Posts Tagged ‘humor’

A Colbert Christmas: What Would Santa Think?

December 21, 2008

stephencolbertI watched Stephen Colbert’s A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All last night, and today, every time I think about the show, it still makes me laugh. From start to finish, the show had an inspired lunacy that managed to mock Christmas specials without mocking the holiday itself. And oh, my, is it funny. At one point, I was so helpless with laughter that my spouse asked me if I needed a Heimlich maneuver.

‘Cuz here’s the thing. The show is filled with song, with lyrics to all written by David Javerbaum. And the songs skewer virtually every genre out there. There’s a patriotic country Christmas song, “Have I Got a Present for You,” sung by Toby Keith:

Christmas is as American as apple pie
It’s a late December version of the Fourth of July
And they may go by a different name
But Uncle Sam and Santa Claus are one and the same

Then, Willie Nelson, dressed as a wise man (!), sings a song that is so pretty that, until you hear the chorus, you would swear belongs in the canon of classic Christmas songs. But then you hear the words and you know that it must never be so (except in NORML households):

And like the child born in this manger
This herb is mild yet it is strong
And it brings peace to friend and stranger
Good will to men lies in this bong

There is also a lovely duet between Colbert and Jon Stewart, “Can I Interest You in Hannukah?” But my absolute favorite, the one that prompted the Heimlich offer, is the sexy ode “Nutmeg,” sung by John Legend. Probably not one to sing in front of the wee children:

Girl, I’m going to rock you like a cradle
You lick the nutmeg off my ladle
It’s pure, it’s refined
And it’s ready to grind

Nuttiness this good does not come around often. If you missed this Comedy Central special, don’t be sad. It will show again on Christmas day.

I will never drink eggnog again with the innocence I once did.

Flying High for Flight of the Conchords

December 4, 2008

fotcI just saw a commercial last night for the upcoming season of HBO‘s Flight of the Conchords, and I was filled with a glee that has been, sadly, almost entirely absent this television season. This show is a big part of why I still have an HBO subscription, truth be told. It’s that good.

Flight of the Conchords follows New Zealand’s (self-billed) 4th most popular digi-folk parody duo Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie as they try to find success in New York City. Aided by their manager and New Zealand cultural attache Murray (Rhys Darby), adviser Dave (Arj Barker), and single obsessed fan Mel (Kristen Schaal), they achieve what New Zealanders might consider success (one of the running gags of the series addresses the lowered expectations of Kiwis).

I’d first heard Flight of the Conchords on the radio, where I had to pull over while driving because I was laughing so hard at their song “Business Time,” which deals with the nuances of the scheduled Wednesday night intimacies:

Conditions are perfect for making love.
You turn to me and say something sexy like, “I might go to bed. I’ve got work in
the morning.”
I know what you’re trying to say, baby.
You’re trying to say “Aww, yeah. It’s business time.”

What the HBO show managed miraculously to do was to take that same sense of low-key absurdity and translate it into a half-hour comedy. Since the show isn’t overpopulated with characters, it can exploit them by letting them play out silly situations extremely seriously, so that the dialogue sounds as if it could come out in one of their songs:

Murray: Be careful with it. Don’t stand next to any big magnets.
Jemaine: Why would I stand next to a big magnet?
Murray: I don’t know what you do in your personal life.

See what I mean? Brilliant.

The new season of Flight of the Conchords starts January 18, 2009 on HBO. If the second season is even half as good as the first season, it’ll be the best show on television.

SNL Palin/Clinton Skit: When Satire Hits the Bullseye

September 14, 2008

I am jumping on this bandwagon as surely as the leaves are gonna fall, but I cannot help myself. In the past 24 hours, there have been a flurry of Twitter tweets and links to last night’s Saturday Night Live opening skit, even on the NPR website itself. So, in the event that you, like I, are happily dreaming on Saturday nights like the good nerds we are, I refer to you SNL’s spot-on national address by Sarah Palin (Tina Fey) and Hillary Clinton (Amy Poehler). In a Presidential campaign that seems to be deteriorating before my very eyes into mean-spiritedness and outright lies, it is so refreshing to be able to take a step back and laugh at the whole thing.

Here’s the thing about satire. In the political arena, it can be more potent as a tool to expose the truth about the fictions that the parties and/or politicians are trying to feed us than any other form of writing. I don’t know if Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wrote this particular opening skit (and they well may have), but props to the writers of this address for highlighting some of the biggest absurdities of the campaign to date.

Great “Bad” Writing: The 2008 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest Winners

August 7, 2008

Anyone who ever read a Peanuts comic strip knows that Snoopy frequently sat at his typewriter and plunked out “It was a dark and stormy night. . .” While the line may be famous, the writer and originator of the line is less so: Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a Victorian novelist apparently fond of long, rambling, odd sentences. The “dark and stormy” sentence reads, in its entirety:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

The English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest since 1982, seeking the very best in the worst of opening sentences in novels. And I am so pleased to see that the winners of the 2008 contest have been announced. This year’s grand prize winner, Garrison Spik, hails from Washington, D.C.:

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped “Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J.”

I urge everyone to go the the winners’ website and read the offerings, for there are many, many offerings that will bring a smile, chuckle, or inappropriate snort to one’s being. Some of my favorites are the following:

For the Philip Marlowe meets Martha Stewart genre:

The hardened detective glanced at his rookie partner and mused that who ever had coined the term “white as a sheet” had never envisioned a bed accessorized with a set of Hazelnut, 500-count Egyptian cotton linens from Ralph Lauren complimented by matching shams and a duvet cover nor the dismembered body of its current occupant.

Russ Winter
Janesville, MN

In The Woman-Done-Wrong category:

Bill swore the affair had ended, but Louise knew he was lying, after discovering Tupperware containers under the seat of his car, which were not the off-brand containers that she bought to save money, but authentic, burpable, lidded Tupperware; and she knew he would see that woman again, because unlike the flimsy, fake containers that should always be recycled responsibly, real Tupperware must be returned to its rightful owner.

Jeanne Villa
Novato, CA

Worst Pun EVER:

Vowing revenge on his English teacher for making him memorize Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality,” Warren decided to pour sugar in her gas tank, but he inadvertently grabbed a sugar substitute so it was actually Splenda in the gas.

Becky Mushko
Penhook, VA

And my Favorite Homage to a Victorian Dark and Story Writer Author:

It was a dark and stormy night, except when the lightning flashed, because then it wasn’t dark; it sort of turned the windows into a giant disco ball for a moment, but eventually the thunder and lightning stopped and it settled down to a steady light rain, so then it really was dark, but it would probably be a stretch to call it stormy.

Laura Loomis
Pittsburg, CA

These writers totally just made my day.

Ridiculously Fun: The Ridiculous Race

July 29, 2008

There’s nothing like a loooong plane ride trapped in the middle seat between two sleeping seatmates to make you pray to the heavens that you have a good book to keep you occupied. Fortunately for me, I was reading The Ridiculous Race. Steve Hely and Vali Chandrasekaran have written a travelogue that reads like the love child between Bill Bryson‘s work and the ouevre of Will Farrell.

[Random book-buying note: If you purchase this book, write down the name somewhere. I went to buy it at the nearest Barnes & Noble, armed with nothing but the memory of good reviews from Entertainment Weekly and People magazine. “It’s titled something like ‘The Amazing Race,’ except that it’s not that name, obviously,” I told the woman at the help desk, when I did not see it displayed in the new books display. She proceeded to type in “The Amazing Race” and unsurprisingly did not come up with the book.

“Try just typing ‘race’ in the Title filter,” I suggested. She gave me a withering look and told me that such a search would elicit about 1.75 million responses. “Even if you narrowed the search to the last two months?”

Ooooh. She hadn’t thought of that. She tried what I suggested and immediately the name of the book came up. Learn from my mistakes. Unless you want the Barnes & Noble lady to look at you like you too are a moron, remember the name of the book.]

The set-up is simple: Steve and Vali, in a drunken fit of brilliance, decided that they should race to see who could circumnavigate the globe first using any mode of transportation except airplanes. The fact that one of them brazenly cheats on this primary rule almost from the get-go detracts from none of the enjoyment of the book – it in fact makes it funnier. The boys (for it is not possible to write of them as anything but boys) have an impressive humor pedigree: Hely writes for the cartoon comedy American Dad! and Chandrasekaran writes for the oft-cartoonish My Name is Earl.

And the book is very, very funny. For example, Vali goes to see a show in Egypt whose headliner is the most famous belly dancer in Egypt. He writes:

Two cute Japanese girls on vacation sat nearby. I shifted the position of my chair to make sure they could see me.

VALI: WHAT I WAS AIMING FOR

I took a long drag off my cigarette before resting it on the edge of the ashtray. Then I swirled the cheapest scotch on the nightclub’s menu around in my tumbler before taking a contemplative sip. Ahh life, I thought.

“I notice you were sitting alone, writing in a notebook.” I looked up to find the cuter of the Japanese girls. She licked her lips and continued, “Do you have some sort of book deal?”

VALI: WHAT ENDED UP HAPPENING

The Japanese girls giggled like Japanese girls in movies do as the Important Arab Guy, who by then had started drinking the most expensive scotch on the nightclub menu, charmingly teased them, then invited them to sit at his table.

I continued drinking alone.

There is also a scene with Steve in China that rivals anything the makers of South Park have ever come up with. I almost woke my seatmates up, I was laughing so hard.

But what takes the book to another level, and saves it from being a cute throwaway, is that often without your noticing it, the boys manage to have an insight about a place, or their experience, that is both grown-up and maybe even a little deep. Whether Vali is commenting on how his race has affected the race, or Steve is commenting on how the United States is like the prettiest girl in high school, you start thinking that there might have been something to this race other than an expensive prank, that maybe they have been changed. Then again, maybe not.

Slings and Arrows: Right to the Heart of Good Writing

July 11, 2008

I had for a couple years now been hearing about a Canadian series about a Shakespeare Festival that had been shown on the Sundance Channel and had a mad cult following. The series was called Slings and Arrows, and people talked about it as if it were the best thing to come out of Canada since Anne Murray. So, obviously, I had to check it out.

All three seasons are available as a boxed DVD set, which I obtained under guise of an anniversary present, and my better half and I have been having a fine old time watching all the episodes. It has been such a joy to watch that it’s one of those times when you’re sad when you’ve reached the end.

In a nutshell, Slings and Arrows follows the misadventures of the New Burbage Theatre troupe of actors and administrators during three seasons of plays. Its main characters are Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross, one of the handsomest men ever, second only to Ewan McGregor – and my better half. . . – dodged THAT bullet!), the new artistic director of the New Burbage who sees ghosts and may or may not be completely crazy; Richard Smith-Jones (Mark McKinney, formerly of Kids in the Hall), hapless manager who loves musicals more than the Bard; and Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), the reigning diva actress whose diva-ness masks deep insecurities. In each season, the subplots of the cast resonate with some of the same themes of the Shakespearean play being produced. The series, created and penned by Susan Coyne, Tecca Crosby, Bob Martin, and Mark McKinney, expertly weaves the stories in and around Shakespeare‘s plays, and manages in the interim, to bring the Shakespeare itself to life as well. The final season’s performance of King Lear is about the most gut-wrenchingly good acting I’ve ever seen.

And lest you think that a show about Shakespearean actors would be serious and dull, consider some of these random dialogue moments:

Guard: Are you a suicide risk? Geoffrey Tennant: Isn’t everybody?

Richard Smith-Jones: What the hell are we going to do? I mean, I know what I’m going to have to do. I’m going to have to go to the Minister of Culture and beg for money like some kind of blind hurdler.

Richard Smith-Jones: Darren, everybody cries when they get stabbed. There’s no shame in that.

Mull that over for a few, then run, don’t walk, to rent or buy this wonderful series. It will be time well spent.

TV’s The Middleman: The Big Cheese in Summer Fare

July 7, 2008

Hallelujah! My prayers have been answered and I can begin to set my DVR again. For WEEKS now, we have had nothing scheduled on it but RENO 911!, and a half hour of silliness is not enough to satisfy my inner couch-potato.

But a new, non-reality show(!) has emerged on, of all places, ABC Family, and it is cool and refreshing as watermelon. The Middleman, which airs Mondays on ABC Family at 10 pm, is a spoofy, self-referential superhero show based on the series of graphic novels by Javier Grillo-Marxuach. The Middleman himself (played by Matt Keeslar) is a milk-loving, crime-fighting, clean-mouthed, alien-busting hero who doesn’t know where his assignments or super-cool gadgets come from – he’s just the middleman. In the pilot, he recruits Wendy Watson (Natalie Morales), a painter who doesn’t bat an eye when confronted with an alien, to join him in his justicey ways.

The pilot of The Middleman, “The Pilot Episode Sanction,” written by Grillo-Marxuach, contained references to no fewer than 15 classic television shows or movies, including The Jetsons, The Incredibles, Planet of the Apes, The Godfather, and The Avengers. It also had wicked clever dialogue like the following:

Wendy (describing her mom): She’s on me 24-7 to to quit painting, move back to Orlando, meet a good man, eat fried foods, swell up like a tick and start squeezing out calves like Elsie mainlining fertility drugs.

Wendy: Well who do you work for?
The Middleman: I got recruited, the exact same way you did. When the last Middleman hired me, he never said and I never asked. Ida was already there, so were all the weapons and gadgets and things. Sometimes a box comes in with more weapons and gadgets and things. I don’t know where they come from; they just do. Maybe Ida runs the show, maybe it’s the conspiracy. Maybe it’s God. I’m just The Middleman.

This show has much the same vibe as my beloved cartoon series The Tick, with the Middleman throwing off random bits of wisdom disguised in mangled metaphors, such as “Self-knowledge is the gateway to freedom” or “It’s bad apples like you that put Mr. Hoover in a dress.” It’s a hoot. Check it out.

Fight or Flight: Southwest Airlines’ Satire on Added Fees

June 18, 2008

Flying ManAh, summer is here and the armchair traveler’s thoughts turn to fantasies of “anywhere but here.” Alas, the timing of summer just happens to coincide perfectly with the advent of the second mortgage tank of gas, the added charges for that second piece of checked baggage (you really didn’t want to go anywhere where the weather is variable, anyway), and the resultant birth of the “staycation” (I did not make that up, folks).

Which is why I was so tickled to see the latest Southwest Airlines commercial on tv. My better half and I had been joking about the baggage surcharge, wondering what could be next. He came up with the “oxygen surcharge” that would be collected once you were on the plane, as well as the fee imposed to get off the plane once you’ve reached your destination. He’s a funny guy when he’s disgusted, what can I say? When this commercial came on the air, it actually penetrated my husband’s “cone of silence” filter that allows him to ignore all advertising. So you know the ad had an impact.

See it for yourself:

The reason this ad works so well is that it takes a business decision that I would venture to guess most people feel is an egregious abuse of the airlines’ system of charging, and applies one of the primary principles of comedy to it – exaggeration.

As I have only flown Southwest once, many years ago, I can’t speak as to the airline itself. It may be a life-affirming experience. It may make you wish you were dead. I just don’t know. But the ad is terrific, and is perfectly in keeping with Southwest’s “average Joe” stylistic tone it uses on its website. My guess is Southwest will be gaining some travelers this summer.

I’m Okay, She’s Terrific: Beth Lisick’s HELPING ME HELP MYSELF

May 31, 2008

Helping Me Help MyselfI just finished reading the best book, a book that had me snarfing milk out my nose as I read it at the breakfast table. I know, it’s rude to read at the table, but so be it.

Beth Lisick lays her cards right on the table in the introduction of Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone. She writes:

I’d gone through my whole life being okay with being okay. And though I’d never read a self-help book before this year, I always liked picturing a world where the self-help movement had ended right there, with everyone feeling overwhelmingly, satisfyingly okay. . .

. . .[H]ow does a skeptic dive into the world of self-help?

I know I’m not alone on this. Surely my friends and I weren’t the only people who used to sit around at 2:00 a.m. watching Tony Robbins informercials for amusement.

But dive in she does, for reasons I’ll let you discover in your own reading. Lisick takes twelve months to test the waters of various aspects of self-helpdom, giving each a one-month trial. She samples the business coaching of Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People); the Venus/Mars relationship advice of John Gray, and the fitness whirlwind approach of Richard Simmons, to name but a few.

What I loved about Lisick’s writing in this book was her unflinching honesty about herself. When she goes to a Suze Orman seminar for financial help, Lisick writes:

I think about how Suze’s approach is extremely accessible to the average working joe, but how so many of her tips don’t compute in my world at all. She talks about “regular” expenditures like pet grooming, gym memberships, manicures, haircuts, and my favorite, window washing. I feel like if I could afford regular window washing, manicures, and haircuts, I might as well also own a yacht.

But what made me revere Lisick and want to invite her and her family over to hang out was her determination to avoid giving in to her preconceptions, either about the self-help millionaires or their target audiences, until she’d had a chance to know what the fuss was about. For example, when she tells her friends she’s going to go on a Richard Simmons “Cruise to Lose” week, most of them ask how she’s going to deal being on a ship with a “bunch of fat people from Middle America?” She writes:

It’s not that I’m trying to protect anyone’s feelings, really, but my first thought is: Will there ever be a day when people stop using the phrase “middle America” as code for “unattractive, fat, white, conservative people with bad clothes”? Did I leave anything out? Sheeplike. Trashy. Dumb. Christian. Any why are they so sure that’s who’s going to be there? Part of me wants to sign up for the cruise just to prove everyone wrong.

Do yourself an enormous favor and read this book. You’ll feel better from laughing, and may even learn a thing or two.

Jumpin’ On the Bandwagon: Loving the Mom Song

May 8, 2008

As the second part of my Mother’s Day bonanza of posts, I recall getting forwarded the link to the following video by comedienne Anita Renfroe. Called “The Mom Song,” and sung to the William Tell Overture, it’s fairly likely that you may be among the seven million people who’ve seen it on YouTube. Just in case you haven’t, however, or even if you have but need a refresher of what you’ll likely say as a mom or hear from a mom in the next 24 hours, enjoy the following clip: