MY FAVORITE SHOW IS NOW MY FAVORITE DVD

I had a huge crush on Robert Smigel’s TV Funhouse. Not to be confused with the animated stuff he does on SNL–which is also usually very funny or at least very envelope-shoving–the TV Funhouse television series was an insane satire of children’s shows like Bozo The Clown or Howdy Doody. It featured a human host (usually dressed like a cowboy) interacting with a bunch of very cheap-looking animal puppets called The Anipals on a bright and colorful set. In between their interactions, they’d show cartoons (similar to the SNL stuff), short films, and Mr. Rogers-style field trips to places like a cookie factory and a sperm bank.

All the studio stuff was really funny and crazy, but my favorite thing about the show was its inclusion of live animals in many of the sketches. That’s what made me love the show so much, and is probably why it didn’t last more than a season. (The logistics of attaching a tiny pink bow to an iguana’s head or getting a cow to eat a steak in their “Sames” restaurant sketch must have been pretty awful on the show’s budget and its producers.) I really admired how much Smigel seemed to appreciate the humor you can mine from an animal without doing anything but letting it be itself in a super-weird environment, like in that Sames sketch or the animal testing lab sketch. So. Good. I wanted it preserved forever, like a pretty lady in a glass jar. And, finally, as of yesterday it is because TV Funhouse was just released on DVD. Tell Netflix to give it to you!

Sorta related: I can’t figure out if this is included on the DVD set, but a while back I got a chance to see the pilot for this show, which was very different than the format that aired on Comedy Central. (By the way, I’m hoping the pilot is included; not me watching the pilot, although I’d be cool with that, too, if they had that footage.) Apparently, Smigel had originally envisioned the show to be even more like Bozo the Clown. In fact, he wrote the pilot with himself cast as a mean, boozy Clown host and shot it (amazingly) in front of a live studio audience filled with actual children and their moms.

I don’t remember everything about the pilot but there was one moment that still makes me laugh when I think about it now. At one point in the show, Smigel-as-Clown announces that he’s going to bestow some kind of honor on a lucky person in the audience–I can’t remember what but it was the equivalent of “king for a day” or something. Then they cut to the audience and do one of those tricks where the camera is just whizzing around from person to person, never making it clear where it will land. After about five or six seconds of this, it finally settles on a young boy. When the boy notices that he’s on camera he has just enough time to react with excitement…before the camera starts moving again. A few seconds later, it lands on a little girl and the music plays, graphics pop up and she’s bathed in glory. It is at once one of the meanest and funniest thing I’ve ever seen, especially since the camera lingers on that original boy long enough to see his expression change from glee to confusion once it moves away from him. If I’m ever feeling sad, sometimes I remove that memory from my brain and press it against my heart. (Note: this memory alternates with my memory of the before-and-after pictures of the iguana make-over, also from TV Funhouse.)

THE VERY PICTURE OF HEALTH

Close readers of this site might have noticed a recent obsession with things like sugar, carbohydrates, drinking and bodily functions. (Now that I’ve written that I realize this obsession is not necessarily recent but recurring and, if I am going to be totally honest with myself, everlasting.) That particular preoccupation can easily be explained by this article I’ve been working on for the last six weeks, and available for viewing today at Salon. It’s about some time I spent following the Charles Atlas Dynamic Tension Course. You can find out more about Atlas at his posthumous website, but I think a more unbiased source of information exists at The Online Physical Culture Museum.

And if you aren’t a big fan of reading, you can pretty much learn everything you need to know about Charles Atlas by staring at this photograph for several minutes:

100 REASONS YOU CAN’T SLEEP

The latest “RADAR 100″ list has finally migrated from the print magazine to the website. As usual, co-authored by Mike Sacks, Ted Travelstead, Jason Roeder and myself–and this month with a strong assist from former Daily Show writer Scott Jacobson. Hope you like “Dreams Deferred: 100 Reasons You Can’t Sleep.” (And if you want to see earlier RADAR 100 lists, you can search their site or go here, where I’ve archived most of them.)

CONSOLES I HAVE KNOWN – PART FIVE

Part five of my six-part series of essays about my life as a video gamer is now available for reading and judging at The Morning News. The essay is titled, “Tilt,” and is about the following subjects:

- the dot-com boom
- selfishness
- Sega Dreamcast
- online advertising
- greed
- universal remote controls
- regret
- teaching fish how to curse

Hope you like it.

DUMBEST DUMMY OF THE ’00s

Recently, I taped one of those VH-1 talking head shows, where comedians and professional wrestlers and editors of Women’s Health Magazine narrate an essential list of cultural moments, such as the 20 Most Pregnant Ladies of the 1980s, or What Were Those Faggots Thinking?!? Part IV. I was a little conflicted about doing it for all sorts of reasons, both real and made up, but was gently talked into it by a friend at the network. She made the very excellent and difficult to ignore point that this would be silly fun, and probably no more harmful to my career than the Hitler uniform I choose to wear onstage at comedy shows, for shock value. (and comfort–the cotton moves remarkably well.)

I went in and, yes, it was actually kind of fun. The only difficult part was my reluctance to use certain kinds of colloquial words that might have pleased the producers. This was because 1) My great respect for the English language causes me to get terrible migraine headaches just from seeing slang like “hottie” or “blogroll” or “23 skidoo” written on a page, and 2) I feel super insincere trying to make that kind of youthful stuff come out of my mouth. (Please understand I realize this also makes me a tremendous prick. My reluctance to fist-bump only makes my interactions more awkward, and my insistence on avoiding emoticons and spelling out every little bit of Internet shorthand is probably only slightly less annoying to people than my insistence on repeatedly telling everyone about these delightful grammatical rules I follow.)

Now that I think about it, there was one other difficult part for me–I had no real memory of about 1/3 of the celebrities I’d been asked to discuss at length. I mean, I recognized their names (mostly), but couldn’t place most of their faces, couldn’t remember their pop songs, never watched their sitcoms, didn’t follow their modeling careers, etc. To their credit, the producers were very nice and did their best to re-awaken my interest in Gabrielle Reece and Toni Braxton, but I guess I was thinking about other things when the rest of the world was obsessing over those two. Actually, it did make me wonder what I was thinking about back then, if not Toni Braxton. Probably something awesome.

Oh wait. I just remembered one last part that was a little difficult for me. (My life is way harder than yours, Burma.) It was not easy to discuss certain things without betraying some measure of cruelty or contempt in my voice. Really, it’s harder than you’d think. For instance, if someone were to say the words “Jordan Knight” to you right now, how many truly positive things would you have to say about him? Keep in mind this isn’t you in the year 1989; this is you with almost 20 years perspective on the version of you that used to wear a gigantic NKOTB button pinned to the single strap holding up your acid-washed denim overalls. I understand and respect that VH-1 prefers upbeat or tongue-in-cheek jokes but, man, when you’re charged with generously offering an extra cultural minute to someone like Jordan Knight or Joey Lawrence, there really is such a fine line between tongue-in-cheek and knife-in-back. (or gun-in-own-mouth.)

Apart from navigating those concerns, I honestly did have a good time and my first thought after wrapping was, “I’d do this again, if the topic were something I’m more familiar/comfortable with.” (i.e. not ’40 Reasons We Used to be Really Horny for Nick Lachey.’) Sure, the experience was a little embarrassing and I definitely wrestled with my own highly self-conscious ideas about integrity, but what it really came down to was this: I got to goof around for an hour. I wasn’t asked to wear a crazy hat, and no one suggested I sing a Gerardo song for grins. I just sat (slumped) in a chair and joked. Pretty painless, kinda fun. Until I saw the show.

Here’s the thing…I sucked. Honestly, after watching the broadcast I was watching some of the other pundits speak very knowledgeably and sentimentally about the show’s subjects and I started thinking, “Ohhhhh, that’s what makes shows work. People who are really good at setting up video clips!” Also, people who are not shy about being very enthusiastic. And people with decent posture. Suddenly, any traces of embarrassment or compromised credibility were supplanted by a very strong sense that I looked chubby, had bad hair, poor posture, and weak eye contact. Also, maybe only about half or fewer of the topics on the program were ones I discussed during my taping. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of screen time. After spending all that time deliberating about doing the show in the first place because it seemed a little shallow, I ended up disappointed that I was barely present in the broadcast and, when I was present, it was a really unappealing, nasal version of me. It proved an O’Henry-esque lesson in dramatic irony. And, with literary references like that one, if VH-1 ever produces a special called ’40 Most Gifted Short Fiction Writers of All Time,’ hopefully I will be asked back. But first, I’ll be sure to take night courses in diction, nutrition, and The Alexander Technique.

DEAR CAT OWNERS

Jealous?


pphoto by Lisa Whiteman

I know it’s kind of fruity, but there are seriously times I can’t stand my cats for being this cute. They make me feel like a drooling idiot, because I am unable to take my eyes off them. I want to throw a heavy blanket over them, just to dim the dazzle for a second.

This type of feline configuration is actually pretty common in our home, so you can imagine my consternation. Ble has grown calmer, and her dental and mental health has been improving lately–the belly fur is even growing back, miraculously–possibly because Lisa decided the only way to calm Ble’s peanut-sized brain was to get maximum string-play every day. These days, when Ble approaches my desk making those strange close-lipped gurgling cat yodels with a frayed length of twine in her dumb mouth, instead of rolling my eyes at her, I let her drop the twine at my feet and then pick it up. I twirl it around her clockwise, until she whips her body around enough to lose balance, then twirl it similarly counter-clockwise. A couple minutes of this three or four (or seven) times every day seems like a pretty good trade-off for the return of 99.9% fur coverage.

Last night I was up very late, recovering (re-writing) a script I had lost thanks to my adult ADD and Final Draft’s refusal to autosave by default. This happened to me after a very long day of writing (and not saving), and about 15 minutes after I was struck by a car while crossing the street. For another perspective, it happened 15 minutes before I accidentally spilled an entire tupperware container of refrigerated Quinoa on my kitchen floor, and 17 minutes before the broom I was using to sweep up the spilled Quinoa fell from its position leaning against the refrigerator and landed on the cats’ water bowl, flipping it and its contents 180 degrees .

(Regarding being hit by a car, I was banged up and thrown off-balance but, like Jake LaMotta, I was still standing when it was all over. The car was turning, and I honestly saw it coming but my brain was slowed down and I kept thinking, There’s no way this car can’t see me in the middle of the crosswalk, in the middle of the street. Surely it will stop. In retrospect, it’s probably a good rule to not the benefit of the doubt to cars that are obviously bearing down on you. The worst part was the driver gave me a look like I’d planned the whole thing; as if I’d jumped up from a manhole at the very last minute. I made sure to inform her of this gross misinterpretation of events, peppering my speech with coarse language to impress the drug dealers on the corner who had witnessed the whole thing. I think I might have called her a “dickhead.” High-five, fellas!)

When I shut down my computer at 3am and turned off the lights, I saw Ble and Coleman were once again in the same spot and same positions depicted in the above photo. Ble was awake, and tongue-bathing the top of Coleman’s head so emphatically her fur wasn’t just clean, it was damp. And maybe it was the late hour, my total exhaustion, or the events of the day, but as I watched my cats together I started crying a little. I was thinking about how fragile and neurotic this little cat is, but how genuinely happy she seems right now, and how so much of that happiness seems to be dependent on her relationship with a larger, much older cat who sometimes slaps and menaces her. And then I wondered how she’ll be affected if she outlives Coleman.

I know this is an equally morbid and idiotic to think about, and all the truly evolved people believe animals were put on earth to stop bullets, or eat rodents and burglars, but I couldn’t help myself. A cat’s brain can’t possibly comprehend the largeness of absence in death; my brain barely can and it is, by all accounts, super large. (and smooth) Coleman and Ble are the first cats I’ve been responsible for, so I couldn’t really say firsthand what happens when one survives the other. I know exactly how sad I’d be, but when I considered Ble’s dumb wiring, it was troubling to imagine how death would affect her. I expect she won’t be able to lick all of her fur off fast enough to express her primitive form of grieving.

SOME THINGS I DID

Today, The Morning News published part four (four!) of my series on video games, “Consoles I Have Known.” The latest essay is about my start as a freelance writer, and my involvement in a dubious video game club. It’s called “Praystation.”

Lisa has already started poking around for a wedding dress, with varying degrees of success, so yesterday I decided to make my first real effort to find a wedding suit, by visiting the Paul Smith store. Now before you leap backwards in disbelief, like Bazooka Joe reacting to Mort’s confounding stupidity, let’s get something straight: Yes, I’m wealthy enough to walk right in the door of Paul Smith, no questions asked, and then walk out again after gently touching several jacket sleeves and purchasing nothing. I’m sure I’ll gradually make my way down the line of men’s formal fashions, from Jill Sander and John Varvatos, to A.P.C., Club Monaco, Men’s Wearhouse, eBay and that store where Steve Harvey buys his suits, eventually settling on a lovely performance fleece “cargo suit” at Old Navy. However, right now I am perfectly content to indulge in the fantasy of purchasing a $3,000 suit. Gawd! Let a girl dream, y’all!

I haven’t shopped for suits in a while and, honestly, don’t have a solid idea of what I want. Three-button suits are nice, but lately I’ve fancied a fitted two-button, three-piece suit. Something that says, “Let’s talk about junk bonds over a plate of Bolivian cocaine.” I realize that’s hard to explain to the average salesperson, though, so when someone approached me at Paul Smith and asked what I was interested in, I just said, “me want suit. Handsome day!”

I often get intimidated at stores like this because I feel like the salespeople get one look at my ripped leather jacket, battered Pro-Ked hi-tops and children’s backpack and instantly make the same kind of assessment about me that a salesperson at the Gagosian Gallery might make i.e. “This guy ain’t gonna buy anything.” I usually walk in there under some imaginary belief, often reinforced by the employees’ own attitudes, that everyone who works there is far wealthier and more knowledgeable than me.

That’s why it really surprised me when the Paul Smith salesperson turned out to be a complete dummy. As he was showing me suits, barely bothering to walk more than a couple of inches from where he was standing, he explained why customers love certain items by basically pointing to the most obvious attributes of those items. For instance, here was his pitch on a suit jacket that had interesting stitching around the lapels: “Yeah, people love this ’cause like it’s got really interesting stitching around the lapels.” Then he would open the jacket to reveal its colorful lining–all Paul Smith jackets excel in their lining–and say something like, “and it’s got this, which is real good. People love the arm holes, especially because there’s two of them. This suit has that feature, which is, you know…(trails off).”

I still don’t know what I want exactly, but I know it has to have dual armholes or I AM WALKING. Thanks, Paul Smith, for making me a more educated consumer.

GOOD EGG

Enough about me. My pal, Bob Powers, recently started writing for the very funny comedy news website, 236.com. Today, the NY Times’ “Laugh Lines” blog re-printed one of Bob’s pieces for 236.com, and I think you should read it. It’s called Ted Turner’s Ornery-isms, and it’s top-notch. (I realize that was a million URLs at once. I hope I haven’t blown your minds.)

TV BOOK CLUB, EPISODE THREE

With the writers’ strike over and done, on Wednesday, March 19th, I will be re-convening TV BOOK CLUB — a live show where television comedy writers read their own original comedy writing and you, as an audience, laugh. The rules are that simple

I will be hosting a lineup that will DESTROY YOU:

MICHAEL KOMAN (“Late Night with Conan O’Brien”)
SIMON RICH (“SNL” & author of the excellent humor collection, Ant Farm)
LAURA KRAFFT (“The Colbert Report”)
ANDRES DU BOUCHET (“Talk Show with Spike Feresten” and also this)

details and information on making reservations here:

CBS/NY Presents TODD LEVIN’S TV BOOK CLUB
Wednesday, March 19th at 8pm
Upright Citizens Brigade Theater
307 W. 26th Street
Tickets: $5 (make reservations online)

RADAR 100: HELP WANTED

I forgot to post this when it went online, but the latest RADAR Magazine 100 list is available for your perusal. Seriously, peruse it. It’s called “Help Wanted,” and is a list of 100 things you should never say during a job interview. EXPECT SOMETHING KRAZY.

As always, here are a couple of mine that didn’t make the cut but, in my opinion, also were not horrible:

  • “I’ll bet that desk of yours could tell some stories…stories about fucking!”
  • “As for me being a team player, I think this video of me at the World’s Biggest Gang Bang speaks for itself.”
  • “I will require a 15-minute break every day at 4:20, if you know what I mean.”
  • “I look forward to someday forcing you out of your job.”
  • “Hire me and you have my word—casual Fridays are about to get a whole lot more casual.”
  • “SHOW ME THE MONEY!” / “SHOW ME THE HONEY!” (if interviewing for a job at an apiary) / “SHOW ME THE MUMMIES!” (if interviewing for a job at the museum of natural history)

Also, I’ll write other things later. I just don’t feel like it right now, OK?

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