Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Bottom Line: What All Patriotic Americans Must Agree Upon.

LibertyScreen Shot 2020-02-24 at 9.49.06 PMwpa-posters-01Democrats.

Progressives.

Liberals.

Sane Republicans.

Patriotic Americans.

However we define ourselves on the political spectrum — or whatever easy political label we’re comfortable with – can we all agree on the following statements?

  • Climate change is real and MUST be addressed with URGENCY.
  • The gap between Rich and Poor in America has grown grotesque and unsustainable.
  • Medical Care is a Human Right.
  • Women deserve Equal Rights and Equal Pay.
  • Women have a fundamental right to make their own reproductive decisions. (It’s their bodies, boys.)
  • The influence of big money donors in politics corrupts the democratic system.
  • America must stand as a beacon for Human Rights, Freedom of the Press and Democracy.
  • 1000209288.jpg.0NATO is a good thing. (Certainly better than two World Wars in the 20th century.)
  • The European Union is a good thing. (Certainly better than two World Wars in the 20th century.)
  • The worldwide influence of the Putin-led Russian Oligarchy is a bad thing – and not something patriotic Americans should ignore — or, as Trump does, apologize for and promote.
  • Competent governance by experts in their fields is good.ee7c04e9469bc0f2749ae9805aa04921
  • Incompetent governance by political hacks and industry lobbyists is NOT good.
  • Racism is NOT to be encouraged.
  • Factionalism is NOT to be encouraged.
  • Willful Ignorance is NOT to be encouraged.
  • The lessons of Science must be promoted and respected.
  • The lessons of History must be promoted and respected.
  • Immigrant children should NOT be separated from their families and put in cages.
  • Generations of immigrants have been the lifeblood of American advancement.
  • The Gospel of Jesus is not the religion of today’s right-wing Evangelicals.
  • The separation of Church and State is fundamental to American freedom.
  • The Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have others do unto you) is a good rule to live by whether you are religious, atheist or agnostic.

Do you agree with these statements?

bernie-sanders-student-debtThen, don’t fret whether the Democratic nominee is Bernie, Biden, Warren, Mayor Pete or Amy Klobuchar.

Every Democrat (except, perhaps, Oligarch Bloomberg) would agree on these things.

So, vote what you know in your bones to be right.

Donald Trump, the horrible GOP Mango Mussolini, doesn’t give one tiny shit about any of the things listed above.

But every Democrat agrees with nearly everything on the list.

So…

VOTE BLUE – NO MATTER WHO!

Dems

3 Comments

Filed under History, Politics, Random Commentary, Uncategorized

ON TYRANNY: A Historian Warns America that Our Freedom is in Danger

Tyranny BannerI’m a comedian and television producer by trade — and a passionate history buff by avocation.

I don’t call myself a historian. I haven’t devoted enough years in research libraries or earned an advanced academic degree – but I’ve read enough history to know that we Americans are living in a perilous moment in time.

american-nazi-flagjpgRight now – in the 2020 Presidential election — the future of our democracy is in the balance.

Check out historian Jill Lepore’s recent article in The New Yorker and Yale professor Timothy Snyder’s recent booklet, On Tyranny.

Lepore and Snyder teach lessons Americans must learn.

donald-trump-ilhan-omar-hashtag-rallyPutting these two distinguished historians work together with the everyday evidence available on objective newspaper front pages and TV news broadcasts, it’s clear that the election and maladministration of Donald Trump is as dangerous and pivotal a moment for American Democracy as we’ve experienced since 1776.

Let me count the ways…

Cages

Just like the Nazis rounded up “the other” in concentration camps, so has the Trump regime locked immigrant Central American families in makeshift camps – and put their children in cages.

stephen-miller-11131The architect of Trump’s awful, inhuman border policy is his close aide Stephen Miller — an abominable, heartless white nationalist.

Think right wing autocracy can’t happen here?

Read Timothy Snyder’s short and powerful book – and you’ll be shaken to your democratic core.

It CAN happen here.

SeparationFamiliesWe can see the potential death of democracy in the feckless cowardice of the Republican Senate. By acquitting Trump of his obvious high crimes against the constitution, they bent their knees like the fearful, faithless German legislators who paved the way for Hitler’s rise to tyrannical authority.

And the world reaped the whirlwind.Seig Heil

Today – it’s not just American government in the balance.

It’s human survival.

neo-nazi-rally-in-claremont-calijpgTrump says climate change is a hoax.

Trump put a coal industry hack in charge of the EPA.

Trump has put a private industry fox in every public agency henhouse.

Trump is putting bootlicking lackeys in charge of the intelligence agencies.

hitlerTrump’s Justice Department under William Barr is enthusiastically investigating Trump’s perceived enemies.

And the spineless GOP legislators are letting Trump do it.

We can’t let them get away with it.

m_5d23790c8d653def6b886895I’m a comedian — but I’m not joking. It’s not an exaggeration.

Our democracy is at stake.

This election year, our American democracy is at stake.

We’ve all got to Vote Blue – No Matter Who!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under History, Politics, Random Commentary, Uncategorized

A Couple of Memes…

Meme #5Please pass along…

Meme #5

 

3 Comments

Filed under Art, Comedy, History, Politics, Uncategorized

My Life in Sketch Comedy: Part #1

goodtimes-1975 copyThrills & Glory 1I have been in love with the improvisational comedy revue format for more than 45 years. Improv comedy has been the guiding light of my life.

New Poster #8Most recently, I collaborated as a writer, performer and director of my 23rd comedy revue – celebrating 40 years of Practical Theatre Company comedy with “Big Holiday Bag O’ Fun” at Studio5 in Evanston, Illinois — ringing in New Year’s 2020 with music and laughter.

I’m still as passionate as ever about developing comedic situations and characters, polishing and performing sketches, and eliciting laughs from an intelligent and discerning audience.

It’s how I’m wired.

My comedy-loving father, Pete Barrosse, was born in New Orleans in 1927. Dad gifted me with a keen appreciation for the history of silent film comedy, vaudeville, stand-up comedy — and sketch comedy giants like Red Skelton, George Burns, Milton Berle, Carl Reiner, Imogene Coca and the great Sid Caesar.sidcaesar-2_slide-fe1060a88ea5c7230c05e55ba1b8c00d3a754440-s800-c85

Sid Caesar was the King of TV Comedy — the comedic force of nature behind Your Show of Shows, the seminal TV sketch revue that paved the way for great TV comedy revues like That Was The Week That Was, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Carol Burnett Show– and, in my adult years, Saturday Night Live, In Loving Color, Mad TV, Chappelle’s Show and Key & Peele.

Jumping ahead for a moment — in 1983 I got a chance to work with Sid Caesar and The Smothers Brothers on Saturday Night Live. How crazy is that?

1frost_2664182bBut going back two decades to 1964, I remember my mom staying up after work to take notes on each episode of the edgy, erudite TV comedy revue That Was The Week That Was— because dad was working the night shift at Reliable Spring in Cleveland.

That_Was_the_Week_That_Was_opening_titleI was just 8 years old, but I recall staying up late with my mom as we watched the show each week, and she took notes on TW3 for my dad.

Pete and Mary loved TW3.

Of course, it was all largely above my childish head – especially musical director Tom Leher’s cutting-edge songs.

original-5750-1397077218-10Check out the cast and writers for TW3: Buck Henry, Paul Sand, Comden & Green, Henry Morgan, Alan Alda, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, etc.

I was just a child, but I was absorbing the very best of satiric comedy. And I knew my parents thought it was important. Comedy was important. Laughter was important. Lesson learned.

That Was The Week That Was didn’t last long on U.S. network television – but 11 years later, I got my chance to join in the sketch comedy game. And my authentic life began.

Before I knew anything about The Compass Players, Second City, The Committee – or any of my improvisational comedy antecedents, I was cast in my first sketch comedy revue in the summer of 1975.

Goodtimes #1My high school theatre director Mary Ann Zampino asked me, a callow high school junior, to join her hip, funny, and far more sophisticated friends to join the cast of an adult cabaret sketch show called Goodtimes.goodtimes-1975

How much older were my cast mates? Five years? Ten? I had no idea.

Musical director Paul Novosel was talented and visionary, but I had no clue how old he was.

He was the musical director and keyboard whiz for my junior year high school musical, Li’l Abner– and Paul and Zamp liked my turn as Marryin’ Sam enough to cast me in their 1975 summer cabaret comedy revue, Goodtimes.

Goodtimes #2Goodtimes director Jane Van Bergen was the only woman who ever directed me in a comedy revue. Our three man and three woman cast was the most gender-balanced in a comedy revue I’ve ever been in.

Goodtimes was cutting-edge — before I knew where the cutting-edge was!

But these folks were so damn cool – and so funny! And they treated me like a peer. It was a magical experience and it changed my life. Performing sketches, crafting funny characters – and getting laughs from a sophisticated audience (with adult cocktails in hand) was an intoxicating experience.

It would take several years for me to get back to the main thing: cabaret comedy.

When I arrived as a freshman at Northwestern University in the fall of ‘76, I planned to make my mark in the legit theatre. I saw myself as a dramatic actor. My goal was a career in regional theatre — perhaps a role in the repertory company of The Cleveland Playhouse.

Then I saw the 1977 Mee-Ow Show highlights in McCormick Auditorium.

I had no idea Mee-Ow wasn’t a long tradition at NU. In fact, just two years earlier, The Mee-Ow Show began as a subversive reaction to the old-fashioned, student-written musical comedy revue, The Waa-Mu Show. It was a variety show that encompassed music, dance, comedy — even a laser light show, I believe.

Mee-Ow was then revamped and re-directed by cast members Bill Nuss and Dusty Kay (‘76) as a sketch comedy review — taking its inspiration from The Second City, Kentucky Fried Theatreand Monty Python.

The show I saw featured the best bits from the 1977 Mee-Ow Show, North by Northwestern: a show written and performed by Jeff Lupetin, Betsy Fink, Kyle Heffner, Stewart Figa and others. It was so damn funny. It was so damn cool. It was inspirational.

The Mee-Ow Show was now my goal.

But I had no idea where The Mee-Ow Show would lead.

3 Comments

Filed under Art, Comedy, History, Improvisation, Uncategorized

Today’s Brain Cleanse…

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

WTF: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2020

p01hhmbk

So, here are the folks who will be enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class of 2020:

  • Depeche Mode
  • The Doobie Brothers
  • Whitney Houston
  • Nine Inch Nails
  • The Notorious B.I.G.
  • T. Rex

UnknownI’ve argued for the The Doobie Brothers in the past — so, right on! Go, Doobie Brothers! And I love Nine Inch Nails (for inspiring Johnny Cash alone), the Notorious B.I.G. (a seminal hip-hop godfather) and T. Tex (so much love for Marc Bolan’s groovy, grungy, proto-New Wave guitar sound) “Get It On”, etc., though he had only a few giant Top-40 hits.

But Whitney Houston and Depeche Mode? Really? Rock & Roll?

Did Whitney Houston — as prodigious a vocal instrument as she possessed — record a single rock and roll track? Did she chart a single rock & roll single? Did she ever rock?

How in the hell is Whitney Houston a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Let’s put it this way. Is Ella Fitzgerald in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Ella won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums — but she was a jazz singer — not a rock & roll singer. She’s not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Soulful, bluesy, risk-taking jazz singer Billie Holiday is in the Hall as a bold and fearless, raw and soulful early influence — but slick, pop-oriented Whitney Houston hardly qualifies. Especially when more deserving rockers have been, once again, overlooked.

There is a national shame and outrage that I must address here and now…

Tommy+James++The+Shondells+732311_356x237Why — oh why? — aren’t Tommy James & The Shondells in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

I’m a Cleveland boy, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a shining jewel on my hometown lakefront — but that only makes such an injustice a more personal matter.

2014-rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-ceremony-1024Tommy James & The Shondells have been waiting since 1991 to get a call from the Hall. For 29 years, they’ve had to endure the enshrinement of acts like Abba, Kiss and Whitney in an institution supposedly devoted to rock and roll – while the band that gave garage bands worldwide rock classics like “Mony Mony” and “Hanky Panky” is continually and criminally passed over.

Tommy James GERHow can it be that overproduced purveyors of techno pop-rock (Depeche Mode) and pure, chart-topping pop (Whitney Houston) win out over the inspired 60’s rockers who put “I Think We’re Alone Now” and “Crimson and Clover” down on vinyl?

At the 2014 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Rage Against the Machine’s lead guitarist Tom Morello – a man whose shredding virtuosity and politics I admire – made a convincing case for why Kiss had a rightful place in the Rock Hall. But while Kiss may have blazed a trail for visual and musical bombast and pyro in arena rock – their sound and fury signify nothing like the string of hits that Tommy James and his band delivered in the late 1960s.

tommy-james-and-the-shondells-on-the-ed-sullivan-showBesides their two #1 hit single in the U.S. – “Hanky Panky” in ’66 and “Crimson and Clover” in ’69 — Tommy James & The Shondells charted twelve other Top 40 hits, including five in the top ten. Remember a platter entitled “Crystal Blue Persuasion”?

How about 14 Top 40 hits during the greatest period in rock and roll radio history? All while competing with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Creedence Clearwater Revival, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone – and those Motown artists cranking out classics in Hitsville, USA.

All of those great rockers are in the Hall of Fame — so, why not Tommy James & The Shondells?

114774938And I don’t want to hear that Tommy James was “bubblegum”. Please. When was the last time you listened to “Mony Mony” or “Draggin the Line”? Guitars. Groove. Harmony. Drive. Horns. Hooks. Lots and lots of classic rock and roll hooks.

Tommy James & The Shondells should go into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fames very next class or the whole institution is a sham.

TommyJames2Honor Tommy James while the man is still alive and well and rocking.

I can wait no longer.

I’m just going to enshrine Tommy James & The Shondells here and now.

In fact…

I’m announcing The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2021 must include Tommy James & The Shondells — Eligible since 1991. And now about…

The Monkees — Eligible since 1991

The-Monkees-the-monkees-29786398-886-960Not even gonna argue about this.

The Monkees should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Hell, The Beatles respected The Monkees – so why should anyone else deny their undeniable greatness?

Morons who I have little patience for say The Monkees were a fabricated band – “The Pre-Fab Four” — surrounded by studio musicians. I know for a fact that The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas, and others in the Hall of Fame were backed by the very same group of studio cats: the Wrecking Crew. So, what? I said I wasn’t gonna argue.

websbest060113_fullsize_story1At their peak in ‘67, The Monkees outsold The Beatles and Rolling Stones combined. 12 Top-40 hits, three #1 hits — and a TV show that brought melodic, witty, well-written and beautifully sung rock and roll music (and surprisingly subversive comedy) into homes across America.

The-Monkees-the-monkees-2846004-603-546I won’t even mention the songs by name. You know them. You sing them. You’ll probably hear one on the radio today.

“Last Train to Clarksville,” “I’m a Believer,” “Daydream Believer,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”. That’s just five.

And now I’m really not gonna argue any more.

The Rock N Roll Trio — Eligible since 1981

115163945Johnny Burnette and the Rock & Roll Trio were the best damn rockabilly band that ever thumped a standup bass, whacked out the backbeat on a snare, and sang like drunken wildcats.

“Rock Billy Boogie”, “Rock Therapy”, “Train Kept A-Rollin”, “Honey Hush”, “Tear It Up” – Johnny Burnette and the Rock & Roll Trio served up fundamental, elemental, essential rock and roll.

20131210092007-burnette_jJohnny Burnette and the Rock & Roll Trio featured no frills, no gimmicks, no costumes, and no pyrotechnics — other than the fire they produced by their passionate playing.

Sorry, Depeche Mode, this is rock and roll with real, gritty, driving heart and soul. I don’t give a damn what hits they had or where they charted. When I need rock therapy — they give it to me.

They should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

5 Comments

Filed under Art, Beauty, History, Music, Politics, rock & roll, Uncategorized

The Practical Theatre Company Part 5: Brigadoon Returns!

sc0004b1d3When I first wrote the history of The Practical Theatre for this blog, I finished by saying, “The Practical Theatre in Chicago in the 1980’s — that was Brigadoon: a magical place that existed for a brief time and vanished. And I got the girl.”

sc0004fc38-bThat was true. I did get the girl. And because I emerged from that life-changing experience with Victoria Zielinski as my wife and collaborator, the Practical Theatre was ultimately due for a renaissance.

Alas, the PTC revival would take more than two decades.

The PTC had to wait as Vic and I raised our three wonderful daughters: Maura, Emilia and Eva. But by 2010, the year of our 20th wedding anniversary, with our girls old enough to spare their parents for a few hours a day — Vic and I began to consider whether we were still comedians who had something to say.

We decided it was time to bring the Practical Theatre back. Thus was born “The Vic & Paul Show.”

Vic & Paul 2Inspired by the classic work of Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Vic and I began improvising extended comic scenes in our kitchen, including…

  • A dull, dispirited married couple that die in a car wreck and wind up stranded in Limbo.
  • A sad sack single guy from Cleveland trying to pick up a Chicago cougar in a hotel lounge.
  • A frontier bartender serving a whiskey tasting to a dusty California cowpoke.

There were times when our improvisations were so lively, so passionate, and so LOUD – that our girls would rush downstairs to see if we were okay. Were we really fighting? Arguing? Drunk?

They’d never seen us performing comedy sketches.

We polished our routines, edited our scripts, and wrote some songs. A Practical Theatre revue had to include music. That meant involving our long-time music director, Steve Rashid. We booked a series of shows in a tiny local bar called Push Lounge in Woodland Hills, California.

img_0040-2That leap of faith launched a tour that took “The Vic & Paul Show” to Chicago’s Prop Theatre and Mayne Stage in Rogers Park, to Cleveland’s 14thStreet Theatre — and iO West in Hollywood.

After that, we renewed a collaboration with our fellow Northwestern graduate and Mee-Ow Show alum, Dana Olsen, starting with Mr. Olsen’s Neighborhood at The Wilmette Theatre in 2012 — followed by “Mr. Olsen’s New Year’s Rockin’ Neighborhood” at 27 Live in 2013.

vpd-poster-bThen, Vic and Dana and I spent a solid year writing new material for “The Vic & Paul & Dana Show.” We were delighted that Steve Rashid and Rockin’ Ronny Crawford joined us for a Hollywood run at iO West in November 2015.

That show in LA revived a PTC comedy tradition that launched North Shore runs of “Mr. Olsen’s Holiday Party” in 2016, “Mr. Olsen’s Champagne Celebration” the following year and “PTC Radio Theatre On The Air” in 2018 – all staged at Bea and Steve Rashid’s fabulous Studio5 theatre in Evanston.

The Practical Theatre is alive and well at Studio5.

The PTC’s “Big Holiday Bag O’ Fun!” is the latest comedic chapter in a very funny history.

New Poster #8“Big Holiday Bag O’ Fun!” is a compendium of The Practical Theatre’s funniest sketches, dating from our “Mee-Ow Show” days at Northwestern University to “Bag O’ Fun” – our first improvisational comedy revue staged in the summer of 1980 at Evanston’s Noyes Cultural Arts Center – through “The Vic & Paul & Dana Show”.

Plus a few new bits written right up to opening night.

Brigadoon is back.

See you at Studio5!

2 Comments

Filed under Art, Comedy, History, Improvisation, Music, Politics, Uncategorized