Jerry Lewis 1926-2017

Jerry Lewis.jpg

Jerry Lewis was one of the most famous men of the 20th Century, and history has never been kind to his legacy as an entertainer or public figure:

Love or hate Jerry Lewis, you knew he was in the room.

Lewis, who died Sunday at age of 91, turned himself into an American entertainment institution, first as a maniacal slapstick comedian and then as the 45-year host of tear-jerking annual TV telethons that raised a staggering $2.6 billion for muscular dystrophy research.

His death was confirmed in a statement tweeted by a reporter for the Las Vegas Review Journal.

"Legendary entertainer Jerry Lewis passed away peacefully today of natural causes at 91 at his home w/ family by his side,” the statement read.

Inside the comedy world, Lewis was revered as a genius. The 2011 Lewis documentary "Method to the Madness" featured comedians from Billy Crystal to Eddie Murphy to Chevy Chase praising his singular style of comic lunacy and pathos.

"I get paid," Lewis once said, "for what most kids get punished for."

Is there anyone who raised more money for charity? Is there anyone who was up and down so many times? 

Comedy Central Fired the Wrong Guy

Larry Wilmore's The Nightly Show was never supposed to be as huge as The Colbert Report. To expect that would be unfair since much of the staff went with Stephen Colbert to the Late Show. Wilmore was an important voice for people who we don't hear from enough in the culture. He did everything the right way and there is nothing to criticize him for. No matter how underwhelming his numbers, he did not deserve to be fired before Trevor Noah:

Comedy Central announced Monday it is canceling Larry Wilmore’s The Nightly Show, and the last episode will air on Thursday. Comedy Central President Kent Alterman said the show has not been resonating with the network’s audience. “Even though we’ve given it a year and a half, we’ve been hoping against hope that it would start to click with our audience, but it hasn’t happened and we haven’t seen evidence of it happening,” Alterman said. Wilmore recently headlined the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where he was roundly criticized for using the n-word. Rory Albanese, a comedian who works on the show, tweeted Monday morning: “I’m very proud to have been a part of a show that has been funny, diverse & extremely necessary.”

Noah is the one who doesn't "resonate" with viewers. Why is he being given a pass?

When was the last time anything on the Daily Show was worth blogging about? For me, there has been a glaring omission from the political discussion ever since Jon Stewart stepped down. At least Wilmore understood American politics.

The Tonight Show is Unwatchable

I promise you one glittering, unfettered hot take and only one. The Tonight Show under Jimmy Fallon is infantile and unwatchable.

I realize that this is not a popular opinion, nor will it win me any special acclaim. I also realize that it is based on a very subjective understanding of the medium of television. The Tonight Show was pretty unwatchable under Jay Leno because he played it as the alternative to all of that "mean comedy" that was out there; it was temporarily smart and funny under Conan O'Brien. It went back to being "YouTube" friendly for about a minute under Jay when he took the show away from Conan. Since having it taken away and given to Jimmy Fallon, the show is a childish, ridiculous piece of flaming shit. The show does better in the ratings than Stephen Colbert because nobody wants to watch smart TV anymore.

That's my hot take. And I can remember when Johnny Carson was never there during his last three years because he didn't give a shit. So don't think this is a post like that. The good old days for the Tonight Show ran briefly from the late 1960s until about 1985 or so, and then it went into receivership until Carson was tired of making all that money.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 at San Diego Comic-Con

Well, I won't be in San Diego this weekend, but I will be Earth-bound and dreaming of what's to come from the reboot of MST3K.

This Saturday! Join @JoelGHodgson & the new cast of @MST3K in San Diego for panels, signings & more @Comic_Con!

The wait is driving me a little crazy, but I'm super psyched to have the show back.

Sacha Baron Cohen is the New Adam Sandler

Not Our Kid with Mark Strong

Man, you can't pay this guy enough to go away:
Sacha Baron Cohen's latest comedy fails to cause major offense and has his lowest-ever box-office bow in the U.K.
Despite a final scene, in which Donald Trump accidentally contracts AIDS (and from an already-infected character purported to be Daniel Radcliffe), Sacha Baron Cohen's latest film has failed to copy its predecessors in igniting major offense or, indeed, major box- office glory.
The Brothers Grimsby, which was released in the U.K. last week as Grimsby, landed in the comic's homeland in second place behind Deadpool with $2.7 million, the star's lowest-ever British debut (his last, The Dictator, earned $6.9 million, while Borat amassed some $11.9 million).
Liam Gallagher impersonators, take heart. You can be rest assured that Cohen won't be putting you out of business any time soon. The only career arc left for this guy is to have his own show on NBC.

Put an End to the Daily Show Already

Really, really remarkable:

This is an election year in which a racist billionaire and a democratic socialist, both prone to rants, are somehow viable candidates for their respective parties’ nominations. This is exactly the kind of news cycle that makes for great political satire. Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Trevor Noah should be having a season for the ages. So why isn’t it? How did this program go from being one of the most vital things on television to being a pleasant also-ran? Slate’s TV criticWilla Paskin has been pondering this state of events, and she delivers her verdict in an editorial called “Why Are Americans Ignoring Trevor Noah?” As that title indicates, Paskin lays the blame for The Daily Show’s slide into irrelevance at the feet of the show’s current host, Trevor Noah, who has perhaps overcompensated in his efforts to distinguish himself from his cranky, deeply committed predecessor, Jon Stewart. According to Paskin, Stewart “turned himself gray trying to rain sanity, silliness, and outrage on the hypocrisy, mendacity, and idiocy that is our political discourse.”
But Noah is a different kind of comedian and a different kind of host, and under his leadership, The Daily Show has been aiming for young male viewers who are not particularly well informed or even that concerned about current politics. Paskin argues that the affable, breezy Noah is not capable of the kind of sharp political satire currently being produced by more experienced TV hosts like Larry Wilmore. Here, she unfavorably compares The Daily Show’s funny but disposable take on the Flint, Michigan water crisis to The Nightly Show’s more cutting commentary on the same events. To be fair, Paskin admits that Noah is still learning the ropes: “The four months Noah has been in charge of The Daily Showis nothing.” But the article does express some real concern that the show has become neutered at the worst possible time. “You still may laugh,” Paskin writes, “but an inessential Daily Show is a real loss.”

At some point, we're going to find ourselves in Springtime and the Daily Show will continue to be completely irrelevant to the political discussion in the United States of America. An executive at Comedy Central will snap his or her fingers and come to the realization that they picked a good guy to follow Jon Stewart. They just didn't pick the right guy.

This summer, someone will hand Stewart a big bag of money. Come back for the election, they'll say. Will he take the bag of money and slide back into the chair while they look for a real replacement? I have no idea. But if they want to make The Daily Show relevant again, they'll have to bring back Stewart so that he can restore the show to some semblance of watchable again, and they'll have to find the right host to take over permanently. If they don't find that person, and, really, it should have been Samantha Bee, then just end the thing already. Comedy Central screwed up, big time.

Trevor Noah was the right pick in every sense of the word, except one. He had no idea what makes the Daily Show essential to American political discourse.

Stephen Colbert Has Not Caught on Fire With Viewers

I don't think this means the end of Stephen Colbert, but I think it does mean that changes will have to be made with how his show is marketed:
In a year of unprecedented change in late-night television, one date stands out as the defining moment. No, not Sept. 8, the night circled on most calendars — the premiere of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on CBS. Colbert, a Comedy Central alum flush with a second Emmy for outstanding variety series, did arrive with plenty of fanfare.
But none of that mattered — for long. D-day for late-night TV was Sept. 9, when Colbert's splashy, classy introduction to the Ed Sullivan Theater was upstaged abruptly by a commotion a few blocks south at 30 Rock. NBC's Jimmy Fallon came crashing through TV screens with the most boisterous blockbuster hour of entertainment he could fashion. Opening with a blast of dance and song — "History of Rap 6," accompanied by his signature guest, Justin Timberlake — and backing it with Ellen DeGeneres in another regular Fallon bit, a lip sync contest, the Tonight Show host made a statement: Welcome to late night, Stephen.
One prominent late-night player told me facing that show that night was like "going up against Hiroshima and Nagasaki." Fallon clearly had no interest in sitting back to allow the swirl surrounding Colbert's arrival to run its course. Those killer second-night bookings were long in the planning and very much the host's idea, says a Fallon staffer. Colbert's ratings preeminence lasted 24 hours: Fallon beat him the second night — and 55 of the next 58 nights. During recent weeks, the gap has grown in the 18-to-49 demographic coveted by late-night advertisers.
Now, there are a lot of things to remember here. It would appear that Fallon is falling apart in public. He's had numerous injuries and more than his fair share of Gawker-level gossip. He's working awfully hard while Colbert is settling in to his role as a far more cerebral host than anyone since Tom Snyder. And, really, that is the problem here. Fallon has the three minute YouTube bit down pat. Colbert has substance and fewer laughs. You can watch any show any time now, and that's why ratings are really deceiving. You literally don't have to make a hard choice anymore--you can watch Kimmel live, catch the Fallon clips the next morning, and sample Colbert's opening whenever you want.

I thought by now people would have gravitated to a smart show down the right way. Apparently not.

It's not fair to bring politics into this--Johnny Carson would have had a field day with the Clintons, Bernie Sanders, and everyone self-identifying as a Republican. He would not have been fair to anyone, and that's why blaming Colbert's ratings on politics is wrong. If it's funny, you tell the joke. This has been true since forever. Perhaps the problem is we have fewer and fewer people who can laugh at both sides. If that's the case, then the reason why Colbert hasn't been doing so well can be traced to the fact that 

The Sweethearts of Late Night Television

In particular, in an interview with TV Insider, Leno took time to praise Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert (“a truly nice guy and decent human being”) before taking aim at Jimmy Kimmel, who has been a vicious and relentless critic of Leno over the years.
“The most [important] element you can have in doing a late night show is kindness,” Leno said. “Because the show makes you arrogant. I think that’s Jimmy Kimmel’s problem. I think he’s a talented guy, I think he’s funny. But he has a mean streak, and it comes across. He does this thing where he takes Halloween candy from kids and the kids cry. What am I missing here? It is funny I guess, but it’s mean-based. I think that’s why he’s not higher in the ratings.”
So, the most successful person in the history of late night television--Johnny Carson--was "nice?" 
Bushkin, who didn't return calls, says age didn't mellow Carson, who retired from "Tonight" in 1992. On a honeymoon cruise, his fourth wife, Alexis, made an innocent remark, prompting Carson to snap, "If you say something like that again, this marriage won't last another three weeks."
Though Carson's 20-year friendship with Bushkin ended around 1987, when Bushkin began to see Johnny's "cruel side" more often, Alex stayed married to the talk deity till his death in 2005.

The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

I will spoil a few things here for you--the Late Show With Stephen Colbert premiered tonight and it starts off strong. It's worth watching if you're thinking about looking at what's on your DVR or online. This is the debut of one of the most important cultural programs this year and I'm just as excited as anyone else. The long wait for this show was difficult, to say the least, but there was no point in putting it out there until now. The audience for this show is going to skew a lot younger than people realize, and I feel like it's going to be difficult to keep up.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Having said that, I will note that the cold open was nicely done. The ideas that flow out of this show are going to challenge people to keep up, and there are visual cues that will keep you from missing The Colbert Report. The first bit Colbert did hearkened back to the visual format of the old show and played to a strength he has with the language. This is important because Colbert has not abandoned the skills or abilities that got him the job in the first place.
The Ed Sullivan Theater looks amazing. The set was flipped around specifically to avoid comparisons to the Letterman version. There is an awkwardness, though, when guests appear center stage and cross in front of Colbert to get to their seat--you'll see this and it will throw you off because you have long been accustomed to an entrance from left to right.
Visually, though, this is a show that celebrates the past of the host and the power of New York City. Colbert doesn't make the "Leno mistake" of failing to acknowledge the previous host of the show he inherits. Jay Leno debuted his own show with a screaming harpy (look it up) as a producer who refused to allow him to pay tribute to Johnny Carson. This is one of the greatest gaffes in late night television history, and Colbert is too smart to do it. Think also of how Jimmy Fallon had Joan Rivers on his show--all the curses are going away with style.
Colbert gets weird, and for that you will have to ride it out. If weird humor isn't your thing, you're going to make comparisons in your sleep to Conan O'Brien. And then you're going to wake up with the fossil of an extinct species of bird hanging out of your mouth--don't say I didn't warn you.
Clooney was good, and Jeb Bush was able to speak once Colbert realized that he was really giving the guy a hard time--you could really see the fear Bush had when it was apparent that no one is ever going to forget the family name. What you'll see in the Clooney part was inspired fun; what you'll see when Colbert gives Bush the full force of his intellect will give every politician in this country pause. If you're not fast, Colbert will bury you. Consultants everywhere who have some measure of control over their candidates will not let them do Colbert, no matter what. And it was no wonder that Hillary Clinton wasn't there tonight--far too risky. She'll have to do this show and she'll have to be absolutely perfect.
Musically, John Batiste is the anti-Paul Shaffer. Here's an actual jazz musician on an American stage for what seems to be the first time in ages. He doesn't have a pop or rock sensibility--he is an entertainer with a strong musical vocabulary and a great band behind him, bringing the sound of New Orleans with them. They have him untethered and wandering the stage--a great visual to begin with as he settles in and starts to really find the music this show needs to present. 
Will it last? Will CBS support this show if there is a struggle for ratings? I can't imagine a scenario where they wouldn't, but this is the unforgiving world of late night television. Nobody phones it in anymore, and this is the beginning of a new era. Who will fall? Will they finally pull the plug on Conan? Will ABC realize that Jimmy Kimmel can't compete? Will Jimmy Fallon hold on and find a place once Colbert starts to eat into everyone's ratings?
Why am I hungry for Sabra hummus?

Everyone Got it Wrong

A lot of people were wrong about Jon Stewart. At the top of the list would be the man himself:
My own contribution to the history of Jon Stewart’s tenure at The Daily Show is small and ignominious: I trashed his first show.
A web publication that no longer exists had assigned me to write about the new guy taking over from the plasticine, frat-boy finger-puller Craig Kilborn. I had enjoyed Kilborn’s version of the show: solid if not deep, primarily an extended satire of shiny local news kabuki. It poked at the conventions of news shows via Kilborn’s own mundane good looks and laconic sarcasm. He was a younger Kent Brockman, not too far removed from the kind of broad in-joking of theSportsCenter anchor he had once been. His lazy self-confidence was part of the setup, underscoring the tuneless Dadaism of television segues—how viewers are led from tragedy to sports to weather by the same content Sherpa, who never breaks character and always knows what to say next.
Stewart didn’t just seem hapless and overwhelmed by contrast, he declared almost crippling self-awareness from the start: “I feel like this is my bar mitzvah,” he told guest Michael J. Fox. Wearing a suit, said Stewart, gave him “a rash like you would not believe.” Fox responded: “The words ‘ill-fitting’ come to mind.”
At the time, I didn’t object to Stewart’s cringe-worthy meta-commentary so much as feel like it ruined the joke: You can’t satirize the forced smoothness of Eye on Omaha (or the CBS Evening News, for that matter) if you keep drawing attention your own rough edges. Kilborn was a news anchor as Ken doll. Stewart was merely human.
It would be condescending not to mention that the writing on the show exceeded all expectations and created much of the moral authority of the show by assembling facts that would run counter to the "conventional wisdom" of a lazy pundit class.
And here's the thing--to this day, nobody really watches Comedy Central--they watch the videos that proliferate and get shared on the Internet. Comedy Central creates snippets of content and tries to survive with ads. All Stewart has done since day one is deliver and embody the material written for him, and that's largely evident in the book that changed his career trajectory. People had to take him seriously because the country was in terrible shape in the mid-2000s.
Until he ended up on the Daily Show, Stewart was bounced from job to job, trying to land something substantive in a television climate that didn't care about substance. This was the post-grunge nihilist America of the late 1990s. We had so much peace and prosperity back then, the very real threat of a presidential blowjob made people sad and cry a lot.
When these same people saw the horrorshow of Iraq, they reached their moment of zen--a moment of clarity, if you will--and they realized, oh, you really can fuck up the country and turn things into a shit sandwich. The relative ease of living in the 1990s meant that our wars of choice were exactly what we thought they were--terrible, terrible choices made by equally unsavory and incompetent fools. They were all among us, the shitheels were in charge, and their control of the media narrative required some counterweight.
Stewart was the brief counterweight, and his impact on the people who write for the media and comment on blogs was much greater than on the population as a whole, due to the low ratings enjoyed by Comedy Central. The Internet minimized the handicap of being on basic cable, of course, and that's why everyone will have warm and fuzzy memories of a show they really didn't watch.
How would you like to be Craig Kilborn? Someone should go stand in his driveway and ask him how it feels to know that the guy who took his most prominent gig in show business ended up a national treasure. That's the real takeaway here--how is it that Kilborn blew his chance to be the Jon Stewart who will be ushered off stage like a saint and a genius?

How Could This Show Have Failed?

The only thing Americans want to see on television involves New York City, young people, and quirky relationships. You can take that to the bank. Except when shows like this tank and get cancelled, of course.

I don't care about super heroes and I don't care about people from New York. Is that the most awful thing ever? Absolutely.

A Lifetime Achievement Award? For What?

Steve Martin is a very talented man. He's a very funny man. But he does not make good films.

Giving him a lifetime achievement award is like losing your way into the playoffs--how does that even happen?

What's more, we're fresh from the unthinkable loss of Robin Williams, and when you compare his film history with Martin's you can't help but ask yourself why there are so many really, really great films on Williams' side of the list and virtually none on Martin's. Don't even start by throwing in a comparison to Bill Murray, either.

In fact, line up the films of Robin Williams, Bill Murray, and Billy Crystal and then add in Steve Martin's. Then, ask yourself, why would you give a lifetime achievement award to someone who has made so many bad films and forgettable films and films that went nowhere at the box office.

Williams, Murray and Crystal had their clunkers, but their contribution to cinema outstrips that of Martin's by a country mile. Martin doesn't have anything as good as Mrs. Doubtfire, as memorable as Groundhog Day, or as funny as When Harry Met Sally. He doesn't have anything in his filmography that can compare to any of those three films, and those aren't even the best films that Williams, Murray or Crystal ever made.

Steve Martin doesn't have a Fletch, either, so he's your likable version of Chevy Chase on a good day, if that.

The Dadventure and the Eighties Comedy

Mostly, I would agree with this list.

Well, let's look at the "dadventures" that I found in 2013 alone (besides Despicable Me 2)

1. Delivery Man
2. The Croods
3. We're the Millers
4. Escape from Planet Earth

I think the so-called "Eighties comedies" are all but dead and buried. There is no market for that kind of film anymore--these are not gentle times for anyone who has sentimentality. If John Candy was alive today, he'd be making gross-out films, not necessarily family comedies. Candy was the king of the dadventure; when he passed away before the mid-point of the 1990s, and entire genre went with him.

You can see the transformation of the movie business--the emphasis now is on less and less "family friendly" fare. You would not take your kids to see We're the Millers (too much sex, not enough actual family comedy) unless they were expecting a rather hip version of what Robin Williams did with RV. When I first saw We're the Millers, I figured, ah, someone figured out how to re-do RV. Just add hard drugs and a strip-tease.

Delivery Man is very much an 80's comedy, however. You could imagine Tom Selleck or Michael Keaton in that role.

Adventure and superhero films have pretty much replaced the dadventure. Instead of an actual family film, we get the likes of Iron Man 3 and the second Thor film.