Saturday, September 6, 2008
I'm writing a new daily comedy podcast called The Voice of God.
God is drunk, bitter, angry, and has had it up to here with the whole lot of us. Up. To. Here. And so he's blogging daily, and telling us exactly what he thinks of us.
God is extreme, he's insulting, and he's (hopefully) funny. You can also subscribe to his daily rants through FeedBurner and have his rants downloaded straight to your ipod.
Start with the first one, in which God gives us five reasons why we should kiss his ass. And if you're new, check out how he has it out with a listener, draws a line in the sand, and loses.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The website is here: http://www.israelisf.com/. You'll find the trailer, pictures, details about the actors, details about the music, and about why a movie about new emotions is science fiction.
'Heart of Stone' is a low-budget, feature-length, independent Israeli science fiction film in Hebrew.
Ofer Berger, a world-renowned scientist, has a heart of stone. He has no emotions. One day, the floodgates in his mind open. Emotions pull out, wild, strong, uncontrollable, and behind them is something new and different and unknown...
Just for fun, here is the trailer (with subtitles):
Sunday, March 2, 2008
A while ago, we talked about how to be funny, a comedian must first be able to laugh at himself. To write effective satires, a satirist must be able to admit he’s wrong. That is the difficult task he expects of his audience, he must be able to deliver it himself. To be an effective and honest pundit, a pundit must be able to admit a mistake, to claim he’s changed his mind and to admit someone else might know better. That is, after all, what he expects of us.
Here are a couple of examples, inspired by last week’s events:
The Post-Oscar Jon-Slam
This excerpt is is taken from one from last Wednesday’s The Daily Show. In it Jon Stewart welcomes John Oliver, The Daily Show’s ‘Senior Hollywood Correspondent’, to talk about the Oscars that had taken place two days earlier. Soon the fact that Stewart was the host is mentioned by Oliver.
John Oliver: “And may I say, your performance was terrific.”
Jon Stewart: “Very kind of you. Thank you so much, John, for saying so.”
Oliver: “Absolutely. And far, far superior to the crapfest of two years ago.”
Stewart stares at the camera. Presently, he says, “John, that was me, as well.”
Oliver: “Indeed it was. But this was quite a turnaround for you. And it’s not just me saying so, Jon. That’s the consensus of the millions and millions of people all around the world,” Oliver continues, “who read about it.”
Stewart corrects him: “And saw it.”
“No, just read about it. Nobody saw it.”
Stewart begins to apologize, “Well, obviously, it wasn’t the highest rated Oscar ever...”
“No,” Oliver agrees. “It wasn’t. Unless by highest you mean lowest. It was the lowest. Or the least high. Is that what you meant, Jon? The lowest? Because it was that,” Oliver continues and continues to Stewart’s face. “The lowest rated Oscar. Ever. Of all times.”
“To be perfectly fair, though...”
“It’s almost funny, if you think about it,” Oliver interrupts Stewart. “When you did it before you were horrible and millions and millions of people watched it. Yet when you deliver a good performance, it disappears into the atmosphere to exist only as a brief moment in future Oscar montages.”
“That is somehow ironic.”
“I mean, two years ago,” Oliver continues, “with the whole world as your audience, you delivered a basic cable performance. Yet on Sunday night, with a world-class performance, you delivered a basic cable audience. It must be truly upsetting.”
“Well,” Jon says. “You can’t control an audience.”
“You certainly can’t, Jon.” Oliver produces a piece of paper and reads off it, “Adults 18 to 24 down 15%. Women 35 to 54 down 28%. People who know you, aged 18 to 49, down 72%. People who gave birth to you, down 100%.”
And so it goes.
The entire bit, which takes place on Stewart’s show, ends with Jon laughing at the camera and telling the audience “I think we have more fun writing the post-Oscars Jon-slam than we do anything else we do on the show.”
On the Other Side of the Scale...
The fact that Stewart is able to bash himself so powerfully, that he is able to admit (whether it’s true or not) that he is wrong or that he has failed, is a trait that allows him to come with a clean conscience to encounters like the following, from a couple of years ago. Here he tells the two hosts of Crossfire exactly what he thinks they’re doing wrong, to their faces. Note how he does come with a clean conscience because he has this trait, and note how the two hosts react. The high-browed “You don’t don’t do it, either” never fails to convince.
Do you see the connection between being able to admit you’re wrong and Stewart’s behavior? Do you see the connection between not being able to admit you’re wrong and the two hosts’ behavior?
It’s connected, man. To be a comedian, you need to be able to laugh at yourself. To be a satirist you need to be able to change your mind. To be a pundit you have to be able to admit you’re wrong.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Why do comedians seem to be so much quicker in their thinking than us normal people? How is it that they think so quickly? How is it that they respond quickly? Do they really think faster than we do? Is it a requirement?
The most extreme example of seemingly superhuman speed is found in improvisation, as anyone who saw Whose Line Is It, Anyway? can attest to. The first and foremost requirement of improv is this: No matter what happens, you must accept a premise you’re given, rather than knock it down. So if you’re on the improv stage, and your fellow actor says, “Look at that camel!” you don’t say as a response, “That’s a giraffe,” simply because you were had a good giraffe joke. That would knock down the premise you were offered and destroy the bit. You could say, “But why is it blue?” And by doing this, you accept the premise, go with it, and offer something to your fellow actor.
The people in the audience are not used to accepting new ideas without taking time to process and, perhaps, to refuse them. So when they see a new idea accepted so quickly and built upon, it automatically seems as if a lot of thought has gone into the response.
But that isn’t the case.
Accepting a new idea takes a lot of time for us. Accepting a new idea, to comedians, takes no time at all. If they don’t, they die.
The Live Interview
Let’s move on from improvisation to interview shows, from Late Night to The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, where comedians interview live people, forcing them to improvise jokes on their spot. Here’s one example:
In The Daily Show’s March 12th, 2007 interview, comedian Jon Stewart interviews Senator Chris Dodd. He asks him why he is running for president.
Sen. Dodd: “First of all, I’m a first-time father. I’ve got a couple of young children, daughters, and I don’t want to sound naïve at all, and I look at them... I mean, you’ve got a couple of young kids. What kind of a future are they going to have? What kind of a world are they going to grow up in? What kind of a nation are they going to live in the 21st century? And, frankly, right now, I think there is more at stake than probably ever before in my lifetime. Both with what’s going on at home and abroad. And I decided to get in this race and talk about what we could do to make it better for them. I know it’s naïve, but—”
Jon Stewart interrupts him, “Here’s what I’ve done. I also have young kids and I look at them, and I started building a bunker.”
Stewart automatically accepts Senator Dodd’s premise (thinking about the future while looking at your kids) and goes on from there. In fact, he continues, “Your idea could work, too. But I have a feeling, when the day comes, I’m not going to be knocking on your door, you’re going to be knocking on mine.”
As Stewart proves by taking Sen. Dodd’s premise and reaching the opposite conclusion, accepting a premise doesn’t actually make the other guy right. It just means you’re agile enough of thought to understand someone else’s premise. Then you go with that logic, and see where it leads you.
Smart People vs. Comedians
Adapting to changing circumstances, being able to accept new ideas, not sticking rigidly to your old position – these are all the necessary tools of a good comedian. They are also the marks of intelligence. So what happens when a quick and intelligent comedian meets a quicker and more intelligent man? The man may not be as funny, but he’s able to adapt to new situations just as fast as the comedian. Here is the best example I found in which the shoe was on the other foot.
This is from an interview in The Colbert Report (Feb. 8th, 2006) in which Stephen Colbert, who, on a daily basis, stumps his guests by offering ideas (meaning ‘premises’) they’ve never thought of or didn’t expect to face, now interviews Prof. Alan Dershowitz. We’re going to look at the dialogue like a chess match.
Colbert introduces Dershowitz, then runs to the crowd, as he always does, and gets cheers. Colbert sits down.
Colbert: “Mr. Dershowitz, thank you for joining us.”
Dershowitz: “Thank you.”
Colbert: “Do you have an audience at work?”
Colbert’s opening salvo is framing a question Dershowitz clearly doesn’t expect. Dershowitz answers immediately: “I do, always. I teach to a class.”
Colbert: “You do? Really?” Colbert didn’t expect a ‘yes’ from his guest, but adapts quickly, “Do they applaud like this when you come in? Up in Harvard?” Colbert takes his question to a place Dershowitz would not have expected.
Dershowitz begins his answer even before Colbert finishes asking the question: “No, they react.” Dershowitz isn’t blocking by saying ‘no’, he’s splitting hairs, thus proving he’s accepted Colbert’s premise and is building on it.
“With fear, I’m assuming.” Colbert accepts Dershowitz’s premise and takes it one step further to a place Dershowitz clearly did not mean.
“I hope,” Dershowitz thus accepts Colbert’s premise again.
“Do you ever shroud a student like in that movie, The Paper Chase?” Again, Colbert offers a premise his guest was not expecting.
“No, they’re too smart.” Dershowitz does not deny the premise. He accepts it and within the rules of the premise finds a reason why it isn’t so. He continues, “They sit there with their, you know, Googles, and they know more than I do.”
Colbert: “Yeah, with their internets.” Colbert accepts Dershowitz’s ‘Googles’ and builds on it. Mockingly, of course. “And their world wide webbing? It’s amazing.”
“It is,” Dershowitz accepts Colbert’s volley.
They move on to talk about Dershowitz’s book. Colbert puts it up on the table: “Okay, this is it. Preemption, a Knife That Cuts Both Ways. Tell me about the knife and why it’s cutting us.” Colbert presumes a false premise regarding the book.
Dershowitz opens his mouth to answer, and Colbert continues, “Is it cutting us?”
“It is cutting us.” Premise accepted.
“Whose knife is it?”
Not blinking, Dershowitz continues, accepting Colbert’s premise, and using it to make his point, “It is the knife of power that is being wielded. Preemption means, just simply, we get the bad guys before they get us. And that, sometimes, can be a good thing.”
“You look at us wrong, you get a God-smack.” Colbert immediately picks up on Dershowitz’s premise and goes with it one step further.
“No,” Dershowitz splits hairs again rather than blocking completely: “you try to kill us, you try to invade us, you try and terrorize us, and we’re going to get you first, but there are tremendous risks involved in doing that. Because we can get the wrong people, we can get there too early, we can provoke an attack, so it’s a knife that cuts both ways.”
“Well, this sort of sounds like anti-preemption here,” Colbert accepts what Dershowitz says and tries to take it to a direction Dershowitz doesn’t want to take.
“Well, it’s pro some preemption and anti some preemption,” Dershowitz clears his theme by understanding what Colbert said and explaining the difference between the two positions. “It all depends.”
“You can’t have it both ways!” Colbert aggressively introduces a new and unexpected premise (elsewhere known as The O’Reilly Premise).
“You can have it both ways. You have to have it both ways.” Dershowitz understands the other side but insists on his own.
“No, if you have to have it both ways, that’s why the knife cuts back and forth,” Colbert introduces a new premise in mid-argument, miming a knife cutting both him and Dershowitz.
“Absolutely,” Dershowitz accepts it.
“You want the knife to just do this,” he mimes the knife attacking only Dershowitz.
“But it has to be sterilized,” Dershowitz goes with Colbert’s premise even further. “You don’t want to cause an infection.”
Colbert moves on to his next thought: “Okay, so...” and then Dershowitz’s words sink in, and he stops, stumped for an answer. He was not able to adapt quickly enough.
The audience begins to laugh, as Colbert thinks of the next thing to say.
“I’m Jewish,” says Dershowitz during Colbert’s silence, accepting his own premise and going with it.
Colbert takes another few seconds, then, unable to think of something smarter, changes the subject.
And thus Dershowitz wins this battle against an intelligent, professional and mighty-quick comedian not because he’s funnier but because he’s that much smarter.
Accepting new ideas is a mark of intelligence. Understanding new ideas is also a mark of intelligence. Being able to adapt quickly is one, too. And always keep in mind that understanding the other side’s logic doesn’t make the other side is right. It just means you’re smart.