Sunday, January 25, 2015

End of a Legend - JOE FRANKLIN, 88

"How are you," Joe said, the WOR-TV studio in Secaucus freezing cold. "Full of pep?"

I was promoting my very first book, "Let Peas Be With You," a collection of "humorous food poems." I was making my television debut, an interview on Joe Franklin's show. I would perform a few poems and answer questions. I didn't have to worry too much about the questions, as Joe had asked me to write down a bunch of things I wanted to be asked.

Easy set up and punchline: "Why did you write a book about food?" "Well, Joe, poets are supposed to look within themselves. And within myself there was food."

Even so, I was nervous and excited. Me, on television! And opposite JOE FRANKLIN, a bizarre guy whose monotone voice was so easy to imitate. I half-wondered if I'd blurt out, "I can't believe I'm actually ON your show," or just start laughing if he started doing a live commercial for Hoffman beverages. But it might as well have been Joe blurting out, "What has it come to, I'm interviewing a guy who writes poems about food!"

In Joe's obit today, the NY Times quoted him: "My show was often like a zoo...I’d mix Margaret Mead with the man who whistled through his nose, or Richard Nixon with the tap-dancing dentist.”

Yes, another guest on his show that night was a dentist. He didn't need Joe to set up a line or him. He happily announced, "Joe, be true to your teeth, and they won't be false to you!"

The NY Times accurately noted that Joe's program "was an oddly long-running parade of has-beens and yet-to-bes interrupted from time to time by surprisingly famous guests."

And as I and the other guests stood and looked at the empty set, with the couch and desk, and the time ticking down for us to go sit in front of the bright lights, Joe said to us, "You know, WOR-TV is now a superstation. It's seen all over the nation. You'll be seen by three million people."

Cue the anxiety attack. But the show went well, and I still think it's one of my better outings. I appeared on Joe's show a second time, and would later turn up on HBO, Showtime, shows hosted by Bill O'Reilly, Rita Cosby, etc. etc. Joe did have a unique way of keeping people "full of pep" and on their toes. Like an evil schoolteacher, he'd call on you when you least expected it. If you thought you could relax, move down on the couch, and just "de-tox" from the experience, NO. You had to pay attention because Joe would suddenly ask you a question pertaining to the current conversation. And even if it was on a topic you knew nothing about, you were expected to have a scintillating answer.

Yes, Joe's office on 43rd and 8th was a legendary mess. It was truly stacked to the ceiling with papers, photos, records, books, all kinds of things. One day he said, "You like Fred Allen?" I said, "Yes, I think he was the wittiest guy on radio." "You'll like this," he said, rummaging for a moment and finding a 6-cassette set of Fred's old radio shows. "Here," he said, "listen to these, and bring them back."

Well, it meant a return trip to the legendary mess.

I brought with me a copy of one of his books (well, one of the ones he had his name on). It was the "Encyclopedia of Comedians." By then, the book was long out of print, and I guess I replaced it with my own "Who's Who in Comedy." He autographed it humbly:

I'd sometimes see Joe at a memorabilia show, and at the Friars Club, including the "Old Jewish Comedians" book events where author Drew Friedman would bring Abe Vigoda, Eddie Lawrence, Larry Storch and others, to promote his latest volume in the series. By that time, the old comedians were hovering around 90, and Joe was not too far behind. The strange guy with the pudgy body and marionette-like face (with a kind of fixed grin) would come up with a disconcerting line: "Nostalgia's dead."

He didn't change expression or tone when he said it. He said it just as he'd repeat a slogan from one of the commercials he ran in his prime: "Martin Paint. It ain't just paint."

The grin did not change. He was just stating a fact about "neuralgia," his new joke-word. He'd add it to any conversation about his love of show biz: "So, you're also interested in neuralgia...ah, nostalgia?"

Although Joe's TV show was bumped from WOR back in 1993, not long after the departures of Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin, Joe continued on radio, with a peculiar phoned-in spot on the Bloomberg network. He'd mention some of the latest entertainment news, and run a clip of a pre-recorded interview with a B-list star. It seemed he'd always be around.

Joe was the pioneer of trivia and nostalgia, and I certainly remember in the late 50's, flipping the dial between the cartoons, sitcom re-runs and soap operas and coming across a strange talk show called "Memory Lane." I had no idea at that age, that some 20 years later I'd actually be ON that show, and it would still be hosted by Joe Franklin...who'd still host it for another 20 years.

I'll never forget him and his kindness to me. Thanks for the memories, Joe.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Jane Fonda? Bill Cosby? Let's go protest 77 Year-Olds!

You can feel it in the air. Or rather, smell it. It's Ben-Gay and Jean Nate, wafting at you from aging protesters who have decided that 77 year-olds are a very safe target.

Why should angry Blacks and Latinos have all the fun?

It was a miserable Christmas in which young people "of color" blocked the entrance to department stores and played "dead" in the streets. Some (gasp) shouted from the cheap seats at the St. Louis Opera and began shouting at aging middle-class whites having brunch at mediocre chain restaurants like "The Barking Dog."

HEY? Where's the payback for Older White People? Who can THEY safely protest against, mindful of police brutality and aggressive "security" from the stars? It's not going to be Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber, leading young people into debauchery, drugs and public nudity. How un-hip. It's not going to be in front of a basketball or football game to protest the latest "star" re-instated after belting his wife or coming off a suspension for abusing hookers.

Why not...ah...pick on a 77 year-old white lady for something she did over 40 years ago? That's SAFE.

And why not pick on a 77 year-old legend who brought the world wholesome laughter and changed the racial views of a nation? HE has already told his audiences not to fight back or shout. That's SAFE.

What fun it is to get up some righteous rage.

What fun it is to get a chance to bellow and shout for a cause...as long as it's not likely to get you hauled off to jail for disturbing the peace.

Pop Ben-Gay and Mom Jean Nate, maybe they protested against important things years and years ago. It could've been the Vietnam War, or "The Bomb" or abortion (for or against), or anti-fur or pro-civil rights. Now? Nothing much appeals to them. There's too much risk for confrontation. As you get older, you don't want to march a lot. You definitely don't want to end up hauled to the slammer overnight without a Depend available, or pay a fine that could better be spent on boner pills or vagina lubricant.

And so, Ladies and Gents, it's "Let's Harass 77 Year-Olds!"

Even if you choose to believe everything horrible about them, the good they have done outweighs it, and at this point, neither are doing anything remotely illegal or offensive. "Never forget never forgive" on Jane, for something she's apologized for, is especially creepy, and if you want cowardly, how about the guy who stood in line a few years ago just to spit in her face? He wasn't going to do that to anybody else, was he? A book signing for Bill Clinton or George Bush or whoever? No way.

And Cosby? At this very moment, convicted rapist Mike Tyson is doing a one-man show. Nobody's protesting it. Why? Because he "paid for his crime?" Uh, he continues to deny he is a rapist. No, the reason is that the anti-Cosby people know that Cosby won't fight them. They aren't so sure about Mike Tyson.

Some people put themselves on the line for their cause. They have a Tom Joad vibe. Some just want to let off steam. And some are only going to come out if the target is someone who is 77 years old and very safe to attack.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

BILL COSBY - Freedom Affirmed January 7th, 2015

On January 7th, the attention was deservedly on the crowds in unison, and "Je Suis Charlie."

But on the other side of the world, in Canada, on a day when record-breaking cold was seizing most of North America, a strong crowd of Bill Cosby fans came to see him perform for the first time since November 21st. Many dates had been canceled since then, due to the allegations against him. One fairly well-known name in the comedy world, Judd Apatow, kept Tweeting to venues that Cosby should not be allowed to perform. I Tweeted to him that this should be up to the public, not to him.

Given the miserable weather, and the high price of tickets to any star concert these days, a very strong two thirds (by estimate) filled the venue, and at the end, gave Cosby a standing ovation.

And so, as crowds in Paris stood together to decry bullying, and rally for freedom of speech, a crowd in Canada did the same thing. This isn't about Cosby's guilt or innocence. It's about freedom. It's about freedom of choice. It's against censorship.

Those that want to see Bill Cosby, who feel he's innocent, or that he has been humiliated by the scandal and is no threat to women anymore, should be able to see the man. There wasn't anyone in the theater who didn't know of the allegations, and didn't make a choice of whether to attend or not.

There's a long list of people who have encountered scandals, with the stories real or merely whispered, from Woody Allen to Roman Polanski. In sports, there's Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist now entertaining people on stages around the world, and Pete Rose, still banned from baseball's "Hall of Fame" (while some others, including Roger Clemons and Sammy Sosa, have their fate in the hands of baseball writers' votes).

Sometimes we believe allegations, sometimes not.

It's up to audiences to go see a Woody Allen film or a Roman Polanski film. It's up to each person to choose to go to a one-man show from Tyson, or pay for an autograph from Pete Rose at a memorabilia show. We make these decisions based on what we've heard, our own morality, and how we feel the person in question is currently behaving.

The freedom to choose is a valuable decision and it should not be taken away from us. Protest if you wish. Raise "consciousness" if you feel people don't know everything you know. But don't dictate. The theaters in Canada did not give in to anyone dictating to them, and the bottom line was that a significant number of people went to see and enjoy Cosby's art. He thanked the audience, and they gave him a standing ovation.

Part of the thanks, and part of the ovation, I feel, is for the freedom to choose, and for the freedom of speech.

JE SUIS CHARLIE

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Charlie Hebdo - The Equal Opportunity Offender

"Is there any group I haven't offended?"

The "sick" comics of the late 50's and early 60's used to pride themselves on being equal opportunity satirists. My pal Mort Sahl used to say, "whoever the President is, I will attack him...I'm a boat-rocker, that's all I do."

It's important to note, regarding today's outrage, that Charlie Hebdo was just that: an Equal Opportunity Offender.

Like Bill Maher here in America, they delighted in the "religulous," and making fun of ALL religions.

One of their covers showed a stereotypical Arab, Jew and Christian all raging that the magazine should be stopped:

It was, perhaps, ONLY on the front page of Charlie Hebdo that both a Jew and a Muslim could be united...by being vilified.

Compare this to the shrill world of Tweets and Facebook posts from D-list celebrities and plain ol' crackpots, who only rage that the Palestinians are persecuted and Israel should be wiped off the map.

Charlie Hebdo made a point of showing that nothing was sacred, from pedophile priests to the birth of the baby Jesus:

The common threads at Charlie Hebdo? Attack all religions, and come off like a 3rd rate version of Mad magazine. Even SCREW had better cartoonists. An added tragedy is that these guys at the magazine were slaughtered for the most ridiculous nose-thumbing type of comedy there is. It wasn't biting wit, was it? It wasn't hilariously true or acidic, as we've grown to appreciate in everybody from R. Crumb to Tomi Ungerer. The lowest level of goofy humor was destroyed by the lowest level of angry psychopath. One group had a ridiculous sense of humor, the other, none at all.

The French have risen to mark this outrage with massive protests.

The cartoon covers from Charlie Hebdo aren't much compared to this picture:

Were all these people subscribers to Charlie Hebdo? Did even 1% of them even chuckle or laugh out loud over the impudent religious cartoons that the magazine ran? No, but they cry and they rage over the injustice here, and the dark contrast between the world of joy, chiding and having a laugh and the misery, fear, hatred and murder that mark the world of the religious fanatic.

CHARLIE HEBDO -- and the Cowards of Islam

Once again, Muslim extremists have slaughtered un-armed people. Just as they did on 9/11.

Not exactly heroes, are they? And no, they don't have a sense of humor. They killed 12 people at the office of a satirical journal in Paris called "Charlie Hebdo."

As far back as we and our parents and our grandparents can remember, tyranny, bullying and psychotic refusal to allow freedom has been fought with laughter. It is the most noble way of fighting.

Laughter was the chosen weapon of Moe, of the 3 Stooges in "You Nazty Spy," and of Mel Brooks in "The Producers," and in the sitcom "Hogan's Heroes," in which those who were in the most pain (the Jewish stars Werner Klemperer and John Banner) played Nazi officers. Of course, there was Chaplin in "The Great Dictator," but Chaplin tore off the mask of comedy at the end of the film, to give an impassioned speech about tolerance.

What would Jesus do?

What would Moses do?

Christians and Jews have tolerated the usual jokes that the irreverent like to tell. Who can deny the wealth of comic material in believing the stories about a guy who could walk on water, turn water into wine, or shout out a straight line about "cast the first stone?"

The Jews shrugged about Moses: "If he'd taken a left, WE would've had the oil, and the Arabs would've had the sand!"

And so I thought, surely Mohamed the Prophet had a sense of humor. Right? Surely, if you look at the Holy Books of Islam, you'll find messages urging us to rejoice, have some laughs, and enjoy our time on Earth.

Er, no.

A quick check of Wikipedia, this bloody morning, and what I saw was basically the humorless Mr. Mohamed either telling his people ixnay on the okesyay, or people close to Mohamed insisting the guy never 'showed his uvula' and at best, only smiled. And even then, not too often.

In Hadith:

Aisha, a wife of the Prophet says: "I never saw the Messenger of Allah laugh fully to such an extent that I could see his uvula. He would only smile."

A witness, Jabir ibn Samurah, affirms that Mo' wasn't prone to laughter: "He used to sit at the place where he observed the morning or dawn prayer till the sun rose or when it had risen; he would stand, and they would talk about matters of ignorance, and they would laugh while he only smiled.

Ibn Mas'ud had The Prophet vaguely talk about putting on a happy face, as long as it didn't interfere with piousness: "Mix with the people on the condition that your Deen is not jeopardized, and be jestful with the family."

Just what got Mohamed laughing, nobody recalls, but Abu Dharr al-Ghifari wrote: "I indeed saw the Messenger of Allah laugh till his front teeth were exposed," but..here's a mixed message. Mohamed said it was ok to laugh in response to a truth (like, what, like women talk too much and so should wear burkas?). The question is, what's the truth? If the truth is that Muslim extremists are nuts...well, that's obviously not considered funny.

Abu Hurairah:

When some of his companions said to Prophet Muhammad: "O Prophet Muhammad, yet, you also joke with us!" He replied: "Yes, I do. But I only tell the truth." Sort of a Mort Sahl "factual if not actual" deal? From Ahmad ibn Hanbal: "A man may say something to make his companions laugh, and he will fall into Hell as far as the Pleiades because of it."

In other words, quit messin' about!

Mohamed is quoted as saying:

"Woe to the one who speaks and tells lies in order to make the people laugh; woe to him, woe to him."

But woe to somebody who tells the truth at Charlie Hebdo, or on a stage, or in a film, if the religious fanatic doesn't find it truthful or funny?

Practical jokes are definitely OUT. A sleeping Muslim was tied with rope. He woke up very surprised, and everyone had a good laugh. Everyone except Mohamed, who scowled, "It is not lawful to any Muslim to frighten another Muslim."

Quite the killjoy (if not literally), Mo' also said:

"Do not laugh too much, for laughing too much deadens the heart."

So much for all those wonderful Jewish quotes about how it does the heart good to have a laugh, and all the doctors who prescribe watching some comedy films or reading a joke book to make the heart rejoice.

Umar ibn al-Khattab: "Whoever laughs too much or jokes too much loses respect, and whoever persists in doing something will be known for it."

Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas: "Set a limit to your jokes, for going to extremes makes you lose respect and incites the foolish against you."

Sufyan ibn Uyaynah seemed to believe telling a joke was ok, "but only for those who know how to do it and do it at the appropriate time."

Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz: "Fear joking, for it is folly and generates grudges."

And lastly, an all-around bit of sourness from Mohamed himself:

"The Muslim does not slander, curse, speak obscenely or speak rudely."

That pretty much means you better get rid of the Lenny Bruce records. Even if he jokes about Christ and Moses.

Now, all the above comes from Hadith. The actual Ko'ran (ie, Quran) hasn't much to say about jokes, cartoons or humor. Except that anything "mocking" Islam is not to be tolerated:

"If thou dost question them, they declare (with emphasis): 'We were only talking idly and in play.' Say: 'Was it at Allah, and His Signs, and His Messenger, that ye were mocking?' Make ye no excuses: ye have rejected Faith after ye had accepted it. If We pardon some of you, We will punish others amongst you, for that they are in sin." —Qur'an, chapter 9 (At-Tawba), Verse 65-66.[24]

My father told me, years ago, that the most dangerous people on earth were religious fanatics: "You can't reason with them."

The late Robin Williams popularized the catch-phrase, "Reality, what a concept." It's one that the Muslim fanatics can't deal with. The more you show them that above the clouds is just sky, the angrier they get. The deeper into the 21st Century that we go, the more backward they become. The more rights women get in the world, the less they have in the Arab world. Jimmy Carter shrugged and told Charlie Rose that as much as he (Carter) is revered for his views against Israel and for his appreciation of Arab culture, there's no way he could tell them to stop circumcising women or forcing them to wear burkas.

Now, why some Arabs in France are so upset with Charlie Hebdo, when they can simply go back to Syria, Iran, Iraq or other "fun" parts of the world and practice their backward religion, I have no idea. "Live and let live" isn't in the Koran anywhere, I guess. Perhaps the French will now listen to Brigitte Bardot, and re-think how far they want to take immigration before the entire country is intimidated and turned into something totally different from tourists want to see when they visit France.

It is hard, this Wednesday morning, to find a line in an Arab holy book that would counter the cowardly act done in Paris. Religious fanatics wouldn't care, anyway, they'd just point to some part of the Koran, and say "THIS tells us to kill innocent people." And to then shout "God is Great." And I wonder, if God is so great, what the hell does he need THESE idiots on his side for? Surely he can wave his hand and send a plague of locusts down, or another 40 day flood of rain, or put Kim Kardashian on the cover of every magazine.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Shamus Beaglehole voted SILLY NAME OF THE YEAR

Congrats, Shamus.

Not that I would've voted for him. W.C. Fields was amused by the last name Beaglehole many many decades ago. He used it in a radio sketch comedy (one of the audio bits Columbia resurrected when they were issuing his old classics on vinyl).

A runner-up, Chillie Poon, already has the honor of winning a Far East beauty contest, so she probably wasn't too upset that she lost this one. Beaglehole or Poon? Take your pick.

It isn't the Minister of Silly Names that decides who wins each year. It's done by the small group of people who know there actually is a "Silly Name" website. Dozens of names are nominated, and then "seeded" into brackets. Voters get to advance the silliest name along. It seems this year, handicappers were sure that Shamus Beaglehole would be named the best name.

The complete Top Ten:

Good luck to all in 2015. Including you...