We Are Not Alone, a new Roku Original, debuts on January 27 on The Roku Channel and it is a promising sitcom: not one moment is wasted; solid casting; creative production value for a low budget sitcom; engaging story; solid humor; characters jump right in. In my previous post, I discussed what content like this can mean for Roku’s future. In this follow-up post, I share a few observations from viewing an advanced release. From what I can tell, this is a feature-length pilot for a sitcom.
Tag Archives: Comedy
Maybe, like me, you are a Roku person. And maybe you noticed this new offering, a sci-fi comedy, We Are Not Alone. I’m intrigued. I’m intrigued on two main tracks: first, I genuinely think I’ll like watching this; next, I have a feeling this could be one of those turning points which adds to Roku’s profile as an original content provider, as it moves beyond its original purpose of just making streaming devices. Last year’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story was a significant step forward for Roku as a serious original content provider.
Somebody Feed Phil the Book. by Phil Rosenthal and Jenn Garbee. Simon & Schuster. New York. 2022. 352 pp. $32.50
What is not to like about Somebody Feed Phil the Book? It’s the series come to life! If you are a fan of the food and travel show, created and hosted by Phil Rosenthal, well, this is the essential companion piece. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve viewed all the episodes on Netflix and occasionally still go back to some of your favorites. Totally fine. I’m not judging. I’ll go you one better and confess that I was an early adopter to the series and got my better half hooked on it. After that, we went back and picked clean the original PBS series, also created by Phil. Finally, we went back to other stuff related to Phil, chiefly the comedy classic sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, the show that Phil Rosenthal created and wrote for and firmly established him in the first place. I wonder, does this not ring any bells for anyone? I sense there was a time when Phil was more under the radar and now it really seems that, dare I say, Everybody Loves Phil!
The first thing I did was go through the table of contents and see which cities made the cut. I was surprised not to see Paris or Florence. But I was happy to see that New York and London, among others, did make the cut. Here’s the thing, for fans of the show, this is really special and that sense of the special should carry over quite well to just about anyone. What you get is a genuinely delightful host, who cherishes and features his loved ones on the show, provides numerous heart-felt and useful bits of insights on travel and, last but not least, pays tribute to a favorite subject of mine, food. It’s like the whole show in your pocket, or your kitchen table. And you get all these recipes! I keep rediscovering my love for good cookbooks when I am presented with a book such as this that is following a theme (in this case, it is predominantly a theme of adventure and appreciation). Thanks to this book, I can honestly say, I’m seriously looking at traveling to Thailand. The first city featured in the series, and the book, is Bangkok and it’s Phil’s unbridled love for the food and culture that has completely won me over.
And so I dove in and went for it. No, not the travel part yet. I dove in and followed the recipe for Khao Soi, which Phil admitted to being his favorite dish, or pretty darn close to it. So, yeah, I fired up the test kitchen and we had ourselves quite a feast. I learned so much from that experience. I think it comes down to always being mindful of how much you get back when you make that extra effort. Now, this dish did seem to require some patience but, overall, it’s so much fun to make, relatively easy and lends itself to so many variations. Basically, you need meat, noodles, some chili paste, coconut milk and the rest of the ingredients just fall into place. Yes, the recipes are solid. You could live off the recipes in this book.
Again, the ability to enjoy the series in a different format is priceless. Of course, it was inevitable that I’d go to my favorite episode, the one devoted to New York City. Hands down, this is a city made up of restaurant customers of one kind or another, whether nondescript or celebrated, from the most humble to the most fancy. Pizza, of course, gets a lot of attention. And then there is one quintessential delight in particular, the noble Egg Cream, an utterly simple drink made up of chocolate syrup, seltzer and milk. But there are essential details. Aim for about equal parts to each ingredient and serve in a chilled glass. The syrup needs to be Fox’s U-Bet. And the way the drink is mixed can cause great debate. It’s Phil’s intense interest in culture and food that inspired me to create my own tribute to the egg cream. Perhaps I digress a bit but it’s all worth noting and, from what I’ve seen, this is definitely Phil’s favorite treat.
The whole point of the show is to celebrate your favorite foods but then go beyond your comfort zone. Travel! See the world. That’s what life is all about: mixing and mingling with folks from different cultures. Phil has proven time and time again to be an excellent host, an all-time great evangelist on adventurous eating and traveling. In many ways, this book is his life’s work. He’d laugh–but he’d also nod and give you one of his goofy, and worldly-wise, smiles.
The comics in the spotlight this time around are by Doogie Horner, a great illustrator who I first took notice of for his book cover design (illustration by Jeremy Enecio) to the madcap fictional adventures of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Hope Never Dies.
It was shortly after spotting that book that I noticed another one with Horner credited for both illustration and design, a comedy mashup of Jane Austen and zombies! Maybe you’ve seen both of these iconic covers.
But it hardly ends there for Doogie Horner. Along with an impressive creative portfolio of graphic design, illustration and comics, he is also an author and a stand-up comedian. The great thing about whatever Doogie Horner does is that he’s very dedicated. His young adult novel has been well received, This Might Hurt a Bit. And you’ll just have to see for yourself how he tamed a hostile crowd when he was a contestant on America’s Got Talent!
Alright then, I’m very happy to bring to your attention this comic, a sweet story of a boy trying to connect with his dad. Or maybe it has more to do with the kid’s curiosity getting the better of him and his forcing his way into seeing a movie he was told would be too scary for him at his age. Yeah, that’s definitely a big part of the story. Spoiler alert, the movie was scary but not too scary. It depends upon how scary you think The Terminator is for a kid around five years-old. Okay, definitely parental supervision is in order.
The point is that this comic manages to do a lot of things right. It’s funny and engaging for any age. But, most importantly, it flows very well. This is a gentle narrative, told by a child, while maintaining a hip and upbeat sense of humor. The drawing style has a child-like, as well as elegant, simplicity.
So, this is an easygoing look and feel–and that’s actually not easy to do. It takes time to get that natural vibe going. Just ask Doogie Horner. He made it look easy to win over a hostile audience, something easier said and done, but he knows what he needs to know. Part of it is dedication to craft; part of it is learning from past mistakes; and part of it is simply not taking no for an answer. I get a sense of that spirit in this father and son story. Check it out, along with a bunch of other wonderful comics on Doogie Horner’s website.
There are details in Brandon Lehmann‘s comics that will come back and reveal themselves upon another reading. Look closely and you’ll see, tucked away amid the backdrop of a mega-bookstore, copies of Brandon Lehmann’s new book, the recently released, G-G-G Ghost Stories, in the panels to his story, “The Werewolf Expert.” Another reading will reveal a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capicorn, in the hand of a child, a secondary player in this finely-crafted farce. The key idea here is the subject of creating such a thing as a “finely-crafted farce,” and why quality will win out in the end. Lehmann’s sense of humor is an absurdist and existential sensibility. Lehmann has been making comics for about fifteen years featuring observational and satirical work. In this new book, he focuses in on playful use of horror tropes. For this interview, we met at Seattle’s Smith Tower, a favorite haunt of erudite cartoonists and, of course, ghosts. We begin this conversation just as I sit down to join Brandon. I notice pot stickers have already been ordered. (We staged a bit of a humorous intro. You’ll see what I mean if you view the video.)
Hey, Brandon, well, I see you’ve started without me, as usual. Nice to run into you this way.
I just hang out up here in Smith Tower and read my own comics.
So, what have we here (picking up a copy of Brandon’s book). Is the proper pronunciation just as it reads, G-G-G Ghost Stories?
When I named it, I was hoping for some awkward interactions at the sales counter. “I’ll take, G-G-G Ghost Stories, please.”
That would be a Scooby-Doo influence, right?
Interesting that we’d find ourselves in Smith Tower since, as everyone knows, this place is haunted.
Yeah, we saw a couple of ghosts on the way in. I was like, “Ahhh, it’s a g-g-g ghost.”
I think of a lot of your work, like the “The Lfyt,” as being mini-masterpieces. Do you sometimes think in those terms, “I’m going to create something that’s so spot on that everything works perfectly.” Does that make sense to say that?
Yeah, I always feel that when you’re working on a book, especially, you can get into this mode where everything you do just works. And then, when you finish a book, I have this period where I just struggle and I can’t seem to draw anything. But when I’m making a book, I can set a schedule, everything works on the first try for some reason. If that makes sense.
It does make sense. I’m a certified cartoonist myself, as you know. Now, tell us about “The Werewolf Expert,” the longest work in the book.
There’s a trope in horror movies and TV shows where someone needs to seek an expert on the occult and it’s always someone who it doesn’t make sense would be an expert. Like, you’ll have this guy who works at the bowling alley as a mechanic and, for some reason, he’s a vampire expert. In “The Werewolf Expert,” someone consults a Barnes & Noble bookstore employee, and it’s the employee’s first day. And they shouldn’t know anything about werewolf lore but part of the B&N orientation training is that they teach all about werewolf lore. That employee knows a lot but eventually he consults his supervisor and she knows even more about werewolves to a ridiculous degree. So, it just keeps building on that premise.
How would you describe your humor?
It’s absurdist and existentialist. There’s a lot of gags in the book that you can repeat with a similar premise. For the story we’re discussing, there’s a gag that I use a lot. The story is progressing from one point to another and then I’ll throw a wrench into it. And it will spin off in an insane degree. For instance, the bookstore customer seeking advice has a daughter named, Shawnda. He begins yelling at her, she’s off camera. Later, we see her and there’s more of this yelling. That sort of silly exchange is something I like to do in my work.
There’s a beauty to your work. The humor is consistent. The art is consistent. You must go through a slew of experimentation before you hit upon what works, what’s on point.
The whole concept of the book is classic ghost stories. So, that’s the anchor. We’re dealing here with stories everyone is familiar with in one form or another. The story, “The Lfyt,” we were just talking about, is based upon a popular ghost story about picking up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a ghost. Another good example is “The Viper,” another popular children’s ghost story. The tension builds as he keeps calling and announcing when he’ll arrive. In my story, it turns out that “The Viper” is a guy with a thick German accent, who is just an innocent window wiper.
I didn’t know about that children’s ghost story. The actual one, not your satire!
Yeah, it’s real. There’s also one entitled, “Okiku,” based on a popular Japanese ghost story about a woman who was murdered because she refused to become a samurai’s mistress. She had been thrown down a well and, each night, she appears to seek her revenge. That was actually the basis for the Ringu movies. There’s the books. It was also on stage, as kabuki theater. So, yeah, I gather up all these ghost stories and given them my own spin.
Well, I’m sure this will intrigue readers. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Where is a good place to find your work?
One good place is my own site for Bad Publisher Books. You can also find me on my Instagram: @brandon.lehmann. And you can find it at various bookstores. In Seattle, there’s Fantagraphics Bookstore, Elliot Bay Bookstore and Push/Pull. Lots of places on the net, like Birdcage Bottom Books.
Thank you, Henry!
We turned to the subject of the performance artist Brother Theodore and that helped connect the dots to Martin Olson‘s new book, The Conquest of Heaven, which I’ve reviewed in my previous post. It’s an intriguing and hilarious exploration of the addled yet persistent mind of the Lord of Darkness himself. On one level, it’s a very funny book. On a deeper level, it’s every bit the satire on what we humans let ourselves believe and what can pass for reality. Serious followers of comedy will most likely already be familiar with Brother Theodore. I kick myself now, because I can’t say I knew about him until recently and that’s only because I found out about him from Martin.
My introduction to this comic is this clip from The Merv Griffin Show. I can’t say that I was ever a big fan of Merv Griffin. He seemed to be the sort of talk show host that was easily parodied by other comics, like Martin Short. But now I come to see that Merv Griffin was pretty hip to groundbreaking comedy as he was an early supporter of Brother Theodore. If you are new to him and you view this clip, you can’t help but think that Andy Kaufman was taking notes….
So, if you view the clip, this will make more sense. In a nutshell, here you have one of the early wave of nontraditional comic artists. Brother Theodore was weird but that was the whole point of his act, to express the utter absurdity of life. As Martin points out, it’s nihilistic material that you make your way through to a redeeming payoff. And so I see some of that going on in Martin’s new book with Satan as the main character, an outrageous creature saying the most offensive things, but alternating with some poetic whimsy. Anyway, I wish I’d taken my search a little further and viewed the more recent clips of Brother Theodore in the ’80s on Late Night with David Letterman. Ah, that would have been more recent material to talk to Martin about. The thing is, this was simply a potential question I had pinned to the back of my mind. As it is, I did get a wonderful response regarding the above clip which includes Martin recalling what it was like for him as an impressionable 10-year-old to see this crazy and weird humor.
For those who are fascinated by the writer’s craft, we also chatted about the great science fiction writer Robert Sheckley. In fact, that’s just before we dived into talking about Brother Theodore. In the case of Sheckley, this is another mad genius who loved quirky humor. There’s a nice moment during our talk when Martin recalls Sheckley’s guiding principle in keeping his stories rich and alive: “Sympathize with all things!” And so Martin finds a way to even sympathize with the Devil!
Okay, that seemed a perfect place to stop but I need to just add that, having read both books in the series thus far, I can confidently say that one compliments the other. To hear Martin confirm that there will indeed be another book to fulfill the trilogy is wonderful news. Martin has, by turns, found himself creating his own universe upon which to comment on the human condition and the like, essentially having endless material to play with on the less than stellar condition of the cosmos. All this brings to mind Douglas Adams, and he did pretty well for himself as I recall.
Cinema is one of the great pleasures in life. If you love good movies, then you will be delighted with the lineup for the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival (May 6-9 2021). This post will point you in the right direction as well as provide an added bonus. One of the titles featured during the festival is 1996’s Nichols and May: Take Two. I had the honor of interviewing Mark Harris, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Mike Nichols: A Life. I hope you enjoy our chat and be sure to catch all the great movies during the festival. During our conversation, I tried to fit in as much as possible regarding Mike Nichols (1931-2014), such a iconic figure in the world of improv comedy, theater and film known for such landmark films as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Catch-22 (1970), and Carnal Knowledge (1971). And those three titles are just scratching the surface!
Harris first got to know Nichols during his work adapting Tony Kushner’s landmark play, Angels in America. By then, Nichols was in his seventies and a master of his craft many times over. During our talk, Harris noted: “It is remarkable to me how Nichols kept looking outward during a production, while the meter was still running, finding ways to construct and to add.” As for what might be said in describing Nichols’s body of work, Harris said it wasn’t a matter of maintaining a thematic structure. It was really more down to earth. “It was about finding what excited Nichols to pursue a project: a script, a collaboration, a writer, an actor.”
NICHOLS AND MAY: TAKE TWO (1996): TCM premiere of this documentary about the influential comedy team of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. Four of their radio sketches have been re-created with new animation created especially for the program.
Includes conversation with author Mark Harris, Mike Nichols: A Life.
SATURDAY, MAY 8 11:45AM ET
And remember, the festival kicks off May 6th! This year’s Festival will be presented virtually and feature four days of incredible programming on TCM and within the Classics Curated By TCM Hub on HBO Max, a dedicated destination for classic movie fans within the HBO Max app.
2021 TCM Classic Film Festival
Thursday, May 6 through Sunday, May 9 at two virtual venues: the TCM network and the Classics Curated by TCM Hub on HBO Max.
To learn more, go to the TCM Film Festival site right here. You’ll discover a unique film festival experience on TCM.
MAD Magazine, as we used to know it, is gone. However, what we still have is to be treasured. Due to a number of factors, it just became unsustainable to maintain the magazine. So, the idea now is to keep to a pared-down schedule that showcases various work from the past. It leaves room for some exceptions too like the amazing new cover art by visionary cartoonist Jim Woodring for the current issue. I just got my copy in the mail as part of my subscription. You can too by visiting MAD Magazine.
Alfred E. Neuman is the fictitious mascot and cover boy of MAD. Alfred’s first appearance was on a 1954 MAD paperback collection and on the actual magazine starting with Mad #21 (March 1955). Woodring pays homage to Alfred and all things MAD by having Alfred in the role of Zoltan the fortune teller. The fortune is a wry reference to MAD’s legendary fold-in back cover gags: “The Secret to Longevity is Not Folding In.” And, most fitting of all, is a 100th happy birthday wish to one of MAD’s greatest cartoonists: Al Jaffee, a regular contributor to the magazine for 65 years, the longest run ever, including his trademark feature, the Mad Fold-in.
Back in December of last year, Jim Woodring let his friends on social media know just what he thought about getting to do a MAD Magazine cover:
“If anyone in a position to know had told me when I was a boy that I would one day do a cover for MAD magazine I would have died of self-satisfaction right on the spot. Issue #19, due out March 2021 from DC comics.”
Each issue of MAD is thoughtfully curated following a theme. The theme for this current issue is The Future:
MAD #19 – MAD PREDICTS THE FUTURE
Gaze into the wonders of tomorrow, courtesy of yesterday’s MAD! It’s our far-flung future issue, in which we look back at the shape of things to come, including parodies of time traveling sci-fi flicks “Back to the Future” and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.” Plus, MAD examines prognosticators like astrology, palm reading, and, just for good measure, a little MAD E.S.P with birthday boy Al Jaffee for his 100th year on this planet, and some new outta this world art by Tom Richmond! We predict there will be a new Fold-In by Johnny Sampson too! Materializing in stores APR. 13th!
Get your copy by visiting MAD Magazine right here.
When a comic decides to do a character as their act, it is making a commitment to one particular point of view, one particular persona. And, within that set of limits, there can be unlimited freedom. It is not for everyone since most comics have a healthy ego that demands undisguised attention. But some comics like an added artistic challenge, like Andy Kaufman. And so it is my honor to introduce to you, Smork Bolson. He is erudite, a bit out of touch, and ironically unironic. The comedy of Smork Bolson is mellow with sharp edges. This is a man seemingly of small words but maybe not. It just depends upon how long he is going to tolerate you.
The best way of looking at Smork Bolson is to not stare. Just look. Just listen. And let the comedy come to you. Deadpan. Droll. Maybe even a bit of steampunk–or maybe not. One thing’s for sure, Smork Bolson is not to be toyed with. He is serious about being serious and that’s what makes him hilarious. I hope you enjoy this conversation between Bolson and myself. I turned it into something like a card game as I had a stack of questions from which I drew from. It turned out to be a fun game and you might enjoy playing it with a friend. And getting back to our subject, be sure to stop by and check in on what Smork is up to at his new website. There are plans for puzzles, games and wordy amusements plus you’ll find a blog there too.
Alyson Chadwick is a standup comic and an activist. That keeps her busy balancing the funny and the serious. In this talk, we cover it all, including Paul Ryan and even Matt Gaetz! On the serious side, be sure to look up Paul Rusesabagina and his being kidnapped by the Rawandan government. You may know Paul from his story turned into the film, HOTEL RAWANDA. Paul did his part in opposition to the genocide of the Tutsi by Rawanda in 1994. Last year, Paul was kidnapped by Rawanda’s Kagame regime and is awaiting trial on false charges.
You can do your part to help bring about his release. Visit Alyson’s website as well as the No Business with Genocide website: