The Consolidated States of America

This past summer the kids and I took our annual trip to the beach in North Carolina from Connecticut.  We decided to play the old license plate game along the way.  Of course, the kids added a new media twist to it using an app.  As we ventured down the east coast and tracked our states we started to question why there were so many states.  Why was Rhode Island an actual state?  No offense the Dakotas, you are awfully small. 3 teenagers and a preteen quickly reeducated me in the history of the United States, the colonies and how we came to be.  The capitalist and cost optimizer in me then challenged them with new thinking.  What if you had to start over today in 2014?  Would you have this many states and if so, why, and if not, what would you do.  As we checked the list of… Read More…

“If a Tweet Falls in the Forest…” Life without Applause-Signs, Laugh-Tracks & Likes

It’s often not so much what happens in our lives—as what we figure ought to happen.  If no one likes this post, did it fail? I started noticing  camera-angles and how they manipulated the audience far too early in my life–especially for the poor bystanders who were stuck in a living room, basement or movie theater with me. The Cosby Show, for all of its garish sweaters and too-good-to-be-true charm of a doctor/lawyer upper-middle class family, was a breakthrough on many levels—it revitalized the sit-com and finally placed a TV African-American family out of the ghetto—if you bypass George Jefferson moving on up. But what I noticed immediately, from my hero of a dozen scratched LP comedy albums, was the cutaway to Clair—Cliff Huxtable’s long-suffering wife who managed to smile through the monologues.  You’ll see it in every episode, the need for the reaction shot—generally Phylicia Rashad or one of the kids letting… Read More…

Yucking Up “The Walking Dead” to a Few More Emmys: Comic Tips from Three Great Dramas–“Justified,” “The Wire,” and “Breaking Bad”

Granted it’s a zombie apocalypse; granted it’s exhausting peeking around every corner; granted Atlanta in the summer without air-conditioning is brutal.  But come on, let’s have a little levity. There’s a fine line between tragedy and comedy.  Shakespeare knew this as he preceded the haunted and soon to be hysterical Hamlet in the graveyard with a pun-contest with a local gravedigger.  Even Mercutio, after he was stabbed, found time to squeeze out a groaner:  “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.” And what works for the Bard, certainly bears true for three of my favorite dramas. Justified (FX) In Justified, Timothy Oliphant is sentenced to his home town of Kentucky after going all Dirty Harry in the opening scene of the opening episode.  He is forced to not only deal with his childhood buddy and current supremacist outlaw Boyd Crowder, the most verbose, eloquent, polite and delightful psychopath… Read More…

Mad Magazine’s 1976 Christmas Issue: Still Relevant, Still Memorized–Years Later

*Per a few requests, another omitted ditty was added below.  –Kevin 12/24/14 It was a Christmas party when my wife first called me “The King of Useless Information.” I fell into the trap and correctly answered the question, probably too quickly, “Who played Gopher on Love Boat?” Fred Grandy. Who didn’t know that?? But the title really had its roots in 1976, the year I began collecting Mad magazines as a fifth grader while waiting for my mom in the checkout at the A&P. Like my son’s favorite episodes of South Park, Family Guy and The Simpsons, each issue is a time capsule of current events and a cross-section of American culture and attitudes. Just skimming the cover of the January 1977 issue that came out in late November of 1976, the clever artwork depicting Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers exchanging D-cells was worth it enough. But then to glance… Read More…

Former Students, Facebook Afterlife and Heartwarming Gore with “Deadheads”

It’s not every zombie film that you can share with a12 year-old daughter and 80 year-old mother in-law and have them exclaim they loved it.  Until Facebook, every June was like a funeral.  The likelihood that I would ever see or hear from the 300 or so graduating seniors was small–aside from an occasional homecoming game or trip to the mall.  But I finally dropped down the Facebook rabbit-hole and discovered what these folks had done with their lives.  Some might even meet up for a beer–if it wasn’t too awkward for the  41 year-old father of four to meet with his 46 year-old teacher–even if dropping the “Mr.” was too much to ask. They are dentists, funeral directors, roadies, teachers, doctors, store-owners and a few had found their way to Hollywood in various capacities.  Dan Casey, a 2000 graduate is a screenwriter and attended the Sundance Writer’s Workshop after… Read More…

We Are Still Fans…Somehow

College football’s Nittany Lions won a thriller this past weekend, a tight game requiring multiple overtimes. I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, in a region teeming with Penn State grads and Nittany Lions fans, and I befriended a few of the rare ones who tolerated someone who went to Notre Dame. After the PSU game this Saturday, my Facebook page was abuzz with Penn State pride. One friend wrote simply “We are…,” to demonstrate her team-pride. Discounting the possibility her typewriter broke before she finished the phrase, and ignoring the fact the slogan just may be appropriated from another college team and a film with Matthew McConaughey, there may be some inadvertent significance to the fact the phrase read simply “We are…” The missing words, “Penn State,” once stood for college football dominance as well as decent academics and a diversified alumni, but to many, the words have come to… Read More…

Killing Kids’ Questions: Critical Thinking OR Critical of Thinking?

Bad parent!  I could read it in the old woman’s eyes as my eight year-old son let the door shut in front of her.  “Why do I have to hold the door open for her?” he pleaded to my embarrassed scolding. “She wasn’t carrying anything.” “Because it’s polite.” “Why?” “Why what?” “Why is it polite?” “Because that way she won’t have to open the door.” “But why can’t she do it herself?” It was bad enough to get the old lady’s glare, now I got the pitiful head-shake as she huffed past us. “Dad!”  He demanded, “Why?” I snapped, “Just do it, okay?” That was probably the moment, as I retro-grade my parenting ten years later.  Maybe that was when I had cut my son’s natural curiosity right in half.  Nature or nurture?  Do we, by default, stop asking questions as we get older?  Or are those questions driven from… Read More…

“Brotherly Love” is Ironic? I’ve Never Heard That.

(Mike Schmidt, arguably the greatest third baseman to ever play the game, a career Phillie and a hometown hero.  In this photo, he’s in comic disguise to hide from Philly fans.) Look up the phrase “philly fan” in the online “Urban Dictionary” site and you will see adjectives like “obnoxious,” “juvenile,” and “unruly.”  It can be rough for visitors to our sporting events…well, it can be rough for home teams as well (see Mike Schmidt above), but visiting teams and their fans know that Philadelphia may be a great place to live, but you don’t want to visit. To a great extent, the reputation of Philly fans are over-rated. Are they full throated?  Yes.  Obnoxious?  Sure.  Homicidal?  You bet.  But if you’re wearing an opponent’s jersey and happen to visit The Link (Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles) or Citizens Bank Park (home of the Phillies), there’s a decent… Read More…

The Ring Around the Rosie: Nursery Rhymes & Nightmares

    Have you ever wondered why every child under the age of 10 is a sociopath? OK, age 20. Psychologists talk about the years kids spend consumed with themselves, the years spent acknowledging only their own needs. I’ve developed a theory about this after about two hours of moderate research. Here it is: consider what we’re putting in our kid’s heads? When we force them to turn off the television to protect them from stories like Sandy Hook, Zimmerman, and from crazy people like Adam Lanza and Antonin Scalia, what are we using to replace these disturbing images? Here are a couple examples from my own experience.  Like every other kid ever, I frequently heard the singsong rhyme, “Jack and Jill.”  When Jack fell down and broke his crown, my brother told me, “You know, that means Jack died.”  What?  I couldn’t sleep that night.  Years later, driving home with… Read More…

1980’s Court-Jesters During Crisis: Airplane, The Blues Brothers and Caddyshack

As Kale Davidoff wrote yesterday of true perspective when looking at movies, I was reminded of the recent success of Argo, this year’s Best Picture, as it brought the paralysis of the Iran-Hostage crisis fully back to our collective frontal lobe.  It was the story of a heroic rescue that Jimmy Carter couldn’t use in his re-election bid . Instead, the ill-fated rescue involving the helicopter-crash was also Carter’s. The real magic of Argo (with its sci-fi movie pitch creating the smokescreen for the rescue) is its absurdity.  Add-in the muppet-balcony comments from John Goodman and Alan Arkin cross-cutting while we’re going through cinematic hell at the airport check station and the humor seems more poignant. This irony may have been part of the reason behind the staying power of three comedies from the summer of the hostage crisis. Try it sometime.  Walk into a bar, a driving range or… Read More…

The Power of a Well-Placed Smart-Ass: Roger Sterling, Lord Tyrion and the Dowager Countess of Grantham

“What’s the definition of a smart-ass?” began one of my dad’s favorite jokes.   “Someone who could sit on ice cream and tell what flavor it is.” In 1998, the internet was new in our school and I was doing a demo in class of how cool it was.  We had the projector on and I was discussing how easy it was to find information. “For example, if you wanted to check out the President’s website, you just had to www.whitehouse.com,” I dictated proudly to my student at the keyboard who typed it in. I could see from their expressions that they also weren’t expecting the porn site on the big screen behind me. “Back arrow!  Back arrow!” I screached, convinced that the principal, governor or Bill Clinton would walk in on me at that very moment. Without missing a beat, a student raised his hand, “Mr. Walsh, can I… Read More…

SCTV–The Funnier, Less Popular SNL.

At 8:00 pm, a drug deal goes down in a poorly-lit room. There’s a knock at the door. The cops? One of the dealers opens the door, and sees it’s just another anonymous guy trying to score some drugs, except he’s on a horse, with his head too tall for the door frame.  Yes, it’s a new season of…Undercover Mountie! And at 9:00, the next show, Dan Money, is about a police detective who has to bribe everyone to get information. When a Judge in one of Dan’s cases asks the foreman of the jury, “Has the jury reached the verdict,” and the foreman says, “Well, your honor, maybe we have…and maybe we haven’t,” Dan Money is ready to pull out his wallet and tell the Judge, “Your honor, if it pleases the court, I might be able to shed a little light on the subject.” At 10:00, a medical drama… Read More…

DON’T “Reply to All”

   Comedian Nathan Fielder engineered a prank on Twitter recently. You may have heard of it already. He asked his followers to send this text message to a parent: “Got 40 grams for $40.00.”  Then, they were to send this message to the parent right afterwards: “Sorry. Text not for you. LOL.” Fielder asked his followers to submit screen-prints of the parents’ responses. Some of the responses were hysterical, in all-caps. Some were surprisingly laid back. All were pretty funny. Here’s a site where you can read some responses: htttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/25/nathan-fielder-prank-drug-deal-tweet-parent-outrage_n_3157077.html These texts were intentional, of course, but haven’t we all at some point accidentally sent the wrong digital message?  On our iphones, say you’ve saved texts from several people and you want to respond to one of them, doesn’t your thumb sometimes hit the wrong one when you’re momentarily looking up to see if traffic stopped?  Haven’t we all replied… Read More…

Arrested Development–Pure Genius

The return of Arrested Development on May 26th should be hailed as a triumph, and as a display of the power of intelligence. To briefly catch you up, the show revolves around the exploits of the rich, incredibly shallow Bluth family. As the opening credits explain, they were a wealthy family that lost everything after the family patriarch is arrested for stealing from the company, and now has no choice but to rely on Michael Bluth, the most stable child in the family, to help bring them all back together. The show featured an insanely talented cast, many of whom gained their fame only after Arrested had ended: Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, David Cross, Portia de Rossi, and on and on. When Arrested Development first premiered in 2002, I remember very vividly reading a review of it in Entertainment Weekly. The magazine actually hailed it as an astoundingly funny sitcom,… Read More…

Hold On To Your Friends

Listening to one the more haunting melodies from Morrissey’s solo career, “Hold On To Your Friends,” my thoughts of course turned to Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. (Does listening to Morrissey ever fail to make you think about Brooks and Reiner?) Morrissey gives good advice, but anyone who knows me will know how ironic it is that I would offer such advice. To imagine me with strangers, think of your dog when the mailman arrives. I listened to separate interviews with the two comedy legends this past week, and they gave me a vivid sense of what I may be missing. Carl Reiner is 90, Mel Brooks is 86. They met circa 1950 when they were both writers on “Your Show of Shows” with Sid Caesar. Both are now widowers; Brooks’ wife of 44 years, Anne Bancroft, died in 2005, and Reiner’s wife Estelle, whom he married in 1943, died… Read More…

WTF Podcast: Comedians Risking “Not-Funny”

http://www.wtfpod.com/ At the risk of plugging a particular product, my iph–uh, my cellular phone is everything now. When I drive to and from work, which takes 1-1.5 hours out of my day, it navigates, it accesses IMDB for surfing during red lights, it gives me text messages from my wife about our need for milk (Kids, Don’t text and drive!), it plays any song or album I can think of whenever I want, and most often, it plays the podcasts I want to hear. Every Monday and Thursday, it plays the latest WTF, with Marc Maron, and kids, it’s required listening. I want a report Tuesday morning. (Really, though, no kids allowed. The words initialed in the title are spoken frequently, about 10 times in the first few seconds.) Marc Maron is a standup who has been working the mike about 30 years. He hosted Short Attention Span Theatre one… Read More…