Why the Emmys and Sofia Vergara got it wrong last night

I like Sofia Vergara – in fact, I’m a huge fan of her’s, and think she’s a fantastic comedienne. Unfortunately, last night at the Emmys, she allowed herself to be used in yet another of the seemingly unending list of jokes that poke fun at her physical attributes. While Emmy chairman Bruce Rosenblum droned on about the Emmys, Vergara stood on a rotating platform – kinda like a mannequin. Well, maybe exactly like a mannequin. Because it’s Sofia Vergara, she did what she could with the bit with some nifty and subtle facial expressions to inject some irony into the silly bit, but overall, it was tone deaf, regressive, silly and dull.

SofiaVergara1 SofiaVergara2 SofiaVergara3 SofiaVergara4 SofiaVergara5 SofiaVergara6

Folks have already taken to social media to voice their displeasure at the gratuitous display, and Vergara herself even defended the skit, scolding the scolds by saying we’re humorless and we just don’t get that one can be hot and funny and make fun of oneself all at the same time. I respectfully disagree. Like I said, Sofia Vergara is probably the funniest woman working on TV today – and to a certain extent, a lot of her comedy comes from her accent and her looks. But in the context of her show Modern Family, her comedic persona is given shading and depth (no, really, I promise). On Modern Family, Vergara’s Gloria is a sarcastic, articulate, and witty wonder, whose perfect comic timing works parallel with the sight gags she’s often subjected to; on the Emmy stage last night, all of that context is scrubbed away, and all we got was Vergara, looking hot, in a tight dress, being displayed for effect. And the lowest hanging fruit of this whole thing is that if you have Sofia Vergara, you don’t need to solely zero in on her looks, at the expense of her other talents; had this been a male comic, none of this nonsense would happen, no matter how good looking he is (though the rub is male comics are allowed more leeway when it comes to looks than their female colleagues). If given fun and smart material, Vergara could’ve done something much more substantial or profound and funny than just simply stand on a pedestal and rotate.

Some argue that the joke was ironic and satire. Yeah, well, then the joke didn’t land because you don’t get to be sexist and then say, “but wait a minute – we were being ironic” – sorry, hipsters try that line every day and it doesn’t work. Others will say that yet again, feminists are poo pooing on someone’s parade, bringing down our hammer of humorlessness. But I never bought into the idea that feminists aren’t funny – after all, Kathy Griffin, Whoopi Goldberg, Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin, and Kathy Najimy are all hilarious funny feminists who don’t deny their physical beauty nor their comedic talents – they work hand-in-hand. And that’s the case for most of Vegara’s work, too – she’s a combo of both Ricky and Lucy. But last night was a misstep in an otherwise hilarious career.

Leave a comment

Filed under Celeb, Comedy, commentary, Nonfiction, Sitcom, Television

Carol Leifer gives career advice with ‘How to Succeed in Business without Really Crying’

Imagine if What Color Is Your Parachute? or Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow was written by a comedian, and you’ll get a decent idea of what Carol Leifer’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying, a strange combo of career guide/humor essay memoir. Leifer – a popular and successful comic, stand-up, and comedy writer – gives her readers tips on how to move forward in their careers by using her own story as a source of inspiration. Though Leifer is a very funny lady, the book is fitfully successful.

As a career guide, Leifer’s book rarely moves beyond common sense (dress for success, don’t be late, do research before showing up, that sort of thing, don’t be jerk to the receptionist). She doesn’t have much to offer that most wouldn’t learn from a pamphlet or poster at a high school career guidance counselor’s office. The book’s gimmick – that the tips are illustrated by anecdotes from Liefer’s career and life – isn’t enough to make the book an interesting take on the career guide. If Leifer had worked with a career counselor and collaborated on the project, maybe How to Succeed… might’ve worked.

And though the book doesn’t succeed as a substantive career guide, it does work as a humor essay collection. When she focuses on tales of her work and adventures she had plugging away, building her career as a stand-up comic, the book is pretty fantastic. Also good are the parts of the book which deal with her supportive family and great network of friends, which include Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Riser (and there are some great pictures of Seinfeld and Riser in the book with fun 70s hair).  When Leifer moves away from career search cliches, How to Succeed is a fun, diverting read.

Click here to buy Carol Leifer’s How to Succeed in Business without Really Crying on amazon.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Book, Celeb, Comedy, Humor Essay Collection, Memoir, Nonfiction, Sitcom, Television, Writing

Bob Saget shares pain, triumph, and a lot of dirty jokes in ‘Dirty Daddy’

There are two Bob Sagets: the family-friendly TV personality from such classic anodyne shows like Full House and America’s Funniest Videos and the raunchy, foul-mouthed comic who revels in dick and ball jokes. In Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian, readers definitely get the latter, as the Saget writes about his life and career, but lobs a lot of scatological and sexual asides. While the stories are for the most part heartfelt and poignant – his family suffered a lot of loss, including the deaths of two of his sisters – he sometimes undermines his own work by his stylistic choice of letting his stories and anecdotes trail off on raunchy and off-color tangents. While spoken, these quick quips would probably work and be funny, on paper, it looks confusing and takes away from the power of his writing.

Most casual fans – or people who grew up in the 80s will hope to read some dishy dirt about the behind the scenes antics that went on during Full House‘s run. Those readers will be disappointed because Saget is refreshingly kind and complimentary toward his fictional family. He remains tight with John Stamos, Dave Coulier, Candace Cameron, Jodie Sweetin, and the Olson twins. He’s famously protective of his onscreen daughters, refusing to indulge in any jokes about them, nor allowing for others to tease them in his presence. He writes about how talented the kids are and he remains tight-lipped about the tabloid-heavy celebrity of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson. And though he recognizes that Full House is a syrupy show, he remains surprisingly staunch in his defense of its morals, insisting that family programming like Full House has a place on TV – a strange thing for a comic like Saget to write, especially in light of his fondness for rude language.

When I finished reading Dirty Daddy I thought back and asked myself “Did I laugh?” The truth: not really. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good book – it is, and actually some parts of the book achieve a level of greatness that shows a great promise in Saget as an author. When he writes about his comic heroes – Don Rickles, Rodney Dangerfield, Bob Newhart – or when he references his comic colleagues and pals like Jeffrey Ross, Louis C.K., or Norm MacDonald, readers get the sense that Saget really loves the art of stand-up comedy. He has a cheeky reverence for the craft and an admirable work ethic.

Dirty Daddy is a solid work that doesn’t achieve its full promise because Saget’s particular comic style doesn’t translate all that successfully on paper. It doesn’t mean he shouldn’t pursue writing, but he still needs to develop his author muscle and find his writer voice (as opposed to simply treat his book like a transcript of his stand-up work). Once he figures out how to adapt his estimable comic voice for print, his books will be much stronger.

Click here to buy Bob Saget’s Dirty Daddy: The Chronicles of a Family Man Turned Filthy Comedian on amazon.com.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Book, Celeb, Comedy, Humor Essay Collection, Memoir, Nonfiction, Sitcom, Television, Writing

Uli Edel’s adaption of ‘The Mists of Avalon’ starts off strongly but loses steam…

The Mists of Avalon [VHS]The legend of King Arthur has been retold many times in print and on film. The consistent theme in the various adaptations has been the male point of view. In Uli Edel’s adaptation of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s popular novel The Mists of Avalon is different because the story of the Arthurian legend is told through the perspective of the women in the story, namely Morgaine (a so-so Julianna Margulies), King Arthur’s powerful sorceress sister.

Produced by TNT in 2001, the miniseries shows the story of the battle in England – the Saxons are threatening to conquer Britain. In the sprawling three hours, the script – penned by Gavin Scott – throws a lot at the audience: murder, violence, incest, usurpation, Pagan rituals, religious warfare. It’s dizzying and at times, a bit overwhelming to try and take it all in.

As a protagonist, Morgain’s an interesting choice. A conflicted and complex woman, she come of age, being raised in the traditions of the Goddess. She’s a seer with powers to see into the future. Taken away from her mother at an early age, she’s groomed to be a priestess by Vivian, Lady of the Lake (a commanding Angelica Huston),  the high priestess who is working to protect Avalon from the impending invasion of the Saxons.

Narrated by Morgain, the story takes some tragic turns. The story is plodding and episodic, each sequence working as a separate mini-story (it’s clear when watching the film in its entirety that it’s meant to be viewed in 40-minute increments). Some of the sequences work better than others, and the first half of the film is much more compelling than the second half, which includes elements of soap opera. While watching Morgain’s development and her evolution from wide-eyed child to a wise if calculating woman, we see Britain go through some important changes. Along with Vivian, she also has to contend with her aunt, Morgause (Joan Allen, who approaches scene-chewing camp), a frustrated and duplicitous woman whose machinations has tragic repercussions later on in the film.

For a television miniseries, the production values are impressive. The budgets for TNT made-for-TV movies must’ve been very generous because the scenery is often breathtaking. The scenes on the lake when Morgain is riding on a boat toward Avalon are gorgeous with swirling fog that adds atmosphere. Unfortunately, Edel doesn’t trust in subtly and the addition of the New Agey film score (which includes chanting by Celtic musician Loreena McKennitt) that pushes the film into Enya music video territory.

There are lots of battle scenes, and the violence isn’t for the squeamish – in one scene when Vivian and Morgain return to Camelot, the place is a post-apocalyptic mess with corpses strewn about and severed heads gruesomely impaled on spikes. The fight sequences are expertly filmed and superbly choreographed.

At a little over three hours, The Mists of Avalon drags towards the end. Because every character is full of contradictory impulses and allegiances, it’s difficult to root for anyone – even Morgain, the most sympathetic of the characters, has dark shadings and specious impulses. Still if one chops up the film in installments, then it’s a solid bit of entertainment.

Click here to buy The Mists of Avalon on DVD on amazon.com.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book, commentary, DVD, movie, movie review, Television, Writing

A recipe for (and a story about) a poached salmon dinner

I was at the supermarket ready to buy some salmon fillets when I saw the salmon steaks – these huge, meaty, Flinstones-like mofo’s that weren’t too much more expensive. I bought two steaks and the fish monger warned me that I would have to remove the bones. “Be careful,” he advised, “they’re shaped like pins.”

I bought the steaks, and I also got some spinach and some potatoes. I was going to make pan fries, sauteed spinach and poached salmon. All was well until I got the salmon home and saw how difficult it will be to get the bones out. I looked online and saw that most people used tweezers – something I didn’t want to do because we use tweezers in the house for our bathroom-related grooming needs, and the last thing I wanted to do was overlap our bathroom utensils with our kitchen utensils. So I looked around my kitchen and searched for the right tools – I grabbed a pair of tongs, scissors, and pair of herb scissors (which are basically scissors with five blades to save time on chopping herbs).

I took to the salmon and realized this would be a problem. The herb scissors were too big and were hacking away at the meat, making salmon tartar. The regular scissors were simply snipping the ends of the pins, but leaving the bulk of the bone embedded in the meat. And the tongs were to big and get at the end of a pin – you really need tiny instruments for surgery this precise. I was still reticent to use tweezers, so I actually used my teeth and pulled pins out with my mouth like a stupid dog. After a few bones were pulled out, I stopped, realizing that if someone saw me gnawing at a raw salmon steak, it would look nuts, if taken out of context.

So, I broke down and got our tweezers – which worked like a charm. Now, my thing will be how to get the tweezers clean again – I’m thinking of boiling them in a pot of hydrogen peroxide.

So, while watching Mrs. Brown’s Boys in the background (an Irish sitcom with a dude playing a feisty old lady – it’s like the Irish Tyler Perry), I made dinner. I’m still learning to cook and not leave the kitchen looking like a disaster, but haven’t learned it yet, so even though I started with a clean kitchen, my sink is crammed with dishes. I’m a great cook, but I need to a maid to clean up after me.

Anyways, so I made poached salmon steaks with sauteed spinach and oven fries. These are the ingredients.

Salmon:
2 salmon steaks, with the bones pulled out – use tweezers, not your teeth
1/2 cup of dry white wine – I buy the cheap plonk that comes in tiny, airplane bottles.
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of vegetarian broth
1 rib of celery, chopped in big pieces
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1/4 onion cut in wedges
4 peppercorns
1 sprig of fresh dill

Spinach:
1/2 bag of spinach
1/2 can of Cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup of vegetarian broth
1 clove of garlic, minced finely
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
pepper

Potatoes:
4 small potatoes, cut into wedges
1 tbl of Coleman’s dried mustard
1 tsp of dried dill
1 tbl of olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, mix the potato wedges, mustard, dill, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and stab some holes into the bowl. Microwave on high for about 3 minutes to parboil the potatoes.

When the potatoes finish cooking in the microwave, remove CAREFULLY – the bowl gets extra hot and when you remove the plastic wrap, make sure that when you unwrap the bowl, keep your face away from the bowl because the heat is ridiculously hot.

Take a cookie sheet and grease it lightly and pour the potatoes onto the pan and spread them until they make a single layer and throw into the oven and bake for about 10 minutes until they form a crispy brown crust – I’d check them after about 8 minutes.

While your potatoes are cooking, work on the fish. Pour the wine, broth, and water into a large pan. Add the vegetables into the liquid and throw in the peppercorns and the dill sprig and let it come to a boil. Lower the heat until it simmers and carefully put in the salmon steaks. let them simmer until they are cooked – about 10 minutes. Grind the pepper and keep mixing.

When your fish is done, remove it from the liquid and cover and let it sit for a few minutes and serve it with the potatoes and the spinach. For a sauce for the fish, I mixed horseradish mustard with sour cream.

While your fish is cooking, heat oil in a pan over a medium heat, and add the garlic and let it cook for about a minute until it gets fragrant. Add the red pepper flakes and stir constantly to make sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the beans and broth and mix, raising the heat to high to boil, and let the liquid reduce to half. Then add the spinach leaves, a handful at a time and mix – some of the leaves will be wilted and some will be barely cooked.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under cooking, recipe, Writing

Taylor Swift’s new single and video is a product of bad timing and bad judgment

When I first watched Taylor Swift’s new video “Shake It Off” – I have to admit, I smiled at the goofy, jokey nature of the video. Swift dancing with various groups of dancers – a flock of ballet swans, some break dancers, girls twerking, interpretive dancers – all set to her shiny, hooky pop record.

I watched the video again though and realized that though the video is fun it does smack a bit of bad timing and bad judgment. Like Miley Cyrus, Swift swipes black urban culture as well as black female sexuality to sell her new single. Unlike Cyrus, though, there’s at least a sense of humor and self-deprecation with Twift’s appropriation, but it’s not enough to make it okay to have a line of black women’s butts gyrating on the screen, while Swift crawls underneath, staring in astonishment.

TaylorSwift1 TaylorSwift3TaylorSwift2

Like Cyrus, Swift popularizes the Hottentot Venus image, juxtaposing her tall, thin white frame against the muscular black backup dancers. In fact, much of the video is Swift appropriating hip-hop culture by donning hip-hop drag – dressing like a Fly Girl for the twerking sequence, while donning hip-hop gear for the break dancing bits (she even shoulders a giant boom box). A lot of the video’s comedy is a “fish out of water” kind of deal where we see the pop star’s porcelain complexion and almost-white blond hair compared against the crew of dancers backing her up.

TaylorSwift4

 

When writing about Miley Cyrus, Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote, “Cyrus’ choice of the kind of black bodies to foreground her white female sexuality was remarkable for how consistent it is with these historical patterns…But I believe there is a pattern in the cultural denigration of [black bodies] as inferior, nonthreatening spaces where white women like Cyrus can play at being ‘dirty’ without risking their sexual appeal.” Though Cottom was referring to Cyrus, she could’ve been writing about Swift, Madonna, or any other white female pop diva who surrounds herself with black/Hispanic dancers.

Again, unlike Cyrus, Swift uses humor – and to a certain extent, it charms her viewers (I was charmed), in a way that Cyrus failed. She posits herself as a pop music Carol Burnett, and because she’s the gawky butt of the joke, she’s given a tiny space because her cultural appropriation could be seen as just a laugh. And she avoids the kind of ugly racism that Cyrus traded in, by using her coltish awkwardness to stand out when badly keeping up with the ballerinas and the interpretive dancers. Like a Saturday Night Live skit, Swift exaggerates her bodily differences from her backup dancers to comic effect (though, it has to be noted that even if she can’t dance a lick, she looks a lot like a ballerina).

If we weren’t embroiled in another national topic about race, Swift’s video faux pas would seem harmless. But as we’re seeing daily in Ferguson, MO the disregard and exploitation of black bodies have tragic repercussions. I can’t help but think that the concept of the video should’ve been revised to get rid of the more problematic images in the video.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Celeb, commentary, music

‘God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked: Tales of Stand-Up, Saturday Night Live,and Other Mind-Altering Mayhem’ by Darrell Hammond

Reading Darrell Hammond’s harrowing memoir God, If You’re Not Up There I’m F*cked is difficult in light of Robin Williams’ recent death. Like Williams, Hammond is a talented comedian who also struggles with substance abuse and depression. While many would like saddle Hammond with the “sad clown” cliché – the trope that a comedian is depressed because he’s so busy making other people happy, he doesn’t have time to make himself happy – the story is much more complex. Hammond’s story is one of recovery and creativity. A book like this is both disturbing and illuminating. Hammond’s willingness to share is bracing and impressive.

Known for his prodigious talent for impressions, Hammond’s celebrity is mainly due to his 14 years on Saturday Night Live. Interestingly enough, though he did celebrities like Phil Donahue, Sean Connery or Ted Koppel, his most popular and most noteworthy work was his politician impressions: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Donald Trump, and Dick Cheney in particular. By his own admission, Hammond’s comedy was largely relegated to impressions, leaving his other work on SNL, limited to minor roles. One would assume that because of his focus on Washington, Hammond would be politically astute. Even though he enjoyed warm friendships with his targets, Hammond openly admits political indifference and ignorance. His apolitical posturing, while noble, does make a lot of his writing seem toothless and safe.

Thankfully when he shifts focus from show business, the writing becomes much more urgent and passionate, reflecting the witty title. Hammond’s childhood was wretched: an army vet dad who suffered from PTSD and was largely emotionally distant from his son. And worse than that, a physically abusive mother would mete out acts of torture on her son. In this awful environment, Hammond found his love for baseball, but injuries kept him from becoming pro. He then turned to drama and found his way. The damage, though, was done – even though he found his calling in comedy, his life was perpetually sidelined by his demons and addictions.

When describing his stints in rehab, Hammond shows a genuine talent for writing. He writes about the other patients with love and care – these characters had personal stories that were just as frightening as Hammond’s: the abused and neglected of society who often remain invisible are instead blessed with dignity and grace with Hammond’s pen. He doesn’t create heroes or role models; instead, he makes them human beings. Too often addicts are painted as self-involved and self-indulgent – what Hammond does is he places these people in a larger context, by sharing backstories that give some clues as to why people become ill. He doesn’t claim to be the voice of addiction, but by telling his story as well as the stories of his friends, he gives much-needed complexity to popular conceptions of addictions.

Not all of the book works- his name dropping doesn’t do anything for his narrative because, save for Paris Hilton, all of the celebrities he runs into are gracious and polite according to Hammond. He doesn’t go into much depth when writing about his star encounters, other than that said celebrity was game and receptive and got along well with the cast and the writers. If one is looking for dish, then Hammond’s book will not suffice – better look into former cast member Jay Mohr’s Gasping for Air Time or Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s excellent Life from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live for tales of spoiled celebrities who abuse their fame. Hammond’s a gentleman, and rarely goes into any detail when writing about the stars who hosted the show.

When writing about addiction and fame, often the stories take on faux-heroic tones – professional survivors are endemic in showbiz. Thankfully, Hammond stays clear from self-pity or self aggrandizement. He successfully imparts his struggles and his journey without indulging in any sort of pop psycho-babble: instead he uses clear language with some beautiful writing (I loved the detail and care he gives when he writes about his fellow patients in the rehab centers). God, If You’re Not There, I’m F*cked is a tremendous accomplishment.

Click here to buy Darrell Hammond’s God, If You’re Not There, I’m F*cked on amazon.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Biography, Book, Celeb, Comedy, Humor Essay Collection, Memoir, movie, Nonfiction, politics, Television, Writing