Stand Up Comedy

Charlie Sheen – The Comedy America Deserves

The Twitterverse has been buzzing with Charlie Sheen’s terrible comedy performance last night in Detroit (seriously hasn’t that city suffered enough?).  Well, apparently the “My Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option” was not the groundbreaking comedy experience that so many stupid, fame-hungry, comedy-ignorant people were hoping for.  But, just like the Rolling Stones said, they may not have gotten what they wanted, but they got what they needed.  Or at least deserved.  OK, so that is not exactly a Rolling Stones song anymore.  Just keep reading.

For me, the Charlie Sheen tour represents a new low for comedy in America, but also something else: it is the convergence of that low with America’s morbid new pastime: voyeuristic fascination with self-destruction.

Starting with comedy, his tour sold out across America because of a series of bizarre (and admittedly quite funny – both intentionally and unintentionally) interviews he did following his firing from CBS’ “comedy” Two and a Half Men.  Well, mainstream America never had the most sophisticated sense of humor, but several things in the last several years have further eroded that sense of humor.  From America’s Home Videos (I will admit – I enjoyed it when I was 10) to YouTube, ridicule and bodily harm have increasingly replaced nuance and creativity as the humor America responds to.  Shots to the nuts have made Adam Sandler and Kevin James bankable movie stars and when people turn to their computers they seem more likely to laugh at someone’s expense than at someone’s creativity.

Couple that with America’s increasing, almost faith-based devotion to famous people, irrespective of talent or quality, and you have the two main ingredients in the recipe that is hurting comedy.  One of my favorite comments I received from a fan in Iowa last month was, “You guys were great and I had never heard of you.  Last month I came with my girlfriend to see Pauly Shore and he sucked.”  That was just one man’s opinion, but it illistrates something larger that I see in comedy.  Comedy clubs, like much of corporate America, are increasingly more concerned with the bottom line at the expense of the quality of their product and the workers that provide it.   Clubs are more than willing to bring in acts like Pauly Shore, largely on name recognition alone because they will fill seats.  However, what happens is that clubs continue to bring in acts solely on name recognition, so they continue to draw reality show, fame-hungry morons to their clubs, but the real, substantive comedy fans stop going, except to see acts they already know.  Comedians in my position are reliant on real comedy fans to build their base.  People who like famous people will not come to see me perform.  People who are real comedy fans and looking to find new voices and new perspectives will, but they cannot if they stay home because they have been turned off by the Steve-Os of the world.

So Charlie Sheen represents the apex of these trends in comedy: fame-hungry people who laugh at train wrecks.  But there is a more insidious side to these crowds as well.

I was recently watching an ESPN 30 For 30 documentary about June 17, 1994.  It was a day with an incredible mix of high profile sporting events, but the overwhelming headliner of the day was the infamous White Bronco Chase featuring a suicidal OJ Simpson.   I remember sitting in a hotel in Evanston, Ill. for my brother’s college graduation watching the Knicks-Rockets NBA finals game with my Patrick Ewing-worshipping family and being interrupted by the car chase.  But what I did not realize at the time, but was made clear from the documentary, was that was the turning point for American popular culture.  If there is any moment where our voyeurism hit an awful point of no return it was that car chase.  People were stopping their cars on highways in LA to watch the chase and every news network was covering it.  I believe that it was simply with the hope of catching a suicide of a famous person on camera.  It was intense, but it was also shameless and disgusting.  If a no-name serial killer were fleeing they would not have covered it so intensely, but to see a famous person flee justice and maybe kill himself – what a rare chance on television!

Fast forward – reality television now features people having sex on camera (Real World, Jersey Shore), people dying (Deadliest Catch and the new reality show “Coal” which is less “appreciate the working man” and more “hopefully we can see poor people die or get in dangerous situations”), and just generally elevating and tearing down insignificant people.

Well, once again Charlie Sheen is at the peak of this as well.  He is a drug-addicted, crazy ego maniac.  People tune in to him to see him rant, but also to possibly see him self-destruct fatally.

Charlie Sheen represents the combination of the worst trends in comedy and in our popular culture.  And after raising him up, people are now eager to boo him and act as if they are not getting exactly what they paid for.  Because if there is a national pastime in this country it is not baseball or football; it is raising someone up beyond where they should be and then tearing them down to lower than they deserve to be.  And now I am sure all the “comedy fans” who have tickets to upcoming Sheen shows are already rationalizing  their purchase by saying – “I hear he sucks.  I can’t wait to boo the dude!”

I feel the same way about people who go to see Charlie Sheen’s tour that I do about people who vote for Sarah Palin.  If you support it then you, more than anyone, actually deserve to get what you want.  Good luck to everyone with tickets.

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The Expendables: The Movie That Cannot Be Spoofed

There is really no sacred genre of film that cannot be spoofed in Hollywood.  Every type of film has been spoofed, mostly by the Zucker Brothers or the Wayans Brothers or some other pair of siblings. Even Holocaust movies sort of parody themselves by the sheer volume of how many are made.   Perhaps Sylvester Stallone has harbored ill feelings towards Hot Shots Part Deux for the last 20 years when it spoofed, among others, Rambo III.  Stallone’s answer was to revive action films, not with CGI, but with loud explosions, exploding heads and uncomfortably homoerotic close ups of bulging male biceps, when he wrote, directed and starred in The Expendables, a movie so mediocre in some parts and so patently absurd in most that is impossible to spoof.  That is because it works as a spoof by itself, albeit unintentionally.

This blog will ruin and spoil “the plot” of the movei so stop reading here if you care.  However, if you are older than 9 or have seen at least 2 action movies in your life then the simplicity of the movie will spoil the plot for you as you watch it and predict its “developments” 20-30 minutes ahead of time and you should read on.

The plot involves a pack of awesome, but somewhat aged bro-dudes, led by Sylvester Stallone, who in his 60s is built like Iggy Pop on dozens of steroids.  When Stallone runs, which is not shown for very long, lest he break a hip on camera, it literally looks like an old man racing for the door of his favorite diner at 4:59 pm in hopes of not missing the early-bird dinner special.

The violence of the movie gets started in the very first scene where our band of merry steroid abusers arrives on a ship to rescue some kidnapped workers from some Somalian pirates.  Our heroes give fair warning to the pirates, but because they are crazy and evil they do not heed the warnings so they end up getting exploded by gunfire, the defining blow coming from some gun that Dolph Lundgren (Drago from Rocky IV) uses to literally blow apart the top half of the lead pirate’s body.  Probably the most violent thing I have ever seen in a movie.

This is a good time to crown Dolph Lundgren the worst actor I have ever seen. Porn included.  I wondered, how can a guy who is handsome, extremely well-built, has a degree in chemical engineering (true) not get more acting work.  Oh right, because he is beyond terrible at acting.  He and Gerard Butler belong to a small, but well known cadre of actors who are not American, but who cannot do a passable American accent so their dialogue comes out sounding like they are mentally disabled – what accent is that, “stroke?”  Dolph does not disappoint in the movie, basically delivering the same character and performance he made so forgettable in Universal Soldier.   But it is ironic that a guy who quit MIT after receiving a Fulbright Scholarship to go there (true) pursued bad acting.  I mean, only an idiot would do that, but by definition he cannot be an idiot.

The second worst actor is the guy who plays the fictional (I think) country’s military leader.  I do not know his name, but he is on Dexter, which, if they traded Michael C. Hall for Dolph Lundgren in Season 1 of Dexter, they would have assembled the Miami Heat of bad acting.

There are some introspective and thoughtful moments in the movie, mostly with Mickey Rourke, as the “I got out of the team, but I am still left with emotional scars and cliche thoughts,which will be painfully obvious because there will be mandolin music playing in the background when I speak” guy.

The main villain of the movie is played by Eric Roberts.  Now he he would be the obvious choice for many filmmakers as a bad guy in spoof films, but Stallone locked him up for this one so he would not be available for The Depenzables.

There is a damsel-in-distress and a scene that I found poignant was when Stone Cold Steve Austin (trained at the Actor’s Studio I believe) playing Eric Roberts’ henchman, punches said damsel in the face.  It is nice to see that after Stone Cold was suspended from the WWE several years ago for some time for punching his wife, that Hollywood has less exacting standards for female treatment than Vince McMahon.  It did give a level of reality knowing that Stone Cold had done it in real life.  Perhaps Chris Brown can be in the sequel.  Or they could get OJ out of prison to play Jack The Ripper.  That wouldn’t be creepy.

But this movie already had one black guy: Terry Crews, who has the muscle size of 4 athletic black guys so I guess it counts as diversity.  Stallone, in another nuanced, homoerotic gesture gives Terry Crews the biggest, baddest, black firearm that vanquishes dozens of enemies at a time, but not so much that you can’t see gallons of blood pouring forth as he does it.  In one scene Crews (known for being in every other movie right now a la Kristen Wiig and for his bizarre Old Spice commercials) actually throws a bomb at a helicopter.  Like a small missile.  He throws it.  This is exactly what they did in Hot Shots Part Deux, except it was bullets. Watch the link below – I am not kidding how prescient Hot Shots Part Deux is for The Expendables.

But the real stars of this film are the dialogue and the violence.  The dialogue is basically just a collection of David Caruso tag-lines from CSI: Miami, but without The Who playing at the end of each one.  Just beefy dudes smirking at each other, amazed at their collective sense of humor.

But the violence is truly remarkable.  The action took place on a fictional small island (or perhaps real, who knows) and by my count The Expendables managed to murder 1.8x the population of the entire island, all without suffering a single casualty, except for good taste.  They would enter a room, which appeared to have 9 bad guys and next thing you know, 14 throats have been slit, 19 heads have been blown up by high powered guns and 16 necks broken.  It just didn’t seem to add up.  But don’t tell that to the ravenous actions fans that surrounded me in the theater.  No one-liner was too pithy or punny to not get a cheer or a clap.  No death was too absurd not to earn an “oooohhhhh sh*t!”  The violence in this film was so absurd that I think if a theater sees a parent with a child under 13 going into to see it they should call child services.  Making this movie simply R, instead of banning it, would be like making a film with gang bang, full penetration sex scenes R.  I am not some guy who decries America’s puritanical values (fu*k those people and their Eat Pray Love viewing this weekend).  But the violence in this movie would be harmful to a young mind.  Just look what it has done to Sylvester Stallone, and he supposedly has an adult brain.

Which brings me to the DaVinci of this Sistine Crapel: Sylvester Stallone.  Something has gone Mel Gibson wrong in this dude’s mind.  He is in his sixties, still juicing for movie roles and is making his movies exceedingly violent.  Say what you will about religious fanaticism and Mel Gibson, but even after he became fanatical he made Braveheart, Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, three very violent but very excellent films.  Stallone proves that violence without faith can make for some very sad movie-going experiences.

It is hard to say that Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal are lucky, but in this case they are.  Because they are the only two 1980s action icons not featured in this film (Jeff Speakman, A/K/A “The Perfect Weapon” not an icon, sadly).  See this movie if you must, but be prepared to either vomit or laugh uncontrollably.

OK, now I have to get back to my Play Station 3 and rape some prostitutes and kill some people in Red Dead Redemption.