On this week’s episode of 3rd and Fairfax, the official podcast of the Writers Guild of America, the guests are co-creators/co-showrunners of Barry, Alec Berg & Bill Hader. They talk about exploring even darker places, while still finding the funny, on the HBO pitch-black comedy series.
Back in 2017, I posted what is considered the best "making of" documentary about a Broadway show cast album. It was called Original Cast Album: Company, about the making of Stephen Sondheim's musical Company. The film was directed by acclaimed documentarian D.A. Pennebaker, and what made it stand out was that it was not made as a feel-good promotional vehicle for the musical, but showed how the album was made, warts and all. It's most famous sequence was when Elaine Stritch, wearing her sailor's cap throughout, was not able to get her showstopping number, The Ladies Who Lunch, right -- and kept getting more frustrated and upset as the clock ticked to morning. And they finally had to send everyone home, to try and get it the next day.
If you haven't seen it, you can watch it here. And I highly recommend that, not just because it's so good...but also it will make today's video all the better.
There's a wonderful series on the IFC Channel, Documentary Now!, which is a parody of documentary series on PBS. The show has a strong Saturday Night Live pedigree, being created by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Rhys Thomas. And they often get very well-known actors to take part, including Cate Blanchett (who's been in three), Owen Wilson, Michael Keaton, Jack Black, Anne Hathaway, Faye Dunaway, Kenny Loggins, Haim and more -- sometimes in a leading role, sometimes as "talking heads." In fact, the authoritative, serious host who introduces each half-hour film is Helen Mirren.
Back in 2019, they did one of my favorites -- a parody of that Pennebaker documentary about a musical called Co-Op. It was written by Seth Meyers and John Mulaney (which confirms my suspicion that it's been Mulaney who writes all the musical parodies whenever he guest hosts SNL.) It's meticulous in its detail, down to an Elaine Stritch-like character wearing a little sailor-like cap throughout. And happily, I was able to track the production down online.
The Documentary Now! film, which they properly call "Original Cast Album: Co-Op" is funny on its own, though I think it goes to another level if you watch the Pennebaker film first.
But however you choose to fly, here it is.
On this week’s Al Franken podcast, his guest is Mark Leibovich who talks about his #1 NYT bestseller, Thank You For Your Servitude, In their conversation, Al notes that “Leibovich eviscerates the GOP pols who caved to Trump.”
I love Charles Grodin’s acting – and always enjoyed when he was a guest on David Letterman’s show. Their act together was that Grodin had a barely hidden disdain for Dave, and even though if it was true then Letterman would never keep having him back and back – but Grodin was so convincing that there was still always a touch of uncertainty.
I didn’t remember well-enough, but it turns out that this was a persona he took on back when Johnny Carson was hosting The Tonight Show. My friend Myles Berkowitz sent me this video, and it’s a hoot. I get the sense that, while Carson surely knew that Grodin would go into his pissed-off mood, he didn't know how it would manifest itself. Both Grodin and Carson are incredibly quick here. People "mad" at one another isn't inherently funny, even when it's fake. It takes real craft to pull it off. And the battle is helped when it's even. So, Carson is wonderful here -- but Grodin’s disdain is dripping.
A couple of side notes. I’ve actually read the book he’s there to promote, one of his several memoirs, It Would Be So Nice If You Weren’t Here. The title comes from what a society lady said to him once when (if I remember the details correctly) a film crew was at her home.
The other thing is that I had reason to meet Grodin once, briefly. It was when I was working at Universal Pictures and walking through the lot back to my office. I saw Grodin walking nearby, and went over for one specific reason. It was to tell him how much I absolutely loved one particular scene in the movie, The Heartbreak Kid -- "the pie scene." It’s when his character has tells his new bride (played by Jeannie Berlin) on their honeymoon that he wants a divorce, so he’s taken her to a restaurant known for great pecan pie. When it later turns out that they’re out of the pie, he takes all his pent up angst out on the waiter. It’s a brilliant scene (written by Neil Simon) that’s hilarious, painful and tragic – and goes on for about 11 remarkable minutes. I mentioned how difficult it must have been to film. I don’t recall much of our conversation, but he was very appreciative and personable – I suspect it wasn’t something most people brought up to him (though they should have…), and talked about how, yes, it was indeed a challenge to do.
Anyway, here he is with Johnny Carson, going at one another.
A couple of days ago, MSNBC ran a montage they had put together of Republican politicians and Fox “News” hosts crying out for the Trump search warrant to be released. Clearly none of them suspected that when they lobbed the ball over the net, regardless of how “outraged” they made their voice sound, that the Attorney General would thwack it back.
Trump is now standing on the baseline with the ball in his court – and no racquet.
While I’m sure that Mr. Garland’s, “You want to see the search warrant and everything we gathered, okay, fine by me” won’t quiet all of the handwringing Republicans, though I do suspect it most of them will back off on the weeping to see the search warrant, since they know that that can only reflect on Trump, and badly. A few will continue crying out that the reason Trump doesn’t want anything released is because it could prejudice future juries or some sort of yada yada like that. The problem is that whenever you use the word “future juries” in any context, that is never A Good Thing. Furthermore, as much as they might try to blather about planting documents, the problem is that Trump’s lawyer won on site as an observer.
Additionally, one hopes that most of these demagogic Republican voice trying to slam the FBI and cry about “defunding” them (and, man, what an ironic turnaround is that??!!) will now recognize how much they lucked out that no FBI agent was killed when a January 6 Insurrectionist showed up at one of their offices wearing body armor and with an semi-automatic weapon. Mind you, I’m sure that there will be plenty of leading GOP voices who still feel there is more to be gained by fomenting violence against the FBI than any tragic, fascist downside.
And now, Trump has taken a swing at the ball with his empty hand and says he won't oppose releasing the documents. Because, no doubt, Trump believes -- as he does about all things -- that he is in the right and cannot do wrong. (Though, being Trump, we'll have to see if his actions match his public statements, something that has a habit of not regularly being the case.) Never mind, too, of course, that Trump doesn't have to "not oppose" releasing the documents, since he has the right to release them on their own. The problem for Trump is that reality doesn't tend to often mesh with what he believes. And of course the FBI was looking for nuclear documents. You don't subpoena material from a former president and then get a search warrant when its not complied with if you're just looking for some low-level papers and family photos. And of course the FBI found them, or AG Garland would not ever have filed the motion to release everything, since otherwise that would have told the world there are unguarded documents on nuclear material out there, and we don't know where they are.
And this doesn't even include that the the Washington Post reported that "signals intelligence" regarding Saudi Arabia was recovered by the FBI during the search of Trump's home. This is basically electronic intercepts, material that former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal describes as "some of the most sensitive and secretive material in the US."
Note to Republicans: THIS is what "He put us all at risk" and "Lock him up" actually means.
But for all that, and for all the obvious attention on Trump most of all, my mind returned to GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, not the crispest Saltine in the box. Seeing him “warn” Merrick Garland after the search of Mar-a-Lago that the Attorney General to save his documents was hilarious at the time a) given who we know the A.G. is, b) considering that earlier that same day we saw photos of Trump's toilet with shredded documents in it and c) that whole point of the search was because of the probable cause that Trump took documents! Sorry, I mean “classified documents.”
Moreover, the "threat" by McCarthy to investigate the DOJ was additionally ludicrous since the very last thing I am sure Republicans want is the public release all the material the Justice Department has collected on Trump and Republicans he was conspiring with that's damning and likely criminal, even if it’s not worth charging as a crime yet.
I know that McCarthy is not known for his brilliance (his gaffe not putting any of his Republicans on the Select Committee is now legendary), he was just trying to parrot Trump to be a tough bully -- but it was so stupid to threaten the honest, honorable, decent, remarkably talented Attorney General of the U.S. who not only is investigating many in your caucus but perhaps is even investigating you and has tons of information, indeed evidence.
So, there was Merrick Garland – pushing his chess piece across the board and saying to Kevin McCarthy, “Your move.” And all McCarthy can likely do is stare at the board, then stare at AG Garland, look around him at his team, blink, turn back to the board and say, “We’re playing chess?” And then perhaps add, “I thought we were playing marbles.”
But the problem with even that is that it’s a bluff, as well. Because that’s Kevin McCarthy. He’s an empty suit trying to bully without having brought anything to back it up. And so, all he can do is open his empty pockets, wistfully shrug, and beg off by explaining he can’t even play at that, because, you see, sorry, he’s lost his marbles.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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