Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"Dolemite Is My Name"


What a sweet, skillfully executed, tasteful morsel of a movie this is.

That pretty much covers it.  I should probably watch some Congressional hearing, and leave it at that.

But there’s more I can say.

Particularly about Eddie Murphy.

Who I have come to appreciate in muted and mellowing middle age. 

His, not mine.

I recently re-met Eddie Murphy on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  I could tell Jerry revered him.  They did the longest segment in the series together.  Also, Jerry told him, “I love you so much”, which kind of let it out of the bag.

It was a joy to see them totally in sync – the conjoined “Black-and-White Cookie”, as it were.  Or as Jerry expressed it, “Two Long Island comedy gunslingers.”  (Who broke into “Stand-up” at precisely the same time.)

The thing is Jerry’s still performing, while a retired Eddie Murphy trods the domestic terrain.

“What’s the first thing you do in the morning?”  Jerry asks him.

“I eat prunes…” 

“… Raisin Bran…”

(To which Jerry quips, “Well, we know what you’re doing the rest of the day.”)

Even if he wanted to go back onstage, there is the inevitable issue with super-rich, middle-aged comedians.

What do you talk about in your act?

“Every day, I eat four prunes.  Lost count – down to one.  I’m Iike, ‘Man, I’m not going to make it!”

Hard to match that with the stage-prowling octane of his youth.  Sexual content and onstage prowling fit together.  “Breakfast laxative” material?  That’s more leaning on the stool.  (Definitely no pun intended.)

It’s a challenging conundrum.  You cannot get back “up there” because the “heat’s” been turned down.  But you want to stay in the game. 

So what do you do?

If you are Eddie Murphy, you use your residual cachet to make a film about cultural icon Rudy Ray Moore, who overcame limitations in talent and bankrolling, cranking out naughty “Party Records” and “Blaxploitation” movies of questionable quality, inspiring the following generation with his brashness and flash.

(You can detect Rudy Ray Moore’s flashy influence in the dazzling wardrobe of Murphy’s early-filmed concerts.  Eddie’s addition to the recipe:  Unique comedy genius.)

With moneybags Netflix behind him, Murphy marshaled his latent “juices” (and impeccable judgment) into starring and producing and in the honoring Dolemite Is My Name, filmed with style, restraint, quality writing, resonant stagecraft, confident directing (Craig Brewer) and luminous casting, everyone onboard, cleary relishing their roles.

Lesson learned:

No need to throw in the towel, sitting home, munching on prunes.

The “Youthful Persona” is gone.

But the guy who invented it’s still “got it.”

Kudos to Dolemite Is My Name.

It’s no 48 Hrs.

But it feels like forever.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

"What's In The Bag?"


Maybe I pushed it.

“Does this story edge too close to ‘The Line.’”

By which I mean the “Good taste” line.

Which in these days of great “personal freedom”, we each decide for ourselves.  Not without thundering consequences, but we can decide.

Fine.  I shall take my chances. 

Fingers on keyboard and off we go.

Wait.  One historical underpinning and then, off we go.

As has been mentioned, I have been dealing with bronchitis.  (I shall speed this up, because who wants to hear about that, especially me?)

My condition was “plateauing”, which is what doctors say when they can’t fix you.  Further testing was prescribed, one, putting it delicately, involving a bathroom and a bottle.  

I had not anticipated that eventuality.  So – wouldn’t you know it? – I had availed myself of those facilities – minus the bottle – moments before I am called in.

Truth be told, when I was handed the small plastic jar and was directed towards the “Unisex” bathroom,

I had serious doubts I could “deliver.”

Short story shorter,

There was nuthin’.

I mean – twenty minutes of effort –

The arroyo was empty.

Which seriously upset me.  And not necessarily how you’d think.  (Nor because the “Unisex” bathroom door had no lock on it.)

You remember that Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s dentist sprayed bad anti-Semitic jokes and Jerry was asked if he resented that as a Jew, and he replied, “No!  As a comedian!” 

That’s how I felt.  I resented my failure not as a person, but as a performer!  Me, a man who had passed his original Driving Test on national television, after failing terribly twice without the cameras. 

I was a “Trouper!”

Today, I “hit my mark.”

But there was no “On with the show.”

I was now consigned to the humiliating “Take-Home.”  (You do it at home, and you bring it back in.)  They put the jar in a small paper bag, and off I went. 

For my “Private Performance.”

Which, I “aced” immediately the next morning.

Okay, that’s not the embarrassing part.  

The embarrassing part comes now.

Involving…

Taking it back.

The next day I call Lyft.  (I have stopped driving.)  I need them to “Ride-Hail” me to back the doctor’s. 

Me, and my “Sample.”

Which I have “double-safetily” secured, so that the jar in the small paper bag is now zipped in a “Baggie.” 

The reality is clear.  I am sitting in a stranger’s immaculate car, whose driver I have informed “I am making a quick stop at the doctor’s”,

holding a jar of pee in a bag in a “Baggie.”

You may know that at the end of each ride, passengers using Uber or Lyft get to evaluate their drivers.  What you may not know is that, for forewarning purposes, drivers can also evaluate their passengers.

Arman (my Armenian Lyft driver) almost surely knows what I have in the bag. 

How many “Stars” for “The guy brought pee into my car”?

Tightly-lidded, doubly-sheathed pee, but still pee nonetheless.

Imagine the “tableau.”

Lyft Driver Arman and I – clutching my hopefully sealed “Sample”, but who knows? – rolling down Santa Monica Boulevard, both of us knowing the score.

Neither of us mentioning the game.

You think about the difficult “down-sides” of giving up driving.

But you somehow never think about that.

Monday, October 14, 2019

"The Line"


So I have this story to tell that happened to me and it seemed like a post.

The thing is it’s kind of close to “the Line.”

What line?

The line between “I feel comfortable telling this story”, and “I don’t.”

The decision “Yes” or “No” is entirely personal.  It did not used to be.  Once, it was a cultural decision.  As in,

“That sir, (or madam) was in extremely poor taste.”  (Sniff, sniff.)

In comedy back then, there were rules regarding “Acceptable” and “PU.”  All that is now gone.  The cultural “Standards and Practices” office has vacated the premises, and is now a flourishing “Nails” salon.

Today, it is entirely up to us.

That last sentence made me stop for a second, realizing the acquired personal responsibility, which I would not exaggerate to call “onerous.”

I have mentioned elsewhere but it bears repeating so I am repeating it, that today, every comedian defines for themselves the boundaries of “acceptable material.”  (Though if the audience does not laugh, they have to define them again, or enter an alternate line of moneymaking endeavor.)

I am thinking, for example, about Larry David.  Not the Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld, whose generic impulses, I sense, were tempered by Jerry’s sunnier “Maybe there is a nicer way of putting that.”

I am referring instead to the undiluted Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm, whose “Persona”, at least, appears virtually shameless, and, therefore, pushing the boundaries of comedic acceptability, is to some, hilariously funny.  (And to others, repulsively cringe-worthy.)

This may not be the best “Larry David” example, but it is the best one I can think of at this typing.

I believe I saw this in the extended HBO Curb Your Enthusiasm “Pilot.”  In the sequence I am about to inaccurately relate, Larry stands at the desk, settling his bill at a fancy New York hotel, buttressed by his fully accommodating manager, Jeff.

(Note:  The following dialogue is “pure paraphrase”, but you can hold me to the gist.)

 Jeff explains that his Personal Management company will be covering Larry David’s entire hotel bill.

“Including ‘Room Service’ and ‘Incidentals’?”

“Including all ‘Room Service’ and ‘Incidentals’”, asserts a loudly magnanimous Jeff.

“Including the ‘Porn.’”

“We are absolutely covering the ‘Porn’”, proclaims Jeff, for the entire lobby to hear.

Larry stands between the hotel Desk Clerk and Jeff, looking sheepish, though not as sheepish as I would.  In a voice echoed by the reverberating lobby, Larry says,

“I’ll pay for the ‘Porn.’”

To which Jeff insistently replies,

“No way.  The ‘Porn’ is entirely on me.”

And off we go.

“It’s okay.  I can pay for the ‘Porn.’”

“Larry, you are being ridiculous.  (TO DESK CLERK, Re: Larry))  The ‘Porn’ goes on my bill.”

“No, no.  I’ll take care of the ‘Porn.’”

“Larry, trust me.  It is my supreme pleasure to pay for the ‘Porn.’”

It may have gone on a bit longer than that, but you get the idea.

“Hotel Porn Payments” are regularly not the subject of loud lobby conversation.

But they did it, because they thought was funny.  And the prevailing culture said,

“We don’t decide that anymore.”

Which brings me to me and my story.  Equally embarrassing in its own regard.

The difference is my wavering qualms about telling it.  (I’m not sure you can have one “qualm”, but if you can, one would generously suffice.)

I am sure, hearing it, Larry David would say, “That’s nothing!”

But I am not Larry David.

Though not dissimilar in age, we have disparate placements of “The Line”, and I am not sure what to do. 

I mean, it is not really that bad.

Still, I fear edging perilously towards the abyss.

See what all the fuss is about tomorrow.  Unless I wimp out and talk about baseball instead.