May 19th, 2013

As I wait breathlessly to watch the final Bill Hader episode of SNL, here’s an old draft I wrote in 2010 about Stefon and meta-comedy that never ended up going anywhere.

I watch Saturday Night Live because it’s there, and so am I. It’s kind of like that person you always ended up going home with because it was 2AM and you were too drunk to go home alone … except this is also a story about marriage, adulthood, relative sobriety, and life in a city that makes a bad job out of “quality of life”.

When I laugh, it’s usually because the show is silly, not funny. When SNL does better than that, I get extremely possessive about it. I guess you could even say I’m proud of it. Will Ferrell’s idiot-pure version of “Goodnight Saigon” tried, through mockery, to wring real emotion out of overwrought pap. It turned senseless cameos and a mismatched imaginary big band into something resembling community — and from there, on to loss and redemption. It did all the work the Billy Joel original could never do today, and did so, at bottom, by making fun of the troops. I spent most of Monday and Tuesday trying to organize my thoughts on it. Jenny Slate’s ethnic doorbell lady was just as good, and I wouldn’t dare ruin it by trying to play critic with it.

I’m pretty sure that, when Bill Hader’s Stefon first appeared on “Weekend Update” last April, I didn’t think much of it the next morning. Stefon, the overgrown club kid with psychedelic long sleeves creeping out from under a tight green t-shirt with a dragon on it, was a lisp with a grocery list of non sequiturs. In his segment, Stefon hips Seth Meyers to a series of New York clubs sure to appeal to anyone visiting from of town. The basic joke — the contrast between Meyers’ plea for wholesome travel advice and the degenerate Stefon — went stale before it started. The real meat of the character, if it makes sense to call it that, were his descriptions of the clubs. At once prudish and knowing, all of them involved some combination of sitcom figures, physical abnormalities, abjection, and various queer sub-categories. 

Hader is poised, and all about selling this character, up through the “high-waisted midgets” and “Teddy Graham people”. Then, when asked to explain “human fire hydrants”, Hader just loses it. He starts to crack up, turns away from the camera, and sets off wild applause. Luckily, one of Stefon’s mannerisms is to place his hand over his mouth, and by the end, Hader is relying on it for cover. That’s when you wonder: what if the whole point of this gesture is to provide Hader with a safety valve?

As funny as Stefon has been—and let’s face it, the repetition (and repetitiveness) really only strengthens the gag—this moment is the highlight. Whether or not you think Saturday Night Live, or this sketch in particular, is funny, it’s heartening to be reminded that the performers do. A movie like Funny People, or to some degree, Louie, explores not only the intersection of comedy and reality, but also the fascination we have with comedians as people—and comedians as essentially engaged by their own jokes. It’s affirmation that we are laughing at the right things. And we aren’t laughing, well, it makes us happy to get that kind of authentic glimpse into the emotions behind the delivery system.

Stefon was back in May. This time, the audience isn’t exactly jolted when he finally has to take a step back and quell his laughter. In fact, from the beginning, Hader has trouble holding it together. In October, not only did Stefon get some of funniest lines yet— I particularly like “a Russian guy talking on a pre-paid cell phone” and “Is that Mick Jagger? No, it’s a fat kid on a Slip ‘N Slide.”—he also gave in and let his shakiness become part of the humor. That’s the tenor of the exchange; we’re laughing at his inability to do his job, but also with him. Hader himself laughs not only at the material, but also the meta-gag of comedy too potent for the comedian to handle. There’s no joke without the performer; if the performer succumbs to his own tricks, is that the ultimate success or an amateur-ish failture? It depends, again, on how much you value professionalism. Or if it’s sometimes reassuring, even sublime, to be reminded of the craft and the subject behind it. Meyers, the straight man whose job it is to anchor Hader, providing a foil and a steadying influence if need, erupts off-camera. Everything is falling apart, and what began as an vehicle for wacked-out imagery has turned into a bit of pomo theater that revels in its own dysfunction.

We got our latest look at Stefon on Saturday, and now, the bit itself has evolved into a vehicle for the controlled chaos of October. The lines have grown more spare, as if to give him less to choke on, or slow down the goofball momentum that makes it so hard to keep a straight face. Hader is also very clearly reading from cards, and now has Stefon periodically covering his whole face. The goal is to prevent a total meltdown, or perhaps the intent is to keep the unrest to a minimum, reaping its comedic advantage without risking collapse. Either way, it backfires.

The new rhythms are almost like an admission of defeat, and the way Hader reacts to the lines as he reads them makes you wonder if he’s ever seen them before. When Stefon appears, the audience not only anticipates Hader and Meyers breaking character; they approach the whole thing as if it were a challenge to the performers, one that, when they fail, will allow them all to share a good laugh. It may not be as spontaneous, or fresh, and the sudden unity has been replaced by a more contrived collaboration. Yet the audience seizes on Hader’s every missed beat, as if anticipating the crack-up. They seem to understand that the sketch becomes truly participatory, an inside joke from the beginning by virtue of their expectations (and those suggested by the new safeguards in place). What results is biggest mess of all the Stefon appearances, and despite the paucity of language, probably the most rewarding.

May 16th, 2013
I live with his decisions because he has a pure heart." The terrible thing about losing is that it makes you sentimental. Winning makes you sentimental, too, but mostly because it fills you with an exaggerated love for the people who helped you along the way. Losing makes you want to defend the people you love who’ve disappointed you. But you can’t say that stuff, because to the people who don’t feel the loss the way you feel it, you’ll sound like a moron, or worse, a mystic. When you lose, I thought as I joined the crawl toward the on-ramp, and you want to hold on to the past that you’re afraid is about to slip away from you, you have to say the opposite of what you mean. What Brooks should have told the media was not "Kevin Durant is pure of heart"; it was "sports is the worst and it sucks and I hate it.
May 15th, 2013

netw3rking:

courtside:

JR Smith, keeping it real since 2004.

nbaoffseason:

J.R. Smith’s high school yearbook quote: “Get chicks or die trying”

(via marcel_mutoni)

My yearbook quote: “Trying to get chicks; I’m dead inside.”

Amen.

Reblogged from Netw3rking
May 15th, 2013

This post is simple and delightful: The Classical now has a magazine, courtesy of the folks at 29th Street Publishing (responsible for The Awl’s Weekend Companion and Maura Magazine). The Classical was generously Kickstarted into existence a year and a half ago. Those funds were meant to last a year; at that point, it would either thrive on its on two feet or disappear from the face of the Earth. Instead, this magazine happened. The Classical has evolved and has a real way forward; the website will go on in some form but surprise, that’s not the best business model. I’m happy for it. 

A note about me and The Classical, since you asked: I’m not actively involved in the day-to-day operations. I may have a byline sometime in the near future, but all writing in my life depends on how much the day job opens up that week. Regardless, I still feel a deep investment in The Classical; in a way, the further I’ve gotten from it, the more I’ve been able to appreciate the great work it showcases. This latest development makes me immensely happy, both as someone who was part of that original vision and always wanted to see it sustained, and as a reader who thinks The Classical is on the side of the light. Subscribe! 

May 7th, 2013
Any sane basketball fan should be mourning for the Thunder and for themselves. Not because they look shaky without Westbrook; what team doesn’t lose a bona fide superstar and then experience some aches and pains? Instead, we should allow ourselves to admit that Durant/Harden/Westbrook was a glorious thing and miss it profoundly.
Back on the block at GQ to get all emotional about the post-James Harden Thunder. 
May 1st, 2013
What if a perennial All-Star had come out? It would be about a quasi-celebrity, not a working stiff. The effect would be more localized and nearly impossible to react honestly to. Collins is a Basketball Everyman. The reaction to him is indicative of how players feel about each other and it would seem, how they would view a gay teammate.
March 31st, 2013

The Dress Code Shall Set You Free

Steve Marsh wrote a fantastic piece for GQ about fashion in the NBA these days. Rather than deal solely with the surface (meme-worthy press conferences and vanity glasses), Marsh gets into both the heavy specifics (who styles who; who goes to what fashion shows and why) and the roots of the movement. It’s the latter that makes the most provocative claim: that the dress code, rather than stifle identity politics in the NBA, instead laid the groundwork for a new era of image. Hip-hop wasn’t left in the dust; rather, basketball players undertook the same shift in paradigm that’s come to define Jay-Z or Kanye. Style of dress is shorthand for the way they make their way in the world, both professionally and personally.

Dressing like Iverson was a salute to the “real”; all too often, it was also indicative of an inability to adapt to the demands of the NBA life. The dress code, on paper, was to be the worst kind of assimilation. Instead, it forced players to confront maturity on their own terms. Stern wanted suits? Players discovered couture and the rekindled the grand tradition of looking fly. Stern wanted accountability and respectability? Today, players are more self-aware and serious than ever about their roles as businessmen and power brokers. It’s not just about fighting for the right to wear XXXXXXL. They’ve got bigger fish to fry. Ironically, the dress code may, in the long run, have made NBA players even more troublesome. It was the last stand of one era and, in the message it sent, a clear sign that players needed to start working on a stronger, savvier alternative to what they stood for. 

March 27th, 2013

The Future of Baby Music for Grown-Ups

I am going to change everything for you right here and to such a degree that I don’t even NEED to put this up on Facebook. 

After tirelessly exposing my 1.5 year-old to music that I want to listen to and seeing what seemed to amuse, soothe, or subdue her, I have come up with the magic formula for a band intended for babies but strong enough for music snob parents. Here goes:

-Vocals high and waily. Mariah, disco, Roky Erickson as references.

-Guitar and bass fuzzed out, stomping, moronic riffs. Troggs, Rust Never Sleeps, Earth

-Drums robotic or skittering. Krautrock, trap muzik

Please someone make this dream come true and make everyone’s life a better place. I bet my brains this project will achieve its stated ends. 

February 24th, 2013

If this isn’t the deepest thing ever I don’t know what is. Also why aren’t there more instrumentals like this?