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.
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WASHINGTON, DC – The NSA announced today that, working in cooperation with several other branches of the Department of Homeland Security, they have managed to identify a massive underground homegrown terrorist organization here in America. This organization has been active for decades, secretly working to recruit and train operatives in survival skills, weapons training, and small unit tactics to some unknown purpose. Speculation has it that high-ranking and long term members of this elite organization have even managed to infiltrate our very government, even to the highest levels. They go by the code name “The Boy Scouts”.
These individuals can be identified by the highly stylized “uniforms” they wear, as well as their ritualistic chants and secret signals. They reward members with recognition for completing missions and earning “merit badges”, as well as attempting to ingratiate themselves into the wider community. Sleeper cells have been found across the United States and even in other countries. Radio and internet chatter has been picked up about some sort of mass gathering code named “Jamboree”.
They support themselves through private high-pressure collections in local areas, taking “donations” and “selling” door to door, an obvious front (because really, who even buys popcorn kernels anymore?) Their primary targets for recruitment are boys between the ages of 13-18, although they are believed to have an affiliate group that targets younger boys, as well as a sister organization that targets females and has a much more successful fundraising operation dealing in highly addictive narcotics.
If approached by one of these “Boy Scouts”, citizens are advised to remain calm and move away slowly. Their primary goal at this time seems to be focused on recruitment of young men, except for homosexuals.
Today is the day after Halloween, and we all know what that means.
(“The start of Diabetes Awareness Month?”)
Close, but no. It means that we’ll all be eating lots and lots of candy. Whether you’re a parent sneaking the best bits out of your kids’ hauls or, like me, you’ve got the dregs of what you couldn’t give away on The Big Night, there’s plenty to go around. Temptation will be everywhere for weeks to come, as everyone brings the sweet treats everywhere they go in a desperate attempt to pawn them off on others rather than suffer through the sugar shock of being stuck with it themselves.
Personally I’m in a different boat than I’ve been in before. First I had to miss out on the trick-or-treaters because I had class, which I deeply regret since that’s my favorite part of the holiday. Even more than Christmas I believe Halloween is for children, and seeing them come to my door and beg me for sugar so that I can send them laughing maniacally into the night and leave their parents to suffer with their sugar-crazed fiends for the next several weeks warms my cold, cold heart. Apparently we had quite the bounty of them last night as well, which is why we have so little left over candy, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.
It’s a good thing, because lord knows I don’t need any more candy lying around the house, and as I already mentioned there’ll be plenty around work and elsewhere for me to get my fill. It’s a bad thing because this is the first year I had almost complete control of the candy buying in my household, and My Not So Humble Wife and I agree on candy in general anyway, so it wasn’t an issue. You know what I’m talking about: that one guy who insists on buying The Shitty Candy.
I hate that guy so much. There’s so many things wrong with that. First and foremost is that I’m forced to give out The Shitty Candy to the kids who come to my door. Setting aside the very real possibility of an unsanctioned home delivery of eggs and toilet paper, there’s the simple fact that I have a reputation to protect. I want to be the guy who gives out The Good Candy, nay, The Great Candy, and in great heaping handfuls. So I have to do my best to avoid having The Shitty Candy dumped in the bowl, but inevitably we either run low or (worse) when I’m not looking Shitty Candy Guy starts pouring it in, and he ALWAYS mixes it up. SO then I have to rummage around and try not to give it out, but the kids see me rummaging around, so if I accidentally give them a piece of The Shitty Candy, it looks like I did it on purpose, and I become That Guy.
The next worst thing is the day after, when we have to start eating the leftover candy. (Throw it out? I know each of those words, but your sentence is meaningless.) Despite having insisted on buying The Shitty Candy and handing out The Shitty Candy, I notice he never bothers to eat The Shitty Candy, at least not at first. He always goes straight for the leftovers of the stuff that I bought – you know, The Great Candy. This offends me, not because The Great Candy tends to be more expensive (c’mon, this stuff is like five bucks a bag), but because the whole point of Halloween candy is what it says about you as a person. Are you a Milky Way guy? Are you a Junior Mints kind of gal? Or are you one of those Mary Jane weirdoes? (If you give away Werther’s at Halloween, you deserve what you get.) Eating the leftovers is the reward or punishment for the choices you made, and going straight for someone else’s Great Candy is Halloween identity theft.
This year, I might have missed out on the trick-or-treaters, and I might not have much in the way of leftover candy, but what I do have left is nothing but Great Candy. And that’s worth 100 Grand.
10. Russet potatoes feel left out
9. “Wounded Knee” should refer to historic battle, not Robert Griffin III
8. “Pox Ridden Blanket” Theme Night not a big success
7. Other minorities don’t have major league sports teams named after their favorite ethnic slurs
6. Can’t be called the home team because “we were here first”
5. Team owner Dan Snyder insists on referring to season tickets as “reservations”
4. Stadium concessions stands refuse to accept beads and animal skins as currency
3. Tribes can’t scalp… tickets
2. D.C. allows casinos, but won’t put one in the stadium
1. Polls show Native Americans don’t want to be associated with the Federal government
Recently I was listening to the radio (okay, I was in the car and I happened to have the radio on) and I heard an interview with director Randy Moore about his new satire Escape from Tomorrow. It was the first I had heard of the film, which is not terribly surprising since I’ve never really been a film festival kind of guy, but I think I may end up seeing this one. It’s not that I have anything personal against the Big Mouse, it’s just that I think he made an important point in this article:
“Branding is so much a part of our culture, and it’s everywhere. And (Disney) is everywhere. They’re so ubiquitous, you can’t get away from them even if you tried… To not be able to comment or critique or parody that (ubiquity), I just think it’s morally unacceptable.”
However, in the interview I heard he also made another point that, while I think it’s important, makes me feel he missed the mark somewhat by targeting Disney specifically. He said (and I can’t seem to find the interview online, so forgive me for paraphrasing) that the theme of the film is that you can’t be happy all the time. I think that’s an excellent point, especially in an age and culture where we have lost sight of the idea of contentment and we are constantly being sold happiness in its stead. I believe Dennis Leary put it best in his stand-up routine No Cure for Cancer:
“Happiness comes in small doses folks. It’s a cigarette butt, or a chocolate chip cookie or a five second orgasm. You come, you smoke the butt, you eat the cookie, you go to sleep, wake up and go back to fucking work the next morning, THAT’S IT! End of fucking list!”
So yeah. While there’s something to be said for taking a few shots at (as Moore describes them) a “ubiquitous” company that specializes in selling happiness, I think there’s something he loses sight of: Disney is only selling what we’re buying. Yes, Disney Theme Parks™ are the Happiest Place On Earth™ (made so, I have been told by a former employee, by sucking all the happiness out of their employees, powdering it, and then sprinkling it over the park; that’s your “fairy dust”), but they don’t force anyone to go there and then whistle Zippy-Doo-Da out of their assholes a-la Clark Griswald. I think there may be more to be found in making a movie that critically examines a culture fixated on perpetual bliss, rather than the companies that strive to provide it.
Which is not to say those companies deserve to be completely let off the hook; they are a part of the culture, they help make and drive that culture, and they deserve a certain amount of grilling in the space of exploring that culture. But to single out one company for catering to the desires of people to have happiness is akin to blaming one company for Americans being obese.