Whoa! I am blown away by this Norm MacDonald interview

I know that makes me sound like a dick, but for context: I was a teen in the 1990s, and so Norm MacDonald is sorta fixed in my head as a half-funny smirk standing off center in a scene framed around David Spade abusing Chris Farley.  It isn’t that I wrote him off—upon reflection, I just realized I never even evaluated what the dude was doing; the director, camera man, SNL staff, and guys I sat with at lunch wrote Norm off, and I took their word for it.

All that aside, this is a really, really fascinating interview.  Neat stuff about craft in here—which I’m always down for—but also a really nuanced view of art as a product of human interaction and actualization.

I was gonna write a book about how to be a stand-up without being funny, but I thought it would be too cynical. I really think I could write it though.

A manual for how to perform an impression of a stand-up comedian?

That’s exactly right. It was mostly about crowd control. If you’re not very good you have to deal with the audience a lot, so it was a lot about how to do that. Like, you can pick on one person in the audience, and then the rest of the audience gets on your side because they’re afraid of being picked on. It’s all the psychology of mobs. You can learn it. I’ll go to a club and suddenly the guy who was the bouncer last time I was there is a stand-up, because he’s been there, watching how it works. Even jokes, you can do them mathematically without having any inspiration.

How’s that work?

You just take a premise and instead of following it to its logical conclusion you follow it to its illogical conclusion by having a faulty premise to begin with.

It’s surprising that you ultimately decided against writing a book that would’ve suggested that your vocation, the field of your life’s work, can be an empty, soulless shell of an occupation.

Yeah, I also thought it would be too pompous. It’s nobody’s fault there aren’t more funny comedians. If I were an awful comedian, I’d probably still be drawn to doing it. I remember when I first came to Los Angeles, Jay Leno was there and at the time he was the king of all stand-ups. And one night, I had to follow him. I was thinking, My god, this is going to be the worst. But Jay told me it’s fine to follow a good comedian. You just don’t want to follow a bad comedian. Or a filthy comic. They pull the audience down. It’s hard to go on after a filthy comic with, “What about Raisin Bran? Doesn’t everyone know how big a scoop is?”

and

Are you following the Kathy Griffin stuff at all?

What she did was grotesque. Disgusting. It shows how isolated everyone is. I was golfing last week and I told the guy I was golfing with, “It’s getting pretty crazy. I heard someone say they’re trying to ‘humanize’ Trump. Well, he is human.” And this guy goes, “Well, barely.” Jesus Christ. But Kathy Griffin went about as far as you can go. It’s like she had no sense of the history of that kind of image.

It’s hard to understand how someone didn’t say to her or the photographer, “Maybe let’s dial this down from an eleven to about a seven.”

The photographer, her manager, her agent, the person who made the severed head—no one said, eeeh. And I hate the immediate apology. Why are you apologizing? You apologize and then everyone just accepts that the apology is genuine.

What’s wrong with apologizing?

If it had gone over good she wouldn’t be apologizing for it. She’s only apologizing for the result and what it might mean for her career. It’s like when a guy like Anthony Weiner says, “I’m sorry. I made a terrible decision.” A decision? You had a pros-and-cons list about texting with that 15-year-old? The action wasn’t the result of a real decision.

Do go and read the whole thing. It is worth your time today.

Don’t know what to call your reps about today? May I suggest “White House conflicts of interest”?

Here are a few examples moral hazards unique to the Executive Branch ALL DRAWN FROM JUST THE PAST 24 HOURS OF NEWS:

Giving your reps a call (click the link and scroll to “Power User Mode”) is quick, fun, and easy! Don’t miss this opportunity to prevent a violent uprising by Winter 2017!🇺🇸📞💻☝️

SKATEBOARDING LESSON 0: The First Noble Truth

Sideshow Bob: [chuckling] Mr. Simpson, you are forgetting the first two noble truths of the Buddha.

Homer Simpson: I am not!

For those who slept through Buddhism 101—or failed to see The Simpsons Episode 8F20 (season three, episode 21, first aired April 9, 1992)—the First Noble Truth of the Buddha is this:

There is suffering. 

Which isn’t such a revelation at first glance, but like a lot of things with the Buddha, the big reveal isn’t in what he’s said, but what he’s omitted:

The First Noble Truth is not: There is suffering because you’ve done bad things.

     nor is it: There is suffering because you didn’t try hard enough.

     nor is it: There is suffering because you are a screw-up.

     nor is it: There is suffering because man is born of Original Sin.

     nor is it: There is suffering because God is dead!

     nor is it: There is suffering because God is a jerk!

     nor is it: There is suffering because there was never any God!

There is no “because” at all.  It’s a simple statement of fact that should be obvious, but which we all deny on a daily basis: There is suffering.  There just is.  Often with no one to blame.  Often for no reason at all.  And that’s fine; stop beating yourself up over it (which, handily, brings us to the Second Noble Truth—Suffering is born of craving and desire and clinging to How Things Should Be—which is important, but not really germane to skateboarding).

I bring this up because I need to share something with you:

If you are an adult person getting on a skateboard,

YOU ARE GOING TO GET HURT.

Full stop, no ifs, no becauses, no unless, no provisos.

If you are really careful… YOU WILL STILL GET HURT.

If you always wear your pads… YOU WILL STILL GET HURT.

If you are lucky or unlucky, careless or stupid, cautious or clever…YOU WILL GET HURT.

It might be minor or major, might land you in the ER or sit you on your sofa for an afternoon with ice on your knee, but one way or the other YOU ARE GONNA GET HURT.

… and that’s fine.  If is fine and just and right that you will be injured, because, as the Buddha and Sideshow Bob remind us, There is Suffering.

Every time I start talking to someone my age about the fact that I returned to skateboarding at 36, they voice admiration, and then something like envy, and always lurking around is the sentence “I’d break my neck if I tried that!”

And the thing is, while you will certainly get hurt, you probably won’t break your neck.  There is, as it turns out, quite a distance between hurt and crippled, and even a further reach to dead.  I’ve seen folks take tremendous falls and pop right back up, I’ve seen—and taken—minor falls that have turned out to be sprained ankles and broken wrists and concussions.  I’ve seen—and worn—bruises every color of any Michigan sunset in any season.  I’ve seen plenty of broken bones, but not a single death or black out.

So let me share with you something my doctor told me when I told her I’d taken up with skateboarding—on the visit I scheduled as a follow-up after a trip to the ER:

“Good.  Keep it up.”

Her rationale: If you are an adult American, than it is almost certain that you aren’t getting nearly enough exercise.  And—Noble Truth alert!—you aren’t likely to start getting more exercise as you continue aging.  So, in the absence of everything else, the choice here isn’t between taking a risk by jumping on a skateboard and playing it safe by not doing so:  Not getting enough exercise absolutely guarantees a shorter life with degraded quality.  Absolutely, with no exceptions.  Full stop.

Getting on the skateboard?  You’ll get hurt, but you won’t die.  And, hell, I regularly hang with a 70-year-old dude at my local skatepark.  Does he tear it up?  Nope; he cruises around, carving on the transitions, working on dropping on.  But he’s having hella fun, and I’ve seen him take big falls and pop right back up.

Continue reading “SKATEBOARDING LESSON 0: The First Noble Truth”

Not for nothing, but I think the PotUS actually groks terrorists pretty well

Donald Trump: “I won’t call them monsters, because they would like that term.”

… ‘course, he goes on to say the exact wrong thing, in terms of reducing or eliminating acts of terror (which, fundamentally, are acts of the alienated—which is why I think he zeros in on the terrorist psyche with such clarity), but he starts strong, and says something that few GOPers have managed in the last 16 years:

Terrorists are humans, crappy, fallible, shitty humans, but humans all the same.  Not super villains to be grudgingly admired, certainly not desperate freedom fighters, jut numb-nuts shit-heels who are almost below contempt.

Offered for Contrast: The Case Against the Case for Impeachment

This argument strikes me as willfully obtuse (in the 20thC impeachment has been about a preponderance of wrongdoing, not a single gotcha), but I offer it to contrast most of what I’ve shared over the past few days:

OPINION: The Comey memo offers zero evidence to impeach Trump

(This "America golem" is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)
(This “America golem” is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)

For the record, over the past week it’s become increasingly clear that our representatives need to start saying the word “impeachment“—which is, recall, a formal Congressional statement of charges and investigation, not a fancy way of saying “removal from office.”  Is it time for removal from office?  I have no fucking clue.  Is it time to formally level charges?  It sure seems that way—but I don’t know, and am in no position to figure it out.  It is certainly time for us to accept that we need to seriously talk about this, not just throw the word around in histrionic fits.  It’s like the word “cancer” or the phrase “I’m dying”: We use these a lot as shorthands for things like “I feely sorta achy” or “I’m super-duper tired,” but there are also times when you do have cancer, when you are dying, and you need to actually start to talk about that with your loved ones.

And we’re in that place now, the place where we have to talk about cutting off our nose not to spite our face, but to save it before the cancer metastasizes.

This isn’t because the PotUS fired Comey for the stated reason that he was sick of “this Russia thing,” and it isn’t because he spilled the beans to that same hostile foreign power, and it isn’t because he tried to obstruct the early stages of the investigation into Trump-Russia ties back in February and it isn’t because he quite clearly benefited from—and plausible in some form, by action, inaction, or willful ignorance, colluded with—election meddling by that foreign power.  It isn’t because he, his staff, and his family have very publicly sought to personally profit from holding the Office of the PotUS, and it isn’t because everyone in his inner circle seems to treat the very notion of “ethics” the way a dog treats an especially sexy throw-pillow, and it isn’t because of the breaking-strain bend he’s put in the Emoluments Clause, and it isn’t because of his stated seditious animosity to the rule of law as it is widely recognized in this country—especially as pertains to the 1st, 4th, and 14th Amendments.  It is because of the preponderance of those things and more, taken all together, without pause, without recrimination, without apparent shame or the recognition that each of them is not simply Bad, but actually contemptuous of the very notion that governments are instituted among regular folks like us (not inflicted upon them) and derive their powers from the consent of the governed (which again, is us).  His high crime, if nothing else, is that he acts with contempt for us and for our institutions.

“What is his impeachable offense?”

Dude, at this point, what isn’t?

There’s only one thing stopping Trump from truly revolutionizing our broken tax system…

… and it’s sitting in the Oval Office: “Trump’s Industry, Real Estate, Poses Hurdle to Tax Overhaul

Give this a read, give your reps a call, carry on with your day.

Thx!

P.S.: I was gonna do some sort of gag about dude’s total floundering for his first 100 days, but it quickly got tedious.  Here’s his “Contract with the American Voter” (SPOILER ALERT: he’s in breach).  Go ahead and play “broken promise/laughable goal” bingo on your own; I’m done playing pigeon chess with the PotUS (who, I’m sure, is just about to release another deluge of tweets about how great he’s doing, or would be doing if the world was fair—but a poor ole richer-than-God, weasel-wording, sexual-molesting, pee-faced pathological steak-ruining tin-whistle shukster-turned-U.S. President just can’t catch a break in America).

pigeon-chess

UPDATE: I love this sentence: “one of the biggest threats to the timeline on tax reform is the continued survival of magic unicorns.”

Need Help Building your Daily Writing Ritual?

Just a quick one:  For folks who are having trouble with writer’s block (either in their professional or creative work), I’ve put together this little week-long clinic.  Totally free, no strings attached.  My gift to you.  Check it out:

Clearflow Creative Writing Clinic

Emails to reps done!🇺🇸⌨️ Topic: White House conflicts of interest🇺🇸💸🇷🇺🔥

Here’s what I just wrote—just in case you’d like to call your reps about something similar (and don’t worry if you didn’t call about this today; the issue is sadly evergreen):

SUBJECT: White House corruption and conflicts of interest

Dear TKTKTK,

I continue to be deeply disturbed by very clear conflicts of interest in the Trump White House. For example, Forbes reported (and Slate reiterated) that Eric Trump will be reporting to President Donald Trump about Trump Organization business on a quarterly basis.

This is nothing remotely like “separation,” let alone a “blind trust”—heck, given this standard, there is more separation between me and my Roth IRA (which I check bi-annually, at best), and President Trump and Trump Org business.

Meanwhile, we learned from the Washington Post this morning that Jared Kushner (the PotUS’s son-in-law) will be heading a “SWAT team to fix government with business ideas” (with the president’s daughter in an advisory role), even as the Senate Intelligence Committee is questioning him about his ties to both the Russian government and Russian banks.

This is so plainly inappropriate that I feel sort of silly harping on it.  And yet here we are.

I continue to have a great deal of faith in our system of government and in your office—but only because I’ve seen your unflagging dedication to using the latter to assure the continuing basic function of the former.

Thank you!

All Best,

David Erik Nelson . . .

So You Need to Use a Comma

People freak out about commas.  Please don’t. Yes, commas are hella confusing (the Chicago Manual of Style dedicates 59 distinct sub-sections to them, and even then there is ambiguity and opinion and wiggle room leftover), but knowing these four little things will almost entirely solve your comma problems.

1. The “Oxford”/”serial” Comma

This is technically the “list” comma: When you give a list, you put commas between individual items.  E.g.,:

Go to the store and get eggs, pineapple, a ’57 Chevy, and enlightenment.

N.B. that the last comma (which I’ve put in red) is disputed; that lil fella is an “Oxford comma”.  Some folks say it’s unnecessary (including, at least at one time, the AP Style Guide), preferring:

Go to the store and get eggs, pineapple, a ’57 Chevy and enlightenment.

But this can lead to hilarious ambiguity, such as this oft-quoted (and probably apocryphal) book dedication sorely in need of an Oxford comma:

This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God

—or this actual and verified sentence published in the Times of London a few years back:

Nelson Mandela was a highly accomplished man.
Nelson Mandela was a highly accomplished man.

FYI, serial commas apply to lists of adjectives, too:

You mean that fat, red, flabby car?  It’s mine.  Why?

2. The “if, then” Comma

“If . . ., then . . .” statements need commas:

If you don’t cut it the fuck out, then I’m going to freak the fuck out.

Where this one tricks people is that we often omit the then in an “if, then” statement—nonetheless, we still need the comma:

If you don’t cut it the fuck out, I’m going to freak the fuck out.

3. “That/which” commas

Rule of Thumb: “that” is almost never preceded  by a comma, while a standalone “which” is almost always preceded by a comma:

You know that dog I hired?  Turns out he has no idea how to use Excel, which is super annoying.

(So what is a non-standalone “which”?  “Which” used in a phrase like “that which” or “in which”—in those cases, you don’t stick a comma before the “which,” because that would muck up the phrase.)

4. Commas by Ear

There are a ton of other commas (“parenthetical commas,” “conjunction commas,” “direct address commas,” etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam)—fortunately, there’s an easy way to figure out where to put them without learning a ton of new rules. Here’s the trick:

Commas indicate places where you take a brief pause when saying something.

So, there’s a really easy way to get your commas right most of the time:

Read it aloud; if there’s a place where you naturally take a half-pause or shift volume, then stick a comma there. If you don’t pause, then strike the comma—unless it’s one of the three situations listed above.  

For example, say:

Dave <pause> why did you say that?

That pause is the direct address comma:

Davewhy did you say that?

Or try:

Did you know that Nate <pause> the terrible drunk in my carpool <pause> is marrying my sister?

That’s the parenthetical comma:

Did you know that Nate, the terrible drunk in my carpool, is marrying my sister?

This fourth rule is the golden rule, since most of the first three types of commas are also marked in speech by a pause or volume/tone shift—but sometimes those commas can be subtle to the ear, which is why it’s worth knowing the first three rules. Rule #4 will keep you covered 90% of the time, while Rules #1–3 will help you catch the tricky 10%  

We’re done here. Go forth, my children, and sin no more.

(Want more details?  Start with the Purdue Owl on Commas, and then move on to the Chicago Manual of Style, if need be.)