Posts Tagged ‘“Saturday Night Live”’

LAUGHING UNTIL WE CRY

A recent comic strip in the San Francisco Chroniclerelated to a matter I discussed with a stand-up comic at last Sunday’s annual Comedy Day in Golden Gate Park. Our chat yielded an interesting but dark observation.

Wiley Miller’s “Non Sequitur” panel presents a man in blue overalls, white tee shirt and red baseball cap, which in front might have read Make America Great. He stands, pen in hand, before a large sign: Entrance Exam. Behind it is an angel at a velvet rope. Another—God? St. Peter?—sits at a tall desk and holds a quill pen.

The man must answer a single question to enter heaven: Nazis are (check one) good, bad. The man appears stumped. The seated angel/God/St. Peter asks, “Remember when this was the easiest test in the universe?”

Most readers get Miller’s take on Donald Trump’s comment following the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over a year ago: There were “some very fine people on both sides.”

You may not laugh, but Miller’s humor bites. Satirizing the powerful, especially when they are inane, represents a necessary act of protest. Will Miller’s panel change the outcome of November’s midterm elections? Lead to Trump’s leaving the White House? Likely it will be forgotten—but, added to all the humor out there, could prove the straw that broke the camel’s back.

As to the discussion: Jill Maragos is a stand-up comic who performed at Comedy Day along with dozens of others. As always, I enjoyed her brief set. She’s a funny woman booking gigs around the country.

When I saw her backstage, Trump came up as a subject for stand-up. Jill doesn’t think he’s a good one. I see her point. Not that I couldn’t write material for myself: Have you noticed that Trump’s hair matches the pale yellow sofa in the Oval office? Did the White House order new fabric dyed to match the president’s hair? Or did Trump like the sofa’s color so much, he ordered his stylist to match it?

But including Trump in a stand-up routine performed over time can’t replicate the skewering by late-night TV hosts and Saturday Night Live. They enjoy the advantage of timeliness. A team of writers takes off on some Trumpism that hit the news that day or that week—something specific and fresh in people’s minds.

Generalized material doesn’t work so well. Jill supplied an appropriate (a word missing from Trump’s vocabulary and behavior) reason. Audiences have had enough of him. It’s not that they necessarily stop getting the news. It’s that the situation is so horrific, stand-ups have to pick their spots.

Satiric comic strips and editorial cartoons remain important. Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and SNL also will keep firing away. Trump will express his displeasure. Buffoons and blowhards—one president can be both—hate being laid bare like the emperor in his new “clothes” portrayed in the Hans Christian Andersen story.

Trump’s low approval ratings indicate that more Americans view him not as the king he pretends to be but as the court jester. But unlike as in Shakespeare or Game of Thrones, the audience has discovered that within the ignoble body of this fool lies an ignoble heart. That observation may draw a wry smile but not likely a laugh.

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BILL MURRAY AND ME

On occasion, someone poses the question, “What other person would you like to be?” As a kid, I would have answered Mickey Mantle, centerfielder for the New York Yankees. As an adult, I’ve never wanted to be anyone else. But I know someone I’d like to be more like: Bill Murray.

I have no idea about Bill Murray’s private life. But I know Bill Murray’s TV/film persona: irreverent curmudgeon with a heart of gold. Just thinking about it helps me keep my balance at trying moments.

Even when Murray plays it fairly straight as in TV’s Olive Kittredge, the 2014 movie Monuments Men or the 2003 film Lost in Translation, he still deflates pomposity and the over-seriousness that too often burdens people. The 2014 film St. Vincent paid homage to the Bill Murray persona that dominated so many hilarious movies after his three seasons on TV’s Saturday Night Live. I liked it.

Why do I want to relate to Bill Murray? Like everyone, I share the genes of two parents—and their approaches to life. My father Morris was a wonderful man—the most honest and ethical I’ve ever known. He also was an introvert. My mother Blanche was an extrovert, great at meeting new people and having a good time. And if someone bent the rules a little? Let’s just say that my mother loved to mention going to a speakeasy during the days of Prohibition. Life, she believed, is to be lived.

My Morris genes have battled my Blanche genes for seventy years. Generally, my Morris genes emerge victorious. They produced an introvert and a straight arrow. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it can feel confining, especially when I take my shortcomings too seriously.

But every once in a while my Blanche genes shove the Morris genes gently aside and say, “So what? So what if you forgot someone’s name or said the wrong thing or responded too late—or not at all—in a certain situation? So what if you chose to do what you wanted to do instead of what you were ‘supposed’ to do?” I become a faux Bill Murray. And I feel good.

Lately, whenever I’m about to take myself to task for one failing or another, I say to myself, “Bill Murray.” That’s it. Those two words. And I’m fine. Because I know what one of Bill Murray’s characters would do to the guilt that tried to climb up on his back. He’d blow it off. Or blow it up. He’d wriggle out of the emotional straightjacket in which we too often bind ourselves, stomp on it and share a philosophical gem like the one he offered in Scrooged: “You’re here to show me my past, and I’m supposed to get all dully-eyed and mushy. Well, forget it, pal, you got the wrong guy!”

I don’t kid myself. I’ll never be that Bill Murray. The Morris genes won’t permit it. But the Blanche genes will keep pushing me in Bill Murray’s direction. That should be just enough to get me to lighten up when I need to. And if it isn’t? Screw it.

Wishing you a Happy Passover or a Happy Easter or just a wonderful weekend.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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