Jerry Stiller, R.I.P.

I was sorry to learn that Jerry Stiller died yesterday.  I guess most people my age probably know him best as Frank Costanza on Seinfeld.  (I never watched The King of Queens, though I know he had a lot of fans from his role on that show as well.)  We’ll always remember Jerry Stiller explaining how Festivus came to be and for shouting “Serenity Now!” whenever the world got to be too much for him.  Jerry Stiller could even make the simple act of shouting funny.

Long before he played Frank, Jerry was best-known as the husband and the comedy partner of Anne Meara.  (Their son, of course, is Ben Stiller.) Here are two of Stiller & Meara’s routines, one from the Ed Sullivan Show and one from the Johnny Carson show:

And finally, from Seinfeld, here is the Story of Festivus:

Lockdown Journal: 4-6-20

I’ve been so preoccupied with how things are going in the States that it’s just now registering with me that Sir Keir Starmer is the new leader of Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, I presume, is returning to the backbenches.  The American media, for the most part, seems think that, just because Starmer identifies as a socialist, that means that he’s as far to the left as Corbyn.  (Most Americans assumes that the Tories are just as conservative as the Republicans and that every member of Labour is somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders.)  Going from Corbyn to Starmer is a huge change.

Starmer, I imagine, will be solid but uninspiring leader.  He looks the part and he might bring back a few voters who defected over the Tories, though I’d be surprised if he ever made it into Number 10.  He seems destined to be a rebuilding leader, someone who can presumably repair some damage and lay a foundation that will eventually lead to another Labour government.  It’s hard to imagine him inspiring the same type of emotions that Corbyn inspired.  People either really loved or really hated Jeremy.  Sir Keir Starmer, on the other hand, inspires admiration in some but no real passion.  He’s the type of leader who you elect when you’re looking for someone to bring some normalcy back to the place.  He’s your proof that the inmates are not running the asylum.

The future’s hard to predict, though.  Coronavirus can change everything.  Right now, Boris Johnson is in the hospital and in intensive care because of COVID-19.  I hope he recovers, just as I would hope that Jeremy Corbyn (or Sir Keir Starmer, for that matter) would recover if he was ill.  If something does happen to Boris, it’s hard to say who will step into his place or if that person will be able to hold together the coalition that put Boris into power.

In less grim news, I discovered that I can watch 1st and Ten on Amazon Prime.  1st and Ten was one of the first sitcom to ever air on HBO.  It was about a fictional football team and it featured O.J. Simpson as T.D. Parker.  In OJ: Made in America, there’s a short scene of O.J. recording promos for the new season of 1st and 10 and getting annoyed with his co-star, Marcus Allen.  Ever since I saw that clip, I’ve been wanting to watch an episode of 1st and Ten.  Last night, I watched an entire season and it was almost indescribably bad.  It was, however, interesting to see O.J. play a good guy.  It was a reminder of the affable image that Simpson once had.

The lockdown continues but so far, we’re all keeping our spirits high down here.  Lisa and I have agreed that we’re not going to worry until we find ourselves with nothing left to watch other than the Police Academy films on Netflix.  Once that happens, it’s scary to think about what might follow.

 

Lockdown Journal: 4-5-20

I woke up this morning and looked out the bedroom window.  A woman was jogging while wearing a bandanna over the lower-half of her face.  It was a surreal site but I guess this is going to be the new normal.  Even if the curve starts to flatten, it will now probably be a common to see people out in public with masks on.  Howard Hughes was ahead of his time.

FOX, NBC, and CBS are currently showing old sporting events.  (Though right now, coverage is being interrupted to show a press conference about the hospital bed situation in Dallas County.)  The networks broadcasting these old athletic competition remind me of the surfers in Apocalypse Now, trying to ignore the reality of Vietnam by focusing on the waves.  As Captain Willard observed, the more they tried to make it like home, the more they made everyone miss it.

 

 

Lockdown Journal: 4-2-20

Yesterday, I called this a “Quarantine Journal” but that’s not true.  I may be under a shelter-in-place order but I haven’t been quarantined.  As far as I know, I have not been exposed to COVID-19 and I don’t want my poor choice of words to give anyone the impression that I have, not when there’s people who actually are in quarantine and who need your thoughts and support far more than I do.  So, this is now a lockdown journal.

For now, my main enemy is boredom.  Being stuck in one place all day is not as much fun as movies like Castaway led me to believe.  I find myself looking forward to the prospect of a storm in much the same way that I once looked forward to the release of the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

The lady who lives across the street called this morning, in a panic because she thought that the people next door were digging a grave in the front yard.  It turned out that they were just planting a tree.

Today’s big discoveries:

Soap Operas are still a thing, though there’s apparently not many left.  Sadly, the ones that mom always used to watch — Guiding Light and As The World Turns — are gone.

Jerry Springer now has a show where he’s a small claims court judge.

Working from home is far more efficient than working from an office.  I can get things done on my own time and without having anyone attempting to micromanage things.

We’ll get through this.  If you’re reading this, stay indoors and I wish you good health.

 

 

 

Rediscovering The Simpsons

Up until a few days ago, I always dreaded coming across reruns of The Simpsons in syndication.  That was usually because most of the reruns were from the more recent seasons and the drop-off in quality between The Simpsons of the 90s and the Simpsons of the modern era was so dramatic and sudden that it can often be depressing to even think about.  At first, it was just a case of the show depending too much on celebrity cameos and occasionally trying too hard to be topical.  Then, after season 20, The Simpsons suddenly seemed as if it was trying to keep up The Family Guy’s notoriously mean-spirited and lazy aesthetic.  As I said, it was just depressing to think about.

But, since I didn’t have to work today and the world is shut down for the Coronavirus, I stayed home and I actually watched a few episodes on FXX.  I was shocked to discover that some of the post-2000 episodes weren’t as bad as I originally remembered.  Perhaps it helped that I was watching them with absolutely no expectations but some of the episodes — in particular the Angry Dad episode with Stan Lee –actually did make me laugh out loud. It undoubtedly helped that I knew that none of the episodes that I was going to see were going to live up to the classic 90s episodes that I loved in high school.  Since I knew not to expect to see anything like Marge Be Not Proud or The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show, I could actually judge each episode on their own merits as opposed to comparing them to what had come before.

Of course, once FXX started showing episodes that were made at 2010, I promptly stopped laughing because those episodes still suck.  But who knows?  Maybe in 2030, I’ll actually be laughing at some of those episodes as well.  Hell, maybe even that episode with Moe judging American Idol will somehow become funny.  Strangers things have happened.

Life During The Wuhan Virus

This morning, I woke up and I turned on the TV.  On CBS, I was shocked to see a college basketball game being played.  Thinking that maybe these were two teams who were playing in defiance to the cancellation of their season, I then saw that the stands were full of cheering fans.

“Are they crazy!?” I thought.  Usually, I’ll defend college students against the argument that they’re all entitled and irresponsible but considering what’s going on in the world, this seemed like peak entitlement….

Just as I was reaching total outrage, I realized that I was watching an old game.  CBS is currently showing a Michigan State/Wisconsin game from 2015.  I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot of this.  With so many big sporting events being cancelled and so many tv shows and movies suspending publication because of the Wuhan Virus, I imagine a lot of networks will be turning towards the archives.

What a time!  Last week, around this time, Lisa & I were on an airplane flying back to the U.S. after spending two weeks in the UK and France.  That seems like a year ago.

Right now, due to the Wuhan Virus, life is on hold in many places of the world.  That’s certainly the case down here in Texas.  I’m going to be working from home until at least the end of this month.  Lisa’s office is going to be closed until at least April 13th.

I’m not panicking about the Wuhan Virus.  I’m taking all the necessary precautions because that’s all you really can do.  These are scary times but we’ll get through it.  America is a much stronger country than a lot of people are willing to admit.

As for me, I got groceries, some peanut butter, to last a couple of days.  No worries for me.

This ain’t no disco.  This ain’t no fooling around.  But we’ll survive.

Terry Jones, RIP

I just heard the incredibly sad news that Terry Jones has died.  Jones, who was one of the founders of Monty Python and a respected medieval scholar, was 77 years old.  It was announced three years ago that Jones was suffering from a rare form of dementia so his death was not unexpected but it still hurts.

When I was a kid and I was watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus for the first time, I initially did not fully appreciated Terry Jones.  I liked him because I liked every member of Monty Python and every British comedy fan grows up wishing that they could have been a member of the group.  (My favorite was Eric Idle.)  But it was sometimes easy to overlook  Terry Jones’s performance on the show because his characters were rarely as flamboyant as some of the other ones.  He was never as grumpy as John Cleese nor was he as sarcastic as Eric Idle.  Michael Palin (who was Jones’s writing partner long before the two of them become members of Monty Python) cornered the market on both unctuous hosts and passive aggressive countermen.  Meanwhile, Graham Chapman played most of the upright authority figures and Terry Gilliam provided animation.  Terry Jones, meanwhile, often played screeching women and bobbies who said, “What’s all this then?”

It was only as I got older and I came to better appreciate the hard work that goes into being funny that I came to appreciate Terry Jones and his ability to always nail the perfect reaction to whatever lunacy was occurring around him.  It was also as I got older that I started to learn about the origins of Monty Python and what went on behind the scenes.  I learned that Terry Jones was a key player.  Along with writing some of Monty Python‘s most memorable material, he also directed or co-directed their films.  On the sets of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life, Jones provided the structure that kept those films from just devolving into a collection of skits.

Unlike the other members of Monty Python, Terry Jones never really went out of his way to establish an acting career outside of the group.  Instead, he wrote screenplays and serious books on both medieval history and Geoffrey Chaucer.  Appropriately, for a member of the troupe that changed the face of comedy, Jones often challenged the conventional views of history.  Terry Jones was the only man in Britain brave enough to defend the Barbarians.

On the last day of the ninth grade, my English teacher, Mr. Davis, rewarded us for our hard work by showing us what he said was the funniest scene in film history.  The scene that he showed us came from the Terry Jones-directed Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and it featured Jones giving a literally explosive performance as Mr. Creosote.

With thanks to both Mr. Davis and Terry Jones:

Terry Jones, Rest in Peace.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez

Last night, I watched Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez.

The case of Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots tight end who was accused of murdering multiple people when he was off the field and ultimately convicted of one murder, has always interested me.  If you believe what prosecutors charged (and, after watching the documentary, I do), Hernandez went from signing a 40 million dollar contract with the Patriots to killing people for the slightest of reasons.

After Hernandez committed suicide in 2017, his brain was examined and it was said that he was suffering from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which could have been a factor in his lack of self-control.  I was always skeptical of the argument that Hernandez’s crimes could be explained away by CTE.  I don’t doubt that Hernandez had it but I’ve always understood that CTE usually didn’t start to really effect people until they were middle-aged.  Hernandez was only 22 when he was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd.  To me, especially after watching the documentary, it’s more probable that Hernandez was just a sociopathic punk who was desperate to prove his manhood.  In his mind, that meant going after anyone who had gotten under his skin or who he viewed as being a threat.  In the documentary, one of Odin Lloyd’s friends says that Aaron Hernandez was trying to be a gangster and I think that’s right.  The documentary also revealed that Hernandez was gay and deeply closeted and suggests that his own self-hatred was one of the main causes of Hernandez’s emotional instability.

The documentary features the audio of several phone calls between the jailed Hernandez and his mother and girlfriend.  What really got to me was how content Hernandez often sounded in those recordings.  It was as if being in prison and only having to deal with a small cell provided him with the structure that he had never had before.

The film reveals that Hernandez was not a smart criminal.  He murdered Lloyd just a few miles away from his house and he left behind hundreds of clues that revealed he was the murderer.  If Hernandez had been a smarter criminal, would be still be playing in the NFL today?  Would he be making millions off of endorsements and looking forward to a future as an ESPN commentator?  I doubt it.  Aaron Hernandez was so self-destructive that his downfall was going to come one way or the other.

Another good thing about the documentary is that it spent almost as much time exploring Odin Lloyd’s life as it did Aaron Hernandez’s.  With all the publicity surrounding Hernandez’s trial, it was often overlooked that Odin Lloyd left behind friends and family and loves ones.  Everyone in the documentary describes Odin Lloyd as being a good person and it’s obvious that, when interviewed, all of them were still feeling the pain of losing him.  The documentary remembers that this story is about more than just Aaron Hernandez’s fall from grace.  It’s also about the tragedy of Odin Lloyd’s death.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

Buck Henry, R.I.P.

I just heard that Buck Henry died tonight of a heart attack.  He was 89 years old.

It’s hard to know where to start with Buck Henry.  He did a little bit of everything.  He started out as a comedian in the 50s, appearing on talk shows and claiming to be G. Clifford Prout, the president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA).  SINA was an organization dedicated to clothing animals in order to prevent their “indecency.”  Buck Henry’s delivery was so deadpan that many people thought he actually was G. Clifford Prout and a some even tried to send him donations to help out his cause.  (The donations were always returned.)

Henry went on to work extensively in both television and film.  He wrote the script for The Graduate and played the helpful hotel clerk.  He co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks.  With Warren Beatty, he co-directed Heaven Can Wait and received an Oscar nomination.  In Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, he had a rare serious role as the gay patent lawyer who helps alien Thomas Jerome Newton set up his corporation and who ultimately gets tossed out of a window by government agents.

During the first few season of Saturday Night Live, Buck Henry hosted a total of ten times.  By many, he was considered to be an unofficial member of the cast.  He was a frequent foil to John Belushi’s samurai character.  Henry’s button-down persona provided the perfect contrast to Belushi’s frenetic performance.  During the October 30th, 1976 episode, Henry was accidentally struck by Belushi’s katana and he ended up with a deep cut on his forehead.  Henry not only continued the skit but he also hosted the rest of the show with a bandage on his forehead.  All of the other members of the cast put bandages on their foreheads as a show of solidarity.

Buck Henry kept working into the new century, appearing on shows like Will and Grace, The Daily Show, and 30 Rock.  He will be missed.

Buck Henry, R.I.P.