Jon Stewart: Live

I ended up looking at the schedule for the Oakdale Theater and put 2+2 together when I saw Jon Stewart was coming.

jon_stewart.jpgSometime last month Helaine asked me to schedule Friday, June 13 as a vacation day. Then she told me not to try and figure it out. I listened and obeyed.

Unfortunately, for other reasons, I ended up looking at the schedule for the Oakdale Theater&#185 and put 2+2 together when I saw Jon Stewart was coming. You’ve got to hand it to Helaine. Somehow she managed to get sixth row seats in the center section. In comedy, more than any other performance type, location is paramount.

A little after 8:00 PM Stewart ambled on stage. He was wearing a dark t-shirt and khaki pants. Not that it mattered, but he was under-dressed for the occasion.

I was a little puzzled by the quality of the sound system. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t good. I’ve heard it a lot better for comedians. The sound was thin and bordered on feedback from time-to-time.

Stand-up demands different skills than The Daily Show. Stewart has mastered this discipline as well. I’d tell you some of the jokes, but there were few jokes as such. More, it was observations and punchlines.

He is down on Bush and McCain and puzzled by much of the rest of what he sees. He has guilt about being Jewish which is probably lost on gentiles.

He was really funny. I don’t want to bury that. He was really funny.


Free Stuff

I just finished watching The Daily Show. It’s recorded on the DVR and then streamed here to my laptop.

When the show ends, the DVR freezes on the last frame recorded. I’m not sure why, but tonight I looked to see what was there.

Salvatore Ferragamo is providing shoes. Seriously.

Hey, I’m on TV and one of the benefits of my job is a clothing allowance. Maybe I shouldn’t comment?

Actually, it’s not as glamorous as it seems. In essence it’s part of my salary (which you I pay taxes on) which I commit to spend on clothing. It forces me to dress nicely, benefiting both the station and me.

Here’s the difference with Jon Stewart. You never see his feet! He spends 100% of his time behind a desk. He still gets shoes.

I can’t even imagine how this entered into his contract negotiations. Here’s a guy with a seven figure salary. How important could a few pairs of wingtips be?

This will go down as one of life’s truly great mysteries… undoubtedly provided by one of show businesses truly great agents.

Herb Alpert – That’s Where He Went

I was just about to watch Bill Moyers interview with Jon Stewart when the opening underwriters credits (the PBS equivalent of commercials) flashed across the screen. It was the usual group of foundations named after their wealthy benefactors and one corporate underwriter.

Everything was as expected until the name you see on the left flashed. Herb Alpert! Really – Is this the Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Herb Alpert? The “A” of A&M Records. That Herb Alpert?

I am surprised. Was there that much money from A Taste Of Honey and Lee Michaels albums? Guess so.

I’m also surprised, because if Herb can do this, why have I never seen any other show biz types pitching in? You would think, with the political and social activism in Hollywood, someone would want to put their money where their mouth is.

It’s good to see Herb’s name in the public eye again.

That Email Thing

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been writing about the use of Republican National Committee mail servers by White House staffers (here, here and here).

When I began writing, I just knew it was wrong in the abstract. I had no idea if these non-governmentally served emails would pose a problem or enter into any partisan battle.

I guess they do. Tonight, Jon Stewart spent the first 7:00 of his show on the subject. After the break, he came back and did some more.

The original reason for me to write about these email accounts was to question if and how long it would take for a big story to develop. My first entry on this was March 28, 2007.

Not all breaking news explodes. Some just simmers its way into the public consciousness.

John Bolton, The Surprise

John Bolton was Jon Stewart’s guest tonight on Comedy Central. It is difficult to imagine a stranger juxtaposition. Stewart had been relentless in his attacks and, quite honestly, former United Nations Ambassador Bolton was an easy target.

The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.

Why did John Bolton agree to appear? He had to have known how Stewart had skewered him and how the audience would respond to his mere presence?

Now I know. Bolton has cojones!

He was every bit Stewart’s equal in the debate. He was glib. He was prepared. He gave no ground. He was very impressive in the heat of verbal battle.

As the segment ended, it was clear he had won Jon Stewart’s respect.

He was not the caricature Stewart expected. He surely wasn’t the caricature I expected.


We are enjoying Netflix. It’s cool to always have a movie we want to see hanging around the house, waiting for us.

Helaine has been nice enough to indulge me a few documentaries. Tonight it was Wordplay, the story of the 28th Annual Crossword Puzzle Championship held at the Marriott in Stamford&#185.

Wordplay itself refers to the practice of styling the answers in themed crossword puzzles.

I’ll get to the competition in a second.

To legitimize the whole process, a few celebrity crossword addicts were interviewed, including Bill Clinton, Mike Mussina, Ken Burns, the Indigo Girls and Jon Stewart. Interestingly, Stewart is the only one who seemed consciously affected by the camera.

They all do their puzzles in pen.

The movie followed a handful of favorites through the contest. If you’re looking to fill your quota of stereotypes, they’re there! Everyone was a nerd. No one could be thought of as physically attractive. And yet, it was fascinating to watch.

To see these contestants breeze through puzzles, solving clues in 10 or 15 seconds was mind boggling. Sure, they know the obscure puzzle words, those chestnuts which are used and reused because they alone solve certain problems of puzzle design, but it’s more than that.

The contestants are analytical. They are organized… anal if you wish. It’s almost as if they have to do puzzles. In fact, maybe they are driven by an unseen force to do just that.

SPOILER ALERT – In the end, a rookie error from an established contestant allows a 20 year old college student (from Hartford, as it turns out) to win. I like him and was pleased he won. – AS YOU WERE

I finished the movie and immediately headed to a website where you can attempt to solve crosswords online. I bailed before the halfway point, though I was doing fine on a reasonably easy puzzle.

I like the movie and really cared about the folks involved. How often do you get to say that?

&#185 – The 30th Annual Championship takes place next weekend in Stamford.

Lewis Black Comes To Connecticut

I am so excited. For Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa, Helaine gave me tickets to see Lewis Black at what was the Oakdale, and is now the Chevrolet Theater.

When I tell people we’re going to see Lewis Black there are two reactions:

1) I love him. He’s so funny.

2) Who?

Helaine is in the twos. I’m with the ones. Hopefully she’ll be converted Saturday night.

Lewis is a writer/comedian who’s been around for years. Hell, he’s even older than me!

His weekly appearances on The Daily Show have greatly increased his visibility. On top of that, Jon Stewart treats him with total deference… treatment befitting a comedy god, if you will.

I’m trying to think of a way to describe him for you ‘group two’s’ reading this. He’s witty. He’s biting. He is manic in his movement and speech. He does a lot of finger pointing and thrusting. He sees the absurdity in most of life.

He’s also a little tough on meteorologists. That includes one rant that had me on the floor laughing.

The thought crossed my mind – I’m TVboy. I know people at The Chevy. Maybe Lewis is having a meet and greet and I could wangle an invite?

No such luck. No one will be met.

Now that I’ve thought it through, a meet and greet would be totally contrary to Lewis’ persona. I’m strangely happier he won’t be having one! Anyway, my friend Howard, a successful Hollywood talent manager, says you should never meet those you admire. They’re always a disappointment.

I look forward to seeing Lewis from the audience, where I belong.

How Comedians Were Made

I’ve been watching YouTube tonight. That’s probably a bad thing to say, since watching YouTube means I’m not watching television.

It’s interesting how, in many ways, YouTube (or one of its wannabe sister sites) has become the conduit for many of our shared mutual experiences. That used to be the province of TV. Now, if you missed it when it happened, you can catch up online.

Tonight on YouTube I was watching airchecks of a few comedians first appearances with Johnny Carson. I remembered seeing Rosanne Barr’s first set as it aired on The Tonight Show. Others I may have seen, but they didn’t leave an impression at the time.

When I was going to college and long into my working life, Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show was the only thing on nationally after the late news. There was no Letterman or Leno or Conan or Jon Stewart. Yeah – there was cable, but cable had few additional channels and fewer original productions.

A comedian making his/her debut appearance on the Tonight Show could expect their life to change forever instantly. I’ve heard more than one comic say that.

There were three responses you could get from Johnny. He could politely applaud. That was bad news. He could give you the ‘hi’ sign. That was approval.

If you were really good, Johnny would call you over to the couch for a minute or two. Ellen DeGeneres was called over on her first night. You could see in her eyes she totally understood what was happening.

That era, where one program could have such an impact, is gone. It will never come back. In a multichannel universe, no one show can dominate.

As much as the rights holders are probably upset, having these moments of television history available is yet another luxury of the Internet.

Rod Serling Documentary

I have two DVRs. One is from Comcast. Its strength is being able to record digital cable channels. As DVRs go, it’s not very good.

The second DVR is self built. It runs MythTV software – a totally free Linux based application. I claim to have installed it on old throwaway hardware, but there were enhancements as I went along. It’s not totally reclaimed from scrap.

MythTV’s strength is its software. It is elegantly programmed and takes full advantage of a MySQL database. That means I can search for TV shows by title, genre, actors. You get the idea. It even knows how to record a show once, no matter how many times it airs or how many channels carry it.

I can also program what Tivo calls a ‘season pass.’ Every episode of a single show gets scarfed up on my hard drive.

That’s what I did with PBS’ American Masters series. OK, I’ve only watched a few, but they’re on my drive, just in case.

Tonight, after Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, I decided to delve into the episode on Rod Serling. Good move.

As a kid I watched Serling’s Twilight Zone. I remember having the crap scared out of me by some episodes. They were genuinely scary without being violent and with no special effects – none!

I knew they were good, because I heard they were good. I was too young to make that kind of value judgment on my own.

Now I understand more of what Serling was about. His work seen today, some of it fifty years old or more, is very impressive.

Rod Serling worked in the Golden Age of Television. You could make the case he was an integral reason it was the Golden Age.

Black and white clips of The Twilight Zone, Studio One, Kraft Television Theater and other dramatic anthologies present TV as a different animal. Writing and acting were critical. Production values were an afterthought.

Nearly every clip has featured actors I recognized from appearances long after the 50s. Many, like Robert Redford, Mickey Rooney, Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith and Jack Klugman had distinguished careers beyond television. There were also quirky scenes with actors out of place, like Ed Wynn, normally a slapstick comedian, playing a fight trainer in Requiem for a Heavyweight, or 14 year old Mickey Dolenz in The Velvet Alley, part of the Playhouse 90 series. Mike Wallace is even there, lit cigarette in hand, interviewing Rod Serling one-on-one.

Today’s episodic television looks for quick payoffs. TV shows have multiple plots going simultaneously. We no longer have the attention span to absorb ethereal writing. Serling would be quite unhappy. Serling’s type of television isn’t done today.

There’s no way to go back in time. That’s a shame. I’m just glad there are moments like this when I can take another look at why television became such an influential medium and why, even today, so many clearly remember these shows.

Power Of Internet Video

I just watched a clip of Jeff Jarvis at the Syndicate media conference in New York. He was talking about Jon Stewart’s famous appearance on CNN’s Crossfire.

When the show aired, about 150,000 watched it. The video clip, as posted to the Internet, has been seen 10,000,000 times. I’m not sure CNN made anything from the Internet plays, even though their reach dwarfed the ‘main’ channel.

For broadcasters and cable channels, this is a significant disconnect. It’s not that programs aren’t being watched, as much as they aren’t being watched in a way that produces revenue necessary to make them.

Jon Stewart On The Oscars

My friend Farrell has already written me four or five times on this subject. The last time, attaching an article, he wrote the single word, “Ouch!”

Jon Stewart was a major disappointment at the Oscars.

I guess the good news is, he was a disappointment because he’s normally so good. The bad news is, for many people, this is their introduction – and possibly their final impression.

Tom Shales was brutal in today’s Washington Post – but Shales specializes in being brutal&#185.

It’s hard to believe that professional entertainers could have put together a show less entertaining than this year’s Oscars, hosted with a smug humorlessness by comic Jon Stewart, a sad and pale shadow of great hosts gone by.

I wonder what’s going through Stewart’s mind today? Is he having second thoughts about he approached the broadcast? Has he just tossed it off and moved back to his ‘real’ life?

&#185 – After I put this online, Farrell called and questioned my characterization of Shales.

Shales does not specialize in being brutal. He writes better than anyone on the subject of television period. He’s honest, frank. Likes TV and when he sees something good, he praises it. When he sees something bad, he’ll write and say so. And you can quote me, WeatherBoy&#153!

Continue reading “Jon Stewart On The Oscars”

I’m Writing About Norman Chad – What’s My Problem?

All of a sudden my DVR is going nuts taping shows. There’s Jon Stewart (as I’ve already mentioned), Boston Legal, Commander In Chief&#185, Call For Help (wearing out its welcome), ARLI$$ and ESPN’s poker coverage.

A few nights ago, I decided what makes ESPN’s coverage so good. First, it’s edited masterfully. No one is going to convince me the voice overs are done while the poker is being played – but that doesn’t diminish the show. More than anything, I really find Norman Chad funny.

Chad is a newspaper guy (I’m easily impressed by people who write well) first, and reading some of his columns, I ‘hear’ the same voice I hear on the poker broadcasts. I also saw his name on a very funny ARLI$$ episode.

What makes him good on poker is his ability to elevate the absurd to comedic proportions. Anything that anyone does on that broadcast is subject to his scrutiny and wit.

Other poker broadcasts, like the WPT on the Travel Channel, just don’t compare.

&#185 – I just started recording this last night, but I enjoyed the first one… not because of Gena Davis, but because of the deliciously mean Donald Sutherland.

Quick Emmy Observation

I was sitting for a while, watching the Emmys. This show, unfortunately, has less of an appeal to me than it once did. It could be because of how diffuse TV has become.

With 100+ channels, how can any one show be known by all, or even most?

When David Letterman came on to introduce the Johnny Carson retrospective, Helaine turned to ask how Jay Leno must have felt? Good question.

OK, it’s possible to justify this by saying the Emmys are on CBS. Still, it always seems Jay succeeded Johnny but has never really been his successor. Do you know what I’m getting at?

Toward the end of the Tonight Show clips, the famous scene with George Gobel, Bob Hope, Dean Martin and an ascot wearing Johnny Carson came on. It’s the one where Gobel says he feels like life is a tuxedo and he’s a pair of brown shoes.

Whether ad lib or scripted, it’s one of the all time classic talk show lines.

I wondered aloud, how many of those watching knew who these three guys were. Helaine said a lot of them don’t even know who Johnny was.

Not only that, when was the last time a talk show had two “A” list and one “B” list guests out at once (sorry George)? I’ll bet none of them was plugging anything. This was in an era of career enhancement, not product placement.

The class comedian moment of the night was when Jon Stewart’s show won and he came up, saying Letterman was his Carson. Now Jay has a reason to feel bad.

Blogger’s note: A friend, who was actually at the ceremony, told me he watched Jay Leno get up and leave as soon as his category’s winner was announced.

Inside 9/11: Zero Hour

I am about to write about a TV show while I’m watching it. That’s very unusual for me.

I came home, washed up and headed downstairs. My plan was to play a little poker, watch some television and call my Cousin Michael in California.

I watched Jon Stewart as usual and then started grazing on my preferred channels. Interestingly, Helaine, Steffie and I have different channels we frequent – and there’s little overlap.

Channel 111, NY Times/Discovery had a documentary on US Special Forces in Afghanistan. 110 Discovery Science had Nubia: Kingdom and on 109, National Geographic Channel was Inside 9/11: Zero Hour. I started working my way down.

I got to Channel 109 and realized this was not just another 9/11 documentary.

Following the timeline of 9/11, this documentary had found all the footage and much of the available sound (two way radio transmissions, phone messages, ATC communications, etc.).

The story was told in the same order it unfolded. It was a story that couldn’t be told when it unfolded, because of the fragmented nature of what we knew at the time.

This is very powerful TV. I am literally quivering as I watch it. It was terrorism and I’d been lying if I said I wasn’t terrorized by what transpired.

If you see this show repeated (and it is cable after all. Everything gets repeated), make sure you watch it, tape it, or both.

Comedy Central Good and Bad and Bad

Recently, three shows on Comedy Central left an impression with me. Talking about my impressions is this blog’s reason for being, so here we go.

Somehow I was enticed to watch the Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson. I never watched Baywatch. I did see her over-the-top private detective show, “VIP,” more than once.

I was impressed by Pamela, not because of her acting (because I didn’t really think there was acting involved in that show) but because of her ability to make fun of herself and do it in a way I felt was attractive.

It’s not a physical attraction I’m talking about. She just made herself seem like she was having a good time.

With all this in mind, I DVR’ed the roast. Awful. Terrible. Disappointing. Filthy too.

There were too many comics reading their material. There was too much that wasn’t funny. And, if Courtney Love has really been off drugs for a year… wow, it’s just very sad.

Next up on the hit parade is the new show, “Too Late with Adam Corolla.” Like Pam, Adam is someone I’ve found funny. Not all the time, but often enough that I’d tune in.

I’d better make a confession here. At one time, one of my best friends was his manager. That relationship won’t affect what I write, but you certainly should know about it.

Within the first fifteen seconds of this show, I began to smell the giblet gravy. This was a major turkey unfolding!

The first, then second, then third joke bombed. I’m talking about deathly silence from a studio audience that came to have fun.

Less than a minute in and I was breaking out in a sweat!

It was just unbearable to watch. The smart alec persona that drives so much of what Adam Carolla does began to seem smarmy and mean spirited.

I hit the buttons and erased the show. Then I unset the auto record function.

Maybe I did rush to judgment in the first minute or so, but it seemed so unsalvagable. If somehow I hear a good buzz, I’ll try again… but that seems so unlikely right now.

OK – that’s two bad. Now the good.

I am a huge Jon Stewart fan. He is the funniest man on television and has the only show I watch religiously. On top of that, he’s really smart. I value that above nearly everything else.

Of all the things Stewart does, what impresses me most and what I’ve never seen mentioned elsewhere, is his ability to be a straight man. This is one of the most difficult things a comedian can do and certainly one of the most valuable.

A good straight man must hold a moment. The natural reaction for a comedian, after someone else tells a joke, is to move on to the next laugh or try and top it. Not Jon Stewart.

Often Stewart can extend the laugh for one of his supporting players, making that person even funnier. And, to climb this comedic pinnacle, he has done little more than look into the camera. But, he has intensified what preceded him.

He is of George Burns or Bud Abbot quality.

Overall, the power of The Daily Show is to shine a light on the absurd, even if it didn’t seem absurd at the time. What people say… what they do… often seems comical once you step back and take a closer look.

Of the secondary players, the best by far is Steven Colbert. He is consistently funny. Coming on strong is Rob Corddry, a modern day, hipper, edgier, Fred Willard type.

What I don’t like about The Daily Show are the majority of their ‘field pieces.’ Often, they take advantage of people who are too innocent to realize they’re being made fun of. The Daily Show staff is too smart to need to do this. I just hit fast forward.