Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope my nephew won't mind that I'm using his artwork -- I think it strikes the perfect festive note. Hope you have lots of blessings to be thankful for this year!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christ, you know it ain't easy

So maybe you've heard about this whole Vatican-forgives-John-Lennon thing. That's not really what happened, of course, but it's still kind of a fun cultural thing, especially for a person like myself, whose Beatlemania is counterbalanced by a fanatical devotion to the pope. I've already spent my blogging energy hashing this out for the Catholics here and for the Beatle geeks here, so interested parties can drop in on either or both blogs for my thoughts.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

We are amused.

I have to thank Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal for inspiring me to watch the HBO comedy special Ricky Gervais: Out of England. Oh, she didn't recommend it. Far from it. I have never read so contemptuous and humorless a television review in all my born days. "Mr. Gervais's new comedy special has nothing whatever to recommend it," she sniffs. "The real curiosity here, of course, is how such braying emptiness -- packaged as edgy comedy -- comes to be produced, filmed and put on air in the first place."

I read that review last weekend and thought, Whoa, wait a minute -- how could it possibly be that bad? I wasn't planning to watch it myself, but I have a lot of faith in Ricky Gervais, and it just didn't seem possible that he would put himself out there with completely awful material. I mean, I have seen terrible stand-up. It isn't hard to find. Comedy Central routinely grants half-hour specials to comics so painfully unfunny you'd be better off spending thirty minutes punching yourself in the face. So how could Gervais's HBO special possibly deserve this kind of rancor? It sounds as though Rabinowitz just doesn't like Gervais (or...anything funny), but she claims to be a fan of The Office and expresses admiration for Extras, so that can't be it, can it? On the other hand, in so doing she manages to put down the U.S. version of The Office and downplay the brilliance of Extras, so that's a couple of red flags right there. (She says Extras is "far from peerless." Oh really? Then what are its peers? I would really love to know, because I can only watch the complete series so many times.) Another red flag: she uses "of course" twice in two consecutive sentences, and both times it's superfluous (of course).

The real problem, it seems, is that Rabinowitz doesn't get the character Gervais plays in his routines; she seems to take all that self-regard and buffoonery at face value. He's not quite playing David Brent or Andy Millman in this stand-up special, but there's a recognizable dose of both. What might have confused Ms. Rabinowitz is the looseness of the conceit in this routine, as opposed to Gervais's tightly constructed sitcoms. Sometimes, as on The Office, the joke is that he's obnoxiously unaware of his own ignorance; sometimes, as on Extras, he's half truthteller, half jerk. And sometimes it's unclear which framework is operative -- maybe neither? That lack of clarity is responsible for the weakest moments in the show, like the extended riff on obesity. It's all in poor taste, but it isn't clear that the character knows that. It's not outrageous enough for the joke to be on Gervais, but it's also not "true" enough for it to be funny in spite of the tastelessness. And while you're not laughing, you find yourself thinking that maybe the real Ricky Gervais is not a very nice guy. Other riffs on "taboo" subjects work better. But the best moments come from Gervais's deceptively disciplined performance -- the more natural he seems, the more thoroughly calibrated his delivery. And the mildest subject matter produces the biggest laughs. I'm still giggling whenever I think about his elephants-swimming encore. And a section on nursery rhymes starts off bland, but I was laughing so hard I had to pause the TV to catch my breath by the time he finished unpacking "Humpty Dumpty." There's only one Eddie Izzard, but there are moments in this special where Gervais comes close to Izzard's brand of transformative stand-up.

Ricky Gervais: Out of England isn't gold from start to finish. But it is worth checking out. And as for you, Wall Street Journal: I've come to expect this sort of bizarro-world commentary from your op-ed page. But does this mean I should disregard your arts coverage too? Or does it just mean you need to find a comedy critic with a sense of humor?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sickness is normal to me as health is to you

Why no posts for so long? And why two posts today? The answer to the first question is the usual stuff -- busy schedule, real job, other outlets for my creative energy... plus a new and exciting factor called The Flu. Yes, I have the flu, or something very flulike, which has left me without much energy to turn on my computer, much less type coherent sentences. I'm into day five of feeling lousy, although I feel less lousy than I did yesterday, so there's hope. That's the answer to the second question, by the way: this is day five of flulike symptoms, and day three of absolutely no productivity, and I'm getting antsy. My body and my brain are not quite up to real work -- the sink remains full of dirty dishes; my coat has been draped over a chair since I took it off Wednesday night -- but at least I can blog for you all.

Wednesday I stayed home from work, because I couldn't get out of bed till 9 a.m., and that was only to stagger to the couch (which effort wore me out so much I had to take a nap). I had press tickets for a Broadway show that night, and I was really not in a going-out mood, but I figured I could get through it as long as I rested all day. So I set out for the show a little after 7, leaning heavily on the husband's arm. I'm not going to tell you what show it was, because I don't want to invalidate the review I expect to write, but suffice it to say I had a very good seat, close to the stage and on the aisle, and I was enjoying myself in spite of feeling thoroughly achy and ill. And then, late in the second act, the play turned suddenly and stomach-turningly violent. I was expecting this (I'd just read the script), but I guess I wasn't "prepared" for it, or maybe I was too prepared for it, because in the aftermath of the stage violence I found myself overcome with nausea. Those susceptible to carsickness will recognize the sensation: you start to get dizzy, there's a roaring in your ears... This is happening to me as I'm sitting completely still, in my seat, a few feet from the stage. So I'm making desperate mental calculations: should I make a run for it? In my advanced state of dizziness and weakness, the odds that I will make it all the way up the aisle without collapsing and/or vomiting are, I judge, about 50/50. The odds that I will make it out of the building, or even as far as the lobby, are lower still. And in the best of circumstances, leaving my seat to rush up the aisle seems awfully disruptive, especially since the action onstage has reached its climax. And I am right up front. Not only do I have an unrestricted view; the actors have a perfectly clear view of me. So I decide to put my head between my knees and hope for the best.

Guess what? The head-between-the-knees thing? It really works! But you have to stay that way for a while. And I had to pull off my sweater, too, because I had broken out in a cold sweat (fortunately I was wearing another shirt underneath). So there I was, head-between-knees, trying to keep one ear on the play, and then deciding against it because that just reminded me why I was sick in the first place. I had my hat at the ready in case I needed something to puke into. But I managed to regain my equilibrium by the time the play ended, about 10 minutes later. I still feel bad about my bad audience behavior -- I had a dream that night that one of the actors was yelling at me for distracting him -- but the husband assures me that I did not create a scene. (Even he thought I must have dropped something, for the first few minutes, anyway.) So I guess the only other person I might have bothered was the lady sitting behind me, and since she was distracting me throughout the play with her loud, jangly bracelets and inappropriate laughter, I don't feel so bad about that. Me puking into her lap would have been more distracting than my sitting quietly doubled-over, I tell you what.

I suppose it is a credit to the actors that I found their suffering so convincing. My visceral reaction probably has more to do with my illness than with their work, but still, they'll have to take it as a compliment, especially since I was unable to summon the strength to applaud when the play was finally over. I was thrilled to get outside into that sub-freezing air. The husband had to flag down a cab to take us home (a matter of blocks), and I was sticking my head out the window like a dog to avoid getting sick all over again. That's what I get for my show-must-go-on attitude, I guess.

Today I feel like I'm on the mend, and I'm desperate to go outside, because I'm starting to get a bit Fosca-like in my extended illness. But I think I set myself back Wednesday night, so it's probably safest for me to stick to nauseating television until I'm back to normal.

"Turkeys die as Gov. Palin takes questions from media."

Have you seen this video? If you watch just one holiday special this Thanksgiving season, I think it should be this MSNBC clip. I confess, I am torn: it's the funniest Sarah Palin clip yet, especially now that there's no undercurrent of outrage or fear to interfere with the comedy. But I can't bring myself to watch the whole thing. Especially since I have a bit of a delicate stomach at the moment (as you will learn in my next post). However, if you're feeling hardier, or if you want a good reason to go vegetarian this Thanksgiving, please do yourself a favor and watch. The subtitles alone are hilarious.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I saw this headline on Wonkette, and I just had a feeling I knew what part of Pennsylvania they were talking about: "Drunk Pennsylvania Bitter's Post-Election Rage!" Sure enough, they're linking to a story from the Times-Leader, the Wilkes-Barre newspaper (which, by the way, has a much better website than the Scranton Times-Tribune, though that's not saying much). It's about a man who got so angry Tuesday night over this whole President Obama thing that he got really drunk at Pizzle's bar (Pizzle's!), started shouting "obscenities" (we just have to imagine what they were), and ended up hitting people with his cane (he was 70 years old) and biting some guy on the nose. The best part of the story on the TL site is the first "reader comment," which says: "I don't believe that this is the first and only instance of a bar-fight over some political issue or other. I'm only surprised that there hasn't been more. But, to go to jail for expressing your political views?"

Ah, yes, clearly the fact that this story got written up is evidence of the notorious liberal bias of the media of Northeastern Pennsylvania, and not at all related to the fact that it's the most embarrassing and hilarious item from that day's police blotter. Seriously: my friend, I know you're upset. But try to control that persecution complex. The man is not going to jail for expressing his views. He's going to jail for biting a guy on the nose. That's not change we can believe in!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I voted

Does your polling place give out "I Voted" stickers? They are hard to find in NYC. I showed up! I waited in line! I cast my votes, even in categories where the "choice" was merely symbolic (choose four of the four names listed)! Is a sticker too much to ask?!

The line at my polling place was not so long, although I was hearing alarming reports on the news as I was getting ready, and I gave myself plenty of time just in case. (I hear it was worse at 6 a.m. -- so much for beating the crowds!) Anyway, can I just say how pleased I am that Election Day is finally here, and in a matter of hours it will be over (please God)? Phew. Let's not do this again for, oh, four years at least.

One of the many irritating factors about this campaign season: the lame election-themed displays in retail store windows. It seems like every single clothier and chain eatery has to come up with some ridiculous way of linking their product to the fact that there's a presidential campaign going on, without actually commenting on the content of that campaign. So the Gap's windows are covered in signs that say "Vote Peace" and "Vote Love" and other, even more inane slogans. ("Vote Boot-Cut Jeans!") I've walked past a Home Depot that had some weird orange, white and blue display, and it was hard to tell whether the orange was a deliberate reference to the store's logo or a red that had been in the sun too long. The most bewildering display I saw was the one at J. Press on Fifth Ave., where the usual upscale novelty ties and cuff links are interspersed with old-timey buttons for candidates who may or may not have existed. It all felt very time-machiney, and I couldn't tell whether it was self-aware or incredibly un-self-aware. But the point is, I'm sick of stores trying to cash in on election fever. Partly because it trivializes something that really shouldn't be trivialized (further), and partly because I spend enough time thinking about the freaking election and I don't need the Gap to remind me about it. Can I please not focus on politics while I browse this clearance rack of favorite tees. Thank you.

Here is a nontrivial reason why you should vote, long lines be damned: In Texas, a 109-year-old woman whose father was born into slavery cast her vote this year for a black presidential candidate.
Amanda Jones's father urged her to exercise her right to vote, despite discriminatory practices at the polls and poll taxes meant to keep black and poor people from voting. Those practices were outlawed for federal elections with the 24th Amendment in 1964, but not for state and local races in Texas until 1966.

Amanda Jones says she cast her first presidential vote for Franklin Roosevelt, but she doesn't recall which of his four terms that was. When she did vote, she paid a poll tax, her daughters said.
Ah, yes, our nation's proud history of granting black people the theoretical right to vote and then systematically disenfranchising them to make sure they don't. You know who thinks that's hilarious? Pat Buchanan! I know because he had a good hearty laugh about it. On Hardball. In 2008.

So vote. Even if you're not a minority or a woman. Even if you're not voting for That One. Even if the lines are long, and they're not giving out stickers, and there's no question who will win your state. Vote. And then be glad it's over.