Tuesday, October 25, 2011



prescription medicine did me no good.  nor did meditation.  not religion nor drinking nor casual sex nor narcotics nor primal screaming nor plaintive moaning nor the i ching nor atlas shrugged nor valley of the dolls nor home footbinding nor hitting inanimate objects with a hammer nor taxidermy via freeze-drying nor ambient karaoke sessions nor committing suicide by proxy by hiring a lookalike and undermining his self-esteem until he leapt satisfyingly under the wheels of an oncoming truck nor fixing the thursday night bingo games at the local retirement complex by giving everyone identical cards and hoping for a really slow riot to break out nor teaching four-year-olds obscenities in aramaic and sending them into bible school with explicit instructions to answer every question with one of them nor wiring up the cat and piping seventies porn soundtracks through him nor bringing gigantic red pencils to tea party rallies and copy-editing their signage nor attempting to achieve hands-off orgasm during job interviews nor shaping expired produce into lawn ornaments nor making my pores whistle nor praying to alan thicke nor spraindancing nor auto-felching nor merkin-perming nor sleep-tweezing... none of them worked.  so i sighed, rolled over and got out of bed.  i'll try again later.


with my penultimate breath, i emitted a feeble cry for help.  no one knew what to make of it.  crowds gathered, quorums were formed, discussions raged on into the night.  finally, a mental-health professional was enlisted.  he listened impassively to the collected evidence, occasionally nodding and drawing pensively on his pipe.  finally, he declared simply that it was clearly a cry for help.  with my last remaining breath, i disagreed.


i used to be an activist.  
now i'm a passivist.


somewhere around the sixteenth hour of our mass bender - we referred to it as a "party," but let's be honest here - the room suddenly stilled.  all was silent.  then the air - that thick fog of smoke both legal and illicit that passed for air in that room, i should say - seemed to part.  it was not a hallucination; we all saw it.  angel?  alien?  we knew not what.  but he hung there in the room, smiled benevolently, and began to sing.  it sang the most beautiful melody any of us had ever heard.  all activity stopped.  some of us wept.  the rest just sat there slack-jawed, stunned by its transcendent beauty.  it continued singing.  then continued some more.  it just wouldn't fucking stop.  after a while, the weeping ceased.  some of us broke our paralysis and tried throwing things at it.  but i guess it was transparent or something and in our condition our aim wasn't too good to begin with.  eventually, we all just got up and left, went down to wendy's and ordered a bunch of stuff off the dollar menu. when we got back, it was gone.  but the whole place smelled like boiled eggs.  and the tv and a bunch of our wallets were gone too. the party kinda went downhill after that.


i was the voice of a generation, but they dubbed over me.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Still stonecutting the Holy Flying Circus post (as if you give a flying, um, circus).  Interestingly, there seems to be a lot of Python in the air this week.  The people of Tunisia, no doubt inspired by memories of the Life of Brian shoot on its soil (do they have soil there? I'm sure Ben Ali had a jar or two), have voted on a new Constitution - and I could hardly call that a coincidence. (Hey, they're already the Beatles of comedy - why can't they be the Plastic People of the Universe, too?)  And, even more propitiously, the Huffington Post has uncovered footage of five-sixths of Python (excepting killjoy Cleese, who opted out) promoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail by essentially (and, at the end, literally) taking apart ABC's short-lived GMA predecessor, AM America.   And by "uncovered," I mean "stumbled upon something that's been sitting on YouTube for four years while obviously fucking around the 'net on Arianna's dime."  (Hey, where can I get a job like that?  I'm available...)  It's such a blast to see these guys in full-on anarchic mode, dodgy video quality, out-of-sync audio, outboard-motor-blade editing and all.  (Not that it isn't also a kick to get a taste of cheesy seventies graphics, ads and promos.)  Fun things to watch for: Terry Gilliam getting all "ugly-American" at the end; Terry Jones' fake mustache (did he bring it with him or did he raid the ABC props department?); Graham Chapman subtly flipping the camera off and not being completely snockered (too early even for him, apparently).  And meanwhile, Saigon is starting to fall - hmmm, makes you think, doesn't it?

(View it below, or go to the HuffPosting itself.  I really don't care what you do with your time.)

Speaking of things that were funny in 1975 - Chevy Chase?  Still a prick.

And speaking of things that have been sitting around on the Web for a while - a brief oral history of the "lost episodes" of SNL.  Wish I'd written this.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


All this talk about comedy bio-pics the other day sent me on a spur-of-the-moment search for the following, one of the very few movies about or featuring Lenny Bruce that isn't haphazardly slung together, tawdry, or just plain depressing.  Honest about his personal troubles without descending into Albert Goldman lip-smacking, appreciative of his innovations without shrieking "GENIUS!" in your face, unflinching about his downfall without indulging in he-died-for-our-sins hyperbole (not to mention a title so brilliantly clever it drives me insane), this is about as good as it gets.  (No real surprise, since the writer/producer/director is Robert B. Weide, who has to his credit excellent biographies of Mort Sahl, W.C. Fields and the forthcoming American Masters episode on Woody Allen.  And he directed the "Beloved Aunt," "The Doll," "Krazee-Eyez Killa," "The Car-Pool Lane" and "Palestinian Chicken" episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm [among others], which means he's probably, quite frankly, funnier than Lenny Bruce ever was.)  If you're a comedy fan-addict, you owe it to yourself to check out Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth:

(You may need some damn codec or something in order to watch this.  You should be able to get what you need right here.)

What?  Embed some related stuff, you say?  Sure.  What the hell, beats writing...

The networks missed out on a good thing by not making this a Saturday morning series:

From the debut episode of Playboy's Penthouse, 1959 (the show's host has recently been classified a "Viagra zombie" by the Federal government and should be avoided at all costs):

And from one doomed junkie (actually two, counting composer Tim Hardin) to another:

Thursday, October 20, 2011


So Holy Flying Circus has turned up, I've watched it, and, until some well-mannered and somewhat apologetic BBC watchdog slaps the uploader with a cease-and-desist-if-it-doesn't-inconvenience-you-sir-and-I-do-apologize-for-the-slap order, you can too:

And, at last the 1979 show that inspired it:

As for Holy Flying Circus, I can report with some relief that I quite liked it.  Relief because I'm one of those unpleasant sods who characterizes his affection for Monty Python in terms like "worship," who has been known to drunkenly spout the text of the "Cheese Shop" sketch the way certain fundamentalists might reel off large chunks of scripture at the slightest provocation (though, to be fair, I have come across very few in my experience who actually do such things, whereas I can name dozens of adenoidal dweebs with no muscle tone and limited social skills given to quoting Python, so which group really poses the greatest threat to our social fabric?), who uses terms like "sods" even though he's never so much as set foot in Great Britain or its remaining protectorates.  So I have somehow managed to elude the irony that, if I didn't like this film, I'd have every chance of sounding like a real-life version of this:

...but I did like HFC, though it could have gone very, very wrong.  The preview clips the BBC posted weren't especially encouraging, particularly the one which featured perhaps the worst joke in the film ("Harry Balls"?  Really?), and the overall remit - let's do a Python biopic like Python would have done! - was, on the face of it, a most unpromising idea.  Trying to replicate the blend of undergrad revue comedy, thesaurean verbal invention, form-and-function-twisting presentational fuckaboutery, astringent social satire and men in suits of armo(u)r hitting other men with rubber chickens with which the magnificent six revolutionized comedy seems like a nigh-impossible thing to do.  As a matter of fact, a quick glance at the new material used to lash together the various repackagings, documentaries and special editions that have popped up over the last decade or so proves that the Pythons themselves can't do it anymore.  (And let's not even speak of Spamalot.)

And then there's the matter of casting - finding the appropriate actors for the job is one of the major challenges for biopics, particularly when dealing with figures who still walk among us or at least have a lot of easily-accessible footage made of them.  ("John Adams? Couldn't get through it - Giamatti sounded nothing like the guy!")  But when the figures being dramatized are comedians, well, that's a whole 'nother container of wrigglers.  (Warning: rambling tangential aside to follow.)  Comedy is hard, all right - just ask those who were foolish enough to try replicating it.  Take Bob Fosse's Lenny (1974), please - a pretty good film on its own merits with a fine lead performance by Dustin Hoffman, but the guy he's playing comes off more like a slightly jittery professor of semantics rather than the man who'd spritz Pearl Bailey in the face with a fire extinguisher to get a laugh. You're left wondering just why this twinkly, amiable little fellow was considered such a threat to the social fabric. (However, as portrayals of Lenny Bruce go, that's far from the worst of it.  I don't have the heart to blurt it out, so I encourage anyone who believes that Lenny suffered no worse indignities than being unfairly persecuted, hounded to his death and having the police let a conga line of photographers in to snap his bloated, naked corpse to go here and scroll to the bottom of the cast list.)  Lenny laid down the template for most of the dramas about comics to follow - he/she/they made millions of people laugh, but good heavens, what miserable human beings they were - a premise juicy enough to keep attracting writers, directors and big-time thespians again and again.  Robert Downey, Jr. played Chaplin, Geoffrey Rush did a turn as Peter Sellers, Jim Carrey portrayed Andy Kaufman, Michael Chiklis looked to fill the shoes of the mighty Curly Howard (and I seem to remember Chiklis playing another beloved comic icon, but I appear to have repressed all memory of it, as I suspect he has as well)... on and on it goes, and the results are generally the same: the actors manage the drama with aplomb, but when it comes time to recreate that for which their subjects are remembered in the first place, something always winds up missing.  Actors can pull off playing rock stars, for example, without too much trouble - they can lip-sync if they have to, get choreographers in to perfect their crotch-grabs, and CGI their hip-swivels if need be, and then you can get on with the more crucial task of pulling sinks out of walls - but portraying comedians winds up being another thing entirely.  Why is that?  Maybe it's because what makes the great comedians so great is far more elusive - most of the greats probably didn't even understand it themselves, which contributed to them being such miserable bastards.  You can imitate mannerisms and delivery and still never get at the true spark of madness beneath the wacky surface. The element of surprise endemic to the best comedy is also much harder to achieve when required to recreate classic bits, characters and routines.  All of which adds up to a fatal flaw - no matter how skilled the actors are, they almost never manage to be... oh, what's the word I'm looking for?... oh yes, funny.  (This flattening-out process doesn't only affect mere actors, either - consider 1986's Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling, wherein Richard Pryor is unconvincingly portrayed... by Richard Pryor.)

Others I know have disagreed with me about HFC, and perhaps my positive response to it was affected by watching Not Only, But Always - a BBC production about the relationship between Peter Cook and Dudley Moore - just beforehand.  If there's any one of the Pythons' rough contemporaries I admire as much, if not more, than them, it's Peter Cook.  "Genius" is a word I generally disdain, "comic genius" even more so - I reserve the term for those few whose brains are (mis-)wired in a particular way, especially if it enables them to fabricate an entire, skewed comic universe out of whole cloth.  Jonathan Winters?  Genius. Spike Milligan?  Genius.  John Cleese?  A brilliant, thoughtful man blessed with a gift for comic construction and mad logic, but not a genius.  (Cleese would agree, incidentally, and I quote: "It was almost discouraging... Whereas most of us would take six hours to write a good three-minute sketch, it actually took Peter three minutes to write a three-minute sketch.  I always thought he was the best of us, and the only one who came near being a genius, because genius, to me, has something to do with doing it much more easily than other people."  So there.)   I can't think of any other star in the Brit-com firmament since his heyday who deserves the title, at least not until you stumble across Chris Morris.  (And Morris, unlike those mentioned above, knows how to harness and utilize his gift, which makes him that much more remarkable - blessed with a unique gift for spontaneous absurdity but also focused enough to devise and construct a complex infrastructure in which to house it.  The 1993 BBC radio series Why Bother?, where Morris [in character as a variation of his pompous On the Hour/The Day Today newsman] interviewed Cook [in his guise as the quietly insane British peer Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling], stands tall as the final flowering of Cook's genius before his 1995 death, in no small measure because, for once, he was evenly matched - Morris able to steer Cook out of reflexive cul-de-sacs, scoring strong conceptual/attitudinal hits of his own, and meticulously winnowing down the resulting hours-long improv sessions into tight, seamless ten-minute blocks for broadcast.  Well, hell, since I'm so high on embedding these days and I've once again wandered well off the point, you might as well listen to this while I try to find my way back to the main road:)

Done?  Okay.  

I wouldn't claim that Not Only, But Always defames Peter Cook's memory per se*, but a steady diet of biopics (and biographies in general) renders it drearily predictable.  Watch/read a few and you internalize the structure - start near the end, flash back to the beginning, then follow the protagonist through his early bursts of brilliance (if he hasn't suffered a defining childhood tragedy, that is), his struggles against offended/uncomprehending audiences, meeting/marrying his first wife, the previously offended/uncomprehending audience suddenly "getting" him, the skyrocket to fame and fortune, the drugs, the alcohol, the groupies, neglecting/abandoning the first wife, meeting/pining for/courting/marrying the second (inevitably more glamorous) wife, scandal, downfall, washed-upitude, spitting on the people who boosted him in the first place, months - no, years of dissolution, the disintegration of the second marriage, the years on the skids, rehab and/or third wife, reconciliation/wiping off the spit from those old, abandoned colleagues, the big comeback, and then either fade out on his triumph (if the subject is still alive or the director's arm's been twisted) or quickly descend back into dissolution and/or ironic (because he had cleaned himself up those last few months, his friends claimed!  He never looked better!  If it weren't for that one stupid night...) demise.  Even NO, BA's winking self-referentialism - the black and white framing device where Pete and Dud, Peter and Dudley's famed working-class git characters, sit in a theater and comment on those same biopic clichés - is in itself such a cliché at this post-post-modernist juncture that it's no more than cute.  

(* You know, I'm looking at it again and scratch that - Peter Cook was clearly a complicated, sometimes very troubled man, and compressing lives into their most dramatic moments is part and parcel of the biopic game, but if Cook were as unrelentingly withering, miserable and vicious at all times as this film makes him out to be, no one would have put up with him for twenty seconds, genius or no.)

Aw, hell, take a look at it:

Okay, so let's cut to the chase, a mere ten days after starting this blog post: you can probably recognize the big problem with comedy biopics from watching a few minutes of the above, and the big problem is this - they are just not funny.  Off-stage, for the purposes of drama, you can count on a fairly grim slog through endless exposition-as-dialogue

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Insufferable comedy nerd that I am, I can't help but be somewhat curious about Holy Flying Circus, a film broadcast last night on BBC4 that concerns itself with the furor that arose around the release of Monty Python's Life of Brian 32 years ago.  Curious in no small part because it's kicked up a bit of controversy-dust itself, albeit of a far more humdrum variety: the Pythons themselves don't think much of it.  Seems the picture takes some liberties with the facts.  Well, I haven't seen it yet (and won't, until it somehow falls off the back of a lorry onto the Internet), so I can't say, but judging from this preview clip, it would seem that all concerned were scrupulous in crafting a cinema-verite-styled narrative that'd put the Maysles brothers to shame:

However it turned out, it pales in comparison to what followed Holy Flying Circus' broadcast last night: the full episode of Friday Night, Saturday Morning that inspired it.  For those of you not versed in Python lore (how does it feel to be attractive to women?), this particular edition of the weekly chat show featured John Cleese and Michael Palin debating the merits of Brian with the Bishop of Southwark and ex-Punch editor-turned-devout-stick-in-the-mud-Catholic Malcolm Muggeridge.  It may surprise you (or maybe not) that the two Pythons make a serious, well-reasoned argument for the film, while Bish and Mugg (who missed the first 15 minutes of the screening, and thus the scenes establishing that Graham Chapman's Brian was intended to be a contemporary of Christ, not the big man himself - not, one can assume, that it would have made much difference to them) spend their time playing to the gallery, making cheap shots a-plenty and eventually driving nicest-man-in-Great-Britain Palin into a barely-suppressed rage (which, in itself, renders it a must-see).  It's odd, considering how all things Pythonic have been ceaselessly repackaged, biographized, documentarizized and just plain exploited (yeah, Eric, I'm looking at you), but the debate, a Holy Gr- er, blessed elusive drinking vessel of Pythonophiles that, unlike other such dream-fetish items as the full run of At Last the 1948 Show or the Graham Chapman sketch-com pilot Out of the Trees, had not been wiped, destroyed or left behind in a toilet stall at Victoria Station, had never been rebroadcast in its entirety until last night.  This is the most complete version out there at the present moment:

...but, again, now that the whole thing's been shown at last, maybe it'll spontaneously appear somewhere over the next few days.  (I'll forbear the expected discussion about whether Brian would have had the same effect had it appeared today for the time being, but I will just note that the host of Friday Night, Saturday Morning was Tim Rice, the guy who wrote the lyrics for a musical that actually was about Jesus, and thus could be said to be a true mockery of the Christians' main man, given that Scripture doesn't go much into His song stylings.  Squint hard enough and you may consider that ironic.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


  • Robyn Hitchcock: "I've Run Out of Varieties of Fish to Write Songs About"
  • Henry Rollins Decides to Speak Only When Spoken To, Introduces New Fragrance: "It Smells Like Testosterone and Pain"
  • Ian McCulloch Makes Self-Deprecating Comment
  • Morrissey Named Wendy's Spokesman: "A Couple of These Baconators and I Don't Feel Cranky Anymore"
  • Postmaster Admits Mistake, Starts Delivering Newsmagazines Published After 1987 to Jello Biafra's House
  • Robert Smith: "So That's How You Apply Lipstick"
  • David Bowie Has Original Idea, Cerebral Hemorrhage
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction Somehow Still Exist
  • Iggy Pop Hospitalized After Body Rejects Shirt
  • Lou Reed Records Album With Metallica


Recently, a friend posted a link to this blog on his Facebook page, in an attempt, perhaps, to shame me into, y'know, doing something with it. If that was his intent, then mission accomplished - as with so many things, I've let this once-promising domicile of wretched wordplay and smirky self-promotion fall into disrepair. So I've gussied up the place a touch, as you see, and hope to furnish the place with fresh posts on a semi-regular basis. More than ever, reacquiring the chops and discipline I once evinced in my days as a moderately-promising scribe is crucial (I won't go into detail here, but this has been a year of horrific personal reversals and disappointments, along with a few triumphs which I need to use as springboards to bounce out of the all-too-familiar troughs I habitually fall back into. Re-establishing good habits and building up certain atrophied creative muscles may possibly be my way out of these old self-defeating cycles o' mine). So, the goal here is to try and post something new every day, even if I'm just linking and/or embedding stuff. Expect a fair amount of banality and clunkiness here at the start, and feel free to goad, prod and harass me through any and all available channels if you think it will help me step up my game. Okay, damn it, gonna crank up the Prefab Sprout (to the extent that one can crank up Prefab Sprout) and limp out onto the field. Let's play...