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The Comdedy Bubble Has Already Burst

At the end of 2018 (way back then) I decided to ditch Facebook and Instagram. Aside from the negative psychological impacts of Facebook, their actions related to the 2016 Election, privacy and just their overall deplorable corporate conduct made me realize that I had to delete my accounts (Facebook owns Instagram for those that don’t know). And full disclosure, Facebook’s 5+ year saga to crush content that was either hosted on other sites (blogs, YouTube, etc.) through their constantly evolving greed algorithm made it easier to depart as my content was not even benefiting the way it did years before. So, as I told fans/friends/followers in a few posts in December that they could still follow my site, YouTube and Twitter for my content, a few of my 4000+ “friends” followed me, a majority didn’t see it (a vast majority thanks to Facebook’s work) and the rest offered something akin to obituary comments. Some explained that they hated Twitter (but were apparently OK with Facebook, a far more morally and psychologically corrupt company) and others just had no compelling interest to continue to consume my content (the overwhelming majority of which is free – only my 6 stand up albums cost money – my weekly podcast, blogs, videos and tweets are all free and occur with far more regularity than the roughly 2.5 years in between stand up album releases) despite near daily amusement (which I assume from the many likes compiled every day). It dawned on me that most of these people liked my comedy, but liked Convenience a lot more.

I live in NYC, a fairly liberal city at least in how it votes. But every time I see people from my midtown Manhattan building ordering Uber (a company I ditched much faster than Facebook for many of the same reasons), or see Starbucks recycling cans stuffed with non-recyclables (or recyclables in the garbage can right next to the recyclables can), or witness thousands of people shuffling along zombie like on crowded rush hour streets and subway stairwells or a thousand other things I realize, even in some of our most ostensibly progressive/liberal places, we are now in the era of Convenience. And I capitalize it, at the risk of appearing Tom Friedman-ish, because I think it is a social movement that trumps almost everything else (somewhere Progress was replaced by Convenience, but we never stopped calling it Progress). If a city with extensive public transportation and a fleet of yellow cabs cannot separate themselves from the convenience and control of hailing a cab to their door, even if they must wait longer and contribute to an epidemic of traffic and pollution in NYC, then what chance is there (let alone ethical right to moralize to) to get more conservative (individual liberty leaning) people in redder parts of the country to agree to give up their way of life, especially when the sacrifices they are asked to make often are part of a much more substantive change to their lives?

I am only examining the small microcosm of comedy in this obviously very large problem of Convenience. Our addiction to Convenience has already decimated lower-middle class and middle-class jobs (Amazon is at least 5 years past the point where they should have been broken up on Antitrust grounds… yes I quit Amazon/Amazon Prime/Whole Foods as well) and is still at least an equal force as the GOP in stopping our needed commitment to fight climate change – the metaphorical asteroid headed for Earth. However, I do think examining stand up comedy is instructive. Comedy is something most people enjoy on some level, but have come to expect it to be curated and delivered to them with the least amount of physical or intellectual effort (if clubs could book memes at this point I am sure they would). So as Comedy Central and HBO have abdicated their previously vital role of stand-up comedy cultivation, Netflix has entered to dominate the realm with a gluttonous oversaturation. They are in the business of eyeballs and will deliver more comedy than is necessary, good or wanted just to achieve more eyeballs. They are literally devaluing the concept of a special before our very eyes. Meanwhile, social media, especially Facebook, has given people loads of free content, while also cultivating an environment that makes the average person appear on par with comedians as algorithms cultivate feeds and motivate people to get thumbs, hearts and smiles. I learned this the hard way when I saw how many people were unwilling to either ditch Facebook (not really my point, but it would be nice to see) or add a less putrid social media site to their rotation to follow a comedian for whom they expressed enjoyment . In other words, the platform now trumps the content and eve more so, the content creator. And I think this is a clear sign that the Comedy Bubble is set to burst, if it hasn’t already.

Of course, I have other anecdotal evidence that suggests to me that the Comedy Bubble that has built up will burst and burst big. The Funny Bones – one of the big chains of comedy clubs has joined the Helium chain (a smaller, but prestigious collection of clubs) in only offering 5 show weeks (eliminating Thursday shows). Now if you are to ask and listen to comedians already in the money, they will tell you stand up comedy is fine and the only threat is “PC culture” or some other boogeyman. I will address that later, but when the biggest chain of clubs decides that a 17% reduction in shows is better for the bottom line it should be making more headlines for comedians than what a comic said at Columbia University. Mind you – middle acts are not getting an increase in pay (making it 30+ years at the $100 a show rate, but now with fewer shows and higher transportation costs than in 1988) but this also has not really registered for the “comedy community” either. Money in stand up is like the stock market at this point – those with the leverage, power, management and means to be at the Netflix special level or a similar perch see money and pilots being thrown around and think it’s a Bull Market for comedy. But to borrow an analogy from politics – Main Street comedians are making less than their counterparts in 1988 from club work. Not to mention the fact that many more headliners (both elites who sell out rooms and guys lucky enough to just have the spots) are bringing their own features which in many cases is elevating mediocre comics ahead of the once normal selection process because of… Convenience (multiple A Comedy Club bookers have told me this, though all you need is eyes and ears to know this). Some do it because they want a friend. Some do it because they want a shitty opener. Some may have another reason. But for a profession that often likes to proclaim itself as a meritocracy this is about as Un-Darwinian as it gets.
So why isn’t there an uprising among comedians? Some form of concerted action? A guild? People simply giving a shit? One easy reason is that like country bumpkin Republicans who vote against most of their own interests, rank and file comedians often think they are going to be the next elite comedian and want all the riches and privileges that come with it, so why change it? But a more widespread reason, in my opinion is that Facebook is now the nation’s comedy club and the majority of comedians (the comedy proletariat) who make nowhere close to a living are content to thrive on social media and people are content to absorb tons of humor (and try their hand at it) from Facebook. My new album was the worst selling of my career, despite me having my largest social media reach to date and it being my best album. I think it is because the idea of paying for comedy (especially from a *gulp* “nobody”) has never been a tougher sell. If you don’t have a streaming subscription already to a Spotify or Apple you just are no longer programmed to pay for content that way.

Sidebar – I wrote many years ago that Louis CK selling his special for $5 set a bad marker. He had the power to cut out the middle man and as someone who has self-produced every one of my stand-up albums, I respect it. But by creating a new expectation that the best in the business only asks for $5 I thought it might have had an Amazon-like psychological effect on the comedy market. If a comedy star places that price on their work, why would the standard $10 from me or someone in my position be enticing? As it turns out sites like Apple and Spotify one upped him with a “How about all the comedy AND music for $10 a month?” But I digress.

If I cannot get fans to sign up to Twitter to follow me, what the hell chance is there of them opening a wallet? And this is all fine, except how can the stand-up comedy art expect to grow in a substantive way when it is borderline impossible to make a living at it (as in survive without a day job – I am not expecting to be rich, or even thrive at the middle level), except at the highest level?

I know this is just my own experience, but I am smart enough and more than experienced enough in this business to see that these are not isolated experiences that I am having. A population programmed to value the convenience of content over the provider of the content thanks mainly to Facebook, a workforce that largely doesn’t actually work at any level where labor issues might concern them (sort of the Uberfication of stand-up comedians – treat an art like a side hustle and you’ll never be motivated to join forces or value the art) and a streaming platform that cheapens the special-ness of live stand-up comedy is a toxic combination that has brought stand-up comedy to a brink. Combine that with a powerful class of comedians blinded by riches at the top and a mentality that is unfiltered Paul Ryan – an almost absurd, self-serving belief that those at the top are simply more meritorious than some of those stalled on the way up and you have a recipe for a massive decline in stand-up comedy.

So while Facebook, whose likes, if not the new opiate of the masses, certainly are the opiate of the comedians, joins forces with Netflix (both metaphorically and in stolen data) to drive comedy this way we also have a cultural civil war going on in stand up comedy. We are starting to see the results of when stand up comedy, overexposed and overinflated through the Internet smashes up against the scrutiny of the Internet, the very means of much of its exponential, short cut growth. It is very much the chickens coming home to roost. And I for one welcome it. I am not saying I agree with all the arguments on either the left or the right (though the Kumia Kompound Krowd tends to scream bloody murder whenever one of their favorites is called out for offensive content or slurs, but responds with a chorus of “shut the fu*k ups” to those who voice disagreement, unable to see the irony through their MAGA hoods apparently). But as the traditional path to stand up quality and success (writing and performing and travelling – the path I have taken that has made me an excellent comedian and an economic failure) has faltered and been replaced with an Internet and social media warp speed path, weaker comedy and bigger opinions have filled the void. This has led to failure. Certainly not economic failure (I’m sure the mean income of comedians is fine, but the median income is undoubtedly dogshit), but a larger failure for the quality and stature of stand up. Just because it suddenly got easier to be booked as a headliner for a select few, did not suddenly make the process of creating good stand up any easier. And the cultural battle within stand up that has spilled into the public square has problems on both sides. I see the right-wing folks demanding that their preferred voices not be diminished at all, as if benefitting from the greater and accelerated exposure should not or cannot come with anyone validly objecting. And on the other side I see left wing voices willing to throw away context and respect for an art embraced for pushing envelopes to satisfy their day job. human resources department concept of right and wrong. And often both sides are expressed with an aim of accumulating responses on social media.

I will tell you my two favorite specials this year were from a woman who hadn’t done stand up in 15 years (If I need to tell you who then why are you even reading a long essay on stand-up comedy?) and a Showtime special (Erik Griffin) that most of my contemporaries (let alone non-comedian friends) hadn’t watched. I saw HBO hit new lows, numerically and qualitatively. with stand up and I watched Netflix present a veritable parade of mediocrity (I cannot and did not watch everything, but I found myself largely unimpressed). There is no incentive or for the public to buy/support unknown comedians thanks to social media. There is no incentive for the business to develop or rigorously scrutinize specials and acts because Netflix is basically a blank check. And there is no incentive for comedians to stand up for what’s right because a majority don’t make enough, don’t expect to make enough, or just don’t plain care to treat it like a real job (you know, when they aren’t “Roast Battling”). So instead overly sensitive stand-up comedy neophytes, who have been convinced that their social media reach has magically enhanced the quality and importance of their opinions (and in some cases their stand-up), do battle with crude morons cloaking themselves in “free speech” while the foundations of the art and business crumble beneath them.

So in 2019 I think the Comedy Bubble will burst more. I say more because every time I see a club advertising a YouTuber, a WWE wrestler or a washed-up actor I realize it already has burst. It’s just time for it to continue leaking until enough people notice. “The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan and I think it applies perfectly to comedy in 2019. Facebook and social media ARE the comedy. Comedians are the only ones who still seem to think they are important to the process.

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Comedian Trojan Horses: The People Who Trick Us on…

As a comedian (or as I prefer to downgrade myself – unpaid intern at comedy A/K/A The King of All Unpaid Media) I am pretty liberal with my Facebook friend add policy.  I rarely seek anyone out, but when added I usually say yes.  However, I have a few tests to not approve of you.  The first is if I check out your page and all it contains are comments from other people – either posting on your page or thanking you for the friend request. That means you are not real.  The second is if you are an attractive woman I have never met and are located in a place I have never been and if all your friends are men.  The third is if there are only symbols in your name.  One of the good ways to get me to click approve is if we have mutual friends and none of them are comedians (then you rate very high on the authentic human scale).  Another good way is if we have a lot of friends in common (meaning comedian) then have a picture doing something funny or have some statuses that indicate a human being is operating the account.  And of course proceeding a friend request with a “I think you are awesome” direct message leads to 100% of friend request acceptances.  However, these simple guidelines do not create a perfect Facebook experience.  This is because some people seemingly come in peace in “comedian” trojan horses; they offer an outward appearance of humor – either offering or appreciating – but then end up bomarding you with their real agenda that consistently affects your wall in an adverse manner.  Some might say I should block them from my newsfeed, but I say a) I will just unfriend – NO HALF MEASURES – IT IS BREAKING BAD WEEK; and b) it gives me the daily dose of hostility I need – like a multivitamin for my comedy.  So here are some of the people who use false pretenses to sneak into the comedy world on Facebook:

The Comedian Who Is Too Quick to the Fan Page Invite – Dude, I don’t know you.  You requested me as a friend and now you are inviting me to like your fan page?  And now I am seriously believing that your “friend” request was really just a plot to put me in the fan zone – like telling a chick you want to date, when all you really want to do is hook up.  I am not that kind of a Facebook user!

The Issue Person – Sure I have seen you at some mics or  yes there are a couple of photos of you on stage somewhere, but deep down you just really used a keycard into the comedy community to gain an audience for your single issue focus, that had I known about before accepting a friend request I would have clicked ignore.  If your posts are not 75% or more humorous (or at least attempts at humor) then you are lying to the Facebook community. #Feminsim #LoveReligion #HateReligion #Etc.

YouTube Person: The Guy/Girl Who Never Stops Posting Article, News Stories, Videos, Etc. – I have the Internet too.  Please stop throwing it all on my news feed. 

Comedian Who Goes From Comedy Posts to Perspective Posts – One of the great things to see is when a comedian makes a jump from obscurity to some level above obscurity and shifts to a mentorship role (much like Walter White – they always had the desire to pontificate, but now they have worked hard and have the perceived stature to do so) in their statuses that no ones asked them to take on.  Just because a manager or agent bullied clubs to take you on, or risk losing bigger names on the agent’s client roster does not mean that you now possess pearls of wisdom or magical insights into success.  Just stick to the funny.  If I wanted that bullsh*t I would send friend requests to Tony Robbins and Joel Osteen.  For the record – I have been doing this consistently as a failure so no one can accuse me of flipping the script and turning into a know-it-all when I make it big.

Flavor Flavs – Do, say, or post something funny if you are a comedian. Do not just be hypemen/women for other comedians.  Or else change that name or place of employment from comedian to something else.  And then send me a fan page request for Dan Jones – middle school teacher.  That I would definitely click “like” on.

If you read this and see any ressemblance to yourself it is not a coincidence.  It probably just means I still think well of you in real life, but real life is irrelevant to the more important life on Facebook.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes. New Every Tuesday!  This week’s episode is all BREAKING BAD so subscribe or follow today.

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James Gandolfini and the 7 Ways Comedians React To…

James Gandolfini passed away shockingly yesterday at the age of 51.  He was known primarily for his iconic performance/character of Tony Soprano and for being the face of one television’s greatest, if not the greatest, shows (my pre-Game of Thrones list has it at #6 on my favorite shows of all time).  But with an untimely death comes the ritual of comedians taking to social media immediately to offer RIPs, jokes and other comments.  I was particularly disturbed after Whitney Houston’s death only because I thought her talent was so singularly spectacular that it would have been nice for people to reflect and appreciate it for a minute or too before offering half-baked jokes.  Plus, it is worth noting that I saw a lot of trashing of Whitney Houston (black) for her drug problem – sometimes in the form of “Why do we care about this crackhead whore who did this to herself when we have troops and other real heroes dying,” and yet interestingly enough I have seen no calls for similar reflection from America’s social media heroes in the wake of grieving and reflection for the obese Gandolfini (white).  But rather than make this my usual tone of judgment I thought I would just offer the casual comedy observer the different types of responses that now come from comedians in the wake of a tragedy.  Enjoy!

1) Standard RIP message – this is made to either show appreciation for the man or woman’s work, but just as likely to let everyone know that you have heard the news and are hopefully either informing them, which makes you cool, or that you are feeling something profound, which makes you look warm.

2) Hack Joke – for example if you mentioned the ending of The Sopranos or Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ you need your comedy license revoked.  These always seem to happen so quickly to the point that you see 8 comedians with the same joke, and they are all Facebook friends sharing the same wall, but they still failed to realize that the joke was dead on arrival.

3) Video Clip and/or Photo RIP – I like these actually. The person is known for something so it makes sense to share.  Which is why I will share Kim and Ray J’s tape when Ray J dies.

4) Actually Funny Joke – after a day or more of respectful time usually, you can just go to www.Facebook.com/JLCauvin for these 🙂 but seriously folks… every so often someone posts something that manages to be a little gallows humor, but not too disrespectful and actually funny (or disrespectful, but really funny).  But if they do that and then spend the next 2 minutes telling you how good that joke was you are watching Anthony Jeselnick.  This is a great blog post people…

5) Unbelievable Emotional Post – This is the horsesh*t extension of #1 where someone with no emotional connection has a heartbreaking message.  99 out of 100 I don’t buy it, but just know that if Bryan Cranston meets an untimely death, my tears will be real.

6) We were friends post – You met the celebrity twice, but you refer to them as your friend, your spirit, your buddy, your dear friend or any other such nonsense. 

7) Fake Moral Outrage post – These are the folk who either take a celebrity’s death as a time to remind us about the troops or breast cancer or any other important thing, but they only do it on that day.  There were no posts about honor or important causes the day before.  They are like the Westboro Baptist Church – they show up to a social media mourning and then try to shame you with stuff they don’t care about most days, but become morally indignant just to fu*k with your appreciation.  Or they point out that the death was not a surprise or that they deserved it.  Hey – if the celebrity did not harm to others and they were talented it is OK to reflect on their skills and gifts without being told about the causes you rarely discuss during non celebrity mourning social media time.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes. New Every Tuesday!

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Rise of the Frans – Comedy & Social Media’s…

Over the last couple of years in comedy, with the rise of social media, there have been many hints and tips on how to accelerate your career using the new forms of communication.  “Communicate with fans!” “Create a relationship with fans!”  “Be Louis CK!”  Other than “content creation” there are no other things I hear more in comedy right now to make it.  Unfortunately, I feel like all this advice and expertise sharing is moot.  Like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (not really a Breaking Bad reference, but feel free to think of Walter White as you read this), which states that you cannot know the position and momentum of something at the same time, all this advice about social media and outreach is outdated as soon as it is identifiable.  Once ten comics have made money and success from a given strategy (Dane Cook – MySpace, Rob Delaney – Twitter, George Lopez – Latino people with terrible senses of humor), everyone adopts the technique and then collectively saturate the market with it.  And no on discusses the side effects or unintended consequences of all this outreach!  Sure, for the upper echelon of comedians in stature and money, they still call the shots, but I recently mowed three fans’ lawns just to get them to listen to my free weekly podcast.  Telling jokes, providing free content and travelling around the country is not quite enough these days.  Now, this is not to say that the advice of communicating with fans is useless, but at some point too much communication, outreach and heavy petting can lead to an awkward blurring of the line between fan and friend, which has given rise to a new breed of people thriving in the new media world of comedy: “Frans.”

Frans can come in three varieties: one is the fan that crosses too quickly into friend territory and starts sharing too much personal information. The second Fran is a friend that believes because they have been to three shows in 8 years and has heard of Louis CK that they are now well equipped to critique and modify your act.  The final Fran is very common to comedians – the token Fran – the friend who has claimed to be a fan for a long time and turns out is really neither.

TYPE 1 FRAN

This Fran starts as an eager fan and can engage you on various topics – sports, movies, comedy and it all stays solid.  If it stays there you have a great fan, social media has worked and you should reward them with merch or comp tickets or recreational drugs.  But Type 1 Fran-ness can start with a personal question  or an inquiry for advice on a personal matter, which then puts the comedian in a position that I hate in all aspects of life (I have used this example before on sharing cable bills).  If you engage on a personal level, then you have just turned the fan into a Fran.  However, if you pull the “slow down,” or “that is not my department” then you may lose the fan entirely when they feel like, justifiably or more likely unjustifiably, like a used up Steubenville high school student who was only there to have his or her funny bone  tickeled while they were passed out in what they thought was a friendship blackout.  In other words, there is no safe middle ground – you are either uncomfortable or an asshole.  I once had a fan tell me “can’t you act like a person?!” during an exchange and all I could think was, “I’m not a person! I’m a comedian!!”

The way to nip this in the bud, in my opinion is to have a firm boundary.  Mine is either the second pregnancy or the third restraining order, whichever comes first.  That is when I tell a fan, “Hey, you have crept in the the Fran zone!”

TYPE 2 FRAN

This is the person that started out as a friend and then, thanks to lots of interactions with you and your comedy on social media, began to feel a little bit like Luke Walton. What I mean by that is when Luke Walton arrived on the Shaq-Kobe Lakers he probably was in awe of their talent and very respectful.  But after 4 or 5 seasons of VIP treatment at clubs, championship rings, Luke Walton probably started offering Shaw free throw tips and trying to compete for chicks with Kobe at the club.  Similarly, if your friends become immersed in your comedy world on social media and on the Internet what may start out as a respectful, deferential relationship to the work you have put in to your comedy and the talent you have cultivated, but then all of a sudden your friend goes from Flavor Flav, just offering spontaneous bursts of encouragement to P Diddy – attempting to one-up your status updates on Facebook, critiquing all aspects of things you do and then slyly throwing in comments like “WE know what funny is.”  Since when did you go from my Luke Walton to my Scottie Pippen?

The way to nip this in the bud is to go out to a big dinner with them and at some point during the dinner do this to them:

TYPE 3 FRAN

This is the friend who claims to always support your comedy and then after a few years you realize, no you don’t! And then you realize, we aren’t even really friends!  And finally, that is when you tell your parents you are moving out.

 The cure for this is easy – do not get into comedy. If you respect your parents and family at all you won’t make them choose between loving you and respecting you.

For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic or iTunes

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Fight The Useless Fight?

The great film Inside Job, which was my #1 movie of 2010 has a peculiar ending.  After about 90 minutes the movie asks people to keep fighting and that things can change.  Perhaps the director is an optimist or perhaps he just thought no one would want to see it if it was 100% gloom and doom.  Well, it is less than a week into 2011 and just today there are four articles in the New York Times that have me incredibly depressed (admittedly I have not finished reading the paper today):

Pomp & Little Circumstance

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/05/opinion/05wed1.html?_r=1&hp

John Boehner and the Tea Party are a fu*king joke.  I cannot pussyfoot this point.  The Tea Party give Republicans populist street cred while the Republicans are the tit to American business’ greedy baby (some Democrats may be the rattle or toy for that baby, but the Republicans are startling unified in their unyielding support for big business).  It is stupid and sickening.  And turn the page to the business section…

I wonder if Boehner will tear up when he has his staff sworn in by Chief Justice Roberts.

GOP asks Businesses Which Rules To Re-Write

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/05/business/economy/05letters.html?ref=business

So the lessons the Republicans have learned over the last 10-30 years is that there has been too little regulation of business?!  Poor business – record corporate profits last year, high unemployment of average Americans – yeah, what we need is too let corporate America be more free of regulation.

Detroit Carmakers Post Robust Sales Increases

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/05/business/05auto.html?ref=business

Now that I am done fuming at Congressional Republicans, this one is for the American people.  Congratulations Detroit auto sales are up.  I guess Americans have smartened up and are now buying fuel efficient cars and are helping power Detroit into the next century as an automotive world leader.  Oh wait no, because gas prices are no longer as high people do not give a flying fu*k about the environment or giving billions to regimes in the Middle East and are buying up trucks and SUVs at high levels again (with the exception of the Ford Fusion).  Great job America.  Just like I believe we need Congressional term limits (3 terms in the Senate, 10 terms in the House would be a good start) we need a gas tax.  The majority of people in America care about their wallet, their bank account, maybe their family and nothing else.  So it is time to speak in a language America understands.

Don't like minivans and/or your own penis? Well then you should pay for it.

Friends With Benefits

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/04/friends-with-benefits/?hp

Goldman Sachs.  Enough said.  Good luck non-billionaire investors.  I wonder if there any internal e-mails at Goldman calling Facebook a “piece of crap.”

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J-L’s Time Person of the Year

One of the most anticipated magazine issues every year, besides the 114 that discuss whether Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston will get back together, is Time’s Person of the Year issue.  The criteria, according to Wikipedia, is  a person, couple, group, idea, place, or machine that “for better or for worse, …has done the most to influence the events of the year.”   Now clearly Time has not always honored that, most notably when Osama bin Laden lost in 2001 (rumor has it he will never attend the awards banquet ever again) to Rudy Giuliani – which was basically the Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas of  Time’s POTY.  But this year I think Time can get it right.

I am so over Time's Person of the Year.

Many people got talking when the finalists were announced – on my Facebook page LeBron James got a lot of attention (ironically people obsessing over him for the last 6 months thought it absurd that he could be a finalist).  But for me the winner should be obvious.

My pick, of the numerous finalists, is Lady Gaga.  Now in 2001 Time clearly feared their choice would be seen as an award, rather than as mere acknowledgment and the fear of appearing a joke may stop Time from naming Gaga, so here’s the argument for her.

Should be TIme's Person of the Year

First off, she won a bunch of MTV video awards and in a year without Kanye West interruptions, that makes her the biggest music story of the year.

Now technically that is basically it for her actual accomplishments this year.  She is a hard working performer who has become a major force in music.  But that alone would just make her a minor irritant.  However, what she represents is basically the direction of  our entire culture.  Here’s why.

1) She has become the dominant figure on the Internet.  All due respect to Mark Zuckerberg, who created the Internet’s most pervasive medium since e-mail, but Gaga dominates all of our pithy forms of communication.  Her video Bad Romance is the most watched video on all of YouTube.  She has the most Twitter followers on Twitter (President Obama is 5th).  In other words, in a society that is increasingly turning information and entertainment into 140 character brain farts and 30 second, seizure-inducing visuals intended to keep the attention of morons, she is the Queen.

2) She takes pithy political stands.  In a country that is increasingly mired in a struggle to choose the less complex answer and choice for increasingly complex problems she took the brave stand of asking for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  It is nice to use your fame and clout for good social issues and I think that is a worthy cause, but for a pop star who is next in line to lead the Kingdom of Gay Dance  Clubs (should Queen Brittney Spears die) I don’t think it is a particularly bold stand.  But that is our politics – does it affect me (Gaga’s dancers and fans)?  Is it already fairly popular or at least popular enough that I will not feel like an outcast if I join?  Then Yes!

3) She could have written the anthem for the anti-Immigration movement.  In a country where many people are anti-Immigrant and come out of the woodwork every election cycle, one of Gaga’s big hits of the last year was “Alejandro.”  The chorus:

Don’t call my name.
Don’t call my name, Alejandro.
I’m not your babe.
I’m not your babe, Fernando.

Don’t wanna kiss, don’t wanna touch.
Just smoke one cigarette and hush.
Don’t call my name.
Don’t call my name, Roberto

We get it Gaga – you don’t like Latinos.  Perhaps you could do a concert for the militias that patrol the border.  Just don’t bring your gay dancers.

4) She is a distraction.  The days of musical artists being relevant beyond the current minute are here.  Unlike Madonna or Michael Jackson or the Rolling Stones or the Beatles artists today are just flashes in the pan, in part because of a lack of creativity and perhaps even more due to our lack of attention span.  Madonna would take years to come out with a new album.  If Lady Gaga took years to release her next album, her next album would not come out because a dozen copycats would have taken her place.  Lady Gaga’s tireless effort is an acknowledgment that she, like the Justin Biebers of the world do not have staying power (at least as musical artists), both because of us, as well as themselves.  Madonna could change her image over a decade. Gaga changes her image every commercial break both because we need it to stay focused and she needs to do it to stay in the spotlight.  She labeled her album the Fame Monster and that is appropriate – because she is a monster and American consuming society is her Dr. Frankenstein.  So her influence is technically our doing, but she should accept the recognition on behalf of our culture.

5) Bad Romance is a pretty good song.  Got to give the devil her due.

Of course – if I were a betting man, I would guess that Time will go for an intellectually safe, discussion-creating choice like…

Time will make the almsot equally valid, but definitely safer choice and probably pick this fu*k for Person of the Year.
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The 5 People You Don’t Want To Meet On…

As a comedian who spends his time in front of a computer an uncomfortably large part of the day I spend a requisite hour or eight on Facebook.  Now I post a lot of things to Facebook and Twitter because sadly, in this day and age, someone of my fledgling standing in entertainment must inundate the Internet with my videos and thoughts to simply keep pace.  I hope for the day when entertainment make me wealthy (Vegas has this at 5.9% chance of happening) when I can slow down or stop all the Internet postings.  But while I am still here I thought I would share some thoughts on the world’s chosen replacement for God – Facebook.

I’ve made this point before, but Facebook is a chance for people to feel connected in a way that religion does for people and used to do for a lot more people.  But unlike religion there is no feeling of consequence or judgment for poor or questionable behavior.  People can share (or more accurately, impose) there every thought on everyone, thereby giving the sender the feeling of connectedness that a spiritual community can often provide.  But there is no real downside.

Well, if we are the in the Old Testament phase of Facebook then I think it is time for some wrath and judgment for a lot of the people that make the website an atrocious marketplace of stupidity to make themselves feel like they matter, even if only subconsciously. 

Thou Shall Not Seek Emotional Comfort From Facebook By Posting Vague Statements Expressing Some Form Of Displeasure

My feeling is religion, whether true or not, clearly answers basic human needs and curiosities – it’s why it’s still around after millenia.  But everyone needs something to do what religion does, even if they are avowed atheists who think themselves intellectually above those needs.  Many people I know who decry the benefits of religion have simultaneously turned social networking into a crutch.  For example, in another realm, some women I’ve known who abhorred the top-down mandates of some religions, could not wait for the Fashion Papacy to declare what was “hot” in an upcoming season, even if the very same items were detested by the same women only a few years earlier.  I think Facebook is operating in a similar fashion, where lots of people who mock the idea of “an invisible man,” but still feel the need to share meal choices, thoughts, and emotions, no matter how mundane, to feel connected.

So without further ado or Internet preaching here are the 5 archetypes you should tell to fu*k off on Facebook:

1) Facebook philosophers– These are the people who drop little quotes or life lessons in their Facebook updates.  Please stop.  And perhaps even worse are their friends who reply “Amen” or “That is so beautiful – thanks for posting”.  Looking to or finding inspiration on Facebook is like finding nutrition at a McDonald’s.   Sometimes the philosophy is angry or in complaint form so it does not sound as enlightened and will usually get a few undeserved LMFAOs, but it is still useless street philosophy.

2) Comfort Seekers– Now men occasionally do this, but more often than not it is women.  You know, the vague “I know it will get better” or “Today is the worst” messages?  These are often followed by fellow women, or men who want to fu*k the original poster, with, “You can make it” or “What’s wrong?”  A few weeks I replied to a message like this with some harmless sarcasm (because it’s fu*king Facebook) and was met with a “This is not the day, seriously.”  Oh I’m sorry – did I not give your Facebook status update the requisite respect it deserves?  Huh, perhaps you should talk to an actual human being if things are actually bad and not send out look at me, horsesh*t pleas for attention.

Of course comfort seekers are a two sided coin.  There are also a boatload of comedians and entertainers who send messages seeking accolades.  One could accuse me of this, but it ain’t the case.  Besides, it’s usually the same 15 people who will tell me that my stuff is funny so I know that they appreciate it and I know the other 1600 “friends” don’t give a sh*t. 

3) Terrible joke writers.  As a comedian I am friends with a disproportionate amount of “comedians.”  To civilian readers, you honestly have no idea how many bad comedians there are in the world.  It’s frightening.  I am going to begin adopting a policy of commenting on jokes that I think are bad.  You could say, “who are you to judge?” and the answer is simple – I am funny and judgmental, which makes me the perfect candidate to start telling people. 

4) The All Purpose Facebook people– these people do Mafia Wars, Farm thing and also tell you how good their drink is, how delicious their food is, how nice the weather is, how glad they are it’s Friday or how angry they are that it is Monday, etc.  For the love of God/Mark Zuckerberg, have a thought without expressing it, enjoy simple pleasures without having to validate it through sharing and shut your fu*king fingers up.  And tangentially, the mock letter to an inanimate object or organization (e.g. “Dear MTA, please don’t make your stations smell like urine.” is hack (for comedians) and not cute (for regular folk)).

Really? You needed to share this with the world in picture and/or words

5) The Questioners – these people enjoy posting questions like “blah blah blah – what do you think?”  You don’t honestly care what I or others think – you just want posts and validation – stop it. How can you actually care what a bunch of people that you don’t know think about a Facebook or Twitter post?  That’s what comedians are for.  To seek validation from strangers.

So those are the 5 groups that most grind my gears on Facebook.  If you fit into one of these groups you probably aren’t reading this because you are  most likely committing one of the above listed annoyances.

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What You Should Be Watching On Television

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:

THE LOSERS

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!

The Fisher Family will change your life.

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.

Here's an objective truth about a show about a scientist - Breaking Bad is the best show on television.

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.

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The 10 Facebook / Twitter / Blackberry Commandments

I remember a discussion from an English class in high school where we were discussing if Man invented God to fulfill a human need, or if God actually exists.  Now, most comedians I know range from ambivalent to hostile towards God and religion, which if you have seen and heard a lot of comedians seems to be pretty justified on their parts.   But if humans did invent the concept of God I think the most compelling evidence of this may be the Twitter and Facebook explosion on the Internet.  It is clear that humans, at least Americans, like the idea of some larger presence observing their actions and thoughts to give them relevance.  Now politically we cry out for privacy and independence, but Twitter and Facebook seem to reveal our true nature, at least the nature of the shallow and enlightened people we have become.  We still need relevance bigger than ourselves, so if God and religion cannot provide it, we will simply invent something to give us that sense of cosmic community.  Of course I think this is incredibly stupid and would prefer to believe in an invisible man or force than in the insecurities of people, sublimated into social networking and technology, but to each his own.

So with that in mind I propose a 10 Facebook/Twitter Commandments:

1) Thou shall not put RIP messages on social networking.  I remember George Carlin talking about how our culture is obsessed with death and he was probably right.  Funerals may be entirely useless, but at least they have more gravitas than a Tweet or a Facebook status.   When people write RIP messages on social networking sites I really believe what they are saying, perhaps subconsciously, “I’m a thoughtful and caring person and I need people to know this about me, even if it involves a modest exploitation of the loss of a loved one.”  Stop doing it, your deceased cannot read anymore, so your thoughts and/or prayers are sufficient.  And if you write messages on Facebook pages of deceased people (seen it a few times) the only dignified thing to do is have the page taken down – he/she cannot “like” you comments anymore.  And lastly, a website where I describe movies and masturbating probably isn’t a sanctified enough place to honor someone.

2) Thou shall stop telling people how the weather is. Pretty self explanatory, but next time you think of updating something mundane like that, stop, think and try to appreciate it and feel it without looking for validation or to feel like people out there now know how you feel so you have some increased validity.

3) Thou shall not make awful jokes.  There are some really awful jokes being shared on these websites.   Compounding the problem is that there seems to be no shortage of stupid people willing to “like” or comment with a “brilliant” on these jokes.  You probably don’t know who you are, but perhaps I will let you know in the future.  Here’s a hint – if your jokes read like a mediocre joke for Jay Leno, stop.

4) Thou shall not observe the sabbath.   “Follow Friday” is a huge circle jerk on Twitter.  It is where people tell other people to follow certain people that they are friends with or find funny.  It is the prosthelytizing of social networking. 

5) Thou shall not demean compliments.  I always enjoy when I see the news feed on Facebook and someone has wished 8 people in a row Happy Birthday.  It somehow manages to demean the insignificant wishing of a happy birthday on the Internet.  Another one, specific to comedians, is when someone who runs a show rattles off “great set” to every comic on the lineup.  Thanks for that – now I know that I am equally as great as everyone who did you show.  Greatness and quality are relative terms and although I have been part of some great shows, not every show taking place in every bar of NYC is “great.”

6) Thou shall step aside on the sidewalk when you are using your mobile device.  A year ago if someone walked into me while staring at their Blackberry they would apologize.  Today they look at me as if to say, “huh?”  In another year I assume they will say (imagine bitchy NYC 20-something, “What the fack?”  I will be in the wrong for not getting out of their way while they send LOLs.  Your tweets, bbms, etc. can wait.  You are not that important, at least not important enough to walk slowly through crowded streets slowing down pedestrian traffic and walking into people.

7) Thou shall treat photograph-taking with the same importance that you did when you needed ato actually get photos developed.  For selfish reasons I carve out a comedy exception to this (in Catholic terms think of it as a dispensation), but can people stop using every moment of the day as a moment worthy of preservation?  We have already managed to cheapen dead people and birthdays and compliments through social media, and now we have cheapened nostalgia.  “Grandma, do you have any photos of your friends when you were younger?” “Why yes in fact I have 4,566 photos – here are the 97 of us drinking Smirnoff Ice.” Awful.

8) Thou shall not say “hit me up on Facebook” – self explanatory. 

9)Thou shall not give more weight to texting donations, Twitter rumors and Facebook groups/Friends than is appropriate.  The real story about the millions of dollars that texting raised for Haiti after the Earthquake is whether or not young people would have been nearly as involved for a tragedy if t had not been so easy to donate.  Technology like that allows us to do some good, but more importantly it has removed the desire or need to be proactive and actually be involved or care.  I know dozens of people who texted donations, but it was a middle aged couple I met in Cleveland who were headed to Haiti to voulnteer.  And let’s not forget the most important thing Facebook has accomplished was to get a woman near death a chance to host a television show that died 7 years ago.

I should mention that I have almost 1600 Facebook friends, but a relatively small group of actual friends.  I have been tempted when my cell phone contract is up next year to get rid of my blackberry.  I now have a land line phone in my apartment because I don’t want brain cancer and I told a friend of mine – how many pithy conversations, flirtations and communications would there be if people had to call my home phone.  He responded, “then most people would not have contact with you.”  And he is right, the question is – have we already become a society that values quantity of contact and “friends” over actual quality of friendship.

10) Thou shall follow me on Twitter.  www.Twitter.com/JLCauvin  I am a comedian and not famous so I am forced to play the game.   But rest assured, 95% of the time I obey the Commandments.

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The Importance of Appearing Earnest: Social Media Run Amok

It is obvious that Twitter and Facebook have served a marginal and useful purpose.  For example a Facebook “campaign” to get Betty White to host Saturday Night Live so Facebook has proven the power to get an old woman, who is mostly “funny” to fans who think it is somehow hip to find Betty White still relevant, on a show that should have been put out of its misery 6 or 7 years ago. 

People are constantly posing questions on Facebook and Twitter.  Questions with no real purpose except to get some sort of superficial flood of comments and responses.  To quote Sally Field, “They like me, the really like me!”  Whatever helps you sleep at night.  Look how connected we are!

Then there are the social groups, “1,000,0000 strong to fight autism” or “1,000,0000 strong to support gay marriage” or “1,000,0000 strong against Arizona’s immigration law”  Do people not realize that there is nothing weaker than a Facebook group.  It is the Washington DC representative of social media, let alone any form of activism.  I never thought we could move from wristband awareness to an even more useless form of awareness, but thanks to the activism of Facebook users, there is no limit to the empty support people can provide.  Activism was downgraded to “awareness,” which was downgraded to “support,” which one day will be downgraded to, “huh?”

But a new low was achieved – a law school classmate of mine died very recently.  So naturally, in our culture of private mourning her Facebook page has been cluttered with messages, that she will presumably never read.  But I am not hear to judge how people mourn, especially those that were very close to her.  I would just like to know what the person who wrote “what happened?” on her page was thinking.  Facebook is superficial for sure, but perhaps leaving a post it note on her tombstone would be the only dumber thing I could think of.

We mock past cultures who developed religious faiths/superstitions as clouded and ignorant, but what is our excuse?  We are so enlightened, yet we have inflated our own worth and value and opinions bigger than any religion has – we .  If Oscar Wilde was able to write a book about the era we live in, it would be called The Importance of Appearing Earnest – a place where texting donations, tweeting opinions and Facebook posting support for causes or mourning someone’s death have become surrogates for real humanity and life.  That’s it for today.  I could go on, but I won’t. 

One other thing – there are too many people on Facebook and Twitter making really bad jokes.