Monday, June 30, 2008

The Most Jerky Phone Message Of All Time

These messages are real. They were leaked last week. You will not believe this guy.

Apparently this joker is a guy named James Sears, a disgraced former doctor from Toronto.

More about the creep here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Meeting of the Minds at McSorley's

Last Thursday, some of the writers for YesButNoButYes gathered at McSorley's Old Ale House for a Council of epic proportions. McSorley's is the oldest pub in New York City and quite something to see. It's like walking into another time.

A semi-fictional write-up about the evening can be seen here.



Friday, June 27, 2008

Thoughts On The 2008 NBA Draft

The NBA Draft continually provides us with drama and comedy. Usually a good time.

This year we had about five guys that were interesting - Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love and Eric Gordon - and the rest of the draft was 6-foot-10 stiffs, undersized guards and foreign born players that won't pan out. A shallow, chlorine-filled pool of talent in 2008.

Also this year was reason 7,313 that the DVR is the best invention since pasta. Stuart Scott was hosting. Stephen A. Smith was interviewing. Dick Vitale was analyzing/yelling/having a heart attack. And Doris Burke was droning. Thank you fast forward button.

Case in point; after Chicago selected Derrick Rose first, Stu said something to the effect of, "Derrick's nickname is Pooh. As in Pooh Bear. His grandmother gave him the nickname because he loves candy. Pooh Bear enjoys sweets like honey. But I don't think anything can get ... sweeter than this."


A handful of thoughts on the draft.

• In Derrick Roses' entourage, two guys had on sunglasses. I was loving that. We also learned that Rose has a "Poohdini" tattoo on his shoulder. This revelation inspires a YBNBY contest. Any girl that inks on a "Poohdini" tramp stamp will receive a free YBNBY t-shirt and a date with Echowood.

• Jay Bilas compared number two pick Michael Beasley to Derrick Coleman and Roy Tarpley. Why don't you just assign him jersey number 13, toss a black cat in his path, sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance a Broadway musical, jam pins in his voodoo doll and give him a hefty bag of cocaine. That may be the worst draft day jinx ever.

• I was watching the draft on the DVR so I was a bit behind. I was on the phone with my brother Chris, who was patiently waiting for me to get to our lame duck Sonics pick at four. "Are you there yet? You won't believe what we did. Are we on the clock?" At number four, the Supes take UCLA's Russell Westbrook. "Did you see it?!?" Yes, Chris, I did. Why not take Kevin Love? That would make too much sense. If you're going to take a guard, why not take the best guard available like Eric Gordon or D.J. Augustine? Again, that would be too smart. You don't take a defensive stopper in the top five. Nauseating.

• What is the over/under on O.J. Mayo being called "The J.R. Rider of the modern NBA?" I'll set the line at 3 ½ years. I have the under.


• Kevin Love may successfully reclaim the Color Me Badd beard from Kevin Federline. This could happen.

• The Knicks took the Italian Danilo Gallinari at number five. Followed by the New York faithful booing him like he was Mussolini. That was fun.

• While on the phone with my brother Drew, he made the observation "Has there ever been a bigger fall from grace for a commissioner than David Stern? He's booed everywhere he goes now." This is true. Once beloved, he's now derided. This is retribution for stealing the Sonics form Seattle and unlawfully giving them to Oklahoma City. I honestly believe that.

• While still on the horn with Drew, the Sonics took Serge Ibaka The Congo. Boo yeah! We then were shown some footage of Serge playing taken from a cell phone camera. It was the basketball equivalent of the Zapruder film. ESPN then showed his stats from a Nike summer camp. Never a good sign.

• Sacramento picked Patrick Ewing Jr. who wasn't good at Indiana. Wasn't good at Georgetown. And won't be good in the NBA.


• Next year I am making NBA Draft Bingo cards and am going to play with my buddies. With phrases such as;

"Unlimited potential"
"Great motor"
"Like to thank God"
"Needs to work on"
"Best player available"
"Good footwork"
"Good bounce"
"Freakish athleticism"
"Character issues"
"Off-the-court problems"

Then we listen carefully for when Jay Bilas says "He has great upside, a solid motor and freakish athletic ability..."


Good night and good luck.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Subtitling High-Jinks

Over at you can take odd public domain clips and subtitle them yourself. Hilarity is bound to ensue.

Hassan Chop!

Claymation Indiana Jones

A French chap put together a claymation version of the "heart ripping out scene" from the vastly underrated "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom."

The film that is homaged in the title of my rubbish blog.

It has to been seen to be believed. See it here.

It's very clever.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Rest In Peace George Carlin

Master comic George Carlin passed away yesterday at the age of 71. He will be missed.

You may not have agreed with him, but Carlin had a way of expressing his views in a smart and funny way. He was not profane for profanity's sake. He was the Hunter Thompson of comedians. Pointing out the absurdity and injustice in America.

Carlin had an actual act and voice. Not like so many modern comics that make hacky jokes about their ethnic backgrounds, bust out a good "man, does weed give you the munchies or what?" gag and curse just to curse. Carlin is a first ballot Hall of Fame comedian.

Without Carlin we don't have Jerry Seinfeld. It's as simple as that.

So long, George. Sleep well.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Joga Bonito...

My latest column for YesButNoButYes is a rambling diatribe about my love of football.

The essay, Why The Beautiful Game Matters is posted now.

I love football. I hope that I can sway a handful of folks here in the States to reconsider the game.

Play beautiful...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stocking Up On Supplies

We were a little low on supplies here at the Chilled Monkey Brains Head Office. I sent the intern Raoul to the shop to pick up a few essentials. That should get us through the weekend.

(Make you own at Custom Receipt Maker.)

A Letter To My Friend Hollywood

Reposted from YesButNoButYes

Dearest Hollywood,

Hey buddy. It’s me, Johnny Wright. How are you? I’m good, thanks for asking.

Enough pleasantries. We need to talk. Don’t freak out, there’s just a few items that I feel we need to discuss. I’m writing this because I care.

The hope of this letter is that you will listen to my concerns and make some changes. If not, we may have to gather at Joel Coen’s house and have a full scale Scott-Weiland-style intervention.

Your house is not in order. In fact, it’s a mess. The following is a list of issues I believe you need to stand up to, take responsibility for, and make your best effort to correct. This is for all of our goods. Your as much as ours.

Trust me, this is as hard on me as it is on you.

Are you sitting down? Okay, let’s begin.

Just because a film is profitable, does not necessarily dictate a needs for a sequel. Or four. Nobody left the theater after seeing “Legally Blonde” thinking “Man, I cannot wait for the next installment! Will she still love pink? What happens to that little dog?” This didn’t happen after “Miss Congeniality” or “Big Momma’s House” either. Sometimes a film is a one-shot deal. This is okay when it happens. A sequel should be either a continuation of one long narrative, or a completely different chapter featuring a beloved character. Not every borderline hit needs a sequel. Write that down.

There is a huge difference between “We have a great concept, let’s make a movie,” and “We need a movie, let’s make a concept.” A huge difference. That thinking is what gives us “The Mummy Returns” and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Empire.” And never, I repeat never, start filming without a completed script.

Casting Abigail Breslin is lazy.

Please stop giving untalented people money to make films. Brett Ratner, McG, Uwe Boll, etc, these are bad filmmakers. We hate them. It really is acceptable to say “We gave you chance, your films are rubbish,” shake their hands and send them on their way. Hollywood should not be a lifetime membership once you break in. Show some guts and give some young and talented people a shot.

It is perfectly acceptable to cast Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers and Martin Lawrence as one character only. We don’t mind. There are actors who are actually fat or Jewish that could play the parts. The novelty of the practice wore off after Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.

You’re making too many films. Honestly, you need to chop the output in half. What has happened is very similar to the effects of expansion in Major League Baseball. The pitching is watered down and as a result, much worse. There were more roster spots to fill, and guys who would have struggled in AAA ten years ago, get to be middle relief in the bigs. Same principle with what happens now in movie making. The obscene amount of films produced has watered down the product to the point of disgust and embarrassment.

You should cap all budgets at $150 million. Nobody should spend more than that and expect to make a profit.

Along these same lines…

No performer is worth $30 million. Nobody. Stand up to the snake-oil-salesman agents and say no. How many agents will be able to hold out for more than $20 million if you stop paying it? Eventually, the top stars will see that $10 million is much more than $0 million. It’s approximately ten million more. Consider instituting a salary cap.

Please stop encouraging Cameron Diaz. I’m begging you.

Please don’t let Carlos Mencia transition to films. I’m begging you.

You should consider going back to the “Studio System.” The focus was on the finished product, not the horse manure surrounding it. This limits the hack’s hands from meddling. The films were much better with fewer cooks in the kitchen.

Once performers become tabloid fixtures, they should be cut from the studio roster. The more “famous for being famous” someone becomes, the less we want to see them in a film. Nobody wants to see a Lindsay Lohan or a Mischa Barton movie. Also, once the C-listers do a “reality” show, they should be banned from further film work. Put out to pasture to think about what they have done.

Luke Wilson is the Joey Harrington of Hollywood. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but come on. Like Harrington, you can start him at quarterback and he may give you a handful of touchdowns, but in the long run, he isn’t going to help you win football games.

The film-going public is not as dumb as you treat them. They’re really not. Yes, we as a country are getting more stupid by the day, heading to intellectual hell in a handcart, but not as much as you seem to believe. There are many who are insulted by the parody films like “Meet the Spartans” and “Scary Movie 9.” I know you don’t care about the quality of the product as long as it’s profitable, but you could fake it a little, no? Mr. and Mrs. Lowest Common Denominator have more films made for them than the educated. That doesn’t add up on my abacus.

I know you really want it to, but a female superhero film is probably not going to work. Should we run down the list of failures? I don’t think we need to. I’m tired. The female superhero movie is a lost cause. Nobody wants to see Wonder Woman. Why, you ask? She has an Invisible Jet, indestructible bracelets and a lasso of truth. That is the worst superhero ever.

And finally,

You need to start learning from your mistakes. Really, it’s about time. At this point, can’t you see a bad script when it’s put on your desk? Did you really think that “Witless Protection” was a good idea? You don’t actually think that Jessica Simpson can put butts in the seats do you? She was in “Dukes of Hazzard” and had a bad southern accent. She’s southern. Shouldn’t that DQ her from further film involvement? Clive Owen doesn’t need to fake a British accent, he has one. I just saw the trailer for “Meet Dave.” Nobody stepped in to nip that sucker in the bud? I know there is always going to some gamble to the process, but it’s time you tightened the parameters of what films slip through development to “green light.” You should have seen the probable failures of “Battlefield Earth,” “The Postman,” and “Gigli” as they stumbled down Sunset Boulevard. All we’re asking for a little growth. A little discernment.

Thank you for listening. I want the best for you. I really do. You’ve been a good friend over the years and I am trying to return the favor. I’m writing you because I care.

Have a good summer. Tell television I say hello. We don’t talk anymore because she’s a lost cause.

I love you,

Johnny Wright

Cheeta Needs A Star

Monkey News!

Reposted from YesButNoButYes.

There are various reports today saying that Cheeta, the 76-year-old star of the Tarzan films, did not receive enough votes to merit a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2009.

This injustice will not stand.

Here is a list of characters that do have stars; Godzilla, Mickey Mouse, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Donald Duck, Big Bird, Snow White, Bugs Bunny, The Simpsons and Kermit the Frog. Most of them aren't even real.

Earlier this year, The Munchkins from "The Wizard of Oz" were honored on that famous walk. Walking dead Ozzy Osborne has a star. So does Britney Spears and Pee Wee Herman.

Cheeta needs our help.

An online petition has been set up in the hopes of bringing attention to this travesty. See it here. I have signed her, you should do the same.

In addition, an "interview" with the great ape can be seen here.

God speed Cheeta.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Pick-Me-Up From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Yesterday we awoke to our water closet ceiling steadily dripping from above.

For crying out loud...

We set up 133 various pots, pans and dixie cups to catch the water emanating from our rotten upstairs neighbors apartment. We hate them. Every weekend they hold wrestling matches until seven in the AM. You can practically hear them hitting someone with a folding chair. I don't know what they did, but our ceiling is about to fall through. It feels like we're living in Tyler Durden's house in "Fight Club." Helena Bonham Carter just walked by my bedroom door.

Our water was shut off until the Super could figure out what to do. I had to hike to a Starbucks -- which I hate to go into but had no choice -- to have, uh, a moment, if you're picking up what I'm putting down.

Later in the day, the water was turned back on. I was back in the loo to take a tinkle. I shut the door behind me. The theory is that with all the moisture and water dripping from all angles, the door frame swelled. So, as you can imagine, I couldn't open the door. She was stuck. I was trapped. I tugged and tugged. Pulled and pulled. Cursed and cursed. She wouldn't budge.

Despite all my rage, and still feeling like a rat in a cage, I was incarcerated. A half hour had gone by and I was started to feel a little panic. Not a lot, but enough to fell stressed. I started to fantasize about being in an actual jail cell. How would I decorate my cell? What would be my exercise regimen? How would I avoid "The Sisters" in the prison laundry?

Our dog Penny was howling and whining on the other side of the door. She knew something was wrong. I sat on the edge of the tub -- strategically in between drips -- to regroup. Okay, time to escape from Alcatraz. A Herculean jerk finally opened the swollen door. In the process I practically ripped the frame out of the wall. The frame is about an inch-and-a-half to the right of where it should be. At least I was free.

Still upset, I was trying to calm down. My column was done and already posted, that was good. I stumbled across a video on the YouTube that did make me feel better. A rare interview with one of Scotland's favorite sons and one of my heroes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The great man, dressed to the nines and looking as dapper than ever, sits in the garden and casually discusses Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

Sir Arthur's insights and a bag of Wild Berry Skittles, did soothe my anger and frustration.

I'm fine now.

Thank you Mr. Doyle. I'll read more of your books now to express my gratitude more fully.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Exfoliations, Massages and Manicures...

If you know me personally, you're not going to want to miss this one.

I was sent to a posh day spa for the evening. I'm not kidding. I wrote a column about the very odd experience.

The recollection of weirdness is entitled "I Am A Pretty Little Girl; A Day Spa Adventure."



Saturday, June 14, 2008

Vampires In A Thunderstorm

The rain is still hammering against the windows on our apartment.

Thunder is ripping through the skies over Manhattan. Cracking and rumbling overhead. Our pets are scared.

Earlier tonight, my buddy Dave and I braved the elements to see one of my favorite bands, Vampire Weekend, perform a free show in Central Park. They are incredible. Original. The cat’s freaking pajamas.

This evening featured one of the most violent thunderstorms I have ever seen. One of biblical proportions. The kind of weather where Noah may have to be build a boat.

At the Summer Stage, thousands had gathered to see the show. Dave and I wandered around a bit before figuring out that we could still get into the amphitheater. Right when we made our way past the crowds and got a view of the band, the heavens opened. And dumped and dumped and dumped.

I think I saw some frogs falling from the blackened sky.

And the crowd loved it. Vampire Weekend’s energy raised with the crowd and the show became even more spirited.

It honestly was the most diverse group of young people I have ever seen at a rock show. Like a damn Benetton ad multiplied by a thousand. The United Nations gathering together, taking a mutual shower and experiencing the magic of live rock and roll.

The drenched masses huddled together, danced together and laughed together. “We’re soaked, might as well make the best of it.” It was so wet the stoners couldn’t even light their spliffs to pass around.

Honestly, it was one of the most special and unique musical experiences I have ever had. And friends, that is saying something.

That’s the power of live rock and roll. Not even gale force winds and a torrential downpour can stop it. Even soaked to the skin, the hairs on my arms stood up when the crowd sang “Oxford Comma” together.

I’d rather die than “mature" to a point where I don’t have that feeling anymore.

Feel the rhythm, feel the soul, hail hail rock and roll…

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ten Disappointing Movie Experiences

Reposted from YesButNoButYes.

The summer movie season is upon us. Hollywood is shipping out the bloated, over-hyped, market-research-tested, Happy-Meal-tied-in, tent pole “blockbusters” to local cinemas as we speak. Uh, read. And write. You know what I mean.

I may be a snob, but I do enjoy many a popcorn flick. For me, the most enjoyable film season is October to December, where most of the “important” films are released to the more discerning masses. The summer schedule is a lot like Nicolas Cage’s IMDB credits; wildly divergent with hits and misses. Nevertheless, the studios give us enough passable $300 million monsters that entertain the masses to justify the occasional stink bomb.

Going to the movies is one of my favorite activities. Has been since I was a child. There were many times in the 80’s that I would beg my folks to drop me off at the Sea-Tac Mall AMC 6 to see “Ghostbusters” or “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” for the seventh time. I still get excited as the lights go down and the coming attractions start. I take out the candy and snacks that I’ve smuggled in like Red getting contraband into Shawshank, sit back and experience a wee bit of escapism for 120 minutes.

Inside my pea sized brain lies a fairly good barometer of what film I will enjoy and what film I should avoid. I usually know. But there are times that I am wrong. Way wrong. Where I thought I would enjoy a movie and ended up feeling like I was going to become Linda Blair in “Exorcism.” I begin to squirm in my seat. Then cringe at bad dialogue and awful “special” effects. And finally start whine like a little boy. “I wanna go home! Johnny no likey Michael Bay!”

The following are the worst movie going experiences I’ve ever had. Times that I wished I had some rotten fruit to chuck at the silver screen.

You’ll notice many of these are sequels. I wish Hollywood would notice that many of these are sequels.

The Dishonorable Mentions:

Pearl Harbor – A great action sequence book-ended by an unbearable “love” story and horrendous acting. It was two hours too long. Nauseating. I still can’t figure out why the attack sequence wasn’t the finale. There was a great scene, then two more hours of nothing. “I love you, but you’re gonna die, but I slept with him when I thought you were dead, but I’m pregnant and who is going to be the father and …” Oh, kill me.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
– A Superman film pieced together by idiot Warner Brothers executives. Painful.

Van Helsing
– A great premise on paper. All the Universal monsters were there. Hugh Jackman is really good. Then the CGI effects started. And kept going. Then Kate Beckinsale’s accent made Kevin Costner look like Peter Sellers. Was it Romanian? Russian? English? Filipino? Still don’t know. The film was the definition of “it’s okay we’ll fix it in post.”

The Good Shepard
– Who would have thought that Robert De Niro, Matt Damon and the CIA could be so dull.

Clerks/All Kevin Smith – I finally gave up on Mr. Smith. I can’t handle it. Rubbish.

The Losers:

10. Marie Antoinette – Nah, just kidding, like I’d go see that. To quote “Young Guns II,” “I’d rather drink turpentine and piss on a brush fire.” Hollywood nepotism at it’s most extreme.

Okay, the real list.

10. Vanilla Sky – The normally enjoyable Cameron Crowe really let this one ride off the rails. By the time the end came and things were beginning to be explained, I had already tuned out. Completely nonsensical.

9. Batman and Robin – “Batman Forever” was really bad. I thought “Well, it is hard to follow the first two, perhaps my expectations were too high.” Maybe this could redeem the franchise. Whoa Nelly was that wrong. A mess from start to finish. Maybe the worst superhero film script of all time. All-you-can-eat cold puns from Mr. Freeze. “You’re not sending me to the cooler!” “Know what killed the dinosaurs? The ICE AGE!” Oh boy. And why was it interesting to watch Robin do his laundry?

8. The Day After Tomorrow – I wasn’t expecting “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” but I thought it might be at least fun. Nope. It turned into a comedy ten minutes in when the poor Japanese guys were getting smacked in the head by chunks of ice. I was trying not to laugh, but no such luck. Granted, most movies require you to have some amount of suspended disbelief, but this set new records in absurdity. The ocean warmed up in 45 minutes? The people are frozen but the wolves are fine in Manhattan? You are forced to burn books (and give a condescending speech about it) when you are in a library filled with wooden tables, chairs and bookshelves? And the best; cold moves at approximately seven miles per hour, so you can run from it and then a wooden door will completely stop it?!? I have a headache just thinking about that.

7. Juno – “Honest to blog?” Honest to blog??? I nearly walked out there and then. Less than five years from now, there will be an article entitled “the Least Deserving Oscars Of All-Time.” The Academy Award for Best Screenplay going to Juno will be numero uno. I hated it.

6. Lady in the Water – I actually enjoy M. Night’s work. (His upcoming opus “The Penis” looks pretty good.) As a filmmaker, maybe he’s not amazing, but at least he’s interesting. I’m afraid the Lady was a self important dud. Think about it for a moment. What was the story? You saw it, what was the story? I bet many of you are thinking, “Uh, there’s that guy from Sideways, he has a stutter I think. And a guy with one buff arm and one skinny arm. Don’t know what he did. A slutty Korean chick was there. And, uh, a writer and a kid or some crap. Was somebody dead the whole time? And the girl who lives in the pool needs to go … somewhere, uh, crap, the writer is important I think. Hell, I don’t know.” There were Narfs of Nerfs or something. I believe one of the creatures was called a Scrote. I really couldn’t tell you.

5. Planet of the Apes; 2001 – Tim Burton is a genius in my eyes. I even like “Mars Attacks.” It’s hilarious. The visual flair and old school storytelling usually appeal to me. The Apes remake was the exception. Think of the talent involved here. Along with Burton was Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Estella Warren … oops, cancel that last one. Even Mark Wahlberg has grown on me since “The Departed.” All that talent couldn’t save this stinker. “How did these apes get this way?” “Never send a monkey to do a man’s job.” I couldn’t get past those clunkers. I have read that Burton has basically disavowed the film saying there was too much studio interference. I’ll go with that excuse. For me to not like a movie with talking monkeys is quite an accomplishment.

4. Spiderman 3 – The first two are good examples of summer films that work. They’re enjoyable and entertaining. And Sam Raimi is a talented dude. So how did the wheels come off the wagon so quickly in the third installment? Okay, let me see if I got this straight; The evil black gunk gets on Peter Parker and he then joins Fall Out Boy, right? Got it. Makes sense. Did the scene with Kirsten Dunst and James Franco doing “The Twist” in the kitchen really happen? Or did I hit my head on the sink again? I called my brother Drew while he was in the theater and he sent me a text back saying, “In Spidey 3. Wish I wasn’t.” I soon knew what he meant. Is Mary Jane singing again? Again?!?

3. Rocky V – Most fans will be with me when I say that I choose to pretend it never happened. You hear me? It never happened. The Rocky films aren’t exactly artistic, but the formula worked. Rocky struggles through the film, then gets a wakeup call, trains in a montage and beats the better boxer. Chapter five tried to use the equation but making Rocky poor didn’t work. That’s substituting X for Y. It’s still hard to comprehend how they made Rocky dumber and more punchy. Didn’t know that was possible.

2. American Beauty – Wouldn’t have predicted this one, I bet. Critically adored, industry championed and I loathed it’s breathing guts. It’s awful. I felt like I was watching a bad daytime soap opera. Every dysfunctional family cliché in the book was thrown into the pot and stirred around to make a stinky, overrated stew. Depression, failure, homosexuality, sexual perversion, zzzzzzzzzzzz … … Sorry, fell asleep for a second there. It’s the same reason “Monster’s Ball” is unwatchable. After an hour and ten minutes of “Beauty,” I had enough and headed for the exit. Enough was enough. A terrible film.

1. The Matrix Reloaded – The original is fantastic. Revolutionary. Freaking mind blowing. The second Matrix was like being given an extravagantly wrapped present with a big red bow on it and inside is a fresh, wet turd. The inexplicable rave sequence, the creepy albino Milli Vanilli twins, Neo fighting the 337,000 Agent Smith clones (please end the sequence, please end the sequence, please end the sequence …) and especially, “The Architect” explaining the Matrix for six hours. I hated it so much that I refused to see the third one. Still haven’t seen it. It wasn’t a good sign when my favorite part was Rage Against the Machine’s “Calm Like a Bomb” was used in the credits.

Hopefully this list doesn’t jinx “The Dark Knight.” Nah, that won’t happen.

Monday, June 9, 2008

YouTube Gems Volume II

Here is a few of the beauties I have seen recently.

Those rapscallions from New Zealand, Flight of the Conchords performing the opus "Jenny."

Joey Ramone just killing Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World." I miss Joey.

J.R.R. Tolkien speaking briefly about "The Hobbit."

Best. Commercial. Ever.

And finally, comedy, thy name is Dick Van Dyke.

Please head to YesButNoButYes to read my columns.

Good night and good luck.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Spelling Bee Is the Bee’s Knees

Reposted from YesButNoButYes.

If you had told me ten years ago that eventually I would look forward to the National Spelling Bee every year, I would have scoffed. Yeah, right. Then you’ll tell me that a former stripper will write a movie script that is basically a John Hughes tale with more obscure references that had me rolling me eyes every seven minutes and almost inspired uncontrollable vomiting and it will win the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. Please. That’s kooky talk, mister.

I still can’t believe that happened.

If I would have told you ten years ago that Spelling Bee would wind up in primetime on a major network, I doubt too many would have believed the prognostication either.

Oddly, all the above has come to pass.

In a television landscape where D-List “celebrities” trying to ballroom dance is a bona-fide hit and “Two and a Half Men” has outlasted “Arrested Development,” sometimes you have to look a little deeper to find quality entertainment. If you step outside the box a few thousand feet, you’ll discover the hilarity of the Spelling Bee.

This past weekend, 13-year-old Sameer Mishra from West Lafayette Indiana correctly spelled “guerdon” to take the coveted spelling title. He enjoys playing the violin and hopes to be a neurosurgeon. When I was 13, I wanted to be Steve Largent and was desperately searching for my next Skittles fix.

I think Pardon the Interruption’s Tony Kornheiser says it best when describing his love of the Bee, “I just love watching those twitchy little freaks.” That’s a little more eloquent than saying it makes him laugh. I think. The Bee is beyond funny. It’s a Marx Brothers film. A dwarf on a tricycle. A waterskiing squirrel.

This year we had the instant classic “numb-nuts” incident. It was comedy at it’s highest level. It approached the infamous “Does that sound like a musical robot?” episode from the documentary “Spellbound.” That film is well worth the rental, by the way. Classic.

What seems to happen is the Bee rounds up the most eccentric pre-teens in America, puts them in a ballroom, cranks the temperature up to health-spa-sauna levels, whips up a tremendous pressure to succeed and then waits for the funny to happen naturally. You never know what you’ll see. Weirdoes cracking wise to the moderator, bizarre celebrations, even more bizarre attempts at completing a high-five, facial ticks, talking to themselves, fainting spells and other hijinks and tomfoolery. I keep hoping that there will be some smarty pants who, after asking for the part of speech, definition and language of origin will ask the moderator dryly, “Can you spell the word, please?” Maybe it’s happened before, but I’ve never seen it. If wishing made it so.

I watch the Bee as a sociological experiment. Like a child that puts ants into a jar and rolls them around until they fight. Just seeing what happens. There is a voyeuristic curiosity that we all have, secretly watching events that we find odd or funny. You ever pretend to read the newspaper on an airplane while listening to the older couple across the aisle argue about what brand ginger ale is best? Or watch the child in the park experience the joy that is bubbles? (Whenever I see that now I think of Paul Rudd in “Knocked Up,” “I wish I liked anything as much as my kids like bubbles.”) I watch the Spelling Bee in awe. It’s way more interesting than ants fighting.

One thing the Bee should do, is provide a deterrent for home schooling. I’m not sure being able to spell “staphylococci” is a fair swap for having no idea how to interact with the other kids. There’s something to be said for having basic social skills. Parents, think long and hard before you isolate your youngsters from the outside world to learn Latin in the basement. I’m unclear on how the home-schoolers get into the damn thing in the first place. I don’t recall them being bussed into Adelaide Elementary School to compete with us when I was a kid. I would remember that. “I got out on ‘schooner.’ How did that kid I’ve never seen before with the big head spell ‘psoriasis?’ What does psoriasis mean? Is it hot ham and cheese day? Who wants to play kickball?”

ESPN made a brilliant move when they starting putting up little factoids about the spellers on the screen during their turn. That’s solid gold. We get nuggets like “Favorite Activities: Fencing, video games and physics.” Or, “Favorite Performer: Beethoven.” Those are real. I’m not making them up.

It’s interesting to note that in the last few years, The Spelling Bee has hammered the Stanley Cup Finals in the ratings. The “twitchy little freaks” have given hockey a solid check into the boards. Here’s a sure sign your sport is dead; People would rather watch 11-year-old oddballs spelling words nobody has ever heard of than Canadians with no teeth follow a puck around the ice. That’s a death knell if there ever was one.

What would make the Bee even better is that ESPN and ABC have a simulcast during regular coverage. While the main broadcast is happening, over on ESPN 7 there is a quasi Mystery Science Theater 3000 version with wise cracking comedians giving the play-by-play. Maybe Michael Ian Black, Patrice O’Neal, and the ghost of Mitch Hedberg. Who wouldn’t tune into that?

It’s admirable how the little buggers are such thorough etymology detectives. They’re little Sam Spade’s and Jane Marple’s. It’s astonishing. “The word come from the Greek? That must mean it has a silent ‘M’ in it.” Those young scamps amaze me.

Tell you what, I’d rather watch the Spelling Bee over 90% of the dreck on network television every day of the week and twice on Sunday. How else am I going to learn how to spell “autochthonous?” “Two and a Half Men” doesn’t cover that.