On this new 3rd & Fairfax podcast, the guest is writer Mike Schur who talks about the range of his impressive career that started with being put in charge of the "Weekend Update" segment of SNL with Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon, moving on to the writing staff for The Office for its first four seasons. From there, he co-created Parks and Recreation. And then co-creating Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Finally, he gets into his latest series that he created last season, The Good Place. As I wrote on this pages earlier here, I love the show and am a big fan of its charm, whimsy and inventiveness, and particularly its willingness to try "different." One "Spoiler Alert" -- if you're still catching up on the show, there is a discussion of the season finale. As you might imagine, it's a lively and fun interview -- as well as charming and even at times self-effacing.
This week's contestant is Mike Freiberg from Golden Valley, Minnesota. The hidden song is extremely easy, and most people I think will get it about five seconds in, after a very sleight introduction. And it's obvious throughout, not especially hidden. As for the composer style, I had a pretty definitive guess early on and was right. So -- I got both, huzzah. I think most have a good chance, as well.
It's not going to be a good homecoming for Jared Kushner or his father-in-law when they return from Europe. From all the reports, though, it's not certain if he's just a source for information or whether he did something illegal in espionage. One thing that is, however, certain is also something I only heard one person mention on television throughout all the massive coverage of the story on Friday about his possible contacts with the Russian Ambassador to set up secret back-channel communication with Russia using their own secure facilities.
A moment to explain briefly the backdrop of what I mean.
In all the analysis I heard from intelligence experts, almost to a person they said that they only explanation they could come up with is that -- if the story is true -- Jared Kushner is either incredibly naive because he has no experience in diplomacy and intelligence, or something deeply illegal in espionage was done. Clearly, "deeply illegal" is a massive problem for him, and likely for Trump. As such, the "incredibly naive and inexperienced" option was presented all day as a possible out for him.
And the one thing "certain" I was referring to is that I think both options are monumentally horrible. And "incredibly naive and inexperienced" is not even remotely an out. It's ghastly.
As I said, I only heard one intelligence expert mention this all day. And it's that if Jared Kursher was, in fact, incredibly naive and inexperienced, and that's his "excuse," then how monumentally disastrous it is for him, for Trump and for that the country, as well, as recipient of the fumes that he was made not just Senior Adviser, but the top Senior Adviser to the president, put in charge of --
Middle East peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
Negotiating with Iraq to find a resolution in bringing down ISIS.
Heading the White House Office of American Innovation.
Developing criminal justice reform with the Senate Judiciary Committee
Liaison between the president and Mexico to strengthen the White House relationship with the two countries.
Modernizing the Department of Veterans Affairs and solving the opiod crisis.
Diplomatic liaison with China for mending relationships.
Diplomatic liaison with North Korea.
Diplomatic liaison with the Muslim community to mend Trump's relationship with them.
And this is the man who the press and intelligence experts are calling -- as his one line of defense in his favor -- incredibly naive and inexperienced!!
All I could think from the moment I heard that mentioned as an excuse for Jared Kusher was...IF that's what actually happened here, that he was just so incredibly naive and inexperienced then the Trump administration should be raked over the coals for putting such a woefully incompetent moron in charge of basically saving the world.
By the way, I don't think Jared Kushner is a woefully incompetent moron. Which means the only remaining option is that he did something deeply illegal in espionage. Which is why I said the only certainty in Jared Kushner's situation is what he did was monumentally horrible, whatever it turns out to be.
To be clear, although I don't think he's a woefully incompetent moron, I also don't discount that as a possibility.
And to be clear, as well, assuming something was indeed actually done, it is challenging to think that Jared Kushner -- Jared Kushner! -- would have acted on his own, to do something of this magnitude. Either he was incredibly naive and stupid, or devious with a meticulous plan. If he was incredibly naive, then such a person didn't have it in him to "go rogue" into the bowels of Russian espionage and try to set up something so secretive and back-handed without direction. And if he was being devious, then such a person wasn't fool enough to set up a secret back-channel plan of Russian espionage without approval. And in either case, there aren't a whole lot of people in the food chain above him.
Welcome home, the Family Trump.
This is an absolutely wonderful story that Stephen Colbert tells about meeting his wife. It's wonderful not just for the story itself, but the vibrant way he tells it with great verve. It's impromptu, but comes across as if written by an eloquent writer. He's clearly told it before and honed to its fine-tuned charm, but it's still off the cuff -- the shorter version, as he puts it at the end.
This doesn't appear to be told during a broadcast, but before the show when coming to the stage to meet the audience beforehand.
And as long as we're on the subject, here's a bonus companion piece. When talking to guest Leslie Mann, Colbert spots his wife in the wings and briefly and adorably brings her onstage.
Okay, I will send up a yellow caution light here. This is going to be a rant. I think it's a well-deserved rant, and I even go to great lengths to explain why in detail. But a rant none-the-less. You've been warned.
I had another piece all set to go for this morning. And then I read a front-page, "top of the fold" article titled, "'Saturday Night Live' And Stephen Colbert May be Further Dividing Americans," written by Sara Boboltz who's the Entertainment Editor of the Huffington Post. It may be one of the most ridiculous articles I've read in the whole presidential election cycle over the past two years. In fairness to Ms. Boboltz, she may not have written the headline, the words of which comes from an interview in the article and, being so confrontational, makes the whole thing worse. But given the whole thing, which you can read here, that's small comfort.
The reference in question comes from Heather LaMarre of Temple University. Just as a mere starting point to show you awful this article is -- and I apologize ahead of time for being so blunt and repetitive about using such expressions, but I can think of few other words to accurately describe it. Ms. Boboltz is probably a fine writer and a very nice person and maybe was just having an off-day, as I do and so do we all, but I'm just not sure if political analysis is her strength -- she describes her source this way: "To Heather LaMarre, who studies politics in entertainment media at Temple University..." And my immediate thought was -- Say, what? Wait, this is someone who just studies this? She's a student?? You have to be kidding me?!!" However, because I try to be diligent I took the effort to check things out -- something I'm going to guess most people reading the article didn't, as in 99.9999% didn't -- and I did my own research to check out who Heather LaMarre was at Temple. And happily it turns out that she isn't a student, but teaches there and has a PhD. Thankfully. But seriously, how do you leave that out when the person is the source and focus of your information??
But this doesn't even touch on the point that Dr. LaMarre's expertise is not politics or sociology or psychology but rather mass communication. That's okay, she at least studies communication in the political field which is substantive, it's just that the conclusions being drawn in the article seem far more about politics than communication.
And it's okay, too, that Dr. LaMarre is an assistant professor, not a full professor in the field. That's absolutely fine. For all we know, Dr. LaMarre may be far more knowledgeable than those with more titles and experience, and ultimately she was merely asked her opinions and properly gave them. Fair enough. The problem is that it shows a weak effort by the reporter to make an established point and convince the reader that the conclusions are worth accepting. However qualified an assistant professor may be (even if we all knew she was), readers need ballast to hang their trust on -- not only important titles that we accept as shorthand for one's background, but things like books written on the subject, a range of scholarly research, what career expertise exists and more. And after tracking down Temple University's staff pages, I'm not sure if five published articles, the last of which was from four years ago is enough to make a conclusive, convincing point, even more so when the reader isn't told that,
But to go further, the issue isn't just that one of the sources in the article is an assistant professor -- as I said, and honestly mean it, she really may be an expert in the field, for all we know, or not -- but rather the important issue is that she's the only source in the article, whatever her level of expertise, even the world's leading scholar. There is no one else quoted in the article or even referenced to support the conclusions drawn. There's no one else quoted to actually disagree with the point. It makes for a very unconvincing premise to serve as the foundation of the article.
And that's just the premise. The background. We haven't even gotten to what's said in the article. That's what's so head-banging here. The premise? That's just the title page.
Just a few examples of where the article goes deeply off-track into the weeds.
"But as biting as it can be," Ms. Boboltz writes, "the humor of 'SNL' and “'he Late Show' probably isn’t changing any minds. If anything, the country’s love affair with political comedy may actually be deepening the divides that characterized the 2016 presidential election, according to one researcher."
Okay, swell, a blunt, provocative point. Except -- there's no evidence presented to support this in the entire article. I don't mean not enough evidence to be convincing, I mean literally none presented. It's like if you were at a bus stop and some guy next to you blurted it out, and you said, "Well, okay, how do you know that?" And that person then got on the bus and left. I' suspect you wouldn't find it the most meaningful encounter.
All we get in the article after this initial opinion is the author telling us Dr. LaMarre's thoughts about political comedy in the past -- a time frame that is not even defined. Is it five years? A century? We have no idea. That aside, there is nothing to support any research that's been done about this current situation and the public's actual reactions. Nothing to show that no minds have been changed -- or have been changed, for all we know. Nothing. Zero.
(By the way, I would suggest that the current political climate in America is vastly different than anything this nation has seen not just in the recent past but ever. That's just a guess -- though based on political commentary saying it for the last year -- but it does offer as much evidence as the article does on its conclusions. And based of my guess, it would suggest that past models don't necessarily apply.)
Eventually, the article does actually finally quote Dr. LaMarre.
“'The people who were already anti-Trump are going to become more anti-Trump, and the people who are pro-Trump are not going to walk away from him just because of something a political comedian said,' LaMarre said."
Okay, swell. But again -- do we have any evidence of this? As in...any? Any research, any studies? Because it just comes across as a guess, even if an educated one. But here's the significantly larger point --
Let's assume for the sake of argument that what is said here is valid, that neither side is going to be convinced by the humor. (Not that that's necessarily the point of humor, but I digress.) But the headline of this article, its very point, is that this TV humor "May Be Further Dividing Americans." And yet nothing in this opinion which I quoted above supports that! All she says is that it may be solidifying the opinion that already exists, not that it's dividing it further. Those are two totally different things.
(And let us even gloss over the point that "may be" is a pretty banal and meaningless phrase, since...well, maybe it isn't.)
But even worse -- all that this "conclusion" looks at is people who are "already anti-Trump" and those "who are pro-Trump." Well, gee, here's a question -- what about all those people, say, in the middle, probably about 40% of Americans who are still trying to figure things out?? Who don't already have a definitive opinion. How does the TV political humor affect them?! That middle is where most elections are won, by the way. Swaying the independents and undecideds. And the only people discussed here are the people who've already decided their opinions. That's a massive, critical segment to leave out. "Late-night TV probably isn't changing any minds" is how the sub-headline reads. "Any"?? The entire middle of America is just an incomprehensibly large number to ignore. They actually do count among "any." And "probably" seems to require at least some evidence to support it.
Following this quote, incidentally, Dr. LaMarre adds, "Especially if they think of that comedian as a Hollywood elite." Well...okay -- so, do they? Does the viewing public think of Colbert and SNL and all the other many political humorists on TV (only Seth Meyers is mentioned once) think of them as Hollywood elites? For that matter, Colbert and SNL -- and Seth Meyers -- aren't even in Hollywood, they're in New York. Does the public differentiate between Hollywood elites and effete New York snobs? And do they think of these people this way? Or some other way entirely? For that matter, James Corden is from London -- is he ignored for being an outsider, or seen as an objective voice?
The article pushes on, not particularly being convincing one way or the other -- since nothing is presented to support the opinions, and there are no opinions from others presented to put it all in perspective. (To be fair, Colbert is quoted once, talking to an audience, not making a scholarly point, and there is a Trump tweet quoted about how bad SNL is, not funny, really terrible television. And all from the perspective of mass communications, not from the studied view of politics or sociology or psychology, or politics. (Yes, I know I said "politics," already, but it strikes me as...well, really important.) But in the end, the article finishes with something essential that is missing --
As noted, the headline point of the article is that all this TV political humor may be "dividing Americans." And the implication (accepting for just the moment that "may be" turns out to be "is") is that the act of dividing Americans is a bad thing. Which suggests therefore that, since it's bad for the country, all of these divisive TV comedians should stop making jokes about Trump and not divide America anymore. Which strikes me as a horrific conclusion because that means leaving Trump on his own, without being chided or ridiculed as humorists have done towards politicians since the beginning of time. Leave him alone, instead, to the serious political analysts to criticize and defend him -- although that appears to be pretty divisive on its own with partisan and official spokespeople defending their ground So, maybe we should just leave Trump alone, period, and not critique or joke about him. Give him the platform on his own and just let him talk and tweet away.
No, that isn't the point the article makes. It's just the only logical conclusion it leads to. As for it's point, I am yet to figure it out.
It's been a while since we've had a "Mystery Guest" segment from What's My Line?, so let's rectify that. The gest here is Lucille Ball from very early in her TV career, 1954. And what stands out is what a fun time she's having with all of this.
Robert J. Elisberg
2-time recipient of The Lucille Ball Award for Comedy Screenwriting at UCLA
Three items just hitting the news.
The Federal Appeals Court has just upheld the block on Trump's travel ban. The ruling comes from a rare panel of 13 judges in the court, rather than the usual three. The vote was 10-3. While this might seem like more really bad news for Trump unable to bring to reality one of his biggest campaign promises despite yet another attempt, there's actually good news for him with the announcement -- it's that he's no longer in Saudi Arabia and therefore doesn't have to to deal with the story there.
Joe Lieberman has withdrawn his name from consideration as FBI director. Because his is involved with the law firm of the man Trump just hired to be his personal lawyer to deal with any possible Russian matters and possible impeachment, Lieberman felt this would be a conflict of interest.
And for all the news headlines of the Montana Republican candidate in Congress being charged with assault against a reporters, as Montana goes to the polls today -- as much as 70% of ballots cast in the election are expected to be by mail, sent in before the story became news. (I initially wrote "hit the news," but then realized that was not the best term for this...) The popularity of "Vote by mail" has been increasing each election for years in Montana, with it reaching 65% in the last cycle. At the moment about two-thirds of all mail-in ballots requested have already been returned, with more clearly already in the mail by not received yet. On the other hand, it's important to keep in mind, too, that in a close election -- and this race is considered close -- 30% of the electorate is still viewed as a significantly large number. There's one bit of whimsy in all this -- the Republican-headed election board in Montana wanted to do this election entirely as vote-by-mail only, to save money, but the GOP blocked that. If the 30% at the polls ends up making the difference and swings the election, the Republican Party will only have itself to blame.
Lest it go unnoticed after the initial Far-Right outrage (and false impression left by the suggestion of an FCC "investigation," rather than it just being a normal review of any complaint), the FCC announced it will NOT be taking any action against Stephen Colbert.
This should not come as a shock to anyone, especially given that what Colbert said had actually be bleeped, and so nothing inappropriate ever went out over the air.
It turns out that a few days ago, actor Antonio Sabato Jr., formerly of General Hospital and the original Melrose Place, has filed papers to run for Congress as a Republican in California's 26th District. You may remember Mr. Sabato from his speaking at the Republican National Convention about Donald Trump wanting to bring people together and building that wall because "that's what governments do," as well as interviews he gave at the time on behalf of Trump -- though more specifically his adorable opinions about President Barack Obama.
When talking to ABC News, for instance, during the convention he said that Mr. Obama was "absolutely" a Muslim, to which he added for emphasis in case you missed the creepiness, "We had a Muslim president for seven-and-a-half years."
What he left out, of course, was any shred of evidence, an explanation why Barack Obama's birth certificate didn't count, and why being a Muslim would be inappropriate in a country founded on religious freedom even if it had been true.
By the way, if you missed the interview, I'm sure it will be re-run over and over again during the campaign by his opponent to question his fitness for office.
That opponent, by the way, will be Democratic congresswoman Julia Brownley. The hurdle for Mr. Sabato is not just that she's an incumbent Democrat, but she won her last election by 21 points.
Okay, there's another hurdle. His fundraiser strategist Charles Moran told reporters that Mr. Sabato's message to the voters of the heavily-Democratic district in Southern California is that, as a Republican, he is “a member of the majority party who has good relations with the Trump administration.”
Mr. Sabato might want to consider either another message or strategist.
In an interview with Variety when announcing his candidacy, Mr. Sabato gave some insight into his personal story that perhaps pushed him into the race and his perspective on world affairs, He told the paper that “I’ve had fantastic directors who have said officially to my agents and managers they will never hire me again. They will never even see me for projects. That’s unfair. It’s just like communism.”
Actually, this is absolutely nothing like communism, something you'd hope an aspiring congressman would grasp. Communism is a form of centralized government based on social economics and communal aspects of living. It has pretty much nothing to do with who someone wants to hire or not for a job. ("Pretty much nothing" is the polite term for nothing.) Where there are restrictions to hiring in a communistic society, it's because of national governmental control, not because people in a position to freely hire others think you're a crank.
If anything, it's far closer to the Blacklist during McCarthyism which was a Republican-led reaction against communism. And against liberals. But even that was hugely different from what the confused Mr. Sabato is suggesting Because it too was tied to actual government hearings and coordinated efforts by right-wing organizations that put together literal books with detailed names in them that you specifically could not hire. Not just a case of a person in charge who has a choice but doesn't want to hire you because they think you're a jerk.
By the way, a moment of digression. If in fact those fantastic directors did actually, really, truly tell his agents and managers what he claims, and it's not just a case of his agents coming up with a convenient excuse to explain to their client why he didn't get a job rather than saying that "They didn't like your audition," excuses which agents and managers in fact are known to make regularly as easy as breathing, then that would absolutely be totally unfair. Just as it's unfair that people in Hollywood over 40 (which Mr. Sabato is) have a hard time getting hired (as perhaps may be the case with him not being hired), and unfair that women over 30 have a hard time getting hired, and unfair why women who aren't thin and aren't gorgeous enough have a hard time getting hired, and unfair that black actors and Hispanic actors and disabled actors have a hard time getting hired, and more. Hollywood is overloaded with unfairness. That doesn't justify any of it, Hollywood is profoundly unfair in immeasurable ways, but it just explains that unfairness is not limited. It permeates the place. If that's in fact what's happening here. After all, checking the Internet Movie Database, it turns out that Mr. Sabato has been in six productions in the last two years alone, so clearly someone is hiring him. They may not be great projects or substantive roles (or may be, I don't know), but if this was actually communism, then instead of getting six film or TV projects you might instead be sent to the Gulag, or during the Blacklist you might have lost everything and been left destitute, or jailed.
Then again, refusing to work with someone because of political beliefs. which is very unfair, is a totally different matter entirely from not wanting to be around a person who is intolerant, mean-spirited, and an outspoken bigot. Not that Antonio Sabato Jr. is any of those things. He may be a lovely man. It's just that sometimes when you talk, people can get the wrong impression.
Which brings us back to his campaign.
Who knows? Maybe he'll be able to convince Southern California voters that Barack Obama was absolutely a Muslim. And that Donald Trump, as he told the Republican Convention, is really just a swell guy who wants to unite all of us by building a wall.
It's been too long since I've had a "Comedy Against Trumpism" video, and with Trump on his international trip, this seems like the right time to jump back. Since he is in Italy, I thought that that would be ideal but for whatever reason their video is blocked. So, here instead is Bulgaria -- yes, Bulgaria -- explaining why if it's America First, they should be second.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, and is a regular columnist for the Huffington Post and the Writers Guild of America. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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