Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Two Ronnies, "Mastermind"

This is such an ingenious, airtight premise for a sketch that knowledge of the actual people mentioned is irrelevant.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Why So Serious?

Some years ago, I was driving through Lambeth and was stuck behind an impossibly slow driver.  Like, five km under the speed limit slow.  I couldn't just change lanes due to traffic, so I had no recourse but to grin* and bear it until I could finally find an opportunity to pass.  Needless to say, I had some choice words for this terrible driver, including, most notably, "what the hell is this clown doing?" out loud.

* = no pun intended, given the rest of this story 

Finally, some room opened up in the other lane and I could pass the slow car.  As I was driving by, I couldn't help but take a peek at the driver to put a face to my pain, was an actual clown.  Full makeup, green suit, everything.  Maybe the slow speed was due to makeup running into his eyes or something?  Who knows.

It's a good thing I don't suffer from road rage, since if I had confronted him, 15 other people would've come out of his car and kicked the hell out of me.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Late Night, Years Later

It was exactly a decade ago that Conan O’Brien was in the midst of his abbreviated run hosting the Tonight Show.  Released over a year after the fact, Bill Carter’s “The War For Late Night” chronicles the entire story behind how Conan inherited the show from (a more-than-slightly-unwilling) Jay Leno, only to have NBC give Leno his own nightly bomb of a primetime show, to the whole fiasco of Leno re-inheriting the Tonight Show over the irate objections of Team Coco.

Carter’s book is a fine page-turner, and I can even recall all three times I’ve read it.  The first time was just days after the initial release, as I eagerly pounced on the first copy available at my local library.  (In hindsight, it’s pretty unusual that they had a brand-new available for rent so quickly, but whatever, libraries are the best!)  The second reading took place about four years ago, when I saw the book available on a $5.99 rack at Chapters and decided what the hell, let’s put a few coins in Carter’s pocket.  It was the least I could do.

My third read took place just a few days ago, and while I found the book as entertaining as ever, it was interesting how my view of the situation has changed over time.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still solidly in Conan’s corner, though the third through, my analysis has shifted.

The first time, it was almost a horror story, from a Conan fan’s perspective.  The palace intrigue, the short-sightedness of the NBC executives, and the “man, why didn’t Conan have an 11:35 start time in his contract?!” all-timer of a negotiating gaffe looming over everything.  The dominant passage was really the opening chapter, detailing an NBC event for sponsors and affiliates that featured a stinker of a Jay Leno performance, painting Leno as an out-of-touch performer NBC was unwisely attaching itself to in just about the strongest possible way.

The second time, it was one of the passages in the last chapter that really stuck out to me.  It was a quote from Jerry Seinfeld, questioning one of Conan’s primary arguments throughout the whole dispute.  Conan was so honoured to be taking the mantle of The Tonight Show and felt the whole matter was an insult to the legacy of Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, and Jack Paar.  Seinfeld’s rebuttal was simply that the Tonight Show model Conan grew up loving was gone, since it was specifically Carson’s show.  The exact line was something like, “who even calls it the Tonight Show?  It’s always ‘did you see Leno last night?’ Or ‘hey, did you see what Letterman said in his monologue last night?’ Nobody ever calls it The Tonight Show, or Late Night, or The Late Late Show.  (If you read this in a Seinfeld vocal cadence, don’t worry, I did it too.) The point was that the actual name or timeslot of the show didn’t matter, as long as you had a show.

And it’s an argument that makes a lot of sense.  Paar’s show differed from Allen’s, which differed from Carson’s, which differed from Leno’s, which differed from O’Brien’s (and now, differed from Jimmy Fallon’s).  The only thing these “Tonight Shows” had in common was the general name, and billing as NBC’s headliner for late-night television.  Now, where I don’t agree with Seinfeld is that he felt Conan should’ve just stayed at NBC at 12:05 behind a new Jay Leno program, which I don’t agree with — who can blame Conan for feeling jerked around by the network at that point.  To put it in perspective, imagine how Seinfeld would’ve felt if NBC randomly moved his own show off Thursdays after a season and put it back on Wednesdays to lose to Home Improvement in the ratings.  One suspects Seinfeld wouldn’t have just cavalierly shrugged and figured, hey, we’re still on TV.

And my impression on the third read?  While my broad view of the situation didn’t much change, it did strike me how this all felt like it happened a million years ago, rather than just last decade.  Television, let alone late-night TV, has changed so overwhelmingly that all these arguments and disputes over who hosted the Tonight Show ended up being more or less irrelevant by 2019, since network TV itself seems more or less irrelevant by 2019.

YouTube was already a thing by 2010, as Carter addresses in his book how younger audiences were simply consuming late-night shows in highlight form online the next day — catching a sketch here or an interview there in videos, rather than staying up the night prior to actually watch the show start to finish.  Personally speaking, I don’t think I’ve watched any late-night show in its entirety since Craig Ferguson’s last episode.  I know what if there’s a funny bit from Conan, or Colbert, or Fallon, or Kimmel, or James Corden, or Seth Meyers, or Insert Random Show Host here, I can just watch it on YouTube.  Why bother watching an entire show with the same tired talk show format?

Fast-forward to 2019 and Letterman is gone, Leno is gone, Ferguson is gone, Jon Stewart is gone, and Conan remains in somewhat altered form.  He still officially has a talk show, though now it’s only a half-hour long, and I feel like Conan’s best outlets these days are his Conan Without Borders travel specials — which I feel have been watched by literally everyone I know who has a Netflix account — and his podcast, which has immediately become a big hit.  I don’t ever see Conan ever stopping his TV show (Conan O’Brien can’t stop, after all), but I can certainly see him making the podcast his most primary vehicle.  I can foresee a future where his podcast becomes essentially a zany cross between his own show and something like Comedy Bang Bang.

I’ll keep this post in mind when I re-read Carter’s book again in five years and recall with nostalgia about when people used to watch shows on televisions.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Western Stars

My first listen was uninterrupted, and the whole thing kind of faded together into one wall of country-tinged adult-contemporary sound. 

The second listen was broken up over multiple days, so I could focus on some individual songs a bit more closely — after all, a ninth track or something might stand out more if you’re listening to it right off the bat, rather than 40 minutes into one full-on listen that has already made your attention wander. 

The third listen was broken up over two long drives in one day, with the front half and back half of the album falling roughly an hour apart once I’d finished up my chores.  (These chores included a brief trip to Walmart, so admittedly I might not have been in the best mental state for that second half of the album, given that my soul was crushed and all.)

But I think I’ve given “Western Stars” enough of a fair shot to say that, unfortunately, it’s not very good.  It’s definitely in that lower tier of Springsteen albums that generally consist of most of his more low-key, experimental-ish type of material, with the gigantic exception of the classic that is “Nebraska.”  I say “experimental” just in the sense that they’re not the traditional E Street Band vein, not that Bruce is suddenly recording an operatic record or a hip-hop album or something.

Like all of these albums, Western Stars just lacks that bit of extra spark.  If I had to pick its closest comparable, it’s probably the mediocre “Working On A Dream” album from 2007, though at least Western Stars generally avoids the story-song pitfalls of Queen Of The Supermarket or Outlaw Pete.  I’m not sure if Joe Posnanski’s old rant about Outlaw Pete is available somewhere or if it’s behind his blog’s paywall, but man, when a Springsteen superfan like Joe is inspired to write a long post about how one of Bruce’s new songs is singularly terrible, you know something went awry.

While the end result wasn’t my cup of tea, I still give Bruce points for stretching his legs and continually trying something new with his music.  He is Bruce freakin’ Springsteen, after all.  He is 69 years old.  He has zero to prove to anyone.  It would be very easy for him to coast on his past successes, but as much as Bruce is defined by the arena-rockin’ E Street sound, he has always been throwing curveballs along with his fastb…er, excuse me, any Springsteen post has to use the weird phrasing from Glory Days…speedballs for his entire career.  Sometimes the curveballs fall flat, like Western Stars, Devils & Dust to some extent, and (let’s be honest) basically everything Bruce recorded from 1988-2001.  But sometimes those curveballs lead to incredible albums like Nebraska, Tunnel Of Love, or Wrecking Ball.

I can’t say I love every direction Springsteen’s music takes, but I love that it’s still moving.

Thursday, July 18, 2019


I guess this technically falls under the category of beatboxing, but I've always been able to make a percussion-esque rhythm with my closed mouth.  I'm also able to hum at the same time, thus making me a one-man sound machine.  This didn't seem like a big deal until I was absent-mindedly humming/mouth-drumming "Sabotage" one day, and my friend M reacted with complete "how are you doing that?" surprise.

So the question M simply crazy, or have am I a freak of nature?  A superhuman, if you will?  Am I the long-lost son of that guy from the Police Academy movies?

As far as powers go, it isn't too high on the list, admittedly.  It's not going to get me into the Avengers or anything.  In terms of superpowers one can naturally fit into one's life, however, it's not bad.  By this, I mean one of those X-Men types of abilities that gives you power but also more or less ruins your day-to-day existence.  Like, Beast becoming a hairy blue monster, or Cyclops not being able to control the intense laser beams coming out of his open eyes at all times.

Telekinesis is still my easy #1 choice if I could pick a superpower for myself, since it's both incredibly powerful and also a "hidden" type of ability.  I'd much rather have a hidden power than an ability that's technically more powerful but harder to control or keep secret --- Beast may be a lot more powerful than Cypher, but in the real world, I'd rather be Cypher 100 percent of the time.

While on the subject of heroes, here's Conan O'Brien's Spider-Verse themed intro for his week of shows at ComicCon.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

David Mitchell

Since I posted a Lee Mack WILTY clip a few weeks ago, it's only fair that I give his counterpart David Mitchell some due, and what better time than on Mitchell's very birthday.

Between Peep Show, the Mitchell & Webb series, WILTY, and his various other appearances on other British panel shows, David Mitchell is a legend.  (Inexplicably, I haven't yet seen "Upstart Crow," so I really need to get on that.)  In fact, when you type "David Mitchell" into Wikipedia, his entry is at the top of the list!  He's become Prime Mitchell!

Sunday, July 07, 2019

The Runaway Elephant

A recent clean-out of my parents’ basement uncovered a great lost manuscript, a so-called Great Canadian Novel that scholars thought had vanished forever.

The book in question, of course, was "The Runaway Elephant," by yours truly.  Many literary critics considered it to be the finest novella written by any first-grader in the month of April 1988, though as the author himself, perhaps I’m simply a bit harder on my work.

I will reprint the material here, in flagrant disregard of the copyright laws set by my publishing company, the Edwards Press (Mrs. Edwards was my first-grade teacher).  It’s been over 30 years, surely any copyright claims have long since evaporated, and my writings can now be let free into the public domain.  While this may cut into book sales, I suspect that many audiences will still feel compelled to buy the print version due to its unique shape. 

Yes, the book itself is shaped like an elephant.  The tracing was, in a word, immaculate.  The covers were even laminated, which I’m guessing was handled by my teac….uh, ahem, by the Edwards Press rather than me, since a six-year-old with a laminating device just seems like a recipe for disaster.

We begin with the obligatory "about the author" quote on the makeshift dust jacket.  It reads as follows: "Mark is six years old.  He is in Grade 1.  Mark likes Ghostbusters."  I mean, minus the grade and with an updated age, this basically still sums me up right now.

The dedication page!  "This book is dedicated to my friend Matthew McConnell."  I barely have any memory of this guy, who I’m pretty sure only got the dedication since he was my "big buddy."  In my grade school, we had a system where older students were paired off with younger students as "big and little buddies" for various activities and play-day type things.  In my later years as a sixth-grade big buddy myself, I tried to game the system by selecting one third-grader as my little buddy solely because he was best friends with another kid whose big buddy was the girl in my grade who I had a big crush on — my logic was that since the little buddies would naturally team up in play-day activities, my crush and I would then be obligated to spend that time together.  Did my strategy work?  No, of course not, it was very lame.

The library card!  That’s right, there was actually a card envelope inside the front cover, so I guess The Runaway Elephant was actually stored in our public school’s library at one point.  If you’re wondering how many people signed this novella out, the card was blank.  Genius is never appreciated in its own time.

Enough of this preamble, on with the story itself.

Once there was an elephant.  Everybody laughed at him.  They thought he was silly because he didn’t blow water out of his trunk.

The elephant was mad.  He ran away, into the forest.

The clowns tried to stop him.  They ran after him, but they could not stop him.

But the elephant came back.  There was a show, and he wanted to be in it.

And that’s it.  That’s the story. 

I won’t lie to you….the premise is thin.  While blowing water out of one’s trunk is natural elephant behaviour, I somewhat doubt that failure to do so (or refusal to do so?) would make an elephant into a figure of public derision.  But then again, perhaps that’s why the elephant was so upset.  He couldn’t understand why a simple sidestep of a public norm would be such a big deal.  My central elephant character may have essentially been Larry David.

Clowns, naturally, know a thing or two about being laughed at, so it makes sense that they were the ones who were the first to try and bring the elephant back.  Their methods of doing this, however, were flawed at best.  Catching a runaway and distraught elephant is no easy feat, but simply running after it isn’t going to do the trick.  What was the plan when you caught up to him, clowns?  And what am I saying, "when"?  An African elephant has a max speed of around 25 mph, so unless one of these clowns is an Olympian in their spare time,* running is a fool’s errand.  Why not at least drive after it?  Cram 40 or 50 clowns in a car and put the pedal to the metal.

* = from a three-ring circus to a five-ring circus!  Rim shot!

The story’s denouement teaches us nothing about the elephant’s plight, unless the tale is meant to be read as tragedy.  The elephant cannot resist the lure of show business, despite the public mockery he must endure just be part of the circus.  It really is a grim parable about the dangers of fame.  Man, I was a smart six-year-old.

I mentioned earlier that my story received critical acclaim.  Just read these raves!

"I’m so glad the elephant came back for the show!  It wouldn’t be much of a circus without an elephant!" — Mrs. Edwards, who ENTIRELY misinterpreted my story’s tragic underpinnings.

"The book is okay" — my brother, as passive-aggressive as ever

"Elephants are so smart, they always do the right thing!" — my father, whose comment isn’t actually praise of my story.  My dad knows what’s up, he’s not going to B.S. his six-year-old by pretending that this mediocrity is actually good.  His statement, however, is far from accurate itself, since the Simpsons taught us that some elephants are just jerks

"I enjoyed your book, Mark.  I wish it could have been even longer.  Keep up the story-writing" — my mother, who goes in for the Oreo cookie style of criticism in mixing in some initial praise with questioning the brevity.  I mean, brevity is the soul of wit, Mom.  ‘Keep up the story-writing’ could also be interpreted as her being interested in reading more of my future work, or her implying that I can certainly do better than this. 

It occurs to me that I should have taken some screenshots from the book, so you could all bask in both the excellent elephant-shaped tome and my incredible artwork.  If you want to know what my drawings of elephants look like, imagine a grey shape that is somehow both a rhombus and a starfish at the same time.  So on top of being a great writer in my youth, I was also a burgeoning impressionist artist.

There will be no sequel.

Saturday, July 06, 2019


As you all know, my playoff beard was probably 80-83% the reason the Raptors won the NBA title.  After almost three months of growth, however, it was taking on ungainly proportions.  One friend compared me to Brian Posehn, and I like the guy's comedy and all, but....oof.

My mom was the only person who was fervently anti-beard, so I finally agreed to get it trimmed down to manageable status.  It was my first trip to the barber in 16 years, so perhaps I was a bit rusty with the instructions, but they ended up removing quite a bit.  Ironically, around 80-83% of my beard was cut, leaving me looking like just a normal dude who hadn't shaved in a week or so rather than a popular "hey, it's that guy" of a standup comedian and actor.

I had some karmic misgivings about the whole thing, but hey, the Raptors had already won the championship, right?  What's the worst that could happen?

And then Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers.  Who also had to trade for Paul George to convince Leonard to join, just in the case the NBA didn't have enough giant blockbuster moves within the last week.

I think all Toronto fans probably knew, deep down, that he was eventually going to wind up in Los Angeles, given that the rumors had been swirling for well over a year.  But it was still a blow in the wake of that dream championship run, and the increasingly logical case that the Raptors could offer Leonard to stay.  After all, they could just run it back for another season and contend for another title right away, whereas the Lakers (presence of LeBron and Anthony Davis aside) are kind of a clown-show front office right now, and the Clippers didn't have a second star to pair with Leonard.  Well, with Paul George in the fold, the Raptors' argument went up in smoke.  The NBA is going to be so crazily wide-open next year it's ridiculous.

And just so everyone is clear....once my beard lost to the clippers, Kawhi Leonard went to the Clippers.

Thanks for nothing, Mom!

Monday, July 01, 2019

Happy Canada Day!

It's July 1st, and I was actually briefly at a mall today.  So you know what that means!