Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Stand-Up Comedy Hall of Fame

The passing of George Carlin first made me think of how shocking his "seven words you can't say on television" routine seemed at the time and how thoroughly out of date it is now. I think at least three of the seven (#1, #2 and #7, if I remember the order right) have made it onto normal network TV -- not some live show, as part of a script -- and the other night we were flipping around and found some bizarre Spike TV awards show where the apparent goal was to drive censors insane. Steve Carell -- nice, mild Steve Carell -- gave an acceptance speech where he said dirty words #3, #5 and #6. Repeatedly. With relish. Yes, he was bleeped out, but anyone over age 5 knew exactly what he was saying.

What I always wonder, in those moments, is what deaf people are thinking when they come across something like that. If you're reading lips, isn't it safe to assume that the world has gone completely down the sewer?

(By the way, the only TV instance I know about involving dirty word #4 -- The Word That Dare Not Speak Its Name -- is when Jane Fonda said it on the "Today" show a few months ago. It's out there if you want to see. I am not about to link to it. I believe that's the definition of Not Safe For Work.)

Beyond the decline of Western civilization, what Carlin made me think about is where he falls in the Stand-Up Comedy Hall of Fame.

To me there is one and only one unanimous selection. Richard Pryor is Babe Ruth (shattered all known boundaries of his field) plus Jackie Robinson (crossed racial lines because he was so good, white audiences had to respect him). His first movie -- well, it's not really a movie, it's just his stand-up routine on film -- is the single funniest thing I've ever seen.

From Richard on down it's sort of a pyramid. My next group: Johnny Carson, Robin Williams (although he's got the Willie Mays thing of playing far past his prime), Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Steven Wright.

After that I'd put in Steve Martin, Sam Kinison (guilty pleasure), Chris Rock, Bill Hicks, and, I swear, the early Dennis Miller. I went with a bunch of friends to see him at Wake Forest maybe 15 years ago and we were laughing so hard we needed those little drop-down oxygen masks they have in case your plane is about to crash. Dennis has gone all Fox News now, which is fine, but he is no longer funny, which is not fine at all.

Never, ever, ever in my Comedians Hall of Fame: Andrew Dice Clay.

This is all off the top of my head so of course I'm missing some -- Dave Chappelle, Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Cosby... Who else you got?

While you're thinking about it, here's George Carlin at his (non-dirty) best, on baseball vs. football.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tell me about... your favorite photo

My new Web crush is The Big Picture, a Boston Globe blog that compiles stunning photos on any given subject (Mars, life in Iraq, the Celtics' victory party) and displays them full-screen and in high resolution. It's just spectacular. And it made me think how much the right photo can mean to us.

There's a photo of me, my mom and my dad that we took one year for our church directory. The image itself is nothing special (although it is a rare moment of me in coat and tie) but it's a moment to hold onto -- my dad was alive and healthy, for one thing. He didn't become a father until he was 49 and you can see he's proud of his little family. I'm pretty sure I was in high school then and the biggest drama of my life was whether I would get to make out with a girl in the back of the bus on the way home from the debate tournament. I'm smiling pretty big in the photo so I'm guessing it had happened by then.

It also turns out that there are a lot of pictures of me and my mom, or me and my dad, and of course there are lots of pictures of my mom and dad, but not that many of the three of us together. So it's special that way too.

So... tell me about a photo that means something in your life. Doesn't have to be a family photo -- doesn't even have to be a photo that you're in, or that you took. Just something that you keep somewhere special.

And really, before you log off, go look at those Mars photos.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The author we can't stop reading

We didn't get much done around the house this weekend because Lee Child has a new book out. I stopped by the bookstore Friday night, bought a copy, walked in the front door, said "This is how much I love you" and handed it to my wife to read first.

I'm romantic that way.

Lee Child will not be winning the Nobel Prize for literature. He writes thrillers. But they are tremendous thrillers -- smart, sexy, powerful, thoughtful. The hero, Jack Reacher, has the skills of Jason Bourne and the body of Howie Long. He roams the country with nothing more than an ATM card and a toothbrush. If people would just leave him alone, things would be fine. People tend not to leave him alone. Broken bones result.

Genre books -- mysteries, thrillers, horror, Westerns -- are tricky business. They have to feel familiar and surprise you at the same time. That's a high degree of difficulty and the reason why the authors who get it right can sleep on stacks of hundred-dollar bills.

The single greatest blurb in the history of books was written for Lee Child by Malcolm Gladwell, who has written some great books himself. It captures exactly how I feel. Here's the blurb:

"I started out reading Lee Child in paperback. Then I realized I couldn't wait and started buying his books in hardcover. Now I call around to my publishing friends, and make them send me the galleys. My next step is to break into Lee Child's house and watch over his shoulder while he types. "

If I ever write a book I'll be begging Malcolm Gladwell for a blurb.

Our household book report on Lee's latest, "Nothing to Lose": Wife started Friday night and finished Saturday afternoon. I started Saturday night and finished Sunday afternoon. It was a great weekend.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama's veep

Lord knows I'm no expert on politics (or anything else, possibly excepting obscure Southern rock and pro wrestling) but every so often my spidey sense starts tingling... and so today I'm here to tell you Barack Obama's pick for vice president. Obama himself might not know it yet but this is where he'll end up.

Let me give you the quick odds for some other potential VP candidates:

Joe Biden -- 25 to 1
Evan Bayh -- 30 to 1
Sam Nunn -- 50 to 1
Dick Cheney -- 1,000,000,000 to 1
Hillary Clinton -- 1,000,000,001 to 1

There is NO WAY that Obama will pick Hillary as vice president. She would double his negatives. She would bring Bill back to the White House, which would be terrible news for everyone except the editors of the National Enquirer. And most of the Hillary supporters who are furious today, vowing that they'll vote for John McCain over Obama, will step into the voting booth in November and realize that, hey, Obama is a Democrat and McCain is a Republican.

Obama needs a conservative Democrat, someone who is tough on national defense and can appeal to some of the blue-collar voters who aren't in love with Obama yet.

Why, look -- here's a Democrat who used to be a Republican, a Vietnam vet who earned two Purple Hearts, and a strong defender of gun ownership. Plus he coincidentally has a new political book titled "A Time To Fight."

Ladies and gentlemen, Jim Webb, senator from Virginia and soon to be your Democratic vice-presidential candidate. I'd bet the contents of my wallet* on it.

*Current contents of my wallet -- $4 and a Harris Teeter VIC card.

Hillary will make nice and campaign for Obama and then go off and plan her next move. Bill... well, it looks like he's keeping busy.