“I went up and introduced myself, and we hit it off right away. We had a similar style.” – Jay Leno speaking of David Letterman in 1990

I meant to post this a few weeks back when David Letterman announced his pending 2015 retirement. I stumbled across this posting of a 1990 GQ article about and interview with David Letterman, and it is fascinating. It reads like a fictional short story imagining Letterman’s anxiety at the first crossroads of his cultural relevance, written by someone wise to the ensuing 20-plus years of late night skirmishes, betrayals and heartbreaks unfold.

The GQ article asks this question a mere eight years into Letterman’s original NBC Late Night run: Has Letterman grown stale and surrendered his throne as the most relevant, subversive and inventive comedy force in late night?

His primary threat for supremacy in June of 1990? Arsenio Hall.

Even the subtitle of the article seems impossible today: “David Letterman — Is he still the king of hip?”

But from 1982 through 1990, Letterman was indeed a late-night revolutionary, upending and expanding our expectations about what entertain could be after 11:30 p.m. He hounded and humiliated his corporate G.E. bosses and bewildered celebrities with his brash lack of reverence to their status.

The entire article fascinates, with Letterman’s trademark insecurity and cranky dissatisfaction prominent:

“I just don’t want to look like a ninny,” he says, savagely shoving on what must be one of his hundreds of pairs of almost-new Adidases and sounding every bit the grouch off-camera as on. “You’re going to make me look like a complete ninny, aren’t you?”

But two things stand out as pop culture museum artifacts from 1990. First is the perceived threat posed by Arsenio. It’s easy to forget what a pop culture phenomenon Arsenio’s show became. Hall commanded attention and relevance that drew A-list celebrities to a late-night forum and audience that had never existed before. The woof-woofing, everyone’s-invited-to-the-party vibe Hall created resembles the happy celebrity goof-fest that Jimmy Fallon has crafted on the Tonight Show.

All of that said, this paragraph from the article seems as peculiar as asking whether the crafty BetaMax and its cult technology followers would unseat the supremacy of the VHS:

Letterman is off his feed because of all the attention being lavished — he thinks squandered — on the new host on the block, Arsenio Hall. Letterman’s probably sick of hearing about Hall (whose ads for Late Night Cool are about as aggressively competitive as you can get) and reading about Hall (who scored 100 on the publicity charts by landing the cover of Time; Letterman has rated only Newsweek). It doesn’t help that Hall is perpetually hyped for being black and young (two things Dave can do little about) and is inevitably praised for his attitude — “the hip and irreverent Arsenio Hall.”

Will Gardner Comforts a Fan From the Grave: Why Twitter is Worth More Than You Think

I'm serious about being dead.

I’m serious about being dead.

“The Good Wife” on CBS is a terrific show. I watched the first couple of seasons, then drifted away to only watch sporadically since. I have caught a few sensational episodes this season, including the bombshell a few weeks ago that killed off main character Will Gardner, played by Josh Charles.

Today I stumbled across this gem from a N.Y. Times piece covering a promotional “postmortem” panel of the show’s stars and creators. It refers to the overwhelming emotional response of the viewers:

“Mr. Charles, a Twitter devotee, said he noticed when a follower wrote that her mother was upset by Will’s death. Asking for the mother’s number, he called her, saying, ‘I just wanted to check in with you.’

‘She was devastated,’ he said,’ ‘But I talked her through it.’”

First of all, this makes me an even bigger fan of the talented Charles. He’s deftly emotive onscreen, convincing in swift turns as powerful, passionate and playful. And although I haven’t followed him on Twitter before today, I’ve heard he’s genuine and enthusiastic in connecting with fans there.

This all also reminds me why, through all of the clutter and self-indulgent blather of social media, Twitter and other sites can connect us in such remarkably personal ways we couldn’t have conceived of even a few years ago.

And this stuff matters. I posted about this among a small group earlier, and a good friend replied with this:

“I was afraid to bring this up because I thought I would sound ridiculous, but I was devastated about his departure. I look at his twitter occasionally because I have been a huge fan since his role on In Treatment and of course I loved his work going back to Sports Night. I am seriously questioning my sanity over how upset I got during the past two episodes. R.I.P. Will Gardner!”

I appreciate how Charles recognizes exactly that very real emotional connection the audience forms with characters, especially ones drawn with such depth and passion and spirit as Gardner on “The Good Wife.” From him the phone call seems like a completely earnest, heartfelt gesture, not a self-serving gimmick. To be a little more corny, it seems like something that could be part of Charles’ own process of mourning a character he has invested so much in over five seasons.

This blurred line of our reality and our dramatic entertainment fantasy is astonishingly cool–Will Gardner reached out from beyond the grave to directly console an emotionally despondent fan. That’s just cool.

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:

 

 

You Could Not Invent a Person to Hate Worse Than Deepak Chopra

There are many terrible things happening. First, there is a phenomenon my friend Tim made me aware of last night. Local PBS here in Atlanta (and I’m sure elsewhere) routinely runs infomercials. Last night, some dipshit had an hour block to tell us how to overcome the “seven types” of ADD. If this is what public broadcasting requires to stay on the air, then take it off the air. We have more options for arts and education from more media than we have ever had. Shoot that wounded dog dead.

Need more convincing? Tonight, Deepak Chopra gets an hour of public air time to help us lose weight. There is no worse human being on the planet than jewel-bespectacled new age charlatan Chopra. He’s an industry of bullshit. He is a much worse slimy rich guy than Donald Trump. His cynical feel-good snake oil act manipulates the hopes and good intentions of decent people. Sometimes people who are desperate for comfort, or a way out, or just health and happiness.

So now Dr. One-Percenter Hypocrite is convincing fans of public broadcasting that satisfying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs will make cellular changes to their bodies that will help them lose weight. And keep it off!

Here is a thing he says out loud about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: “If these needs are not being met in your life, you will inevitably fill them with addictive foods.”

Hahaha! We don’t take anyone seriously who says nonsense like this, right? Right? Please, right? Don’t forget to visit the Deepak Shop on your way out.

Last Night in Sochi Was the Greatest Moment in Winter Olympics History

Move aside, 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team and your so-called “Miracle on Ice.” Last night in Sochi, we witnessed a true miracle as Russian ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova dislodged a large chunk of hot dog from partner Dmitri Soloviev’s windpipe with a nifty Heimlich maneuver.

DERRP

oooh kaaay, ahhma gonna icesh dansh now

This could only be funnier if a moth flew into his mouth. I think it was supposed to be some dance of the zombies theme. I’m sure some ice dancing artistry happened soon thereafter, but this just looks ridiculous.

And for my splendid friend Loring, it evoked Anne Hathaway’s famous scene of assertive emotion in Les Miserables:

“True Detective” Is Better Than Every Other Thing, and Matthew McConaughey Can Make Anything Sound Cool

Last night I cooked chicken for dinner. I am obsessively meticulous about continuously washing my hands and utensils when cooking, especially with raw chicken.

Rah, Chicken

Rah, Chicken

In fact, my fixation on food preparation and cleanliness borders on pathological. I had a boss once who walked into the restroom on our floor with an uncovered salad from the cafeteria downstairs. I’d rather have witnessed a plane crash.

Seriously, he just set it on the counter while he peed, letting his open salad mingle with airborne particles of his colleagues’ excreta. I’m lathering up with hand sanitizer now just from typing about it.

So last night, as I tore open the clear plastic chicken packaging, for some reason I thought about how disgusting it would be to just lick the raw chicken. That would be the kind of trauma from which I might not recover. So “lickin’ the chicken” took root in my head as one of the grossest phrases imaginable.

Unless Matthew McConaughey said it. His easy Texas drawl just pats you on the shoulder and hands you a beer no matter what he’s saying. He would make it sound like a cool catchphrase, something you wished you could hang out with him and do after surfing.

“Hey, Matthew, what’s up, how’s it going?”

“Alright alright, you know, JK liivin’, just lickin’ the chicken.”

Given that he landed on Neptune in his SAG award speech for best actor recently, I’m hopeful that he will somehow find this and work “lickin’ the chicken” into his likely upcoming Oscar™ acceptance speech.

Which brings us to his current project, the astounding series True Detective on HBO. He and Woody Harrelson absolutely mesmerize in their roles as Louisiana State police detectives alternately investigating in flashback and currently reflecting on a murder set 18 years prior. McConaughey crackles with dazzling, forceful nihilism. And Harrelson startles viewers with a turn as a volatile, complicatedly sinister cop and husband with what seems to be a genuine but entirely pliable morality. Their evolving narratives slowly fill the gaps of their complex and ferociously flawed characters, as well as the pursuit and apparent capture of the murderer.

Scenes bring you to your knees with their riveting visual power and dark beauty. At times every fractional second is exhilarating and fascinating. Below is one such scene, the harrowing chunk of dynamite that closed out the fourth and most recent episode.

Even if you don’t know the full setup for the story, this scene will amaze you. Quick context: McConaughey is undercover with a drug gang staging a violent raid on a rival gang. His crew members are falsely dressed as cops in the scene. That’s really all you need to know to behold the fierce artistry of this six-minute, unbroken one-track scene.

Here, Inquisitr.com breaks down how they filmed the remarkable scene.

And here author Michael M. Hughes takes an interesting look at how the show incorporates an obscure 1895 work or strange fiction called The King in Yellow, written by Robert W. Chambers.

Deadwood has long been my favorite TV drama ever, but I have a feeling that may change by the time this eight-episode season ends.