20 Funniest Shows….Ever

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A few weeks ago, my friend Kim and I went to see a live performance of Tituss Burgess (“Titus” from “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”). While waiting in line, Kim mentioned that one of her friends had asked why she and I would go to something like that, considering that “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” isn’t one of the 20 funniest shows ever. I don’t disagree with the unnamed critic, at least as far as rankings go (though, as long as it’s a show that I enjoy, why wouldn’t I pay to see Tituss (and Jane Krakowski) live?). But of course, it got me thinking about what shows actually are the 20 funniest ever.

A few caveats: 1) I purposefully did not count talk shows, so you won’t see shows like Late Night with David Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, or the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on here. 2) Shows get dinged for going on past their natural expiration date. For instance, I have “How I Met Your Mother” off of the top 20 – had it ended after, say, season 4, it easily would have sailed into my top 20. 3) This is a list about funny shows. I know there are good shows, especially on cable, that are categorized as comedies (“Transparent,” “Shameless,” etc.). These are not funny shows. They are purposefully not included. No show has ever been more liberally described as a comedy than “Girls.” Yet there’s not one laugh in any of the episodes I watched. 4) My (long) list of Honorable Mentions is beneath the Top 20, presented in alphabetical order.  5) This endeavor is wholly personal. Please feel free to disagree with me in the comments below. Without further ado, my top 20:

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Best of 2015

In many ways, 2015 was pre-ordained to be a massive year. After a down year at the box office in 2014, pundits predicted 2015 would be huge, given the releases of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the final “Hunger Games” movie, and “Jurassic World.” And (for those that have been released), those movies delivered well at the box office (including “World” setting an opening weekend record, and then, you know, “Star Wars” demolishing it.). But there were a number of pleasant surprises that pundits didn’t see coming, and that’s what made 2015 quite an impressive year for entertainment. These are my favorite pieces of entertainment from 2015, presented in no particular order, but, for sake of readability, I’ve broken my list down by categories. Let me know what I missed, or what you enjoyed, in the comments. And, as always, thank you for reading this blog – and I hope you’ll stay with me in 2016. Continue reading

Here it is, my moment of Zen (aka so long, Jon Stewart)

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In honor of Jon Stewart’s last “Daily Show” episode tonight, I just wanted to write a quick piece. Jon was an amazing host, and the inspiration for my college thesis, about whether entertainment, infotainment and celebrity could help inform (and potentially sway) voters. While Stewart was a gifted host, the show seemed to hinge on its incredible cast of correspondents. I wrote on my cousin’s facebook page earlier today that these were my favorite correspondents, though I am sure I have forgotten one or two others. So thank you, Jon Stewart, for helping young voters learn about important issues facing the country, and for doing so in both a humorous and topical way. But mostly, thank you for bringing notoriety to the following comedians:

Stephen Colbert. Steve Carrell. Ed Helms. Vance DeGeneres (hugely underrated, in my opinion). Samantha Bee. Jason Jones. Rob Corrdry. Aasif Mandvi. Jessica Williams. Rob Riggle. Mo Rocca. John Hodgman. Lewis Black. Larry Wilmore. Demetri Martin. Olivia Munn. Wyatt Cenac. Kristen Schaal. Josh Gad.

Now, tell me who I overlooked in the comments, or feel free to share your favorite “Daily Show” memory. For me, it will be difficult to top when they made Governor Bush debate President Bush, through the magic of video tape:

The Best Rusty Griswold Ever

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In honor of the new “Vacation” movie coming out this summer, I thought I’d do a quick ranking of the best Rusty Griswolds ever. This doesn’t take into account success they’ve had after their respective movies came out; just who was the most entertaining Rusty in a “Vacation” movie.

1) Anthony Michael Hall, “National Lampoon’s Vacation”

The original. Who could top his stammering Rusty?

2) Ethan Embry, “Vegas Vacation”

Nick Papagorgio from Uma, Arizona. A Rusty without much interaction with Clark and Ellen Griswold, Nick was the luckiest guy in Vegas:

3) Jason Lively, “National Lampoon’s European Vacation”

A mix of Anthony Michael Hall’s uncomfortable speech patterns and Embry’s quiet confidence. Loses points because I had to google “European Vacation Rusty” to find out his name.

4) Johnny Galecki, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”

Before he was cashing “Roseanne” and “Big Bang Theory” paychecks. Galecki had all of, what, three lines in this Christmas classic.

Not Ranked – Ed Helms

Too soon to tell, but hopefully he makes this into a sequel a lot closer to “European Vacation” than “The Hangover III.”

Bonus clip: My favorite scene from “European Vacation,” just because:

Please, Stop Calling Me Chief (So Long, Dave)

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[I know there will be a torrent of think pieces about David Letterman and “The Late Show” in the next few weeks. Please indulge me as I write my own. And please feel free to share your own Letterman memories in the comments.]

“At some point, all of a sudden, people in show business that I never knew before would say to me on the show, ‘Oh, it’s such an honor to be here.’ And I would think, What are you talking about? It’s just a goddamn TV show. And then I realized, this is what happens when you get to be older and you’ve been around for a while, people succumb to this artificial reverence. It was always kids that had only been in show business a couple of years. I just thought, Oh. I know. Your grandparents used to watch.” – David Letterman

There are some things in my life that are inherently consistent. I know that the subway is going to have train traffic or a sick passenger at some point during my commute. The Jets are going to play poorly, and then reach a whole new level of ineptitude. And, through May 20th, David Letterman is going to have a late night show.

I have a long, winding history with Dave’s show. I was too young to watch his 12:35 show on NBC, but remember vividly his move to CBS. (I even remember the terrible HBO movie about it.) Without knowing much about the late night landscape, I knew instinctively that I was a “Dave” guy, not a “Jay” guy. Some people loved Conan, some missed Johnny, and, as eroding ratings over the last two decades show, some people just didn’t watch late night. But Letterman has been a constant for me for the better part of 20 years.

In the summer of 1998, I went on a teen tour. Half the tour, we camped out, and half the tour, we stayed in hotels. The nights when we were in a hotel, we had a curfew of 11:00. Our routine was always SportsCenter at 11:00, and (at my insistence), Letterman at 11:35. The first night of the tour, my roommates asked why I would want to watch Dave. I told them to watch one episode with me, and if they didn’t like it, we could turn it off. And then Dave did what is, unquestionably, my favorite bit: Please, Stop Calling Me Chief.

Please, Stop Calling Me Chief has no business being half as funny as it is. It’s a bit that’s probably better for radio that somehow works perfectly on TV. The entire premise revolves around someone (potentially) catching on and realizing Dave is just referring to them as “chief.” That’s it! And yet, it was rare that anyone ever noticed that’s what he was doing. And the longer he went on, the louder the laughter from the audience got. My teen tour friends agreed – we could watch every night.

The genius of all of Letterman’s best bits (Stupid Pet Tricks, Stupid Human Tricks, Will it Float?) is just how inherently simple they are. Look at Will it Float? Dave takes an object, puts it in a tank of water, and sees if it will float. And it’s hilarious!

Dave’s silliness and zany personality make him rife for impression. Norm MacDonald’s “hey, uh, got any gum?” for instance, is pitch perfect.

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But Dave isn’t just funny or weird (weird as in Chris Elliott living under his stairs.) My family and I have an interesting relationship with the show. My brother still loves the “hey, uh, got any gum?” bit; my parents always joked that our dog Trixie should be on Pet Tricks (she could very convincingly say “hello”); and my Bubbie loved Dave. In fact, at my high school graduation, Dave’s announcer, Alan Kalter, was there, and she could hardly contain herself. It’s not specific bits or interviews, or anything particularly funny that we all enjoy about Dave. In fact, I love his acerbic personality, and the contempt he shows for guests he doesn’t like. Dave doesn’t kiss ass. When he told Joaquin Phoenix, “Thanks, Joaquin, wish you could have been here tonight,” it was a funny line, but it also showed that Dave doesn’t suffer fools.

Frequently, people say that late night shows should be comfortable, and make you chuckle a bit before you fall asleep. And there’s definitely truth to that; when you’re winding down after a long day, something light and funny is probably the best choice for viewing. But what I love about Dave is that he could accurately dissect the issues of the day. He’ll have Bill O’Reilly on, and instead of being deferential and respectful, argue and debate with him about Fox News:

I’m an unabashed Jimmy Fallon fan, and there are times when Jimmy Kimmel has good bits (particularly the celebrities reading mean tweets about themselves). Since he’s been on TBS, Conan hasn’t been as funny, but he too can have the occasional funny sketch. But if something serious in the world happened, something that required a host’s gravitas, without question I would turn to Dave. There’s no better example than his first show after 9/11, when he had Dan Rather on as a guest:

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That’s an interview handled as deftly as possible, given all of the circumstances. Dave let the emotion of the moment ring through, but also allowed for information and, occasionally, humor. People always said Dave was the heir apparent to Johnny Carson, but, when needed, he became the second coming of Tom Snyder.

Let me be clear: if there were one person who I think can handle a late night show with cogent analytical skills, it’s Stephen Colbert. I’m excited for what he will do, and for what his show will be. But as I wrote at the beginning of this post, there are some things that are inherently consistent. Dave was always there. And I’ll disagree with what he said in his interview with the New York Times – the guests on his show aren’t displaying artificial reverence. Obviously, I’ve never been a guest on his show (been in the audience twice, though!), but I will say this: the fans aren’t blowing smoke when we say that Letterman and his show are an institution.

People have asked Letterman what he’ll do once the show is done. Podcast? Web series?  Write a book? Tweet out top ten lists every day? But my hope is that he’ll do whatever it is that makes him happy. And that one day, he’ll be walking the streets of Manhattan, and we’ll cross paths. And he’ll look at me, and say, “Hey, chief, you know where the entrance to the subway is?” And I can smile a wry smile and reply, “Please, stop calling me chief.”

Oscar Picks 2015

My reaction to the Lego snub

My reaction to the Lego snub

As I do every year, I try to make my Oscar picks as soon as the nominations are out, so that I’m not biased by any campaigning. In recent years, that’s gotten more difficult as more and more awards shows have become televised, and clear-cut front runners become locks earlier and earlier. That said, here’s who I expect to win. Also, please note that the fact that “The Lego Movie” was snubbed from the Best Animated Feature category makes me question why I will even bother watching this award show. (For the record, I also think “Gone Girl” deserved many more nominations, including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, and I would have loved “Skeleton Twins” or “Obvious Child” to have gotten a screenplay nomination). Continue reading

Happy 2015!

Wishing all of my readers a wonderful new year ahead. Thanks everyone who read the blog, left comments, or shared it with their friends, and a special thanks to those who did all three. I’ll leave you with my three favorite entertainment-related clips for New Year’s: two from movies, and one which is my favorite comic of all time (published nineteen years ago today). Looking forward to sharing more with you all in 2015.

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