” I have jokes about my race changing from season to season depending on tan and hair length, but my range goes from Italian to Algerian at best. For most people I am judged as white by their first impression. Fortunately and unfortunately that has exposed me to a lot of things I sometimes wish I had not been. Because for every indignity that people of obvious color may still suffer, I get to experience the indignity of being present for all the things people of color do not hear because of the self censorship that occurs nowadays.
The closest parallels that I have come up with are Jewish people and gay people. These are the groups that, if not bearing obvious hallmarks of their identity, can be privy to the uncensored opinions that they otherwise would not have been if they had sent out signals. I spent my life in private schools and despite real efforts at diversity at all levels they were still overwhelmingly white places. So most of my circles of friends have been heavily white. And they all know my Dad and know that I am half black. But it is when I meet people I do not know or when I meet friends of friends who nothing more about me than my height that things can often get uncomfortable. Here are some greatest hits:
In a bar a few weeks ago (which sort of got me thinking of writing this), a white friend of a friend was chatting with me and told me that some guy’s car was really tricked out, or as he put it “niggerfied.”
Same night a stranger approached me in a bar and asked if I played basketball. I said just in small level college a while back. His reply was “Well, what do you expect, you’re white.”‘
In Ohio, the emcee was called up by the headliner to participate in a dance routine for his closer. I commented to a woman, “Man, he’s really getting into it with his dance moves.” Her response was “Well, he’s black.”
A little while back at a bar with a good friend of mine and several female friends of his that did not know me, the song I Will Survive came on. I rolled my eyes because I don’t like the song. One woman said, “I hate this song. Maybe I would like it if I was a black chick.”
In college after I had had a slam dunk on guy after my last game, a teammate’s uncle congratulated me with a “Great throw down! You dunked it like a black guy!”
On Spring Break many years ago I was hanging out with a young woman from Texas most of the night. I was very drunk, but then a very sobering moment came up and I don’t know what brought it about, but I cannot forget what she said: “I’m not racist; I just don’t like black people.”
As a kid, the first memory I have of feeling awkward and conflicted racially was a good friend of mine when we were 10 or 11 years old would always cross the street when young black men were approaching us (even at 4 in the afternoon on a crowded Manhattan cross street). And this is someone who knew my father, which always made me wonder – is he that oblivious to how that would make me feel, or does he not count me among their numbers?
These are just some of the more salient examples of my life of the last few decades. Whenever I do tell people that I am half black there is a shock as if I either harbored a secret or pulled of a magic trick. Of course when I say that I am half Irish there is a “Huh, I did not see that,”response, but when I say “half-Haitian” the response is usually more like “Get the fu*k out of here!!!” And then there is a verification check of “Are you serious?” I have grown accustomed to that. The one that bothers me is the subsequent question a minute later, “Seriously, your Dad is black?” because then I have no real choice but to be insulted and annoyed. To me, the nervous incredulity rings off a bell to me that says “modern day racist,” (even if only a product of my own insecurity from past dealings that were more blatant) the same way I cringe a little at excessive usage of the word “ghetto” to mean anything besides an actual slum. This was what Patrice meant by “hard to prove.” Granted I have some very blatant examples I have been privy to, and believe me these are not the only ones. But if I were to get in the face of someone asking me four times if my Dad was black, he could say, “Why are you so mad? You have to admit you don’t look black.” Then why not the same shock at half Irish? You don’t think I look Irish, either! My theory, based solely on personal experience is that black has a certain cache to it, at least in terms of of our pop culture. It also comes with pitfalls as well; pitfalls I am not enduring (as if I am not paying the tax for the advantages of being part black?). But most importantly, most black men come with a warning sign – their skin and features. That skin and those features may lead to forms of discrimination today as obvious as stop and frisk programs or the never-going-away, DWB (Driving While Black), but it also allows so-called good and enlightened non-racists to censor themselves. How many of those things above do you think would have occurred had I looked obviously black? None. And then to put the onus on me as if I am hiding in plain sight with some sort of deceitful purpose is all I need to understand the insecurities that are present in the questioner.
Now, having grown up with one half of my family a blue collar Irish family, I have heard slurs and derogatory comments in and around my house. And just like the comment of my teammate’s uncle, the comments annoy me. I do not generally subscribe to the “set in your ways” philosophy about old racists. If there were people around that knew better then you should have known better. But in older generations and even today I have become pretty good at detecting malicious racism and benign comments worded awkwardly. Unlike most of my white teammates who found the comment embarrassing, I shrugged it off because it felt more like a poorly worded compliment from someone who thought those words weren’t hurtful. I did not interpret anything he said as ill will behind them towards black people. I am not saying I enjoyed it, but it did not really bother me. What bothers me is that most of the experiences I listed above have taken place in liberal places with young white people. A generation supposedly so much more enlightened, believing that race is completely irrelevant. Perhaps that is true of teens and young twenties, but it does not feel nearly as rosy in my age demographic (33 years old).
A little while back I defended the show Girls, for its monochromatic presentation of NYC because it felt authentic – white women do a lot of self segregating in this city. I felt like that was enough to validate it for me. The only thing missing for me was not the presence of minorities in their inner circle. Rather, what was missing is them discussing race at all. I have been in too many bars in conversations and overhearing conversations when today’s modern liberal, enlightened white people are sharing their real thoughts and quips about race (even Carrie Bradshaw dropped a “ghetto gold” reference on Sex and the City). Of course this is not to say things like this do not go on in other groups, but this is my experience. Undoubtedly someone will comment or share their own experience of being called a “white bitch” or being jumped by a group of black guys, but that would miss my point. My point is that the “new racism” as Patrice O’Neal put it is real, or it i snot that new. Unlike Patrice, I am in more of a position to verify its existence. This is not some “white people are bad” diatribe (calm down Glenn Beck). This is merely a response to people (including people I am a fan of like Adam Carolla) who proclaim highly paid black entertainers and a president of color means that our society is so different than it was before 2008 or 1998 or earlier (yes there is a point in our history where we are obviously radically different and better than, but a coach once said to me that the difference between bad and good is easier to bridge than good to great. I believe we are in the good-to-great struggle now and there is a lot of push back).
I have never identified myself as black or white, except once – law school applications. My college allowed me to check “all that apply” so I proudly applied as white and black. However, most law schools wanted only one box checked. And I checked black. And I felt like a fraud. Not because I did not qualify to check it, but because I do not identify myself as black. I identify myself as mixed race, white and black. Perhaps this is the convenience of not looking black that I can craft my own racial identity in a country so obsessed with it. The same way Barack Obama probably never had a choice to not identify as black. Instead of hailing him as a multi-racial president, which in many ways is even more impressive to the country’s legacy as a melting pot, he has become our first black president. I completely understand why. There are times I wish I looked blacker, simply to avoid the annoyance and shame that comes with being privy to racist or racist-leaning comments every couple of months. It reminds me of The Matrix where one character prefers to stay in the matrix, rather than face the harshness of reality. If I looked blacker I would face other, more well-documented problems, but would benefit from the self-censorship that many people employ when dealing with “ethnics.”
I suppose the reason for me writing this is not to say I wish I was someone different or looked different. But it is to say that for all the progress that society has made, do not fool yourself into believing all is well. I am constantly presented with opportunities where an angry response may be warranted (or at least I would look crazy if I did), but rather incidents that are just enough to make me feel shame for not saying something. In other words if a friend of a friend starts saying provocative things I can ruin everyone’s night by announcing that I am half black and I find the person backwards and wrong or I can do what I normally do which is make a mental note, let it slide and let everyone go on feeling good about themselves. Which is sort of what we have all been doing.
I have been working hard to understand the debt ceiling crisis (I actually think I understood the 2008 housing crisis and related issues better but that was thanks to lots of books and documentaries). The basic idea I think was that if we did not raise the debt ceiling we would run out of money to pay our debts and that would have catastrophic effects throughout our economy. I think the general descriptions from everyone not associated with Fox News was the following:
Of course, economists and Wall Street were not enough to convince the de facto leaders of the Republican Party, the Tea Party, that this was necessary. The Tea Party basically held their own party hostage (probably making John Boehner cry some more) in order to secure deficit reduction at all costs, as if it is the 11th Commandment. They secured massive entitlement cuts as a prerequisite for doing something that has been done many many times as a non-political issue. John Boehner cried that he had “stuck his neck out a mile” but when the crazies leading your party are ten miles from sanity, sticking your neck out a mile to meet them is still 9 miles from sane.
But what is most significant about many of the political conflicts over the last three years is that our politics have finally outgrown what the Founding Fathers could have conceived.
American Capitalism Has Finally Worked. And That Is A Bad Thing
I think our financial crisis of 2008-present has proven that capitalism as it is constituted in America now is a failed system. The problem is that the only people it is not failing are the ones with the most money and the most political access. Let me count the ways:
Money controls our politics
There are no term limits so the most important relationship to a member of either house of Congress is with those that donate money to them, not their constituency
Lobbying money, which is the key to political power, NOT elections, dictates policy, legislation and regulation.
The increasing disparity of wealth will only get bigger because those individuals and companies with wealth can dictate the political narrative through advertising (thank you Supreme Court for Citizens United) and have greater access to the lawmakers. This will lead to an exponential growth in the wealthy controlling policy, which directly benefits them, as well as the narrative, through advertising and local elections, which will manipulate many people into targeting their anger at the wrong people. Why do you think Americans seem to hate Mexican immigrants working bad jobs and gays who want to get married more than the money manipulators (I mean “job creators”) on Wall Street. Why do they hate unions more than the company executives who refuse solid profits to conduct business in America, in favor of making wild profits producing things abroad?
We have made news coverage a money making endeavor. That means for advertising dollars we have to put stories about things people are interested in (dumb people apparently still want the occasional update on Lindsey Lohan) and that has allowed stations (most notably Fox News and to an almost equal degree (but far more correct) MSNBC to turn news into a team sport where the message is guided by what crowd you want to hang with.
Furthermore, who elected Grover Norquist to anything? If Obama were adhering to pledges from a private citizen or an unelected group do you think that would be palatable to Americans?
My solutions would be simple and would never happen. Term limits for members of Congress. 2 terms for Senators, 3 terms for House of Representatives. It is supposed to be public service, not a path to long term enrichment. If a member of Congress were not nearly as worried about re-election then they would not worry about constant fundraising and would worry less about annoying their lobbying interests and focus more on the people who sent them to office. Some people may say, that elections are enough, but with money controlling everything (even the gay marriage legislation in New York was a victory for money in politics, not civil rights. The left applauded, but it was only because financial carrots were placed in front of swing votes by well-financed proponents of gay marriage that it passed), elections are no longer enough when incumbents are so flush with decades worth of cash stockpiles, which only increase as their time (and influence) grows in Congress.
The Founding Father’s Lack of Vision
But thanks to the Tea Party’s hostage of the already extra-conservative Republican party, they have now demonstrated that our very form of Republican government may be failing.
We know that the leaders of the Tea Party, like Michelle Bachman, are lovers of the Founding Fathers, at least in theory, since she seems to be less than schooled in what the Founding Fathers actually believed and did (see Founding Fathers fighting slavery). And perhaps if Bachman and her crew knew that the Founding Fathers they would not speak of original intent so much, mainly because from the Founding Fathers’ own words, they could not conceive of a political minority being able to manipulate government the way they have.
In Federalist 10, from the Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote that the danger to a Democracy was the faction, whether it be tyranny of the majority or the minority. Here are some of the highlights from Madison:
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.
In the first place, it is to be remarked that, however small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; and that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude.
Reading those passages it would be hard to believe that the Tea Party would be lovers of the Founding Fathers. From these quotes from Federalist 10 it goes beyond Madison disapproving of what the Tea Party has been doing to our government. It is as if he could not conceive of what they are doing! Now of course, ask a member of the Tea Party what the originals intended and they can tell you how all their words can apply to today, but could they really have envisioned our current society if they could not have even envisioned the tyranny of the Tea Party? Madison clearly believed that our Republican form of government could stop a cabal from controlling or at least clogging the workings of the government. Madison did not think a minority faction could hide their actions and interests, but thanks to fake grass roots organizations they can. In short, Madison was wrong. He just had no idea that he could be wrong because he figured that a majority decision for the nation’s interest could not be subverted by a ideological minority. It is almost Oedipal. For the Tea Party to thrive they had to kill an idea of their cherished Founding Father. And we already know some Tea Partiers have probably slept with their mothers. Or at least their sisters.
Another person who loves to talk about the Founding Fathers is Sarah Palin, who I believe is the political equivalent of a store front preacher who also sells snake oil elixirs. I don’t think she will run for president, unless her agent tells her it could raise literary sales. She is touring the country earning speaking fees and selling books. She is selling Patriotism the way a preacher sells healings – the only one who actually benefits at the end is Sarah Palin. But this is who many Americans believe has America’s interests at heart.
The Republicans in general have demonstrated over the last three years that they will allow a minority to control and freeze government action. In the House, the Republicans allow themselves to be controlled by the Tea Party. Why? Because they are all afraid that they could be the target of the well-funded interest groups in the next election (the midterms of 2010 saw many Republicans who did not meet the ultra-conservative litmus test lose in primaries). Of course, once again, if there were term limits they might not be as worried about clinging to the power of elected office. In the Senate, the entire Republican party has turned 60 votes into the new 50. If they have any disagreement the filibuster is called in. Once again Madison 0 for 2 on the current Congress.
So to sum up the Tea Party – they believe in the Founding Fathers’ vision, which they don’t seem to understand since the Founding Fathers would be at a loss to explain the Tea Party’s death grip on the House of Representatives. But they probably would have equally perplexed reaction to a black president, which in all honesty is what really spurred this on. The Founding Fathers would have called Obama a slave, today the S word is socialist.
So as I look at America today, I see an experiment that has failed. This does not mean America sucks or anything like that, but we have proven that capitalism is not a rising sea that lifts all boats. Combined with a new Democracy that the Founding Fathers could have never envisioned, we have turned America into a country where the financial minority can deliver power to a political minority and own the entire process. The progressives who are attacking Obama need to realize that this is now how the country works and that it is way bigger than anything he can do.
Sunday night I was at a comedy show in Brooklyn when I heard the news that Osama bin Laden was dead, apparently killed in a cross between a Call of Duty video game and the final scene in Scarface. I just had no idea that the death of a terrorist was a reason to party. There is nothing I hate more than terrorists, whether they be KKK members, Islamic fundamentalists or my ex fiancee. But I can’t help but be a little uncomfortable with our boisterous celebration of death. If this were an isolated incident I would not sound so sanctimonious about it, but our culture has become one that is far too ready to celebrate violence.
Now don’t get me wrong – bin Laden was obviously a villain, though I sort of feel like I did at the end of the movie In The Line of Fire. John Malkovich was the villain and was killing nice people, like the chubby bank teller who “shouldn’t have been from Minneapolis.” And Clint Eastwood was the awesome hero that I rooted for, but at the end I realized I would not hear any more telephone calls from John Malkovich. I think having read so many brilliant books on Al Qaeda and bin Laden (The Looming Tower is my favorite book) I had a strong intellectual curiosity about the terror movement and its modern leader, but that said, his death feels like a deserved punishment. And any amount of comfort that it can provide the friends and families of the victims of 9/11 is welcome.
I suppose I just would have preferred a slightly more muted response to the news. Obama’s response was one of measured dignity and even the NY Post knew enough to just go with “We Got Him,” which is the NY Post equivalent of a lobotomized statement (I heard their first choice was “We finally fistfuc*ed that terrorist piece of sh*t!”). But there seemed to be a celebratory feel to the people taking to the streets (especially young folk who, based on lots of Tweets and Facebook updates I saw seemed just happy for an excuse to party in front of the White House and tweet about it) that felt slightly inappropriate. I am in no position to say what the response is, but if my parents were murdered and a jury delivered a guilty verdict (or the criminal were executed) appreciation and reflection would probably be my response before taking to the streets like the Yankees won the World Series.
But I think our country really just has a deeper respect and love of violence than other (civilized) nations. MMA is our fastest growing sport, we restrict bare breasts in movies more than open bullet wounds and we party when a murderer is executed. I just think it would be nice if our country could find a way to rally around something that doesn’t involve death. Universal health care? Incredibly divisive. Protecting our environment? Not a chance. Tighter gun laws to protect citizens? Not unless you want a bullet in your head.
So my advice for Obama is every time there is an important social issue that will effect Americans much more than killing a terrorist who was in his nursing home days, he should take a Republican into a steel cage and beat the sh*t out of them. Americans do not respect intellect, reason, nuance or long term benefits. They understand might and force. That is what we respect.
The feeling I had watching celebrations and chants of USA was not unlike the feeling I had at a Pittsburgh Steeler game and when I heard a Caucasian Steeler fan next to me refer to the Cleveland Brown’s Josh Cribbs as a nigger. I was still rooting for the Steelers, but I felt just a little uneasy about it for the rest of the game. That is sort of how I felt, to a lesser degree, watching celebrations on Sunday/Monday. This is a country where a quarter of the people question the birth of our president because he is African-American and millions slurred with him with the untrue (but not insidious on its own) claim that he was Muslim, but along with the immature twenty-something tweeters partying, these are the people now willing to give the President his respect (or at least some, because he killed a bad guy. I just don’t feel like partying to celebrate death, especially when many of the parygoers are people that would not want to party with the President if he was not killing someone named Osama.
Well, it was primary day in NY and six other states plus the District of Columbia yesterday. Here are some of yesterday’s lessons that are clear about the American people (that I have harped on for so long):
1) Without a cool, young black guy there isn’t nearly as much enthusiasm for politics in America (from some groups). Barack Obama’s double-edged sword of 2008 is coming to fruition. He ran as a pop culture icon, which was brilliant personal strategy. However, many of the “engaged new voters” (yes young people and black people I am talking to you most of all) who were not as much engaged in the political process as they were engaged in Facebook, Twitter and wanting to be part of history. I waited an hour to vote in November 2008. I waited 0 seconds yesterday, despite going at the same time of the day. Ironically it was at the Church I attend and the demographics looked the same – me and some old women.
2) People want to matter, more than they care about issues. The tea party has two unspoken founded principles. One is that they are bursting with racist frustration at having a black president. They KNOW they cannot say “Nig*er” but they can still feel it. Joe McCarthy did not hate “socialism” as much as these people. “Obamacare,” “socialist,” and “not born in America” are all surrogates for nig*er. But the less insidious, but more relevant factor behind the Tea Party is the desire to matter. The new American way is to force the world to recognize your relevance, even if you are completely irrelevant. Some examples:
Reality television – failed actors and stupid people now can become stars, as long as they have an unbridled desire to be famous. Talent, relevance or meaningful contributions are no longer needed to be famous. All you need is the desire to be famous above all things.
Twitter, Facebook – we now all have important things to say
Political elections – The Tea Party is comprised almost entirely of angry, older white people and they were the ones who felt left behind by Obama’s election – either because of their age, the skin color or their inability to use a computer.
The Tea Party is a great example of this. They may cost Republicans a chance at the Senate because above political gains, they value being heard and being viewed as relevant above all. Now they get attention paid to them. That is the end game, whether they are conscious of it or not. They are never going to win the White House, they are never going to win a 51 seat majority in the Senate. But they are going to be noticed.
3) America is about “Me” and about “Them” and Not about “We” or “Us.”
Every marketing campaign in the U.S., from medical books to cable television has some variation of “It’s about you,” or “The Guide to You” or “On Your Time Warner.” This is what people want. An increasingly superficial and secular society still has the needs that family and religion provide(d). Obama created his election in 2008 into a moment for each person to be involved with. He may have said “You” and “We” as a collective term, but his election presented the rare opportunity for people to feel like they were individually part of history – something that we all seem to want nowadays. But when that “we” started to be used to ask for patience and cooperation and voting in smaller elections that are just as critical, that “we” started to feel like being an anonymous part of a group, i.e. we’re no longer special and important individually. That is why voter turnouts are terrible on primary days and on non-awe inspiring election days.
The flip side of this is why the Tea Party candidates won in New York and Delaware. Carl Paladino, he of the Pimp Obama e-mail, crushed Rick Lazio in the Republican primary because the Republicans that cared the most were the black-hating, black-fearing folks (sorry a photo of The President and First Lady as a pimp and a prostitute has no humor value unless you believe the simple fact that they are black makes them pimp and prostitute material – remember when being a racist could disqualify a lot of candidates?). They were the most fearful of being left out of the new America (seriously can someone explain to me what is so drastically new in America?). Also in Delaware, where you have the trifecta of being old, white and from Delaware – the perfect storm of obscurity, they nominated Christine O’Donnell, politically, fiscally and intellectually the poor man’s Sarah Palin. But now Tea Party people from Delaware get to be on the front of the New York Times. Mission Accomplished – you matter. These candidates have managed to to turn blacks, Democrats, immigrants and Muslims into “them.” And that is saying something considering Rick Lazio lost, despite making opposition to the Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero his signature campaign issue. Perhaps he simply did not want the mosque located there, whereas Tea Party voters felt more sure that Paladino actually hated Muslims.
I just think America is too full of sh*t anymore. There is a tremendous amount of racism still in this country’s fabric. There is also an incredible amount of self-centeredness. If Obama wants to keep Congress or at least the Senate he needs to get all his people that voted for him in 2008 (at least the ones that were not doing so to appear less racist to their peers, kids and grandkids for voting against a historic candidate) he needs to make it about US (i.e. You and ME). We are the country that stops buying SUVs and clamors for energy independence when gas is high and then, in an almost seasonal and satirical shift – we immediately start buying SUVs when gas prices lower. From the angry to the apathetic the majority of this country (comprised of all political stripes) just care about themselves. Both sides of the country, left and right want to matter more than they actually do. But we are only moved to political action when it appears that we can win (and winning does not mean winning the election – winning means mattering). Obama voters felt like they mattered in 2008 (I remember reading posts on Facebook on Election Day from people who I knew to be politically apathetic – “Bye bye Bush – get out there and vote everybody!” – those would have actually mattered a lot more in 2004 dummies) and Tea Party members feel like it is their time to matter.
Whichever side you are on – I think we are all fu*ked. And to paraphrase Obama, we are the ones we have been waiting to blame. The Internet, 24 Hour politicized “news” and our decreasing attention spans are going to bury America in an interminable, political trench war. I think America is becoming a place where the average person (i.e. obviously the people who vote in primaries are more politically involved than the average person – and yes I know people are registering more and more as independents, which fits my theory – everyone wants to be that critical swing vote in a meaningful election) don’t care about issues or candidates or America. They care about themselves and they care about mattering. The average voter is no different than Kim Kardashian or The Situation. They’re just uglier.
As Saturday Night Live prepares for its 36th Season with a monopoly on late night comedy viewing on Saturdays (which sometimes feels like the way the Detroit Lions still have an inexplicable and indefensible hold on Thanksgiving Day football) there has been a lot of buzz from the Huffington Post via The Comic’s Comic blog about a 22 year old comedy phenom named Jay Pharoah who claims to have (and is being claimed to have) a great Obama impression. Now he is 22 years old so he has clearly paid the dues in the comedy business that every comedian is told they have to pay, so I don’t begrudge him his hard earned buzz and success, but I do take umbridge at his Obama impression, which is good compared to exactly one person, Fred Armisen.
Now a while back I sort of abandoned impressions because I was more interested in exploring personal matters on stage and not setting up tons of scenarios that allowed me to showcase impressions. I had a ton of traditional and non-traditional impressions that I was proud of, but I sort of grew out of them. But the one I still use as my closer is Barack Obama because there are no well known good ones. It is probably the best impression I do and it kills every time. In fact I almost got a manager based solely on the strength of it.
So I have done as much as I can to promote it without the help of a manager and the comedy bloggers, but it has not caught on beyond individual comedy club audiences and my family.
But to watch this guy do Obama is like seeing someone urinate on my comedy. My friend comedian Jim Dodge told me he did not want to send me the clip for fear that my head would explode. It just is not good. To quote Zoolander’s Jacobim Mugatu, “Am I taking crazy pills?” Of course if Jay Pharoah gets SNL, he will no doubt be groomed into the Eddie Murphy-Chris Rock mold and will receive praise for his “great impression” simply because it is not Fred Armisen.
This is not the usual “oh he did that joke and I cannot do it now” quandry that happens to lots of comedians. This is a “I do it better than him and it’s obvious, but I do not have the means or know-how to become a ‘YouTube sensation'” situation. I cannot fault Jay Pharoah – he is just trying to get his and make people laugh, but has Lorne Michaels become Joe Paterno in his talent evaluation?
So if Mr. Pharoah gets to do Obama on SNL, move on to a lucrative comedy career of headlining clubs, starring movies and doing cocaine with strippers I will be forced to challenge him the way Clubber Lang hounded Rocky Balboa, standing outside SNL offices demanding to know why he keeps ducking me.
And despite appearing mostly white I am much closer in resemblance to Obama (not to mention a black Dad from a foreign country and a white Mom, sound familiar) – this guy looks like a small Justin Tuck from the NY Giants. People will rejoice because he is black and Fred Armisen is undetermined racially, but lowered expectations should not a comedy career make.
So I guess if you are reading this – I will provide you with links to my video and to Jay Pharoah’s video of Obama impressions and then write to your Congressman, your Senator and to Lorne Michaels to get me an Obama showdown. And forward my video to people. It’s 90 fu*king seconds for God’s sake so try to do me this one favor if you read this and let people know. Pretend like I’m Betty White or something.
While spending a few hours on Facebook the other day I stumbled on to a discussion on my friend and comedian Nick Cobb’s page. He was asking for a new show recommendation and friends of his were offering suggestions as to what they thought the best show of the last decade was and what the best show currently on is. There were some sensible answers and some real awful answers. Here are some examples and shows that did not make the cut:
House – who are you my parents?
Lost – you are too stupid to appreciate the list I am putting together
Rome and Deadwood – these are the people that in a music discussion of the best band of all time would ignore the obvious rule that you MUST say Rolling Stones or Beatles (my favorite band is Guns N Roses, but my answer would be Rolling Stones). Those who drop Rome and Deadwood – a good and a very good show, respectively – are the people who drop Nirvana in a “best band” discussion. Shut your mouths and just accept that sometimes, like a broken clock, American culture gets it right.
John Adams – it’s a miniseries. read Nick Cobb’s question.
The Mentalist – seriously? CBS is the network that produces dramas to make Jay Leno fans feel smart.
True Blood – a show that like Glee, seemed to realize that their main demographics were women and gays and decided – to hell with writing – we’ll just get everyone on this show in a gym, skimp on story and consistency and still draw ratings as long as we amp up the sex, gore and campiness. Headed down a path of awfulness this season. The real shame is that Alan Ball, who created a television masterpiece in Six Feet Under, is also listed as a creator of True Blood. My guess is that after Six Feet Under he made a ton of money, found himself a trophy wife/husband (no idea what his sexuality is) and after season 1 of True Blood said – “Hey, you are shallow and pretty dumb – wanna write this show for me? Most of it is written in a book already – you will just have to add more breasts, blood and campiness? What’s campiness? Well you know when you think something is good? Right, like Paul Walker or Dexter – just write it with that same feeling.”
Dexter – I made it through one season. Some of the worst acting I have ever seen. Michael C Hall should die poor and be remembered for David Fisher than collect paychecks with that cast of nothings (though I hear John Lithgow was good in later seasons – too bad I give a show one full season to at least entice me. It didn’t).
Special Note – Why I have no faith in Showtime – You may notice that Dexter is the only Showtime show even mentioned by me. That is because Showtime is stupid. Their shows are made with the following concept – can we write one character, line up one credible actor or actress and surround him or her with mediocre writing and acting? Yes, well then we want to make your show! Even USA at least says “CharacterS welcome.” Showtime’s phrase should be “Character welcome as long as long as character brings mediocre humor, drama and/or co-stars.” I hate Showtime in all its forms – Lakers, Cable Television, etc. If HBO, AMC, USA and Showtime all went to school together, HBO would be the Harvard bound quarterback, AMC would be the slightly arrogant and nerdy valedictorian, USA would be the guy who chicks inexplicably liked and Showtime would be a Goth kid. No, it would be the girl that dates the goth kid, but is not goth herself. Loser.
Treme – wake me up from my coma – have they cancelled it yet?
Mad Men– Mad Men to me is once again, like sushi – it is something that lots of people like, but also something that lots of people like to say they like because they want to be people who like things like sushi and jazz and other overrated things. Mad Men is a well done show. But like Treme, Mad Men sometimes feels like a documentary on early 1960s life, which can be somewhat boring. I found Season 3 of Mad Men (until an admittedly great finale) to be an excruciatingly boring endeavor. I often defend shows like The Wire by praising its authenticity, but it helps that there is actually some intriguing plot development to go with the realism.
So here for all of you is the definitive list of what shows from the last 10 years you should watch. It is objectively correct.
1) Six Feet Under – Funny, moving and the most realistic look at relationships and human fears of any show ever made, by far. if the show feels “too gay” for you, rent Queer As Folk, watch it and then re-start Six Feet Under. f the show is too troubling or upsetting for you then it is working. And it is widely and justly considered to have the greatest finale in television history – take that MASH!
2) The Wire– Would be number one, but Six Feet Under is just more personal. If this show is too slow for you, then watch The Shield and consider yourself ignorant. If the show is too black for you, watch Southland and consider yourself slightly racist.
3) Arrested Development – The best comedy I have ever seen. Nothing is actually close, especially this decade. So naturally it only made it three seasons on television. I blame the South.
4) The West Wing– If this show is too political for you, then you are dumb. As impressive as the dialogue, plot and acting is, the details of the show are incredible. To say nothing of the fact that they basically predicted the election of Barack Obama before he had even announced his candidacy.
5) The Sopranos – The first of the Big Three for HBO (Seriously in an 8 year period HBO dropped Six Feet Under, The Wire and The Sopranos on America – to me that will go down as the greatest accomplishment in original television programming). Sopranos, unlike The Wire and Six Feet Under did not quite end in a way that met with its overall impact and quality.
6) Breaking Bad– the best show on television right now by a mile. It is dark, filled with tension and excitement, well acted and yet feels incredibly plausible and realistic at the same time. This is the first drama I have seen that clearly indicates that HBO has dropped the ball recently. Mad Men gets mentioned as the one HBO let get away (especially because that might have meant naked Joan!), but Breaking Bad is so superior to Mad Men it’s a joke. More entertaining without sacrificing anything in terms of writing or acting quality. If the show can finish with way its first three seasons began then it may move towards the top of this list.
I feel I must mention Eastbound and Down (but only 1 six episode season to show so far) and I have not seen In Treatment – an HBO show that has been highly recommended to me. Other than that those 6 shows above will entertain you and raise your expectations for what television can do. Then when you are done with them you will look down on most other people’s television show opinions like only a condescending six-foot-seven comedian can.
I did not want to hammer away on the health care reform aftermath, or the afterbirth known as the Tea Party movement, but I feel it is a little necessary.
I have always believed there to be three large constituent groups within the Republican Party: the Rich, the Religious and the Racist (and no, I do not want to turn this into some gimmicky, phrase-coining post like it’s a Thomas Friedman column, but here we go). Sometimes all three can be present in one Republican, but often many fit into one of the three groups, with desire for economic security and prosperity being the most common.
First, the rich. This means more than people of means, because there are plenty of wealthy Democrats and plenty of poor Republicans who believe (or say they believe) that lower taxes is important because it stimulates business and means less intrusion into their lives. I genuinely believe this is phony. Economic Republicans, whether poor or rich believe in one thing, holding on to their money or dreaming that when they get lots of money that they can keep all of it. Perfectly entitled to that desire, but I hate when it’s discussed in macroeconomic terms by individuals concerned with their individual circumstances.
A great way to hide this is to call yourself libertarian, which allows the rich Republicans to say that marijuana should be legal or that they are pro-choice, which for these two issues I think amounts to, “I don’t really give a sh*t about those issues, but I can seem less of a frightening Republican if I concede those issues.” If you were so pro-Choice or so pro-liberty than why would you vote for a Republican in this political climate, at least the ones offered nationally? (And maybe you don’t/didn’t and then this does not apply to you and I say welcome to the Democratic party either now or down the road, even if you won’t admit it because you come from a family tradition of Republicans.) One reason: lower taxes.
The religious Republicans seem to scare my NYC friends the most, but I do not have a problem with some of them because I consider one of the defining issues of this group, being pro-life (or anti-choice if I must), a legitimate philosophical and moral belief. Do I think some political people use it as a wedge issue? Absolutely. But I found the bashing of Bart Stupak (a Democrat I know, but aligned with Republicans on one of this signature divisive issues) by a lot of liberals quite terrible. Some would say the increasingly arbitrary line of viability (thanks ironically to scientific advancement) is more absurd than a bright line pro or anti abortion stance. Other issues like prayer in school I understand Republicans views (at least the ones sincerely held), even if I agree with the current law. But at the end of the day, many of the things that Republicans tell their religious base (we’ll ban gay marriage in The Constitution, we’ll end abortion, John Boehner is naturally tan and his name is pronounced Bay-nor) are just not possible in this country, politically or socially. But they placate this segment of their base to keep them at fever pitch so that they can be relied on for votes. And then in all fairness, not to give a large swath of this group a pass, many of them are fu-king crazy. If you are an atheist you probably think everyone with religious beliefs are crazy, but you know what I mean.
But then there is the third group of Republicans, who have nicely and loudly proclaimed themselves Tea Party Republicans – the Racists. Are there Democrats who are racists? Sure. Republicans love to bring up Robert Byrd, former member of the KKK as an example. But who is more racist, or at least enabling to racists: Robert Byrd whose record is marred by insensitive votes, and racist associations early in his career, but later marked by transformation through time and as recently as the middle of the last decade a 100% vote approval by the NAACP, or House Minority Leader John Boehner, who condemned the usage of bricks and racial slurs, not to mention death threats, by people upset over “Health Care Reform” (I put it in quotes because “health care reform” and “socialist” had become mere proxies for “Nig*er until the Tea Party decided to stop being polite), but suggested that they sublimate their “anger” into things that are useful for the party.
This is incredible! This is a party leader coming as close as anyone since Strom Thurmond to basically say, “we want your racism, your backwards thinking and your hostility in our party; just don’t embarrass us by acting upon it illegally. Vote Republican in 2010!” A more meaningful and principled stand would be to say, “We don’t want you in the Republican party – we hope to be a party of ideas and solutions, and defiance if we have to be, but we don’t want you if this is how you act. I remember former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson (Republican) react almost violently when someone made a Republican-gay rights crack to him on a show concerning Matthew Sheppard. He was so offended by the suggestion that those actions could be affiliated with his party or himself (he was actually a prominent spokesman for civil rights and gay rights). The vitriol that Simpson responded with and the anger that Boehner showed towards the health care bill is the same broad-based anger Republican leaders should have responded with towards their Tea Party brethren (and let’s not forget that Nancy Pelosi has taken a lot of heat. Like Hillary Clinton, Pelosi seems able to generate spontaneous hatred – a friend of mine who is Republican had proclaimed “hatred” for Clinton in high school, without any tangible reason, and the same for Pelosi).
On race the Republicans have always been decades late and even then, a token, insulting response. Clarence Thomas (whose early personal history is quite remarkable and could make anyone an angry reactionary) was, nonetheless, the very unqualified Republican replacement for Thurgood Marshall. The Republican response to Barack Obama was clown prince Michael Steele. These seem like responses born out of the spirit of the Spike Lee film Bamboozled, not choices actually made from a more inclusive and sensitive political party.
And the issue of race, is also hidden beneath many of the economic arguments. As Bill Maher said last week (I don’t always agree with him, but on this point I did), the health care reform reminds people of welfare. And despite Chris Rock and Jerry Springer’s best efforts, many people in this country still view welfare as their hard earned dollars of whites going to a black mother with 9 black kids in a black neighborhood.
And saying liberals said hurtful and hateful things about George Bush is not a defense. George Bush started two wars (botched a justified one and heartily engaged in an unjust one), helped facilitate the Great Recession, botched the response to Hurricane Katrina, sanctioned torture, put oil executives in charge of environmental policy, and ignored or at least was derelict in his attention to warnings of 9/11, to name a few things. He was the Secretariat of bad presidents. Obama gave 30 million more Americans health care. Which angry reaction seemed more appropriate and which one seemed more like it should be condemned by the establishment of the respective party?
It reminds me of the climactic scene in A Time To Kill where Matthew McConaughey (alright alright) describes the crime to the jury, but flips it on them at the end. Well to this third group I would say, “Close your eyes. Now, imagine more of your friends and neighbors could have affordable health care, or that relative of yours that died because of rejection from health insurance companies was allowed to keep his or her insurance. Now imagine that this was done, in large part, because your President made a promise to a dying Senator, and because this President’s mother had died of Cancer and because he believed it could help lots of people. Now imagine that that President is white.”
It is hard to believe it has been one year since I lost to Myq Kaplan at Caroline’s in the Final Four of March Comedy Madness 2009. The road to the championship each year for its first three years has gone through me. Year one, I lost to Julian McCullough in the Sweet 16, who went on to win the title. One month later my brother named his second son Julian. Coincidence?
The next year I lost to Liz Miele, who is the girlfriend of Reese Waters, in the Elite 8. Liz did not win the whole thing, but Reese did, so close enough.
And last year I lost to Myq Kaplan, who won the whole thing, in the Final Four, and has since gone on to be on The Tonight Show. So basically my comedy career has turned into the equivalent of Jennifer Aniston’s vagina: once you have been through me, greater success for you or those close to you is all but assured.
Last night I felt so tired on my way to Comix. I had already resigned myself to not winning, but seeing someone beat me and attain new success. I was also exhausted from a day of watching Six Feet Under (great show). But when I got to Comix (the sight of March Comedy Madness this year) I felt the competitive juices and hope stirring again. The crowd was buzzing and looking good, (the only comedy club in the meatpacking district, Comix audience members tend to be a hybrid of comedy club goers and women you’d fu-k if your father ran a hedge fund. At least that is what I usually see when I am slaving around in Ochi’s – Comix’s alternative venue in the basement, where I rant and rave, while feeling like my comedy career is Sloth from The Goonies).
Well when I got on stage my jokes all hit exactly as expected (but I had to go first, which meant when the audience votes, my competitor gets last licks, so they can measure how I do and try to do better). My competitor got a nice reaction from the crowd, but when the voting occurred, something unexpected happened: a tie. Then after another round of applause voting, another tie.
Now in every college basketball run to the title, there is always a clutch play that allows the eventual champion to continue playing. Tyus Edney is still the one that comes to mind in 1995 for UCLA. Well, due to the tie, we had to do a 30 second joke-off. And like Mariano Rivera out of the bullpen for the Yankees, I dropped my Obama impression for 30 seconds, which saved the day.
So now, after a year of recovery from the bitterness and rage that always consumes me after I lose or miss out on anything (I put a friend on two weeks video game suspension when he beat my In NBA Live and did not offer an immediate rematch) I am back and ready to make someone the next champion of March Comedy Madness. Next Wednesday at 930 pm at Comix I square off against Alex Grubard. Could he be headed for The Tonight Show, Comedy Central or a intimate relationship with the next winner? You have to be there to see it.
I wrote a joke, archived on my blog on March 12, 2009, which I also posted to Twitter and Facebook several weeks before the March 12th blog. The joke went: “I like Michelle Obama, but she’s pretty big. I am not saying she’s too big, but Tyler Perry is rumored to be playing her in the biopic.” Joke was received tepidly by liberal New york audiences, especially in the afterglow of President Obama’s inauguration. Joke was praised with “LOL!!!!!!!” from a New Jersey based comic.
I got booked to emcee for two weeks at the Cleveland Improv. In an effort to save money I booked my trip to Cleveland on Greyhound – a 12 hour bus trip departing at 5:00 am on January 28th.
The following took place between 9:00 pm January 27th and 9:00 pm January 28th (wooshy sound effects):
On my way home from a show on Wednesday I begin checking Facebook on my blackberry because I left a book at home and was bored on the M15 bus. I read an update from one comedian, an in your face, Jim Norton-without-the-humor New Jersey comic, who made the above “LOL!!!” comment on my Michelle Obama joke almost a year ago. His comment was roughly, “American Idol is over, now get ready for Obama and his wife Tyler Perry in ‘Madea Goes to the White House.'”
I commented back, “I take comedic credit, but not political credit for this joke.” He replied, “I did not know you used this. I guess great minds think alike.” I then became very angry. I emailed a friend of mine who then told me that he has recently worked with this comedian and that he told this joke on stage and that it seemed above his paygrade (my words). The reason I am choosing not to name this comedian is because there are three possibilities as to why he has been using the joke:
He outright stole it the day he saw me post it.
He actually thought of it on his own (unlikely because wouldn’t he have said that when he posted his “LOL!!!!”
He forgot where he heard it and months later thought that he thought of it. This has happened to many honest comedians and because of this, I believe, remote possibility I do not want to tarnish his reputation beyond this blog. However, if I ever hear of this individual using someone else’s joke the I will name names. I hate joke stealing and I look at joke thieves the way porn stars look at sonograms: “This thing has to die.” (he may steal this joke because it’s in his wheel house – this is practically entrapment, but for his propensity for it – see above paragraphs)
So I had trouble sleeping that night because I was so angry, but I was able to follow the Utah Jazz win against Portland on my blackberry.
I wake up, drink a Muscle Milk (nutrients and meatheadedness), pack my third and final bag for Cleveland (I am not a prop comic, but I pack like I am) and head for Port Authority, which is the saddest place on Earth at 5 am. Every sign in Port Authority indicating the Greyhound buses to Buffalo (where I would connect to the Cleveland bus) say “Gate 24.” So like any normal person I went to Gate 24 and waited. And waited. And waited. I waited there with only one other person, which did not raise any red flags because IT’S 5 AM TO BUFFALO! Who else would be going besides a self-doubting comedian looking to save money and a chubby black man (the other guy).
At 541 am we went upstairs to find the only Greyhound clerk working and were told (as i we were stupid), “No that bus leaves at Gate 61 – it is gone.” Of course it’s gone – I should have ignored all the signs and simply guessed Gate 61! I asked, since it was only a few minutes since the bus left, if she could call it back (after all what’s 5 minutes lost on a 12 hour bus ride) and her response was, “SIR, that bus has left.” I then contemplated going Book of Eli on this woman, but opted instead to murder my blackberry. I only cracked the face of it, but it still works and has told all the other blackberries that it fell down the stairs at home.
I book a train to BWI and a Southwest flight from BWI to Cleveland. It only cost me a shade over $300, so there went my savings and half of my paycheck. However, I plan on dusting off my diploma from law school and crafting a letter to Greyhound that will demand AT LEAST $300 dollars, probably in Greyhound vouchers, which will ensure more Greyhound trips and battered blackberry syndrome. What’s the colloquial definition of insanity again.
At the Cleveland Improv I am working on terrible sleep, but a calmer frame of mind as I bring up the headliner. Unfortunately the Improv had given me a large amount of announcements and the headliner then gave me several more giveaway/contest announcements at the last minute. And like Married With Children’s Kelly Bundy I apparently could only keep 10 facts in my head, so once a new one went it, one went out. This time the fact that went out was not an insignificant one: the headliner’s name.
His name is Alex Reymundo, or Redddddddddddymundo if you roll the r’s. After delivering the announcements pretty flawlessly I then paused with what Lee, the booker called, “the greatest deer-in- the-headlights-look I’ve ever seen,” and after about 2.5 seconds said “ANDY RONALDO!” Lee has already instructed most of the staff at the Improv to refer to Alex and Andy Ronaldo for the rest of the week. Alex was very gracious about it, but let’s just say a repeat of this would be a disaster (like the last 5 seasons of 24).
If Fox were to market this day they would say, “This is going to be the longest day of J- Cauvin’s life.”