Can We Take A Joke Anymore?

Kinsler

Did you watch this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner?  Comedian Michelle Wolf’s scorched-earth approach to roasting those in public service caused some to curl up in the fetal position, sucking their thumbs, and pondering why she was being such a meanie.  Others laughed their asses off.  What’s clear is that her performance fell squarely in the middle of our political divide.  Wolf took a lot of heat for her performance and it left me wondering…can we still take a joke?

I sat with improve comedian Jeff Kinsler to discuss the performance and our growing sensitivity when it comes to comedy routines.  Check it out on my Pop Life podcast here.

Listen and then share your thoughts on our pc culture.

The Cinema, Me and Life

There is no doubt that Hollywood is rebounding or that they have found the formula that’s getting butts in seats.  With a domestic gross revenue of $10.1 billion in 2011, 2013 generated just under $11 billion behind the success of the Hunger Games Catching Fire ($420 million plus) and others including Iron Man 3 and Frozen.  For some, the formulaic approach of pushing comic book, big action, Animated, and fantasy movies that Hollywood takes is a yawner and enough to keep some folks home staring at their 700 inch TV screens.  For others, the movie theater will always be so much more and they will always find a reason to get there.

2013 box office leader Hunger Games: Catching Fire
2013 box office leader Hunger Games: Catching Fire

My wife and I couldn’t possibly be further apart on the subject.  She would rather develop a rash in her nether region than sit in a movie theater. I, on the other hand, saw no less than 20 movies in the theater in 2013…and not one with her.  I think that my wife, along with many others, miss the bigger picture of what cinema means to American culture and our lives.  Movies shape and are shaped by our values and way of life. They reflect on our past heroics and highlight our past savagery (hello 12 Years A Slave); they have informed our masculinity and femininity; and they represent our hopes, dreams and fears all on a big screen. Whether it’s your fear of spiders, as portrayed in Arachnophobia (1990) or your fear of dystopian  futures, as portrayed in 1984 (1984), cinema explores the full range of human emotions in graphic detail.

Every year during the Oscars, Hollywood attempts to tell its story but fails miserably in doing so. An endless montage of movie clips can’t capture what cinema represents to me.  For many of us, it was where we had our first real date. It could have been a girl’s first kiss or the first time a boy touched a titty. For others it represents a right of passage as the first time you attended a movie without mom and dad in tow or your first rated R film that made you feel “grownup”. It is where we bond with our children. I pledged to see 15 movies last summer with my youngest daughter and, while we fell two movies shy of our goal, we had the most wonderful time together. I stood in the parking lot of the movie theater last year arguing with both daughters why I thought the Man of Steel was a truly shitty comic book movie with bad science and mediocre acting and why Superman is an inherently flawed superhero to begin with and it is probably one of my fondest memories of 2013.  I love movies because they transport me to places and times that I can only dream of (hello Lord of the Rings).

You see, I still remember the first movie that I ever saw in the theater – Bedknobs and Broomsticks starring Angela Lansbury. Not only was it my first movie theater experience, it was the first time that I had seen live-action film mixed with animation. I thought is was pure magic. And at six years of age it truly was.

I remember sneaking into my first movie without paying. I remember the first movie that I saw that had “real sex” in it (hello Body Heat, 1981). Me and the fellas had a lot to talk about after that movie! Then there were the all night karate flicks that my uncles use to take me and my brother to.  Movies started at midnight and ran until about 4 am. I learned how do karate from watching those movies (not really).

My first drive-in movie was Blacula (1972). A black vampire, who’d a thunk it.

Blacula

The first time that I knew I was in-love with movie making was my first viewing of Star Wars (1977). I understood then that it was an amazing piece of film-making. It was also the first time that I rooted for the bad guy. And it was the first time that I bought a movie soundtrack…and it was symphonic music for goddamn sake! I was serious about that movie.

My dude Darth Vader
My dude Darth Vader

At the movies is where I learned to apply critical and rhetorical analysis to something. It is where I kissed my first girl and had my first real date. It’s where I bond with my children and where I have some “me” time. I am an enthusiastic cheerleader for the film making industry and I want it to succeed. So when my wife says no to a movie offer, she is saying no to an awful lot.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all cookies and cream at the theater. There is a case for waiting for some movies to be released on Blu-Ray. For one the cost is escalating. It used to be a real cheap date but not anymore. Secondly, I am easily irritated. I tend to go to the movies at times where people are just not there. I am susceptible to talkers, coughers, whisperers, gigglers, texters, snorters, wigglers, seat-kickers and frequent pissers. First showing of the day on Saturday or Sunday works for me.

Spring is when I get geeked up about the movie season.  Here’s a few that I am looking forward to in 2014:

My favorite comic book here and the re-boot works for me.
My favorite comic book hero and the re-boot works for me.
I'm a sci-fi nut. Dystopian future, aliens, Tom Cruise - I'm all in
I’m a sci-fi nut. Dystopian future, aliens, Tom Cruise – I’m all in
The X Men haven't let me down yet, no reason to think that they will start here
The X Men haven’t let me down yet, no reason to think that they will start here
Dystopian future, space travel and Matthew McConaughey. Need I say more? Yes? Christopher Nolan is directing
Dystopian future, space travel and Matthew McConaughey. Need I say more? Yes? Christopher Nolan is directing
Jennifer Lawrence is a joy to watch. Plus I have to see this thing to the end.
Jennifer Lawrence is a joy to watch. Plus I have to see this thing to the end.
Jolie is a babe. Plus someone has to get the whole darkened version of Disney classic thing right at some point. I want to be there when it happens.
Jolie is a babe. Plus someone has to get the whole darkened version of Disney classic thing right at some point. I want to be there when it happens.
I'm vested. There's no quitting now.
I’m vested. There’s no quitting now.

Please share your fondest movie memory or your favorite movie.  I’d love to hear about it.

Cheers!

The Devil Made Me Do It

Flip Wilson
Flip Wilson

On this final day of Black History month I choose to stay true to my nature as a contrarian and not highlight a popular figure torn from the pages of black history text books. Instead, my choice is a very personal one.

As a very young boy, around age 5, my family would gather around the television to watch two shows in particular – Rowan & Martin’s “Laugh-In” and “The Flip Wilson Show” starring comedian Flip Wilson.  At 5 years of age, I obviously had no clue as to the historical significance of this funny black man, Flip Wilson, on our television screen.  All I knew then was that it was family time and Flip was gut-busting funny.  My brother Roland and I would get quite the kick out of imitating Wilson’s various characters and we couldn’t resist saying “the devil made me do it” before going to bed.

Wilson's popular character Geraldine
Wilson’s popular character Geraldine

Wilson’s hour-long variety show aired from 1970-74 and is credited with being one of the first television programs starring a black person as lead to become highly successful among a white audience.  While the “Nat King Cole Show” was the first to feature a black lead, Wilson’s show achieved the kind of success that Cole’s show could not.  Certainly not because of a talent deficiency but because advertisers were afraid to sponsor the program.  At its height, The Flip Wilson Show had around 40 million weekly viewers.  Nearly double that of Seinfeld. 

Robert Thompson, Director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture and Trustee Professor of Television Radio & Film at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University says that “Flip Wilson is one of the three most important pioneers in the integration of television during its first generation. Nat King Cole hosted his own show in the 1950s with an elegance and dignity that provided a little antidote to the likes of Amos ‘N’ Andy and Beulah, which had aired just a few years earlier; Bill Cosby starred in both a drama (I SPY) and a sitcom (The Bill Cosby Show) in the 1960s; but Flip Wilson’s show engaged a level of ratings and national popularity that topped them all.”

Wilson’s trail-blazing efforts were not without discomfort and criticism, particularly from black folk. At a time when few African Americans, if any, were seen on television, Wilson’s most popular character Geraldine caused a stir among some in the black community who accused Wilson of causing detrimental harm to the image of black masculinity. Thompson remembers, “Some people were disturbed that, of all the characters Filp Wilson portrayed on his show, “Geraldine” was far and away the most popular. Some argued that having one of the few black males on television spending a portion of each show in a dress was problematic on a number of levels.” Of Wilson’s many contributions, Thompson noted, ” He provided a showcase for black musicians that, over the run of the show, provided an important anthology of performances by Lena Horne, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson (in one of her last performances), Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, James Brown, and lots more.” Clearly a man devoted to providing a platform seeking wider recognition for talented black performers in need of increased exposure.

Geraldine Jones was indeed problematic for Wilson who described her as, “honest, frank, and affectionate…Geraldine is liberated, that’s where that’s at.” Wilson, a talented and serious stand-up comedian, struggled to rise above the popularity of Geraldine Jones. A struggle that I learned later after watching HBO’s documentary Mo Funny: Black Comedy in America. He vowed to friends and fellow comedians to not let Geraldine eclipse him.

I was not concerned with such issues as black masculinity as a young boy. All I knew at the time was that Flip Wilson was funny and that Geraldine was funny and they both brought me great joy. The joy of laughter. The joy of family togetherness. And an understanding, even at such a young age, that a black cat, Flip Wilson, a man who I though resembled my dad, was on the tv doing stuff that I’d seen no other black man do.  And for that I salute him.