Stephan and I have always been big Saturday Night Live fans (at least before, when it was more consistently funny), and now we try to watch it when we think it's going to be good, and Tivo through the parts that hurt us with their lack of funny. This week's show was actually decent, which got me thinking wow, sometimes I really wish I wrote for them.
Sometimes it's so funny, then other times I totally know where it's going and it kind of bums me out. I think I mentioned, I think they always get a better show when they go with someone for host who isn't professionally funny. The Rock (I guess he's going by Duane Johnson now) is a good example. He's an action movie star now, but seriously? That guy is total commitment. Like, the opening number where he's supposed to be gay and he's singing showtunes? Very ballsy, especially for a giant guy who still has muscles so big he can't help but flex them.
Also, who knew that The Rock (sorry, can't stop calling him that) would end up doing a better Barack Obama impression than their go-to Barack Obama guy Fred Armison? Here is that sketch, which I thought was the funniest:
I don't know why, but NBC doesn't have a clip of my favorite "Weekend Update" bit, which featured Andy Samberg's new thing where he does an impression of the cartoon character "Kathy," which is just totally, brilliantly absurd. Also, I thought the "Activia" sketch where everyone poops themselves was funny (if a little too long), but as a rule I try not to encourage or support humor that focuses on lowest common denominator stuff like pooping. I mean, what are we, chimps? Sorry, it sounds snobby, but I just think hey, we have words. Let's make funny with those. "MacGruber/ MacGyver" is really a one-joke wonder bit so I always fast forward through anything after the first one of those, though I happened to catch the last one, which had a funny call back (though again, it was about poop, so I'm not really going to talk about it too much here).
This "NBC Celebrity Apprentice" sketch was also funny, so here is that:
Alot of the reason I was in a good mood about this week's episode had to do with the fact that the musical guest was Ray LaMontagne, an artist who (as I might have mentioned) whose latest album I currently have on "Continuous Play". Here is his performance of "Trouble," though I thought both of the songs he did were really good. Go Ray LaMontagne!
So, I’m sure if you’re on Facebook, you’ve either read or filled out that “25 Things About Me” chain letter thing that’s going around, and if you haven’t, please let me encourage you. I think that particular meme is one of the most fascinating things ever—I read every single one, and constantly find myself going “wow—I had no idea!” or laughing over some new revelation about a person that I’ve maybe known for half my life or more. I even read the ones from people I don't know that well, in the hope that maybe I can find out something totally interesting about them that will make me want to know them better, you know?
Here’s one thing I don’t get, though—why is the media so down on this phenomenon? The New York Times did this piece about it, which I guess is par for the course considering they're the New York Times and have to be snooty about anything that reaches pop culture status, but they’re definitely taking a more “this is wasting time” angle. THEN I got this Time Magazine article, “25 things I don’t care about,” forwarded from a friend, and I was just totally blown away. I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed more with an article, and while usually I’m impressed that someone has pulled it together enough to write for a big-name publication like Time Magazine, at the end of this I actually found myself wanting to write this person an email and ask them—“If this doesn’t fascinate you, then why did you become a writer?” The list that she pulled together of supposedly trivial things she doesn't care about? Hilarious! Brilliant! A "best in show" collection of funny stuff from that game.
I mean, come ON-- #5, "I am addicted to the ass-slapping dance move. Sometimes I don't even know I'm doing it." So funny, so honest, so personal-- one of the most hilarious things I read all day, and this was her example of things she doesn't care about? Seriously?
I guess I understand her point about losing valuable work time filling out these types of surveys, but is this really a problem? How does she know people are doing this during work time? Plenty of people I know that have jobs only do Facebook at night, and this particular meme actually had me thinking of things and writing them down at all hours as I remembered them, so I’m at least one example of a person who didn’t do theirs during “regular business hours.”
I’m totally serious—I don’t get why journalists are hating on this meme so much. I would like to issue a blanket rule—if the “25 things” meme doesn’t intrigue and fascinate you, then you should stop being a writer. Writers, no matter what they write, explore the depths of the human psyche. Writers are, by their very natures, curious about the intricacies and quirks of human beings. If you are an accountant and you find these lists mundane, fine. If you’re a writer and you can’t stand intimate, private details of people’s lives, I think you seriously need to consider a career change.
Maybe you'll disagree with this, and if so, that's fine. I'm at once surprised and not surprised that a big deal is being made out of Michael Phelps smoking pot. To me, the real crime here is not that he was smoking marijuana (which I could really care less about, and I honestly think we'd be better off it were just legalized). To me, the real problem is that Phelps obviously doesn't know that his money is in maintaining his brand image, and so if he wants to smoke pot, he needs to make sure he's in his home, or at least in an environment where no one's going to photograph him. Because, here's the deal-- the Olympic medals were what got him the endorsement deals, but the brand equity is based on his being an aspirational character, and about companies (like Kelloggs, which just announced they're not renewing his contract) associating themselves with his squeaky-clean image. To me this is a classic case of a young person getting a job, then not performing it as described, the same as if he worked in a factory and didn't show up on time. Are we thinking that many famous celebrities don't have things they're hiding from us, that only happen in the privacy of their own homes? Um, I hope not, because that would be hopelessly naive. Reese Witherspoon, for example, is as well-known for her squeaky-clean image as for her movies, and she makes very sure that she doesn't do anything that might hurt that brand. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying she's not a perfect, well-raised, church going person. I'm sure that she is. But, I'm also sure that she's enough of a smart businesswoman to understand that if there's something she really wants to do that would tarnish that image, she needs to make DAMN sure that no one can see her doing it.
So, I guess for me the issue is not about the drug use-- the only problem for me is that Phelps does not seem to be smart enough to realize that he's being paid to set an example, and is not fulfilling the terms of his contract. I guess that means that for me, being stupid is even worse than being a stoner.
By the way, we made it to the movies AGAIN yesterday (we're trying to catch up before the Oscars), this time to see "Milk." Wow! So amazing! I think I'm going to have to say it was one of my favorites of the year, although I also really loved "The Wrestler." It's going to be a close race to see who gets the Oscar, between Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. I think Mickey Rourke actually has the "dark horse" chance because this was such a comeback for him (and because, let's face it, he's so strange looking now he can only play unconventional characters). But, Sean Penn has a history of really being willing to go for it, and eventually the Academy has to reward that. I'm excited to be able to talk about films again, as last year I was on the Screen Actors' Guild Nomination Committee and was prohibited from doing so. Really!
Remember “Bad Idea, Brand Edition,” when we discussed how Starbucks should not be making breakfast sandwiches? Well, now I have a new list of things that I think are a bad idea. Are you ready?
1. Edible Arrangements. How is this still a company? I just think it’s confusing—I mean, you know when you cut up fruit for fruit salad, and it’s good for like, the ten minutes while you’re eating it, but if you try to store it, it gets all mealy and brown? How is that not the case with the edible arrangement? What if you’re not there when the edible arrangement delivery man arrives? Do they leave it? Do they take it right back and put it in the refrigerator, or maybe disassemble it, then re-make it and bring it back when you’re home? There’s no leaving the fresh-cut melon arrangement at my door, right, because that’s food and it’s all out in the open like that, and what if a dog peed on it? This is no “eat it anytime you want” Harry & David chocolate tower, dude. I’m just saying, fresh food being delivered in an arrangement just doesn’t seem logistically feasible, and yet—they seem to be making it. Oh, they also have edible arrangement with chocolate options, in case you’re thinking of sending one. Let me know how that goes for you.
2. Locked Up Abroad. Oh—HELL no! I don’t know why National Geographic is doing this show or who is watching it, but I am not even going to entertain the possibility that I might go to prison in Malaysia. No, no, NO! I don’t want to hear someone else’s story of how one minute they were shopping at a flea market, and then they bought the wrong color hat, and then they were, like, locked up for twenty years with no access to the American Embassy or anything like that. Just to clarify, I am watching tv to relax, and there is no part of being imprisoned in a foreign country that is relaxing to me. If I wanted to be terrified during my leisure time, I might start watching shows like “I Love New York.” That’s all I’m saying.
3. Exile’s “I Wanna Kiss You All Over.” Remember when I said there were some songs on the “Soft Rock” list that were so bad, they made you ashamed to be alive? Well, this song AND the lead singer’s hair falls into that category. So, enjoy. This one gets its own special place on the list, mostly because of the bangs.
One of my friends works in this fancy investment bank in San Francisco, and sometimes I like to call her and say funny and/ or obscene and/ or controversial things, because I know she can’t answer over her very official-looking headset within the floor full of fancy investment analysts, and I like to hear her trying to stifle the laughter. I’m not sure who gets more out of this, but I sure think it’s fun. I think she also finds it amusing that I make up terms for things (as you might know if you read my book), and this is one of those instances.
Last week, the subject was a little something I like to call “F*#k Pants.” Now, I’m not all into using obscenity and stuff on my blog, but you get the jist. The term “F*#k Pants” is probably not what you think—in fact, it is quite literal and refers to those random pieces of clothing you sometimes see on the sidewalk. I find this sort of thing funny because I like to imagine the person who was wearing the pants, or the jacket or shirt or whatever happens to be on the ground. I like to imagine them stopping dead in their tracks, right there on the sidewalk, and having some kind of epiphany, like “You know what? F*#k these pants. I am not wearing these one more second!” And then of course, stripping them off and leaving them there in a sad little heap. Can’t even take them to Goodwill. Nope! Can’t put them in a trashcan that’s like, five feet away. No no no! These pants are offensive to me, and must be taken off and discarded immediately!
This term is derived from a phrase developed during my first driving trip cross-country, with a college roommate. We coined the term “F*#k It Point” for road trips, to indicate that point during the course of the day when you CANNOT, nay, you WILL NOT drive one more mile. As far as you’re concerned, for that day at least, you will move to Gallup, New Mexico, or Texarkana, or wherever you happen to be on the trip. You cannot go another mile.
So, F*#k Pants are kind of like this point in the trip, only with pants. And, because there happens to be a high population of homeless people here in Los Angeles, there are a lot of discarded clothes lying around, just prompting me to formulate these theories about them.
The next time you see a pair of F*#k Pants, I want you to laugh and think of that person, just FED UP with that garment. NO MORE! They shout. Revolution! Yesterday, I got a great shot of a discarded piece of medical equipment that looked like it was used to hold IVs and oxygen or something. I like to imagine a miracle occurred, but I suspect the truth is a little more grim.
Last week People magazine did this announcement about how Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and his girlfriend had broken up. It was one of those "slow news day" type announcements, in that it came up in the middle of the week and was only the headline on the site for a few hours, because really, who cares, right? It's been many years since you were interested in Anthony Kiedis' love life.
But-- here's the part I thought was funny. I'm sure you know that Anthony Kiedis is like, 45 years old. And his girlfriend is 22, and she used to be a model, and they've been going out since she was 18 or so (and I know this because I'm a Chili Peppers fan, and I happen to know that the song "She's Only 18" from the Stadium Arcadium album was about her).
Anyhoo, they had a baby together last year-- a baby named Everly Bear. And the only reason that I'm mentioning that is so you can put the statement from his former-model girlfriend about the breakup in its proper context:
'Anthony is a great dad and I will love him forever for giving me the gift of life," Christie tells PEOPLE. "I really hope he finds what he's looking for."
This statement made me laugh a little, because doesn't it totally sound like Anthony Kiedis is HER dad? It's even funnier because he IS totally old enough to be her father, and because she looks a little like him (at least in the "Uplift Mofo Party Plan" phase of his career), but also because she's obviously upset enough to issue a statement, but not really literate enough to communicate what she's actually thinking about, because remember, she's 22.
I know, it's mean. Breakups are hard. But, she thanks him for giving her the gift of life, people.
Recently there was an article in Business Week about how Starbucks is going back to its old logo for a couple of months to try to restore consumer faith in the brand. I would like to go on record as saying that I predicted a loss of faith the very moment (in 2006, to be exact) I noticed that Starbucks had branched out to serving Egg McMuffin-style breakfast sandwiches as well as coffee and coffee-related items. I don’t know why this bugged me so much, apart from the fact that I really like Starbucks (and we own some of their stock), and I just didn’t really like the idea of them trying to do it all. I was actually thinking about doing a whole top ten list about this, but when I mentioned this to a few people, they were like “hey man--- what do you have against expansion? Don’t you think Starbucks can do it all? Look at Costco!”
And now – ha! It turns out I was right. Not only is Starbucks taking the iffy-looking, microwavable sandwiches off the menu and closing some of the stores they opened in their bull market, mass expansion frenzy, but they’re going “back to their mission statement of coffee and community.” I like it when theories I have about the business world end up coming to pass. And by the way, for the record—“doing everything” is part of Costco’s mission, which is why they can sell everyting from dog food to prescription drugs to lawn furniture to diamond engagnement rings and still not be overextending their brand. They do that on purpose. And by the way, I am aware of the fact that it’s imperative for brands to expand in order to keep businesses vital. I’m only talking about the rare occasions when they do it in a way that doesn’t work, and the product or service starts to call attention to itself by being out of place.
Anyhow, since I turned out to be right about the ‘bucks and their overexpansion, I broke out this list I’ve been keeping of companies and/ or products that I think have jumped the shark, meaning they’ve tried to expand too much, and now it’s getting a little bit funny.
These are in no particular order, and all happen to be food related, but only because I didn’t see anything amusing in recent business news about how, say, Honda is making personal computers. Believe me, if I’d seen something like that, I’d be all over it. I did see something in Forbes about Yahoo possibly developing coffee shops, and if that happens, please come back and see me.
1. Dunkin Donuts adds “healthy” options such as multigrain bagels and lite lattes to their menu, and launches a “healthy” ad campaign featuring Rachel Ray. Ok, this is just my opinion, but healthy food on the menu or not, I really think the battle is over the minute you’ve walked inside a Dunkin’ Donuts store. If you want a multigrain bagel and a lite latte, Dunkin’ Donuts is NEVER going to be your go-to place. Sorry. It’s not that I don’t admire their initiative, but let’s get this thing clear—it’s not like you’re going to go to a strip club for a scintillating conversation. I give the “healthy products” portion of the Dunkin’ Donuts menu 6 months to a year, and then the junior executive that came up with this marketing strategy is gone.
2. Starbucks – yes, I’m picking on them again, because right after they announced the scale back and return to basics, then they turned around and added smoothies to their menu. This still smacks of brand confusion to me, and I know that they’re still trying “menu expansion” as their strategy to fend off falling profits, but I still think the “back to basics” alone might have been enough. Plus, I love this quote from a financial analyst who’s covering both Starbucks and Jamba Juice: “…even if Starbucks rolled out literally the best smoothies available in America, wiping Jamba Juice off the face of the earth and converting every last one of their customers, that would still increase revenue by just 11 percent. And the reality, of course, will be far more modest.”
I don’t know why, but this hyperbolic language amuses me a little bit. “Literally the best smoothies in America? And “Wiping Jamba Juice off the face of the Earth?” Dude, are we still talking about bananas and fro-yo? I see his point, though—even if this strategy succeeds, muddling the brand is still going to cost them. That’s my whole point!
3. Carl’s Jr. – this one is less of a brand expansion problem (though, I have to admit I am questioning the combination of Carl’s Jr. and the Green Burrito) and more of an “I think this product sounds gross.” Did you know that Carl’s is selling a Cap’n Crunch milkshake now? That doesn’t sound delicious OR good for you. For 740 calories and 35 grams of fat, I’m going to need some chocolate, and I think most of America will agree.
4. Ice Coffee at McDonald’s. Again, I’m not saying they CAN’T do this—I’m just wondering whether they can really do it well. Plus, at $1.89, it’s not that much cheaper than just getting the ice coffee at Starbucks, where you know it’s going to be good. I do know, however, that I’m not going to go to McDonald’s specifically for the ice coffee, so I can say from first-hand experience that they’re not re-converting me as a customer from this effort.
5. Peter Griffin (the overweight dad from Family Guy) in Subway advertisements, promoting their new “Subway Feast.” This is puzzling to me—hasn’t Subway built their entire reputation for being a healthy alternative to fast food? Now they want to claim that they have unhealthy food as well? It just seems weird that they’re trying to have it both ways. We’re keeping you healthy! We’re making you fat! No—we’re keeping you healthy!
See—I like to keep you guessing. You come here for the funny, and sometimes I give you some brand analysis and strategy. Yeah, I read Business Week, people. Did you think I could consult for Johnson & Johnson for eight years and not know some stuff about branding? Internet, you have underestimated me!
Here's Barack Obama's speech on race, in case you haven't seen it. I included the whole thing (it's 40 minutes long), in case you wanted to watch it. You can also see the whole transcript here.
No matter what your political leaning, I think it’s great that Barack Obama is addressing the issue of race. I mean, even though we're here in 2008 and supposed to be enlightened and all, it’s obviously still a problem-we all have this sort of vintage racism in our families. Case in point: my grandma (who I seem to be discussing a lot this week) is 97 and was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, so you know she’s got some old-school racism going, and she doesn’t even think it’s wrong.
Here’s an example: a
couple of years ago, we were sitting in her living room watching tv (turned up
loud), and she turned to me, totally seriously, and said “Lori—Halle Berry is so beautiful. Why does she tell
people she’s black?”
I'll give you a second to soak that in. Mmmmm-hmmmm! That's good stuff!
So, obviously this is a hearkening back to the day when if you could pass, you would. I started to try to explain to her that Halle Berry is an Academy Award winning millionaire beautiful model woman, and that there is no reason on earth for her to lie about being black, and that, in fact, she's proud of her heritage and it's great that we live in a day and age where she doesn't have to hide her background just to be successful. I said this, of course, and she just stared at me and shook her head. She's racist in the past, you see, and since I can't go back in time and convince her that what's right to us now should have been right all along, I just have to listen to her questionable comments, some of which don't even make sense anymore because they're so antiquated. Not convinced? How about this one-- when my nana has to wait for more than ten minutes for her food in a restaurant, she will look at me and say: "This place is as SLOW AS INJUNS!" Um, what does that even mean? You seriously might have to be carrying a musket and wearing a coonskin cap for that to still be a relevant comment on the state of things.
Anyway,I think that's one of Obama's best points-- that America is changing, and that it's better to just acknowledge the racism inherent in our society, and do something about it.
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Also, in case you didn't hear, Arthur C. Clarke died-- he was a sci-fi writer and was the original author of 2001: A Space Odyssey and was 90, so that's sad but not unbelievable. But...did you know that he died of complications from POLIO? Is that even possible anymore? When I told Stephan this, he said "Wow,they should freeze his body and bring him back in the future, once polio has been eradicated-- oh wait, that's now." Ba da boom!
OMG, you know what's funny about these sub-headlines?
What's funny is that Stephan and I have been saying this for YEARS, ever since those pictures of Mary-Kate Olsen, with coffee and Marlboros in hand all the time, started surfacing everywhere (a couple of years ago). Specifically, I think we said that they look like they starve themselves, then drink coffee, then smoke Marlboro Reds, then eat toilet paper, then drink all night and throw up, and they look like their breath generally reflects all of these things.
Maybe I should start a career as a celebrity psychic-- like, predicting things about celebrities that are probably true, then they get confirmed later by trashy magazines.
Or maybe I already did.