Friday, February 26, 2010

Week 2 of 2010 Winter Olympics Swish-Whack Awards

Week 2 of 2010 Winter Olympics Swish-Whack Awards

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

It's week two of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, and I'm giving a second round of Swish-Whack, Take That awards. I created the awards in 2004 to honor America's Mariel Zagunis, who won America's first fencing gold medal in 100 years.

The problem was NBC did such a crappy job of covering Zagunis' historic prize, they only spent 30 seconds on her entire bout. So I give Swish-Whack awards during the Olympics whenever someone does something that deserves attention.

Last week, the first Swish-Whack award of 2010 went to Dutch speed skater, Sven Kramer, who asked an NBC reporter if she was stupid, and refused to answer a question ("If you can say your name and your country and what you just won here").

However, the judges had to confer to discuss whether Kramer should lose his Swish-Whack award, after he won gold in the 10,000 meter, but was then disqualified for an improper lane change. It turns out Kramer's coach, Gerard Kemkers, told him to switch at the wrong time.

"I was on my way to make the right decision and right before the corner I changed my decision because of the advice from (Kemkers)," Kramer told the press. "At the end of the day, it is my responsibility. I am the skater on the ice, I have to do it."

The judges were torn. Do they take away last week's well-earned Swish-Whack for such an amateurish mistake? Or do they give one — grudgingly — to NBC out of a sense of vindication.

After discussing it long into the night with the SWTT Organizing Committee, the judges have decided to let Kramer keep his Swish-Whack, but to award a second one to NBC The two will then share the Swish-Whack awards as double award winners.

The next Swish-Whack goes to American men's figure skater Evan Lysacek, who defeated Russian effete snob, Yevgeny Plushenko for the gold.

"Obviously, Evan needs the medal more than me, maybe because I've got one already," said Plushenko. "I think we need to change the judging system -- a quad is a quad. If an Olympic champion doesn't do a quad, well I don't know. Now it's not men's figure skating, it's dancing."

But Plushenko's little hissy fit didn't stop there. His website awarded him a platinum medal, which was later taken down, and his agent said that Plushenko had nothing to do with the egotistical power pout. The label "Platinum medal" was taken down, although the extra-shiny medal was not.

So, in addition to the gold medal, I'm awarding Lysacek a special rhodium Swish-Whack award for remaining classy and not acting like a pouty little girl, unlike some Russian figure skaters we could name. (Rhodium is more valuable than platinum.)

It's another Olympic first: a Swish-Whack award goes to a pair of pants. The Norwegian men's curling team pants, to be exact. These argyle beauties have raised a lot of eyebrows among the Olympic crowd, but people loved them, including the King of Norway. They even had a Facebook fan page.

That is, until Facebook suspended the page, claiming they violated the site's terms of use, prompting page manager Tony D'Orazio called it a "sad day for pants." However, anger abounded among the argyle activists, so they left comments on the page about the unfairness of it all. So Facebook brought the page back after 2.5 hours later.

So a loud and colorful argyle Swish-Whack Take That! award goes not only to the pants, but to the 470,000+ fans whose loud pants-inspired tirades got Facebook to restore the page to glory.

Finally, another historic Swish-Whack award goes to Americans Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane for taking gold and silver in the men's individual Nordic Combined event, just two days after winning silver in the team event. It was America's first gold in a Nordic sport, and the fourth individual medal in any Nordic sport (cross-country skiing and ski jumping). Spillane's was the fifth.

I'm proud and pleased to give the final Swish-Whack of the 2010 Winter Olympics to Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane for making American Olympic history, and finally winning in a sport that has been dominated by Scandinavian teams ever since the Vikings strapped pieces of a barrel to their feet and went sliding down a mountain.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Swish-Whack, Take That! (The Origins of the Swish-Whack Awards)

Swish-Whack, Take That!

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2004

With the XXI Winter Olympics drawing to a close, I'm getting ready to write my 2nd installment of the 2010 Swish-Whack awards, which I give out at every Olympics. Since Wayback Wednesday is the day I reprint old columns, I thought I would reprint the original Swish-Whack column that gave birth to these highly coveted (by me) awards. This column originally appeared in August 2004.

Although NBC's Olympic coverage has greatly improved (only one "Up Close and Personal" per night, less blathering by Al Trautwig, Elfi Schlegel, and Tim Daggett during gymnastics), I wish they would have shown more fencing.

Fencing is such a cool sport. It's one of the few Olympic sports that's actually based on real fighting and killing skills people used centuries ago (archery, shooting, and the javelin are a few others). All the rest of the sports are based on transportation (rowing, running, swimming), recreation (volleyball and badminton) or torture and masochism (gymnastics and race walking).

But fencing is such a satisfying sport, especially the saber. It's different from the foil and epee, where the fencers only try to poke each other. Saber fencers fight like they're fending off pirates.

However, in saber fencing, the buzzer sounds when you've been hit, rather than your arm being whacked off.

With the saber, you duel with your opponent, swords clang, and then -- Swish-Whack, Take That! -- a point is scored. The fencer raises his or her fist in celebration, and is warmed by the sense of smug self-satisfaction from knowing that if it were a real duel, their opponent would be dead.

It happened in the women's saber event when -- Swish-Whack, Take That! -- 19-year-old Mariel Zagunis beat China's Xue Tan to take America's first fencing gold medal in 100 years.

In honor of Zagunis' great, but largely unnoticed, accomplishment, I have created the Swish-Whack awards, and give a few during the first week of the Olympic games.

The first Swish-Whack award goes to Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the president of the Athens Organizing Committee. She is largely responsible for bringing the games to Athens, but was shoved aside after the bid was completed. After the Greeks fell way behind schedule in building the venues, they were warned that they might lose the games, and that the International Olympic Committee would send them back to Sydney. So the Greek politicians groveled and asked Angelopoulos-Daskalaki to please please PLEASE come back and make sure everything got finished on time.

She did just that. The venues were finished with just moments to spare, the transportation issues had been largely solved, and the games would stay in Athens. And now, after a marvelous opening ceremony and six days of competition -- Swish-Whack, Take That! -- it looks like Angelopoulos-Daskalaki is the queen once again. Maybe next time Greek politicians will think twice before firing the woman who made them winners in the first place.

The next award goes to American male gymnast Paul Hamm, gold medalist of the male all-around gymnastic competition. During the vault, Hamm managed to make a perfect landing. . . right on his butt. This immediately dropped him to 12th place, and everyone -- including me -- was convinced it was all over.

"No one can ever come back from 12th," I said to my wife, since I'm a men's gymnastics expert. "He's too far back, and the judges aren't being very generous tonight." I knew I was right, because the NBC commentators were saying the same thing.

Swish-Whack, Take That! After two great performances on the parallel bars and high bar, and a few falls by the leaders, Hamm came from behind, and became the second American gymnast, male or female, to ever win the all-around. Maybe next time I'll quit listening to the Three Stooges of Olympic gymnastics.

The final Swish-Whack award goes to American gymnast Carly Patterson, the 16-year-old Texan who, as I write this column, just gave Russian diva Svetlana Khorkina a good old-fashioned American spanking in the women's all-around gymnastics competition.

Khorkina, the self-titled "Queen of Gymnastics," was bound and determined to win in her final Olympics, having failed twice before in 1996 and 2000. In the weeks leading up to the Olympics, she told everyone she was a champion and that she would prevail on this night.

Patterson, the last performer of the evening, completed her floor exercise and everyone eagerly waited for the final score. While they waited, Khorkina grabbed a Russian flag and waved it around as if she had won the gold. She draped it over the uneven bars and waved to the crowd, fully expecting the elusive medal to be hers.

Swish-Whack, Take That!

The scoreboard lit up, and Carly Patterson won the gold. She became the second American woman to win the women's all-around competition. The Queen had been dethroned.

If nothing else, the Olympics will teach us some very important lessons. Never give up on the underdog. Never count someone out just because they're down. And never ever, under any circumstances, call yourself the queen because -- Swish-Whack, Take That! -- you may just get beat by a little princess.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Phone It In Sunday: The iPad is a Comedy Gold Mine

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad, Twitter exploded with all kinds of childish humor, including an infinite number of tampon jokes. Leave it to to come up with the actual thought process all of us went through to make our hours and hours of jokes.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

The 2010 Winter Olympics Swish-Whack Take That! Awards

The 2010 Winter Olympics Swish-Whack Take That! Awards

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

I created the Swish-Whack awards during the 2004 Athens Olympics, to shine some light on the sport of fencing, after America's Mariel Zagunis, 19, won America's first fencing gold medal in 100 years.

Even back then, NBC's coverage of the Olympics was so awful, they only showed Zagunis' three points, and then skipped her medal ceremony. The entire coverage of this very historic event lasted for no more than 30 seconds.

So I give out the Swish-Whack awards during the Olympics whenever anyone stuns the crowd, dope-slaps the critics, and does something that the rest of the world should know about.

The first Swish-Whack award goes to Dutch speed skater, Sven Kramer, who won a gold medal in the 5,000 meter race during the first full day of the Olympic games. After the race, Kramer was being interviewed by a reporter from — no real surprise — NBC.

"If you can say your name and your country and what you just won here," said the unnamed reporter.

Kramer answered, "Are you stupid? Hell no, I'm not going to do that."

The reporter was unfazed, and went on with the rest of the interview, and Kramer finished without further incident. However, when he was asked about the stupid question by a Dutch journalist, he said, "Come on, this is ridiculous. You've just become Olympic gold medal winner. She was there when it happened and then you have to sum up your whole biography, etc. She's crazy."

So, Swish-Whack goes to Sven Kramer for saying what everyone else wishes they had the chance to say. NBC, you deserved that one. If you can say your name, your IQ, and why every American hates your coverage.

The next one goes to Shaun White and his coach Bud Keene, who managed to sneak a couple of expletives into the live NBC broadcast before White's second run on the half pipe, where he had already won gold.

"Yeah, drop a double mick at the end. Do whatever you want and f---ing send that thing. Make sure you stomp the s--- out of that thing," Keene told White, which was then picked up by the NBC camera.

The network can't complain, because they were eavesdropping on two grown men carrying on an adult conversation where people normally aren't allowed to listen. The snowboard announcers apologized for the slips. However, since their camera was where it probably shouldn't have been, they should have apologized for being nosy, not for Bud Keene.

So a big Swish-Whack to Bud Keene for doing a verbal Janet Jackson on a national feed, and reminding NBC why they need to be careful about where they poke their noses.

Rather than turn this into an NBC gripe fest (even though I've got lots more to gripe about, believe me) let's head down to Australia, where sports commentators for Channel 9, Eddie McGuire and Mick Molloy, have gotten themselves into trouble for making cracks about Johnny Weir. After Weir's short program performance on Tuesday, the two made several homophobic comments about my countryman, his costume, and his sexual orientation.

"They don't leave anything in the locker room, these blokes, do they?" said Molloy.

"They don't leave anything in the closet, either, do they?" said McGuire.

The two idiots then made a series of gay jokes, which caused a number of Sydney viewers to lodge a large number of official complaints.

So the third Swish-Whack goes to Johnny Weir for rising above what people think of him, and for placing sixth in men's figure skating. And McGuire and Molloy should be proud of their Australian figure skaters for placing — oh wait, what? They didn't have any figure skaters this year? Then don't bag our countrymen until you can find one graceful Aussie to enter.

The final Swish-Whack goes to the people in Vancouver who have been trying to see the Olympic cauldron, but were stopped by a chain link fence. The fence, complete with "no trespassing" signs, was about 50 meters (164 feet) away from the cauldron, and people weren't able to see the flame, let alone take a decent picture.

The Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (called VANOC) tried lamely to say that the barrier was to protect the International Media Center, but it's not like they needed it. So the people complained. Loudly.

They said that the Olympic flame, a symbol of the democratic spirit of the Olympics, should be visible to the people. That the people who paid for it with their taxes and their tickets should be allowed to actually see the flame.

And unlike NBC and the thousands of complaints about their crappy coverage, VANOC actually listened. They moved the fence in by 80 feet, and cut a strip out of the fence so people could take photos. It's not up close access, but they at least showed a willingness to listen to their people.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

2010 Winter Olympics Preview

2010 Winter Olympics Preview

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

As I write this, we're just 24 hours away from the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. I love the Winter Olympics. You can keep your track and field, your gymnastics, your women's softball. Give me downhill skiing, the bobsled, and curling.

To get us into the Olympic spirit, here's a quick look at what's happening around the city with the athletes.

Sasha Cohen recently told sports reporters that the U.S. skaters did not have a chance of winning a medal at this year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver. While I'm all for national pride, I think Cohen's being a little ungrateful to the country where he filmed "Borat" and "BrĂ¼no."

I mean, who the heck does this guy think he is to come to our country, make our fellow citizens feel foolish with his crude and juvenile movies, and then to pass himself off as some kind of skating expert, saying, "(They) are good skaters, they're just not at the same level as the international girls." What a freaking jerk. Man, if I ever see that guy, I will personally—

What? I'm thinking of Sacha Baron Cohen, the British actor? And this was Sasha Cohen, the American Olympic silver medal figure skater?

Yeah, she's right, they totally don't stand a chance.

American skier Lindsey Vonn is using pain killers and numbing cream to ease the pain in her severely bruised right shin, in the hopes that she can ski this weekend. Vonn was injured last week, badly bruising her shin on a training run, which jeopardized her chances for competing in the games. This is especially devastating news, since she has been considered a favorite to win at least three gold medals. Vonn has said she plans on skiing in all events.

Tonya Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gilooley, could not be reached for comment.

Russia continues to face problems with their athletes taking performance enhancing drugs, said the International Olympic Committee. IOC president Jacques Rogge said he was especially concerned, since Russia will host the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, yet many of their biathletes and cross-country skiers continue to test positive for a variety of banned substances. (The biathlon is a sport that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting.)

Russian Olympic team spokeswoman Elena Voly held a press conference at the Vancouver Media Center. She vehemently denied these accusations, slamming a meaty fist onto the podium, cracking it. Her Adam's apple and massive biceps quivered in anger as her deep voice boomed out across the press center denouncing what she called a smear campaign by the West.

Canadian thieves have committed what may be one of the most unpardonable sins of this Olympics: they stole the uniform and shoes of Mirjam Ott, captain of the Swiss women's curling team.

This is quite a blow to the Swiss team, and to Ott in particular. The uniform can easily be replaced, but curling shoes are to curlers what baseball gloves are to major league ball players. Players take weeks to break them in, and will keep them for years.

The crime has Olympians up in arms, and the sports media angrily denouncing the cowardly thieves. If the crooks are caught, they face several years in prison, and will be subjected to watching every minute of the ice dancing competition.

There's always someone who wants to ruin it for everybody. And in Vancouver, it's the Olympic Resistance Network, an anti-Olympic protest group made up of social activists, anti-capitalists, and pasty-faced whiners who have nothing better to do than to be a royal pain.

For months, the protestors have been decrying the presence of the Olympics in Vancouver with things like community choirs and placards during one demonstration, or lighting torches and playing the Rolling Stones "Street Fighting Man." (Because as everyone knows, the Rolling Stones are anti-capitalists who don't really want the hundreds of millions of dollars they have already earned from their lucrative four-decade career.)

"Our main goal is to be the voice of opposition, to disrupt the games with a message of resistance and the true social impacts," groused Anna Hunter, an organizer of the unwashed rabble.

The expected crowd of 1,000 whiners and complainers will gather at 3:00 pm on Friday, and march the eight blocks to the opening ceremony, where many will collapse from exhaustion, after years of a largely-meatless diet and sedentary lifestyle of sitting on couches reading Marx.

Good luck athletes, and go USA!

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Understanding 7 Different Types of Humor

One of my pet peeves is when people say they have a "dry" sense of humor, without actually understanding what it actually means.

"Dry" humor is not just any old type of humor. It's not violent, not off-color, not macabre or dark.

Basically, dry humor is that deadpan style of humor. It's the not-very-funny joke your uncle the cost analysis accountant tells. It's Bob Newhart, Steven Wright, or Jason Bateman in Arrested Development.

It is not, for the love of GOD, people, the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I swear, if anyone says Monty Python is "dry humor" is going to get a smack.

Here are some other types of comedy you may have heard and are just tossing around, willy-nilly.

  • Farce: Exaggerated comedy. Characters in a farce get themselves in an unlikely or improbable situation that takes a lot of footwork and fast talking to get out of. The play "The Foreigner" is an example of a farce, as are many of the Jeeves & Wooster stories by P.G. Wodehouse.

  • Dark: Humor about the gross, violent, and otherwise depressing things in life; also called Black Comedy. People who work in emergency response — police, fire fighters, EMTs — have great dark humor. When I was in Risk Communication at the Indiana State Department of Health, my boss once said during a nuclear attack simulation that all of our planning was pointless, since we would all be "shadows on the wall." We all cracked up at the grotesque image. That's dark humor. (Think M*A*S*H.) "Gallows humor" is similar to dark humor, but the victim is the source of the comedy.

  • Screwball: Humor based on a misunderstanding, such as mistaken identities, taking an overhead piece of conversation out of context, etc. Screwball comedies usually involve sex or marriage as well. Three's Company is a classic example of a screwball comedy. It's also my least favorite type of comedy.

  • Slapstick: Physical humor. Lots of pratfalls, falling, being hit on the head, etc. The term actually comes from the prop that actors used to hit each other with. It made a loud noise, but was hardly felt. Charlie Chaplin, the Three Stooges, and Chevy Chase did slapstick comedy.

  • Parody: People often confuse this with satire, but the two are completely different. Parody mocks or makes fun of an original work. Saturday Night Live often parodies movies and TV shows. Those funny movie titles you come up with based on original movie titles ("Shaving Ryan's Privates") are parodies. They also stop being funny after about the fifth or sixth one.

  • Satire: Satire is basically making fun of or ridiculing human follies and shortcomings, hopefully in the hopes of causing improvement. So the next time your spouse accuses you of making fun of his or her weight, just say, "I'm not making fun of you, I'm satirizing you so that you will be motivated to improve yourself. Pig." Satire is often meant to be funny, but that's not the purpose of it, which explains Al Franken's radio show on Air America.

Photo of Yue Minjun's "A-Mazing Laughter": TimBarton
Photo of the happy horse: Bill Gracey

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Outback Steakhouse Has a Potty Word in Its Children's Menu

My family and I went to Outback Steakhouse in Castleton (an area on the NE side of Indianapolis), and the kids were working on the word search in the children's menus.

I managed to find my own word that is probably not that family friendly.

(Note: I'm not complaining, I thought it was pretty funny.)

Stay classy, Outback.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why My Wife is Awesome

This is the entry I submitted to the Indiana Ballet Company's presentation of Romeo & Juliet. In fact, I won, so I get to take my lovely bride, Toni Deckers, to this weekend's performance of Romeo & Juliet.

(Oh God, did I just undo years of manliness?)

One of my favorite baseball stories, from Michael Lewis' Moneyball illustrates what love is for me.

Scott Hatteberg was a professional baseball catcher. That's all he had ever known. Every spring, summer, and fall, since he was 10, you'd find him crouched down, behind the plate, playing catch with a guy 60 feet, 6 inches away. All the motions, the throws, the knowledge becomes second nature when you spend 22 years of your life doing it.

In fact, at the peak of his career, Scott Hatteberg was the catcher for the Boston Red Sox — no mean feat. It meant he was one of the best.

But after a serious injury and surgery to his throwing arm, Scott could barely throw the ball back to the pitcher's mound, let alone throw a runner out at second base, so he was released by the Red Sox. Had it not been for his amazing batting skills, he would have been finished.

A few days after Christmas, Scott received a call from the Oakland A's, asking him to join the team. With one catch: he was going to play first base.

Being a first baseman is like being a catcher. The pros have been playing the position for at least 20 years. They know where the base is instinctively, rather than looking around for it. First basemen catch pop flies, field grounders, and catch balls thrown to them. They rarely throw the ball. And they don't crouch.

Scott had never played first base — had never played out in the field — since he was 10. He had never even fielded a big league ground ball.

Bitsy Hatteberg, Scott's wife, is not a big woman. She barely breaks 100 pounds, and is five feet, one inch. She's, well, itsy-bitsy. But she loves her husband. So the day the Oakland A's called, Scott and Bitsy took their two daughters to a park, where they plopped the girls into a sandbox.

And, using a batter's tee, Bitsy Hatteberg hit ground balls to her husband for the first time in his life. She hit ball after ball, because she loved him, because she believed in him. Bitsy Hatteberg whacked ground balls to her husband, because he needed her to.

I tell this story, because it's the only way I can explain the impact my wife, Toni, has had in my life. Time and again, life has sent me in a new direction. I've played for a new team, been forced to learn a new position.

Every time, I've been afraid. I can't do it. I've never played this spot before. What if I fail? What if I'm not good enough.

And every time, my wife has gotten me ready for it. She coaches me, encourages me, and supports me. She doesn't let me talk myself out of something, she reminds me that I can do it. That I can succeed, because she will help me get it done.

She has, metaphorically-speaking, whacked ground balls to me for the last 16 years. Without my wife, I would not be the man that I am, the father that I am. Basically, I could not do what I do without Toni Deckers.

That's what love means to me.

(Thank you to Elizabeth Audet and the Indiana Ballet Company for the tickets. We'll enjoy the show.)

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Wayback Wednesday: You Know, It's Just. . . "It"

You Know, It's Just. . . "It"

Every Wednesday, I republish old columns from years past. I've got 16 years of the things sitting in the garage, so they might as well serve some other purpose. This is one originally published in 2003. That's why Paula Abdul is still one of the judges.

RYAN: Welcome back to another episode of American Idol, where lots of pop superstar wannabes show their stuff to our panel of judges, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson, and Simon "Scowl" Cowell. Let's go inside the judges' room and see if we can find America's next American Idol.

PAULA: Hi, I'm Paula, and I'm speechless. Let's see, your name is, uhh, Lucy-Anno?

LUCIANO: It's Luciano. And I'm going to sing the aria from "Rigoletto."

(Luciano sings for 10 seconds)

PAULA: Wow, I'm speechless. I don't know what to say. I'm just stunned into complete silence. I mean I just can't think of anything to say.

RANDY: That wasn't bad. But I have to say, Lucy, you just don't have the . . . physique we're looking for in a pop star.

SIMON: Actually, aside from you being very fat, that was probably the worst thing I've ever heard.

LUCIANO: What?! I've been an opera singer for nearly 60 years.

SIMON: No, you've been deluding yourself for 60 years; you just don't have "It."

LUCIANO: "It?" What is "It?!" I'm Luciano freakin' Pavarotti. Maybe you've heard of me? I've sung all over the world for millions of people. I've given performances to kings, queens, and presidents.

RANDY: I'm sure you think so, but it's not happening here.

SIMON: Yes, you're the worst singer in the world. Get out.

PAULA: Thank you for coming. I'm speechless.

LUCIANO: Yeah, whatever.

RANDY: Let's see, next we have Bruce.

BRUCE: Hi, how ya' doin'? I'll be doing "Born to Run."

(Bruce sings for 10 seconds)

PAULA: Wow. I don't know what to say. I'm speechless. Mere words cannot describe what I'm feeling right now, so I'm just speechless. I don't even know how to begin to enunciate the emotions that I--

RANDY: You're a little old to be a pop singer, Bruce. And you just don't have "It." Sorry, man.

BRUCE: What do you mean, I don't have "It?" I've been a rock singer for 30 years!

SIMON: Then you should hire a lawyer and sue your music teacher. That was probably the worst thing I've ever heard. Your voice is too gritty and rough to make it in the music business.

BRUCE: Are you kidding me? I'm Bruce Springsteen. You know, "The Boss?" I've made 20 albums in 30 years, and I have my own band.

RANDY: Look, making some demo tapes on a $20 tape recorder does not constitute "an album." And just because you have your own band doesn't make you a singer. I've never heard of you.

SIMON: You're the worst singer in the entire world. Please go now.

PAULA: I've never heard of you either. Oh, and I'm speechless.

BRUCE: Bunch of know-nothing jerks.

PAULA: Okay, next we have . . . is it Oh-zee?

OZZY: Ozzy.

RANDY: What are you going to sing for us, Ozzy?

OZZY: Uh gunh sin "Crazy Train."

(Ozzy sings for 10 seconds)

PAULA: Speechless. I'm just speechless. Like the great French mime, Marcel Marceau, I simply do not have anything to say.

SIMON: That was absolutely, without a doubt, the worst thing I've ever heard. Oh, and you're the worst singer in the world.

RANDY: I don't know who you're supposed to be with all these tattoos and the long hair, but you're definitely not going to make it in the music business.

OZZY: What'rr ya talkin' 'bout. Ah'm a bluddy supestarrr.

RANDY: What? I can't understand a word you're saying. Look, you just don't have "It."

OZZY: "It?" Wha da "BLEEP" iz "It?"

SIMON: "It" is something you don't have. And you're the worst at not having "It."

OZZY: Luk, Ah'm Ozzy Osbourne. Ya kno, da Prinz uv effing Darknuss. Da Osbournes? Frum da telly. Wit Sharon and dose tu brats. I wuz in Black Sabbath.

PAULA: What's Black Sabbath? I don't think I've heard of that. Is that a bug spray?

SIMON: Listen, you're the worst singer in the -- oh, I already said that. Now get out.

OZZY: Buncha mineluss slogs wun't kno moozik frum uh fert.

PAULA: Buh-bye. I'm speechless!

SIMON: I wish you were speechless. You're the worst judge in the world. You just don't have "It."

PAULA: Yeah, well you're a pompous "BLEEP!"

RANDY: By the way, what is "It" anyway?

RYAN: Well, that's all we have time for on this week's American Idol. Be sure to join us next week when we search for the next. . . American Idol.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

How Google's Super Bowl Commercial REALLY Ended

Google had a great commercial on the Super Bowl last night, telling a story just through searches. I could imagine the stages of life the searcher was going through as he looked for answers to important questions.

But how did it really end?

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Phone It In Sunday: SNL's An Even-Tempered Apology from Rahm Emanuel

Saw this on SNL last night. I wish Rahm Emanuel would really issue an apology like this. "What are you, 14?!" Brilliant.

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Friday, February 05, 2010

The Reluctant Evolution of a Computer Geek

The Reluctant Evolution of a Computer Geek

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

I've been amazed at how far computers have come from the first days I used one.

I was 13 years old, when my dad paid nearly $3,000 for a Radio Shack TRS-80 home computer.

"It'll be great," he said. "I'll be able to type my articles on here, and won't have to retype them if I find any mistakes."

My dad was (and still is) a psychology professor at Ball State University, trying to earn tenure at the time. The way to do that was to publish one research article in an academic journal every year.

I realize this is not stretching far back into computer history, and that some of you are old enough to still remember painting on cave walls as an early form of Instant Messaging. Still, I was around for the early stages of the personal home computer.

Back in the late '70s and early '80s, writing a journal-quality article involved a lot of typing and retyping. It was not something you took lightly, since it took several minutes of high-stress worry to type a single page.

You hoped you caught errors before you hit the carriage return to move down to the next line. You corrected errors with White-Out, or if you were really fancy, correction tape.

When you were finished, if you found a mistake on a page, you swore loudly and stomped and slammed around the house for several minutes, before retyping the offending page, praying desperately that the new correction didn't push a line off the page, which would force you to retype the rest of the document.

That's why many people would hire typists, who had mastered the beastly machines and charged $1.00 – $1.50 per typed page (worth roughly $3.30 – $5 today). The real money lay in typing some poor schlub's master's thesis that clocked in around 150 pages or so.

When my dad brought home his computer, you'd have thought we were the first family on the block to get television.

My friends thought it was stupid. "Who the hell needs a computer?" they snorted, clutching their stone knives. My dad's colleagues were suspicious and dismissive, but, I think, secretly jealous.

(No college professor will ever admit when he has been outdone by another professor. The professional jealousy and backstabbing on a college campus makes the Bolshevik Revolution look like a fancy tea party.)

As predicted, my dad was able to improve his output in writing his articles, and was granted tenure. His colleagues were suitably impressed, but like most college professors, didn't embrace change and stayed firmly rooted in the 1930s, until the department bought computers for them a few years later. I, on the other hand, used it for more important pursuits.

I played games.

I also learned some programming skills, using BASIC, the language of the TRS-80. And since I was inclined to, well, cheat at the games, I needed to know how to reprogram some of the variables to insure I didn't die prematurely (or at all).

Viruses were nonexistent, and very few people could ever go online. Not like now, where our entire lives are lived online, and it's a rare computer that doesn't have some sort of virus on it.

Luckily for me, I didn't pursue computer programming as a career, choosing instead to have a social life and to date women. However, I now own a company that does online marketing for businesses and corporations. So I never really strayed from my early computer roots.

I'm often amazed at how far computers have come in just a few short years. In the 1960s, a company computer was a mainframe system made up of a gigantic bank of computers, each bigger than a refrigerator. The processing power and storage capacity of those machines are thousands of times less than your average cell phone, but they cost millions of dollars.

Yet, as I write this, I'm looking at a 1 GB (gigabyte) flash drive that is smaller than my thumb; 1 GB is equal to about 21,000 pages of text. And my laptop is connected to a 1 TB (terabyte) hard drive, about the size of a paperback book, which can hold 1,000 of these little flash drives, or 21 million pages.

I think we're going to see some amazing things over the next 10 years, let alone the next 30. And maybe one day, my kids will be writing about how their dad used to carry this crazy, old-fashioned gizmo called a "laptop," and they'll laugh about how old all that technology is, and how goofy I was for using it.

I hope they get a virus.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

My Interview with Bill Scheft, David Letterman's Head Monologue Writer

Several months ago, I had the chance to interview Bill Scheft, the head monologue writer for The Late Show with David Letterman, and author of Everything Hurts and The Ringer. Scheft has been Letterman's monologue writer for the last 18 years.

A typical day for a monologue writer is the kind every comedy writer would like to have.

"I wake up, then I have some coffee and six Vicodin, and then I go," said Scheft. "No, that's not true."

Scheft has a pretty humane schedule, given the typically rigorous schedule a late night writer goes through. He works on his fiction writing in the morning, and then goes into work around noon, and works from noon to 8.

"I start writing jokes, and Dave's already gotten a good packet of them from the other guys who work on the monologue," said Scheft.

Around 2:00, Letterman has a bunch of jokes in hand, and he has 20 - 30 jokes put on cue cards. From there, they whittle it down to the best 10 ideas for the opening monologue.

"That comes from the 300 jokes we came up with. That's the nature of everything written on the show," said Scheft.

Think about that: 300 jokes gets whittled down to 10. That's a 3.3% acceptance rate. Or if you're playing baseball, a .03 batting average. Guys get booted out of baseball for a .120, and yet some of the best comedy writers in the business are considered successful for hitting one-fourth of that.

"Then there's more writing, cutting, and editing," Scheft continued. "There's a whole lot to deal with on the show that I don't deal with, guests, taped segments. We tape the show from 4:30 - 5:30.

"Then at 5:30, you go up to the office, take a couple of deep breaths, pat yourself on the back, and then you start working on the next day's show."

I asked Scheft how writing for the Late Show compares with writing for Saturday Night Live. SNL writers do 20 shows a year, and the Late Show does 200. I figured he would scoff at their lightweight schedule.

"That show is an absolute grind," said Scheft. "It's a grind in a different way. Nothing carries over, because it's a different show each week. A lot of their stuff gets thrown out each week."

In other words, jokes don't get reused, and material may not even carry over. Current events that break on a Monday may be dead on Wednesday. And while Scheft got three days of material out of it, the SNL cast has to come up with new ideas each week, and may pass on something that happened early in the week for something that happened later.

Monologue writing is not the only thing Scheft does though. He gets to spread his comedic wings from time to time.

"I get to work on some guest segments and on daily assignments as needed, or some of the guests doing comedy pieces, like Bruce Willis." Scheft said sometimes it's just a matter of the head writers sending a note saying "we need Bruce Willis ideas," and he'll be drafted into coming up with something funny for Bruce to do.

Not a bad gig, really. The other Late Show writers come in at 9:00 to work on the taped and edited pieces. The head writers come in at 9:00, and stay until 10:00 p.m. That's because they tape four days a week — they tape Friday's show on Monday — trying to get ahead with taped pieces and other remote pieces.

"It's like putting out a newspaper every day and a magazine every day," said "Scheft. "Because you're working on that show, next week's show, and shows 2 months in advance, trying to get sweeps week, and put stuff in production."

But despite the long hours, being a Late Show writer is a highly-sought after gig. The writing staff has been together for five or six years, which is a really long time in late night show land. What typically happens is that guys get let go, or they move on to sitcoms where they become producers and make a lot more money. ("How I Met Your Mother" was created by two former writers on the show.)

"So do the writers keep track of the jokes that make it in?" I asked, thinking of the big box of newspaper columns sitting in my garage. I could picture each writer having a little clip file of every joke they wrote that made it on the air, tallying the totals on a big board. The guy with the most jokes gets a bonus, and the low guy gets the boot.

That doesn't happen at all. The pace is so intense among the writers, because "we're just trying to put a show on. What happens is that for every monologue joke or Top 10 item, there are 10 that didn't make it. So you're just trying to make mounds and mounds of cole slaw to get one good serving."

"So rejection is not a big deal then?"

"You get used to it really early," said Scheft. "When I was writing 50 - 60 jokes a day, on a good day, he'd put 10 on cards, and do 5. And not every day was a good day I'd give him 50 and he wouldn't take any, or he would only take 1. But you're still a writer. That's the gig."

Even the new writers are expected to produce from the time they show up.

"When they come on, they have to be able to generate a lot of material. You can tell by a submission if a guy is capable of generating the content. They look for somebody who can contribute to the show, understands the sensibility, and can add something that we don't have. They're looking for somebody funny, a little bit of a different voice, but understands the show," said Scheft.

But it's vitally important that you look like you watch the show. Write for the show you're submitting to. It's not enough just to show that you're funny, you have to show that you're funny for that show.
"You don't want a guy who turns in 6 pages of Larry Bud Melman ideas. Larry Bud Melman has been for dead for 10 years. That's a writer you're not going to hire, because he stopped watching in 1994. If a guy turns in a bunch of 6 minute sketches, that's a guy who doesn't watch the show."

Do you get those? I asked.

"Sure, we've even had people turn in a bunch of funny greeting cards," said Scheft. "They want to show they're funny, but you have to submit to the show you want a job on. It's like if you want to be an accountant and you turn in ceramics."

Bill is now writing his own blog at Click on Ablog the Author.

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