Posts tagged ‘Humor’

May 30, 2017

#130) How not to offend people #2: Terry Frei

“I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day Weekend,” tweeted sports writer Terry Frei. Hopefully Mr. Frei will ease his discomfort by purchasing some quality shoes that will feel good on his feet while he is standing in the unemployment line.

After the backlash hit, the former Denver Post sports writer tried to walk it back in a manner that made Al Campanis’s 1987 Nightline appearance look articulate. (The Post didn’t buy it). I leave it to better bloggers than myself to debate whether Frei’s words are simply those of a mouthy malcontent or are a dire warning about throngs of racists who now feel emboldened by the current political climate to say whatever is on their mind. I can’t say either whether Frei is innocently operating on a vintage 1956 set of social mores (like Amy Schumer’s grandma in her “Generations” sketch or the “Women in the Workplace” bit from “Family Guy”) or, like someone who overdoes it on Taco Tuesday and then finds themselves stuck in a public place with no restroom in sight, just had to let it loose right then and there, consequences be damned. I really can’t say. When the waffle iron at the Holiday Inn breakfast bar has a sign saying that the griddle must be opened before the batter is to be poured in, it’s hard to make assumptions about peoples’ intelligence.

What I do know is that Frei took the bar for offending people to a new low. Sometimes there can be an upside to offending people. You might get a laugh; your brazenness might be appreciated; you might become the president. But Frei got nothing out of his racist tweet other than not having to worry about showing up to work with a Memorial Day hangover.  His predecessor in this series, Sergio Garcia, made a joke – albeit a wholly unoriginal one – at the expense of a rather self-serious target, Tiger Woods. (Who knows, perhaps there are a few people in the deep south who still soil themselves laughing over black people/fried chicken jokes). Frei could have at least have riffed on the stereotype about Asians being bad drivers and drawn a few cheap laughs on his way out the door. Or perhaps he could have drawn inspiration from Lisa Lampanelli, who built a career on over-the-top racial/ist humor: “Hey, Asian guy! That black guy’s not laughing. Throw a star at him.”

Being a lover of Holocaust humor (what’s the difference between a Jew and a boy scout?) when I see the name Frei, I immediately think of “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work will make you free”) – the phrase that was often seen at the gates to the concentration camps and sometimes shows up in Auschwitz selfies. Well, let’s just say that sportswriter Terry of Denver is now frei of his arbeit.

Advertisements
May 12, 2017

#128) Autopsy of an unfollow #4: Hey, “You Had One Job” – You had one job!

It’s time for another cautionary tale of a social media outlet that met a fate worse than death: the dreaded Unfollow!

Sometimes we need a humorous reminder that our life isn’t so bad and that we’re not the only ones who are idiots. A Facebook page called “You Had One Job” provided me with such reminders – until recently.

For a while, I’d enjoyed having my constant feed of kid pics and political fights broken up by the occasional picture of an intersection with “SOTP” painted in big white letters, cans of peaches labeled “TOMATOES” and the like. But “You Had One Job” stopped doing its one job.

As of the moment of my unfollowing, the last five posts on “You Had One Job” were:

  1. “25+ Crazy Tattoos That Will Twist your Mind”*
  2. “15 Hilarious Love Notes That Illustrate The Modern Relationship”
  3. “What If Guys Acted Like Girls On Instagram?”
  4. “Mom Sews Incredibly Accurate Costumes For Her Daughter To Wear At Disneyland”
  5. “Domestic Bliss: Mother Of Two Takes Darkly Humorous Family Photos

For me, it’s not so much that my desperate craving for photos of handicapped access railings going the opposite way of the staircase has been going more and more unfulfilled by “YHOJ” as it is that I’ve long been over-saturated by the type of content the site is sharing instead. I don’t want to see clever parenting. I want to see Storm Troopers coffee mugs in Paw Patrol packaging.

Would the novelty of “You Had One Job” worn off anyway? Possibly, but alas, I shall never know. The lesson: sometimes it’s better to be a one-trick pony, however niche that trick may be, than to become just another generic face in the social media crowd.

* Don’t even get me started on upstyle.

May 30, 2016

#112) How not to complain #5: Condescension and condiments (an open letter to Sara Benincasa)

Note: the original article this post references was updated in October, 2016 to be more Trump specific. The previous version of the article focused more on the Republican party in general than Trump.

Dear Ms. Benincasa,

First, the good stuff: your recent article wouldn’t have struck a nerve with me if you hadn’t done something right. Like the other previous four subjects of my How Not To Complain series, you show potential in this timeless art form. Sometimes the boat needs to be rocked; sometimes we need to be douchebags, especially in the current political climate. When all of the douchecockery has been meted out however, has the opinion of your mark changed? For your incisive and witty deconstruction of voters who are motivated by “ego and need to talk about stuff at your organic locally grown dinner parties for the next four years”, come November, my vote will still be cast for one Gary E. Johnson, unless a porn star comes out of the woodwork an announces her candidacy.

Why did you fail to convince me? The C-word. Not that C-word; it’s condescension. Sometimes condescension is not only necessary; it can be highly entertaining. I’ve watched the video of Baylor basketball player Taurean Prince’s explanation of how his team got out-rebounded by Yale almost as much as Miss Teen South Carolina and “Asians in the Library” combined. Condescension resembles another C-word: condiments. Condiments can make a burger, hot dog or Amish-made soft pretzel taste great – but 1) they can’t mask lack of quality in the burger/dog/pretzel itself and 2) when they are used in excess, the main course itself is lost.

You start off with a promising main course: a new slant on a line we’ve heard before. “Don’t throw your vote away because [of] your ego and ‘personal brand'”, you say. “I get it if it makes you feel really good personally and like a great liberal with super awesome true blue standards to vote for Bernie and support Bernie. But when Hillary gets the nomination, and she will, it is imperative to vote for the Democrat because the DNC platform is vastly superior to the GOP values.”

Indeed, the villain of your piece isn’t so much Trump, whose name is mentioned only a few times in passing (and has shown himself to be just as much of an enemy of the Republican establishment as of the Dems), as it is the GOP itself. I’ll grant you that Republicans have not exactly distinguished itself over the last dec..quar..half centu…well, it’s been a while. I don’t, however, believe that the difference between the two parties is so big that “people… would suffer terribly under a GOP presidency and the Supreme Court for the next 10 to 40 years.”

The protein of your main course, your argument against Republican policy, consists of two examples: “No Child Left Behind” and abstinence-only education. We’re on the same page here: those were both turds. Rip Torn has a good phrase to describe abstinence only education; it also applies to NCLB. However, laughable as it is, has abstinence-only education truly “made people suffer?” Are Race to the Top and Common Core a drastic improvement over NCLB? Was American education the envy of the world during the Bill Clinton presidency?

Once those two examples are given, the rest of the dish is filled out by lines that are quotable and likely to get those who already agree with your arguments to nod vigorously but not likely to convert anyone to your point of view. “You’d consign us to 4 years of Trump and two or three decades of a disgusting, vile Supreme Court because you have a sad feelz in your tum-tum?” you ask. Fair enough, but your claim that my not voting for Clinton would be “an insult to me and women and queer folks and all the people who benefit and even have a chance to thrive under Democratic policies” just isn’t enough of a deterrent to stop me from pulling the lever for Johnson/Weld. The sad feelz I have in my tum-tum is hunger. The condiments, while tasty and original, weren’t enough to carry the dish.

 

 

June 17, 2015

#95) When parodies fail: Why I’m not “wild” about “Rabid”

Having deconstructed a memoir of which I only read about a third, I’ll now try my hand analyzing a book where save for a few snatches of the Amazon preview, I’ve read none.

I understand why “Rabid”, a parody of Cheryl Strayed’s best selling memoir “Wild”, exists. Over-saturation is the mother of parody and for the last few years, it’s been hard to escape “Wild” or the throngs of adoring (rabid, if you will) Cheryl Strayed fans and their blog posts about how her book changed their life. That said, author Libby Zangle’s attempt to send-up Strayed doesn’t work. How can I tell that after having only read a few paragraphs? Those few paragraphs are unfunny, predictable and full of jealousy. Just as one can watch a trailer for a movie and think “No way”, it doesn’t take Nostradamus to divine, even from a short sample, that this book is basically a self-indulgent rant. Its shortcomings provide instruction in how to and how not to make effective parody.

Though it sounds counter-intuitive, at the heart of every great parody is an affection or at least an empathy for its subject. The goal of “This is Spinal Tap” was not to make the audience hate hair metal or overblown progressive rock; when “Eat It” made Weird Al Yankovic a household name the idea was never that we should burn copies of “Thriller.”

Zangle’s writing has virtually no empathy and plenty of resentment toward Cheryl Strayed. To hear Zangle tell it, it’s almost as if Strayed’s self-destruction following her mother’s death was part of a master plan; fodder for a future best-selling memoir. In Chapter 2, “Does every tragic heroine have to do heroin?” Zangle finds herself in a dingy motel room, much as Strayed did on the night before she set off on the Pacific Crest Trail. Zangle gathers her hike inventory: “There was a red compression sack…one Nalgene bottle and one Gatorade bottle…There was a large syringe for shooting up heroin. Just kidding. The syringe was for backwashing my water filter.”

Despite her condescending attitude toward “Wild”, Zangle has obviously gone to lengths to replicate Strayed’s writing. The first lines of “Wild”: “The trees were tall, but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California.” “Rabid”: “The trees were tall. They were actually taller than me. Probably taller than most humans I have met…[b]ut…they actually looked small because of this funny thing called perspective…” While watching “Spinal Tap”, you get the sense that Reiner, Guest, McKean, Shearer et. al really had fun creating the down-on-their-luck, over the hill rock band. By contrast, Zangle comes off as the loner sitting at home on prom night writing in her journal about how much she hates the vapid popular girls who are dancing with the football players while really wanting nothing more than to be one of them.

Is “Wild” perfect? No; neither the memoir or its author are perfect, but to geek out on “Wild” as a how-not-to book is to miss its point. Of course Cheryl Strayed did a million things wrong, from her substance abuse to her lack of preparation for the trip. She lived to tell and has shared her experiences in a way that while sometimes is weightier and more ponderous than necessary has nevertheless connected with readers worldwide. Meanwhile Zangle remains a low-to-the-ground target, going for obvious laughs without making any kind of personal investment.

Perhaps there’s room for an effective parody of “Wild”–one which would respect Strayed’s journey while gently ribbing her self-seriousness. Perhaps Zangle will evolve as a writer and create more enjoyable parodies; hell, maybe I’ll even read one of them someday. If there’s more to “Rabid” than the Amazon preview, I’ll eat crow, but if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and looks like a duck…

June 4, 2014

#78) Film review: “A Million Ways to Die in the West”

The problem with “A Million Ways to Die in the West”, the new film from “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane isn’t, as many have suggested, the fact that he cast himself in the lead role.  It’s that he didn’t.  Despite a few inspired moments, the lead actor in “Million Ways” shows precious little of the off-color comedic genius that MacFarlane’s fans know and love.

MacFarlane stars as Albert, a sheep-farmer in 1882 Arizona.  He hates living on the frontier and his girlfriend Louise (Amanda Seyfried) has just left him for Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), a proprietor of a mustache accessory shop.  Albert confides in his friends he’s about to leave for San Francisco when he meets Anna (Charlzie Theron), who happens to be married to the territory’s most notorious gangster, Clinch (Liam Neeson).  Though he’s still in love with Louise, Albert slowly starts warming up to Anna.  When he discovers the truth about her however, things take a turn for the worse.

Just as MacFarlane’s character is timid and negative, the film itself seems to be afraid of its own comedic potential. “Family Guy” often makes viewers cringe, but it makes them laugh harder, whether it’s showing a barbershop quartet singing to a patient that he has AIDS, speculating that Mike Brady’s first marriage ended when he beat his wife to death because she brought him a warm beer or building an episode around a brand-new roller coaster called the Holocaust (“It’s got local Jews up in arms…as they go over the first hill.”)  “Family Guy” may or may not be your thing, but generally it delivers what it’s supposed to.

“Million Ways”, however, doesn’t.  Yes, we get to see N.P.H. defecate into a hat and get up-close views of sheep genitalia, but much of the movie seems as if MacFarlane is just trying to use fifteen years of curse words that he can’t say on “Family Guy”, without being particularly memorable.  Just as he doesn’t live up to his own potential, MacFarlane doesn’t give his talented cast much to work with.  Sarah Silverman – branded the “Westward Ho” in the film’s advertisements – can match MacFarlane’s offensive humor punch for punch, but her part is ultimately little more than the same basic sex jokes recycled.  Liam Neeson is particularly disappointing as the villain Clinch.  Dedicated “Family Guy” fans might remember the cutaway bit describing a situation as being as “hopeless as Liam Neeson playing an American cowboy”; having Neeson actually in the film seemed like a perfect opportunity to develop that joke.  Unfortunately, Neeson’s part is played straight, denying the potential for a great gag while failing to intimidate as a villain.

Another common criticism of this film simply the fact that it is a western, a genre widely believed to be dead.  The movie could have worked as a send-up of westerns, but with sweeping panoramic landscapes, a grandiose musical score and a run time of almost two hours, it seems as if MacFarlane was going for the real thing.  It’s visually impressive and the music fits the aesthetic, but this is a film being sold as a comedy; people don’t watch “Blazing Saddles” for its cinematography.  If MacFarlane was trying to make a real western, he didn’t make it exciting, tense or engaging enough; if he was going for a comedy, the laughs are too sparse.

MacFarlane’s body of work and fan base is likely strong enough that one misfire won’t sink him.  Hopefully he’ll learn from what didn’t work in this film and get back on track the next time around.

May 22, 2013

#55) How not to offend people

In my list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2013, I suggested pissing someone off as a possible goal. If you do it, though, don’t use Sergio Garcia as an example.

The Spanish golfer recently got into hot water over a comment about Tiger Woods. Garcia and Woods apparently have never exactly been BFFs.  Garcia didn’t help anyone out, including himself, with his response to a reporter’s question about if he would invite Woods over for dinner to reconcile.

I am not offended that Garcia said, “We will have him around every night.  We will serve fried chicken.”  I do have to ask, did he really need to go there?  To borrow a line from Dr. Laura, who has been known to piss off a few people here and there, did he really need to die on that hill?

Being offensive is a gamble that sometimes pays off.  Right or wrong, when Jewish comedienne Sarah Silverman referred to “the alleged Holocaust”, she got laughs.  She broke a true taboo, and has built her career on that sort of humor.  In Garcia’s case, though, making jokes about black people and fried chicken isn’t breaking a taboo; it’s just old.  Yeah, Lee Ermey did it in “Full Metal Jacket”, but it was part of his character.  Besides, he’s Lee Ermey, he can do whatever he wants.

Tiger Woods isn’t a particularly sympathetic individual; he certainly could have handled the situation with a little more humor.  Perhaps in time, he may learn to laugh at himself; perhaps Garcia may learn to take more calculated gambles when it comes to off-color jokes.  Until then, he serves as a great example of how not to do it.

January 21, 2012

#37) “Hello, VADGE!” – part 2: Betty Believe It

There’s an old joke: Q. How many militant feminists does it take to change a lightbulb? A. That’s not funny!

Yes, gender-based humor is a tricky thing.  But recently I came across a quote that would have to make even the most testosterone-choked males tip their caps and say, “Well played, my lady.”

Funny, yes.  But worth devoting a whole blog to?  Worth spending time discussing that could be spent on one of my other blogs?  Yes, too.

Why?  Because this is a great example of something that I think is lost on many: that humor is often the best way to make a point.  Most people would rather laugh than be lectured, right?  Yet so many people are completely dry and preachy when speaking their mind.  Humor can be a key element in bridging the gap between any two groups of people who don’t always see eye to eye: men and women, Republicans and Democrats, and Blacks and Jews.

We NEED to laugh; we NEED humor, and it’s not always going to be tasteful.  But in a way, being able to take or make a joke about oneself is the ultimate form of self confidence.  Woody Allen made it hip to be a neurotic Jew; Jeff Foxworthy brought rednecks out of the south and into the mainstream.  And at age 90, Betty White is still bringing the goods.  She can teach us all a thing or two about laughing at, and with, ourselves.