Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Reviews and Facebook Controversies

Couple different things to talk about this go-round. First off, I've been reading some books. I'll give you a couple mini-reviews, then I'll address the Facebook post that had all of the town talking.

* * *

Artie Lange is a popular comedian who had a short stint on the MadTV sketch comedy show in the mid-90s and has become most-well-known for being a personality on Howard Stern's radio show for nearly 9 years. He's also a published author, with 2 New York Times bestsellers, "Too Fat To Fish" and "Crash And Burn."

I read "Crash And Burn" a couple weeks ago. It details Artie's descent into heroin addiction, his suicide attempt, and then his recovery. I have mixed feelings about it. One, Artie is a hilarious comedian with a devoted following. But, two, I think Artie believes that he is a lot funnier and more important than he really is because of how devoted that Howard Stern audience is.

The only thing that's really different than Artie Lange the drug addict and a "regular" drug addict is that Artie didn't have any real responsibilities and a lot of money. Some addicts stop their habit because they can't afford it or they decide that their job and family is more important. Artie simply needed to be awake for 5 hours every morning and crack jokes. And, sometimes, he didn't even do that, as there are YouTube videos of Artie falling asleep on air. He lived a life that allowed him to be an addict. 

I was interested in learning about two items from his life that I had seen over the years: a 2009 Rolling Stone article and a 2008 appearance on Conan O'Brien's show.

The Conan appearance is available on YouTube and I also posted it on Facebook when I bought the book. Artie showed up looking unkempt, wearing sunglasses, joking about being high, and making several drug references throughout. He admits in the book that he was so high on heroin that he has no memory of the appearance. It's surprising that he's as coherent as he is. Artie writes that he was banned from the show for several years, despite being a favorite guest of Conan's.

In 2009, I bought a Rolling Stone magazine with Bruce Springsteen on the cover. In it was an article about Artie. Again, he looked unkempt, and the article expressed that. The writer talked about spending a couple days with Artie and how he was using heroin and basically just being a slob. Artie writes that the author had it out for him after he treated her and the crew poorly.

It's an interesting book. One thing that really disturbs me is the insane amount of money that Artie was making for one-off stand up comedy appearances. I mean, he's funny, but he shouldn't be paid 5 figures for a couple hours of work.

* * *

I read Daniel Bryan's WWE-produced autobiography over the course of two days. That was a really good book. I was hooked from the moment I started and exhaustion was the only reason I didn't finish it in one day.

For those who don't know, Bryan is a 33-year-old wrestler who began his career in 1999 and became a legend on the independent circuit of wrestling in the mid-2000s. He was the king in the smaller Ring of Honor promotion and everybody thought that was where he would end his career. They thought he was too small, too bland, not enough of a character to succeed in WWE.

To the surprise of everybody, most notably Bryan himself, he became an unlikely WWE superstar and won over the hearts of wrestling fans everywhere, forcing WWE to make him a top star. At WrestleMania 30, a show that featured an opening segment of Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock, it was main evented by Daniel Bryan winning the World Heavyweight Championship.

In an odd note, the most interesting thing about the book is when Bryan talks about his history of injuries, specifically concussions. Bryan has not wrestled since April of this year, and has noted that he will likely be out for the remainder of 2015. It is because he suffered a concussion and WWE's medical team has yet to clear him.

I'm probably going to write a more thorough review of the book later and send it somewhere, similar to what I did with JTG's book.

* * *

I got myself into a little bit of a Facebook controversy last week, didn't I? There was a shooting at a military recruiting center earlier this month. Three members of the military died. The people working there are not allowed to be armed, so private citizens in WV and the surrounding states have taken it upon themselves to use their 2nd amendment rights to "stand guard" outside the recruiting centers.

I posted a link to an article which featured a picture of two of the men in Princeton with large guns strapped to themselves. As I later explained in an additional Facebook post, going with the national narrative, people see them as backwards rednecks toting huge guns just because they can. And, that's not a good thing. So, in the original Facebook post I created a dialogue between the two men and it was vulgar, in poor taste, and not very nice. Am I apologizing for it? No. Because it got people talking and got eyes onto a subject that needed attention.

I feel like had I prefaced those comments with "The rest of America sees this:" then there would have been no backlash. Those same people would have rallied behind me, "You show them, Chris!" Instead, I guess people thought I really believed those two men I had never met were racist wife beaters.

I definitely think what they are doing is stupid, but I assume they're good people. I went and talked to them, to try and have them on the podcast. They decided against going on the record with me, but I hung out for half an hour with them. To further my point that they're nice people, I only heard one statement that could be considered racist and that actually came from one of the recruiters they're protecting.

I wrote a piece about all of this. I sent it to the opinion section of the New York Times. I've looked into sending them stuff before. They accept guest submissions and I let them have it. They said that due to the high volume of stuff they receive, they can't personally reply to everybody and that if I haven't heard anything back within three business days to assume that they passed on publishing it.

If they pass, then I will give it to all the newspapers in the state and surrounding area. Everybody will read it next week, either in one big paper or a bunch of smaller ones. So, I'll keep everybody updated on what's happening there.

* * *

That's all for now. I'll check in with some more stuff as the need arises.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

4th of July

Ripley, West Virginia, has a sign once you enter town exclaiming they are home to "the USA's largest small-town 4th of July celebration!" I assume most small towns have something similar. The 4th of July is one of the biggest calendar days in Jackson County, and that's where I grew up so that was always a big day for me.

That's not really the case anymore. Fireworks lose their appeal when you have to sneak out of work for a few minutes to watch them, like I did when I was 18 and working at Pizza Hut. Now it's just another day. Another excuse to drink. I don't like to drink around happy people or for good reasons, so that holiday is lost on me.

I sort of hate my hometown now. Ripley and Ravenswood are like that girl you spent a lot of time with and now you roll your eyes when thinking back on the memories. Aside from 5 hours one day last summer, I haven't been back since 2012. If I never go back, I think I'll be okay. My mom used to make a big deal about it. Now she doesn't even ask; she just tells me she's going to Ripley for a few days and we leave it at that.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week

Norm Macdonald was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for five years in the mid 90s. He was host of the "Weekend Update" satirical news program for three of those years. Norm's stint on the Update desk was different than most, in the sense that Norm didn't pretend to play a legit newscaster who would tell jokes. He portrayed himself, a guy sitting there in a suit telling jokes about the headlines. He would constantly call it "the fake news" and add in odd non sequiturs, most involving Frank Stallone.

Michael Jackson and OJ Simpson were favorite targets of his, as the first child molestation claims against Jackson had recently ended when Norm was on the show and the Simpson murder trial was the biggest news story that Norm "covered" on the Update desk.

When Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley ended their relationship, Norm quipped: "She's more of the stay-at-home type and he's more of a homosexual pedophile."

When Simpson was found guilty, Norm opened the next Weekend Update by saying, "This just in: murder is now legal in the state of California!"

In late 1997, Norm was famously fired from SNL. The decision to do so was not made by anybody at SNL; most notably the show's boss Lorne Michaels fought for Norm's job. The decision was made by a top executive at NBC named Don Ohlmeyer.

Ohlmeyer's position was that Norm simply wasn't funny. And a case can be made that some people just don't understand the comedy stylings of Norm Macdonald. People love and hate Norm for the same reasons: he's sarcastic, crude, he's never really committed to a character (it's always very clearly him playing a character), and he's very "meta."

One aspect of the firing that even Norm skirts around when it's brought up in interviews is that one of Ohlmeyer's best friends is OJ Simpson. Norm, to his credit, has never publicly spoken badly about Ohlmeyer, saying on multiple occasions that "he seems like a nice guy."

* * *

All of that brings us to this week's Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week. In late 1999, Macdonald had starred in a cult hit movie and was in a popular ABC sitcom. That was around the peak of his celebrity status. So, SNL got him on as a host.

During his opening monologue, he jokes about how he was fired for not being funny, yet in only a year and a half, he was deemed funny enough to actually host the show.

"How did I go, in a year and a half, from not being funny enough to be even allowed in the building, to being so funny that I'm now hosting the show? How did I suddenly get so god damn funny?"

He reveals the awful truth: he actually did not get any funnier, it's just that SNL sucks so bad now that he is funny in comparison to what they usually air.

I thought that was a nice dig at the network who fired him. And Norm is still in the good graces of SNL. He helped write and performed in one of the highlights of the recent 40th anniversary episode of the show: the Celebrity Jeopardy skit.