Well, it's that time o' year. I was going to start our annual Holiday Music Fest tomorrow, when he hit December, so I figured I'd end November with this terrific comedy interview from this week on The Tonight Show. But as I was getting it ready, I realized that the center of it is a holiday song. So, though a bit offbeat for the Fest, it fits -- and let's start things off this way. 'Tis the season, after all.
If you watch Saturday Night Live, you know James Austin Johnson's eerie and hilarious impersonation of Trump -- not just from the voice, but the syntax of changes topics in mid-sentence and rambling on about meaningless subjects.
He was a guest on The Tonight Show this week and had an interesting conversation, talking among other things about his process and going through impersonations of Owen Wilson, Nicholas Cage, Joe Biden and Trump. But it's about six minutes into the interview when he gets around to doing his uncanny impersonation of Bob Dylan singing "Jingle Bells" in the different stages of his career that blows everyone away. I sent this to a friend who's a borderline-obsessive Dylan fan, and he was overwhelmed, saying that Johnson got them all perfect.
Though this comes from Al Franken’s podcast website, it’s not precisely one of his own podcasts. Rather, as he explains it’s a sketch he co-wrote and performs, which he made for the “What the Hack” podcast that deals with the issue of technology privacy. He does into the full story of how it came about, so I won’t repeat it here – but it has pretty amusing background that goes back to when he was in the Senate and wanted to do something like this for a committee he served on.
The premise of the sketch is a Senate committee hearing about privacy, where the two witnesses are Alexa and Siri answering questions exactly like Alexa and Siri would. And the sketch itself is (for my taste) hilarious.
Franken plays the voices of Bernie Sanders, Chuck Grassley, Sherrod Brown, Susan Collins, Mitch McConnell and himself. Playing the voice of Alexa is one of Franken’s compatriots from his days on Saturday Night Live, Larraine Newman. But best of all -- and this is joyously wonderful -- the voice of Siri is played by Susan Bennett. Who is Susan Bennett, I hear you ask? She’s the real voice of Siri!!
But my favorite thing about the sketch (because this thing is weird, but a smart, “of course!” thing to do) is probably that every single time the name “Alexa” or “Siri” is mentioned during the hearing, we hear (just like in real life) Alexa or Siri recognize their name, react to it and beep. I love that idea enough on general comedy principle, but all the better it leads to some pretty fun, convoluted humor, as well.
Though the audio says it’s 21 minutes, that’s the full podcast. The sketch and Franken’s introduction is only 12 minutes.
Today, we'll have a festival of sorts of Thanksgiving related pieces -- from songs to videos to old radio shows. And this is a good place to start.
I'm a big fan of Jack Benny, and have been since a kid. Perhaps I got it from my Grandma Rose who loved Benny, and I remember watching his TV show with her when little. Later, when I was at a senior at Northwestern I finally had built up enough contacts to figure out how to get access to their great radio archive -- it was like entering a wonderful, wall-to-wall recordings of old radio programs, and I was able to tape record a bunch of old Benny shows for my collection, which I still have. They're gems.
It turns out that my friend and reader of these pages, Eric Boardman -- an all-around talented fellow and Second City alum -- is quite the fan, as well. He sent me the following several months back, about the Jack Benny Show's Thanksgiving special on November 30, 1952 --
"It's no secret, I am obsessed with the Jack Benny radio show. Each night I listen to an episode on my phone as I fall asleep. (Do you conk out with a smile on your kisser?)
"Yes, I know Thanksgiving is long over, but this particular program will bring joy to any season. Today's sitcom staffers should study the construction. And everybody else should howl with laughter---and marvel at the gags radio encourages. Benny's writers are constantly surprising us with 'visual" images' And Mr. Benny generously shares the jokes with his crackerjack cast. (Thanks always to the Sportsman Quartet for making cigarette commercials satisfying.) 'The Lucky Strike Program with Jack Benny' is high art, maybe the highest of the genre.
It's that time o' year, and I think it's near-impossible on Thanksgiving to not celebrate with this classic by Stan Freberg, from his great Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America.
And so let's start the day off with his version of how Thanksgiving actually came about.
It begins with the local mayor decided a bit of self-promotion would help him if he threw a big gala and invited some Indians to show what a great guy he was. Which leads to a Freberg gem, "Take an Indian to Lunch."
And once the holiday event was decided upon, things didn't go as smoothly as plans would hope.
If you didn't see "Last Week Tonight" with John Oliver last night, the Main Story was on the FIFA organization handing the rights to hold the World Cup tournament in Qatar, a nation widely known for its significant human rights abuses and repressive government. The report is very interesting, detailed and gives Oliver (who acknowledges his deep love of the sport) a continuing opportunity for humor.
On this week's The Problem with Jon Stewart, they offer their Election Wrap-Up Special. As the site writes, "Who won? Who lost? Are we still a democracy? All we know is that everyone is happy and absolutely no one is questioning the results."
We know one other thing -- his opening monologue analysis is wonderful. Very funny, angry, pointed and smart. (By the way, while I totally agree with his point about the monumentally overhyped, hyperbolic dramatization of the news coverage, I saying that the election was just about individuals going to the polls and voting goes too far in the other direction to make a point. The race was close, and there was a great deal at stake which easily could have had very different, impactful results. But he's very right, all that could have been presented significantly better in the news than as "A War!!" or a sports contest where only the score matters.).
The episode is about 35 minutes. I can’t embed the video, but if you click on the link here, it will take you to the website, where you just click on the “Play Episode” button to watch the show.
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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