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Politicos v. Colbert


Great piece in today's Times about Steven Colbert's quest to interview 434 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives. (Colbert says Rep. Randy Cunningham of California (R) is "dead to me").

Colbert's already talked one congressman into punching him, and another into allowing Colbert to comb his moustache.

I was a little dissapointed to read that Barney Frank of Massachusetts, one of the funniest congressman (a slight distinction no doubt), was the only one who said he wouldn't do it again. He said Colbert was "Two Stooges short of a good routine." Bah humbug. If you didn't want him to make fun of your gayness, Barney, maybe you shouldn't have gotten caught with that male prostitute.

One of the odd transformations that the Daily Show franchise has undergone over the course of the Stewart Administration is away from the Ali-G-esque "we're real reporters" act of the early days, and towards complex comedy set pieces. Actually, they've lately been moving away from field reports all together in favor of studio bits like "This Week in God."

There's no doubt that Stewart is a wonderful TV host, who manages to be both likeable and snarky, a tough task. And the folks the Daily Show hires are almost without exception fantastic. But whent he subjects are in on the act, the whole thing loses a bit of it's power, doesn't it?

Personally, I'm very excited about a show called American Lives, coming to Comedy Central this summer. It stars, among others, past Sound guests Zach Galifianakis and Matt Walsh, as a fictional newsteam, travelling the country interviewing real people and having semi-improvised interactions. It's produced by one of the fellas behind Ali G, and it sounds like a winner to me. Walsh is one of the best straight men in the business, and as Galifianakis showed in the Comedians of Comedy, he's an amazing talent, whose comic live wire act is totally engrossing.

Dr. Katz on DVD May 9th

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The Sound of Young America unknowingly broke this story a month or two ago when H. Jon Benjamin was on the show, but Comedy Central made it official today. Dr. Katz is finally coming to DVD May 9th.

"Dr. Katz Professional Therapist: Season One" is a one disc set featuring all six episodes. The release also contains the following: "Shrink Wrapped," an original Squigglevision short; "Short Attention Span Theater" shorts; "The Biography of Mr. Katz," the animated original pitch idea to the network; and audio commentaries from comedians Dave Attell, Ray Romano, H. Jon Benjamin (Dr. Katz's son, Ben), series star and co-creator Jonathan Katz and co-creator Tom Snyder.

Comedians who appeared on the couch in the first season include Dave Attell, Joy Behar, Bill Braudis, Anthony Clark, Dom Irrera, Laura Kightlinger, Andy Kindler, Wendy Liebman, Larry Miller and Ray Romano.

Ray Romano's appearances on Dr. Katz are about as good as it gets, if you ask me. People complain about Romano because they associate him with the very traditional Everybody Loves Raymond, but the fact is that he's one of the funniest guys in the world, and his style is wonderfully suited to the Dr. Katz format.

If you've never heard them before, I hiiiiighly reccomend Jonathan Katz's pieces for The Next Big Thing, which mostly feature Katz as the host of a bizarre call-in show called "You're On the Air with Jonathan Katz." Discussions include national holidays and the Galapagos Islands. Benjamin and other great comedians are the callers.

Hang it Up: Poor Escalator Etiquette

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Why are you standing on the left? Why have you suddenly stopped walking, causing me to bump into you? Why is your luggage blocking my way? Why can't you learn some escalator etiquette?

Hang it up, poor escalator etiquette!

Keep it Up: Elbow Patches


Elbow patches are a great way to prolong the life of a favorite sportcoat, and they lend everything you do a professorial air.

Keep It Up, Elbow Patches!

When Good Shows Happen to Bad People

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MTV2 just announced a premier date for season two (and season one on DVD) of Wonder Showzen, which was probably the best TV comedy to premier last year. Expect DVDs on March 28th, with season two premiering March 31st. (Looks like the creators will be on The Sound of Young America, too, knock on wood.)

Wonder Showzen is an angry, brilliant, borderline anarchist deconstruction of kids television (it was originally titled "Kids Show"). It's not a particularly new concept (it's a lot like Robert Smigel's "TV Funhouse"), but it's fantastically well executed. It gets at more than just the banality of kids' TV, which is a fat target; it also gets at hypocrisies, banalities, and small sadnesses in broader American life.

This segment, called "Beat Kids," visits the horse racing track, and the contrast between the sweet little kid and his mean, sad words is amazing.

Once in a while on the show, the meanness overwhelms the funny, but the hit ratio is pretty high. It's hard to maintain this kind of thing, but I think they've got a shot at it. I'm interested to see where the show goes from here, and I'm guessing it may blow up.

This post, though, is really about something broader than just Wonder Showzen. It's about good shows and bad people.

Remember when South Park first premiered? What a breath of fresh air it was. That first time you saw the show, it blew your mind.

But then it started to catch fire... and all of a sudden, when you thought South Park, you didn't think of the great, subversive humor. You thought of a-holes doing Cartman impressions. The worst parts of the show were the ones that were picked up by the mainstream, and it truly changed the meaning of the show. South Park is still going strong (financially and creatively, for the most part), but even now I can barely watch it.

Watching Dave Chappelle on Oprah, I got the feeling he ran into this same wall -- and since he's a standup, it hit him square in the face. He realized he wasn't writing his show for "us" anymore, he was now writing it for "them." In his case, of course, this has racial implications as well.

Black Studies scholars have spent a lot of time working on this idea of cultural production for "us" and cultural production for "them." I'd give you citations, but I'm at work. Chappelle's liberal use of the n-word, for example, has a very different meaning if the audience is "in" than if the audience is "out." When he stood on stage, trying to practice his art, and he heard 29 frat boys yelling "I'm Rick James, Bitch!," he flipped. For two years, he'd been writing an "us" show, and he realized in a flash it had become a "them" show. Not only might the satire (like the Black White Supremicist) be flying over the new audience's head, but the tossed off racial burlesque stuff (like say, the Mad Real World) was reaching an audience that wouldn't understand it, and could interpret it in racist ways. When he started work on the third season, he didn't know what to do about that, and he freaked.

We'll see if Wonder Showzen really does take off, and we'll see what effect it has on the show. As their audience changes, will they change? Will the new audience be there for the satire, or simply be attracted to the "outrageousness?" Does Wonder Showzen have more satire in the tank, or will they start to substitute easy shock for tough truth? Tune in March 31st, and find out.

Ben Franklin's Guide to Clean Living

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Have you ever read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin? If you haven't, it's great. Not only is he a great writer, and very funny, he's so full of s**t that you get double the laughs-per-page. Most of his baloney, though, is *very* New Sincerity.

When he was 20, he made a chart of the 13 virtues he wanted to have in his journal. Then, at the end of each day, he would check off the virtues he'd displayed that day. He kept score and tracked his progress over time, until he found that chastity was kind of a bummer, and bailed on the whole thing.

Here's some info and a picture of the chart.

Check out our Rockets show (MP3 Link), wherein I discuss the chart with Josh Kornbluth, who (in addition to being a public TV personality) has traveled the nation performing the monologue "Ben Franklin: Unplugged," which details his search for the "real" Franklin.

Via BoingBoing

Many men... wish death 'pon me.


When I was in college, a guy down the hall from me was interviewed for a man-on-the-street feature in the school paper. The question was "What would you do if there were no laws for one day?"

He responded, "Shoot the president."

It turns out that threatening to kill the president is really, really illegal. The Secret Service practically busted down the doors to our building trying to get to this guy, who was just kidding. He came very close to being expelled.

I guess that's pretty much what happened to Morrissey.

I don't think you should put your DVDs on your iPod.

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I want to make that clear. But let's say you did want to do that, over my vehement protestations. Here's how you might do it.

Monty Python - 1975 update

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That not-seen-since-1975 Monty Python footage is on it's way. I was up late last night with my good friend Tyler MacNiven, director of the film Kintaro Walks Japan, getting it ready. Expect iPod-ready video coming down the pipe tommorow or Wednesday, and web-ready video here around the same time.

In the meantime, check out Tyler's film. It's a feature-length travelogue about the six months he spent walking from one end of Japan to the other (the long way). He did it to impress his (Japanese-English) sweetheart, and to find the place where his father Jamis, founder of Buck's of Woodside, was born. He was armed with only a sketch of shoreline his grandmother had made, but he found it.

It's a pretty beautiful and inspirational story, full of humor and verve, with a dash of myth thrown in for good measure. Tyler is an amazing guy, the warmest person I've ever met, and he makes more friends along the way than you can imagine. He literally made the film himself -- he used a consumer camera, and shot and edited the whole thing without help (except when he gave the camera over to folks along the road, so they could shoot him). It's really a remarkable achievement.

Tyler recently completed CBS' "The Amazing Race," (it debuts Tuesday night) so I'm hoping that will bring some more light to the film. He sells it over the web, and you can also watch the whole thing on Google Video. He also told me you'll be able to watch it on business-class American Airlines flights to Japan, so if you've got an extra couple grand, that's a good way to see it, too.


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