Monthly Archives: August 2010

Mass Media Medea

What would happen if Medea was making the media rounds to promote her sensational new book?

No, not Tyler Perry’s “Madea”…

I’m talking about the infamous ancient Medea: the barbarian demigoddess of Greek mythology.

Medea’s lurid autobiography – a story of adventure, romance, scandal, revenge and murder — would be as big a bestseller today as it was back when the Oracle at Delphi drew bigger ratings than Fox News.

The same book publishers, news media and television networks that shamelessly flog the latest tell-all tomes by the famous and fallen would love to put Medea on the talk show circuit.

In recent years, the American public has shown either an increasing appetite for scandal or a short memory or both.

It’s one thing for author Andrew Morton to cash in by writing Monica’s Story, the authorized biography of Monica Lewinsky – but quite another for Monica herself to parade in front of the media like she’d actually accomplished something other than being a Friend of Bill with Benefits.

And while it took lots of chutzpah for a philandering, ethically disgraced politician like New Gingrich to write a book called Rediscovering God in America – the media hacks who interviewed Newt on his book tour (like Fox’s Sean Hannity) rarely, if ever, bothered to mention Newt’s serial adultery or the fact that he was the first Speaker of the House in history to be disciplined for ethical misconduct.

It’s even more ironic when you realize that Newt’s co-author, his third wife Callista Gingrich, was the woman he was having an affair with during the Congressional investigation of Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal. And, how’s this for scandalous symmetry? Callista is 23 years younger than Newt: Monica is 27 years younger than Bill. Betcha Sean Hannity didn’t point that out.

And, like rubber-neckers at the scene of a traffic accident, there’s a segment of the public that just can’t ignore a book like Why I Stayed: The Choices I Made in My Darkest Hour, in which conservative former mega-church pastor Ted Haggard’s wife, Gayle Haggard, explained why she stayed with the holy rolling hypocrite after a 2006 scandal revealed his drug use and “massages” by a male prostitute.

Still, compared to Medea, these scandals are tame and not likely to stay anywhere near as long on the bestseller list. After all, Medea’s story has been a classic in print for more than 2,400 years.

 

The basics of Medea’s tale are headline-making stuff indeed. The daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, Medea was the granddaughter of the sun god Helios, and later married the celebrated hero Jason (the guy with Argonauts). After helping Jason win immortal fame by bringing back the Golden Fleece, she settled down with him and they had two kids. Then, things broke bad for Medea.

According to Euripides in his play Medea, Jason dumped Medea for a younger woman, (Just like Newt Gingrich did.) It was William Congreve who wrote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” That would make a good title for Medea’s tell-all book: an account of how she got her revenge on Creon, Glauce and Jason.

How did Medea get her revenge? If you don’t already know, hold on. I’m coming to that…

In recent decades, the character of Medea has been portayed by a trio of the greatest Greek actresses: Maria Callas, Melina Mercouri — and Victoria Zielinski.

In 1970, the opera singer Maria Callas starred in Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film adaptation of Medea. And in the 1978 film A Dream of Passion – the great Melina Mercouri (who was such a Greek national treasure they put her on a postage stamp) played as an actress portraying Medea who seeks out a mother who, like Medea, recently killed her children.

As for Victoria Zielinski, she was one of two exceptional women to address the Medea role in notable Los Angeles area productions in the past year. The three-time Oscar-nominated actress Annette Bening played Medea in UCLA Live’s staging of the classic at the Freud Playhouse last fall. Bening got great reviews. But Victoria got a lot more laughs.

Here’s Victoria playing Medea in “The Vic & Paul Show” this past June at the Push Lounge in Woodland Hills.

The video clip doesn’t quite capture Drew McCoy’s great lighting plot, Emilia Barrosse’s timing on the light cues, or Shelly Goldstein’s dramatic direction — which made the live experience very special. But Victoria’s bravura performance blends Callas, Mercouri and Arianna Huffiington into a Medea to remember…

Which brings us back to the opening question: What would happen if Medea was making the media rounds to promote her sensational new book?

 

Jesse James’ tattoo-laden mistress is actually scarier than Medea.

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Whiskey Tasting

When I was a kid — before it became politically and socially incorrect — it was still okay to get laughs by playing a drunk.

Dick Van Dyke did it. Dean Martin did it. Jackie Gleason did it. Foster Brooks did it. Boy, did Foster Brooks do it.

Red Skelton did it, too. And he may have done it best.

Red was 73-years old in 1986 when I first saw him perform his classic “Guzzler’s Gin” sketch on the stage of The Chicago Theatre. That year, my wife Victoria was a member of the team led by Ray Shepardson (and our pal Drew McCoy) that rehabbed the venerable Chicago Theatre and reopened it on September 10, 1986 with a gala performance by Frank Sinatra. (Frank knew how to play a drunk, too.)

Soon after Sinatra opened the venue, Red Skelton was booked to perform. So, one day that memorable year, Shepardson called Victoria to say he needed someone to pick Red up at the airport and keep him company until his show that night. Are you kidding? Spend a day with a vaudeville, radio, film and TV legend: one of my comedy heroes? We jumped at the chance. (Someday I’ll tell you the whole story of that day — including what Red told me that George M. Cohan told him. Talk about oral history!)

Born to a former circus clown, Red was traveling with a medicine show by the age of 10, and he was in vaudeville at 15. Over the next quarter of a century, he rose to fame on stage, on radio, in film – and in the early days of television. A great slapstick clown, Red perfected his popular progressive drinking sketch “Guzzler’s Gin” over the years in vaudeville and in nightclubs. He performed “Guzzler’s Gin” at his 1940 screen test for MGM — and it was featured in the 1945 film The Ziegfeld Follies.

And here’s another bit of wonderful comedy lore…

Did you know that Red’s “Guzzler’s Gin” bit was the basis for Lucille Ball’s classic “Vitameatavegamin” routine? It’s true. Lucy and Red were both in The Ziegfeld Follies. They became friends — and Red let Lucy rework his sketch and make it her own.

By the time I saw Red do “Guzzler’s Gin” at The Chicago Theatre he’d been doing it for half a century. And it was still funny. Fall down funny.

Red Skelton and “Guzzler’s Gin” were still on my mind in January 2010 when Victoria and I began work on a sketch about the early Old West days in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, north of Santa Barbara – before it became genteel wine country.

I approached my drunken cowboy role with all the subtlety I’d learned from Red and Jackie and Foster and Dick and Dean.  But mostly Red. Red played it so “smooooottthhhh!”

We performed “Whiskey Tasting” as part of “The Vic & Paul Show”, which we performed in June 2010 at Push Lounge in Woodland Hills, California.

Now, as it turns out, some people really do whisky tasting. (Evidently, there’s no guzzling involved. And no gin chasers!) You can read about how whisky tasting should be done here and here and here.

Bottom’s up!

And finally, enjoy this classic Red Skelton moment, captured by the brilliant Ron Crawford.

“Here is a drawing I did at the Chicago Theater at the Red Skelton news conference (thanks to you guys).  He looked at it and grabbed it away and signed it.  I still can remember the feel of the warmth in that room radiating off that wonderful man.”

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Scalia & Sotomayor: A Judicial Tango

In May of 2009, President Obama nominated an unheralded federal appeals court judge named Sonia Sotomayor for an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing retired Justice David Souter.

Soon, there was the now-obligatory pre-Senate-confirmation-hearing political dustup. The right wing questioned Sotomayor’s objectivity – pointing to the following statement…

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Before long, Sonia Sotomayor was a household name – and despite the “wise Latina” controversy, her nomination was confirmed by the Senate that August by a vote of 68–31.

But how would Sotomayor’s presence on the Supreme Court affect the court’s political balance?

And how would the court’s conservative “white males” deal with this “wise Latina woman” and “the richness of her experiences”?

Most interestingly, how would Justice Antonin Scalia react to the new woman on the bench? Pundits noted that Scalia and Sotomayor are both New Yorkers and lifelong Yankees fans. But would that common ground be all that united them?

Would Sonia help counter Scalia’s ultra-conservative power in the Supreme Court chambers? Or would Scalia draw Sotomayor to the dark side? As my wife Victoria and I began writing “The Vic & Paul” show in January 2010, we knew we had to address this supreme relationship question.

Here, then, is another musical sketch from “The Vic & Paul Show”, performed in June 2010 at Push Lounge in Woodland Hills, California.

Can love bridge the ideological gap between the Left and the Right? We take you now to the dark and shadowy chambers of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia…

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Please Come to Starbucks

On the last weekend of “The Vic & Paul Show” this past June, our good friend Robert Mendel was kind enough to videotape the show for three performances at The Push Lounge.

Rob was assisted in this effort by young Daniel Rashid, who manned a second camera on Saturday evening — and Ronny Crawford, who shot second camera on closing night.

I spent a good deal of time in July learning how to use Final Cut Express – and here’s the first fruit of those labors.

This first video installment features one of the show’s musical numbers: a haunting, wistful ballad about true love overcome by the franchising of the American landscape. We’ve all seen what’s happened to the character of our neighborhoods as corporate cookie cutter malls replace the unique charms of local Mom & Pop establishments. This song adds a broken heart to that tragedy.

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Another Two-Minute Brain Cleanse

Do you need a break today? A moment of light amid the political and environmental gloom?

Are you feeling exhausted after the day-by-day, blow-by-blow, gallon by millions of gallons, slow motion tragedy of the BP Oil Disaster? (That pretty picture at left is actually a not-so-pretty photo of oil in the Gulf near Orange Beach, Alabama in June.)

Are you annoyed by the steady media drumbeat, flogging Faux News’ latest contrived controversy: the Ground Zero Mosque? (Which isn’t exactly a mosque and isn’t really at Ground Zero, but let’s not get into that right now…)

Are you tired of scratching your head wondering how Dr. Laura’s loose talk and racism is finally driving her off the airwaves – and yet Glenn Beck’s nightly televised ravings continue?

Then, I’ve got a two-minute brain cleanse for you.

This summer, my 15-year old daughter Eva went to the Interlochen Arts Camp in rural Michigan. It was the first time Interlochen held a two-week summer session for singer-songwriters. This video was shot by one of the camper’s parents at the final song presentation on the last day of camp. Eva is performing her own composition, “California”.

Press play and relax. For about 1 minute and 46 seconds, you can take your mind off the madness.

“California by Eva Barrosse

I’m done with stormy weather,
I’ve seen people have it better, on the coast, at least most of the time.
Just to walk along the perfect beach,
And have the sand kissing my feet.
Oh, what I wouldn’t do to meet you there.

There where the light fills my eyes,
A day with you there would sure suffice.
Oh, I don’t ask for much you see,
Just a blanket there with you and me,
Home in California by the sea.

And as the summer breezes blow by,
Only heaven could know why
I’m so happy with the view.
But there’s nothing like the oceans roar,
And the rays of sun filling my pores,
Just thinking of it, makes me want it more.

There where the light fills my eyes,
A day with you there would sure suffice.
We could, never leave it all
These sea shells and these muraled walls,
So, let just lay.

There where the light fills my eyes,
A day with you there would sure suffice.
Oh, I don’t ask for much you see,
Just a blanket there with you and me,
Home in California by the sea.

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Our National Half Time

Here in the United States of America — the Land of the Free and the Brave — our national mid-term elections are just 12 weeks away. And don’t fool yourself: the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been. Sometimes, it seems like we’re right on the brink of countrywide crazy.

With the NFL pre-season getting underway, let me put the situation in a context that those who watch more ESPN than MSNBC can appreciate…

The election of President Barack Obama two years ago was not a Super Bowl-winning touchdown spiked in the end zone. Democrats and progressives who suffered for eight years while George Bush ran amok, simply got the football back, first and ten, on our own five-yard line – with 95 yards to go for a score. It was lousy field position to start with, and little room to operate.

When Obama dropped back deep to look for a long yardage play upfield (Health Reform with a public option), he was nearly sacked in the end zone for a safety. So he rolled to his right and threw an outlet pass for 10 yards and a first down to his halfback rolling out of the backfield. We didn’t get the public option most of us wanted, but we got some measure of Health Care Reform. We moved the chains.

The chains continued to move as President Obama kept his opponents off balance with a flurry of short yardage plays like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the Credit CARD Act (which reformed the way credit card companies do business), increased funding for veteran’s health care, and the naming of the Steve Goodman Post Office Building in Chicago, Illinois, signed on August 3, 2010.

Oh yeah, and there was that Stimulus Bill, too. The crazy things is that even before we got the football to start our drive, we were already facing third down and unfathomably long yardage after eight years of GOP economic malpractice. Obama did what he had to do to move the chains again – but there were a lot of injuries on that play.

When Obama dropped back to go long on Financial Reform, guys on his own team (like Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska) simply fell down on the play. Obama tossed the ball to Senator Chris Dodd — but Dodd, who’s playing out his contract before retiring, hauled in the pass but never turned on the jets. He settled for another first down — when everyone in the stands was looking for a touchdown. All Elizabeth Warren could do was watch from the sidelines and hope she could get in the game and truly advance the ball as the head of the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection.

Naming Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court were two solid plays that gained ground against relatively little resistance – but a Climate Control bill never made it out of the huddle.

For most of the game, it’s been three yards and a cloud of dust. It hasn’t always been thrilling – certainly not when you compare it to the pre-game show with a sea of flag-waving Obama supporters in Washington and a 70% approval rating after his inauguration. But Obama has kept us in the game, moving us down the field against a doomsday defense unwilling to yield an inch of common ground without holding, tripping, clawing, scratching and biting.

So, if we look at the mid term elections as Half Time in America – it’s clear that, in order to keep moving forward, progressives must stay unified as a team, elect more teammates in the House and Senate that are willing to play hard — and get President Obama as many snaps as he can get between now and 2012. You can’t score many points if you don’t have the ball.

The chalk talk is over. Here’s the bottom line.

On November 2, 2010, the citizens of this stressed and agitated nation will go to the polls to decide who we want to be our Congressmen, Senators, Governors, and local officials. On a national level, the balance of power on Capitol Hill hangs in the balance. This is not an abstract concern for millions of blue collar working people and Americans of all economic classes worried about the future of our democracy. We can either vote to go backward on Election Day 2010 – or elect to continue our 234-year struggle toward a more perfect union.

For the most part, we’ll be deciding between Democrats and Republicans. For the most progressive among us, the choice between the Donkey and Elephant won’t be very inspirational.

But it will be critical.

Make no mistake. We cannot afford to allow the Democrats to lose their majorities in either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

I can understand my progressive friends who feel that President Obama’s administration hasn’t moved fast enough on an array of important agenda items. (I’m not Press Secretary Gibbs.) But while I’m just as tired as anyone of hearing, “Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good” – the fact is, we’ve got to keep that bromide in mind this Election Day.

Now, we’ve got less that three months before the kick-off on November 2. It’s time to button up our bonnets, dig down, play hard – and stay focused on the end zone. Without a big push from progressives, President Obama could lose possession of the football. And if that prospect doesn’t scare you, I have five words for you…

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

And here’s six more…

Speaker of the House John Boehner

Okay, on three, set…

Hut! Hut! Hike!

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Date Night Decision

Rarely does one weekend provide such a dramatic cinematic dichotomy: the ultimate guy movie vs. the classic chick flick.

I’m an unabashed Sylvester Stallone fan. From ”Rocky” to “Cop Land” to “Rocky Balboa”, I’ve enjoyed watching Stallone on the big screen: a macho not-all-that-guilty pleasure. So, as the weekend approached, and the big Friday 13th movie premieres loomed, my choice was easy. I suggested to my wife Victoria that we go see Stallone’s latest action opus “The Expendables” – and she agreed.

I wasn’t sure that Victoria was truly prepared for the level of sense-surround mayhem and bloodshed she might witness, but she knew “The Expendables” was a guy thing – and an older guy thing at that. For a 52-year old gym rat like me, the opportunity to sit in the dark next to my hot wife, eating popcorn and watching Stallone and his mercenary buddies kick butt and crack wise, constituted the perfect date night.

Then, this morning, as I stepped out of the shower, my wife presented me with a new idea.

“What do you think,” she asked, “about seeing ‘Eat Pray Love’ instead?”

It was almost too much to wrap my soggy head around. “The Expendables” vs. “Eat Pray Love”. What’s a guy to do?

It was obvious that my darling wife would prefer the gauzy, romantic, introspective Julia Roberts vehicle to watching Sly and the boys wreak havoc on a fictional South American island. And at such a moment the less experienced, less mature husband or boyfriend might have been in a quandary. But I held firm, secure in the knowledge that my marriage was strong enough to withstand my choice of a potentially corny comic-book action yarn over the filmed adaptation of a romantic, best-selling, Oprah Book Club-selected memoir of one woman’s search for self.

Luckily for me, Victoria is one of only six or seven women in the U.S. who has not read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book. So, it was relatively easy for me to make a quick deal with my entirely reasonable wife. We agreed to see “The Expendables” tonight (Friday the 13th) and catch a weekend matinee of “Eat Pray Love”. Having had my testosterone level sufficiently pumped up by Stallone’s high-explosive heroics, I could withstand the mellowing, sensitive and emotional travails of Julia Roberts on a round-the-world journey of self-discovery after a bitter divorce.

Tonight, as we wait in line for the opening of Stallone’s summer blockbuster, it will be interesting to see the group lining up for the other blockbuster, “Eat Pray Love”.

How many men in the “Eat Pray Love” line will be looking over at guys like me with a hangdog, wish-I-was-you look? And how will the women in line for “The Expendables” differ from those in the queue for Julia Roberts?

Which couples will look like either “The Expendables” or “Eat Pray Love” was their one and only possible choice between the two films? And how many other couples will look like they might have made the same deal that Victoria and I made?

The people-watching might be as fun as the film.

As for the under-30 crowd, there’s no choice to be made. They won’t be in either of those two lines.

They’ll be with their dates waiting to see that other summer blockbuster: the one starring the completely anti-Stallone movie hero, Michael Cera, and a non-Julia Roberts-type heroine named Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

“Scott Pilgrim Saves the World”.

And that is as it should be.

Definitely not Sly Stallone and Julia Roberts.

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