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Stiller Saturday April 17, 2010

Posted by monty in comedy, TV.
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1 comment so far

The Ben Stiller Show is one of the great lost TV shows of the 90’s.  Not only did it feature, over the course of thirteen stellar episodes, razor-sharp parodies of popular culture, it launched the careers of a handful of our best comedians.  Besides Stiller himself, Judd Apatow was a producer and writer, the three cast members consisted of Bob Odenkirk, Andy Dick, and Janeane Garofalo, and David Cross joined the writing staff late in the series’ run, and appeared as a cast member in a few episodes.  Along with The State and The Kids in the Hall (and eventually Cross and Odenkirk’s own Mr. Show), The Ben Stiller Show was certainly one of the very best sketch shows of the last 25 years, and in its best moments, it’s top-notch television, bar none.

The two sketches below were written by Cross.  The first is probably my favorite sketch in the series’ run, called “The Legend of T.J. O’Pootertoot,” and the second is a sly parody of Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men (featuring Andy Dick’s killer impersonation of Keifer Sutherland).

And, what the hell, here’s one more.  It’s called “Legends of Springsteen.”  Enjoy.

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Return of the Son of Anywhere I Lay My Head Redux, Part II: Electric Boogaloo October 20, 2009

Posted by monty in comedy, travel.
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1 comment so far

Cross 2

A funny little bit of synchronicity dealing with two of my recent postings on here.  Sunday morning I reviewed my mixed experience at David Cross’ show in Atlanta (Cross = good; hecklers = bad), and yesterday I lambasted California for being a piss-poor state largely populated with selfish egomaniacs who think their state stands head and shoulders above the other 49.  Last night I was searching online for some other reviews of Cross’ show, and instead came across a recent interview with him in the Access Atlanta blog, published roughly a week before his appearance here.

Turns out I was wrong about Californians being unique in their geographical megalomania.  For those who don’t know (or who aren’t familiar with Cross’ personal life), he grew up in the Atlanta suburbs, not far from where I live now.  He’s talked about this in his standup and his writing, and the interview begins with a statement that doesn’t seem particularly controversial to me.  In fact, Cross could be talking about most major U.S. cities.  Here’s what he says about Atlanta, in total, in the entire interview: “I don’t hate Atlanta.  I really don’t.  I’m just disappointed by it.  I think it’s overgrown and traded a lot of its charm for corporate strip malls.”

That’s it.  That’s all he says.  Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?  It certainly reminds me of Los Angeles and its outlying suburbs, and it also makes me think of Dayton, OH, where I spent part of my youth, and whose city center has largely been replaced by the mall culture of its surrounding communities.  Cross’ comment also isn’t especially harsh or scathing.  He doesn’t condemn Atlanta or say it has no redeeming qualities or even criticize the people who live there.  It seems like a fairly even-handed comment that accurately reflects the disillusionment one feels in watching a favorite place change, and not necessarily for the better.

I’m establishing all this context so that the reader comments about Cross’ interview will make more sense.  Here’s a selection of the articulate, intelligent replies to Cross’ entirely reasonable statement about Atlanta:

•  “He’s a hateful, far-left jerkwad … He really does look down on all the unenlightened, stupid rednecks (or so he feels) that inhabit metro Atlanta. We’re not cool and trendy enough for him…that only applies to the Midtown people who get robbed and carjacked.”

• “Thankfully Delta [Airlines] was ready when he was. Seems pretty clear that he’s a waste of oxygen but we can at least thank him for not polluting the air or the scenery here very often.”

• “For all you idiots that don’t like Atlanta we have I20 going E and W, I 75 & 85 going N & S plus Delta is ready when you are. So get the Heck out of Dodge,knuckleheads!!!”

• “I’ve found News Yorkers to be some of the most obnoxious people around. If it isn’t in New York, it’s lame…or hillbilly….or whatever. Give it a rest. If Atlanta stinks so bad, leave and never come back. You won’t be missed. Really.”

• “After this interview gets around, it will be interesting to see how many Atlantans are willing to spend their money to see this dude. I definitely won’t be one of them.”

• “Ah, David Cross, the poor mans David Spade.

The guy’s probably angry at ‘rednecks’ for taking his lunch money all those years.
(He’s a proud graduate of Roswell High School)…
Hey, the guy’s an ATHIEST! That should tell you averything you need to know about the guy right there…

Question:
If it’s soooo bad here, why are people stlll moving here in droves? Hmmmm?
For those haters that don’t like it here, it must REALLY suck to have to live somewhere you hate!
Be mad at the lack of control you have over your life, then do something about it, like LEAVE!!
We don’t want you here!”

• “So it seems while Cross has disowned Atlanta, Atlanta has more than enough rights to disown him and to never open doors to him again. I hope he flops at his show and returns up North with his tail between his legs, digs a hole, and pull the dirt over him and stay there.”

I think you get the idea.  One thing that’s immediately clear (and becomes even clearer if you dig more deeply into the reader comments) is that most of these people didn’t actually read the interview.  If they did, surely they wouldn’t be levying such hatred at so innocuous a comment.  Right?  It sounds like they read one of the early comments saying, falsely, how much Cross hated Atlanta and responded to that person’s misreading of the interview instead of the interview itself.

But setting that aside, it’s clear that Californians don’t have a monopoly on the “love it or leave it” mentality.  And that mentality is one thing I’ve never been able to understand.  For one thing, uncritical (as opposed to unconditional) love always seems a little spooky.  A failure to recognize the flaws in something (or someone) is clearly delusional.  Nothing is perfect, and seeing those flaws doesn’t mean you don’t love it; it means you love it in spite of (or sometimes, perversely, because of) those flaws.

And secondly, why does anyone take it so personally when someone else doesn’t love the same things you do with the exact same amount of passion?  I’m not a reflector.  How I feel about California (or Atlanta or Dayton) shouldn’t in any way affect the way you feel about California (or Atlanta or Dayton).  So why get so angry when someone criticizes something you care about?

Case in point: I’m quite fond of London, England.  It’s truly the one place where I don’t feel nervous or anxious all the time.  I feel comfortable there, at home and at peace.  I love the city and its citizens, quite possibly to a degree many people would find unreasonable.  If you tell me, “London sucks.  It’s crowded and the people there talk in funny accents and the food’s lousy and the British are all a bunch of effete gayboys with crummy teeth,” I won’t get angry.  Promise.  I’ll feel sorry that you have such a limited worldview, but the last thing I’d say is, “Well, don’t go!  Just stay away then!  London’s too good for you!”  Because that’s the playground argument the “love it or leave crowd” always resorts to.  If you don’t love it exactly the same way I do, you don’t deserve it and therefore you should go somewhere else.  Like, now.

And that’s what a lot of these readers are saying in their misguided criticism of Cross’ completely sensible statement that it’s a shame Atlanta has become – like much of America – homogenized, corporatized, and mall-focused.  It’s not a criticism of the city as much as it’s a criticism of the corporate homogenization that has been allowed to flourish there, presumably eliminating some of the city’s original charm.  If anything, it’s actually a defense of the old city, and reflects the love one feels for something that, as Cross himself says, has disappointed him.  But because Cross doesn’t share the readers’ pathological and obsessive love of the city, he’s no longer welcome there.  Which means many Californians have something quite unexpected in common with their counterparts in ol’ Dixie.

*****

Current listening:

Portis dummy

Portishead – Dummy

All the Negatives Have Been Destroyed October 18, 2009

Posted by monty in comedy.
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5 comments

davidcross

Even though there are standup comedians I like better, David Cross is probably the one I’ve gravitated to most over the last ten years (along with Patton Oswalt, which will be a post for another time).  I know it can be a mistake not to separate stage persona from “real life” personality, but I’ve always felt largely in sync with Cross, from his style of humor to his love of left-field music to his views on politics and religion.  His work on Mr. Show and Arrested Development is suitable for a comedy time capsule, and his two standup CD’s, Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! and It’s Not Funny still get frequent play on my iPod (the former, especially, was in constant rotation for about six months after its release).  His standup is visceral and biting, and large chunks of it appear to be improvised, lending it a sense of playful unpredictably.  So, for all these reasons, I was really looking forward to seeing him last night at the Tabernacle in Atlanta.

Things started out auspiciously enough.  In fact, he was rolling through his early material, about the ridiculousness of airlines still announcing that they’re nonsmoking, years after banning smoking from all flights (“This flight is also non-slavery.  We would also like you to know that the Earth rotates around the sun, so sayeth Galieo”) and the pernicious effect years of drinking and drug use have had on his digestive system (“When I shit, it sounds like a junior high school orchestra warming up”).

Things hit a snag 40 minutes in, when a heckler from the balcony – apropos of nothing Cross was actually talking about at the time – starting giving him shit about doing a book signing at Barnes & Noble, instead of “an indepndent book store.”  Instead of ignoring the heckler, Cross stood still for a moment then, incredulous, said, “Wow.  You’re furious about this, aren’t you?”  He launched into a short explanation about how tours work and having contracts with various booksellers and wanting to get his book out to the most people, “and also, fuck you.”  The heckler yelled something else about the band Dinosaur Jr. playing an in-store at a local record store that day and Cross, flashing his music nerd chops, replied, “Oh, that must be Lou Barlow up there.” (Sidenote for those with a life: Barlow left Dinosaur Jr. acrimoniously a long time ago and only reunited with the band recently.)

Cross got back on track after that, continuing with material about the current political contentiousness, the fraud of Mormonism, and a beautiful bit about SkyMall that ended with him on the floor, humping his SkyMall-endorsed Time Mug™.  But now, whether emboldened by the previous heckler or just drunk, Cross was interrupted more and more frequently during the show.  He was able to brush these off, but when he was interrupted repeatedly in the quiet build-up to his closing bit (see Patton Oswalt’s Werewolves & Lollipops album for his treatise on how good comedy bits “start soft and then get loud, like a Pixies song”), a visibly angry Cross gave up. “I just can’t do this.  We’re taping the show in Boston, so you’ll just have to watch it on the DVD and then you’ll understand.”  He continued, “When I was looking at the map of where we’re playing on this tour, I never would have guessed Atlanta would be the shitty audience.  I thought for sure this was going to be a great show.”  He eventually did the bit – and it was funny – but he’d lost his momentum.  He stood there for a moment, looking off into the wings, and then finally said, “So now I don’t know how to end this.”  Another moment of silence.  “Goodnight.”  And he walked off.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for Cross.  From my time doing improv, I know what it’s like to deal with drunks and hecklers, and watching him get angrier and angrier, yet still trying to carry on with his show, just made me respect him more.  The really sad thing is that a vast majority of the  crowd was on his side.  During the debacle of the closing bit there was an increasing amount of push-back toward the hecklers with people yelling at them be quiet.  This, of course, only made things worse.  But, as he said when he came back onstage for a brief bow, it only takes a handful of people to ruin a show.

And, you know, this is something that’s always frustrated me about hecklers and people who talk too loudly during live performances (which reminds me of the two guys sitting next to me at Lewis Black a couple years ago who just carried on a conversation through the whole show) and people who shout song requests at bands and people who won’t shut up during movies: Why is everything always about you?  When you’re in an audience with hundreds (or thousands) of other people, why this bizarre selfishness that allows you to believe your needs take precedence over everyone else’s?  And, better yet, why spend the money to go to a show if you’re just going to impose your retardery on the proceedings?  For the people at the show last night, was it worth it to spend $40 just to yell “Woooooooo!” every time Cross mentioned drinking?  When you’re seeing a band and it’s between songs, will your experience really improve if you interrupt the frontman by screaming out the name of an obscure b-side they haven’t played live in 15 years?  And if you’re just going to talk through an entire movie, wouldn’t it be cheaper just to wait to see it on DVD?  The increasing selfishness and solipsism of Americans is something I’ve become increasingly interested in and concerned with over the last few years, and I had no idea I’d get a good example of it at last night’s show.

Cross deserved better, and I only hope this experience doesn’t sour him from returning to Atlanta in the future.

*****

Current listening:

British man

British Sea Power – Man of Aran

Non-Song of the Day (10/17/09: Mr. Show Edition) October 17, 2009

Posted by monty in comedy, TV.
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3 comments

In honor of my imminent trip to see David Cross (and continuing the comedy thread from today’s earlier post), here’s a few of my favorite sketches from Mr. Show With Bob and David.  If you’ve never seen this groundbreaking HBO series starring Cross and Bob Odenkirk (and acting as a veritable incubator of comedic talent, launching the careers of Sarah Silverman, Paul F. Tompkins, Brian Posehn, and Tom Kenny [the voice of Spongebob Squarepants, for the uninitiated]), you’d better get while the getting’s good.

“Titannica”

“The Audition”

“Blowing Up the Moon”