Who needs my blather when you can rely on actual good writers?!
* Pity the poor Raiders fans, as the Ringer's Michael Weinreb writes, as their team is finally starting to turn things around on the field and yet also on the verge of leaving Oakland for Las Vegas. I've always had kind of a soft spot for the Raiders' renegade mentality, and if I hadn't been a Packers fan (which is ironic, since Packer Nation is about the most Pollyanna of all fanbases and basically Raider Nation's opposite), you might well have seen me in the Black Hole with my bald head painted silver. That being said, as someone who has been to the Coliseum before, holy crow does Oakland need a new stadium.
* There's more than a little too much pointless celebrity fluff on the Ringer, which is why the site still can't be seen as anything more than Grantland-lite. Still, some of the fluff has its amusing moments, like Sam Donsky's exploration of the best night any celebrity has ever had at Madison Square Garden. The pictures alone (drunk Amanda Seyfried, Larry David looking like every picture of Larry David, the incredible reaction shots from Miguel Cotto and his kid, etc.) are worth the price of admission.
* Casual wrestling fans of the 80's and 90's may remember Haku as a rather forgettable midcard wrestler in the WWF, or in a somewhat larger role as Meng in WCW. Behind the scenes, however, Tonga Fifita had a real-life reputation as a near-mythical badass. Crave Online's Rob Fee collects some of the most well-known anecdotes, and a quick jaunt to Fifita's Wikipedia page reveals a few more choice quotes. Jake Roberts could always cut a great promo, so it's no surprise that he has the best line about Fifita's toughness.
* Obligatory oral history time! This one's by Rob Neyer for Complex, about the history of Seinfeld's most famous baseball-related humour. If I ever do a 'best Seinfeld episodes' listamania entry (hard to believe I haven't done this yet), the one with Keith Hernandez will be high on the list.
* I love pretty much everything Joe Posnanski writes (uh, except about Penn State) but I especially love it when he rips into a silly infomercial. And even ‘rips into’ is stretching it, as he takes this ad apart with hot fire in the most polite way possible. Bonus points since this ridiculous commercial stars, of all people, a random former Survivor player.
A few observations about the new Black Mirror season...
* every episode could've done with being at least 10 minutes shorter (except for San Junipero, which should've been longer since it was so awesome)
* it is bitterly disappointing that the Mike Schur/Rashida Jones teleplay was such a "yeah, we get it" toothless satire that got old after five minutes
* some (KYLE) might argue that it's odd having Shut Up And Dance ahead of White Bear since both are similar premises, yet I found the twist of White Bear to be so silly that it almost ruined the episode entirely
* realizing that Faye Marsay was both a) a former Markademy Award nominee for 'Pride' and b) the friggin' Waif on Game Of Thrones was maybe the most mind-blowing moment of the whole season
* whatever you do, don't watch these episodes just before you go to bed, since it'll ruin your sleep. Except Nosedive, since it's a cure for insomnia.
Onto the list, from worst to best
12. The Waldo Moment
11. Fifteen Million Merits
10. Men Against Fire
9. White Bear
GOOD TO VERY GOOD
8. Be Right Back
6. Shut Up And Dance
5. The National Anthem
4. White Christmas
3. Hated In The Nation
2. San Junipero
1. The Entire History Of You
If you're a country whose dollar coin is literally named after a bird, you'd think that would be a pretty obvious choice as the country's national bird, right? Or wait a second, maybe there is some dispute, given that there's a kind of goose known worldwide as a "[insert country here] Goose." Either of those two choices, nevertheless, perfectly reasonable.
Unless you're Canada, in which case you get this nonsense from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. After a two-year project*, the RCGS has decided that Canada's official national bird is going to be the grey jay, a.k.a. the whisky jack. It's allegedly also known as a 'Canada jay' in some circles, which I have to believe is made up. I'm not a bird expert by any stretch, but I've heard of grey jays and whisky jacks many times over the years....I have never once ever heard of the term 'Canada jay' until reading that article. It sounds like someone from the RCGS hastily logged onto the grey jay's Wikipedia page to add that alternate Canada jay name in an attempt to gaslight us all.
* = two years! It took them two full years!
Canada, we've overthinking things. Our national bird is a loon or a Canada goose, end of story. Sometimes an obvious choice is the best choice. My only thinking here is that the loon and Canada goose lobbies were so equally vehement that the RCGS decided that the grey jay was a good compromise, in the spirit of ticking off as many people as possible. It'd be like if you had to pick Canada's official hockey team, and went with the Canucks over the Maple Leafs and Canadiens --- if anything led to civil war in Canada, this would probably do it.
Our official tree is the maple, our official animal is the beaver, let's make our official bird the loon or the Canada goose. Personally, I'd favour the loon for two notable reasons. One, Canada geese crap everywhere. Two, Luna "Loony" Lovegood is arguably my favourite Harry Potter character, which technically doesn't matter whatsoever when discussing a national bird, but what the hell, it's my blog.
After 25 years of on-and-off wrestling fandom, I finally attended my first actual live event. When some friends announced they had tickets to the NXT Takeover show in Toronto, I couldn’t help but feel that it was time to finally check this one off my bucket list….well, ok, it wasn’t particularly high on my bucket list. Maybe page seven at the earliest. Certainly well after ‘get in shape, for the love of god’ but at least still ahead of ‘get that Stephane Dion 4 Life tattoo removed.’ (Political comebacks happen all the time!)
To clarify….the NXT promotion is essentially the ‘minor league’ of WWE, intended as a training ground for up-and-coming wrestlers or proven veterans getting used to WWE’s presentation and in-ring style. Its shows tend to be fairly meat-and-potatoes straight-forward wrestling action, which thus makes NXT pretty great since it’s refreshingly light on the usual WWE nonsense. You also get the rare chance to see world-class pro wrestling talent on a relatively small stage; it’s like if an NHL team signed a star Russian player and had him in the minors for a while to get used to North American hockey. So it would be like seeing Alex Ovechkin show up at your little rinky-dink local arena, the picture of overqualified. Well, ok, the Air Canada Centre isn’t a “rinky dink local arena,” but still, whatever, analogy win!
In this case, you have Shinsuke Nakamura, arguably the best wrestler in the world and headliner of multiple giant stadium shows in Japan…’stuck’ main eventing NXT cards instead of mixing it up with John Cena, Randy Orton, etc. on the proper WWE roster. Since wrestling in Japan, Mexico, Europe, etc. is different than wrestling for WWE, I can understand the company’s logic in wanting to acclimate everyone before just throwing them out there on TV. But for the likes of Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Asuka, Bobby Roode, how much ‘development’ time do they really need? To use my airtight hockey analogy again, if Ovechkin scored five goals a game in the minors, I’d think his NHL team would realize pretty quickly that the guy was ready.
Then again, the NHL team probably also isn’t counting on Ovechkin to prop up its minor league team. It seems like WWE didn’t really intend NXT to become as popular as it is, and thus they’re now seeing it less as a developmental facility than as its own unique brand. And, if you’re going to be taking that brand out on the road to arena shows, you need some big names to promote. Nakamura, Joe and company will make it up to WWE eventually, though for now, they might as well sell some tickets rather than being thrown into the WWE shuffle.
Anyway, the show itself was a lot of fun. Being my first time at a wrestling show, it was fun to go along with all of the standard wrestling fan tropes — counting along to the ten punches in the corner*, booing heels for cheating, booing the ref for missing a tag, etc. The newest thing is singing along to a wrestler’s entrance music, which helps since a few of the NXT themes are insanely catchy. This also translated to singing Nakamura’s music while trying to inspire him to fight back from a tough situation against Samoa Joe.
* = thanks to the popularity of ‘The Perfect Ten’ Tye Dillinger, fans kept chanting TEN TEN TEN for most anything all night. This included yelling TEN for every number as the referee was trying to make a countout when a wrestler was outside the ring.
It should be noted that the actual wrestling itself was pretty terrific. The two highest of highlights were the main event and the tag team title match. Nakamura and Joe are both devotees of what the Japanese call strong style wrestling, which is when you essentially hit each other as hard as you can while still keeping it ‘fake.’ I swear, watching it live, the match had a legitimate real-fight feel.
As for the tag title match, it was legitimately great choreography. The Revival are basically NXT’s old-school ethos in a nutshell — their actual gimmick is that they’re “reviving” the 80’s heel tag team style of the Midnight Express, the Andersons, the Brainbusters, etc. So they use all the old tricks updated with crisp modern wrestling. These guys are amazing, yet so good at being heels that you totally buy into booing the hell out of them. Their opponents (Team DIY) were just as good at being faces, with great comebacks and escapes from various dire situations. This match went about 20 minutes, was best two-of-three falls, and was an absolute blast, with the feel-good ending of DIY winning the titles to cap off their long rise to the top.
This show was so good, I can hardly wait to see my next wrestling event in 2041.
When it comes to great running jokes on the UK Apprentice*, nothing
tops the Bridge Cafe. To non-viewers of the show….every week, the team
that wins the challenge goes off on some opulent reward courtesy of Lord
Sugar. The losing team has to slough off to this drab little cafe
and moan over their loss while picking at their food and drinking weak
This has been going on for TWELVE SEASONS in the SAME CAFE. It
absolutely slays me every time. I have to presume that Sugar himself
owns the Bridge Cafe since surely no competent owner would agree to have
his/her little shop portrayed as a loser's graveyard for so long. That
being said, maybe it's actually brilliant marketing, since if I ever
find myself in London, I'm a big enough fan of the show that I would
totally seek out the Bridge Cafe for a bite. Damn you, reverse
* = Ok, so the cafe is the best running
joke, but I've decided that second place goes to Lord Sugar's teasing of his former aide, Nick Hewer. Every time the candidates produce an advertisement/commercial/song/etc.
that is in any way sexual, Sugar is sure to make some comment like,
"This looks like one of your DVDs, Nick" or "Nick's not used to seeing
stuff like this outside of his trips to Amsterdam." Hewer responds with
either a small grin or a crunched-up face like he's just bitten into a
lemon. My question is, what's the story here? Is
this just good-natured joshing between two old friends? Is Hewer
actually a real prude and Lord Sugar is reverse-teasing him? Or, is
Nick Hewer secretly the biggest sexual deviant in all of England?
That's saying something, given the royal family alone.
** = third-best running joke is more or less the entire concept of the show itself, and how it's essentially neck-and-neck with the Gervais Office for best representation of British cringeworthiness in business. The other week when Samuel kept doing his exaggerated pantomime cycling demonstration, I couldn't stop laughing. When he did it DURING THE PITCH TO VENDORS, I was almost on the floor.
(A classic post from 2009, reprinted now since I was randomly reading old blog posts and this one really made me laugh. Perhaps it's relevant again since the Raiders are finally once again a good team?)
There comes a time in every man's life when he considers nothing to be more hilarious than seeing someone else kicked in the balls. This time, in general, starts from birth and lasts until death, but what I'm talking about are those isolated stretches when groin-affrontery stands out as being particularly hysterical. It becomes your default mode for comedy; other individual moments may have a higher comic peak, but when it comes down to brass tracks, the baseline for laughter is set at someone doubled over in pain, bow-legged and either groaning or cursing obscenities.
For my group of friends, this period lasted for roughly six months in 2003. It was all because of the Oakland Raiders. Our group had gathered at my pal Bryan's place to watch the Super Bowl, which that year pitted the Raiders against Bryan's beloved* Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game was even on paper, but it quickly became apparent that the Raiders were overmatched --- the score was 20-3 for Tampa by halftime. We kept our attention through the halftime show (Sting, No Doubt, and someone else who I'm forgetting at the moment...whomever it was didn't even join in with Sting and Gwen on the set-ending duet, so clearly it was someone with a stick up their ass), but after that, our attention started to wander.
* = We were chatting about who we wanted to win the game, and we were all generally indifferent until the question was posed to Bryan. "The Bucs, of course! They're my team!" He even had a Bucs t-shirt under his sweater. Now, up until this moment, Bryan had never once mentioned that he liked the Buccaneers, so this all came out of left field. Bryan explained that since his family often vacationed near Tampa, he adopted the Bucs as his team when he was a young child. It was a perfectly plausible story...though nobody ever uses the word 'plausible' unless they're trying to hint that they don't believe it. Bryan didn't go overboard with his Bucs-love, however, so if it was bandwagon-jumping, it was at least a very low-level case. It wasn't like this one kid I went to grade school with who showed up in a brand-spanking new Montreal Canadiens coat two days after they won the Stanley Cup and claimed to have always been a huge Habs fan. In the words of the Arcade Fire, LIES, LIES.
When you get eight bored, early-twenties guys into one room, something bad is bound to happen. In this case, I seem to recall it stemming from someone mentioning a recent internet video that featured, I think, some would-be skateboarder badly nutting himself while trying to skate down a railing. Something of that ilk, anyway. This led us all to reminisce about funny groin-shot videos that we'd seen, and somebody brought up the idea that a website solely devoted to acting as a repository for groin-hurtin' videos would/could be immensely profitable. The title of Junkshots.com was quickly devised and we all began to mentally spend the money that we would be sure to generate from such a website, were any of us anything but too lazy to actually do something towards designing it.
One thing led to another, and before long, my pal Jason had punched someone in the crotch over some perceived slight. It was inevitable. If you talk about Coke for 30 minutes, someone is inevitably going to want to drink a Coke. I can't blame Jason --- though the victim sure did. Now, please excuse my faulty memory, since I don't actually recall who the victim was, but for the sake of the narrative, let's say it was my friend Matt. Matt swore vengeance, but the catch was that Matt was sitting on the opposite side of Bryan's U-shaped couch arrangement. Ergo, Matt enlisted my buddy Trev (sitting next to Jason) to deliver a revenge ballshot on his behalf. Jason scoffed and claimed that he would never be taken unawares...so of course, literally 20 seconds later, Jason is staring blankly at the TV while the rest of us are glancing around at each other having a seven-way version of Ted and Barney's silent conversation. Our eyes all met Trevor's, who promptly raised his hand and delivered a thunderous backhand to Jason's crotch.
That opened the floodgates. By the end of the Super Bowl's increasingly dull third quarter, everyone had been crotched at least once except for myself and my pal Eric. It helped that we were sitting next to each other, so we were out of the proverbial line of fire. This isn't to say that I didn't play a role in the day's events. It was all thanks to one immortal statement from my friend Andrew: "I'd like to see Mark deliver a flying headbutt to someone's groin."
Now, for readers who have never met me, I'm bald. My shaved head is akin to that of a torpedo nose, which is likely what planted the seed in Andrew's mind. I readily agreed to the idea since, really, when else would such an opportunity come up in life? The deal got even sweeter when I was paid $5 for my troubles. You see, my pal Dave (who apparently studied economics under Johnny Knoxville) immediately volunteered to be the one to take the shot as long as he was paid with the money left over in the pizza-buying pot. We had about 15 bucks left, so Dave got $10 and for some reason I was handed a fiver. Money for nothing and your cheques for free!
So we lined up in the back of the room, Dave and I about eight feet apart from each other. Now, when Andrew said 'flying headbutt,' it looks exactly as it sounds. I earlier compared my head to a torpedo and that is maybe the best description; I lined up, got a slight running start and launched myself perpendicular to the ground. (At this point I should note that everyone was clothed and only the top of my head made contact with Dave's crotch. I can't believe it took me eight paragraphs to realize the homo-erotic undertones to a post about guys hitting other guys in the junk.) It took us two attempts to get 'The Blast To The Balls' right. The first time Dave flinched and backed away, so he had someone hold him in place. The second time, he went down like a ton of a bricks. A few others also went down like a ton of bricks as they fell to the floor laughing. In hindsight, the true funniest part of the evening may have come after I got home. Dave's girlfriend at the time innocently messaged me to ask how the game went, so I went ahead and gave her a full recap of the evening. Given that they had been dating for just a few weeks, I perhaps shouldn't have been quite so forthcoming with the details. I could see her "What am I getting myself into?" thought bubble forming even over the internet.
So that, in a nutshell, started the junkshot trend. Over the next few months, there were few get-togethers between the lot of us that didn't feature at least one instance of someone getting junk-punched. We were polite about it, of course. It was always when we were just hanging around at someone's house, not out in public, and it seemed to occur only when our group numbered five or more. Maybe it was because the puncher wanted the maximum amount of laughter, or maybe it was just because if it's just two people hanging out and one groins the other, it tends to cast a social pall over the evening. My own Switzerland-esque streak of neutrality ended when I got sacked while taking a nap, which I felt was a bit unfair. I didn't even have a chance to defend myself, or, like Jason, to make an arrogant boast about defending myself and then completely falling asleep at the switch seconds later. The climax of the era probably took place when Matt filmed a video of himself, Dave and Andrew all nailing each other in the groin as part of an application for some type of student council job (which, I should note, he ended up getting). I was fortunate enough to be the camera man for that video, and thanks to my laughter, the scene was shakier than the entirety of the Jason Bourne series.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The era of the junkshot came to an end in the summer of 2003 when we all gathered at Bryan's (new) house for the first of our '24-fest' marathons, where we watched an entire season of 24 in one actual 24-hour span. As you might expect, the addition of sleep deprivation to the mix didn't bode well for everyone's testicles. Now, I'm not the best source on 'the incident,' since I wasn't actually there --- I missed a big chunk of the day due to work. But according to a well-placed source (whose name rhymes with 'lever'), here's what happened: there had been a few attempts at nuttings throughout the day, but perhaps as a result of osmosis from Jack Bauer, everyone was on their toes and able to block. Dave had been the most vocal about wanting to land a really quality junkshot throughout the course of the evening, so perhaps what happened was solely a case of poetic justice. As Dave was walking back to his seat, my pal Matt landed a well-placed uppercut that dropped Dave like a bag of hammers. My source said that the punch was perhaps a bit harder than usual, if not a Little Mac star-punch or anything, but what really made it effective was that it was delivered from a seated position, so the added lift just exacerbated the damage.
Anyway, after almost passing out right there on the floor, Dave gathered himself and retreated to the bathroom, where he proceeded to throw up from the pain. I couldn't get this confirmed, but apparently Dave even took a shower in order to both recover and to, er, check on things to make sure there was no permanent damage. After 30 minutes or so, Dave returned to the living room quite upset, and Matt, for his part, was apologetic at the amount of havoc that had been wreaked. Any sympathy that Dave hoped to generate, however, was erased when he spoke out against ball-shotting altogether, including the immortal line "Dave: "Sorry guys, I just don't find ballshots funny." Keep in mind that this was the same guy who voluntarily took a flying headbutt to the groin in the name of comedy, so this new statement was the equivalent of Jughead claiming to hate hamburgers. As (apparently) Andrew immediately responded, "You find them funnier than anyone!" So yeah, not even forced vomiting can spare someone from being blatantly misleading.
But still, as it says in the Bible, once someone has been punched so hard that they vomit, it's time to end the junkshots [Ecclesiastes 5:15]. That day marked the end of our group's interest in groining each other, and we happily returned to somewhat maturity. The only possible way that we may revert would be if Dave (whose thirst for vengeance would put the Count of Monte Cristo to shame) capitalizes on his long-standing pledge to pay Matt back for that testicle-crushing uppercut. The last I heard, Dave's latest plan was to somehow set up a can of paint tied to a door frame, and then swing it down into Matt's groin as he passed through the entrance. All this plan needs is for the can of paint to be from ACME Products, and for Dave and Matt to be subtitled by comical Latin names.
And we never did get that website up and running. Even with the preponderance of funny-video sites on the Net, there still isn't a page that I know of that specializes solely in punches, kicks, or foreign objects to the groin. Isn't this still a great idea? A one-stop shop for any sort of ball-related injury that one would want to watch and laugh at? Junkshots.com is still available. There's still time. That video from Matt's student council thing could be the opening entry. We could get the rights to 'Football To The Groin' from Hans Moleman. We could sign Ric Flair as our celebrity spokesman, as he won more matches via illegal low blows than anyone else in pro wrestling history.
I've always had an affinity for Charlie Brown, even to the point of dressing as CB for Halloween on more than one occasion. It's hard not to relate to the poor guy, whether you're prematurely bald (check) or just feel like life has got you down from time to time. Of course, for most of us, the key is "from time to time," whereas Charlie Brown's life was an unending cavalcade of failure. To wit, this video. Watching it, your attitude goes from "Poor Charlie Brown! I know how he feels!" to "Poor Charlie Brown! Man, things aren't going my way right now, but at least I have it better than that sad sack. God, people are actually dancing around him in a circle, pointing and laughing! What a loser!" The video also continues to make the case that the choral version of "Creep" is the greatest song cover of all time.
Two notes. First, the little red-haired girl actually signs her notes as "Little Red-Haired Girl"? WTF? I just presumed that was Charlie Brown's only reference point since he was too much of a putz to even ask her name, but if LRHG is even referring to herself by that nickname…I dunno, is this a Badly Drawn Boy situation? Is LRHG a stage name? Is she trying to create her own specific persona in grade school, sort of like how I've been trying to get people to call me 'Mark the Shark' for at least 20 years?
Secondly, good lord, how deranged does Charlie Brown look when he's approaching that football? He's got the crazy eyes! I'm starting to think ol' Chuck has a future on an NFL special teams squad. He can play for the Cleveland BROWNS. (rimshot)
Also, just so that video doesn't leave you totally heartbroken on Charlie Brown's behalf, here's the edition of the Peanuts strip where he actually got to be the hero for his baseball team. This was widely regarded as the greatest act in house league baseball history until my equally-heroic "faked getting hit by a pitch" routine in 2001.