During the Nineties, I had a very specific hairstyle. It’s not very hard to describe, except for the fact that it’s hard to admit to.
Here’s the truth of it: I have naturally curly hair. Oh sure, you think this is a good thing. I’ve had many a woman tell me she’d love to have my hair. But at that time the fashion among men was to have long hair, and if I tried to grow my hair long it basically came in as a ‘fro. The alternative was something even more ghastly, although at the time I didn’t realize it… a mullet.
I didn’t really understand at the time what the big deal was, although at least a few of my friends tried to give me subtle hints, usually things along the lines of “hey Bob, you may want to get a haircut”, or “dude, you have a mullet, please shave it off before we have to kill you in the name of good taste.” Had they been a little more direct I might have been spared the indignity.
The worst part of it all was that I had role models to look up to in Hollywood who made it look good. I mean sure, they had feathered hair instead of curly hair, but other than that? Totally making it work.
What’s that you say? Name one? Okay. Patrick Swayze.
That’s right, star of such great films as Dirty Dancing, Ghost, Roadhouse… um…
Okay, I got nothing.
The point is it seemed like a good idea at the time. Besides, what was my alternative, try to look like Kurt Cobaine?
But this isn’t about justifying. This is about owning the past and learning from it, as well as helping others to avoid my mistakes. And the first step to doing that is to name my mistakes. That’s where you come in.
I’ve always preferred the term “frullet” to describe the hairstyle I had, as a noxious portmanteau of “fro” and “mullet”. A friend suggested that didn’t quite encompass the magnitude of my mistake, and instead suggested “mulleto”. Personally I think that sounds like a coffee drink you would get at Starbucks. So I throw it open to you: what would you call it?
In case you missed it, Stephen Colbert got into a bit of trouble on Twitter this past week due to a tweet that went out over a Comedy Central controlled Twitter account for his show. Things got very ugly very quickly, including calls for his job and the hashtag #CancelCorbert.
Let me start by saying I am not here to defend the tweet. I think we can all agree it crossed a line, at least for Twitter (some argue it was acceptable in context during the show; having not seen it, I can’t take a stand either way). That having been said, I do think there is something to be said for a wider context that is being ignored, one that has value and validity beyond the scope of a single show: the nature of comedy itself.
I’ve been writing comedy in one medium or another for almost twenty years now, and I’ve always kept two rules in mind. The first is a joke that goes all the way back to vaudeville: “dying is easy; comedy is hard.” Everyone thinks being funny is easy right up until they try it. Even telling a joke someone else came up with takes timing, skill, and panache; being original and funny is exponentially harder. The second rule is one I learned back in college: the more offensive the joke is, the funnier it needs to be. Let’s not kid ourselves, there’s hardly anything in this world that isn’t offensive that is laugh out loud funny. Hitting the balance between “bust a gut” and “bust you in the mouth” is difficult, and it’s easy to miss the mark.
There are other complicating factors as well. Comedy is a moving target for a lot of reasons. One of them is that societal mores are always in flux. What was hilarious ten years ago is kind of uncomfortable today and will be outright taboo next week. The same thing happens in reverse. What’s more, comedy often plays a role in that social change, pushing boundaries, creating safer spaces in which we can talk openly about things that are forbidden in “polite” conversation. The down side of that is that it becomes easy to step on toes, go too far, and yes, even cross a line.
Another complicating factor is that, like it or not, comedy IS contextual. If you read a transcript of almost any performance by Bill Cosby, you might chuckle, or you might just say “I don’t see what’s so funny.” But when you watch him in action, it’s a whole different story. Pitch, tone, pacing, facial expressions, everything he does goes into his comedy. My father used to say that Chevy Chase could make him laugh just by walking into a room. Truth is he can do the same thing for me, but that doesn’t translate to Twitter.
Finally, sometimes you’re just under the gun and a bad joke gets through. It’s easy to sit back and play armchair comedian, complaining how “he should never have said that.” We’ve all done it. But how easy is it to write a half-hour of humor five nights a week? Even with a writing team, it gets exhausting. I used to do 1,000 words of humor a week, and I only lasted a couple of years with breaks every few months. The Colbert Report has been running for almost ten years, with over 1,300 episodes. That’s almost 500 hours of jokes. Is it remotely possible that a bad one might slip through now and then?
Once again, I’m not saying that nobody should be offended. It was offensive, and deliberately so. It was inappropriate for the medium, and hopefully will not be repeated. But calls to fire Colbert or cancel the show are misguided at best and opportunistic grandstanding at worst. There are better things to rage against.
Ol’ man Winter,
Dat ol man Winter,
He act like a playa,
But he mus’ be a hater,
He jes’ keeps trollin’
He keeps on trollin’ along.
He don’ like birdies,
He don’ like flowers,
An’ dem dat likes ‘em
Is shovelin’ fo’ hours.
But ol’man Winter,
He jes keeps trollin’along.
You an’me, we sweat an’ strain,
Body all achin’ an’ racket wid pain,
Tote dat salt!
Lif’ dat snow!
Drive on ice
An’ away you go.
Ah gits weary
An’ sick of tryin’
Ah’m tired of shovelin’
To the point of cryin’,
But ol’ man Winter,
He jes’keeps trollin’ along.
Don’t look up
An’ don’t look down,
You don’ want to see
De white stuff around.
Bend your knees
An’bow your head,
An’ lift that shovel
Until your dead.
Ol’ man Winter,
Dat ol man Winter,
He act like a playa,
But he mus’ be a hater,
He jes’ keeps trollin’
He keeps on trollin’ along.
Long ol’ Winter forever keeps trollin’ on…
There are a lot of great comedies out there, well-known and deservedly so. Dr. Strangelove, Blazing Saddles, Airplane!, even Ghostbusters are all famous for making people laugh for decades. In the wake of the passing of comedy legend Harold Ramis, I’d like to take the opportunity to spotlight a few of my favorite comedies that aren’t so widely known, but deserve to be praised just the same.
Dr. Detroit (1983) – It only seems right to start with this 80’s gem that stars Ghostbusters co-star Dan Aykroyd as a college literature professor who gets suckered into “managing” four beautiful prostitutes in Chicago. (Once again, I am not making this up.) This movie is 80’s screwball comedy at its finest, with Dan Aykroyd turning in a stellar Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque performance, only in this case it’s all an act until the final reveal. Fans of 80’s beauties will be pleased to see Donna Dixon at her finest, and a young Fran Drescher takes a turn at the risqué long before her debut on The Nanny.
The Big Hit (1998) – Coming out in the same year as The Big Lewbowski, it seemed among my friends you could only love one of the “Bigs”, and personally I have never understood how anyone can even sit through The Big Lebowski. But I digress. The Big Hit is a throwback to that 80’s screwball style, with class, gender, and role-reversals abounding throughout the film. In particular the concept of the sympathetic, pushover hitman is innovative and fun, and played with remarkable skill by Mark Wahlberg, while Lou Diamond Phillips turns in a surprisingly funny yet loathsome villain. Fans of One Crazy Summer or Better Off Dead will find a lot to like here (especially the “Trace Buster Buster”).
PCU (1994) – I know I said this was all because of Harold Ramis, and truly it was inspired by Harold Ramis, but the world is not about Harold Ramis. I only say this because I do not now nor have I ever been able to grasp the obsession some people seem to have with Animal House. There are a few good lines, but that’s it. The movie does nothing for me. Sorry, but that’s just how I feel. Maybe it’s a generational thing. As far as I’m concerned, you can keep Animal House. This is my offensive college movie of choice. Jeremy Piven as Droz represents the modern character of the “big man on campus”, slightly rumpled, disheveled, and a few years past the prime of what a college student should be. The exaggeration of the oppressive PC culture on display is (sadly) even closer to the mark today than it was when the film was first released (although nobody is spared the barb, even the protagonists). Unabashedly rude, shamelessly corrupting, and magnificently over the top, I recommend this film to anyone who can laugh at themselves.
Hello everyone and welcome back to The Greatest Music Festival That Never Was! I know most of you are freezing right along with me and it’s hard to remember those soft, warm summer days when we all got together and basked in the glow of our shared love of music and good times. But that’s why I’m here today! To remind you of the joy, the laughter, the fun.
And to pimp my wares.
That’s right, Bobapalooza is selling out, just like all your favorite bands! But first, the moment you’ve all been waiting for:
The Official 2013 Bobapalooza 2013 Playlist
The Doors – Break On Through
Nirvana – In Bloom
Death – Politicians in My Eyes
The Heavy – Short Change Hero
Preston Reed – Ladies Night
Divine Fits – Civilian Stripes
Awol Nation – Not Your Fault
Matsiyahu – King Without a Crown
Sting – Desert Rose
Garbage – #1 Crush
KMFDM – Juke Joint Jezebel
Nine Inch Nails – Head Like a Hole
Animal Collective – My Girls
Axis of Awesome – King of the Hipsters
Nirvana – All Apologies
Volbeat – Sad Man’s Tongue
Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire
K’Naan – Take a Minute
Sting – If You Love Somebody (Set Them Free)
Aesop Rock – None Shall Pass
Dream Theater – Pull Me Under
Nine Inch Nails – The Hand That Feeds
Johnny Cash – Hurt
The Doors – Riders on the Storm
In many ways this is probably the most challenging playlist for Bobapalooza to date. I feel it has levels of complexity and depth that have been missing from the others, and a richness of character that has only been hinted at before. Not only that, I actually had to go back and look over the nominations from last summer to put this list together, and I have to say again how overwhelmed I was and still am with the sheer quality of artists nominated for Bobapalooza. Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I turned down James Brown. THE GODFATHER OF SOUL. That’s how fierce this competition gets, and it’s all because of you, folks. Thanks for being a part of this.
And now for the part I’m most excited about: the Bobapalooza Swag Store is now open! Love the show? Get the gear! Show your support for the greatest music festival that never was! Remember, I only make a tiny little commission on every purchase, so make sure to buy a lot! Tell your friends, tell your enemies, tell your frenemies! I have no artistic integrity! The Bobapalooza Swag Store: Selling out since 2014.
I got to wondering this morning just what does an artist owe to his audience? What I mean is, does an artist (writer, musician, whatever) have an obligation of artistic integrity to his audience, or can he just go ahead and put out whatever he feels like whenever, regardless of how he might personally feel about it, in the hopes that it will sell (or especially because it will sell)?
As a particular example of this, I’m going to pick on poor Piers Anthony (yes, me and every critic in existence). I used to read pretty much everything he wrote, and my gateway drug was his Xanth series. I read the first twenty or so, which I think allows me at least a bit of leeway in my criticism. Additionally, unless I completely misremember (always possible) Mr. Anthony himself has stated on more than one occasion that he basically keeps the series going because it’s easy to write and it keeps him paid (although perhaps not so crudely). Considering he pumps them out at a rate of approximately one a year, that’s hardly surprising.
So here’s the question: does he (or any author) owe it to his fan base to stop writing a series that he’s not personally invested in? As long as people keep buying the books, clearly they see some value in them. Nobody is forcing anyone to buy the books, after all. This feels rather like a distasteful answer to me, but on the other hand we don’t expect factory workers to love the products they create every day (or I hope we don’t anyway). Is there anything wrong with simply being a craftsman, banging out a product that people enjoy even if you personally don’t care about it, and collecting a check? Do we hold artists to a higher standard?
Another point to consider (staying with Mr. Anthony for reference) is that not every work is one that an artist is doing just for the money. After all, I started on Xanth, but I went on to read Battle Circle, Incarnations of Immortality, Bio of a Space Tyrant, and many more works by Mr. Anthony. Xanth was my gateway drug as I said, but it led me into so very much more. If creating schlock is what allows an artist to keep body and soul and family together while working on “true art”, is that a sufficient and worthy price to pay?
And finally, let me point out that all art is, much like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. There was a time when I actually defended the Xanth series as great literature, and there are some books in the series that I still consider to be pretty good fantasy. Regardless, it’s all just one man’s opinion. Does that make it any more or less “art”? I’m going to go with “no”. It’s neither more nor less, no matter what any one person’s opinion is, including the creator’s. Art is just too subjective to be defined by one person, or even a group of people, for anyone else.
Or maybe I just like knowing those books are still out there, waiting to entice some young kid and become his gateway drug. Everyone has theirs; that first creative work that pulled them in to a favorite field or genre, no matter how disdained it might be by critics or friends or even an older and wiser self. And as long as it brings us pleasure, and brings us to pleasure, I think that’s a high enough calling for creation.