As much of a movie addict as I am this weekend presented a rarity, especially for the Summer – there is nothing I want to see in theaters. I saw two movies last weekend (Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Crazy Stupid Love – both fantastic so if you have not seen them you have your assignment) and it has left me with nothing this week. Here are a couple of the options that I am rejecting:
The Change Up – between horrible reviews, horrible box office results, Jason Bateman’s tongue-in-cheek endorsement of the movie last week on The Daily Show and the fact that Ryan Reynolds is movie poison I cannot subject myself to it.
30 Minutes Or Less – I will not see this movie for one major reason: I am tired of Danny McBride diluting the Kenny Powers brand. For those of you that don’t know one of my favorite shows on television is Eastbound and Down, which is Danny McBride’s comedic vehicle about a racist, arrogant down-on-his luck baseball pitcher. He is great on it and the show is great (season 2 was an A-, but season 1 was an A+). However, Danny McBride is starring and co-starring in a lot of mediocre movies as basically a derivation of Kenny Powers, which is annoying because as new people gravitate to the show they may be inclined to say “Oh, he is just doing his shtick from (insert title of 8 different movies).” So I cannot support Mr. McBride’s movie career as long as it can potentially harm the Kenny Powers brand.
The Help – Never had an interest in this one (part 80 in Hollywood’s series of one singular, great white person helping black people do good things) even though the reviews seem to have been pretty good. If you want my fuller take on this please check out my video below from a little while back – a trailer for The Blind Side 2:
Being 2 discs away from finishing 6 Feet Under via Netflix I was thinking of how amazing the roster of HBO shows has been. This also happened because I was watching Lost last night and thought, “Wow, this is supposed to be one of the best shows on Network television and it is basically a big budget mediocrity.” Other than The West Wing and Arrested Development I don’t think I have seen anything on Network television to compare with HBO’s level of quality (all due respect to the CSI fans who adore that crappy franchise). AMC is doing some good things (the slightly overrated Mad men and the very under-praised Breaking Bad), but HBO really is the cream of the crop (even though True Blood and Big Love, the two flagships shows at this point, are not close to the incredible things HBO produced last decade). And I know that some people out there love Showtime, but having watched several episodes of Showtime shows they feel like a good junior varsity team to HBO’s state title winning varsity.
So without any more explanations or caveats here are my top 13 HBO characters of all time (apologies in advance to the Crypt Keeper, the cast of Not Necessarily The News, everybody from Dream On (terrible) and The Larry Sanders Show (never saw it, but heard it was good stuff back in the day):
13) (tie) Dennis Hof – Cathouse and Lafayette – True Blood. This is the only reality character on the list, but how can a guy who looks like Rush Limbaugh and acts like pre-wheelchair Larry Flynt not be on the list. the Cathouse series, which follows a real life Nevada brothel features many women have sex, which is a relief because at least when you turn it on ou know what you are getting, as opposed to the HBO Real Sex series which could just as soon ambush you with a segment on nursing home gang bangs as they could with attractive women. Dennis is the supreme scumbag that makes the show go with his array of women from the daddy issue-riddled, to the tranny looking one to the midget. One thing is obvious – he has had sex with all of them.
Speaking to HBO’s diversity, Lafayette, the drug dealing, sassy gay black short-order cook/male prostitute on True Blood is only the first of two gay black men on this short list.
12) Murray – Flight of the Conchords – The show’s first season was very good. The second season was incredibly mediocre. With all due respect to Jemaine – Murray was the extremely poor man’s Ari Gold on this show, literally. Sadly, the actor that plays Murray is intent on beating the dead horse in a series of new commercials for some product where he is basically playing the same character, but with far fewer laughs.
11) Ralphie – The Sopranos. Sadly Ralphie only got two seasons on The Sopranos (3 & 4), but he won an Emmy for the second one and created a character hated above all in his first season and then, once accepted, became the funniest character on the show. For me, his signature line will be after being confronted by Tony Soprano after beating to death a stripper carrying his child he simply yelled, “First of all she was a whoooour!”
10) Samantha – Sex and the City. It would be hard, even for a misogynist, to leave off all characters from HBO’s third most popular show of all time. So I picked Samantha, who turned man-like sexual cravings into “empowerment” for women ages 17-60. My favorite scene of hers may have been when she was dating Smith, a model who would be more likely to visit Samantha in the course of volunteer work at a nursing home than to actually bed her, and she runs into her ex-boyfriend Richard at a party. In front of Smith she goes upstairs with Richard and gets railed from behind and then comes down crying to Smith, saying “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Message? Empowerment.
9) Lester Freamon – The Wire. The first of three characters from The Wire. Quiet, unassuming and the best detective on the show. My favorite moment, after coming up with evidence off of a soda can to potentially catch a cop shooter he is asked what unit he’s from. He replies with a straight face: “pawn shop.” You have to watch the show to get that, but it was great.
8) Tony Soprano – The Sopranos. Nothing much needs to be said, except for the fact that he is only the second best character on the show (and no, the Bada Bing club is not #1).
7) Kenny Powers – Eastbound and Down. Racist, stupid and angry. If he had not been a baseball player, he might have been leading a Tea Party movement. Who knows if the shows subsequent season(s) will match the perfection of the first, but it takes a special character to make the line “I love you April, and not just in a make me come kind of way,” mean something, especially when said at an 8th grade dance.
6) Al Swearengen – Deadwood. In a word? Cu*t.
5) Ari Gold – Entourage. This show is like watching the Cleveland Cavaliers play basketball a few years ago. It was LeBron James doing amazing things and four guys around him barely keeping up. I thought after the first season they should have spun the show off and made it about Ari. They didn’t and now it’s a mediocre show with one dominating star. But he still makes the show worth tuning in to each week that it’s on.
4) Omar – The Wire. People reading this may have expected Omar at #1, but that would be too easy. I figured I’d sneak up on you like Kenard and… well, I don’t want to give away anything to the people who are just getting over their fear of Negros and Negro-filled shows, but Omar was the most entertaining character on the best show ever for sure, but he’s only my #2 from it. Indeed.
3) Nate Fisher – Six Feet Under. I don’t think any character on any HBO show (or any show for that matter – though Walter White on Breaking Bad is doing a nice job) has taken as varied an emotional journey as Nate Fisher. At times he is both the most identifiable and the most polarizing figure on this unbelievable great show (Seriously, the fact that at one point HBO had The Sopranos, 6 Feet Under, The Wire all at the same time is like an NBA team having LeBron, Kobe and Kevin Durant at the same time – I think The West Wing would be Dwayane Wade for this analogy).
2) Tony Soprano’s Mom – Perhaps you forgot about her because she only made it on to the first two seasons of the show, but it says something that the show went from an A+ to an A without her. The idea that a woman could be evil or just experiencing dementia, or possibly both was brilliant and gave Tony the best conflict on the show until he and his wife hit the skids in season 4. Tony’s Mom was an absolutely brilliant character and played brilliantly. Menacing and funny all at once.
1) Stringer Bell – The Wire. I had a friend once tell me that she was going to see the movie Obsessed with that handsome black guy and Beyonce. I replied that’s Stringer Bell from the Wire. She replied, i don’t even remember him from the Wire. There are only two possibilities here and I will just propose the second – she missed the first 3 seasons of the Wire. Omar got all the hype, McNulty got all the posters, but I found the intelligent criminal Cain to Avon Barksdale’s Abel the best HBO character of all time. Watching Stringer try, but fail, to bring the Barksdale drug business into the legitimate world of Real Estate showed that the “legit” world is just as corrupt as the drug trade (as my brother told me – what is so different than the operation of Starbucks and the corner boys in The Wire – you give money and order to one person, then walk around to another area to pick up the product – he was kidding. The difference is obvious – if coffee were made illegal a lot more white people would be killing each other than black folks on The Wire).
On a side note, I was told a couple of years ago that the actor that played Stringer was a doorman at Caroline’s at night while he auditioned during the day. More evidence that everyone in the comedy business except comics can make money. Congratulations Stringer Bell – you are #1.
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.
This weekend I was in Asheville, North Carolina for the Laugh Your Asheville Off Festival. Here is the whimsical recap:
I woke up at 530 AM to get my flight from Newark. Not my first choice, but when it is a free flight from American Express you go to Newark. For anybody that doubts the toughness of Newark, NJ you need to look no further than their TSA agents. A woman in her early 50s obviously gave a Napoleanic TSA agent some guff when she was told that she would need to have a separate screening. I did not hear what she said, but she received a “you got something to say?” from the TSA agent. Actually she received about 4 “you got something to say’s,” with each one drawing the TSA agent closer until he was literally in her face, which was followed by her silence. He then said, “that’s what I thought,” and started walking away, to which she started saying something, which was followed by TSA agent turning around and walking back saying, “Don’t start talking when I turn around baby girl.” Now to clarify the tension this was not some sassy black queen talking to this woman, but a slightly more thuggish young man, so it probably didn’t help when I kept muttering, “hit the bitch.” When it was my turn I looked at him and said, “You think you bad? You ain’t bad! You ain’t nothin’!” So my trip started with an inauspicious start, as I thought of something that sounds like a tag from a terrible horror or thriller movie, “The TSA protects you from terrorists, but who will protect you from the TSA?”
So I arrived in Asheville on one of the smoothest small plane rides I can ever remember and had plenty of time to kill before my 930 pm show. I had lunch with the producers of the show, which was nice and allowed me to get the scoop on the Asheville scene (bottom line – if you are a comedian and get a chance to do a show there – do it).
Then I spent the next few hours in my Super 8 Motel room working on my set, but then I got hungry. Seeking an authentic Southern experience I went to the only non-Waffle House across from my motel: Hooters.
There are several things strange about my trip to Hooters. I brought a book to read, which already can indicate homosexuality to certain neanderthal thinkers at anytime, but bringing a book into Hooters is like going to a Neanderthal meeting and saying I prefer tales of Richard Nixon’s election in 1968 to breasts. But I brought the book simply to avoid gazing into the dead eyes of the waitresses. Another strange thing was that the televisions were playing That’s So Raven on the Disney channel. It seemed ironic to me, but maybe Hooters can be a family restaurant,considering that signs at the restaurant indicated that today was Conceive Your Daughter At Work Day. I kid the Hooters waitresses – but I felt like I should be pimping them to come to New York, “Ladies you know what pretty girls with big boobs can get in NYC? Anything you want! But you’ll want to lose that cheerful attitude.”
Then it was time to go over for the night’s shows. The shuttle from the Motel was basically a golf cart, but less masculine and cool (my door closed by Velcro). It would have been less humiliating to arrive at the show dressed as Professor Dumbledore riding a Big Wheels truck. This was at 6 pm, which only meant that I had 6 hours until my set. After waiting for what felt like an eternity I went on and had a great set in front of an amazing crowd. Really amazing.
After the show a guy came up to me to tell me that he thought the Obama impression was really good and that he is an impressionist and is struggling to get an Obama. I very much wanted to go Kenny Powers on him and say, “Actually I don’t understand you. I’m a comedian, not trying to be the best at imitating,” which is a lie since I like doing impressions, but it would have been funny to me to say that.
The next morning was Waffle House time, where I ate a ton of food for $7 before getting on my flight back to Newark. it was very bumpy the whole way back and then I realized that we had a female pilot and co-pilot. I have never seen that before, but other than the emotional instability of the flight it was pretty much a normal flight.