The dangers of hipness by proxy … or Lenny Bruce “hanging out” with Hugh Hefner on “Playboy’s Penthouse” Oct 24, 1959

By now, most people know the story about how a certain uptight Midwestern uber-nerd of the 1950s … Hugh Hefner … rebranded himself as a suave, hip (wait for it …) “playboy” and turned publishing and American culture on its head.  And all kidding aside, “Playboy” magazine was a remarkable accomplishment.  In a post World War II era where 10% of people interviewed thought an unmarried person could be happy (80%  believing that bacherlors were “sick, neurotic, and immoral”), Hefner made being a bachelor “cool,” selling an alternative image of unlimited sex and pleasure to a nation shackled to a notion that suburban domesticity was the ideal.  In addition, Hefner craftily classed up his magazine with important writers and thinkers of the day, not only giving his so-called “dirty” magazine a sense of sophistication, but exposing mainstream America to Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, John Steinbeck, James Jones, W. Somerset Maugham, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and John Updike.  Of course, Hefner was not the first person to expose America to these literary giants, but by placing their writing among the nude pictorials, mainstream Americans arguably became more exposed to these works based on their placement in “Playboy.”

Yet at the same time, Hefner was actually more in line with the conservative 1950s than his image projected at the time.  Per Mike Edision, in his brilliant and entertaining look at America’s pioneering print pornographers “Dirty Dirty Dirty,” who observed: “Despite his protests, (Hefner) was the very definition of bourgeois.  He gave lip service to mainstream American values, but he advocated the conspicuous consumption that was at the heart of the nation’s pride in its hard-won prosperity.  In this case it was sports cars, not station wagons; stereo components, not washer-dryers – but it was constructed with the same vapid building blocks of materialism and peddled by the same choice Mammon who pushed aluminum siding and riding mowers. Hef was creating a new playbook for the single male, but it was still based on the old caste system of He with the Coolest Stuff Wins.”  In other words, Hefner was one of the most successful marketers of consumerism as rebellion.

So who better to drop a turd into Hefner’s impeccably created martini than the then-current king of “sick humor” Lenny Bruce. In this late 1950s television version of the Playboy Lifestyle (“Playboy Penthouse’), Hefner tries to navigate a manufactured urban penthouse set in tuxedo, selling the Playboy philosophy while still looking a little uncomfortable in the role.  While Hefner was a definite fan and supporter of Bruce’s over the years, Bruce was obviously invited to this televised shindig to provide a some reflected hip glory on Hefner.  And Bruce isn’t having any of it, brutally identifying the truth behind the Playboy philosophy “Playboy is very chic, and you can say sophisticated, and the magazine is filled with sports coats, about your views about sports cars, and I am glad you have one, ’cause you don’t care about the people who don’t have money … they can wait for their own magazine. ‘Field and Stream’? … The Playmate has a duck in her mouth.”  Hefner gamely attempts to take it on the chin, though he’s obviously very uneasy about Bruce calling him out.  A very funny and subversive American pop culture moment.

Oh, and again, please read Mike Edison’s “Dirty, Dirty, Dirty,” a ridiculously entertaining look at not only Hefner, but Bob Guccione, Larry Flynt, and Al Goldstein.

“Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film” by Patton Oswalt

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Attention all comedy and film nerds … Patton Oswalt’s latest book “Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film” just dropped today. Great book. However, my only complaint is the same complaint I had about his first book “Zombie Spaceship Wasteland” … too f–king short (though not as short as “Zombie”)!

Key takeaway (a realization by Oswalt after spending all hours of the night with his friends complaining about “Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace” in 1999):

“Movies – the truly great ones (and sometimes the truly bad) – should be a drop in the overall fuel formula of your life. A fuel that should include sex and love and food and movement and friendships and your own work. All of it, feeding the engine. But the engine of your life should be your life. And it hits me, sitting there with my friends, that for all of our bluster and detailed exotic knowledge about film, we aren’t contributing anything to film …

And here I am. I’ve traded a late-morning coffee shop for a late-night, post-screening bar, angry at George Lucas for producing something that doesn’t live up to my exacting standards, and failing to see that the four hours of pontificating and connecting and correcting his work could be spent creating two or three pages of my own.”

Did I mention this was an awesome book?  Dave says check it out!

“The Interview” (2014) dir. Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, scr. Dan Sterling

You’ve all heard about the controversy surrounding this one ad nauseam, so I’ll cut to the chase … “The Interview” is one of the ballsiest, funniest movies I’ve seen in years and the best satire of American media since Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers.” Having said that, let’s discuss further.

Yes, the premise is tasteless, considering it involves the assassination of a living world leader.  Yes, I would probably be outraged if another country made a similar film about our president.  But the North Korean government is not above parody or satire. If anything, a government that has been as secretive and oppressive and delusional about their world image is begging to be made fun of.

To the filmmaker’s credit, the portrayal of Kim Jong-un in “The Interview” is kinder than any other way he’s been portrayed in the world media, including by the North Korean government itself. The portrayal may not be accurate, but the filmmakers identify a humanity in the North Korean leader that very few have bothered to acknowledge.

“The Interview” is less an attack on North Korea or even Kim Jong-un than on the American media for the degradation of news into infotainment, the hubris of modern-day journalists, and our obsession with celebrity. Yes, there are some crude jokes typical of the Rogen / Goldberg wheelhouse. But there’s far fewer of them than in their other films. “The Interview” isn’t a perfect film, but a lot of the more critical reviews I’ve read miss the mark entirely, coming off more outraged that the likes of Rogen / Goldberg attempted a political satire than by anything in the film itself.

I realize that the controversy over “The Interview”‘s release is going to cause some people to overvalue and undervalue this film. In our current climate, it may be impossible to review it objectively. I’m a fan of Rogen’s / Goldberg’s, but wasn’t expecting a lot given the mixed reviews. However, I’m trusting my gut on this one. This film made me laugh … frequently and very hard. I enjoyed it more than their previous film “This is the End.” “The Interview” may not be “Dr. Strangelove,” but what’s here is extremely funny and smart much of the time.

“Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie” (1980) dir. Tommy Chong

In honor of the “Dumb and Dumber” sequel being released this weekend, I thought I would give a shout-out to the original “Dumb and Dumber” duo, Cheech & Chong.  I saw this movie for the first time in January 1982 on HBO when I was 12 years old and sick with the flu.  It was one of the worst flu’s I’ve ever had, but up until that moment in my life, no movie ever made me laugh harder this this one and I directly credit the endorphins that this film released with my recovery a day afterwards.  Maybe I was on way to recovery anyway … who knows?  Who cares!  After nearly 35 years, this film still holds up as a demented and surreal comedy masterpiece and is the BEST of all the Cheech & Chong movies.  “Up in Smoke” is really good, but “Next Movie” is much better in my opinion.

Included here are several scenes from the film.  Most of them are juvenile and stupid and not safe for work.  But even as a jaded mid-40s something, they still make me laugh.

My favorite scene is a weird scene where the fellas visit the local welfare office so Cheech can get a quickie with one of his girlfriends while Chong sits in the lobby with clinically insane people, including … what I believe is … the first appearance of Michael Winslow in a film.  This looks like an outtake from a Robert Downey Sr. film.

Cheech sings “Mexican Americans”


The “soap” scene:

Chong’s “guitar solo”

Motorcycle scene

“Too Many Cooks” from Adult Swim

This apparently aired at 4:00 am on the Adult Swim channel at some point during the last night or so in a spot normally reserved for infomercials.  It starts out as a very funny parody of really bad 1980s sitcom opening credits sequences and then goes increasingly off the rails during its 11+ minutes.  You really need to watch ALL of this.  This is pure demented genius.   Not safe for work.

Marc Maron’s interview with Carlos Mencia, circa 2010 on Maron’s WTF Podcast

One of the most legendary interviews of Marc Maron’s legendary WTF podcast was a two-part interview with comedian Carlos Mencia in 2010.  Mencia is a stand-up who had a successful Comedy Central show called “Mind of Mencia” during the mid-2000s and was a very popular stand-up comedian in his own right.  My own feelings about Mencia?  I enjoyed “Mind of Mencia.”  I never went out of way to watch it or could call myself a great fan, but I thought the show was enjoyable enough.  However, Mencia is probably known more nowadays (rightly or wrongly) for charges of being a “joke-thief,” which came to a head in 2007 when comedian Joe Rogan confronted Mencia at the Comedy Store with these charges, which was caught on video and spread like wildfire across the internet at the time.

In 2010, Mencia appeared on Maron’s podcast to discuss these charges and the first part of this interview seems very persuasive towards Mencia’s point-of-view.  As someone who majored in Rhetoric as an undergrad, I have to say that Mencia argues his points extremely well emotionally.  If you know nothing else about the controversy, Mencia is very persuasive.  However, after the interview is over, Maron expresses that he felt that Mencia wasn’t being entirely honest, so Maron talked to some of Mencia’s peers who refuted many of Mencia’s claims in subsequent interviews.  Maron himself even talks of a time that Mencia was a last-minute lead-in to a gig that Maron was supposed to host … and stayed on stage for 2 hours (a major no-no in the comedy world) … to the point where Maron abandoned the gig.  During Part 2 of the interview, even Mencia acknowledges that the gesture was a f–k you to Maron at the time.

So … Maron asked Mencia to address these charges in a follow-up interview … which Mencia … surprisingly … agreed to.  Part 2 of the interview is where things get VERY real and intense between Maron and Mencia.  To Mencia’s credit, he really does seem to try to come to terms with the bad stuff he’s done, but … he doesn’t quite get there.

This is truly one of the most uncomfortable interviews I’ve ever experienced  … mainly because the person being interviewed is someone who’s made a lot of mistakes and is trying to come to terms with all the bad stuff he’s done over the years.  He’s trying to deal with it in an honest way, but he can’t help but be defensive because he hasn’t quite processed the damage he may have done.  If what’s been said against Mencia is true, he truly does deserve the crap that’s reigned down upon him.  Hearing Mencia acknowledge the damage he’s done … while denying the dignity of the complaints … is a masterstroke of denial.  Mencia is VERY convincing and does make some good points.  But at the same time, you also want to shake your head at the mental and verbal gymnastics taking place here.

What ultimately comes across is someone being forced to deal with the totality of their life’s decisions and how their decisions (frequently bad) over several years are now coming to a head.  If anyone listens to the second part of this interview and still thinks Mencia is an unredeemable piece of s–t is someone who has never made a mistake or been called out for the totality of their bad decisions.  Mencia may not be a great … or even good … human being.  But if you listen to this and don’t feel lucky for not being called out publicly on your own BS, you’re a better human being that I could ever hope to be … or you’re a lying sack of s–t.

Again, this is one of the most uncomfortable interviews I’ve ever listened to, but if you have any interest in comedy … or psychology … this almost 2.5 hour compilation of interviews is a must-hear.  This may not quite be the final two hours of the infamous “Frost / Nixon” interviews, but for the comedy world, this comes really close.

Pt . 1:

Pt. 2:

Chris Rock’s monlogue from SNL, Nov. 1, 2014

Chris Rock’s monologue from last night’s Saturday Night Live has been drawing a lot of fire from some people but I think it’s the best SNL host monologue in years.  And while I’m not a friend of … nor related to … anyone hurt or killed in either the 9/11 or Boston Marathon tragedies, I don’t think Rock said anything to demean the victims or their families.  He’s found a very funny way to talk about common fears and used that as a springboard to criticize how American culture commercializes tragedies and other meaningful human events.  Just as some people immediately jumped on to the “I’m offended” or “too soon” bandwagons, others are probably going to go overboard and call Rock’s monologue “brave,” which … I suspect .. even Rock would likely scoff at.  Because … these are jokes.  And they’re funny.  And they’re coming from a good place.  So, enough of my yakkin’ … just watch and laugh.  Or … be offended … and watch something you do like.  In any case, it’s all good.