Tagged: Stephen Colbert

Dennis O’Neil: This Week

So there I was, rummaging through computerland seeking whatever might be interesting or amusing, and a news piece on Yahoo very briefly snagged my attention. Something about shooting and Las Vegas. Well, I didn’t have to read it because, even with such minimal information, I pretty much knew what it would tell me and I could get back to it later, which I did. Somebody with guns had massacred his fellow Americans.

Yep. Same old same old.

In the past, I’ve used this space to fulminate on the gun problem and I have really nothing to add. You could probably whip out your own fulmination, if you had a mind to. But don’t bother.

I did what a lot of you probably did, went about my day and eventually looked at the news channels and then the late-night talk shows and got as much lowdown on this particular atrocity as I’ll ever need. More, actually.

I found that what found most pertinent. Colbert pleaded with our lawmakers to do something… background checks, gun show licensing – something!

Meyers was edgier. He wants us to just stop kidding ourselves and tell the truth. A pattern has emerged from all the citizen gunplay. Somebody gets firearms and kills people. Then there’s a big fuss which wanes in a few news cycles and the gun lobby tells us that it’s too soon after the killings to discuss the matter and then somebody with a gun he or she shouldn’t have started firing… Same old. Meyers asks our politicians to please stop pretending that they’ll ever take meaningful action. It will always be too early to discuss guns and slaughters, so we should accept that this is the way things are and… I don’t know – go cry in a corner?

This is a scandalously short column and for that, I apologize. Next week we’ll get back to comics and maybe by then, I’ll actually feel like writing.

Mike Gold: Mad and the Madman

Donald Trump has been trying very hard to do a lot to this nation, thus far with pathetically little success. However, while he might not be making America great, he’s most certainly been making American comedy fantastic.

Take Stephen Colbert. After he took over The Late Show, he has been losing badly to The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon. Then the Manchild from Hell won the election – thanks to a little help from his friends – and that very evening Colbert had something of a nervous breakdown, live on CBS. To his vast credit, he put all that energy into his job: making jokes at the expense of our Megalomaniac-In-Chief. Now, six months later, he’s leaped over Fallon in the ratings.

Certainly, there’s no shortage of material. Indeed, many other comics have made similar journeys on the Trump Turnpike (“what will that asshole think of next?”). Seth Myers, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Bill Maher, Trevor Noah… let’s face it, if you’re a comedian who is disliked by the far-right minority, your career has had a great six months.

And so, amusingly, has Mad Magazine.

When it was founded 65 years ago – yup, it can file for Medicare but it should move fast – Mad became a major influence in the development of adolescent rebellion. It was the cutting edge of American humor at a time when professionals such as Ernie Kovacs, Lenny Bruce, and Lord Buckley were breaking down the barriers that had been surrounding stand-up comedy. Mad had a major impact upon at least two generations.

But, over time even the sharpest knife finds its edge going dull. Eventually, television shows such as The Simpsons, Beavis and Butt-Head and South Park became the rage (literally; parents raged against each of these shows) and Mad started to look positively geriatric. Sure, they struggled. They hired new talent, fussed with the format, and added interior color but, in my opinion, they remained trapped by that which always had been.

Last month, DC Comics hired a new showrunner for the vaunted magazine, and I don’t think they could have found a better person. Bill Morrison, who has been Matt Groening’s longtime collaborator and the first editor-in-chief of Bongo Comics (The Simpsons, Futurama…) was given the keys to the prop room.

But, as it turns out, it is Donald Trump who is holding those doors open.

During the past several months, Mad has been following the path of Colbert et al. They’ve been doing some great stuff, and much of that has been at the expense of the poster boy of the paranoia marathon. They haven’t turned their backs on their roots and Mad does not follow the path of the former Mad writer (and Yippie! co-founder) Paul Krassner when Paul invented The Realist. Pop culture references abound as always, and even the great Sergio Aragonés remains along for the ride.

Bill Morrison has one hell of a leg up. Whether he can restore Mad Magazine to its greatest glory remains to be seen, but now it’s The Simpsons and South Park that are beginning to show their age. I don’t see anybody else in the on-deck circle, so he’s got one hell of an opportunity to make lightning strike twice.

As I said. He’s the right person for the job.

John Ostrander: When He’s Wrong…

I’m a dyed in the wool pinko commie leftie and these Trump days are not great for me. So I find watching the various commentators like Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah and especially Stephen Colbert to be therapeutic.

Into this mix, I can usually add Bill Maher on his weekly HBO show, Real Time. Maher is very attack orientated and each week he winds up his hour with a rant on a given topic., Usually, I find him really funny and incisive but Maher does have his blind spots. He is anti-religion – Islam in particular. He thinks the majority of American voters to be morons and says so, which I find to be a broad generalization, counter-productive and not true.

His past two shows featured rants that gored a pair of my oxen. One was on space exploration, such as terraforming and colonizing Mars, and the other was a screed against super-hero movies.

Maher argued (ranted) that we should not be exploring space or even think of colonizing Mars so long as we have so many problems here at home. Neal DeGrasse Tyson rebutted Bill the following week when he pointed out that any technology that could terraform Mars could also terraform the Earth and restore what has been ravaged. I would add that a lot of our technological advances are a result of space exploration. That computer you carry in your pocket? That’s a result of the need to reduce the size of computers while making them faster and stronger to be of use to astronauts in space. Sorry, Bill, you didn’t think this through.

Then on his most recent show, Maher was quite disdainful about superhero movies in general.

He said there were too many superhero shows on TV and too many superhero movies at the cineplex and blamed the genre for the rise of Donald Trump. He said they “promote the mindset that we are not masters of our own destiny and the best we can do is sit back and wait for Star-Lord and a f*cking raccoon to sweep in and save our sorry asses. Forget hard work, government institutions, diplomacy, investments – we just need a hero to rise, so we put out the Bat Signal for one man who can step in and solve all of our problems.”

Really? Super-hero movies and TV are directly responsible for the presidency of Donald Trump? Right – and they also promote juvenile delinquency, Batman and Robin are really gay (not that that’s a bad thing) and Wonder Woman is a lesbian (not that that’s a bad thing). Wait, no. That was Dr. Frederic Wertham in his book Seduction of the Innocent back in the 1950s. He was every bit as full of shit back then as you are today, Bill.

And, besides, everybody these days knows that Wonder Woman is bisexual.

I have no idea where Maher pulled this notion of superheroes and Trump from. Maybe his ass. I doubt that he’s seen many if any of the films or TV shows that he’s knocking. He’s taken an attitude and applied his standard disdain, snark, and superior attitude to it. Just not much thought.

Why does this bother me? It’s unlikely that Maher’s words will cause the opening weekend grosses for Wonder Woman to drop. However, this is a topic I know something about and if Maher can get that so wrong, can I trust him on topics that I don’t know much about?

Maybe I’ve outgrown him.

Think I’ll go watch a good superhero movie and let it rot my brain. It’s been a long day.

John Ostrander: Our Lonely Nation Turns Its Eyes To You

Jon Stewart The Late Show

The Republican National Convention Circus came to town last week and they made the big clown their ringmaster.

As you might guess, I am not a supporter of Donald Trump. Evidently neither is Senator Ted Cruz, who declined to get behind the party’s nominee during a nationally televised prime time speech at the Republican National Convention. That was interesting.

Jon Stewart and Stephen ColbertComicMix is about pop culture and you certainly can examine the RNC from that perspective. It was entertaining, in a sick way, and had more than a few surprises. It was like a Big League version of a reality show… and Trump knows about reality shows, believe me.

However, I think that the best thing coming out of the RNC was the return of Jon Stewart. He appeared at least twice on his old buddy Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show (I’m writing this before Friday night’s show; he may have shown up yet again) and it was a pleasure to see him.

Stewart was the host on The Daily Show between 1999 and 2015. The Daily Show is the mock news half hour that became the source of news for many people, and Stewart became the jester version of Walter Cronkite. He was a comedian and a critic employing commentary and satire and jokes. Often he was just silly but he also made some very solid points when he chose to do so. Underneath it all, there is a very intelligent, well read mind and a real sense of moral outrage.

I was not happy when Stewart announced his stepping down from The Daily Show in 2015. “What? With the 2016 elections just around the corner. Say it ain’t so, Jon! We need you!” His successor, Trevor Noah, has done a fine job but, damnit, I wanted Jon Stewart!

This week I got him or at least a taste of him. He and Stephen Colbert are great buddies and Stewart is an executive producer of The Late Show. Colbert says Stewart is not just a name in the credits but an active participant. In the first segment, Colbert knocks on a cabin door out in the woods where Stewart has supposedly gone into seclusion. He is not aware that Trump is the GOP presidential nominee. It’s short and mostly an excuse for both men to do some spit takes.

On Thursday night, however, immediately after Trump’s acceptance speech at the RNC, Stewart not only returned but Colbert let him take over the host desk. He also let him go off not just on Trump but on Trump’s supporters, especially at Fox News, some of Stewart’s favorite targets in the old days.

It was a vintage Stewart rant. The man hasn’t lost a step, IMO, nor any of his outrage. And he knows his funny. It was classic Stewart delivery, too, and the return of his voice to TV. Aside from the scraggly beard and the t-shirt (adorned, for this segment, with a clip-on tie), the segment could have been Jon at The Daily Show. Colbert, aside from popping up once or twice, gave Stewart his head and it reminded me why I miss the guy and how much we need him now.

I have a feeling this won’t be the last Stewart appearance on The Late Show, at least between now and election day. I hope not. There are others filling the gap (especially Samantha Bee) but it’s not quite the same. I wants me some more Jon Stewart.

Man, do I miss that man.

John Ostrander: New Boys In Town

Trevor-2

Well, it’s been a few weeks since Stephen Colbert assumed command of The Late Show and Trevor Noah has taken the reins of The Daily Show. In both cases the hosts are taking over from prior hosts who had long tenure at their respective shows (David Letterman and Jon Stewart). The new boys have been there long enough now to form some opinions.  Admittedly, they’re just my opinions but this is my column.

I want to start with The Daily Show and Trevor Noah. To be honest, this was the one that was of greater concern to me because I really loved watching Jon Stewart. I felt that he (and the show) had an important role on television. It was very funny and had a real point of view and delighted in deflating personalities and kicking other networks and other media up the butt when needed (and it has been an ever increasing need over the past few years). Jon Stewart had a keen eye and a well developed sense of outrage to go with his highly developed sense of comedy.

Could Trevor Noah compete? Could he fill those shoes? Would The Daily Show still be a must-see show for me?

Trevor Noah, for those of you who don’t know, is a South African of mixed race parentage. In fact, at the time when Noah was born in 1984, apartheid held mixed race marriages to be a crime. He’s been an actor as well as a comedian. He joined The Daily Show in December of 2014 and was there only a few months when it was announced he would be Jon Stewart’s successor.

So – how’s he doing?

Very well, I think. He is easy and relaxed. He has a knowing smile that he flashes frequently during the broadcasts. He is sharp, witty, and in command. He has shown himself to be adept at interviews which account for at least a third of each show. He is also skilled at playing the straight man for the group of loonies that make up The Daily Show’s corps of correspondents. That’s a significant trick and one that Jon Stewart was very good at playing.

Is the show different? Somewhat, but it still feels like The Daily Show I knew and loved. For me, it’s still something I want to watch.

Stephen Colbert also used to be on Comedy Central as the star of The Colbert Report, a spin-off from The Daily Show. (He had been a correspondent with Jon Stewart.) The Colbert Report was even more satirical with Colbert playing a version of himself that parodied right wing commentators such as Bill O’Reilly and those populating Fox News.

Sometimes he was so good at it that I couldn’t bear watching; a lot of right-wing commentators give me mental hives. The Bush White House evidently bought into the gag and made the mistake one year of inviting Colbert to host the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. That was a large mistake on their part. Using his TV persona, Colbert blistered both President Bush (who was seated only a few feet away from him) and the media. The primary audience was not terribly amused but the tape of it went viral and the rest of us liberal pinko commie types gasped, laughed, and cheered. It was a brave and bravura performance.

I’ll be honest. I always liked The Daily Show with Jon Stewart more than I liked The Colbert Report. I admired Colbert tremendously but The Daily Show made me laugh more. So I had questions when it was announced that Colbert would be taking over for Dave Letterman. The big question was – could he escape the shadow of his own Colbert Report persona?

I think he has and he hasn’t.

Some of the bits Colbert has done on The Late Show could have been done on The Colbert Report. Stephen still likes to grab the mike and sing, usually with his guests. He doesn’t have a bad voice but I don’t think he’s as good a singer as he evidently thinks he is.

When the show started, Colbert would come out dancing, doing high kicks and girly twirls which I found disconcerting. He’s stopped doing that now and that’s for the better. He was also his own opening announcer and the show now has someone else doing that job which I think is a better transition.

His first guest and his first interview was George Clooney who is usually a great guest. He’s very entertaining and can tell wonderful stories and you just point him in a direction and let him go. Colbert, however, was into doing some kind of schtick and it really hobbled Clooney. I’ve seen this continue off and on.

However, I think Colbert is evolving as an interviewer. He had Oprah Winfrey on last week and they got into a discussion of faith and belief.  I’ve noticed when he has guests on like that we see more of Colbert himself. He is evidently a man of deep belief and, with Winfrey, the interview became a conversation. He listened and responded, she listened and responded, and we got to listen in. I think that’s how interviews on these types of shows should be – conversations.

Every host on late night TV has their own persona and it’s a question of how comfortable we are with those personas. We need to at least feel we’re getting something genuine about the interviewer. I don’t always get that with Colbert but I think he’s relaxing more into his new role and we may see more of it.

He also has interesting segments I won’t see elsewhere. He often has young entrepreneurs on, people doing things that I never heard about before. I think they’re geared for a younger demographic and that’s okay. It’s a question that most late night TV will have to face – how do they attract the generation that is more likely to be on the Internet?

His musical segments are also varied. There’s been a few too many older musicians who have bad cases of old man’s voice where they sound like aging echoes of who they were and some up and coming people who I don’t know and find it hard to summon an interest. However, he gets the occasional interesting performer as well. For example, he paired Misty Copeland, the first African American prima ballerina for the American Ballet Theater who danced while master cellist Yo-Yo Ma played. That was sublime.

Another musical guest was Michelle Dorrance, a tap dancer who won a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. She gave Stephen a tap lesson (which was great) and then performed with the house band, Jean Baptiste and Stay Human (who are very good). That’s new, that’s different, and very interesting.

Any late night show needs to find a way to stand out from the others, make people want to stay up to see it while, at the same time, be what they want to watch just before they go to sleep. I think the more Colbert shows of himself and the further he gets away from his old persona, the better his show is going to be.

Right now, I think both he and Noah Trevor are doing good jobs. I like The Daily Show a little bit better, I admire The Late Show a little more and I’m interested in seeing what they will be like as the hosts get more settled in.

But I really need to get to bed earlier! Sighhhhhh.

John Ostrander: Damn you, Stephen Colbert!

Supergoat

On The Late Show on Thursday night, Stephen Colbert celebrated the Cubs winning the wild card spot in the MLB playoffs (they beat Pittsburgh) by declaring that the Curse of the Goat was now broken and that the Cubs would go on to win the whole enchilada.

Mr. Colbert, how could you? You lived in Chicago for eleven years. I know that, at that time, you studied improv with Charna Halpern and my old writing partner, Del Close. You know the dashed hopes and numbing despair experienced by Cub fans. And just when the Cubbies had won their first playoff game in Twelve Years, you had to flout the Curse of the Goat and even eject from your show a goat that had been in the front row of the audience. The goat clearly did not want to go but you had to repeat the incident that first brought the Curse of the Goat down on the Cubs.

For those of you who don’t know, back in 1945, when the Cubs made one of their few appearances in a World Series, saloon keeper Bill Sianis (owner of The Billy Goat Tavern, a famed watering hole in the lower level of Michigan Avenue), was ejected from Wrigley Field along with his pet goat. Some say the Cubs owner, Phillip K. Wrigley, objected to the smell. Of the goat or of Sianis, I’m not sure. Sianis swore that the Cubs would never win a World Series again (accounts differ slightly but that’s the gist of it). And they haven’t. Of course, they hadn’t won a World Series in the 40 odd years leading up to that but perhaps the curse was retroactive. Who knows with curses?

Sianis himself tried to reverse the curse in later years; all sorts of rituals and exorcisms have been done to no effect.

I’m a life-long Cubs fan, Stephen. I had no choice in the matter. I was born on the Northside of Chicago; that locks me into the Cubs. The Southside is for the White Sox and the West Side – well, who knows or cares. They’re free agents; they may support St. Louis as far as I know.

The Cubs have not won a World Series in 107 years. My aunt, who lived to be 101, was alive the last time the Cubs did that. She was barely one-year old. That’s how long we’ve been suffering and waiting.

Every so often, it looks as if our luck is going to change, that the Curse will finally be broken. In 2008, they had the best record in baseball. There wasn’t anyone the Cubs couldn’t beat. In the first round, they were swept by the Dodgers. Didn’t win even one game. The Goat laughed. Baaaa-ha-ha!

In 2003, they were in the playoffs against the Florida Marlins. They were leading three games to two, they were at Wrigley Field, they were leading 3-0 in the 8th inning with two out, and a fan named Steve Bartman, sitting in the front row on the left field foul line, saw a ball headed his way. Trouble is, it was a playable ball and the outfielder, Moises Alou, had a chance to catch it. Bartman made a play for it, too, and tipped the ball. Alou didn’t catch it and a collective groan went up from the Cubs’ fans in the stadium and watching it on TV. We knew the Curse has struck again. The Cubs went on to lose the game and the series. Bartman had to be escorted out of Wrigley Field by security for his own protection.

And somewhere the Goat laughed. Baaaa-ha-ha!

And you, on your show, proclaimed that the Curse of the Goat was now broken and guaranteed, Guaranteed that the Cubs would win it all this year. You should know better. You should respect the Curse, respect the Goat, and don’t start celebrating before the season is over.

If/when the Cubs fail again, Cub fans are going to remember you taunting fate, Stephen Colbert. You are going to be the new Bartman. Your ratings will plummet in Chicago. You won’t be able to come back to the city to visit old friends, not that it will matter; they will shun you and your hubris.

Of course, there is the possibility that you’re right. That slim, ephemeral hope that comes back to life every time that the Cubs enter the play-offs, that glimmer of possible victory that enters every true Cubs fan’s heart, may finally be realized. And you will have called it. You will be able to lead the Victory Parade down LaSalle amidst the cheering throngs.  It will be a great moment of victory and you can claim it because you called it.

And then what will happen?

The team’s owners, emboldened, will move the Cubs out of the friendly confines of Wrigley Field to a new stadium, possibly in the suburbs, possibly in another city all together. They will maximize their financial potential.

And, shorn of their identity as baseball’s most lovable losers, the symbol of futility and the unending patience of the true fan, the Cubs will become just another baseball team.

Damn you, Stephen Colbert!

 

Dennis O’Neil: It’s A Bird.

supergirl

Outside my window summer is melting away and when it’s finally gone, what will be uncovered? Well, cold weather for one thing – I think we’re on pretty firm ground there – and if the weather pundits are right, it’ll be damn cold weather. Which will make it a match for that melting summer, a brute of a season with the hottest July ever recorded.

Is something going on?

So here’s what might happen: I might go to the park and meet a guy who’ll tell me that the sky is pink with big yellow polka dots and I’ll say no, the sky is blue. And he’ll say that he’s no scientist, but the third cousin of a fella he knows says that the sky is pink with yellow polka dots and that, by golly, is plenty good enough for him.

Don MartinLet us forge ahead.

The end of summer brings the new television season. The big news is The Return of Colbert, less than two days in my future and already in your past. So you may know if Colbert’s debut at 11:35 has satisfied all the expectations and justified all the publicity. (If you don’t know, you probably don’t care and that’s okay.) I watched his previous show on Comedy Central whenever I wasn’t traveling and I’m rooting for him. He’s one of one of our valuable jesters, one just a handful of entertainers who speak the truth to power.

The week’s other big TV news is big news to me, but may not be big news to you. On Thursday (the day you’re reading this blather?) Longmire returns. The weekly show was cancelled after three seasons but good ol’ Netflix has rescued it and we get to enjoy more of Walt Longmire’s travails. This is the one best cop shows ever, though if we’re being picky I guess we should call it a “sheriff show.” Mari and just finished watching all the previous episodes and are eager for more.

What am I forgetting?

Oh yeah: Superheroes! They’ll be well-represented, with all last year’s crop not only returning, but being augmented by new actors playing superdoers. Watching these programs has become one of those unacknowledged rituals that help form a marriage and, that aside, we generally like them.

The newcomer is Supergirl, who first appeared in the comics in 1959 as Superman’s cousin, another survivor of the Krypton community. (Where do they find a stadium big enough for their reunions?)

Judging from the infinitesimally tiny bit I know about the show, the title character will be played as a wholesome, girl-next-door, kind of like what she was (is?) on the printed page. Okay, no problem. We’ve seen plenty of the superhero-as-tormented-vigilante. Now let’s see what you television guys can do with wholesome.

Anything else?

John Ostrander: Handicapping the Stewart Sweepstakes

jon stewartThe day after Jon Stewart announced he was leaving The Daily Show, he plaintively asked his audience, “Did I die?” Lots of people are bemoaning the fact that he’s going, myself included. His show has been the counterpoint to the bilge spewed by Faux News and he’s been wonderful at showing the absurdity in politics.

Yes, he and I share very similar viewpoints on most topics and, while I’ve seen him skewer the Left, he’s more likely to skewer the Right and that’s just fine by me. He’s a comedian doing a fake news show; he doesn’t have to be “fair and balanced.” He simply has to have a consistent point of view and express it with wit and humor. However telling the point, he needs to get a laugh. That’s what he does. It’s what he is supposed to do.

However, The Daily Show must go on. Craig Kilbourn sat in the same seat before Stewart and someone else will come after him. The trick for Comedy Central is to bring in someone who won’t alienate the current audience while making the show their own. They have to be the head Jester while at the same time be the straight man (or woman) for the group of loons that are or will be the “reporters” on the show. (How many of the current team will stay after Stewart leaves is beyond my guess.)

Lots of people online have been giving odds on this candidate or that one. Whoever wins the slot will have a tough job. Lots of people will not like whoever comes next because they simply won’t be Stewart. Any changes that are made will be suspect by some because, again, they’re not Stewart. I might become one of those people myself.

Let’s explore for a moment who won’t be replacing Stewart. At one time, it would have been Stephen Colbert but now he’s replacing Letterman. John Oliver replaced Stewart for three months while Stewart was taking a sabbatical and did a good job. However, he’s at HBO with a show of his own and I don’t think contractually he can come back even if he’s so inclined.

Will Comedy Central go with someone who is already on the show? Jason Jones has filled in for Stewart and was, I think, surprisingly successful. Partner him with his wife Samantha Bee and you could have a very interesting format and show. Both of them are fearless and shameless (especially Bee) but I don’t know if either of them are material for the anchor’s chair on a regular basis.

I think it’s very possible Comedy Central will pick someone who has had experience on SNL as the news anchor for Weekend Update. The most interesting name I’ve heard mentioned is Amy Poehler. Her own show, Parks and Recreation, has just wound up and she has the background and chops for the job. I know there’s a lot of pressure to have a woman or a minority take Stewart’s place; there’s no one else on late night who is like that.

Except one. Larry Wilmore who used to be The Daily Show’s “senior black correspondent” has taken over Colbert’s spot following Stewart as the host of The Nightly Show. Yes, he just began his run in January but Stewart isn’t leaving until July or maybe December (it hasn’t been yet determined). Wilmore has shown himself to be sharp, funny, quick witted, and a good interviewer. He’s a good host.

If Wilmore went to the The Daily Show, that leaves a vacancy on The Nightly Show but I think that slot would be easier to fill. Jason Jones and/or Samantha Bee would kill in that position. Or scrap the current show and bring on something else; doing a sports show with the same sensibilities as The Daily Show might work very well.

The longest shot to replace Jon Stewart would be… Jon Stewart. In this scenario, he comes to his senses and changes his mind about leaving. Yeah, I know – not going to happen. A guy can wish, can’t he?

 

Martha Thomases: What – Me Nerdy?

English is a living language, which means that the words evolve through usage. It’s the kind of thing that drives grammar nerds crazy, such as when a person uses the word “literally” to mean “figuratively,” e.g. “I literally could not be any hungrier,” when you’ve only missed one meal.

What drives this grammar nerd crazy is the vulgarization of the word, “nerd.”

I don’t mean that ner” is a vulgar word. Rather, I mean it no longer means what it used to be. In my day (by which I mean, all that is real and true forevermore), a nerd was someone who was socially awkward, maybe a little OCD, and with obsessive interests in matters seen as trivial by more well-adjusted members of society. There were comic book nerds and science fiction nerds, but also AV nerds and theater nerds and band nerds.

“Nerd” was the word the cool kids used to put down their social inferiors. Therefore, by definition, a “cool nerd” is an oxymoron.

Because of this, I remain amazed every day by the popularity of so-called “nerd culture,” such as the blockbuster movies based on science fiction and fantasy books and comics. I’m not used to a world where everyone knows who Tony Stark is.

And now, perhaps as a sign of the Apocalypse, we have people calling out nerds as bullies who exploit their position at the top of the social ladder.

I’m not going to refute the politics of this piece (which is done fairly well here, although, as a nerd myself, I have some disagreements). I’ve already been kicked off this site once for talking about politics too much.

The author, Charles Cooke, confuses many things, including what kind of people are actually nerds. Al Gore… really? Al Gore is a lot of things, but he is not socially awkward. Neither is Neil Degrasse Tyson. Both men can hold their own in an interview, without notes, without a teleprompter. Cooke also confuses knowledge for opinion – although, as Stephen Colbert has taught us, “reality has a liberal bias.”

In fact, nerds are not all progressives. They are no more likely to base their political opinions on facts alone (as opposed to emotion) than anybody else. I remember one of my first arguments at the Marvel office in the 1980s, when several people said they would vote for Reagan instead of Mondale. I would describe the candidates stands on the issues, and that didn’t matter. They wouldn’t vote for a “wimp.”

I also am amused to see comments on message boards about Marvel and DC (and, to a lesser extent, Dark Horse) “forcing” writers to take political positions in stories, such as introducing an Hispanic Spider-Man. Marvel and DC have enough trouble getting the books written, drawn and printed on time. They want to get the talent that is most reliable and most sought after by fans. Politics is way, way down on the list.

I like to see science and math and history and economics valued in our culture. I enjoy having the opportunities to research the things that interest me, which is easier when having interests is considered to be cool. I like seeing scientists and comic book fans as television heroes … although the depictions are not necessarily any more real than those of TV cops, lawyers or doctors.

We could have worse heroes than scientists. If it’s good enough for Bruce Banner and Barry Allen, it’s good enough for me.

 

Box Office Democracy: “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”

I was a big fan of [[[The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show]]] as a child and while I enjoyed almost all of the segments “Peabody’s Improbable History” was a particular favorite.  I don’t know what it is but time travel and know-it-alls have always appealed to me.  It was because of this fandom and the horrific earlier attempts to make films out of the Jay Ward cartoons that made me approach Mr. Peabody & Sherman with particular trepidation.  I’m happy to report that these fears were unfounded and that Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a generally delightful movie.

After perhaps a bit too much exposition (the original cartoon never seemed to need much more than talking dog, pet boy, time machine) Mr. Peabody & Sherman gets right into a trip to Revolutionary France that plays like a more action-packed version of an old-school Peabody short.  It even closes with a pun.  From there the movie packs on a rather stunning amount of plot when all I really wanted was more of the classic formula.

This is the peril of the modern reboot movie; they often lose the fun in favor of a more modern approach to storytelling.  I don’t care about Sherman being bullied for having a father that’s a dog, I don’t care about irrationally angry school counselors that want to involve Child Protective Services, I only care about Mr. Peabody hosting a dinner party because the characters attending are voiced by Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann, and I don’t really need Mr. Peabody to learn a lesson about being a good father.  I just want time travel and jokes and for a good percentage of those jokes to be terrible puns.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask and the movie delivers on this frequently but I left the theater wanting more.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is better than it is bad and I enthusiastically await a sequel (it seems on pace for those kind of numbers assuming the rights aren’t a mess) but there are so many tiny flaws holding this one back from the excellence that was in its grasp.  I’ve seen enough terrible kids movies the last two years that very good is more than enough for me but if I were Rob Minkoff and I had directed this and The Lion King I would feel like this one could have been a bigger deal.