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Conan & Obama – Hard Work, Nice Guys &…

It was a tough week for professional comedians and half black men, but it was also a tough week for Conan O’Brien and Barack Obama.  Conan O’Brien’s dignified speech towards the end of The Tonight Show was very impressive and inspirational, but at the same time felt like a scolding for me.  He said not to be cynical (too late) and that nice people who work hard do have good things happen to them (apparently he missed the Cohen Brothers’ “A Serious Man”, and the bringer system of NYC comedy clubs).  I feel like the motto this week should have been “Be Careful What You Wish For” for two of America’s most prominent public figures.
See you on Fox Conan.

In The Untouchables, Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone said to a reporter, “We have a saying in my neighborhood, ‘you get a lot further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.'”  Despite its cynical undertone, Conan and Obama would be wise to consider it (metaphorically, at least in Conan’s case) from here on out.

Here are a couple of other lessons I think they could learn:

1) Young People Can Get You To The Top, But Cannot Keep You There

Obama – all the new voters, especially in the young and African-American communities, (as I stated when he was inaugurated) were excited about Obama the idea and Obama the fad, but not enough were interested in Obama the policy maker or Obama the executive.  Here is an analogy – when Jay Z or Green Day come out with an album it sells well in the first week, but then tails off greatly because of iTunes and an overzealous anticipation of that first week.  However, if you want to sell a lot of albums today you want someone like Susan Boyle – someone who benefits from the media saturation of today, but whose base is old school and will support their artist in a substantial way that lasts longer and in a more traditional way (i.e. massive CD purchases).  Obama played the new technology in a great way making him a superstar, but a lot of his supporters will not support the old, boring white (albeit inspiring to some people) Susan Boyle’s who make the laws year after year (midterm elections).  They are just waiting for 2012 when the new metaphorical Obama album drops.  And by then he will have lost Congress and they’ll be complaining about his ineffectiveness.  See, Republicans are not to blame for all of Obama’s problems.  Just most.

She's not cool, she's not pretty, but no one has been more valuable to a record label in the last year.

Conan – his fans woke up when it was too late.  In the end the folks that eat up the road comics’ jokes on GPS navigation systems, erectile dysfunction and how odd white people can be to black people (and vice versa) have decided they want the safe guy back.  And like Congressional Republicans, Jay Leno had no interest in what was right and only interested in getting (more of) his. 

2) Getting Tough Works

Obama – I hope he stops his moderate, reach across the aisle rope-a-dope and lives up to his recent speech in Ohio.   He will help himself and his country in the long run if he digs in and says enough is enough.  The word moderate has to have an objective value, which it does not for Republicans.  Instead, when Republicans hurl the term “moderate” they really mean, “We will prop up the Glen Becks, Sarah Palins and Tea Parties, pretending they speak for mainstream Republicans, even though we really believe they are far-right crazies, but then we will claim ‘the middle,’ by comparison, which is actually very right of center.  We will then bash the president for not moving halfway between rational and batsh*t crazy.”  But he should also get tough with the far left morons who are calling him George W. Obama.  They still need to live in the real world and not in a progressive utopia that is impossible with the Internet, 24 Hour News and the Constitution.

A tad much progressives

Conan – It may have seemed cynical or mean-spirited, but dropping the hammer on NBC was great (and funny)television.  He may not want to, but I think becoming the anti-hero of late night television would be great.

3) If all else fails, be a little cynical.

They both work in a country where a guy named The Situation may have more enduring popularity than either of  them.

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Brown Town

With the election of Scott Brown to the United States Senate it appears that the Republicans will get what they have wanted – nothing.  The 59 votes will not be enough in the Senate to pass the health care reform legislation over the 41 conscience-driven Republicans who will be willing to filibuster. 

I have said it before and if you read this blog you really should go on Amazon.com and purchase Nixonland.  The lesson is that the last time a Democratic President tried to push forward a sweeping and needed social agenda – middle class white anger rose up to deliver monstrous losses in the midterm elections.  Lyndon Johnson won big in 1964 and then watched most of his congressional gains disappear in 1966.  And LBJ had the advantage of not being a confident black man in an era of constantly streaming information and misinformation.  Perhaps if Don Draper were running a 24 hour-a-day campaign against the Civil Rights Act and the country had a troubled, centuries-long relationship with Texans then LBJ would have known what Obama is up against.   Seriously – if you have not read Nixonland you are cheating yourself at a chance to predict the future.

What would the Tea Partiers (and their co-voters) have thought of LBJ? "He's bad, buuuuuut it could be worse..."

Martha Coakley certainly ran a poor campaign, which hurts even more given that she is a Williams Eph.  However, just 9 years after George W. Bush took office, I am hearing “Scott Brown drove a pick up truck” and “Coakley didn’t know who Curt Schilling was.”   This stuff still matters? 

Republicans are taking the country to Brown Town.

The Republicans have become the party that cheers when a perfect game is broken up.  Sure you can’t win, but in a sense neither can the other guy.  And that is now our politics – since when did every single piece of legislation of any meaning require 60 votes in the Senate – oh right, 2009.  I don’t remember liberals like Ted Kennedy fighting George Bush on No Child Left Behind – W.’s signature act in his first term not related to unjust war or tax cuts for wealthy people (until Bush underfunded it).  But Scott Brown is coming to town on a “no cap and trade,” “no health care reform” platform.  The health insurance industry has spent $100 million fighting health care reform to convince people that it is a fundamental threat to our society, second only to Islamic fundamentalism.  The Democrats bent to pro-life concerns and to Joe Lieberman and still not one Republican came over.  Republicans have become a party of hypocritical (really – how can you buy the Republicans as the party of populism in practice – it would be like believing those Exxon commercials where their “workers” talk about helping to create fuel efficient vehicles) obstructionists, which I guess if you consider environmental protection and expanded health care coverage the “wrong direction for America” then you probably think these guys are just voting their consciences.

And I was out there calling Obama a little arrogant during the campaign (because he seemed to have a few moments), but claims that he is acting arrogantly from some voters I think is coded language and false.  The man was elected with the most votes in United States History and has tried to push an agenda (and will likely fail) reflective of that mandate.  These folks might as well say uppity because I think that is part of what some of the backlash is about, at least in terms of the speed and intensity with which it came.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that in our country’s history there has always been a middle class white backlash following massive strides for black people.  After the Civil War and Reconstruction came the Compromise of 1877 which ceded the South to Democrats (the old pre-Strom Thurmond Democrats, the ones that hated Lincoln) and Jim Crow; The Great Society which yielded The Voting Rights Act and The Civil Rights Act gave way just a few years later to sweeping middle class white anger spearheaded by Sarah Palin’s uglier, smarter, better educated and more paranoid predecessor, Richard Nixon; and then the election of Barack Obama gave way almost instantaneously to zealous anger.

Furthermore, in a society of iPhones, blackberries, YouTube, etc. people say they want change, but are no longer conditioned to wait for it.  As George W. showed, fear from terror makes people loyal to you (at least for a time), but when people’s wallets are hurting it’s every man and woman for themselves.   Our lack of patience is another factor that has led us to Brown Town. 

Of course now most Democrats are running for the hills at this point because the only thing more important in DC than doing what you think is right in the face of manipulative lobbying campaigns is holding on to your power.  So unfortunately, we are all headed to Brown Town soon.

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Would John Hinckley Have A Reality Show Today?

Just as technology has exponentially increased the rate at which humans achieve scientific advances and breakthroughs (cell phones do not count), it appears that our society’s thirst for fame at all costs is increasing in a similar fashion, only faster.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the White House Crashers, are an especially shameful example of what otherwise is a fairly logical extrapolation from our culture.  Somehow fame has become a goal in and of itself in America.  I feel like fame used to be a by-product of the talented, the accomplished and the insane.  But now a fourth group has muscled its way into this group – the average piece of sh*t.

Anything Is Possible in America: A son of a Kenyan man and a Kansas woman can become the President.  Also possible, a useless couple of social climbers can meet that man and possibly get a television show.
Anything Is Possible in America: A son of a Kenyan man and a Kansas woman can become the President. Also possible, a useless couple of social climbers can meet that man and possibly get a television show.

And we are all accomplices in this culture.  With the exception of one reality series, which I watched during the time period of 2007, during which much of my rational decision making processes were impaired temporarily, I think all of these shows are wretched.  They feature trashy people catering to the trashiest impulses of viewers (basically it took 15 years for Jerry Springer guests to clean themselves up and become celebrities).  Not satisfied with giving these people a platform on television, viewers bolster the bank accounts of these talentless fools by purchasing their “books” and other items they are able to market (for the record I don’t consider shows like American Idol “reality television” since they are just contests).

The White House Crashers have managed to put this process on steroids.  They managed to disrespect the Office (and the man) of the President of the United States, in a way that I think is worse than Joe Wilson screaming “You lie” in Congress.  All in a quest to get on a television show.  There current fame is not a validation of hard work or talent, but a means to itself. 

I have been making the point that in this age, which seems more self-absorbed and concerned with self enlightenment and self-importance, with ever decreasing importance of religion and other formerly potent forces that stressed things other than the self, we are entering a very dangerous era.  We have things like blackberries and Facebook which present the illusion of more inter-connectedness and community, but deep down that is all a joke.  We are now sinking quickly into an era where the self is king and being famous is its commandment. 

My brother came up with a great scenario that could make me ok with what happened at the White House.  Michaele Salahi hopes to be on The Real Housewives of D.C. (The Real Housewives series could have been just called Cu-ts, but Bravo did not want to disrespect cu-ts in America with such a poor portrayal).  Well, Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff is the brother of Ari Emmanuel, the super agent who is also the basis for Ari Gold on HBO’s Entourage.  Here is how Ari Emmanuel’s phone call should have gone this weekend (in Piven-esque delivery) to the producer of the Housewives series:

“I am going to make this as clear for you and the trash you work with and employ.  If this Ann Coulter looking skank and her pus-y whipped husband get within 1000 feet of any AIDS infested brothel you call a reality television show, you will no longer work in this town.  You and all the skanks on your shows will be lucky to be hired to clean the lint out of Andy Dick’s taint if they are even mentioned on your entire so-called Network.  Not only have you insulted me, but you have insulted my brother, the President and this country.  Consider yourself warned and not just like that time I told you the condom broke. (Hang up) LLOYD!!”

If Ari Gold were in charge, The Real Housewives would all be dead.  What will Ari Emmanuel do?
If Ari Gold were in charge, The Real Housewives would all be dead. What will Ari Emmanuel do?

In light of how the White House crashers got so close to President Obama, security implications are more than a little frightening.  The last hit on a president was John Hinckley on President Reagan in 1981.  He was motivated by some delusional intent to impress Jodie Foster.  The White House Crashers (I even hate using a name they are probably hoping becomes a brand – have they trademarked it yet?) certainly did not attempt anything like that (which is only partially relevant), but how long before we get to the point where the next John Hinckley takes a shot at a President to get on Bravo or E!?  Sadly, I don’t think it is far-fetched at all.  Let’s just hope he’ll be allowed to Tweet from prison – wouldn’t want to miss all of their insights.

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Thankful List

This site is usually saved for gripes, but today is a today for being thankful so after some reflection (family, health, etc. obviously) here are the things I am thankful for in no particular order:

1) My Obama impression.  It is not my favorite bit or part of my stand up, but I like Jimmy Chitwood in Hoosiers I do feel like my Obama impression is what could hit the metaphorical winning shot for me in my comedy career.  Of course even if it makes it big, my comedy career will still be the equivalent of a hick in Indiana.  But like money to an ugly man or big breasts and loose morals to a woman I think Obama will get my stand up going places faster than if I was without it.

Me economic recovery is based solely on how long he stays in office.
Me economic recovery is based solely on how long he stays in office.

2) The New York Knicks.  As readers of this blog know I am one of a handful of Utah Jazz fans (22 years and counting) outside of the state of Utah or the Mormon faith.  The Jazz have been a disappointment this year, but the New York Knicks have been nothing short of a disgrace and thanks to ramifications of the trade for Stephon Marbury 6 years ago the Knicks’ first round pick (most likely a top 5 pick) will go to the Jazz.

Dear NY Knicks, Thanks.  Love, Utah Jazz
Dear NY Knicks, Thanks. Love, Utah Jazz

3) My girlfriend.  If only for buying me Adam Lambert’s new CD (and apparently a point on the Kinsey scale) and saving me from one of the more emasculating purchases I could make.  I made no secret of my enjoyment of his American Idol performances and although the album is way too much Lady Gaga-light and not enough Steven Tyler/Freddie Mercury/David Bowie as it should be, no gift has ranked higher on the “it’s the thought that counts” scale, except for her purchase of a Paul Millsap game jersey for me last Christmas.   And a bonus to her is that if in some alternative universe I pull a Sal from Mad Men, she can say, “Dammit, I should have known when he was singing along to that Adam Lambert song.”

Yes, that Adam Lambert is quite the singer.  Wait, you're firing me Don?  What for? A straight man can't like Adam Lambert?
Yes, that Adam Lambert is quite the singer. Wait, you're firing me Don? What for? A straight man can't like Adam Lambert?

Note – this was all conceived before Lambert dragged men on leashes, face-fu-ked and tongue raped other men on the American Music Awards.  While I appreciate his stance that there is a double standard by the heterosexual world concerning lesbians and gay men making out, it was a bit much.  And it detracts from his considerable talent.  Add another Kinsey point. Fu-k.

4) The people running shi*ty open mics, the people who are not taking advantage of struggling, new, or desperate comics and the people who run decent shows for free in the city.   Like a house of worship, the communal strength of the good people trying to do good things in and with comedy in NYC (and elsewhere) make it easier to keep following a tough dream.  So thanks to all you people as well.  To those who are manipulating or taking advantage of even one comic, go fu-k yourselves.

For all my complaints about the establishment in comedy, there are a lot of funny and hard working people making it tolerable.
For all my complaints about the establishment in comedy, there are a lot of funny and hard working people making it tolerable.
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The Cleveland Show

Important statistics from this week:

  • 1 show at the Cleveland Improv- 15 minute set
  • 24 hours on Amtrak to and from Cleveland, Ohio within a 51 hour span
  • 1 cold/flu obtained
  • 700 page book on basketball read
Hello Cleveland.
Hello Cleveland.

On Tuesday I set off on Amtrak for Cleveland, Ohio to do a set at the Cleveland Improv.  It was a 3:45 train, which was scheduled to arrive in Cleveland in a manageable 11 hours, 42 minutes.   I really like the train.  Anything under 12 hours I consider enjoyable.  It has an old school charm, in a way, but instead of travelling the rails with people who look and dress like Don and Betty Draper, it now really just consists of people who cannot fit in airplane seats (the morbidly obese and in my case, the semi-freakishly tall) and those that want to avoid TSA for profiling and legal status related issues.

Couldn't afford two seats on Southwest.
Couldn't afford two seats on Southwest.

On the train ride to Cleveland I managed to write the next brilliant, but under-viewed and underappreciated JLCauvin.com sketch and read 300 pages in Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball.  About half way through the trip I felt the symptoms of a cold coming on, which I blame half on my Atlantic City drinking binge/sleep deprivation last weekend that may have left me susceptible to illness, and the health industry’s biggest customers that I was entombed with on Amtrak.

I arrived at the Doubletree in downtown Cleveland at 4:10 am.  I fear that one day my nomadic travel schedule and odd hours, along with my menacing frame, will lead me to be the chief suspect in some disappearance/serial killer case.  “The last I saw Mary Jo she was coming back from the bar around 3 am.  To think of it I did see a rather large, rather unhappy looking man around 4 am that same night.” NY Post headline the next day: Comic Kills!

He had the same lifestyle as a comedian.
He had the same lifestyle as a comedian.

The next day I hung out most of the day at The Cleveland Improv (extremely nice club) and at the Rock Bottom restaurant above (I am sensing a message from above since I keep ending up in that restaurant chain in different cities). 

The show that night was an open mic night where local comics are given 4 minutes each and a few visiting comics are given longer sets to audition for emcee and feature work.  4 minutes may not seem like a long time, but the good news is the club does not make it a bringer for the young comics, so unlike other places, dreams are not manipulated and raped by club owners.  Not to mention that the booker of the Cleveland Improv has without question the best track record in returning phone calls and e-mails of any club with which I have dealt.  But it’s like Sinatra said about NY, “If you can, duh duh, make it there, then you are probably with the right booking agency or sucking the right di-k.”

For my set I got to follow an older comedian with Cancer who is undergoing chemo.  In one of my best off the cuff comments of my career so far the first thing I said on stage (with a well timed sniffle) was: “Well, I though I might get some slack from you guys because I have a pretty bad cold, but I guess that excuse is fu-ked now.”

I went through my set doing quite well until about the 11 minute mark.  Then 2 of my last 3 bits (including the Mariano Rivera of my set – Obama impression) fell flat.  There were three forces at work that I believed caused this: the checks were getting dropped on tables, my voice was dying on me and as the booker told me, Midwest crowds are slower, belly laughers (this last one may be the greatest euphemism of all time).  Overall it went well and I think it was worth the trip.  At least the trip going.

The trip coming back (a 5:20 am Amtrak the next morning, arriving at 6:25 pm in NYC) was like being Joel McHale’s character on Community.  I don’t like to pick on special needs folk, but about three seats back from me was a man by himself who literally spoke for about 4 hours with very little break to an elderly couple who were sort of being polite.  The main problem was that, as if some sort of stereotype from a Carlos Mencia bit, he just kept shouting out things like, “I like the train more than flying,” followed quickly by non sequiturs that expressed interest or joy in something.

The stars of the trip were not that guy, but the crazy (literally) guy who kept walking from the cafe car and back talking to himself and the woman who sat in front of me and kept having incredibly loud cell phone conversations.  Here was my tally of phrases she used and how many times she used them on the train:

  • “You know what I’m sayin” – 1,187
  • “He think he can play me but I’m playin’ him” – 66
  • “Sorry, but she caught me on the phone and I was like ‘I need to go'” – only 1 time, but this is funny how she was blaming her her other friend for keeping her on the phone, even though it appeared that her friend said almost nothing.

So I can tell you when I need to go back to Cleveland for more extensive work I am definitely going to upgrade and take Greyhound. 

Fu-k!
Fu-k!
Essential J-L Reader

Obamacare is the New N Word

I joked in a tweet a couple of nights ago that Fox Opinions (because it is not really news except for that Shep Smith guy – I wonder when they will fire him?) would try to link Kanye West to President Obama after he upstaged the angelic 19 year old country singer Taylor Swift.  And Kanye was wrong and Taylor Swift seems remarkably (and refreshingly) un-Hollywood for such a big star (perhaps, her humble Christian roots have something to do with it, or perhaps she just hasn’t been paid enough for a sex tape yet).  Whatever the case was I had this eerie feeling that white people in parts of the country would see beyond a vain entertainer upstaging a humble one and see it as yet another arrogant negro ruining a moment for a white woman (e.g. Sarah Palin, Emmit Till to name two such incidents).

I told you this would happen if we elected a black guy President
I told you this would happen if we elected a black guy President

But the larger truth is that small town, small minded white people feel incredibly threatened by Barack Obama.  When he was a humble, conciliatory campaigner who aspired (but did not and could not guarantee) bipartisanship he looked like that talented black man who could do wonderful things, but still had the tone on one who recognized that he could not do it all alone.  But now that he has decided to make change that not everybody agrees with, he magically transformed from Jackie Robinson to Malcolm X (pre-Mecca trip) for a lot of Americans.  There used to be a socially acceptable way for angry white people to vent their frustration at blacks.  But most mainstream racists now know that saying the N word is debate suicide, so they just attack the man shouting “Obamacare” (I will probably stop using it because I have just realized through a twitter search that it is used too often in derision and not as an easy shorthand as I thought it was) as their slur.

Democrats rooted against George W. Bush and derided him, but mostly because he spoke in a manner often unfit for POTUS status, waged an unnecessary and lie-based war in Iraq, mismanaged the war in Afghanistan, an honorable and necessary war, to the point that now Obama is facing incredible pressure to abandon it, which may imperil America’s safety, allowed Dick Cheney, who appears to be the only man more evil that Nixon’s squad of goons in the early 1970s, to run roughshod over the Constitution and sold the environment to industry.  There are 5,000 dead troops, over 4,000 from the Iraq War.  Global Warming is real.  These are the classic issues that have always brought on tough words and tougher protest.  But now, universal health coverage has become the lightening rod that pushed these people over the edge.  Not war (and if it was a white country, or at least non-Muslim nations, would these people have been as gung ho about it).  Not environmental degradation with disastrous and cataclysmic consequences.  Health care for all.  With numerous controversial proposals introduced by Republicans.  This is their best shot at Obama and sadly, there may be enough industry whores on both sides of the political aisle to derail it, which will be like getting a do over at the Civil War for some of these morons.

Well, at least racism is not clouding the issue of health care.
Well, at least racism is not clouding the issue of health care.

I will admit that I think economic fears have something to do with it also.  I think this country is greedy at its core.  If the economy had not tanked in September of last year, the election would have been A LOT closer.  People vote their wallets and their instincts in this country, in that order.  So when the economy tanked, some people who may not have wanted a black president voted their circumstances and decided their ideology could fight another day.  Well, now that the economy is not recovering in terms of jobs for people it is time to let the racism kick in, in its socially acceptable form – shouting angrily over anything that you can.

I recently read the book Nixonland, which is a weighty tome and sometimes difficult to wade through without a real substantive knowledge of all the political players of the 1960s and 70s, but Richard Nixon rode to the presidency on white frustration.  Not all of it was racial, some was economic (the way Republicans have continued to fool poor and middle class people that their economic best interests are with Republicans), but much of it was racial.  In the 1960s civil rights enactments along with racial riots made the Republicans the party of safety and the re-establishment of white order.  Well now that there is a president of color that battle has been lost, but that does not mean that equality’s victory over intolerance cannot be frustrated.  And that is what these TEA party folks are doing.  Their victory is unattainable so they’ve redefined their goals very simply: if we cannot win, then neither can he/they.

Even if you believe that Obama & Co. are going about health care in the wrong way, is health care for every American such an abomination on its face that it requires the same intensity of protest that Vietnam had, which these people are giving it?  And why do we have to cover these losers as if they matter.  Below is my recent interpretation of a Health Care Town Hall:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dAyUoDEX0GE

Richard Nixon tapped into a feeling of helplessness that white people had.  Liberal causes almost always win the day eventually because to quote George W. Bush, “I believe freedom is the deepest need of every human soul.”  But those moments don’t really exist for ordinary white people because they have been on top since the country’s birth.  However, black people have come up from such depths that every milestone is a feel good celebration, culminating, of course, with the election of Barack Obama.

So the the TEA Partiers and their selfish and/or small minded sympathizers, my message to you is relax.  You are still white and in America.  Appreciate the natural advantages that still abound because of it and let people have health care and a president of color.   It reminds me of the scene in Goodfellas where Tommy (Joe Pesci) gets very angry at his girlfriend for over complimenting Sammy Davis Jr.  TEA Partiers and their allies at Fox Opinions are like Tommy (white, angry with no legitimate place for their real frustrations).  Obama is Sammy Davis Jr, but only worse, he is a Democrat.  And worse, he is trying to do something other than  dance, sing or shoot a jump shot.

Of course the Candy Man can! (wait, we're not talking about him dating my daughter, right?)
Of course the Candy Man can! (wait, we’re not talking about him dating my daughter, right?)

If you read this and like it (or the video) – please forward on or re-post.  And if you don’t like it…

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Wake Me Up When September Ends

A lot of big things in September that can potentially lead to incremental success as a comedian or months of bitter regret.  I have not done any new writing since returning from Denver in a hopes to avoid what is often the death-knell for me in any audition/competition in the past.  It goes something like this: I think of a funny premise, which will be funny in a month, a week before an important show.  I then say to myself – this is my best joke!  I then do it and it ruins part of a set that would have been good, but for the prematurely born joke.  I then punch inanimate objects and write about my frustration.  Not this year.  Here are my upcoming trials:

The Boston Comedy Festival – August 30th-September 6th.  This is aspirational.  If I am performing on September 6th it will have been a success.  If I am not angry on September 7th it will have been a huge success/possible miracle.

I have not made the finals in Boston in 5 years and Aaron Boone no longer comforts me.
I have not made the finals in Boston in 5 years and Aaron Boone no longer comforts me.

An Obamacare Tale– We just finished filming my latest spoof/video and not only do I think this will be the best, but also actually semi-relevant.  Imagine a health care town hall with all the worst elements of Obama haters, then imagine a guy who looks like Beck playing Joe Biden and the best Obama impression you’ve ever seen by a member of my family.  Then model it after the scene in A Bronx Tale where Chazz Palminteri beats up a group of bikers.  What do you have?  A video that should go viral and be on Olberman’s Countdown and launch my new career as SNL’s Obama.  What will it actually get – 14 Facebook comments and 500-600 hits.  But it should be up this week and will make me momentarily happy.

What happens when the town hall gets our of control for Obama?  An Obamacare Tale... coming soon.
What happens when the town hall gets our of control for Obama? An Obamacare Tale... coming soon.

San Francisco Comedy Competition September 9, 2009 – November 4, 2013– This is a prestigious comedy competition that lasts for a very long time if you are good/lucky.  I hope to go far (it actually ends October 3, 2009 – see Boston Comedy Festival above for similar description).   I have never been to San Francisco, but I hear it’s a nice city.  I am sure I will enjoy my friend’s couch and the nearest 24 Hour Fitness club and Starbucks.  But don’t worry, I will tell everyone that it is awesome when I return, the way people returning from Europe trips show how much they were changed by experiencing Europe by saying things like Barthelona.

Hope to have good news to report in September/October.  Probably will be more entertaining if I don’t.  Stay tuned.

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Another Michael Jackson Is Impossible

Muhammad Ali, Barack Obama, The Pope, Michael Jordan, Bill Clinton.  This is the group of people’s whose deaths could rival or exceed Michael Jackson’s in terms of worldwide newsworthiness and cultural impact (and Jordan is very iffy).  That is really it in my opinion.  (And it happened a few hours after I was complaining that Farrah Fawcett’s death, though sad for her family and friends of course, did not warrant huge media attention.  Jackson’s did and does. )  And notice there are no music people on the list.  Sorry Justin Timberlake, Usher, Ne-Yo and any other people who they are already trying to figure out who could take the mantle.  That sounds like a bad joke. 

Talent? Absolutely.  About 25% of MJ combined.
Talent? Absolutely. About 25% of MJ combined.

There is no “next” Michael Jackson.  There are a few reasons for this:

The Cultural Gap

Michael Jackson had an incredible talent and an abusive parent willing to beat it out of him (I had parents willing to do the latter, but quickly persuaded them against hitting me a lot with my “I don’t have much talent” defense).   Acrucible this toxic, but which generates such prodigious, one-of-a-kind genius could never occur in today’s over-exposed culture, where every other as-hole can actually become a star.  He’d either be scooped up by a reality show or taken away from his parents (unlikely if he’s famous since we revel in the exploitation of children every day on shows like Jon and Kate plus 8).  So there’s no sense talking about a “next” MJ because it is not really possible given our cultural landscape of low standards and quick fix need for new celebs.

The Innovation Gap

There is nobody with his talent for innovation in the music business.  His closest musical counterpart is Madonna and she’s not really close.  Today there is more imitation than anything else.  Not to draw a comparison, but that is one of the reasons Adam Lambert was so good on American Idol – he seemed to be somewhat original, but still he lived in the shadow of men like Steven Tyler and Freddie Mercury.  The best analogy I can come up with is sports related. The shadow Michael Jordan cast on basketball is so great that players like Kobe and LeBron are trying to be free of it today and cast their own legacy.  Now imagine Michael Jordan were put in a time machine and played in the 1960s instead of the 1980s and 90s.  Now imagine how much more incredible and awe-inspiring he would have been if he was in that era.  That is what Michael Jackson did for music.  And his breaking of major racial barriers goes without saying.

King of Pop
King of Pop

The Class Gap

As ironic as it may sound Michael Jackson is lucky to have lived until 50 with the media pressure and voyeuristic celebrity hunting that now goes on.  He was fortunate enough to be a fully grown man by the time people were really going psycho for him.  Nowadays with this exponentially growing blood lust we have for celebrities wouldn’t he be more likely to suffer a fate like Britney Spears?  Breaking down right before or after Thriller, thus denying the public of several years of quality music afterwards?  I even like You Rock My World, which he released 19 years after Thriller.

The child molestation charges and odd behavior of Michael Jackson will forever be linked to his legacy.  I have a friend who believes child molesters should be castrated.  I am one of those people that hopes that Michael was just strange and never did anything sexual to the children, but that feels unlikely.  But I look at a guy who was abused by his father, and lived a public life for 40 years that no one besides Obama over the last 2 years can even relate to I think.  I feel bad for him.  People feel bad for victims of abuse when it occurs, but when they turn into monsters themselves, no one cares anymore.  This is not a defense for his actions, if he did abuse children, but just maybe a moment of compassion is warranted, even if you do find him despicable.  When you look at pictures of this cute talented kid and then at the recluse alien he became you have to know this was a deeply troubled person not in full control of what he became – his family exploited him and society smothered him.

So I am happy to own a bunch of Michael Jackson records and in a show of class I only told one Michael Jackson joke (it was the entertainment elephant in the room) last night (at one of the most difficult shows of my career – nothing compared to the massacre at Medgar Evers College a few years ago, but bad):

With Ray Charles, James Brown and Michael Jackson dead I’d be scared sh-tless if I was Stevie Wonder.  If diabetes doesn’t get his chubby ass, then apparently the ghost from Final Destination will.

The good money in your legendary black musical figures death pool.
The good money in your legendary black musical figures death pool.

I will write some funnier stuff on Sunday or Monday about my Florida trip (let’s hope the worst is behind me), but I wanted to write something about the biggest entertainer in the world.   And at least “kids these days” can see that there was something just a tad bigger than The Jonas Brothers and Lady Gaga.  After all, even I had a Michael Jackson figure – I believe it was the Billie Jean one (modeled on the 1983 Motown Special).  Music didn’t just lose a giant.  It lost THE giant.

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Why Diversity Is Still Important

When Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President it felt like a prescription for the foreign policy of the Bush administration.  Although I was leaning towards voting for John Edwards I thought then-nominee Obama provided the best counter to terrorists and extremists around the world: a man with an appearance, a name and a family history that could immediately alter perceptions about America under the Bush regime.  And the news reports of his Cairo speech yesterday seem to be proving this correct.   I think what more and more people have to recognize is that there is an incredibly high value to Obama’s appearance and racial background, no matter how many conservative politicians and jurists want to move quickly (and conveniently) to a race-blind society.   Since the Warren Court, the conservative wing of the Supreme Court and many pockets of the country have been in an all out sprint to become race neutral (because once you have a 400+ year head start, there is really no threat of actual equality for the injured party without some substantial assistance).  Hopefully that trend will slow or stop.

And although the 43rd presidnet provides the greatest contrast to the 44th, this is not merely a Bush vs. Obama issue.  If Bill Clinton gave a speech equivalent to that of Obama’s, it could not have the same effect because he would still be white, which would prevent the instinctive affinity and pride people of color around the world feel towards Obama.  However, because of Obama, when we have our next white president (I am pretty sure in Presidential politics “once we go black, we’ll probably go white again at some point” is the axiom) America will be looked at differently because we will be a country where people of different races succeed to the highest level in reality and not just in a series of truisms.  But make no mistake, our bombs and guns cannot have the same long term effect in changing the hearts and minds of the Muslim world (and marginalizing its radical and violent subset) that having a leader more representative of the world does.  And this is not just an international effect – this is an important lesson for every community in America.

At the Eagle Academy, a school of predominantly inner city African-American and Latino males, in the South Bronx, where I am a mentor, they began the mentoring program with the idea that young men will become what they see.  So the school made an intense effort to draw mentors from various professional communities.   Perhaps the young men will see drug dealers and gang members during their day, but they will also see lawyers and doctors during their day.  And yes, most of the mentors are men of color as well, because that emphasizes the most important lesson, which is not that other people (i.e. white) can have success via traditional paths (college, grad school, etc.) , but that they can have that same success too. 

Judge Sonia Sotomayor has come under fire for some of her comments indicating that her background will help her appreciate different viewpoints, especially those of women and people of color.  People are less charged up over her female point of view because sexism has never gained the stigma that racism has (even on the Supreme Court gender discrimination has never attained the “strict scrutiny” standard that racial discrimination cases have attained, despite the efforts of Justice Ginsburg.).  People do not mind as much when a “women’s perspective” is cited because it does not evoke the horrible sensations of guilt and horror that the legacy of race relations in this country does.   But different perspectives, especially racial, are important.   Do I agree with Judge Sotomayor’s opinion on the firefighter tests in New Haven, CT?  No – but do I think her perspective as a Latina is important in deciding legal issues concerning race? Absolutely.  As she put it in 1998: “We are a nation that takes pride in our ethnic diversity, recognizing its importance in shaping our society and in adding richness to its existence.  Yet we simultaneously insist that we can and must function and live in a race-and color-blind way that ignores those very differences that in other contexts we laud.”  Appreciating and understanding our differences can only come from inclusion and interaction.

The most tragic example of this is the fatal shooting of Officer Omar Edwards, an African-American police officer in Brooklyn by a fellow officer, Andrew Dunton, who is white.  Many people think that this tragedy could have been averted by more training techniques, but training alone cannot undo the subtle prejudices that lead to these rare, but not rare enough, incidents. 

And this is not to say that this incident could have been avoided if Officer Dunton had not been white.  But perhaps if in a couple of decades a white officer’s first instinct (the way it may have been for an African-American officer because of his life experiences) will be to think, maybe that black guy is a cop I’ll hold off another second or two until I am certain one way or the other.  And many officers would rightly say those two seconds could cost a police officer his life.  And right now, they may be right.  But perhaps as we continue to evolve in our race relations other factors will become more salient beyond race in identifying a police officer form a perpetrator. 

From all the newspaper articles I’ve read on it, Officer Dunton is not some cliche, bigoted cop, which makes the situation all the more dire.  The overt and malicious racist is easy to spot and punish or avoid, but subtle and somewhat benign prejudices, if there are such things, are more dangerous because they are harder to guard against, both for the victim and the perpetrator.  The only way things like this will disappear is for major cultural changes to take effect.  And those changes will take decades to occur.  But the key to that change is interaction and diversity (the fact that Latino, African-American and Asian members the NYPD now comprise a majority bodes well I think).

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Lambert vs. Lakers

The last night of American Idol has arrived.  Last night Adam Lambert did what he had to to defeat Kris Allen (i.e. prevent the release of compromising gay sex photos, which is the only thing that could hold off Adam last night).  His version of A Change is Gonna Come was great, with the exception of a wailing part where he looked on the verge of awwkward tears (phew – just his musical theater acting chops shining through).  Kris Allen did well, despite the John Mayer/Muppet faces he made while singing.  However, the deciding factor was the final big “I can do it, I can beat the odds, I am a champion” song that both contestants have to sing (why does American Idol insist on the first single from every season being something that sounds like it belongs on the Karate Kid III soundtrack?). Not only did the scope of the song better fit Lambert’s big voice, he also provided the best unintentional comedy for the season this side of Scott McIntyre’s fangs when he sang the lyric, “You can go deeper; there are no boundaries.”  Was this song written before or after Glambert was voted a finalist?

Speak up - I did not hear that last part.
Speak up - I did not hear that last part.

So I voted for only the second time in an American Idol finals (the first was for Carrie Underwood) and it took me 75 minutes to get through, which I did in between two of the harshest sets I’ve performed (I have officially eliminated every possible topic from my “off limits” comedy folder).  What is amazing is that I had to wait 90 minutes to vote for Obama.  So for the first time in 8 years we have a president who is more popular than American Idol.  Take that cynics.  Although I guess the true test will be when the American Idol front runner is a handsome black man (interestingly enough the only black man winner is one of the least popular, but probably because he is fat and sweaty).

But all the good vibes from American idol and infanticide jokes wore off late last night when I watched the Los Angeles Lakers eke out a two point victory over the Denver Nuggets.  Normally I would root against a team with as many tattoos as the Nuggets (JR Smith looks like he has a skin condition and Chris Anderson, Carmello Anthony and Kenyon Martin look like members of the world’s best prison basketball team – especially Carmello who sports a Warna Brotha (WB)” tattoo encouraging kids not to cooperate with law enforcement – the NBA, where caring happens.

Remember kids - if a cop needs your help tell theat motherfu-ker to go fu-k himself.  The NBA where caring happens
Remember kids - if a cop needs your help tell theat motherfu-ker to go fu-k himself. The NBA where caring happens

But the Nuggets are playing Kobe, Sasha and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers.   To put it in perspective I look at the Nuggets like Sunni insurgents and the Lakers as Al Qaeda.   Sure I don’t like either team, but am willing to make a deal with the insurgents to defeat Laker Qaeda.  To continue this ridiculous, and possibly offensive analogy, I will now refer to Kobe Bryant as Kobe bin Laden. 

So hopefully Lambert wins tonight and the Nuggets can get ther sh*t together and defeat the evildoers tomorrow.

You are either with us or with the Lakers.
You are either with us or with the Lakers.