Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Anyway, I got into the regular habit of watching too much television way too early. Two hours in the morning before breakfast. Two hours right after school. An hour are or so during dinner and three hours (at least) at night. My parents used to punish me by forcing me to cut back my television watching to just four hours per day -- -- a horrible fate for me.
Anything you see on Nick at night or TV land from the 1960s was what I watched with devotion and religious fervor. The benefit for me later in life: I became an outstanding player in the TV version of Trivial Pursuit. But that is another story.
Needless to say, between ADD and TV I did not read much.
So in the seventh grade at JHS 278, Mrs. Lichtenstein assigned us books to read over the Christmas holiday season. Two weeks to read a book and do an oral report on the first day after vacation. Mentally, to me that was like climbing Mount Everest. Mrs. Lichtenstein was of German background -- -- she never smiled, gave too much homework and had a stare that could melt lead. To my friend Chris, she gave "To Kill a Mockingbird". To Deborah, she gave some book about a dancer who died. To me, she gave “Fail-Safe". The thinnest book on the shelf. It was about 200 pages long and I had two weeks to read it. Work out the math yourself ---when Mrs. Lichtenstein handed me the book, she said sternly, "10 minute oral book report on January 3, Mr. Novick," I hate being called Mr. Novick -- -- even more than being called Joseph.
So, “Fail-Safe" stayed on my dresser for the first week of the vacation totally untouched. And then one morning I picked it up. An offshoot of severe ADD was severe procrastination. I thumbed through it, read about a paragraph from one page -- -- "... the president was silent after the news...". And I promptly put it down again.
For the next seven days the vision of dread grew larger and larger in my 12-year-old head. At Day Seven, it appeared in the distance like a small dark cloud on the horizon. Each day it grew longer and larger and greater in focus. By Day Three, it became a large dark gray menacing face blotting out everything in the sky. The night before it was the only thing in the sky I could see.
The night before the first day of school after vacation, I was watching TV, of course. And as I thumbed through the TV Guide, -- -- there it was on Channel 9. WOR -- TV. The Late Late Show at 3:15 AM: “Fail-Safe" the movie. In glorious black and white. "...a 1964 film directed by Sidney Lumet, based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler…”. Hey, Burdick and Wheeler? These were the same guys whose name was on the book that I had up in my room. I could do this. I could watch it take notes and give a 10 minute oral book report. There was a God.
So, promptly at 3:10 AM, I woke myself up, snuck into the living room and turn on the TV. My parents’ bedroom door was closed. And I covered my head and the TV screen with a big towel to keep excess light and sound from creeping out of the living room. I set as close as I could to the screen to keep the sound down as low as possible. As close as I was to the screen, the light from the TV could've been very good for my eyes.
There were too many late-night commercials I thought. I tried my best to stay awake and get enough of the gist of the movie. I took notes and sloppy handwriting that I hoped I could recognize the next day.
January 3: we were to do our book reports just after lunch. My heart was pounding solidly in my chest. I felt like Mrs. Lichtenstein stare was burning a hole in my head the entire morning. Chris went first and stumbled through "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- -- he was thorough but nervous. Maybe his nervousness would take the edge off of Mrs. Lichtenstein when I spoke. And then, Mrs. Lichtenstein said, “ Mr. Novick – Fail Safe please.”
I slowly walked to the front of the room, with my notes in my hand I turned and looked at Mrs. Lichtenstein -- -- I made my first mistake -- I felt cocky so I "smirked". Perhaps that smirk did me in.
“Fail Safe is the story of how the United States accidentally dropped an atomic bomb on Moscow, and the president was unable to stop it and order the plane back....". My second mistake at this point was looking over to Mrs. Lichtenstein. That second look lead her to read my body language to tell her that something was wrong.
As I began to continue to read my notes, Mrs. Lichtenstein asked me The Question: "Mr. Novick, in Fail Safe who played the president?". And then my mouth acted completely on its own: "Henry Fonda,". I tried to continue, but she just stopped me. How was I to know that Mrs. Lichtenstein read TV Guide also?
Well anyway, Mrs. Lichtenstein sent a note home with me to get my parents. They force me to read Fail-Safe from cover to cover and get a written report. And you're what I discovered? The book was actually better than the movie -- -- no commercials. And I did get punished -- -- just four hours a night of TV for the next week.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Political comedy is tough. You are always going to offend someone, but these folks don’t seem to mind. And the shelf life a political comedy joke can sometimes be less than 24 hours. But these guys endeavor to do their best work as soon as CNN, the New York Times, or Glenn Beck reports the news.
America is blessed by having several late-night common show hosts who also offer outstanding political comedy. Jay Leno, Bill Mahr, Jon Stewart, and and even Jimmy Fallon sometimes gets into the act, channeling his former role as the cohost of news update on SNL. But the best political comedian out there today on TV has got to be Lewis Black. So you can decide for yourself, here are the top 10 political humor lines from last week.
10 --"There's speculation that the 1,000-point drop in the Dow may have been sparked by a typo, where someone entered 'billion' instead of 'million' on a trading order. Economists are saying a single letter hasn't caused this many problems since the letter 'Dubya.'" —Jimmy Fallon
9- "At a stop in Buffalo today, a woman walks up to President Obama and says, 'You're a hottie with a smokin' little body .' She said that to the president of the United States. I tell you, Betty White is out of control." —Jay Leno
8-"This oil spill in the Gulf is affecting everybody. In fact, when I went to lunch this weekend and ordered the sea bass, they asked if I wanted it regular or unleaded." —David Letterman
7-"British Petroleum said today that if this spill gets worse, they may soon have to start drilling for water." —Jay Leno
6-"Dick Cheney's pals at Halliburton ... say they're going to do the underwater cement job to plug the hole. I thought, wait a minute, this is a mistake. Underwater cement? You call the mafia. Am I right?" —David Letterman
5-"The oil company said it was the rig company's fault. The rig company said it was Halliburton. And somehow, each time they passed the blame, Goldman Sachs made a hundred million dollars." —Bill Maher
4-"We're still dropping things on it. This is like if your toilet overflowed and you tried to fix it by smashing it with a brick. Their next idea is to get the old lady from Titanic and she's going to throw her jewelry at it." —Bill Maher, on the oil spill in the Gulf
3-"Well, in Colorado one of the gubernatorial candidates has taken out a Craigslist ad to find a running mate. Is that a good idea? Hey, it didn't work when John McCain tried it." —Jay Leno
2-"Good news from the world of publishing. Sarah Palin , former governor of Alaska, has a new book coming out this fall. The warning came from an alert T-shirt vendor." —David Letterman
1-On Glenn Beck's complaints that critics of Arizona's immigration are making Nazi comparisons: "Glenn Beck is offended! Glenn Beck thinks playing the Nazi card is going too far. Glenn Beck — this is a guy who uses more Swastika props and video of the Nuremberg rallies than the History Channel." —Lewis Black, in a brilliant Daily Show rant in which he demonstrated that Glenn Beck has "Nazi Tourette's “
"It's 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, except there's just one degree, and Kevin Bacon is Hitler. Can I play? Let's see. Mother Teresa had a mustache. Hitler had a mustache. Mother Teresa is Hitler!" —Lewis Black, on Glenn Beck's frequent use of Nazi analogies.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
A federal judge threw out a defamation suit against comedian Sunda Croonquist, ruling effectively that her Jewish mother-in-law jokes are “opinions and thus protected by the First Amendment.” The judge described her jokes, although tinged with “racism”, as merely "colorful, figurative rhetoric". It makes one wonder if Judge Mary Cooper would have felt the same way if the jokes were about lawyers -- -- -- and judges.
Croonquist’s background serves as the basis for her comedy -- -- she is the product of a black mother and a Swedish father -- -- she was given a Hindu name and attended a white Catholic school in Patterson. Well, we can see that there are yuks aplenty there.
And, of course, to complete her comedy career she had to, of course, marry into a Jewish family -- -- so she can have a Jewish mother-in-law to make fun of. But her mother-in-law, Ruth Zafrin, was none too happy with being the center of Croonquist’s barbs. The lawsuit was filed in Superior Court in 2009 alleging defamation, false light and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress -- -- not to mention unjust enrichment. I have not seen Croonquist’s name listed into many comedy clubs in New Jersey, so I'm not quite sure exactly how much she's being "enriched" by her Jewish jokes about her mother-in-law.
Ironically, Ruth’s filing of this lawsuit most likely drew more attention to what she was trying to stop -- -- and made Croonquist more popular in the process. Good going Ruth!
In another case, a federal judge in Trenton refused to dismiss a suit by Levinson Axelrod against a former associate who set up a website to trash the firm. The site put up by former employee Edward Heyburn -- "Levinson Axelrod Really Sucks" -- -- compelled Levinson Axelrod to believe that the use of the name in the title of the website would cause confusion about whether or not it was connected with the firm. Yes, I'm sure that's the case, when people read a website that says ‘this law firm really sucks’, they're going to think it's just a way of generating a business for their lawyers. Really.
Heyburn, on the website, bashes his former law firm, celebrates the firm's losses in court," has fun with the firm's own promotional videos by overdubbing. Sounds like he's protected by the First Amendment to me.
Anyway, perhaps Heyburn and Croonquist should get together and exchange notes.