My favorite line, uttered while women arrange cocktail wieners on a picnic
table: "Among the many considerations when marketing a product is: Will people
People who like animals or their own gastric equilibrium are advised not
to watch. You're welcome!
CURRENT MUSIC: How It Feels to Be Something On... by Sunny
Day Real Estate. Happy to be a vegetarian.
CURRENT MOOD: 3.
CURRENT SCORE ON THE WONG-BAKER "FACES" PAIN RATING SCALE: 11:53 a.m.
Monday, January 7, 2008:
I'm pretty proud of this exchange Bev and I had last night, while watching
NBC's new, WGA strike-prompted edition of
. (The contestants were made to wear unflattering cervical
collars during events that offered a high potential for neck injury.)
BEV: Have you ever had to wear one of those cervical collars?
ME: No, I don't have a cervix.
BEV: That's not-- Okay, even if that were what those devices
were for, how exactly do you expect they would be donned?
I'm so funny.
CURRENT MOOD: Infuriated that my useless credit union has apparently
been taking six percent out of my checks from that Ontario transcription
outfit as a "Canadian discount," which they consider distinct from the actual
CURRENT NERVOUS HABIT: Biting my chapped-to-shreds lips. 2:57 p.m.
Sunday, January 6, 2008:
Yes, happy 2008 bargle.
I apologize to everyone for being out of touch lately (in terms of
communication... though, well, sartorially, too). December was one of the
most stressful months on record, for lots of reasons, and when stress comes
along, I do what any geographically isolated person with dozens of loving
and supportive friends stationed around the country would do: I opt out of
human contact altogether, curl up in a little ball, and watch
for hours on end.
Bev and I had planned to travel to Michigan on Christmas week to visit my
family and friends, but she lost her wonderful Uncle Galen to cancer the
Tuesday before we were going to leave, so she stayed in Maine to spend Christmas
with her family. And also to enjoy a hard-earned respite from my constant
pleading of "Bev, can I have another omelette? Bev, can I have another omelette?"
Bev's dad had loaned us a reincarnated Buick LeSabre for the journey (whose
grille he'd constructed from a lobster trap, and decorated with an Audi logo
just for fun), so I loaded it up and undertook the drive alone.
I'd hoped to be able to drop in on
Sean when I passed through
Toronto, but I seem to have misplaced my birth certificate, and
I ultimately decided that I didn't want to risk being detained or
my belongings destroyed at one of our nation's jealously guarded borders
while trying to take the Canadian shortcut. I heaved one of my patented
exasperated sighs, had Mapquest add two hours to my route, and made a mental
note to see whether I can just order a twelve-pack of disposable replacement
birth certificates from the State of Tennessee.
I prepared for the trip by stocking up on comedy albums, which served me
so well back
I initially moved out here. Since I generally don't review comedy albums
on the Music Review
Archive, I thought I'd pleasure you all with some quick write-ups here.
I listened to hours of material
Scharpling & Wurster,
and am very happy I did. WFMU personality Tom Scharpling hosts The Best
Show on WFMU, and collaborator Jon Wurster (Superchunk drummer
and Dead Milkmen sideman) calls
in as an invariably arrogant, dense, and inspired character. Lengthy,
semi-improvised dialogues ensue, and they're almost always absurdly hysterical,
whether Wurster is posing as the head of a disreputable pharmaceutical
corporation (and, naturally, Bush donor) or simply a listener who's outraged
by the songs Scharpling plays. Sometimes actual listeners call in to argue
with the characters, sometimes not, but it's always enjoyable. As someone
who cannot tolerate talk radio in general--to say nothing of the boneheaded
"comedy" filler that proliferates, kudzu-style, on the drive-time
airwaves--believe me when I tell you this is smart, smart stuff of which
I actually crave more. Wait--is my disdain for talk radio a reason to trust
me or a reason not to? Let's say it's a reason to trust me. In fact,
let's take the albums I listened to one-by-one:
Rock, Rot & Rule: This 47-minute record documents the first call
of the Scharpling & Wurster partnership, and it is a perfectly-executed
prank on real-life rock snobs. Wurster plays Ronald Thomas Clontle, author
of a book entitled Rock, Rot & Rule, which professes to be "the
ultimate argument settler" for rock fans, but consists only of about 100
pages of band names with the words "rot," "rock," or "rule" printed next
to them, depending on the band's quality. (The book retails for $25.) For
awhile, Scharpling straight-facedly interviews Clontle, trying in vain to
suss out the judging criteria that would lead a published author to declare
that Puff Daddy "rules" while Neil Young "rots" and the Beach Boys are somehow
unclassifiable. Then Scharpling throws open the phone lines and angry
hipsters descend, only to get even angrier when Clontle proves to be so
frustratingly oblivious that you cannot get him to concede a point, no matter
how many facts you might have on your side. For instance, when a caller
haughtily corrects Ronald's statement that Stereolab employs no guitars (and
therefore rots), Ronald confidently rebuts, "Time will vindicate me." It's
Chain Fights, Beer Busts and Service with a Grin: The rest of these
albums compile handfuls of unrelated calls. "The Gorch" is an interview
with an unsavory individual who claims Garry Marshall modeled the character
of Fonzie after him, and who offers his own tips on being cool. (It's not
cool to ever ask questions or to run anywhere for any reason.) Though
"The Gorch" is probably the most popular track here, even funnier is "The
Music Scholar," a ludicrously well-researched piece in which Wurster again
mocks one of the many delusions to which rock fans are susceptible. A
caller claims to have been an insider of every movement in rock history before
inevitably becoming bored just as the scenes became popular, refers to
pseudonymous rock idols only by their Christian names, dismisses The
Fall, the Residents, and Kraftwerk as "teenybopper music," and insists that
he's all about "educating" people whose taste isn't precisely in line with
his. The more you know about music, the funnier you'll find it
and the more embarrassed you'll likely be, because frankly, if you
get jokes about Harry Partch, there's a little bit of this guy in you. Admit
New Hope for the Ape-Eared: More smart goofiness. "Mother 13"
finds Scharpling accidentally interviewing the singer of a talentless corporate
rock band (apparently modeled on Vertical Horizon--ha!) and "The Gas
Station Dogs" finds him accidentally interviewing the singer of a talentless,
as-yet-unformed rock band, but each is uniquely hilarious in its exploration
of image-conscious rock 'n' roll hubris. My favorite track is "Tom's Daddy,"
in which Scharpling's would-be svengali of a father runs down a list of failed
ventures he dreamed up for his son (such as "Tommy Balls, The World's Oldest
The Art of the Slap: This lengthy collection may wind up being my
favorite Scharpling & Wurster release despite more duds than you'd
expect: "Jock Squad," "Philly Boy Roy" and "Andy from Lake Newbridge"
didn't impress me, just because I think it's funnier when Jon's characters
are semi-believably dim rather than completely outlandish. However, "Tornado
Todd" and "Postal Slap Fight" are S&W's two funniest pieces I have yet
heard because of the sheer, rambling expansiveness of their silliness. On
the former, Tom interviews a tornado survivor whose near-death experience
led him to start a charity which has evolved into a pornography/blackmail
ring. (Tom himself gets blackmailed into reading lines for a Grand Theft
Auto rip-off about a pimp with a talking ferret who squeaks, "Can you
set me up with some rails, my man?") The latter piece doesn't even have a
conceit per se, but just allows Wurster, as the spoiled nephew of the U.S.
Postmaster General, to wax hostile about any number of issues. There's also
a very dark, very funny hour-long bonus disc in which Mother 13's Corey Harris
returns to do two interviews regarding his band's attempt to stage a promotional
concert atop Mt. Everest: one before the ascent, and one after. About the
time Wurster worked in the notion of Tim DeLaughter turning The Polyphonic
Spree into a suicide cult, I concluded that these guys produce probably the
sharpest satirical pop-culture free-association since Mark Leyner's Et
Tu, Babe was published.
Here are some other comedy discs I enjoyed or didn't:
Maria Bamford: How to WIN!
Maria Bamford has joined Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, and Zach Galifianakis
on the Comedians of Comedy tour, but has little in common with her tourmates
except a proudly dorky point of view. On How to WIN! she spends a
lot of time on her neuroses, family, and employment history, but though the
territory is well trod, she wrings fresh laughs from it with her charmingly
upbeat delivery and a passel of punchline-enhancing voices. She doesn't
do impressions--save for a hilarious reading of a spoken bit from an Alicia
Keys song--just voices to represent characters distinct from her own timid,
high-pitched twang. (She sounds so much like Sandy the squirrel
from SpongeBob SquarePants that I assumed she provided the voice.
She does not. It's Carolyn Lawrence.) It's sweetly clever stand-up from a
woman who uses her larynx to more elastically invigorating effect than anyone
since Bjork came on the scene. As a side note, the batteries in my Discman
died during Bamford's set. After changing them, I discovered that if you
hold down the fast-forward button to scan your way through her routine, you
hear a wonderfully crazy collection of sound effects and phonemes.
Todd Barry: Medium Energy. This
was the final album I listened to on my 15.5-hour journey, and although it's
very funny... Todd Barry does not provide a good second-wind-prolonging turbo
boost for the final leg of a long trip. Most of this material was already
familiar to me from his Comedy Central Presents special (which is
included as a bonus DVD with his excellent Falling Off the Bone album),
so I didn't laugh as hard as I had the first time, and his famously
laid-back delivery just left me kinda cranky. The jokes are solid; it's just
the sort of thing you should program for cruising, not sprinting to the finish.
My fault. I will like it more if I listen to it when I'm awake.
Louis CK: Live in Houston. This
2001 record has become infamous as the source for
a lot of plagiarism by Dane
Cook, but it's even better than the pieces Cook lifted would suggest. A
good chunk of the record is made up of the sort of meta-comedy Louis helped
popularize as a writer for Letterman, which for my sensibility isn't as achingly
hilarious as his recent, domesticated material in which he's flat-out
vicious toward his wife and kids (available on his Shameless
DVD), but it's still very funny. The hardest I laughed at any album on this
trip, in fact, is the bit labeled "Bill Gates" here, in which Louis dreams
of having so much disposable income that he could annoy people by opening
something called The Shit Fuck Piss Store. Pretty straightforward stand-up
with lots of swears and lots of laughs.
Emo Philips: E=Mo2. Imagine
a Roman emperor recruiting an inbred jester whose brain was severely warped
from lead poisoning to amuse him by crafting a routine of Steven Wright-style
deadpan jokes. Emo Philips approximates the resulting horror show with
black-humored aplomb on this 1990 record. The album opens with Emo musing,
in his sleepy marionette voice, "Probably the toughest time in anyone's life
is when you have to murder a loved one because they're the devil. Other than
that, though... it's been a good day." And the laughs lope along that twisted
path for the next 40 minutes. "There was a blackout in my town last
night... but the police made him get back in his car and leave." "I was looking
at drapes the other night... and a few were open, so that was fun." This
album is basically the template for everything to ever come out of the mouth
of Red Meat's
Earl, and it's worth seeking out.
Emo. The formula is slightly stale on this 2001 disc,
to the point where it's too easy to guess the pun to which the setup will
lead. (Even if you're listening while distracted by having to navigate downtown
Cleveland.) Still, though, fans of smart wordplay will be pleased, and Emo's
persona is still enchantingly inimitable: even if you don't laugh at every
joke, it's never dull listening to a man with a meandering falsetto wending
his way through perverse one-liner after perverse one-liner.
Brian Posehn: Live in: Nerd Rage.
Posehn, sadly, is best known as the gumpy janitor with the monotone voice
from Just Shoot Me, but he's chatty and friendly in his
stand-up. It's mostly just a load of dick jokes, but like
Superbad, Posehn's routine is suffused with enough self-deprecating
good humor to be endearing as well as hilarious.
Paul F. Tompkins: Impersonal.
I'd been salivating for a Tompkins album since I saw his Comedy Central special
a few years ago, and thankfully, many of those pieces are immortalized here.
He's great at creating lengthy comedic runs from miniature observations (the
uselessness of the Entertainment Weekly "letters to the editor" page,
the beauty of a store named "Elegant Balloons"). His embodiment of the
sort of person who might fall for the hoary snake-in-the-peanut-brittle-can
joke belongs in the comedy pantheon next to
Sideshow Bob and the
rakes as examples of bits that are so drawn-out that they fly past the
point of hilarity, all the way around the world, and stop smack-dab on that
point on their second go-round. In recent years, Paul seems to have
adopted a whiny, Jim Gaffigan/Kevin Meaney-style voice with which to comment
on his own jokes, and it doesn't serve the material very well... but if my
only complaint about this album is something that piddly and stupid, why
bother mentioning it?
. (It's hyphenated on the album cover but not on their official
website. I don't know.) This is a spotty two-disc compilation of stand-ups
performing for the titular comedy showcase. There's some very funny character
material from the Comedy
Death-Ray Reno: 911 guys and
Neil Hamburger ("Why do
children diagnosed with cancer frequently throw up their last meal? Because
they've been eating at the Ronald McDonald House!"), but those and the routines
from Tompkins and The Office's Mindy Kaling are the only ones worth
seeking out. Most of the acts without bona fide Comedians of Comedy/ Mr.
Show credentials are just tiresome in their secondhand, pseudo-edgy rudeness.
Even more disappointingly, David Cross's routine is laughless, while the
segments from Bamford and Patton Oswalt contain nothing that isn't on their
own, superior albums.
So I got to Michigan around 12:30 a.m. My parents had saved some pizza for
me. They're always thoughtful that way.
The next day, my cousin Caitlin came by and caught me up on her first semester
at the University of Michigan.
T-Bone showed us a couple
funny YouTube videos I hadn't seen: the
Leeroy Jenkins World
of Warcraft clip (which is evidently something of a phenomenon) and a
news blooper regarding paralyzed football player
Kevin Everett. Then
I broke Dad's giant TV by using the wrong remote to turn it on. (It made
a popping sound and simply refused to do anything thereafter. Dad tells me
it's still not fixed. Oops.) So the remainder of the evening was preternaturally
On Christmas morning, T-Bone and I slept in until ten, which made my parents
goggle, given how early we used to wake them up to open presents. Lots of
nifty loot all around. Perhaps most notably, T-Bone and LeAnne got Bev and
My Therapy Buddy, the
cuddly stuffed creature who reassures you that "Everything is going
to be alright." The two of them have been huge My Therapy Buddy junkies since
its initial, somewhat disconcerting appearance on American
Inventor. (In the My Therapy Buddy
photo gallery, in
fact, the fifth picture down shows a Therapy Buddy jack-o-lantern that LeAnne
and T-Bone carved this Halloween.) (And in
, you can look at disgusting pictures of things people have extracted
from their colon. If I were you, I'd stick to the former
gallery.) He's really cool. LeAnne cautioned me, however, that Therapy
Buddies don't walk, but bounce. Make a note!
While we were opening presents, Aunt Kimmey called in a panic, telling Dad
that she'd gone to fetch Grandpa at his apartment (Aunt Kim was hosting Christmas
dinner later, which is always a fun, crowded affair), and had found him lying
on the bathroom floor. She put Grandpa on the phone, and Dad argued with
him for awhile about whether Aunt Kim needed to call 911. Dad said Grandpa
was slurring his words badly, and they still weren't sure what had gone on.
Aunt Kimmey later told me that she and my cousin Calley, Caitlin's sister,
had arrived at Grandpa's apartment and found him lying on the bathroom floor,
apparently unconscious. They shook him and started shouting, starting to
freak out. Finally, Grandpa opened his eyes and brightly said, "Hi! What
are you guys doing here?" He'd slipped on the wet bathroom floor because
he hadn't put down a bathmat before taking a shower, and had simply fallen
asleep there. He was slurring his words on the phone with my dad because
he didn't have his teeth in. It was decided that he'd just go to Aunt Kimmey's
so she could keep an eye on him, and they'd decide what to do from there.
Around noon, I drove
house so she and I could exchange gifts. She got me Bill Bryson's The
Lost Continent, which I'm eager to get into when I have some reading
time. Bev and I got her some trinkets and a set of bowls, which Adrienne
explained were useful because two of her four bowls have recently been
commandeered by her cats, and the other two were ruined in the microwave.
It's nice to accidentally stumble into a practical gift for someone.
Then I watched Adrienne and her sister Debbie make a few batches of pie crust.
(Debbie suggested that the flour bin may be cursed, as the crust was not
conforming to the dictates of its recipe.) Especially since I knew I'd soon
be in a house full of barking puppies, blooping cell phones, and raucous
conversation, I felt very happy to be in this calmly cheerful situation.
In an attempt to explain why I was just sitting there and not really adding
anything to the conversation--let alone the baking process--I mentioned that
I always find it soothing to watch people cook or play video games.
Unfortunately, I rather doubt this feeling of comfort extends to those watched.
The fact that Adrienne will put up with this sort of thing is, again, one
of many reasons I'm fortunate to have her as one of my closest friends.
I then headed to Aunt Kim's. When I arrived, Grandpa was zonked out on the
sofa-bed in the computer room. He staggered out an hour or so later,
into a house overrun with conversation and activity. It occurred to
me that it must be nigh impossible for someone Grandpa's age to process the
assault of electronic whirligigs and hellzapoppin noise erupting in that
house. Not because of his age itself, but because of his frame of reference:
if you hadn't grown up in an era that expected you to process the amount
of data we're expected to process, at the breakneck clip at which we're expected
to process it, American life must sometimes seem like being trapped in the
belly of a whale that won't stop screaming at you. I myself had to slink
off to a quiet room at a few points when I felt particularly overloaded,
just to recalibrate. I sat on the couch in the front room and Mulligan the
puppy curled up against me, napping with her head on her new squeaky toy,
an instant comfort item.
Speaking of Mulligan, Calley has taught her a comedy routine in which Calley
will say, "Kiss me if you love me! Kiss me if you love Chris! Kiss me if
you love Grandpa!" and Mulligan will lick her nose each time... until Calley
says, "Kiss me if you love Caitlin," at which Mulligan will pointedly look
away. Also, Mulligan has developed an alter ego named Finnegan: if Calley
says, "Where's Mulligan?" Mulligan will cheerfully lick her nose, but if
Calley says, "Where's Finnegan?" Mulligan will growl and play-bite her. I
took a brief video of these phenomena because I find them adorable:
The fam and I shared some food, some gifts, and some conversation, all of
which was comforting. Everyone but me and Mom spent a lot of time discussing
The Hills. I gather I should be watching it?
There was a house in my parents' subdivision whose every front-yard feature
was wrapped in a different style of blinking Christmas lights, no two strands
of which were blinking in the same tempo or pattern. I cackled. It was like
watching a pachinko machine that threatened, at any second, to transmogrify
into a BB gun. It was the visual equivalent of listening to the Maria Bamford
CD on fast-forward, as described above.
On the 26th, Mom had to work and Dad and my aunts wound up taking Grandpa
to the hospital for what wound up being a hernia and some other things. (I
got word today that he's out of the hospital and in a physical rehab center,
which is good news. For the rest of my stay in Michigan, though, we were
unsure what was going on or how serious it was, which cast a bit of a pall
over things.) I called Erica to see if she was free to meet for coffee,
and she gave me the good news that Lorenzo was in town as well, so we could
all catch up briefly. We agreed to meet at the Starbucks within a crappy
yuppie outdoor mall that has been built in Clinton Township since I'd last
visited. I hadn't seen Erica or Lorenzo in almost three years, so it did
my heart good to see them, and to find that they're still very much the Lorenzo
and Erica who I was lucky enough to hang out with several times a week back
in the Barnes & Noble days:
ERICA: Did I tell you guys I met Hanson in Oklahoma? It was--
LORENZO: I met Amy Poehler! Which meet-up is more impressive? Huh?
ERICA: [furious glare]
LORENZO: I didn't actually meet her, but she was standing right
When I got home from Starbucks, Dad still hadn't returned from the hospital
and there wasn't much to do except worry. I lay on the couch and finished
Best American Comics 2006 compendium Mom got me for Christmas.
T-Bone and LeAnne came by after awhile and we played Scrabble and
Rack-O until one a.m.
Dad fell asleep on the couch, and returned to the hospital in the morning.
The following day, LeAnne, T-Bone, and I went to see
Juno, which I
liked. Diablo Cody's script has rightly taken some flack for trying somewhat
too hard with the smug indie-quirk preciousness. (Seriously, budding
screenwriters: we've all seen Ghost World, Clueless, and The Opposite
of Sex, so it's time to stop acting like you're reinventing the screenplay
by peppering your dialogue with self-satisfied interjections like "Oh my
blog!" Yes, it's an easy ticket to an Independent Spirit Award, but it's
unseemly nevertheless.) If you can push past those occasional annoyances,
though, the performances are thoroughly heartwarming.
Bev, in the meantime, was not having as stress-free a week as I'd hoped.
She sent me an e-mail saying, "I hammered my thumb so badly that I had to
go to the doctor. While I was gone, the dog threw up on the bed."
The night before I took off back to Maine, I met Jess and Tim for dinner
at our old standby, Little Tree Sushi. When I wandered into the restaurant,
glasses fogged too thickly to see my friends waving at me from the
bar, Jess told the
maitre'd that our entire party had arrived.
Upon returning, she reported to Tim and me, "On the little sheet where they
take your party's name, they also write a little description of what you're
wearing so they can recognize you when your table is ready. I snuck a look,
and I'm listed as 'Red Cowboy Pants.'"
Once we were seated, Tim and Red Cowboy Pants gave me some Christmas gifts.
(I got them some gifts too, but they included an unwieldy old Casio
for Tim, so I left them in the LeSabre, to be distributed at the night's
end, rather than schlepped around Royal Oak.) First, they'd wrapped
and returned my tape of
that I'd forgotten they had, which actually was a nice
surprise. Along with a couple funny dollar-bin children's DVDs, they got
me a 1927 book called The Pee-wee
Herman Show Toasts and After-Dinner Stories that is splendid.
I'm going to try to compile some of the best of these moldering tidbits in
a future entry, but my favorite of the ones I've read so far is "May
our pleasures be free from the stings of remorse." I think it's a good
one to gravely repeat five or six times at a wedding rehearsal dinner, complete
with sidelong glances at the bride each time.
We finished our evening at Caribou Coffee, where Tim and Red Cowboy Pants
treated me to a Hot Apple Blast. At the cash register, Red Cowboy Pants threw
in a box of chocolate-covered espresso beans for me. I'm sure she doesn't
remember, but that's the same gift she got for me on a Barnes & Noble
Crew Caribou jaunt about five years ago, at a time when I really needed
just such an unprompted expression of friendship. It meant a lot to me then,
and it means a lot to me now. I have nice friends.
So that was my most recent trip to Michigan, more or less. Hope you
all had a nice December and that 2008 is less horrible than 2007 was!
CURRENT MUSIC: Mistake Mistake Mistake Mistake by James
Figurine. Bummed that my Yo La Tengo T-shirt has sprung a leak and
must finally be retired.
CURRENT MOOD: Pawing her food dish in a circle and growling at
her food as she does so.
CORA'S CURRENT HOBBY: 5:57 p.m.
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