Category Archives: comedy

Inmates take over asylum at small Oregon college

There is a course called Humanities 101 at Reed College, a small liberal arts institution in Portland. It is described in a Nov. 2 article in The Atlantic this way:

A required year-long course for freshmen, Hum 110 consists of lectures that everyone attends and small break-out classes “where students learn how to discuss, debate, and defend their readings.” It’s the heart of the academic experience at Reed, which ranks second for future Ph.D.s in the humanities and fourth in all subjects. (Reed famously shuns the U.S. News & World Report, as explained in a 2005 Atlantic article by a former Reed president.) As Professor Peter Steinberger details in a 2011 piece for Reed magazine, “What Hum 110 Is All About,” the course is intended to train students whose “primary goal” is “to engage in original, open-ended, critical inquiry.”

All well and good, right? This is what college is supposed to be about. Challenging assumptions and forcing students to learn critical reasoning skills so that they can not only defend that which they think they know, but learn also what they do not know, and how to debate these issues in a civil society — and to further and defend their future academic research, if any.

Except that is not how it is working out at Reed, as writer Chris Bodenner notes in that Atlantic article:

[In Humanties 101], a 39-year-old Saturday Night Live skit recently caused an uproar over cultural appropriation. In the classic Steve Martin skit, he performs a goofy song, “King Tut,” meant to satirize a Tutankhamun exhibit touring the U.S. and to criticize the commercialization of Egyptian culture. You could say that his critique is weak; that his humor is lame; that his dance moves are unintentionally offensive or downright racist. All of that, and more, was debated in a humanities course at Reed.

But many students found the video so egregious that they opposed its very presence in class. “That’s like somebody … making a song just littered with the n-word everywhere,” a member of Reedies Against Racism (RAR) told the student newspaper when asked about Martin’s performance. She told me more: The Egyptian garb of the backup dancers and singers–many of whom are African American–“is racist as well. The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface.”

Such outrage has been increasingly common in the course, Humanities 110, over the past 13 months. On September 26, 2016, the newly formed RAR organized a boycott of all classes in response to a Facebook post from the actor Isaiah Washington, who urged “every single African American in the United States that was really fed up with being angry, sad and disgusted” over police shootings to stay home on Monday. Of the 25 demands issued by RAR that day, the largest section was devoted to reforming Humanities 110.

The article goes on to say:

Beginning on boycott day, RAR protested every single Hum lecture that school year. In-class protests are very rare on college campuses. During the nationwide upsurge of student activism tracing back to 2015, protesters have occupied administrative buildings, stormed into libraries, shut down visiting speakers in auditoriums, and walked out of classrooms–but they hardly ever disrupt the classroom itself. RAR has done so more than 60 times.

A Hum protest is visually striking: Up to several dozen RAR supporters position themselves alongside the professor and quietly hold signs reading “We demand space for students of color,” “We cannot be erased,” “Fuck Hum 110,” “Stop silencing black and brown voices; the rest of society is already standing on their necks,” and so on. The signs are often accompanied by photos of black Americans killed by police.

“Facebook conversations at Reed bring out the extreme aspects of political discourse on campus.”

One of the first Hum professors to request that RAR not occupy the classroom was Lucía Martínez Valdivia, who said her preexisting PTSD would make it difficult to face protesters. In an open letter, RAR offered sympathy to Martínez Valdivia but then accused her of being anti-black, discriminating against those with disabilities, and engaging in gaslighting–without specifying those charges. When someone asked for specifics, a RAR leader replied, “Asking for people to display their trauma so that you feel sufficiently satisfied is a form of violence.”

But another RAR member did offer a specific via Facebook: “The​ ​appropriation​ ​of​ ​AAVE [African American Vernacular English]​ ​on​ ​her​ ​shirt​ ​during​ ​lecture:​ ​‘Poetry​ ​is​ ​lit’ ​is​ ​a​ ​form​ ​of​ ​anti-blackness.”

Oh, brother. 

Liberals like to observe, with good reason, that education has failed American students, from public schools on through college. Any one of us knows people with a college degree who nearly lack the critical reasoning skills necessary to find their way to a cogent position in political arguments.

But it’s not just students at right-wing, religious universities who are asking to be shielded from the real world. Liberal students are asking the same at many institutions. 

Civic-mindedness and the public spirit in which we all share some common values are both dying slow deaths in American culture, not to mention the strangling of nuance. 

No wonder our body politic cannot agree enough to pursue even the most anodyne of common goals now being threatened by a takeover of the poltitical system by American oligarchs.

Put another way: if Steve Martin singing King Tut is enough to send today’s students in search of safe spaces, and create efforts to shut down an entire required freshman class, then even comedy and comedic satire are both on the same intolerant, know-nothing chopping block. 

An after-school satan club?

Right-wing and mainstream media have been filled with breathless stories about the After-School Satan Club. The group says it was created to counter the work of the Good News Club, a child evangelism organization that operates in thousands of schools worldwide, many of them public schools. They claim to reach over a million children each year.

They can do this in public schools because they operate after school and parents have to opt-in to the programs because they are not considered official school clubs, but rather function as after-school private clubs.

The After-School Satan Club markets itself as being founded upon “free inquiry and rationalism, the scientific basis for which we know what we know about the world around us. We prefer to give children an appreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.”

All well and good. Free country and all that.

But as comedian Jim Jeffries points out in the YouTube video below from his eponymous show on Comedy Central, the After-School Satan Club is in zero schools yet still begs for money for doing, well, apparently nothing but stroking the egos of its founders and causing problems for those of us who want to present science in schools as a rational, non-threatening alternative to the know-nothing, anti-education agenda of the most conservative theologies in America.

No matter how any atheist might feel about religion in their own lives, not all people of faith are the enemy. I have a church a few blocks from my home, First United Methodist Church of Omaha (FUMC), that focuses on the goodness and kindness and love that humans can bring to one another while still being believers in a higher being. FUMC does amazing work in the community around social justice issues.

I would rather see these churches built up, instead of insisting on the fool’s errand of trying to rid the world of religion.

After School Satan is doing far more harm than good, but their efforts do illustrate an important point: the progressive side has just as many stubbornly doctrinaire people as does the right-wing side, with one important difference: many of them are people with formal education. That does not, apparently, stop them from doing very stupid things.

On a final note, the National Science Teachers Association has this to say about starting a science club in your own schools without any of that annoying, useless BS about Satan.

Now you know

I can see a couple of my more fashion high-minded friends doing this to someone before those friends have had their coffee. 

Stone Mountain, Ga. and “30 Rock”

Every time I drive by this place (above) in Lakeview I think of the show “30 Rock” and Kenneth’s hometown of Stone Mountain (GA), where you could find the Chuckle Hut.

“Is that a comedy club?” asks Mr. Donaghy when Kenneth mentions the name. 

“Oh, no, sir, It’s a Chuckle Hut,” replies Kenneth. “You see, the chuckle is the part of the pig between the tail and the anus. But at night, the Chuckle Hut becomes the Laugh Factory. And that’s a comedy club.”

One of the best episodes of that show. You should watch it if you’ve not seen it. 

Inspired lunacy. 

McCarthy was back as Sean Spicer

SNL is on fire. And good thing, too. Because we need this kind of stuff to drive Donald over the edge and speak truth to dumb power.

Some times The Onion is so spot on

Actually I think Pence would offer his own child as a sacrifice to God, but then secretly switch-in a poor child at the last second and take credit for sacrificing his own child.

Because that’s what kind of guy he is. 

Even the people of Indiana were ready to toss him out and they tolerate some crazy shit.



McCarthy is Spicer’s doppelganger

The real Sean Spicer (left) and Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer.

The resemblance is uncanny.

Imagine if you were the first person to say to Melissa McCarthy, “Ya know. Sean Spicer actually looks like you. He even sounds like you.”

You might have noticed at the beginning of the SNL skit with McCarthy that much of the audience starts laughing from the beginning at how much McCarthy has taken on the annoying look and feel of Spicer. 

If Trump thought he could bully a bunch of New Yorkers into backing down he is learning how foolish that really is.

The biggest miscalculation that Trump and his minions may have made is to believe on some level that they don’t need all the networks and television show and actors and musicians and comedians who make up American pop culture.

They do.

Steve Bannon has spent too much time in the bubble that is Breitbart and the wacky online right-wing. He thinks he is more powerful than American pop culture.

He is not and never will be.

There are good reasons why so many totalitarian regimes are scared of American pop culture. For better or worse, it is everywhere. And once it turns against you, you have lost in ways from which you will likely never recover.

Meanwhile, Sean Spicer The Original is none too happy about all of this SNL fun at his expense in one of the most talked about skits in a very long time:

SNL had Melissa McCarthy on this weekend to lampoon tSean Spicer, though it would seem that the White House Press Secretary isn’t exactly enraptured by how the comedy show portrays the Trump Administration.

McCarthy depicted Spicer during the White House Press Briefings, and she attracted critical acclaim for replicating Spicer’s contentious engagements with the press corps. Extra asked Spicer for his thoughts on the sketch, and his reaction was that McCarthy “could dial back” with her impression and she “needs to slow down on the gum chewing; way too many pieces in there.”

Spicer eventually turned his attention to Alec Baldwin, who returned this weekend with his impression of Trump making phone calls to foreign world leaders. Trump has complained about SNL‘s mockery of him before, and Spicer more or less said he agrees with the president’s opinion.

“Alec has gone from funny to mean, and that’s unfortunate,” Spicer said. “SNL used to be really funny. There’s a streak of meanness now that they’ve crossed over to mean.”

Awwww. For all the insults conservatives love to lob toward progressives about “poor little snowflakes needing safe spaces,” it strikes me that conservatives — especially Trump himself — continue to be the hypersensitive ones.

But we knew that already.

(Note: OK. It’s Doppelganger not Doppleganger. Corrected. Thanks for pointing out my mistake.)

Mary Tyler Moore is no more

Mary Tyler Moore is dead. 

The video above is, of course, one of the most famous episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (MTM) sitcom   — “Chuckles Bites The Dust” — that sits as but one testament to the brilliance of one of television comedy’s first ensemble casts. And certainly the first the be headlined not only by a woman, but one who played a capable single working woman.

MTM was the first comedy where a woman was not an extension of her husband and family, but rather was a fully formed individual in her own right.

It’s hard today to understand for many people how groundbreaking — and controversial — the show was for its time. 

It also had clearly adult — and sometimes sexual — edge to it which was rarely seen prior in a sitcom, and which was most prominently on display with the Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens, a character given life by current fan favorite Betty White. 

Sue Ann was a sexually voracious man chaser, given to popping off with lines like, “Mary, I was lying in bed last night, and I couldn’t sleep, and I got the most wonderful idea. So I went right home and wrote it down.”

That seems tame today, but it was daring stuff in the 1970’s because Sue Ann was like a man in the way she treated men and sexual conquest. Many gay men of the era felt they had a spirit animal in Sue Ann.

As upwardly mobile TV news producer Mary Richards, Moore was the perfect straight face for much of this naughtiness. She almost never ran with any of the blue material, but it was clear that her character got the jokes and liked them. She was no libertine, nor was she a prude, either. That women could laugh at such things was also new as adult humor became the province of more than just the men without the blue humor coming at the expense of the women. Women could make and laugh at jokes about something other than housework and raising kids.

The show ran from 1970-1977. From when I was 10 years old until I was 17. It informs much of my sense of humor.

I learned how to laugh and much of what was funny from MTM and Mary, Sue Ann, Lou Grant, Rhoda Morgenstern and Phyllis Lindstrom — the latter played by the brilliant Cloris Leachman.

The show even managed to sneak in a gay reference here and there. 

Oh, Mary, Mary, Mary. 

I’m so sad you are gone. But you live on for me in a show I still watch as a kind of television comfort food when I am down.

Especially that episode about Chuckles the Clown which blog visitors can watch above.

The show seems dated now in some of its references, but the sets are fabulous kitsch that is costing people fortunes to reproduce today.

(Note also that Moore was able to prove her dramatic chops in “Ordinary People” in which she played to pitch perfection an emotionally constricted suburban mother grieving so completely over the death of a favored son that she has no more love to give the surviving tortured son played by budding actor Timothy Hutton.)

In the Chuckles episode, Chuckles the Clown, a beloved television station kiddie show institution in the Twin Cities, has died. He was leading the circus parade in downtown Minneapolis dressed as Peter Peanut and a rogue elephant tried to shell him.

From that bit of comedic genius this episode takes off and highlights what made this series and its perfectly cast actors part of television history.

I was going to just link to the part of the episode during the Chuckles funeral itself, but you really have to watch all the craziness that builds up to that to truly appreciate Mary Tyler Moore’s legendary performance at the funeral.


“Mary Tyler Moore: Lou and That Woman (#5.4)” (1974)

Mary Richards: Did you crash the men’s room?
Sue Ann Nivens: Of course not. I went as somebody’s guest.

“Mary Tyler Moore: What Are Friends For? (#5.10)” (1974)

Lou Grant: [Lou hasn’t announced who from the newsroom will go on the Chicago junket. Sue Ann comes into his office, and tells Lou she’s going, and wants him to go as well] I didn’t know you were going.
Sue Ann Nivens: I wouldn’t miss a chance like this! 3 days… and nights, in the city where I had my first program. It was a cooking show , called; ‘Let’s Talk About Meat.’

Triumph goes to the inauguration

So many good lines here.

“And here we have the Trump sons, also known as the less motivated Menendez brothers.”

“Look at all these white people, It looks like a Walmart threw up.”

“I have a lot in common with Trump, actually – the only difference is the hand up my ass isn’t Vladimir Putin’s”