Tag Archives: Stephen Colbert

Heeeeeere’s Johnny!

Nineteen years ago today, Johnny Carson said goodbye.

Retiring after thirty years at the age of 66, Carson walked away from a show that became part of the fabric of American pop culture. Much like Ed Sullivan’s variety show, unknown performers could become instant superstars just by nailing a single appearance. Carson didn’t start the Tonight Show (Steve Allen and Jack Paar preceded him), nor would he finish it, but his impact upon it and the late-night talk show design will forever be paramount.

Other talk shows of the day were warm and fuzzy (Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas) or a bit cerebral (Dick Cavett); Carson blended both with a parade of incredible guests and a willingness to be as serious or silly as the situation required. He let people be themselves. During his reign, the show’s title became secondary to the man; artists simply referred to “being on Carson“.

On his final night, Carson went out with grace and class:

And so it has come to this: I, uh… am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the gentlemen who’ve shared this stage with me for thirty years. Mr. Ed McMahon, Mr. Doc Severinsen, and you people watching. I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you would like and come back that you’ll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.”

Video: Excerpts from the final show

Although he never came back into the public eye, his legacy lives on through everyone who speaks into a microphone from behind a desk, and the advent of cable television has allowed many students to co-exist in the form. While initially his replacement Jay Leno and his protegé David Letterman split the bulk of the audience, a flood of worthy children now occupy the night-time hours and will be worthy successors to their aging mentors.

Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher have taken the political end of the spectrum to new heights; Stewart is often singled out as the most trusted source of news on television, despite his consistent disclaimer that his is a comedy show. (Speaks volumes about the networks, doesn’t it?).

After holding slots previously occupied by both Leno and Letterman, Conan O’Brien’s new TBS effort proved that people will follow the man, not the show. The embarrassing NBC debacle was followed by the guerilla Team Coco movement, and Conan remains a strong brand and a unique personality.

After shaky starts, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson and especially Jimmy Fallon have proven to have solid and consistent programs that attract first-rate guests and feature brilliant writing. Along with smaller network show hosts (Chelsea Handler, George Lopez, Mo’Nique, Graham Norton), the comedy/music/chat formula is in good hands.

But to a person, each will point a finger back at the master, Johnny Carson.

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Comedy Awards Tonight!

I’ve sat through countless other awards – why not for comedy?

Tonight at 9pm Eastern on Comedy Central, the first Comedy Awards will be broadcast. I’m not certain whether I can say “first annual” since the promotion for the show lists it as a historic, one-night-only celebration”.

According to the website, nominees were selected by The Comedy Awards Board of Directors, which includes: James Burrows, Stephen Colbert, Billy Crystal, James Dixon, Budd Friedman, Whoopi Goldberg, Brad Grey, Caroline Hirsch, Blair Kohan, Martin Lesak, Steve Levine, Seth MacFarlane, Adam McKay, Jimmy Miller, Conan O’Brien, Peter Principato, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers, Jay Roach, Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Rory Rosegarten, Phil Rosenthal, Michael Rotenberg, George Schlatter, Sharon Sheinwold Jackson, Mitzi Shore, David Steinberg,Jon Stewart, Lily Tomlin, Sandy Wernick and Geof Wills. That’s an odd mix of the deserving and the obscure.

You are also able to log on for the simulcast, which starts at 8:45 and features commentary by Andy Daly and Jen Kirkman along with red carpet interviews by Christian Finnegan. Andy and Jen will also host a series of short intermissions throughout the show with more interviews and coverage of the backstage press conference. Among the interviewees are Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Louis CK, Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, Kristin Schaal, Olivia Munn, Craig Robinson, Questlove & The Roots, Ty Burrell, Chloe Moretz, The Gregory Brothers, Rob Corddry and more.

Here are your categories and nominees for the event. Since the actual event took place on March 26th, you could spoil everything by looking up the winners or even watching the acceptance speeches. But that would only be funny if you could find a stupid person to wager with.

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Happy Birthday, Jon Stewart

The quality of a man is determined by the company he keeps.

A successful man makes those around him better.

Jon Stewart must be a successful, quality guy. The Daily Show has won fourteen Emmy Awards in the category of Comedy, Music or Variety Series- six for Outstanding Writing and eight consecutive awards for Outstanding Program. He and his staff of writers have obviously been doing things right since 1999. I mean, I like Craig Kilbourn, but the only time I associate hm with the program is when consciously recounting the history of the program, even though it was his attitude behind the host’s desk that set the stage for Stewart’s success. So thanks, Craig!

Speaking of springboards to success, thanks again John. Thanks for John Oliver and Samantha Bee and Larry Wilmot and Stephen Colbert. Thanks for Steve Carell, Ron Corddry, Wyatt Cenac, Rob Riggle, John Hodgman, Rachael Harris and Ed Helms.

And – I must bow when I say this – thank you for Lewis Black.

Thanks for your blatant admission of being a comedian and not a newsman, yet presenting a more interesting, informative and well-balanced news show than all of the other networks combined. Thanks for not backing away or backing down, and especially not cracking from the sheer volumes of lunacy that surround us every day. Thanks for using humor and satire like a sword and a beacon, to cut through the fog and a to illuminate our social frailties and political illnesses.

 Thanks for constantly poking holes in the airbags that are Fox News and MSNBC and somehow making Comedy Central a far more credible source for news and information than two of the most highly funded global organizations in the news business.

Thanks for making me laugh…and think.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Stewart. Here’s your moment of Zen.

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Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear

Schedule as of Friday; for updates, click here.

If you can’t be in Washington DC, find a local gathering.

PRE-PRE SHOW — 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Video montages/music will play on the Jumbotrons around the venue to entertain the crowd as they gather.

PRESHOW — 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.

12:00 – 12:40 — THE ROOTS will play for the crowd.

12:40 – 12:57 — Comedian (TBD) will warm-up the audience.

12:57 – 1:00 — Video countdown & intros

SHOW — 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

1:00 – 1:05 SINGING OF THE NATIONAL ANTHEM — Musical guest (TBD)

1:05 – 1:20 JON STEWART welcomes the crowd

1:20 – 1:30 STEPHEN COLBERT enters

1:30 – 1:35 BENEDICTION by actor Don Novello

1:35 – 1:40 POEM read by actor Sam Waterston

1:40 – 1:50 JEFF TWEEDY & MAVIS STAPLES perform

1:50 – 2:15 JON & STEPHEN perform

2:15 – 2:20 SHERYL CROW performs

2:20 – 2:30 SPEAKERS Guests make brief statements, both LIVE and TAPE (TBD)

2:30 – 2:40 MUSICAL GUEST (TBD)

2:40 – 2:40 SANITY & FEAR awards – PRETAPED footage.

2:50 – 3:00 JON AND STEPHEN’S FINAL STATEMENTS

3:00 – ???  SANITY RESTORED IN AMERICA

(Let’s hope that last one lasts at least until Wednesday…)

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The Teabag Party

Maybe the way to defeat a stupid idea is with a stupider idea.

That’s what the Tea Party seems like to me. Hey, I’m no fan of lame politicians who get free lifetime health care benefits yet can’t seem to understand that affordable healthcare for the rest of us is an important issue. Or the radio zealots who twist and turn everything into an urgent problem because that’s what gets ratings and lines their pockets. I’m an Independent; I think the function of the Republican and Democrat parties has devolved to the point where they exist just to battle each other. Both have forgotten who they work for – you and me.

So the premise of flushing out lazy incumbents is a good one, but unfortunately the Tea Party is not ambivalent in their cause; they’re simply focused upon a hardcore right-wing agenda. These are the people who think Ronald Reagan was the greatest President in American history rather than an emasculated B-movie actor who consulted psychics but succeeded only because he was an actor who could read the cue cards.  (The Republicans apparently forgot the value of this gimmick in recent years.)

I just can’t believe so many people take the drivel they’re given and follow it like sheep. But no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American Public.

America has a long legacy of brilliant, inventive women leaders, yet the first female presidential candidate might be one of the most ill-informed pinheads ever to walk the Earth. And I’m not sure what’s more frightening – the fact that she could actually win or that a large percentage of the population doesn’t realize that she is as dumb as a rock when it comes to foreign policy, economics, world culture or any critical issue facing our country.

So if I’m going to wallow in political hysteria, at least I’m going to get some laughs out of it. Enter Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who (along with a staff or crack writers and performers) probably bring more sanity to the whole damned thing despite the comedy than Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann do with their passionate yet slanted perspectives.

So I’m going to side with what I will refer to as the Teabag Party. See you on October 30th in Washington DC! If all else fails, and we don’t restore sanity to the masses, at least the day after the rally is Halloween. Then we’ll have two reasons to have the shit scared out of us.

And as for America and the elections? We’ll get what we deserve. To paraphrase Tiny Tim…”God help us, every one“.

Jon Stewart’s Rally To Restore Sanity

Stephen Colbert’s  March To Keep Fear Alive

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Second City, Twice

It’s probably just a coincidence that Eli and I were talking about SCTV the other day, because she had no way of knowing I had just picked up a couple of books about The Second City (one about the history of the theatre; the other about the television show).

I hadn’t planned on reporting for Jury Duty on the first day of Summer, but having been through the drill before I knew that I’d probably have to kill a little bit of time. As it turned out, it was a good thing I brought both books.

The first was one I had read before, an insider’s recollection by Dave Thomas about the show, the cast, and how it all came together called SCTV Behind The Scenes. Thomas weaves personal observations with interviews with others into an engaging narrative about the origins of the program as well as the camaraderie – and sometimes rivalries – between the cast members. In doing so he is unflinchingly honest about his own myopia and drive which sometimes placed him at odds with fellow actors and staff while trying to put the show first.

There’s a lot of inside peeks at the process of turning writing sessions into post-produced pieces for air; how despite comparisons to Saturday Night Live the shows were really apples and oranges; how dedicated behind-the-scenes people from makeup artists to producers were usually in way over their head but delivered anyway. Despite the incredible difficulties involved in staging and (mostly) selling the show, their ability to self-create in a vacuum without regard for ratings or network input led to what most of them consider the artistic peak of their careers.

Behind The Scenes is already fifteen years old but still a wonderful read and a must for any SCTV fan. It’s a vivid reminder of how blessed we were to have a company with such creative minds cranking out truly original material. There’s a great essay from Conan O’Brien where he describes the impact the show had upon him. He felt for the first time that a comedy program was speaking directly to him while refusing to dumb it down for the masses; it was a logic that he would carry forward and use in his own career. (And his story about first meeting John Candy is both funny and a heart-warming tribute to both men.)

Unscripted, written by Mike Thomas (A Chicago journalist, no apparent relation to Dave) is a 2009 book that presents a fascinating history of the Second City theatre framed within quotes from its creators and participants. Although the Chicago side of the story dominates – as it should – Thomas pays great tribute to the Toronto establishment and sheds light on the many road shows and other city-based affiliates.

If you’ve read Live From New York by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller – among the best tomes on Saturday Night Live – you’ll be familiar with the structure that Unscripted utilizes. Both authors conducted a bevy of interviews and weave quotes and anecdotes from the insiders to tell a chronological story. It’s an effective technique – as if a group of famous people are gathered in one room and they decided to tell you the history of their theatre in a round-robin format.

And we’re talking famous people.  A fifty year history, from early stars like Alan Arkin,  David Steinberg and Robert Klein to the recent TV pipeline of comedians Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert. Most of the better cast members from Saturday Night Live. Ensembles from classic sitcoms from Cheers to 30 Rock. Actors like Peter Boyle. Stand-up comics like Joan Rivers. Of course, many will gravitate towards the bittersweet stories of the departed legends John Belushi, Chris Farley, and John Candy as well as famous stars like Bill Murray and Mike Myers who parlayed their improv training into huge careers. The list of Second City alumni is daunting.

But Thomas also lets us get to know about important innovators like Del Close, Bernard Salkins, Andrew Alexander and Joyce Sloan, whose work behind the scenes saved the company many times over. It’s great storytelling, albeit using the words of others. I laughed out loud several times, caught up in everything from great backstage anecdotes to quotes that just killed me. (My favorite – one performer recalling that a sketch bombed so badly “you could hear a mouse shit!”)

It’s fun to read about Second City and its history, but it’s great to know we can take in a live performance and revisit the brilliant television show on DVD.

Info about Unscripted at the Mike Thomas webpage.

Dave Thomas Wiki page

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Happy Birthday Al Jaffee!

One of the longest ongoing relationships in my life is with a magazine. Now before sick thoughts start entering your mind, let me clarify – I have been reading Mad Magazine since I was a kid. Along with the stand-up comics who appeared on Ed Sullivan and other variety shows, it was one of my first comedy influences, and probably the first consistent exposure to satire I had.

As a child I devoured every issue, a period only briefly interrupted when a Catholic School nun told my cousin’s class that Mad was immoral and filthy. The idiot told his mother, who told mine. I had to read on the sly for a while; I was forbidden to bring Mad into the house. I remember a year or so later I was in the hospital and after surgery  she brought the newest issue to the recovery room to cheer me up. It was her wordless way of lifting the lifetime ban on something she discovered was just harmless fun. (Typical, classic Mom move.)

Reading Mad Magazine was an early primer in comic writing, and I became adept at dashing off humorous limericks and substituting comic lyrics for popular songs or commercial jingles. In high school, I wrote a mock version of the student newspaper (under several aliases as well as my own name) using some of Mad’s classic formats to poke fun at teachers, fellow students and the high school experience in general. A sympathetic teacher not only made the copies on an old mimeo machine but defended me to the irate and embarrassed principal, explaining that sometimes creativity gets started on the wrong foot.

But although I loved the writing in Mad, I was especially enamored by the cartoons. My immediate favorite was Don Martin, whose absurd creations were both imaginative and hilarious (it was a black day when his ongoing dispute with publisher William M. Gaines finally boiled over and he left Mad for Cracked). And soon after I started reading Mad, another cartoonist named Al Jaffee came on board with an inventive style and two great concepts.

Like any of the “usual gang of idiots” at Mad Magazine (a term coined decades prior to Johnny Damon’s recent famous reference to the Boston Red Sox), Jaffee sought to create a hook that could be used as a consistent platform to write from, like The Lighter Side of… and Spy vs. Spy. He nailed two. Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions was a veritable cheat sheet for anyone seeking a quick comeback when someone asks an absurdly obvious question; Jaffee provided the cartoon, the question and three possible quips. This feature was an immediate success and spawned several collections.

Even more creative was The Mad Fold-In, a feature that started in 1964 and continues to this day. A full page cartoon with a paragraph of text could be folded in half and then that half folded out again, basically overlaying the outside quarter of the page with the inside quarter – the middle of the page was now hidden. The payoff was that the art and the text would now form a different picture and statement, usually an answer to the question posed on the full page. Jaffee reportedly came up with the concept as an alternative to the fold-outs popular magazines were employing as their gimmick, most notably Playboy. What better concept for a notoriously frugal magazine to invent than something that folded in?

This NY Times feature animates a few famous fold-ins

Being as anal about the condition of my Mad Magazines as I was about my singles and albums, I quickly became adept and folding the cover over gingerly so as not to make an actual crease; I could figure out the text from the flat page without a problem. Jaffee was fearless in his subject matter, though, taking shots at politics and organized religion along with celebrities and other pop culture events of the times. I found it amazing that Jaffee drew all of them while imagining how the folded-in art would match up since he didn’t have the tools we have today.

As I got older, the changes in Mad Magazine affected my previously voracious consumption of its contents. National Lampoon became a far more sophisticated tool for satirical writing, and today we have everything from The Onion to the faux newscasts of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Even the look of the magazine is different; although they have done so for several years I still can’t get used to real advertisements among its pages. Today I subscribe more out of brand loyalty than visceral excitement.

But the comic skill of Al Jaffee is something that has made an indelible mark on me, true artistry that is timeless. And that’s not just my opinion; in 2008 – at 87 years young – the National Cartoonists Society named him the Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

Happy 89th Birthday, Al. Thanks for everything!

 

Al Jaffee and Mad Fold In wiki sites.

Link to a 2008 interview with NY1.

Mad Magazine and their wiki page

Doug Gilford’s Mad Magazine Cover site.

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