John Belushi, more than twenty years after his death, has finally received the biography he deserves. ”Belushi” assembles anecdotes and stories from John’s family, friends and collaborators in the oral history style of “Live from New York”. The form befits “Belushi” more than “Live,” fitting the form of a scrapbook where the phrase “Eat a Bowl of Fuck” is the norm. I talked with Tanner Colby, co-author of the book with Judy Belushi Pisano, via e-mail about the book and the man. You can meet Tanner, Judy Belushi Pisano and the webbed wonder Dan Aykroyd at
the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble (66th & Broadway) tonight at 7 PM for a signing/discussion.
As a comedy writer who didn’t have the chance to work with John Belushi, did collecting these interviews ever make you feel like the guy who arrived late to the party (i.e. “You shoulda seen this guy…”)?
Quite the contrary. I was six years old when John died, so the chances of my making it to that party were fairly slim. Collecting the interviews, and helping Judy set down the definitive portrait of John and his era, let me be a small part of what went on in those days, which was pretty damn great.
Obviously this book will be contrasted against “Wired,” which could have been about Len Bias or anyone else who died of an overdose. It’s not about Belushi the man or the artist. Yet, the book doesn’t shy away from John’s dark side. It’s a complicated portrait. Was there any temptation to remove the warts to balance out Wired’s portrayal?
We never wanted to remove the warts. We just made the editorial decision not to put them under a laser microscope. Everyone knows how John died. It’s old news. We chose to focus on the good things, and, given the inevitable ending, that made the story all the more tragic.
Larry the Cable Guy recently took on David Cross in his book “GIT-R-DONE” for slamming him in a profile of the redneck comic from Rolling Stone. Larry said that particularly takes umbrage (‘cept he doesn’t use “umbrage”) to Cross “hammering his fans” and asserts that Cross takes himself too seriously, that nobody ever comes to a comedian to make foreign policy. He also details how Rolling Stone went looking for a comedian to talk shit about him (with Lewis Black declining). In that same chapter, Larry also called me an idiot (not by name, mind you) for an interview I conducted with him for this site. More on David Cross’s response and my own after the jump.
A conference is attempting an academic feat that, to some, is akin to trying to prove pi repeats. They’re trying to show that the Bible’s pretty funny, actually.
To me, this actually makes complete sense. When you’re the underdog, the victim of persecution (in this case Romans), one of the best weapons you have is satire and being funny. It’s only once you become establishment do you tend to become humorless. It’s no wonder that the conference, entitled “Laughter and Comedy in Ancient Christianity” focuses on the early days, where, apparently, parodies of Adam and St. Peter were appreciated, and not feared.
Of course, there are some, like Brad Stine, who are trying to connect comedy and modern Christianity (of the evangelical variety yet) as reported by the New Yorker. Interestingly, a comic like Stine has arose at a time when evangelicals claim they feel persecuted by Hollywood, activist judges, etc., etc. Do people only attempt comedy when they think they’re getting kicked in the face?
Filed Under Print
Humorist and Author of the Harry Potter parody “Barry Trotter” Mike Gerber makes an interesting case for the singular voice of a humorist without interference from an editor. One statement I particularly like:
Any novel that’s the least bit pointed or ironic is christened “a satirical romp” or “a comic tour-de-force,” but when you put them up against The Daily Show, which makes you laugh more? And that’s the test of a humorous piece of writing—does it make you laugh?
The rarity of laugh-out-loud prose compared to the number of blurbs that suggest it is enough to make a reader suspect that literary critcs have a congenital funny bone deficiency. No wonder the Daily Show book “America” is number one… the literate are starved for laughs.
In some ways the question of how much latitude a creator needs to have in their work is important. I think one of the most important factors in creating something funny is having something to resist against… the more restrictions on a piece the funnier it gets. This goes for no-holds-barred humor that stretches society like National Lampoon, but also from humor that doesn’t aspire to be as caustic. A good editor of humor will help hold a writer to the comic boundaries setup at the begining of the piece. If the writer wavers, goes too far… a smart editor will recognize that and rein them in. I don’t think the editor should ever drill down so deep as to the mechanics of joke-telling (and if they did, why would they need the writer in the first place?). But they can help a writer keep honest with their premise.
Big Ups to Sacha, Ite?
Great (and apparently rare) interview with Ali G alter-ego Sacha Cohen (or rather, vice versa… or not) in the New York Times today. Particularly interesting is the distinction Sacha makes about his interview subjects and other targets being good sports. He says:
I think the term “sports” is wrong because that implies that they are playing along and they realize they’re part of the game. As far as I’ve seen, they’re not.
So there’s a sense with him that just playing along with the character isn’t being a good sport, it’s realizing your being had and playing along anyway. To use the language of improv, the target of the joke would “Yes, And” with Ali G, Borat or Bruno. I’m looking forward to the new season of the Da Ali G Show... there’s too little comedy featuring pranking white fat cats.
Insert Never Forgets Joke Here
Caught the sketch group Elephant Larry this past weekend in their new show “The Crime Machine.” The troupe of five guys put on a really energetic show, with some sketches working simply because of the players’ complete commitment to a premise such as “Fightman and Puncher,” featuring two superheroes who only catch bad guys incidentally because they’re too busy hitting each other. A lot. The video was nicely mixed in, culminating in a tandem bit where all five dance along to a imagined ubiquitous Will Smith tie-in rap for the film “I, Robot.” There’s some clunkers in there, but the highs outweighed the lows. My favorite performer was Geoff Haggerty, who lent a bizarre innocence to a scream of “bloody murder!”
Comedy is Timing. And this is far too late.
Saw this in the bookstore today. The Sitcom Career Book. I see this easily edged out in sales by Reality Casting for Congenital Morons.
Those seeking the ultimate skeletons-in-the-closet tell-all about SNL will be a little disappointed with Gasping for Airtime. The book does have some candid details about some cast members and writers. But usually, Jay Mohr will couch a criticism or abusive behavior with some kind of praise. Take this note on Janeane Garofalo: “Though Janeane’s very funny and a talented actress, she was a drag when she worked at SNL.”
Similar stuff is said about Rob Schneider, Al Franken and, of course, Lorne Michaels. The only cast member Jay entirely dismisses is Ellen Cleghorne, and even then he at least gives her credit for hating him to his face.
More interesting then is his focus on the show’s insane pitching and writing schedule. Monday has everyone throwing spitballs at the host, which often involves lying about not having an idea or having ideas you have no intention of actually writing. Tuesday is an insane all nighter for anyone who wants to get a sketch on the show that week. A bleary-eyed Wednesday read through of 40 sketches leads to a another til-dawn rewriting session for the sketches that survive. And even then, during rehearsal, your sketch might go. The politics of what sketches get picked, with unfunny hosts (who Jay happily trashes) providing resistance at bizarre intervals, seems to have worked against Jay Mohr.
One of the things I always hear when discussing SNL with somebody is, “Why don’t they just cut a half hour out of the show?” The last half hour of the program is kind of a waste, but you still get the competition to be seen that Jay describes (and that would be even if you cut the cast in half… there’s sometimes 16 people including featured players). If there is a flaw in the show, this book has convinced me it’s not the length.
Back from Maine, having had my fill of lobster meat and bargain clothing. Also read Gasping for Airtime by Jay Mohr. For those of you unfamiliar with the title, Jay Mohr talks candidly about his two years on Saturday Night Live. Or rather, not on. Jay didn’t really make much of an impact on the show, though it’s not from a lack of trying on his part.
Jay’s short tenure fell, pretty indisputably, in a nadir for SNL. Numerous magazine stories abounded in 1993-1995 with the zombie-like headline “Saturday Night Dead.” Most notable was a way-pre-Bonnie-Fuller “US Magazine” piece about the treatment of women on the show and a general piece from Kurt Andersen era “New York Magazine” that just slammed the show. (Here’s a funny thread showing Kurt Andersen’s attempt to publicize the piece on the Internet, with a response by yours-truly circa 1995.) For a while there, it looked like SNL was going to get cancelled or Lorne Michaels was going to get fired. Even though the show is still wildly uneven (the only can’t miss part of it is Tina Fey’s Weekend Update), the show’s fate being that dire is a little hard to believe now. Heck, Lorne’s wining the Mark Twain Prize for Humor this year.
One of the most interesting parts about the book is Jay’s confession that he stole material from Rick Shapiro to create one of the few sketches of, er, his that saw the light of day. Rick, who’s kinda the patron saint/cautionary tale for downtown comics, apparently threatened to sue and according to this account proved the bit was his own. And presumably got a big check that prevented him from sucking dick for heroin for a while.
Jay feels pretty horrible about the whole affair (and by the time you get to this point with him in the book, you have some sympathy). Stealing someone else’s act is one of things that’ll get you loathed by half the comedians out there. (Though it seems a pretty typical way to start out… I recall numerous comic profiles I’ve read which state “For the first year or so, I just did (Richard Pryor/Woody Allen)‘s act.”) The fact that Jay Mohr brings it up shows a little bit of guts and makes the criticisms in the rest of the book more interesting.
More on Gasping For Airtime and other SNL books this week. Maybe I’ll even go dig up that old NY Mag article and we’ll see if any of those criticisms still stand.