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):
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…
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.
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.
No movies made this list (but I have already given you my Top Ten of the Year, so they don’t really need another platform anyway). Not everything is from this year, but they were read, viewed, worn or observed by me this year.
10. Fred Armisen. In a year that had some ups and downs, he represented both. He gave what is the least funny impression ever on Saturday Night Live and he did it week after week. To quote Forrest Whitaker’s character from The Shield, “It’s like he is pissing in my mouth!” But the bright side of that is that one year in there is still a void for a decent Obama impression. If ever there was hope for me in 2010…
9. Arrested Development – I know this show is older, but I watched the first three seasons on Netflix this year and it is the funniest multi-season show I have ever seen (important distinction hint hint). If you have not seen it, you should.
8. Laid Off/Full Time Comedian
According to my biopic script:
I walked out from the law firm that had crushed my soul with a defiant stride knowing that although I was taking a risk pursuing comedy full time I had the confidence of knowing that I would follow my dream and in the end be a success. I was also touched by the slow clap I received from all my co-workers as I left on my last day.
According to reality:
I planned on going to do comedy full time in 2009 at some point, but given the economic climate and the generally good feeling of a swollen bank account (from a pretty nice place to work as law firms go) I probably needed the push, or shove, of being laid off to pursue comedy full time. Now my dream still feels attainable, but is starting to resemble a bad acid trip as much as it does a dream on its way to fulfillment.
7. Steeler Super Bowl – This was cool because it was a great game and washed away memories of the only Super Bowl the Steelers had won in my lifetime – Super Bowl XL (40), which was the worst Super Bowl ever played. I also cannot put the Yankees title on here, because although I like many of the players, something about that victory felt like cheering Goldman Sachs’ bankers when they date rape your daughter and your pension fund. Of course the Steelers did not help themselves with their “ni-ger” shouting fans this season, but perhaps a poor season will be their punishment for having racist fans.
6. Obama’s Inauguration/Nixonland – Such a cool moment when Obama was inaugurated. Even cooler was being able to predict how half of America would turn on him as soon as they could and how his young supporters would realize that politics is work and detail and compromise and not a pop culture reality show called For The Love of Obama on VH1. I always bet on old people in the long term in politics and in 2010 the book Nixonland will prove quite prescient when the Republicans break through the 60 voting block in the Senate and win about 30 seats back in the House. If you like politics or just want to predict the 2010 election read Nixonland. But January 20, 2009 was still a great day. The country was divided on September 10, 2001 and after 9/11 the country rallied around Bush (91% approval, after being dismally low before). Do you think if the same happened today the country would rally around its President? I am guessing not.
5. The West Wing – Watched the entire seven seasons on DVD in 5 weeks. The greatest dramatic series I have ever watched not named The Wire. Sorry The Sopranos I think you’re great as well, but the detail and the writing of The West Wing was intimidating in its brilliance.
4. New York’s Funniest Comedian – I am still waiting for an e-mail response(to a very politely and respectfully worded e-mail) from a certain comedy club as to why I never got a call back, despite being promised a spot in a showcase and simultaneously being denied a chance to audition because it was unnecessary. This moment was a low point in my comedy naivete, but also a wake up call that was invaluable. That is not to say that 40 years from now when I am sitting a lone in a mansion, miserably counting my money in the dark, that I won’t assault, with a bowling pin, some booker or manager or assistant sycophant who shows up to my home. That reminds me, I think my next CD will be entitled “I’m Finished!”
3. The Bonfire of the Vanities – The most enjoyable piece of fiction I have ever read. Did for novel writing what The West Wing did for me in terms of television. As Salieri said of Mozart’s music in Amadeus, “Remove one note and there would be diminishment.” That is how I felt about every sentence of this 600+ page novel, which is just as relevant today as it was 22 years ago. Just don’t see the movie before or after reading it.
2. Paul Millsap Jersey – I received this gift Christmas 2008, but I did not wear it until this hoops season. If it’s the thought that counts, then I have never received a better gift in my life. And I seem to be the only person outside of Utah to possess one, which makes it even more exceptional if you consider things in Utah fashionable.
1. Eastbound and Down – So this is the answer to the question what could be better than great literature, historic national elections, pursuing your dream or seeing your team win a title? That’s right – a fu-king redneck. If Eastbound and Down ended after only these 6 episodes it would be like Guns N Roses dying after releasing Appetite For Destruction – a perfect debut to live on forever. So apologies to my girlfriend, Barack Obama, Tom Wolfe, Jason Bateman, The Steelers, stand up comedy, and everything else that went on this year, but my favorite thing this year was a foul mouthed racist pitcher form Shelby, North Carolina – Mr. Kenny Powers.
People often ask to start with the bad news when given a good news/bads news option and this blog will be no different. Besides, the worst movies will provide more humor than the best movies of the year. For me it as also easier to come up with the list of 10 worst movies than the ten best. Here they are,
10) Year One. Jack Black, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd and Harold Ramis, to name a few, decided to take off from being successful and funny and make this terrible movie, which, like many liberal comics in New York, showed that making fun of the Bible does not necessarily make you as funny as George Carlin.
9) Friday The 13th. It came out early this year, but was strong enough it in its shi*tiness to stick around. This was actually the first horror film I have ever seen where the acting was actually better than the film. That is like watching a WNBA game and saying, “Man these girls are awesome, if only they had better coaching to take advantage of their skills and athleticism.”
8) Funny People. This film is here, not so much because it was a terrible movie (it was not), but because I have not been misled by a marketing campaign for a movie this much since I thought I was going to a sports movie called Jerry Maguire. Late night show hosts and bloggers seemed to all be in on the scam – this was a movie that would show what being a comic is really like. Instead it showed the audience what the lives of chubby, unfunny, overpaid Jewish guys is like. It could have probably been called Goldman Nut Sachs (as a tribute to the genital humor that also abounds in this movie).
7) Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.Needless to say this was the #1 movie of 2009 in terms of financial success. Racist robots were apparently the cure for the summertime blues of Obama fatigue. This was also the worst movie experience of the year for me since I sat next to a guy who talked so much during the movie that I think he was conjured up in a stereotype machine invented by the Wayans Brothers a la Weird Science’s creation of Kelly LeBrock.
6) 2012. The biggest disaster film of the year not starring Tiger Woods (I am almost done making Tiger jokes). The effects were weak and at 2 1/2 hours long, the film was about 2 hours and 27 minutes too long.
5) The Proposal. In a year where 500 Days of Summer showed how good a romantic comedy could be, this film showed how bad they could still be (and people ate it up). Puritan sexual mores and too much religious fervor are some of the things that people point to to show how unenlightened America is compared to some of its less powerful, but equally Disney and McDonald’s craving European allies. I think looking at the collective grosses of Sandra Bullock’s movies make the case much more strongly. (I have not seen The Blind Side yet, but am looking to get a free ticket, which will allow me not to financially support a great white hope story that looks terrible).
4) X Men Origins: Wolverine. My hopes ran high a year ago when I saw The Dark Knight for the 432nd time. Perhaps people would demand higher quality action films. And the trailers for this film looked promising. What was delivered was the worst thing from Australia since Yahoo Serious.
Let’s take a breath here and recognize that the next three films are even dangerous to say out loud they are so bad.
3) Antichrist. Here is the review I posted on Facebook after seeing this film:
I wanted to see this movie based on the preview, despite mostly bad reviews. Upon seeing the movie, here is who should see this movie:
1) Want to see a montage in which Willem Defoe sexually penetrates (shown) an actress while his character’s son (approx 4 yrs old) falls out a window to his death.
2) Want to see a fox eat its own wounds (take that Fantastic Mr Fox)
3) Want to see Willem Defoe receive a handjob and then ejaculate blood.
4) Want to see a woman self-circumcise herself.
If you have answered yes to more than one of these questions (I appreciate morbid curiosity in small doses) then please de-friend me. 🙂
2) Paul Blart: Mall Cop. One of the surprise hits of the year and that is what made me watch it. However whenever something that I am initially skeptical about generates popular success (Mamma Mia! the musical, The Fast and The Furious to name two) my initial skepticism is always correct. This may be the greatest example of this in pop culture history. It seemed to have the quality of a student film, but with far less quality work on the part of the actors. A movie of truly devastating crappiness. To paraphrase the Dude from The Big Lebowski: “Well, you finally did it America, you’ve killed fu-king comedy.”
drum roll please
1) Amelia. Perhaps Amelia Earhart knew this movie was coming, because I would disappear too if this bag of sh*t were attached to my name. Hilary Swank and Richard Gere both producing the worst film of their careers (yes I am counting The Next Karate Kid). And here is the worst thing I can say about a movie. This was not only worse than Paul Blart, but was worse than last year’s worst film – Twilight. ‘Nuff said.
The New York Times had a couple of interesting comparisons to the Yankees in today’s edition. One article, in the sports section, compared the Yankees to Goldman Sachs, in that they seem to produce unparalleled wealth and success while seeming to luxuriate in the feelings of unfairness they foster. The other article, was about today’s parade, which will take place on Wall Street, which according to the article, really needs a good moment like this to help provide some good vibes for the emotionally beleaguered financial district (and the city overall of course).
Does anyone think it might make sense for Manhattan to stop reaping the benefits of the Bronx Bombers at the expense of the Bronx? Just as the financial collapse was helped along by large firms manipulating and taking advantage of poor and middle class Americans, so too will Manhattan, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and the Yankees get to parade around Manhattan without a care in the world about the community they’ve left behind. Again.
Meanwhile local vendors of Yankee Stadium have complained of lost profits this year, due to both the change of foot traffic patterns created by the new Stadium as well as the more gaudy and extensive merchandise opportunities within the House That Greed Built. Furthermore, children still do not have a completed park to replace the enormous one that was shoved aside by the new Stadium. It is as if the Yankees have treated the local community with the same cold-hearted competitiveness with which they dispatch rivals when pursuing free agents: we’re richer; we’re bigger; deal with it.
Why would the Grand Concourse not be a fitting place for a parade? They are still called the Bronx Bombers, but everything about them should be the Madison Avenue Maulers or the Wall Street Warriors. They are corporate in every way, from the legions of fair-weather fans that follow them (plenty of diehards, but look no further than the New York Knicks to see how much loyalty New York fans provide their teams in time of need), to the parade that will honor them.
I worked as an Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx for 3 ½ years. I remember each year when it was time to select a venue for our individual bureau holiday party, venues in the Bronx were not even discussed. We were serving the Bronx daily as law enforcement officials, but most of the ADA’s, like many young New Yorkers who would rather have two or three roommates and live in Manhattan than have more space, but (gasp!) live in an outer borough (especially the dreaded Bronx), ever dreamed of setting foot inside a Bronx establishment for a party, as if they all feared that after hours they too could become the next Sherman McCoy. To District Attorney Robert Johnson’s credit, the annual holiday for the entire office was (and still is) always held at the Marina Del Ray in the Bronx.
Last century the Grand Concourse was just that, grand. But various things, including racism, helped set in motion the image of the Bronx that still prevails over the collective consciousness of New York City, regardless of whether or not it is actually reality. Many issues hurt the Bronx, not the least of it was the racism of white flight, which led to The Bonfire of The Vanities mindset that seems to still prevail today on off days or road games for the Yankees more urbane fans. And because of that sad perception, combined with the corporate mentality of the Yankees and their fans (at this point the demands of Yankee fans, of which I must admit I am one, seem more like the impatient ranting of shareholders, than the charming loyalty of fans) the parade goes on today downtown.
There is no connection with the Bronx for the Yankees, just as many people felt that Mike Bloomberg had no connection with many working families and just as Wall Street seems to have no connection (not to mention conscience) to the anger and plight of many working Americans. Having the parade in the Bronx might actually help the South Bronx in a way that a stadium and a shopping mall cannot: it could help to start changing people’s perspectives, so that people could see the Bronx in the daytime and not just under those very expensive lights under which the Yankees play at night. The Bronx clearly loves the Yankees, but I’m not sure the feeling is mutual.
I’m Mad As hell… And Will Probably Take It Some More
In what is becoming a tiresome ritual for even my mother to read about, last week I suffered another mild indignity at a comedy club. But this new one both angered me and perplexed me in equal measure and forced me to take a step back and look more globally at comedy. I wish I could say I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, but I love comedy (the performance and writing aspects) and know that I will endure the accompanying bullsh*t long after it is sensible to (are we there yet?).
It was the line outside for New York Funniest Comedian, a fraudulent open call to all comics in New York. Now most comics of any established reputation in NYC that wanted to compete called the club ahead of time and got a specific call time. This is allowed for a couple of reasons: comics that the club likes or respects (or are affiliated or managed with people the club respects) should not have to waste their time and/or suffer the indignity of waiting on line for hours to do two minutes of material. The other reason is that the club already knows who they want to put forward into the competition at least 99% of the time.
I chose not to call ahead because some self-righteous aspect of my personality wanted to be rejected from the line. I know that subconsciously I enjoy enduring the hypocrisy and lies of this business in some sort of self-righteous self-indulgence, even if it just for me and a few loyal readers (if Hunter S Thompson was a gonzo journalist, so maybe I have a future career as a depresso-journalist). So I waited on line for four and a half hours outside of Caroline’s on Broadway as I watched comic after comic that could be considered in my peer group in the business walk in for their “audition,” which, I learned later, just amounted to saying hello to the booker and being put on the list of those that are actually being considered for a spot in the semi-finals (taking place tonight and tomorrow night).
Well after waiting all that time I was spotted at the front of the line by a Caroline’s employee and was told, “Oh, J-L, you can go down (to audition right away).” I felt a little guilty, but that guilt was assuaged by the rationalization that I had waited the exact same amount of time as the rest of the comedy proletariat. When I got downstairs I went inside and was not required to do any stand up whatsoever. I was just told that I would be on one of the semi-finals shows on Tuesday or Wednesday. I left sort of relieved, but sort of disgusted. I had friends (or at least friendly acquaintances) waiting on line upstairs, with literally no chance at making it, no matter how good their audition. But we will get back to the story a bit later.
Believe (Almost) No One
“______ is looking for new talent to bring into the club for paid work. ________ will be watching these shows so definitely sign up.”
This was an excerpt from an e-mail I received about 6 months ago. I did one of these shows, a bringer (aka the crack cocaine of the comedy world where you are required to bring friends, family, co-workers) as a warm up for a television audition. I was well beyond the delusion that had plaguedme for years that anything career changing would happen from this bringer, but I wanted to do a show that would help me prepare for the audition. Well after the show, unsolicited, I received a glowing review from “______”.
So in a moment of temporary insanity I emailed that club’s booker and was told, “We like you, but right now we have too many comics for the spots open.” I accepted that as truthful words from people who had been nice to me for many years. However, kind words can best be summarized by Al Capone from the film The Untouchables: “You can get a lot further with a kind word and a gun, than you can with just a kind word.” In other words young comics, the only nice words you should fully trust from a manager or booker are “here’s you money.” This is not saying they are all liars or lie all the time, but to preserve your feelings in a business rife with disappointment, protect yourself first.
I looked on this club’s site a month after the “too many comics” e-mail and saw names on weekend shows (i.e. actually paid work, not the indentured servitude of unpaid “guest spots”) that I have never seen on those shows before. I then checked the management/representation of those names and saw that it was the same two agencies representing a large majority of the comics booked at that club. So while the nice answer may have eased my mind for a few weeks, the true answer, “we’re not booking you until you hook up with the right agency” or “we just don’t think you are good enough now” might have left me with a clearer plan and some dignity. However, it also may have meant that the $10,000+ that my friends and family have given to that club over the years would have dried up.
But that is the basis of the bringer system, which feeds money to clubs and producers on a weekly basis in NYC. You tell young comics how good they are when they suck because you know their friends are enthusiastic and will pay money to see their friend embark on a new and fun hobby. So to get money you encourage lots of performances of shi**y comedy because you do not care about exploiting the overgrown dreams of a new comic. I received just as many compliments from clubs when I was starting out as I do now. I know I am good now, but I have watched early tapes and I make myself cringe. But I could fill 3 bringers a month when I started doing comedy. So I got filled with lots of false compliments from clubs. Those compliments may have given me encouragement to continue and for that aspect I guess I should be thankful, but when my friend supply dried up no one came calling that “really good comic” named J-L anymore.
But don’t think that this is a club only issue. I have been told absolutely disgusting stories about bringers run out of lesser venues where comics who are lonely or friendless or just clueless are paying relatively exorbitant money just to get on shows based on promises that, even if true, do not warrant their expenses. Much like the U.S. Congress, once the money begins flowing in the bringer system, it creates a corrupt and result-less process.
What’s The Matter With Comics?
I read the book “What’s The Matter With Kansas” several years back and it explored why so many working class Republicans worked in favor of a party that did not have their interests at heart (or at least in practice). I think it is the same in comedy. Every comedian believes that they can make it. Last Comic Standing’s last two seasons had open casting calls in NYC. Of the many, many hundreds that lined up up outside those two years, one made it to the next round, where he was eliminated and did not even get a clip of his comedy on television. And I believe most people in line thought everyone else was wasting their time by showing up, except for themselves. But all you are when you show up for an open casting call is an extra in the movie “The American Entertainment Dream.” The stars are already cast and you are just there to make the stars look more heroic for standing out of the crowd.
Oh Brother Where Art Thou?
Much like capitalism, the big villain in Michael Moore’s new film, comedy capitalism forces comics into being relatively selfish and dog eat dog. Three years ago I had a pre-arranged audition for Last Comic Standing, meaning I was one of the many comics who bypassed the cattle call with a legit shot at getting on the show. I did not get it, but I did not feel ashamed at the time for trying to “get mine.” And many comics would not begrudge me for doing so, but then I must begrudge myself, if one can do such a thing. I do feel guilty about that. At some point, like in America, I think that the “haves” of comedy must stand up for the “have nots.” If I named the best comics in NYC in my opinion, I am sure there would be at least an 85-90% correlation with who the clubs and industry think are the best. But to sustain the venues of those talented comedians, the comedy clubs, owners, bookers and industry place an unfair and unwarranted burden on the nobodies of comedy. They have them line up outside of comedy clubs, not for a chance to achieve success themselves, but to artificially exalt those who are already having success. They entice you with misleading promises and compliments so you will bring friends on a Tuesday, just so they can pay the electric bill and the rent for the “real comics” on a Saturday. This is not about giving spots or work to lesser or newer comics; it is simply about respecting all comics as people.
People look at Goldman Sachs as emblematic of what is wrong with capitalism and how the rich get richer. This is no less true of the comedy business. Dreams are exploited (The American Dream of a house, car and good education versus your name in lights and artistic sacrifice paying off). But comedy, like capitalism, has no end game except for the Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfelds of their respective arenas. And because of that, no one speaks up because everyone is too buried in their own quest for success in the rat race to stand up and say, “Hey club or TV show – it is not okay to exploit my fellow comedians. Even if they suck at comedy, their hope and dream is not something that you should be able to exploit. Whether their comedy is good, great or terrible, their dream and desire is real.” No one says that. I did not say that three years ago and am not happy with myself. I told myself last week, that no matter the result of the NY Funniest Comedian competition I would write this, because unlike a lot of my contemporaries I did stand on that line and the whole experience did not feel right.
New York’s Funniest Reject?
On Sunday I learned that I did not make the cut for the 30 semi finalists, which perplexed me and angered me. I was fully prepared to go along with the charade and do two minutes of material, but was told not to. Much like my status in the comedy world right now I was too qualified to audition, but not good enough to get the part. So I had neither the satisfaction of performing, nor the gratification of advancing. I have e-mailed politely requesting an explanation, but have not received it yet.
The names were a who’s who of up and coming comics in NYC. Perhaps some of them were on line, but I do know that most walked right by. I do not blame the comics for this because this is the system that dangles success carrots in front of them so that they have blinders to the exploitation of their less experienced or talented brethren. Or maybe some of them laugh and don’t care because some of those comics on line do in fact suck at comedy (possibly because they are new, possibly because they are not funny). Who knows, but I think if asked to think about it manyestablished comics would acknowledge that it is not right, but would also shrug their shoulders and say, “what the fu-k can I do about it?”
Because the plain truth is that from bringers to cattle call lines, the clubs know deep down that barring a comedy miracle, nothing is going to happen for these people that they entice to their clubs. So I think if I ruled the comedy world this is the short wish list I’d have for comedians:
1) Boycott bringers in 2010 (unless you are doing it with a clear head to get a good tape AND THAT’S ALL)
2) Clubs would have no more open calls. I would have no problem with the NY Funniest Comedian competition if it was submission or invitation only – this would be honest and that is all that I think comics are entitled to. Honesty does not guarantee any success, but it does guarantee that the comedians get to keep more of their integrity. There is one NYC club I would like to work at eventually if I ever attain the success I hope for, simply because they’ve never lied to me. That is it. I was never given excessive compliments, never given excuses or half-truths and that is really all any comic should want or feel entitled to.
3) Comedy shows would book based on stand-up and not as if they were casting a cooky CBS sitcom. Otherwise I am just going to grow out a huge fro, wear glasses and not stop eating cupcakes until a heart attack or a development deal is mine. (This one is a little more selfish on my part).
I understand that comedy is a business, but I think comics need to stand up for the integrity of the business for their fellow comics. In the 1970s comics went on strike to get paid. That is a much more concrete demand than what I am writing about (PETC – People for The Ethical Treatment of Comics?), but integrity is still important. I know this won’t change anything substantively (I am under no delusion that 30 comics will pull a Rudy tonight and hand in their microphones so that someone like Mick DiFlo, one of the most respected, but anonymous comics in NYC, can perform), but perhaps it will make some comics take a moment and think about what’s going on in comedy.
I know some may dismiss this as the sour grapes of an increasingly bitter comic, but I really would like to see the culture change and not just for me. The only way I can see this helping is maybe if you know a new comic with some potential, or at least some enthusiasm you can tell them to approach the business more practically and avoid some of the things that will hurt them so that they can look at the business honestly, even if it won’t be honest with them.
I remember two very well established comedians saying to me about 4 years ago: don’t do bringers. Just write and perform over and over again. Like anyone young, either in life or career, I did not listen until I was knee deep in regrets. Maybe more young comics will be wiser than me. Maybe not.
If this is my Jerry Maguire Mission Statement then I can expect my career to go further South, but I having already had a legal career and a girlfriend with a son during my comedy career (check my 2 CDs for details), so I am in uncharted territory for Jerry Maguire. Wish me luck.