Time to Rebrand Wolf Blitzer’s “The Situation Room”

Relative to other recent examples of CNN’s implosion as a news organization, this is a bit of a nit. But “The Situation Room” is a downright silly name for CNN’s daily collection of speculation and misinformation about vanished planes hosted by a semi-literate, botox-smoothed Wolf Blitzer.

He's still pressing the answer buzzer on Celebrity Jeapordy

“The situation has moved to my pants.”

I know they borrowed it from the White House crisis command and control center in hopes of imparting an urgency of breaking news and perspectives of top thinkers and decision makers. But it’s laughably solemn given the embarrassing proceedings at hand. It’s also an oddly pedestrian characterization of a room that’s supposed to be the nerve center of decisive action. “Ooh, The Situation Room, sounds like the room where, you know, situations are discussed.” We provide CNN chief Jeff Zucker these alternatives for a rebrand of Blitzer’s afternoon newser snoozer:

  • The Predicament Shed
  • The Imbroglio Closet
  • The Incident Parlor
  • The Circumstance Foyer
  • The Episode Boudoir
  • The Scenario Cupboard
  • The Phenomenon Lobby
  • The Event Cubicle
  • The Consideration Dojo
  • The Development Loo
  • The Complication Tent
  • The Transaction Gazebo
  • The Occurrence Patio

Final thought. With Blitzer’s show having evolved into a daily installment of breathless chatter devoid of news or insight, I suggest my favorite alternative: The Hyperbolic Chamber.

 

 

Today’s Lazy Comedy Retread: “Chopped” Basket Tweets

I am traveling and don’t have time to craft fresh original comedy for you today. I did, however, download my Twitter archive and have something special to share: Tweets of made up baskets for the Food Network cooking competition show “Chopped.”

It really is a great show. In three rounds, chefs prepare an appetizer, main course and dessert using four unknown and often incongruous ingredients under ridiculous time constraints. Four chefs start, with one voted off by guest chef judges in each round until a winner is crowned. It’s frantic fun, with some impressive culinary craftiness under pressure. (And a few years ago, Atlanta’s iconic, beloved (and tragically prematurely departed) chef and friend Ria Pell won the show in a particularly inspired performance.)

A few years ago, I would join a weekly Twitter party to mock the preposterous ingredient combinations in the Chopped baskets. I actually made a few close friends bonding over Chopped. So here are some favorites:

  • Chefs, your basket contains: Linseed oil, pre-chewed ostrich, shirt buttons and a tarantula. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Persimmons, angry bees, chlorine tablets and pure cocaine. Time starts now! 
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Pony filets, Anbesol, a prosthetic hand and a rock tumbler. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Pop rocks, a rabbit’s foot, eye drops and a Shake Weight. Time starts now! 
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Pumpkin seeds, most of a cow’s head, mint flavored dental floss and a toupee. Time starts now! 
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Rice, conjoined twin pelicans, a rotary phone and deodorant spray. Time starts now! 
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Tang, transmission fluid, drywall and a transgendered armadillo. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A cremated bison, bong water, marigold petals and an abacus. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A goat’s hoof, Silly Putty, Vicodin and a glow stick. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A jar of trout eyes, whey, mascara & a pleading Princess Leia hologram. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A raccoon, Pixy Stix, eye drops and a tire pressure gauge. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A rusty saw, pecans, Play-Doh and a Polaroid of Steven Tyler’s junk. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A syringe of botulism, Aqua Velva, a ping-pong paddle and an owl. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A tin of Skoal tobacco, pepper spray, artificial sweetener, and Yahtzee dice. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A veal cutlet, Epsom salt, single-ply toilet paper and a Tae Bo video. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A vial of my tears, a turtle, Vick’s Vap-O-Rub and a deadly black widow spider. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A white-winged dove, a wind machine, a cape and modest Wiccan powers. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: An Atari 5200, pickled bison testicles, a balloon of heroin, and MSG. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A gerbil with glaucoma, eyebrow wax, leeks and a macrame owl. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A goat’s stomach, Rogaine, pine needles and “cheese.” Time starts now! 
  • Chefs, your basket contains: An obese canary, four Cialis tablets, a toilet brush, and plutonium. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: An origami swan, potted meat, cauliflower and a parking ticket. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains a blackbird, savoy truffles, a glass onion and hot sergeant peppers. #beatles
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Poison ivy, Elmer’s glue, a mitten and one of my teeth. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains squirrel bladders, a Speedo, lint from my dryer filter and clam juice. Time starts now! 
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A bald eagle, talcum powder, plasma and a soldering iron. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A raccoon’s paw, bok choy, shampoo and fleas. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A rattlesnake, Oil of Olay, Flintstones vitamins and a tank of nitrous oxide. Time starts now! 
  • Chefs, your basket contains: A boa constrictor, Liquid Paper, an adult diaper and peyote. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Apple butter, wet moss, a bruised rabbit and cyanide. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Armadillo bacon, chocolate sprinkles, antifreeze, a Cabbage Patch Kid. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Bone-in coyote loin, nasal spray, paint chips & a contraceptive sponge Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Boysenberries, seaweed paper, hand sanitizer and a live blue jay. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Carrots, goat cheese, quick grits, pomelo and Oxycontin. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Cheetos, toothpaste, Kalamata olives and Ryan Seacrest. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Egg yolks, sheep gums, a kaleidoscope & a season 2 DVD of Designing Women. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Ginger snaps, banana peppers, a photo of ginger snaps & Ben Gay. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Ground pork, camembert, sweet vermouth, haricot verts, Axe Body Spray. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Heavy cream, a Magic 8-Ball, cigarettes and a quail with Avian flu. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Licorice whips, malt liquor, gun powder and Insulin. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Two pelican feet, paint thinner, udon noodles and a ThighMaster. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: War Horse, marigolds, silicone implants and Tang. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Yak jerky, Canadian pennies, turtle broth and a Thighmaster. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains: Yarn, a book of haiku about pudding, a chipmunk and model glue. Time starts now!
  • Chefs, your basket contains:Tylenol Liquid Gels, a jelly fish, dentures and a Sudoku puzzle book. Time starts now!

Mike Birbiglia Takes on The Beek, David O. Russell and More in Hilarious Atlanta Show on 3/28

Three months ago I bought tickets to see Mike Birbiglia perform his Thank God for Jokes show at the Buckhead Theater in Atlanta. His show was this past Friday night, March 28. Three months is a long time for me to keep track of anything, so when I got a reminder email earlier this week, it was like finding a $20 in my pocket while doing laundry. So I was extra excited winding down Friday at the office and looking forward to the show.

And Birbiglia delivered. It’s the first time I’ve seen him live, and he was clearly in a good mood, going off-script several times to goof around with the crowd, the ushers and the erratic spotlight guy. He was crisp and energetic, keeping a lively pace for what ended up being an 80-minute set.

He also got bonus laughs recounting his cameo from the previous night on Late Night With Seth Meyers. A few weeks ago on Late Night, Birbiglia had shared a funny anecdote from years back about The Beek being unamused at the prospect of being Birbiglia’s doppelganger. On Thursday night’s show, Birbiglia made a surprise cameo to acknowledge an apology from The Beek, who had originally claimed the incident never happened. (Van Der Beek was a surprisingly likable guest for his full segment. Nice to see a celebrity who can both recognize and mock the nature of his charmed and fragile celebrity.)

In his live show Friday night, Birbiglia was clearly still amused by the previous night’s Meyers appearance. And when you watch the Late Night clip below, it completely mirrors Birbiglia’s recollection of it on stage Friday. He loved the idea of flying in to appear on Late Night and prepared jokes just for the bit, then was overwhelmed by the crowd reaction and his own realization that he looks nothing at all like James Van Der Beek.

Birbiglia’s entire set Friday night was terrific. He gained steady momentum, stacking up early chuckles and building to close with a series of routines that the had the crowd howling and leaving happy. He killed with a bit about running onstage and inadvertently bellowing “fuck” to an audience of Muppet fans, then immediately running back offstage because he forgot to bring out his trademark stool.

Late in the show, he shared a magnificent story about hosting the 2012 Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York. Director David O. Russell (The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees, American Hustle), was there to receive a career achievement award. Birbiglia hosted the awards and opened with a monologue that included a verbatim recitation of Russell’s brutal verbal assault on Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees. Enjoy it here (his tirade starts at 1:08):

(In an aside, Lily Tomlin starred in the 1978 movie Moment By Moment as a middle-aged divorcee exploring an exciting and dangerous romance with a young, Stetson-soaked drifter played by John Travolta. I imagine in real life their genitals would repel like two north magnets.)

Heh, she tastes like chicken! Barbarino out

Let me take this moment to say “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Birbiglia’s point was to highlight the absurd reality of sometimes finding big laughs at the expense of people in the audience. He said the joke brought the room down, but almost took the award ceremony with it. Russell apparently got up from his seat and walked out, threatening backstage not to accept the award. In the end, Russell accepted the award and was gracious later responding to questions about Birbiglia’s joke. Birbiglia cited this line from a review in Variety the next day:

“Before any winners were announced at Monday’s 22nd edition of the Gotham Awards, one thing became clear: Host Mike Birbiglia will not be in David O. Russell’s next picture.”

My clinical breakdown of Bribiglia’s Russell routine takes all the funny right out of it, but I shared it because it highlights something I like best about Birbiglia. His introspection about comedy sets his work apart. For example, he didn’t share the Russell anecdote simply as a self-serving tale of how he knocked a big-time director down a notch. In fact, Birbiglia clearly reveres Russell’s work as a director. More importantly for his act, he also clearly reveres Russell’s searing, vulgar on-set assault on Tomlin. And he’s right, it’s painfully hilarious to hear a major director come unhinged in a shouting “I’m trying to help you cunt” rant. Birbiglia loves it so much he personally transcribed it from the video clip for his stand up, and when he reads it aloud it creates a riveting poetry to the words.

Birbiglia’s reflection about how audiences and individuals react differently to comedy adds depth to his material. I’m paraphrasing Birbiglia from recollection: “Russell is being honored by a roomful of his peers for his lifetime achievement as a director, and some guy he’s never heard of gets up on stage and recites verbatim Russell’s most regrettable moment of all time. And everyone in the room laughs.” He’s fascinated with how comedy works or fails, and he weaves that perspective into some of his most relentlessly funny material. It creates a personal connection with his audience, without ever drifting into sappiness. Because even as he makes you think about human fragility and insecurity, he still makes you laugh really fucking hard.

Venue review: The Buckhead Theater sucks shit for seeing a comedy show. It’s especially bad if you’re lucky enough to score “view obstructed’ seats in the back of the orchestra level. I expect “view obstructed” to mean perhaps the balcony above enters the top of my line of vision, or a sound booth limits vision to the right or left of the stage. At Buckhead Theater, it means you’re sitting in one of 60 or so temporary seats with a giant fucking beam that holds up the balcony level directly dead center in your line of sight to the stage. Such that you will periodically see Birbiglia when he wanders stage left or right, but you’ll have to lean two feet one way or the other to see him when he retreats (as he does frequently) to the stool set at center stage. I’m astounded Buckhead Theater would sell those seats at all. And, at least from where we sat, the sound was awful, with a slight echo delay that rendered Birbiglia inaudible at times. Zero stars.

Super extra bonus: Mike Showalter and Paul Rudd parody the David O. Russell meltdown:

 

 

Michael Rapaport’s Awful Southern Accent is Ruining Season 5 of Justified

I just caught up on episode eight of Justified’s fifth season. My question: How much longer can we abide Michael Rapaport’s preposterous southern accent? It is so conspicuously laughable that it becomes a distracting focal point of every episode he’s in. The plot from this week’s episode crackled, with Boyd convincing Yoon and Ruiz that his crew could make the dead bodies in the Mexican desert go away. A midnight desert showdown with corrupt Mexican police followed. Misdirection led Boyd and crew to escape with their heroin intact, yet also teased a showdown between Rapaport’s Daryl Crowe and Boyd.

And yet…there’s this:

This is just one example, and not nearly the most egregious one. It’s like needle scratch stops the action every time he utters a line.

There’s not much I could add to Matt Barone’s excellent breakdown of Rapaport’s dreadful drawl on Complex.com. I just hate that Justified swung and missed so spectacularly in casting Rapaport in the first place.

I’ve enjoyed so many of the seasonal or multiple episode character arcs on Justified. Margo Martindale was brilliant in season two, winning an Emmy as Mags Bennett. Neal McDonough was fantastic in his role as Detroit bad guy Robert Quarles (those smarmy Cadillac commercials notwithstanding). I loved Patton Oswalt’s turn as the wannabe cop. The show cast Jere Burns perfectly as Duffy, with a surgery-altered joker face that suits his role. It’s like his face is its own character. (And frankly, his pinned-back, thin-eyed, bad-after-picture appearance probably makes him uncastable for many roles.)

And I’m actually on board with the story lines this season. I like the tension between Art and Raylan. I like the uncomfortable coexistence of the Florida Crowes in the Kentucky backwoods. Joelle Carter manages to make Ava engaging even amid a somewhat tedious Women in Prison subplot. And Art’s showdown in the diner earlier this season is one of my favorite scenes in the entire series run. But Rapaport’s clanging performance as Daryl is derailing the season for me.

Bonus Boyd Crowder aside: The outstanding Walt Goggins briefly attended my high school in the northwest Atlanta suburb of Smyrna. (Julia Roberts went there too. Go figure.) I just discovered today that Goggins used to leave notes in my friend’s mailbox notifying her that she smells nice. For the record, she does smell quite lovely.

Misunderstandings: Troop Leader Edition

When I was about 25, some friends and I planned to raft down the Chattahoochee River. It’s not like white water rafting; it’s a lazy beer guzzling float down a stretch of the river north Atlanta.

You must have at least one life jacket for each person in your raft. You don’t have to wear them, you just have to have them with you in the raft. The park rangers love to write pricey tickets for non-compliance.

So, I had the task of obtaining some cheap life preservers for the group. I went to the K-Mart nearby. In the outdoors section they indeed had the standard issue orange life preservers. Except they were all children’s sizes. But since all you have to do is hold them up to show the rangers when they ask, it didn’t really matter what size they were. They’d never know the difference.

I had one other item I needed to get on this shopping trip, which I grabbed on the way through the store.

So, checkout time. I dropped seven children’s day-glo orange life preservers on the belt. And a box of 12 condoms. (I was ambitious and optimistic at 25.) Only at this moment did the incongruous pairing of these items occur to me. The checkout guy gave me a legitimate what-the-fuck look, and I looked right at him and said, “Be Prepared.”

Parting Thoughts On SNOW MY GOD! 2014 and Georgia’s Earthquake

A final word to friends in the Northeast who mocked our snow, and those on the West Coast who mocked our earthquake:

New York: Your pizza and your bagels aren’t really that much better. Shut up already.

Los Angeles: I don’t care if you have an IMDB credit as “Fleeing robber #3” on a CSI episode, or that your agent once repped Stephen Baldwin. You’re a waiter.

Really, Georgia? Now an Earthquake? *smears on locust repellent*

On the heels of SNOW MY GOD! 2014, and 4.1 magnitude earthquake just shook Georgia and the Carolinas. On Valentine’s Day no less.

Headline prediction for mid-November: “Birthquake!”

Most importantly an hour after this quake rocked the southeast: Why isn’t WSB TV’s Mark Winne dressed like Humphrey Bogart and reporting from the back of a Humvee?

UPDATE: Breaking: Governor Nathan Deal forms Earthquake Task Force. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed compares response to Day 1 of the last earthquake.