Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Hurricane Andrew at Thanksgiving

Hurricane Andrew: You know I was the costliest hurricane in American history until that meschugena Katrina came along! The chutzpah from that one. Katrina! Never mention her name in this house again! The deaths I caused, the destruction, the chaos. All across the South when anyone dared utter the name "Andrew" people would cower in fear! Now, ehhhh... We have no sense of history in this country. It's all, what's happening today and cable news and that verkakte Glenn Beck. It's a shame, that's what it is - a national shame.

Hurricane Andrew's Grandson:
Shut the fuck up, grandpa. No one gives a shit about your lame-ass stories from the glory days.
(Hurricane Andrew's Grandson walks away from the table to play Super Mario Bros. Wii in the entertainment room in the basement)

Hurricane Andrew: Ehhh... he's probably right. No one cares. (beat) I'm so sad.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Nature of Evil, if We're Being Honest With Ourselves

(Hipster Acquaintance Who Dan Doesn't Even Really Like Or Care About walks past Dan without saying hello or even acknowledging that he knows him)

Dan's Interior Monologue: HATE HATE HATE that motherfucker! That dude is pure EVILLLLLLL!

(Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Malik Hasan, killer of 13 soldiers and wounder of 24 others, walks toward Dan)

Hasan: Hey Dan, what up bro?

Dan: I'm good, I'm good. How 'bout you?

Hasan: Doin' alright, though I've had a rough couple weeks

Dan: Tell me about it- my fucking DVR didn't record 30 Rock and it's not on Hulu yet

Hasan: Ha, exactly. Alright man, I'm gonna grab a Stella before they run out. Tell Rich I used Seamless for the first time the other day!

Dan: Will do! Later

Dan's Interior Monologue: LOVE that guy. Such a fucking HOMIE!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Scene from Berger Household, 1988

(Young Dan is wearing his favorite Mets t-shirt)
(Jerry, a family friend, leans down to pin a BUSH-QUAYLE '88 button in Young Dan's shirt)
(Young Dan recoils)

Jerry: Whadoo we have a Dukakis fan over here?

(Jerry leans in again to put the pin in)

Young Dan's interior monologue: Of course I'm not a Dukakis fan, you think I'd support that spineless communist, interrobang. What I'm concerned about, you buffoon, is that this pin is going to create a hole the size of the federal deficit under the Democratic Congress in my most prized garment

Young Dan's OTHER interior monologue (Herman's Head style): Would you chill out, first interior monologue? The holes from those pins close up after you wash them

Young Dan's interior monologue: No they don't, that's just vile propaganda spread by the pin lobby! Oh dear god, he's about to... nooo... well, there goes my favorite shirt. Who needs a Mets shmata? Have to stop saying shit like that, not everyone in the world is Jewish
Young Dan (giving big thumbs up and smiling): Thanks, Uncle Jerry! Thousand Points of Light!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Young Mother Teresa in 2009

(I run into Young Mother Teresa at Starbucks in Midtown Manhattan)

Me: Teresa, long time no see, how's the helping the sick and the poor racket these days?

Young Mother Teresa: Oh, no. I grow tired of missionary work. No room for advancement or 100K+ salary. Just a thing to do right after college. Looks good on resume - ees proto-Teach for America. And economy very bad right now. Taking LSAT. Want to go to solid regional school. Get firm job. But I steel care about poor- Simpson Thatcher has great pro-bono program, I swear...
(wistful beat)
Sorry, can't chat - in the middle of practice Games section.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The 'Buster

In this age of BitTorrent, Apple TV, Netflix DVD mailers, and even Netflix streaming, you'd think that a reasonably with-it mid-twentysomething like myself would take advantage of one of these technologies when he wants to see a movie. You'd be dead wrong.

As shameful as it would seem to be to admit, I still go to Blockbuster. Their entire business model has imploded, H. Wayne Huizenga has had to sell the Marlins, and yet there I am still paying my $5.43 (plus late fees). As I'm sure none of my readers has been to a Blockbuster since the Social Security "reform" fiasco, let me share with you the marvelous human ecosystem that still thrives in the harsh environment of the few remaining Blockbusters -- who knows, maybe you'll even stop by one of these days:

Mid-30s White Man-Child (Employee)- In some amorphous supervisory role but still not the manager. Very knowledgeable about movies but not interested in helping you, preferring to sulk as he considers his station in life. The oversized dark blue polo shirt, tent-like khaki pants, and white sneakers contribute heavily to his man-childness.
Benefit: Makes you happy you're not him

Late Teens Black or Hispanic Guy (Employee) - Extremely eager, energetic. Clothes actually fit (sorry man-child you can't blame anyone but yourself). Very helpful.
Benefits: Helps you find movies. Restores your faith in the American economy's ability to deliver decent jobs to minority youths after it was crushed by The Wire

Late Teens Decent-Looking White Girl (Employee) - Totally disinterested in the job. Totally disinterested in you.
Benefit: Get to meekly say "Thanks a lot" really fast to her
Children and the Elderly (Customers) - Of course have no idea what NetFlix or BitTorrent is, so see Blockbuster as only choice.
Benefit: Cute, cuddly, blissfully unaware of classical liberal economics
Mid-30s Successful Black Man (Customer) - Only wants things on Blu-Ray. You would think if he is technologically savvy enough to have a Blu-Ray player, he could figure out another way to get movies, but I shouldn't be talking.
Benefit: At least someone else reasonably close to my age goes to Blockbuster
Teenage to Early 20's Athletic White Girl (Customer) - A mainstay of any Blockbuster. Almost always come in groups, often wearing some sort of athletic gear like yoga pants. Have amazing bodies. Their disdain for NetFlix and BitTorrent as too 'alternative' drives them to the 'Buster.
Benefits: Liven up the place, elicit Lester Burnham-like fantasies in man-child employees

20's to 30's Casually-Dressed White Guy - And here's where I fit into all of this. Through a unique combination of laziness, impulsiveness, impatience, and a secret technological incompetence that he would never admit in public, 20's to 30's Casually-Dressed White Guy has yet to master Netflix, BitTorrent, or even iTunes. So when he needs a movie, it's off to Blockbuster.

At the end of the day, you may scoff at me and my compatriots and marvel at the ease with which you procure movies. But what you call a transaction cost, I call... Paradise

Friday, October 30, 2009

Last Minute Costume Ideas for the Ladies

Sexy Oldest Woman Alive!

Sexy Surly Chain-Smoking Waitress at a Shitty Diner!

Sexy Ruth Bader Ginsburg/Basketball Player!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Two Real-Life Scenes from Stu's Life in Harlem

1. Stu and I are in a park in Harlem. Stu has just recently come out as gay. He is telling me how hard it is to deal with his sexual identity crisis, how being gay has altered his fundamental conception of self and will change some people's perception of him, but fortunately we live in a tolerant and open society, he'll figure it out and it'll be alright.

We walk toward the park's exit contemplatively. Three young kids from the projects approach us.

Bodie-esque Hopper: Hey yo, is it gay for a twelve year old boy to hold hands with another boy?

Wallace-esque Hopper: It's not gay, I just like holdin' hands with my friends!

Poot-esque Hopper: So which is it?

Stu: Oh it's not gay to hold hands with another boy; it's just a bit unusual
(Stu starts to walk away, grinning at having taught a lesson of tolerance)

Bodie-esque Hopper: See, even that white dude think you a faggot, faggot.

2. Stu and I exit Stu's building and a project resident approaches Stu.

Project Resident: Hey my man, you hear my brother Randall he out of the hospital now, doctahs say he gonna make a full recovery.

Stu: That's wonderful!
(Stu begins to walk away)

Project Resident: So, uh, I was wonderin' if maybe you had a dollar to spare because I've got this train I gotta... (trails off)

(Stu gives Project Resident a dollar)

This exchange made me realize that even though this Project Resident probably doesn't use e-mail, his interaction with Stu was the proto- "e-mail where you ask for a favor but throw in some meaningless personal bullshit first in the form

To: xxxx.xxxxxx@gmail.com

Hey buddy,

Long time no see. I've been keeping busy, you know this and that. Randy might get a promotion at work, so that's exciting. How're things with Jenny going?

Anyway, I had this idea for an article for Slate and I know you're tight with those guys so I was just wondering if you could maybe pass it along with a little note of approval, you know no big thing.

p.s. we gotta hang out more!"

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Scene from The Economy's family life

The Economy, shock of shocks, is Jewish. And a couple weekends ago, The Economy, who is usually pretty much all over the country, came back to New York to visit his parents for the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur. I happened to stumble upon this family scene:

The Economy's Dad: How've you been, son?

The Economy: Oh fine, fine. You know, keeping busy.

The Economy's Mom: What about money, how're you holding up?

The Economy: Great, yeah no problems on that front.

The Economy's Mom: Honey, don't lie to me. We read the papers, we know what's going on.

The Economy: Oh you can't believe everything you read, Mom

The Economy's Dad: 9.8% unemployment? Negative economic growth? That doesn't sound fine to me

The Economy: Seriously, I'm fine. Can we talk about something else? How's Aunt Sadie doing?

The Economy's Mom (to Dad): Herbert, get my purse.

The Economy: No, no! You are not giving me any money.

The Economy's Mom: It's just a hundred dollars. Just to make life a little easier!

The Economy: Absolutely not! I'm not 15 years old! I don't need a fucking allowance!

The Economy's Dad (handing The Economy a $100 bill): Don't curse at your mother. Just take the money, kiddo. There's no shame in needing a little help. If you don't need it, just spend it on something nice- take a nice girl out to dinner. Speaking of which, any nice girls in your life?

The Economy: This is- I can't even. Ugh, this is why I hate coming home

The Economy's Mom: Well you're always welcome here

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Interaction on a Subway Platform

(A Metro employee in a Metro hat is reading the Metro newspaper he was just handing out to subway riders)

Me (shit-eating grin): Eatin' your own dog food over there, eh?

Metro Employee: Dog Food? What the fuck you talkin' 'bout boy? You think because i don't live in your fancy-ass neighborhood I eat dog food?

Me: It's... no... it's just an expression- you're reading the newspaper that you...

Metro Employee (walking away in disgust): Unbelievable! We got a black president and this mothafucka thinks I eat dog food! Probably reads all the white Atlantic Bloggers, even that Megan McArdle, but not Ta-Nehisi Coates. Nothin' changes...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Guest Blogger: The Religious Liberal

There's this guy I've been talking to about politics, and lemme give you a few quotes from him and see if you can guess who he is:

"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

Against unbridled capitalism? Sounds like a real liberal WHACKJOB! Maybe it's Michael Moore?

I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you"

What a left-wing LOON! Come on, this has gotta be one of those spineless Terrorist-Lovers like Nancy Pelosi, right?

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed,
because they cannot repay you."

Government handouts?! OK seriously who is this liberal FREAK, is it Al Franken?

Actually, that "liberal freak" is Jesus Christ! (You're probably saying to yourself 'Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ!') That's right, the messiah himself, the Son of God, Jesus H. Christ, was a liberal. You wouldn't know it from all the right-wing religious zealots who misrepresent Jesus and use Him for their hate-mongering, but Jesus was as liberal as Rachel Maddow (who He would love even if she's a lesbian)! Soon after Jesus was born in about 4 B.C. ('Before Christ,' not 'Before Conservatism'- sadly there were conservatives even in Jesus's time!)... read more

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A Crazy Evening

Last night I was in an empty plot of land in the suburbs of Northern Virginia with 5windows. It was 1973. It was a rainy, stormy night with thunder crackling and lightning illuminating the sky like the flash from Tom's SLR camera. We had just ensured that the horrible Alternate 2029 from which 5windows and I had traveled (in which SeamlessWeb didn't exist, there was a GrubHub Casino, etc. - I CAN'T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT!) would not come to pass, and were thrilled! We were talking to each other over walkie talkies- me on the ground, 5Windows flying above in the Delorean.

"Come down here, 5Windows!" I screamed. 5Windows tried to maneuver the Delorean to the ground when all of a sudden a BOLT OF LIGHTNING STRUCK THE DELOREAN! I ducked for cover and when I looked up, it was gone! Only two streaks of flames that looked like the number 99 remained. "5WINDOWS?" I nervously inquired into the walkie-talkie. Then I saw the string of multicolored flags that was attached to the back of the Delorean fall from the sky, burnt to a crisp. "NO! 5WINDOWS!!!!" I wailed. I cried and cried as the rain poured down on me.

But just then, a nerdy-looking guy drove up next to me and got out of his car. "Dan?" he asked me hesitantly. "Y-y-yes," I mustered in reply. He began, "I'm from Western Union. I've got a telegram to deliver to you that we've had lying around the office for decades. This kinda heavyset guy from way back instructed us to deliver it to a kid wearing driving shoes at this time and place. We had a betting pool going back at the office - I didn't think you'd show! I guess I'm out 5 bucks."

I grabbed the envelope from Western Union and ripped it open! Inside I found this glorious message!

"5Windows is alive!" I exclaimed. But my unadulterated joy was complicated when I looked closer and saw the date- "1873?! 1873?!"

So now I have to get back to 1873 and bring 5Windows back to 2009. Wish me luck, my fair readers

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

PostSecret, Berger Household edition

With my - (Beneficent) Allah willing - upcoming move out of the Berger Homestead, I figured now was a good time to share with the blogosphere something we've had going for a little while. Inspired by PostSecret, my family decided to have our own PostSecret blog. As you can see from these samples, it's a vibrant little community with a lot of diversity where everyone feels free to share their innermost secrets

Friday, August 21, 2009

Google Reader party recap/ Trailer Premiere

Thanks to all who came to the first-ever Google Reader Party; it was a smashing success!

Here is the cake we ate:

And a few candids:

There was even one protester who showed up, giving voice to those who think that the rise of Google Reader has caused the fall of the blogosphere:

But Reader and Blogs can coexist, as I'm demonstrating right here with the release of the trailer for the Google Reader movie, "You Got Shared," on this Blog. Enjoy:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The View From Your Window

Central California, 12.34 pm

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Driving Shoes Digest: Interview with Wax Figure of Morgan Freeman

Dan, reporter for Driving Shoes Digest: So, Wax Figure of Morgan Freeman- can I just call you Morgan?

Wax Figure of Morgan Freeman: Of course, my friend.

Dan: So you stand outside Madame Toussaud's Wax Museum in Times Square every day- that must be pretty tough on your feet?

Wax Figure of Morgan Freeman: Sure, sure. You can't imagine how many tourists pose for pictures with me every day -it's 15, 16 hours straight without a break. And I even heard one of them say the other day, "it's Barack Obama!" To be fair they probably put me out in front to remind people that President Obama's wax figure, who is a good friend of mine by the way, is inside once you pay the 20 dollars or whatever it is these days.

Morgan Freeman Tod's TD 4531 (BK) Driving Shoes
Wax Figure

Dan: So you chose some Tod's driving shoes to keep you comfortable during those long hours?

Wax Figure of Morgan Freeman: Precisely!

Dan: I was chatting with WaLuigi the other day, and we agreed that one also wears driving shoes because they're stylish. They make you look like a titan of business. Wouldn't you say?

Wax Figure of Morgan Freeman: I- I guess.

Dan: But more than that, they make you a titan of business. They imbue you with the contacts and the business acumen to get ahead in this world. And they make you irresistible to women. It's like the leather is treated with pheremones, the way these things work. They should sell a stick to fend off all the women coming after you when you wear driving shoes, wouldn't you say? But it would be a classy stick, more like a cane, don't you think?

Wax Figure of Morgan Freeman: What? What are you talking about? They're just shoes. I like them. You are a strange young man!

Dan: Whew, I see driving shoes are a touchy subject for you. So what about those black spots on your face?

Wax Figure of Morgan Freeman: Don't you do any research before you conduct interviews? This topic was addressed on Not About Delino DeShields in 2005 - you might find the post on the new Random Delino Plus Nostra site. This interview is over!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Ode to Finishing up job

In my last couple days at my current job, I have totally given up on being courteous to my coworkers in any way. To honor this, I wrote a little song to the tune of Adam Sandler's classic "Steve Polychronopolous"- like to hear it? Here it goes:

I'll open a 46 ounce tub of Party Mix,
Just to eat one Dorito,
I'll open a pack of Milanos,
even though there's an open Brussels pack,
and they're basically the same shit,

My name is Dan... Mothafuckin'.... Bergerchronopolous

I'll tell the guy who has to clear the office
I still need the printer for work,
Even though I'll only use it to print out articles to read in the bathroom,
Instead of reading on the iPhone,
'Cause the screen is too fucking small,
Even when you turn it sideways,

'Cause My name's Dan... Mothafuckin'.... Bergerchronopolous

I'll take all the Perriers from the fridge,
even though they were specifically requested by some woman in accounting,
I'll borrow your scotch tape dispenser,
and never think of retuuuuurning it!

My name's Dan... Mothafuckin'.... Bergerchronopolous!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Faux Pas on the Road

I was on my way to pick up Rich, The Actual Tom and H Bomb for a joyride at dusk along the West Side Highway and FDR Drive, excited to take in a cool spring night and the beautiful riverfront views.

On my way there, I had the sunroof down and windows lowered, and was blasting Lady GaGa. Singing along, "P-p-p-p-p-p-oker face!" I was lost in my own little karaoke room. But every so often I would see someone on the sidewalk screaming at me. First it was an old man- "Turn on..." I heard. Was I turning this man on, I wondered, or was he trying to tell me to do something? But then "Just Dance" came on and I was back in karaoke mode. Then, passing by a hotel, the doorman pointed to the front of my car and screamed "Your lights, buddy!" It occurred to me that he and the old man were telling me I hadn't turned on my car lights as you're supposed to when it is nighttime. But between me not really being sure which lever turned the lights on, my current focus on singing dance-friendly pop music, and it not even being THAT dark out, I just ignored him. Then, when approaching Rich's apartment, a HOMELESS MAN outside the Salvation Army building on 14th Stret jumped next to my car as I was stopped in traffic and frantically pointed to my front lights. At that point, I gave in and turned my lights on.

I never realized what a serious violation of society's rules it was to drive even at the beginning of the night with no lights on. The way these people reacted you would think I had secured an infant to my windshield using Scotch tape. Lesson learned, you pussies.

Though I must note that:
1. Everyone else has their lights on anyway, so I'm sure they can all see my car
2. I have been told that my blue eyes are so radiant you can see them for miles, so it's not clear whether this "car lights" rule applies to me.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Overheard among the Gruff Crew Guys

(Gruff Crew Guy #1 is slicing a bagel in half)

Gruff Crew Guy #2 (gruff, Italian accent): Ya know, them bagels are fattening, Jimmy! It's like eatin' five loaves of bread, one of those things. Better off wit a donut!

-->Wow, this anti-bagel meme has spread pretty far if even tough Teamster guys are concerned about it. I was going to share with them that I learned from Ashley Olsen on Oprah that scooping the insides of the bagels slashes the amount of carbs and calories, but I didn't think it was my place.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Overheard at a Brooks Brothers photo shoot

Photographer (intermittently snapping photos): Marcel, baby, of course we're gonna show your face in this shot. Do the pose, do the one we worked on. Yes!

Marcel (smiling): I think I really nailed it on that one.

(Marcel walks off to change into street clothes)

Female Assistant: Oh so you're going for a full-body shot this time - I'll shoot an email over to the catalog layout guys and let them know.

Photographer (grabbing assistant's hand before she can type): Were you born yesterday, honey? We're selling madras shorts here! There is a formula, it's pretty simple, it's worked for decades, we're not about to change it now: Shorts, toned calfs, driving shoes. Now get me those calf-shots for the prospective seersucker shorts models!

p.s. seriously fuck Michaelangelo's David - if that picture is not man at his most perfect I don't know what is

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Just Discovered Google Reader Comment View

Wow I just realized you can choose to only look at Google Reader shares that have been commented on! So I made a video to show how I felt when I made this discovery:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Twitter Profile Picture

A lot of you who follow my Twitter feed were complaining about how I didn't have a profile picture on Twitter. I didn't really understand what you were talking about, but to appease the complainers, I decided to use a medium shot of me rather than the close-up I had before (why do you guys care about this stuff?). Here it is:

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Work with The Community

Back in the 80's, the big problem in the Village was heroin. Addicts were literally shooting up on the streets. Dirty needles everywhere. Well now, the addiction is Diet Coke. Cans litter the streets. The worst of them take "DC" (its street name) first thing in the morning even before breakfast. Horrifying, I know.

Well instead of sitting back and letting this menace tear the community apart I decided to do something about it. First of all, I established a DC bottle exchange program. Now, instead of DC addicts refilling old backwash-ridden 2 liter bottles that they'd shared with others with new product, these poor souls can have fresh bottles to fill up. I am in no way endorsing their horrible addiction, I am just accepting that this is a huge problem and until we find a broad solution we should at least mitigate the dangers to users.

And for addicts who think they might be able to take those first steps to recovery, I've set up a Sparkling Water Clinic. The sparkling water has a similar effect to DC, providing the user with satisfying carbonation, but it does not include the toxic chemicals and sweeteners prevalent in even the purest batches of DC. In many patients, it is a gateway to recovery.

This struggle is far from over, but I hope that my work will make a difference in The Community and help some neighborhood residents escape a dark, dark place.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Democracy and Distrust

OK, admittedly folks, I have gotten off to a rough start with Google Reader. My interests are very different from yours! Who are you? You are the Yale Economics/Political philosophy majors that delight in reading "Posner-Becker", "Overcoming Bias", "The Huffington Post" and "Marginal Revolution".

I am a salt-of-the-Earth Florida cracker alligator-wrastlin' Drudge Report-readin' man! A picture is worth a thousand words, that's what I say, no need for any loggorhea-suffering New Yorker article-like explanatory maximalism! There, I said it! I like posting pictures of only recently obsolete forward-sweeping wing Soviet jet fighters.

Which leads me to my next point, I was watching
Broken Arrow this Saturday morning; for the second Saturday morning in a row it was playing on HBO digital cable. As with last weekend, I noticed something really out-of character.

Let me give you a little background, in the very rare instance you have not seen the movie.
Broken Arrow is about two American B-2 Stealth Bomber pilots "Hale" and "Deakins", played by Christian Slater and John Travolta respectively. They fight for control of two nuclear weapons in the unforgiving desert landscape of the American Southwest. Here's what I found odd. Here you have this mad-genius, a stealth-bomber pilot and Major in the US Air Force, in the midst of unfolding a brilliant plan of stealing two nuclear weapons, blackmailing the US government, and this is what he plans to do with his money:

That's where St. Judes Hospital is.
You're gonna hide the nukes near the radiology department
so they won't show up in any satellite radiation scans.

I'm impressed.

How much are you gonna ask for?

Enough. I've got a broker in Stockholm.
Monday morning he's going to buy me five percent of Volvo.
For the rest of my days I'm going to live off the dividends,
happy in the knowledge I'm helping to build the safest car in the world.

Now, granted, Volvo got some good publicity during that same period with the release of it's C70 model featured with Val Kilmer in
The Saint (1997), but Volvo?! Are you fucking kidding me?! When the manufacturing sector is contracting, and you should have been diversifying your portfolio! What were you thinking!
I would have been cheering for you, Maj. Deakins, if you said... "I'm thinking about a long-term strategy, investing roughly '30 percent in Domestic Equity, 5 percent in Emerging Market Equity, 20 percent in Real Estate Investment Trusts and 15 percent each in Foreign Developed Equity, US Treasury Notes and Bonds, and US Treasury Inflation-Protection Securities*' "

But, for arguments' sake let's investigate how Deakins would have done if he
had in fact invested in Volvo on February 9, 1996, when the movie premiered.

Since Deakins says the "safest
car in the world" we have to assume he is not investing in Volvo Trucks, Light Aircraft Engines, or any other Volvo Subsidiaries such as it's Marine Engine group Volvo Penta.

This is what Keith Bradsher of the New York Times had to say on January 31, 1999
January 24-30; Ford Buys Volvo Car Unit
"Henry Ford took pride in building Model T's that the common man could afford. But the market for basic transportation is increasingly unprofitable as manufacturers in places like South Korea churn out lots of cheap cars. So the Ford Motor Company has announced that it will also try to become a larger maker of luxury cars by buying the car operations of Sweden's Volvo for $6.45 billion."

"Ford said it would keep Volvo's research, design, management and much of its manufacturing in Sweden, and would not change the cars. Ford gives its luxury divisions a lot of independence. How many Americans know that Ford has already bought Jaguar and Aston-Martin in the last decade?

As Wikipedia points out: "Volvo Cars was owned by AB Volvo until 1999, when it was acquired by the Ford Motor Company as part of its Premier Automotive Group."

"As a result of the divestiture, the Volvo trademark is now utilized by two separate companies:

* Volvo Group - a manufacturer of commercial vehicles, etc. owned by Swedish interests.
* Volvo Cars - a manufacturer of automobiles owned by Ford Motor Company, in its Premier Automotive Group (PAG)."

So AB Volvo owned the Car, Trucks, Aircraft Engines division, etc. until somewhere around 1999 when it sold off the Volvo Cars division to Ford. So presumably Deakins could have purchased the Volvo AB conglomerate in February 9, 1996, and including dividends, etc. cashed out the rest of his holdings in 1999. How would he have done?

In early February of 1996 he would have purchased 5% of Volvo AB for $3.974 a share and would have sold his stock in early January of 1999 for $5.40.
If we divide 5.4 by 3.974 we get 1.35883241. Or about a 35.88% profit in just three years. Not too bad Deakins!

Figure 1: Stock chart from Yahoo! Finance

From Wikipedia, again:
"Recently, there were talks about what to do with Volvo Cars in the event of a market failure with US automakers ... AB Volvo responded to heated talks and decided that they do not want to see Volvo Cars fail, so they agreed to help Volvo cut costs through parternships and even a possible share ownership amongst a larger consortium. AB Volvo repeated and stood stern that they will not buy back Volvo cars nor be sole majority owner. They are only willing to become part share owner of the once car unit."

I guess the Swede's don't want to lose the prestige of the national icon that is the Volvo brand.

Dammit Deakins, you really are a mad-genius! Not only would you have made money off the sale of Volvo to Ford, right before the Auto-Industry mess of the 2000s, but you would have screwed the US over twice, first for the ransom money for the nuclear weapons, and second with the sale of a bad-apple to Ford Motor Company.

But this was Hale's response in the movie:


So that's it? You're just doing
'this for the money?
I'm kind of


Why would you do it, Hale?

That's the thing -- I wouldn't.

If you were me.


If I were you...?
(thinks, starts in)
Because ... because I got passed
over for promotion
and goddamnit
I'm going to show the bastards
that I'm smarter than them all.
(getting angry)
Because ... everyone's selling out
and cashing in, so why not me?

Now if I were Hale, at the time, I probably would have said (as I was in the sixth grade):

If I were you...? (thinks, starts in)
Aggressive investment in the technology sector;

come on Deakins, an Intel processor
can now perform
2 billion calculations a second,
haven't you seen those NASDAQ commercials on CNBC?!

That's what I would do if I were you!

And then immediately gone to the end:


Run to each other. They embrace, start smoothing
each other's
hair, start wiping blood off each other's faces,
start kissing,
only to be interrupted by...

What happened here?
Hale and Wilkins and Giles share a look.


(looks at flaming TOYOTAS) ...
somebody was trying to steal
some Toyotas.
The reporter asks more questions.

Hale and Terry walk off, arms
around each other.

As they go, Hale sticks out his hand to

Rawley Hale.

Terry Carmichael.
They shake hands and walk on as we...



*NPR interviews David Swensen:


Berger Family Childhood Photos Annotated #1

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Snippets from an Interview with Waluigi

Waluigi, undated photo

"Am I mad that Wario gets all the fame and glory, not to mention the groupies? Look, Wario may or may not be my brother, so I love him to pieces, but of course it gets on my nerves. I mean I'm skinnier than he is, I'm more handsome than he is, and let's be honest I'm way better at tennis than that fatso. He really drags down our doubles team...

... I think partly it has to do with his name being easier to say, and the Mario connection. Have you seen The Wire? You haven't? Oh my god you seriously must see that show it is the best ever- it's so textured and layered, it really gets at the hard truths behind the chimera that is the American Dream. Anyway, the drug dealers in the show -who are really not bad guys they're just like the cops that's one of the big points of the show- they use this phrase "off-brand" to describe anything that's second-rate or not top quality. And Luigi is sort of an "off-brand" Mario- he's sort of the same but he just doesn't have the same charisma, that je ne sais quoi that makes Mario a star. So of course that in turn reflects poorly on me...

...Yes, these are driving shoes. I got them in Argentina, they're very popular there..."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ode to the Comment-o-sphere from a Grizzled Blog Pioneer

Time was, a man staked out a plot of web-land, set down all his wordly possessions, and started writin' a blog. And well, sooner 'r later he'd write a post that some gal 'r fella really took a shine to. And that gal, she'd be so excited she'd write a comment right on that there blog's little corner of web-land. And some other fella'd read that comment and he'd be darn near tears he'd be so eager to contribute somethin' about the post, 'r maybe even about the other comment, that he'd comment 's well. And sooner 'r later you had a little ecosystem, bubblin' right there in that comment section. Sometimes things'd get real heated between commenters, and we used to call it a Flame War.

'Course now the comment section of the blogs is a ghost town. Boarded up server space, empty comment boxes. Tumbleweed could float along fir miles without hittin' a comment. Times've changed, I 'spose. Commentin's done on that there Google Reader these days. I think it's hard to keep track of, it's no fun, and most important it lacks that personal touch we had in the blog comments. How'd we let this Great Migration happen? I guess it just started slow and then one day we just noticed all the comments were gone. That's what them city slickers call "progress," I reckon. Don't seem any better to me.

I guess I'm just a washed up old-timer, but every day I wake up, take in the Lord's glorious sunshine, and check them there comments, hopin' against hope that a little miracle has been dropped into the comments section of my little slice of web heaven. I'm still waitin'...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tragedy in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES (AP) - March 18, 2009 - In an international incident sure to spark tensions across the equator, American tourist Charles Frankenson (pictured at left with wife Annie) strangled an attractive Argentinian couple to death near Buenos Aires´s Plaza Dorrego in the San Telmo district.
Asked to explain himself later while in police custody, Frankenson cried, ¨I JUST WANTED THEM TO DANCE THE TANGO! IT´S A MEME! THEY WERE SO ARGENTINIAN AND ATTRACTIVE AND WELL-DRESSED WHY COULDN´T THEY JUST DANCE ONE FUCKING TANGO! I´ve been in this city for five days and I haven´t seen any of the memes I came here to see! The women are sipping Coca Light instead of wine, the steak came with cream sauce instead of in its own juices, there hasn´t been a single protest- hell there hasn´t even been a fucking soccer game for these energetic brown-skinned people to scream about! I was heading back to Omaha tomorrow - I just snapped!!!!¨
Asked to comment on the matter, President Barack Obama tentatively defended his countryman, telling reporters ¨Now look. Let´s wait until we have all the facts before we jump to any conclusions. My aides tell me that Mr. Frankenson was very hot and had not drank any water because he didn´t know the word for ´water´in Spanish and did not want to suffer the awkwardness of pointing to the water and being asked whether he wanted it ´with gas´or not and not really getting what the difference was. And you know, I myself was pretty miffed when I went to Rome on the one day the guards at the Vatican were getting their crazy uniforms laundered and wore standard military attire instead. So I think a little sympathy is in order here for Mr. Frankenson.¨President Obama then turned to an aide and yelled, ¨Make sure those damned guards are wearing the uniforms when I´m in Rome next time! I´m the fucking leader of the free world- I think I deserve some fucking silly uniforms. Jesus¨

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Belly of the Beast

So I went on a pub crawl last night and met new friends and then all today I have been outside doing outdoorsy things in Buenos Aires like walking around, touring the beautiful cemetery in Recoleta, getting a tan, admiring the fashionable olive-skinned beautiful Argentians in the cafes. ¨This is life!¨ I think to myself.

But as happens when there is a lull in one´s day, one´s mind starts to wander. Specifically, it starts to wander toward the internet. ¨Come on, Dan - it can´t hurt to check your email. And if a couple web sites slip in there who´s really hurt? But I draw the line at Google Reader.¨ I tried to resist the temptation, but it was just too strong. So I tentatively headed to the nearby internet cafe.

I walked in. I saw a few fashionable young Europeans sitting near the door. ¨This won´t be so bad,¨I thought. I went to the attendant´s table. I requested a computer. ¨Numero cuatro¨ I was told. I began to walk over to the computer. I looked up. Sitting at the next computer over was the fattest, palest, wormsiest, ugly glassesiest American I´ve ever had the misfortune of laying my eyes upon. ¨This is not a good sign,¨ I thought. But I sat down anyway. ¨I´m going to do this, and it´s going to be fine. On my terms. No lingering on blogs and news sites for hours. In - and out.¨ So I opened my mail, and there wasn´t much to see. And I Wikipediaed Éva Peron because I´d just seen her grave. ¨This is harmless. I´m in total control.¨

But just as that thought enters my head I look over at the obese pasty wormsy American´s computer. And staring back at me is a nightmarish scene of indescribable horror. This is a rough - it really doesn´t do it justice - approximation of how this scene I am about to recount looked through my eyes. On this man´s Internet Explorer were tabs as far as the eye can see. He had them stacked in three rows - I didn´t even know rows were possible. I scan the labels on the tabs: Talking Points Memo, Huffington Post, Marginal Revolution, The New Republic, Salon, Slate... ¨Oh dear God, I´m in trouble. OK. Stay calm. You can handle this. Just refocus on your core sites and you´ll get through this thing.¨ I took a deep breath. I was about to return to the part in the Wikipedia page discussing the musical Evita when this battle of wills took a dramatic turn for the worse. I decided to look, out of curiosity, at which tab the man had open. And it was... I can barely say it... THE DRUDGE RETORT! Reading The Drudge Report is a signal of a certain level of internet addiction and general depravity. But reading The Drudge Retort - that goes beyond internet addiction and general depravity to a level of addiction and depravity where the separation between you and the Internet breaks down and the concept of a ¨real life¨ceases to exist. The Drudge Retort is a site for people who find The Drudge Report´s news to be too mainstream and uncontrarian and seek a site that caters more to internet nerds´taste. This is The Drudge Report that links to every story that questions the existence of global warming and throws a picture of a baby with a leg sticking out of its head on the front page.

At that point I just lost all of my willpower. A chain reaction of ctrl-clicks soon resulted in a collection of tabs that rivaled my neighbor´s. And that is the sorry state I find myself in at this moment. ¨Let´s go to that fun St. Patrick´s Day party at the Irish bar that girl told us about last night,¨my traveling companion says. ¨What did you say,¨I ask, ¨Geithner AIG Obama Natasha Richardson Ski Accident Bailout American Idol Rigged Bernanke Al Franken Recount? Yes that sounds fantastic, let´s do that.¨

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Vienna, 1945

(Jakov, an Austrian Jew, returns to Vienna after having been at Dachau Concentration Camp for 3 years, to reunite with his old Christian friend Hans)

Hans: Hey Jakov, how was Dachau?

Jakov: Hans, it was terrible. Grueling labor, no food, the constant threat of death. But at least I had a girlfriend - her name was Anna, and she had beautiful brown hair.

Hans (to their other friend): Oh sure, he goes to camp and now he says he has a girlfriend. How do we know that`s true? You probably told the other campers that you had a girlfriend in Vienna.

Jakov (sheepish): No comment...

Monday, March 09, 2009

On Torture

With all this talk of Obama stopping America's torture practices, I got to thinking about some of the worst tortures out there. Of course there are physically excruciating tortures like The Rack, etc. fine those would be awful. But then I got to thinking about the psychological tortures. The Sensory Deprivation Chamber would probably be the worst one imaginable. You can't see, you can't move, you can't hear, you can't smell, you can't taste, you can't touch. It's just you and blackness and your thoughts. I couldn't handle it, though perhaps others might respond differently as i'll get to in a second:

Me (inner monologue): This isn't so bad... (beat).... AHHHHHH... Fuck i can't even hear myself scream.... am I even screaming? I can't tell anymore... This is it.. I didn't even watch one episode of The Sopranos- oh yeah The Sarah Silverman program good idea Dan watch that first... I read about The Sopranos and its commentary/influence on American society in Frank Rich columns... Oh god, stop deluding yourself Dan you know that doesn't count... AHHHHH... nothing... I am going to die...

Rich (inner monologue): Oh cool this peace and quiet is a great opportunity for some organizational activities in my life that I have been putting off for the last week. Let's see, I just ate at CraftSteak, and it was tasty but not worth the price; have to add that to EatRichly.com under New American Cuisine. Also, with the baseball season coming up, I have to look into what ESPN.com and SI are saying about CC Sabathia for my fantasy team now that he's moved to the National League. Oh shit, are they taking me out of here? But I haven't even figured out my color-coding scheme for organizing Google Reader shares by subject!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Humorist, Edition #2

In the inaugural edition, I discussed satire in the context mostly of sketch comedy videos, (as this post deals with filmed content and not written content, we can ignore the discussion of The Onion articles, though there are interesting things to be said in regards to one-off comedy articles vs. comic novels as well). Let's ignore for the moment variety television programs like The Colbert Report or The Daily Show that are a hybrid of sketch-like bits and other material and feature a recurring host- they are a strange breed that is outside of the scope of this discussion.

The three basic formats of scripted filmed comedy today are sketch comedy (by which I mean one-off videos that can appear either on TV or the internet), sitcoms (by which I mean half-hour comedic TV programs that feature recurring characters, settings, etc.) and film comedies (films in the comedy genre). I will examine these in the ranking order in which I believe they fall under the current economic arrangements and culture- at other times in history different formats have been better or worse and surely the rapidly changing entertainment landscape will bring many changes to these formats as well in the future. But importantly, some of the comments are about the timeless limitations and strengths of the different formats.

In my mind, the worst format in the present moment for comedy is film. Films are so expensive to make that they must be able to bring in large amounts of revenue at the box office, and the only way to do that is to appeal to the lowest common denominator viewer, or at least throw in a lot of material that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Undoubtedly, there have been some funny films made in the 2000s, including Wedding Crashers and Superbad. But as a discerning viewer, one has to admit that even these films were more rollicking fun summer laughs than great works of comedy. Most of the comedies of this ilk are not nearly as good as those mentioned, and even in these good ones, there were simply too many easy gay jokes, porn jokes, etc. to be considered truly exceptional. Most of these films substitute their stars' charisma and natural comic abilities for clever situations and witty dialogue- many of the Apatow ones are in fact largely improvised on set. To be sure, there have been fantastic film comedies in the past, from Annie Hall and other Woody Allen gems in the '70s to The Big Lebowski and Swingers in the '90s. But it seems that the independent film scene, which was so vibrant in the '90s, has calcified into a relatively boring art house ghetto in both comedy and other genres.

Film naturally as a medium sort of gravitates to a happy ending, which is often not what you want in comedy, because the viewer only gets to see these characters once for 2 hours. And the viewer cares about the characters; he sort of wants to know that it ultimately worked out for them. Whereas in television, you can have a character fail in 100 episodes and then achieve happiness/success in the series finale if you so desire, in film you have a deadline of 2 hours, making that particular finale very important to the viewer. This also can limit the amount of experimentation/weirdness you can do in films since so much is riding on these 2 hours financially and artistically that you may choose not to take a risk like, say the "Scott Tenorman Must Die" episode of South Park. Though viewers might be willing to watch 22 minutes of experimentation, perhaps 2 hours would prove too much. Of course experimental and brilliant film comedies have been made (as mentioned before), but the possible perils of this limited time format are compounded by the financial aspect of film today, whereby a "downer" film is more difficult to market to a mass audience than a film with a happy ending. In conclusion, brilliant film comedy is completely possible and has been done many times before, but the current economic arrangements and culture are not terribly conducive to producing it. As a side note of fairness to film comedies, they have the benefits of getting to know characters relatively well (as compared to sketch though not as well as television), realistically showing crazy scenarios thanks to the possibility of high budgets and filming in any location/having high quality special effects, and of allowing for lengthy and perhaps humorously complicated plots (as compared with television)- though again in terms of plot a mainstream film comedy will likely have a fairly conventional plot.

The middle format is sketch comedy. I discussed sketch comedy at length in my previous post so I will not go into too much detail here about what works in sketch comedy. But it is worth analyzing sketch comedy from the format angle. One of sketch comedy's strengths is that it is cheap to produce, and with little riding on any one sketch there is the potential for a lot of experimentation even in a relatively mainstream setting. As discussed previously, I think Mr. Show is the best sketch comedy show ever (and was on the margins of the mainstream on HBO), but I also greatly enjoyed the more mainstream Saturday Night Live of the early '90s. SNL has fallen considerably from that peak, but other shows like Human Giant on MTV have sprung up that are quite promising. Although Human Giant is not really at the intelligence level of Mr. Show, the kinds of offbeat skits on there suggest to me that there is not that much of a limitation from a business perspective as to what Cable TV networks will put on in the sketch format, and the aforementioned Colbert Report is extremely intelligent and has elements of sketch. So sketch is a promising format today, especially with all the internet outlets that produce dirt-cheap material and have no need to make money and can thus be as smart, outrageous, weird, etc. as they want to be.

But now let's take a look at sketch as a comic format, forgetting any business concerns or today's reality. It allows for experimentation (in addition to the business reason discussed above) because five minutes or less is not much time to have to "put up with" a strange premise/character, the fact that the audience doesn't care much about these characters they just met means more weird/bad things can happen to them, and the conventions of the sketch format are less set in stone than in sitcoms or films. This possibility of experimentation is a great aspect of sketch comedy. But one of the downsides of sketch is that the extremely limited time frame of five minutes necessitates characters who are one-dimensional - there is no time to build a three-dimensional character. This fact leads sketch characters to overwhelmingly be celebrities/politicians, fictional characters from existing media (in a satirical take on them), or new fictional people who have one strange characteristic (the Kristen Wiig Target Lady or whatever). Now of course all of these types of characters have yielded great skits over the years, but their very one-dimensionality leads to a bias toward broad comedy that pervades, say SNL today, and requires great discipline to overcome (see Mr. Show). But let's for the sake of argument say sketch is being done at its highest level. It is amazing, funny, clever, etc. Yet ultimately I would argue that when you think of the funniest experiences in your life, they involve people who you know very well (whether you like them or not doesn't matter). And that is because in addition to the cleverness aspect of great humor, there is a sort of emotional/human component that involves your understanding of a three-dimensional human being and his/her personality, and how this piece of dialogue or action relates to that person's personality and worldview. I will discuss some examples in the sitcom section below, but suffice it to say that in sketch, you are dealing with one-dimensional characters that lack that sort of extra human element of personality and emotions, and this is a disadvantage of the format relative to film and sitcoms. You sometimes see a recurring character in multiple sketches, and these extra exposures sometimes allow the characters to become three-dimensional (though not always).

Finally, there are televised sitcoms. Let me begin by saying that sitcoms have traditionally been a terrible medium- boring, milquetoast, predictable, middlebrow. But from the '90s to the '00s, the sitcom has had a rebirth both in America and in England, and now is in my opinion the best comic format. From a business perspective, sitcoms are less expensive than films, which means that on the macro level of the show, more risks can be taken. Moreover, there are now several outlets such as HBO, Showtime and Comedy Central that are both relatively mainstream and have a business model that allows them take risks in terms of comedy (British TV has several quality channels and has less of a business-perspective because it is state-run). Shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Extras, which are very financially successful, have a level of intelligence to their comedy that just seems impossible to do in a financially viable way in film today because of the inability to play to a (quite substantial!) niche educated audience and make money in movies. The TV audience is more fractured than the film audience, and TV costs less, which allows for smarter comedy targeted at a smarter audience. Even mainstream networks such as NBC and FOX program smart sitcoms like 30 Rock and The Office and Arrested Development that are critically acclaimed and are hits among the smart set, and do fine financially though are not commercial juggernauts like Everybody Loves Raymond. And as with sketch, each 22-minute episode of a TV program is not nearly as important financially as a 2 hour film, which allows for more experimentation in terms of weirdness and unhappy endings.

Before we get to a macro perspective on sitcoms, a brief history lesson is in order. It seems to me that the two primary reasons most sitcoms until the '90s were middlebrow were that the monolithic dominance of the three major networks (NBC, CBS, ABC) meant that all shows had to appeal to the broad middle-of-the-road, and the shackles of the three-camera format. The 3-camera format refers to a show in which all action takes place in one or maybe two locations, and the action is filmed simulatenously by three cameras (in front of a studio audience), which the editor then cuts between as the scene progresses. Think of the bar in Cheers, Archie Bunker's house in All in the Family, the apartment in Friends, etc. Having only one or two locations severely limits the comic possibilities of these characters and the people they can interact with- it was used primarily for technological reasons and because it was extremely cheap. There was also a sort of smart, hip counterculture that went mainstream in the late '80s and early '90s in a way that it wasn't before, though this sort of intimately tied into the beginning of the fracturing of the monolithic media culture that dominated postwar America. The show that first really broke from the monolithic media culture, tapped into the hip counterculture, and freed itself from the shackles of the 3-camera sitcom was The Simpsons in the early '90s. It was on the innovative fledgling FOX Network, it was written by smart young writers and its cartoon format allowed for infinite settings and infinite characters. Seinfeld also broke the mold in terms of intelligence and although it was sort of a 3-camera sitcom with most action taking place in Jerry's apartment or Monk's Cafe, it very frequently filmed on "the street" (a backlot fake street) or in other indoor locations like restaurants or offices and including many side characters just like The Simpsons. These shows gave way to other groundbreaking shows in the '90s like The Larry Sanders Show on HBO (which you all really should see). The Larry Sanders Show was pioneering in that it was a single-camera sitcom, meaning it filmed like a movie would, with one camera and no studio audience, a format that allowed for many different locations and setups. The show included real-life celebrities poking fun at themselves in a fictional world, making Larry Sanders the antecedent to Curb Your Enthusiasm and Extras. It played to a hip niche audience of a substantial size but not massive, just as HBO's comedies do today, and was very smart.

So now let's look at the sitcom format from a macro perspective, regardless of finances. It has the strength of allowing for experimentation because each episode is only a small part of the whole series, so if something doesn't work out it is not a big deal (as opposed to an experiment not working in a 2 hour film). Similarly, there is much more potential for characters to fail in various funny ways at the end of an episode since they can ultimately succeed in the finale if need be, whereas in film (as previously discussed) there are all sorts of pressures militating toward a happy ending. This is really a crucial difference, for you would not see the sort of failure one sees Larry endure on Curb, Mark and Jez endure on Peep Show (a brilliant British sitcom you should all watch) or Michael Scott endure on The Office in nearly any comic film put out today. This lack of pressure to have things resolve neatly for our main characters is extremely liberating, as it opens up many possibilities for the kind of awkward, idiotic, or antisocial behavior that is behind many comic situations. It also adds a sort of cosmic humor element to shows, as we see, e.g. Larry David go through so many tribulations to accomplish some goal only to be right back where he started at the end of the episode. Try to think of a successful comedy movie you saw in the last five years that had that element in it- not too easy. Sitcoms also allow the viewer to see characters in a wide variety of situations and interacting with a wide variety of people over the course of 100 episodes, whereas you might like characters in a comedy film but wish you'd seen them in more circumstances - and the predominance of the single-camera in quality sitcoms is creating ever-increasing possibilities for locations and situations for sitcom characters to find themselves in. Think of some of the crazy scenes on Job's houseboat in Arrested Development or even the bizarre street scenes in the outer boroughs on 30 Rock (which is shot more like a 3-camera sitcom to a large extent but has more sets and like Seinfeld often leaves the usual sets)- and animated sitcoms like South Park open up infinite comic possibilities. These scenes could all happen in movies, but now they can happen in TV too. In a different way, sitcoms also have the benefit of being such a length that they have some 'breathing room.' Whereas in a 2 hour movie or a four minute sketch, there are a lot of time pressures to cram something crazy or important (plotwise) into every scene, any given scene in a 22 minute show that is part of a 100 episode series can afford to take its time a little and let the characters breathe.

I want to finally get back to this idea about how knowing three-dimensional characters adds an extra element of humor lacking in sketches. Think of Liz Lemon in 30 Rock wearing a t-shirt promoting "The Benefit For Pediatric Restless Leg Syndrome" and then offhandedly telling the do-gooder Jon Hamm love interest character that she "forgot I was even wearing this thing, I have so many charity T-Shirts..." This scene is funny because we know that Liz Lemon is actually quite a selfish character who doesn't do charity work and is putting on an elaborate, badly performed ruse because she is desperate to date Jon Hamm. The fact that we know Liz and her trouble with men and her thinking she supports good causes but never doing anything for them makes this a funny scene beyond what is just being said. Or think of the episode of Curb in which Larry gets into trouble with a maitre d after he does not "stop and chat" with him on the street. First of all, you would probably not find that kind of precise, minute social commentary in a sketch or a film because of the time constraints. Secondly, much of the humor comes from our understanding of Larry as a guy who does not put up with social graces he doesn't agree with but still sort of craves affection from those around him and does not understand why he doesn't receive it. In these and many other examples, scenes that are not only funny to watch on the level of cleverness also have an extra level of humor to them from our understanding of these characters' three-dimensional personalities, needs and insecurities. As with any art form, there is a fundamental aspect of "why do I care about these people?" that sitcoms satisfy more than sketches or films, which to differing degrees do not allow for us to know/care about the characters as well as sitcoms do. In big ensemble casts like Seinfeld and The Office and The Simpsons, the recurring side characters become well-formed personalities as well, so that you really understand Newman or Dwight or Moe and get the subtle humor in their interactions with the world at large.

So that's the situation as it stands right now from my perspective. Could things change in the entertainment business to alter the rankings? Certainly. But it is important to keep note of the structural aspects of each format as well, since they are pretty immutable. Until new hybrid forms of film/TV/sketch arise...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

KGB ski lift

INT. KGB Offices, New York Bureau-
KGB Supervisor is speaking to KGB Officer Boris Lubov.

KGB Supervisor (thick Russian accent): Bond izz on ze top of Jiminy Peak, ze ski mountain. Your mission eez to keel heem. Now go!

(KGB Officer Boris Lubov, who is a single, boards the three-person lift with a middle-aged couple, Dave and Sue Beauregard. Dave sits in the middle. The chair lift begins to move upward)
Dave (Boston accent): Whooooweee- cold today, huh?
(Lubov grunts in agreement. He is focused on the mission)
Dave: So whereabouts do you live, my friend? The wife and I are from Medford, Mass. 'Bout 15 minutes outside a Boston.
Lubov (recalling from his case file): Parseeppany, New Juhrsey.
Dave (turns to wife): Sue, did ya hear that- Parsippany!
Sue (exasperated): Yes, honey, I heard.
Dave: My wife's sister lives in Parsippany- oh we go down there all the time. Lovely town, lovely town. Though not such a lovely sister if you know what I mean (nudges Lubov)- HA! I'm just kidding. Hey, you ever been to the Lobster Shack over there?
Lubov (hesitant): Lobster Shack? Ehh... Yes. Many time. Ze, eh, how you say, lemon butter, eez fantastic.
(Lubov looks up the mountain and sees there is still quite a ways to go. He is getting antsy)
Dave: Lemon Butter?! At the Lobster Shack?! I think you've got it confused- their signature thing is that their lobsters are so juicy you don't need any butter! Matter a fact you get nasty looks just if you ask for any.
Lubov (very nervous at this point): Ah yees, how could I forgeyt.
Dave: Don'tcha remember the jingle they have on the commercials "our lobster's better, so you don't need butter"? Maybe a little too much Stoli, eh, my friend, heh-
Sue: Honey, I think the nice man might like to be left alone for a little bit.
Dave: Oh sure, the man wants to sit here in the freezing cold in absolute silence. Totally bored out of his mind. Yeah, great call Sue. Anyway, which trails are you thinkin' a hitting? I hear Upper Jumper is a toughie but it's early in the day so the ice shouldn't be too bad.
Lubov (really mad at this point): Maybe I try that one, yes.
Dave (looking down at Lubov's shoes): Hey, you're not wearing any skis, buddy. Whaddaya have 'em up at the lodge up there, or--
(The chair lift stops in midair, still not close to the summit)
Dave: Stopped! Again! Honestly I am telling you this always happens to me. Not to other people, to me. I think the lift operators are like "Dave's on the lifts, looks like it's stoppin' time!" I mean really I-
(Lubov shoots Dave. Dave's limp body plummets into the snow below)
(Lubov and Sue are alone in the chair)
Lubov: I sorry. But he did not understand dat uncomfortable, awkward silence on chair lift much beyter than repetetive, mundane conversation about superficial connections aynd ski conditions.
Sue: Hey, I'm with you. He learned his lesson.
(the chair lift resumes movement upward)
(Lubov and Sue sit in uncomfortable silence for the remainder of the ride)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

One-liner for a female comic playing to a sophisticated college audience

"Thomas Hobbes once wrote that life in the state of nature was 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.' No wait, was he writing about life in the state of nature, or my ex-husband? (trailing off as the crowd explodes in laughter) I always mix that one..."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Bed Bug Scare at the Office

So rumor around the office is that one of the secretaries who works on the other side of the floor has bed bugs, and we are going to have to fumigate the office tomorrow. Of course everyone handles it in our oh-so-PC way and isn't curious who it is, and says "oh whoever it is, i hope she gets that taken care of." I guess this is the way a civilized society should operate in the 21st century. But part of me really wishes this were late 18th century Britain, when the scene would have been more like this:

(Enter MR. ROBERTSON, a portly bespectacled man in a 3 piece suit. With him is his manservant, JEFFREY. Jeffrey is carrying a large washtub)

Mr. Robertson: Alright ladies, out with it! Which of you swine has brought the pestilence to the office?


Mr. Robertson: Well then the whole lot of you is fired unless the guilty party steps forward!

Shirley (a timid young lass): It was me, suh. I'm the one with the bed bugs. I didn't know I had 'em, honest I didn't! (starts crying)

Mr. Robertson: There, there, darling. No one is going to hurt you. Just get undressed, and we'll take care of this.

Shirley: Oh thank you sir! Wait, undressed? In front of the whole office?

Mr. Robertson (exasperated, to Jeffrey): Probably bathes in her own shit in front of the townsmen and she won't bathe here- unbelievable... (to Shirley) Yes, let's just get this over with.

(Shirley begins to disrobe)

Mr. Robertson: Jeffrey, take her clothes and burn them will you? (noticing the horrified reaction of the other girls in the office) Oh come now, I'm going to give her new clothes!

(Mr. Robertson begins vigorously scrubbing Shirley's body in the bathtub)

Mr. Robertson (to Jeffrey): Basic sanitation, it's not that complicated! Wash your bloody armpits, maybe your lady parts!

Jeffrey: Perhaps I could hand out a book on the subject to the girls?

Shirley: I'd like that!

Mr. Robertson: Jeffrey, we're not dealing with the Dutchess of York here, alright, they've probably never read the Bible. Just put a big vat of lye in the corner over there. (disgusted, he stands up) Jesus, I've taken too much time on this already. You finish up. I've got a bridge game at the club! Don't let anyone pull anything naughty with the girl. Not that I'd expect that from you given your proclivities.

Jeffrey: Mr. Robertson!

Mr. Robertson: Oh come now, you big queen, I'll keep your little secret.

(Mr. Robertson storms off in a huff)
Mr. Robertson (muttering to himself): Cleaning vermin off these swine... I went to Oxford... I should've been a barrister... Harrison's a barrister... he spends his days writing and reading like a proper gentleman...

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Humorist, an occasional series

This begins an occasional series in which I, Dan, one of the foremost comic voices of our times, expound upon what makes various comic works of interest to the general public either funny or not funny, and on comedy in general.

Let me begin with some remarks on satire, which is a form of comedy to which I am particularly drawn. A later post will discuss narrative television/film, but this post concerns more sketch/variety/internet videos/The Onion kind of stuff. Satire, broadly speaking, presents some slightly altered version of the real world in a humorous way that usually sheds light on/pokes fun at some aspect of the real world. In my mind, the best satire knows its target very well, and presents its form of an alternative universe in a relatively deadpan way, as if what we are watching is not an alternate reality but actual reality. But to this (and I've only recently realized this as a general principle), you have to add an element of the absurd in some character(s).

Straight satire that nails the tone of a subject but is relatively dry and lacks heightened absurdity in any of its characters will be very funny though ultimately not brilliantly hilarious. In this category I would place the Onion News Network (sorry Nostradamus I know you are a huge fan). It is very funny but if you watch a solid piece like this, the reporter ultimately is not that absurd. Much absurdity comes from characters being delusional or acting in some way against the prevailing expectations of the audience. This anchor person is saying funny, out there things, but ultimately the performance does not convey enough absurdity, and reads a little dry. That being said, it is extremely well written and nails the 'knowing your subject' and 'deadpan' aspects of satire, which make it quite funny nonetheless.

Horrific 120-Car Pileup A Sad Reminder Of Princess Diana�s Death

Speaking of The Onion, in print form, the most brilliant satirical pieces of The Onion add that element of the absurd to the usual 'knowing your subject' and 'deadpan' elements that many funny but not brilliant pieces possess. Compare this brilliant piece to this merely quite funny piece to see the difference (note: most of the humor in these things can be gleaned from the headline and picture). That headline "Rumsfeld looking forward to Secretary's Day" and the picture of Rumsfeld gleefully reading a card are not only presented in a deadpan way, but also are just patently absurd. Imagining Rumsfeld in this situation is hilarious, because it is so far from our expectations.

Speaking of brilliance in satire, I bring you a skit from Mr. Show called Mustardayonnaise.

This skit is mocking the silliness of Dijonnaise, a product from the mid-90s that combined mustard and mayonnaise into one jar. It is poking fun specifically at the idea promoted by Dijonnaise's marketers that the current situation of having separate jars of mayonnaise and mustard is some sort of time-consuming, work-intensive burden. Of course it nails the style of an Apple 1984 type of ad and it is presented in a deadpan way that does not "wait for laughs" but rather powers through just as a real ad would. And again those are necessary elements of good satire. But what kicks it up to a whole other level of brilliance is in its absurdity. The absurdity here is they've taken the modest notion that using separate jars of mustard and mayonnaise is a work-intensive burden and taken it to an insanely heightened level. With the "Tired of being a two-jar slave" and the shackle imagery, they are comparing using two jars of condiments to slavery, which is hilariously absurd because it is so far from reality and shows a level of delusion on the part of the marketers of this product. Similarly, this brilliant follow up sketch takes the idea of the two condiment jars as time-consuming to heightened, absurd levels, buoyed by the extra joke that now we have to combine two jars of condiments that are already combinations of mustard and mayonnaise themselves into a new condiment.

This tiny problem in the real world of it taking a little extra time to use two condiment jars is heightened to absurd levels by literally having a man miss out on his entire life because he's spent it making mustard and mayonnaise sandwiches using two jars.

Another brilliant satirist is Stephen Colbert. Take this video- just watch the first 45 seconds or so,

In it, Colbert asks various liberals whether George W Bush is "a great president, or the greatest president ever?" Again, there is an absurdity here (in addition to deadpan-ness and knowing the subject) that gives this piece its extra comic brilliance. The Colbert character's delusion and pomposity are patently absurd, and upend our expectations about what a real reporter might ask a liberal about President Bush, who they of course perceive as the worst president ever. Asking "good president or great president" would be funny, but the pomposity of "great president or greatest president ever" is genius, and Colbert's sincerely arrogant performance sells the thing. Also, it is funny for absurd characters to interview real people, as we see with Borat or Ali G, because the satirist is now upending our expectations about the real world (sort of) within the context of that real world, rather than in a facsimile of the real world as most satire does, which adds a new level of absurdity and heightens the similarity to the thing being satirized and the deadpan humor.

Compare all of this to a couple examples of what I consider bad satire. Take this MadTV parody of Deal or No Deal (don't watch the whole thing clearly not worth it but get a little flavor).

Several elements make this skit unfunny. First of all, it doesn't nail the deadpan aspect of good satire. You can see the two actors who play the contestants are hamming it up and enjoying themselves on a personal level outside of the needs of the skit; you can see that they are even sometimes laughing at their own jokes. This sort of thing kills satire because it takes you out of the mindset that you are actually watching something real, albeit in an alternate universe, and reminds you that you are watching a comedy sketch. Beyond that, the skit is poorly written and its central conceit is not absurd at all. They've taken the idea that some black contestants on the real Deal or No Deal are loud and silly, and then only made these contestants a tad louder and a tad sillier. Well that's not absurd and is not funny. SNL often suffers from a similar problem of taking a current event like a debate and tweaking it a tiny bit to make it sillier but not committing to a full-on absurd take which really heightens the disconnect between the world of the skit and the real world. What could have made this skit funnier? The actors being more committed to their roles rather than their own personal glory, and an absurd conceit like for instance the contestants asking Howie if they can have their whole family onstage to help make a decision and the family ends up being 30-people large, and he asks every single one of them what they think. Not that great I know but this is not very fertile starting material!

Finally, a handful of points about a few other comic voices/performers whose satire I have qualms with. Jon Stewart lacks Colbert's genius because, although he is often quite funny, his character (the newsanchor) is fundamentally not that absurd and he often breaks deadpan character. We see Jon Stewart, the acerbic liberal guy who agrees with us and makes quips about the idiots running our country. Fine, he says some funny things yes. But there is nothing in that setup that is heightened absurdity, and he makes too many asides that may be sort of funny in a one-off way but he often laughs at his own jokes and this all contributes to a general sloppiness that takes away from the similarity with a real newscast. Jimmy Fallon used to do this to a far greater extent on Weekend Update, which I found far more egregious.

Now let's think in this final section about Will Ferrell. In his early performances, such as in Zoolander or as George W Bush, there was something fundamentally absurd and delusional in his characters. Bush the dim witted frat boy ran the country but cared more about how cool the car he'd get to ride in would be, or Mugatu ran an international fashion company but cared more about his poodle, etc. And Ferrell committed to these performances, losing himself in the roles in a deadpan way. But now since Anchorman, he has been playing the same boorish character over and over again and it has morphed, especially in this latest movie Semi Pro, into basically just Will Ferrell. He can no longer do deadpan- you watch him and you can tell how funny he, Will Ferrell, thinks he is being as you watch the performance. There's nothing clever in these characters, they are just arrogant buffoons, but lacking the subtelty of his earlier, more vulnerable, buffoons. They're not really absurd from an intellectual standpoint, they're just dumb.

Well, that was longer than I expected. I hope you enjoy this and maybe next time I'll release these things in shorter installments.