The  last 24 hours must have been fun day to be a headline writer for major newspapers in America. Just look at these juicy headlines:


The New York Times:

The Boston Globe:

The Washington Post:

Look at that image placement! I have a hard time imagining a design editor of the Washington Post not audibly laughing when deciding exactly where to crop Marc Zuckerberg’s chin.

It’s only natural that the tone of the coverage from national newspapers, whose influence has been decimated by social media in the past 15 years, would implicitly, and in some cases not-so-implicitly (that chin!), turn to snarkiness. Snarkiness is the route the powerless tend to take when their influence is small and their voice has been marginalized. As NYMag’s Adam Sternbergh put it in 2008, when we first started the debate over online snarkiness:

Snark, irony’s brat, flourishes in an age of doublespeak and idiocy that’s too rarely called out elsewhere. Snark is not a honk of blasé detachment; it’s a clarion call of frustrated outrage.

The major newspapers listed above, which honored that doublespeak and idiocy for far too long, were some of the subject of snarkiness.

The difference is that these major newspapers aren’t powerless here, or blameless. For decades, their coverage has transformed into a desperate attempt to play towards being “factual” and “fair”, despite the fact that one side has completely abandoned the factual and fair. There are now over 15 cycles of college graduates who are intelligent enough to see that, for instance, normalizing Nazi sympathizers, being owned by the tycoons you’re supposed to be covering critically, giving credence to human rights abuses, and exploiting your own labor in the process, aren’t exactly good faith behaviors.

I’m old enough to remember how news coverage was handled right before social media emerged. I was an editor of my college newspaper from 2006-2007, just as social media’s influence was skyrocketing. I didn’t know at the time just how awful a dirge on society social media would become. But I had a front row view of where mainstream media coverage was failing, and where social media and new media was able to fill the gaps (remember the coverage cycle of the John Edwards scandal? I sure do).

So yes, the past 48 hours are a huge loss for Facebook in particular and social media in general. But let’s not pretend there are any winners here.

Without Canada, I wouldn’t be alive. Nor would my father, my brother, my sister, or nine of my cousins. When my grandmother fled Poland in my 30s, and later married my grandfather, a survivor of the Gulag, they built a prosperous life in Montreal. They found opportunities for themselves and their children in North America in the 1950s and 1960s that starkly contrasted Europe they fled in the 1930s and 1940s, which was designed for them to cease to exist.

I’m not sure if my grandparents ever considered the fact that the land that not only saved their lives, but allowed them to thrive, came with a country that was built on the same unnecessary and appalling loss of life that they managed to avoid themselves.

Today is National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada, for the first time an official national holiday. I know I have to be better, which is why I’ve ordered Out of the Depths, Isabelle Knockwood’s book on the subject. One passage hit me from the excerpt, made available online, pretty intensely:

I testified before the TRC to bring awareness to the fact that the testimony given to the TRC by the survivors of the Indian residential schools in Canada was not a sworn oath. The risk is that historians will find ways to discredit the oral evidence and, like the holocaust of the Jews by Hitler’s regime, will be able to say that the “residential schools did not happen….

As children, the residential school students were warrior children — we stood on the front line alone, unprotected and unarmed trying to defend our culture, identity and heritage. As adults we brought a lawsuit against the two most powerful organizations in the world, the federal government and the churches. We empowered ourselves when we broke the code of silence of abuse.

This is the kind of language of breaking through silence was what I was raised with in Hebrew School for 8 years. When it came to other persecuted groups, groups that were marginalized, and often slaughtered the foundations of the land that had helped us survive, the religious schools I was raised in tended to turn silent.

Here is another excellent resource from historian Daniel N. Paul. This kind of quote provides a more blatant example of the kind of thinking common among 20th Century white Canadians, by civil servant and poet Duncan Campbell Scott:

I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”

Most of all resources, I’ve looked up is this absolutely heartbreaking song by Buffy MacNeill, of Mi’kmaq descent, which was released to raise funds for a Paq’tnkek Mi’kmaw Youth Center.

If you have some funds to give, I’d highly recommend donating.

One persistent theme I see on social media from people of my age range is the idea that the world won’t exist in the next 10-20 years. This is actually a standard trope of left-wing thinking and joke material. The logic seems to be that the environment has gotten so bad, political strife has gotten so turbulent, and white supremacy is so rampant, that there’s simply no way society as we know it will exist by 2050 or so.

To some extent, they are right. Society will not exist the same way in 2050 as it will in 2021. The same way society in 2021 does not exist the same way it did in 1981, the same way society in 1981 did not exist the same way as 1951, or 1951 to 1921.

The environment is seen as the bleakest threat, and let’s not sugar coat it, it’s bleak. Mass population clusters and major cities will cease to exist. The economy as we know it is not equipped to handle this level of economic disaster. Los Angeles is likely to see thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands displaced due to an earthquake within the next 20-30 years. New Orleans could be completely underwater within the next 50 years.

As bleak as the environment and political strife is, no scientists are, at the moment, arguing that human beings will be extinct within the next 50 years. Even today, as the UN warned of catastrophic climate change by the end of the century, extinction was not discussed as a possibility. We absolutely need immediate and mass action on global warming, which we likely will not get. Even if the U.S. was to change its policies drastically, China will be an even bigger problem. But even the worst case scenario will not be the end of humanity.

Apocalyptic thinking is not new to my generation. The prospect of nuclear apocalypse, which is still a non-zero possibility, led people to believe that extinction was inevitable in the 50s and 60s. In the previous generations, fascism and Nazism were so prevalent that it was assumed the tides were already turned, and that it was too late. We have mounds of art, journalism, and academic research that argued as such. If you think if the mass deaths associated with a major city being destroyed are the end of humanity, consider Konigsburg, Dresden, and Tokyo. They were devastating losses of life and the cities were completely demolished. But humanity continued.

What I hate about doomsday thinking is that it leads to apathy, self-destructive behavior, and mental health issues. People are legitimately arguing that people under the age of 40 shouldn’t save for retirement, because humanity is doomed. Combine that with the prospect of slashing social security, this could lead to a nightmare scenario caused by our own nihilism.

Doomsday thinking also is linked to conspiracy theory thinking, which can actually enable the white supremacist forces that many on the left are actively trying to curb. It can also lead those who are legitimately suffering from mental health issues to feel validated, as opposed to seeking care.

I encourage you to build an emergency preparedness bag with as many supplies as you think are necessary. I encourage you to fight for politicians to enact policies for radically curbing climate change, and make changes to your own life to both prepare for and help prevent a truly horrific series of events. We are already seeing the devastating effects of the choices of our species. It will only get more extreme in the coming years. But defaulting into “humanity is doomed” thinking is short-sighted, harmful to the very causes we worry about, and, scientifically, just plain wrong.

I can pull any number of Norm Macdonald clips that have deeply influenced me. His Bob Saget Roast act, hosting the ESPYs, his Conan bits, his run on Weekend Update. But I’m going to focus on the clip that affected me the most.

My grandfather died my first year of standup. It was absolutely devastating. I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t know how anything could be funny again. Then I saw Norm open his special, released the same month my grandfather died, with 10 minutes of material on death and dying. I suddenly felt it was okay to be funny again. And I could be funny about even the most devastating things.

Though he said  not greatest of stuff on Twitter later on in his life, the influence he had on comedy was incalculable. And to me, that far outweighs the bad.

RIP Norm. One of the greats.

Last year I made the choice to stop drinking alcohol. It wasn’t a situation where I had to stop to save my life. I just didn’t feel the need to drink anymore. I barely eat sugar anymore at this point in my life. I quit smoking 6 years ago after I had some health issues and realized that only smoking when I was drinking wasn’t worth it. Most of the bad habits that can drive others to the brink of madness, and most of my own toxic behaviors from my younger days, I’ve either cut out of my life or have done a lot of work to cut out of my life.

There’s one glaring exception: I can’t stop watching sports. I don’t even know how to begin.

Continue Reading Why Do I Still Give A Sh*t About Sports?

The moment you see your reflection in a coke mirror is the moment your childhood dies.

-John Mulaney, 2009.

I can’t keep up with the John Mulaney news. Every hour it’s a new thing. I’m not on Twitter nearly as much as I was even 3 weeks ago, but a simple scan shows friends of mine openly in revolt. The “wife guy” relapsed, broke up with his wife, may or may not have cheated on her in the process, and got Olivia Munn pregnant shortly after exiting rehab for the second time in his life. Is that it? Is there some new news that broke right as I type this?

I know there’s gender politics at play here. I know it can be a shock to the system to see a “wife guy” melt down like this. As of now, I don’t know all the details. As far as I know, no one knows all the details except for John Mulaney.

Nothing as of now indicates that John Mulaney is abusive or a predator. His behavior may have not been perfect, but most if not all of what’s been revealed, as of now, falls to me under “his business.”

As someone who’s been a fan of John Mulaney since 2009, and saw his evolution from his first album through his later specials, the news that John Mulaney has a dark side is not new to me. There was a dark undercurrent to his entire act early on, especially on his first album (and even more so in live sets I saw him do around that time, with jokes that didn’t make any of his specials). As a fan, I was thrilled to see his successful turn, but a little disappointed that he moved away from that dark undercurrent. I never wanted John Mulaney the person to relapse, see his marriage fall apart, become a scandal, and have to rebuild everything from scratch. As a fan, if I’m truly honest, part of me evilly rooted for it.

What I will say, first and foremost, is don’t trust any comedian’s opinion on the story. They are either far too bitter or jaded to form an objective opinion on the story, or far too defensive of their careers to form an objective opinion on the story. I say this as someone who until the pandemic pursued a path in comedy, so make of all this what you will.

I also had the privilege of seeing his new standup act two months ago, literally titled the “From Scratch” tour. He addressed his relapse, his destructive behavior to his friends, loved ones, and most of all himself, with the kind of brutal honesty I knew he was capable of. The evil fan inside me got everything he ever wanted. His closing joke (paraphrased here), which has been shared by others on social media, has rattled around my brain ever since I heard it:

When I’m alone, I’m with the person who tried to kill me. And nothing anyone can say about me is worse than what I’ve said or done to myself. What, you want to cancel John Mulaney? I tried to kill John Mulaney. Do you have the dedication to go through with that, (Or a more current website?).

He didn’t address any of his marital issues in the set. I have no idea if he’ll add that element by the time his new set is released as a special. But in any event, the inevitable special will answer a lot of questions. Not all of them, but a lot.

I’ve struggled for years to answer this question. If you look at my views on paper, they probably align with the values and principles of socialism. But I’ve never been comfortable labeling myself as that.

I generally tend to think political -isms are a major source of divisiveness, partisan hackery, propaganda, and other political nonsense. When I phone banked for the Elizabeth Warren campaign, I can’t tell you the number of callers who yelled obscenities at me, calling her a socialist, a communist, a baby killer, and anti-American.

There are two competing schools of thought here. One, which is generally the thought centrists and the status quo in the Democratic Party, is that the term socialist is too loaded, divisive, and blocks legitimate efforts to enact the causes that people who call themselves socialists want to enact. On one level, I hate this, think it falls into the category of “you’re hurting your own cause” and the implicit racism and classism that mainstream Democrats espouse. I think it is often an excuse for liberal Democrats who give lip service to the working class to freely sacrifice their principles for their own personal advancement.

On the other hand, after working on mainstream presidential and senate campaigns, and seeing just how frustrating noncommittal a large swath of the country would be to causes advance by the left if they fall under the “socialist” label, I understand the merits to that argument.

The other school of thought is, in order to more forcefully advance leftist causes (there’s that -ism again), we need to destigmatize the term “socialist”, refuse to deny that label, and openly advocate for causes espoused by socialists. This is a longer term goal, and I get the lack of need to hide behind what you actually are under the guise of unity and pragmatism. The forces of white supremacy are circling the drain of America so fast that there needs to be a forceful opposition. At the same time, fighting against those forces requires immediate attention and practical sacrifices. Frankly, I don’t think there’s time in America left to worry about the long term gain by de-stigmatizing that label.

I also hate the idea of state-controlled morality, where every living person’s ethical values must be uniquely aligned, or the entire system falls apart. In addition to not finding that practical, I think it’s morally abhorrent, and I will never trust power structure in charge of morality. This means I can never be a communist. The fact that communists were directly involved in slaughtering half of my ancestors certainly doesn’t help.

My primary values are simple: I believe every human being has a right to be fed, sheltered, clothed, and safe. I think we, as a society, should aim to create a system of government that values these principles over adding more billionaires to the world. I believe the police are a tool of white supremacy, and we must work as a society to replace police forces altogether with organizations more focused on care. I feel workers have the right to unionize to advocate for themselves, and I believe employers should be punished for wage theft and abuse more than employees.

On paper, these values probably align me with the principles of contemporary  American socialism. So if you want to call me a socialist, that’s fine. I feel I can define my political identity however I’d like.

I guess I don’t call myself a socialist because I don’t feel the need to call myself a socialist. I don’t feel that the principles I believe in need that label. On a fundamental level I don’t really consider my beliefs “socialism.” I consider them empathy.

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to stop the cycle of doomscrolling on social media. I spent less than five minutes on Facebook today, and hoo boy, do I not regret this decision.

The news about Texas’s abortion law is devastating. To women, to people of color, to medical professionals, and to anyone who cares about basic human rights. Yet instead of coming up with solutions, those addicted to social media are fighting the exact same fight I’ve seen played out all my life: should we be madder at the Democrats for their inability to boldly stand up to the extremist forces behind the Republican party, or should we be mad at those progressives who sacrificed pragmatism for principles and didn’t vote for the centrist Democratic candidate for President.

First, the answer is quite simple. We should be mad at both. How we prioritize who to be mad at is a moot point. Both situations are frustrating. Mature adults can compartmentalize that both are a problem.

The bigger problem, though is what are we going to do now.

Are we going to do everything we can to primary in leftist Democrats who have the conviction to fight Republican extremists with the same fury they fight the left? Are we calling our representatives? Are we talking to our moderate relatives who can be pushed to the left? Are we giving whatever money we can to Planned Parenthood? Are we putting our bodies on the line? If you’re fighting on Facebook before doing any of this, might I recommend adjusting your priorities.

All those actions are more valuable uses of time and resources than fighting on Facebook. I understand that it feels overwhelming to fight the right wing, and that we’re powerless to stop it. This makes Facebook an easy place to vent. But fighting on social media is such a waste of time and energy and we all know it. It’s time to realize we’re not powerless. We just have to do the work.

I will sing the praises of Caddyshack until the end of time. It’s one of my all-time favorite comedy movies. I say that not thinking it’s a particularly laugh out loud comedy.

That strikes some people as odd, as Caddyshack‘s reputation is more based on its jokiness than its quality. When I talk up Caddyshack to friends in my age range, the general consensus is that it’s dad comedy, not nearly as funny as it was in 1980, sloppy, and overrated. I very rarely laugh when I rewatch Caddyshack. But I smile watching it more than nearly any other movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t think Caddyshack is a particularly funny movie. I think it’s a great movie.

I have two reasons for feeling this way, and two reasons alone: Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield.

Chevy Chase

Chevy Chase, notoriously an asshole, has rarely held a job in his life for more than a couple of years (Community was actually the exception). He was the breakaway star of the first season and a half of Saturday Night Live, but with the exception of Foul Play, the 1978 movie that received mixed reviews, he had languished in the four years in between leaving SNL and Caddyshack. His turn in Caddyshack, however, may be his masterstroke.

The late 1970s/early 1980s was the beginning of the “snobs vs. slobs” era of comedies that has become a running trope ever since. It began with Animal House, a movie that’s often considered a rival to Caddyshack as the definitive comedy of its era. I’d argue that no performance or character embodied the class divide of its era better than Ty Webb.

Ty comes from the snobs. He was traumatized by that world. Most of Chase’s schtick as Ty is contexualized with the shadow of Vietnam:

Ty: I brought most of that stuff back from Vietnam.
Lacey: You were in the war?
Ty: Uh…no….Homo. Much better now though.

Whether or not Ty actually went to Vietnam is somewhat ambiguous here. But he’s likely joking; he was likely drafted in Vietnam. His behaviors (which are consistent with PTSD), resentment of the ruling class he was born into, and his general distrust of authority, were reactions America as a culture experienced in the wake of Vietnam. Chevy Chase’s usual subtle, physical silliness is tinged with sadness and mourning in Caddshack more than any other role he performed.

Rodney Dangerfield

By 1980s, Jews were allowed in most respectable country clubs in the countries. But it took until the late 1970s to accomplish this, and country clubs weren’t happy about it. In fact, there were many scandals, bombshell newspaper articles, lawsuits, and legislation aimed at allowing Jews in country clubs. The effects of this predujice were felt long after 1980, arguably continuing to this day.

My grandfather was a state politician in Massachusetts in the 70s. At the time, Jews were not allowed into the Brookline Country Club. My grandfather told me the story of forcing the club to allow Jews in by threatening to revoke their liquor license.

Suffice to say, even the clubs that had to let Jews in were not happy about it. There was a lot of pressures on Jews to behave in line with country club values. And Jews in country clubs felt this. Dangerfield’s Al Czervik recognized this tension in his very first line of significance in the movie to his Asian caddy “Wang”:

I hear this place is restricted, Wang, so don’t tell ’em you’re Jewish, okay?

This line sets the framework for what Czervik is facing. And every move he makes after that in the movie is designed to absolutely obliterate every expectation of what he is supposed to be.

The dining room scene in Caddyshack became one of the movies most iconic moments, and introduction of Dangerfield to the zeitgest of pop culture:

From a pure funny point of view, the jokes don’t really hold up. If you show that clip to anyone these days, it appears dated and schticky at hell. But for what they mean in the context of the story, a Jew in a country club openly trouncing every expectation, owning his boorish, out of place sensibilities and doubling down on them when facing a repressed, culture that resisted every level of inclusivity, it’s a rebellious move. A slob among the snobs. Impossible to deal with.

This all culminates in the climactic golf scene at the end. The gopher scene. The “hey everybody, we’re all getting laid” scene. But my favorite scene in the movie is the set up to the climax, when Webb and Czervik, both in with the snob camp, align themselves with the slobs once and for all:”

Judge Smails: Can I have a word with you? In private.
Ty: Sure thing, Judge.
Judge Smails: Your father and I prepped together, went to war together, played golf together. We built this Club, he and I! Let’s face it. Some people simply do not belong. Let’s not…cave in too easy. What do you say, Ty?
[Ty and Judge Smails laugh]
Ty: Let’s make it $40,000.
Czervik: Great!
Ty: My dad…never liked you.

This is class warfare through golf, gophers, girls, and general horseplay. It’s a defining generational statement of its era. And it shakes me to the bone every time I watch it. Even if I don’t laugh a lot.

You don’t spend a decade in the comedy community without picking up a few war stories and battle wounds. Comedians call non-comedians “civilians” sarcastically, but there is a similar theme: people outside this world don’t understand and will never understand what it’s like to be in this world.

I don’t make the comparison of comedians to soldiers lightly. In fact, it highlights the point I’m trying to drive home: comedian infighting and machinations are such low stakes, so meaningless in the grand scheme of things. It’s taught me something fairly depressing but useful: all the squabbling we traditionally associate with power players in society –  abusive machinations of power, ruthlessly crushing those who threaten your authority, picking fights over petty issues, and using it to advance your agenda – have nothing to do with the source of the power or the substance. The power itself is the drug in its own right.

I constantly think of Guy Branum‘s breathtaking analysis of the power brokers of comedy:

At the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village, there’s a table where the comics sit. It’s where they joke, debate, goof off, and ridicule their friends. As depicted on the FX series Louie, it’s the most fun place to be with the smartest, coolest comics in America. Every club has one, but the Comedy Cellar is the best club, and the table Louis C.K. sat at was the best table, occupied by the likes of Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and Marc Maron. That table is the most important force in comedy. There are rarely women or gay men at that table. There are never trans people….

We don’t need a female comic with provisional status at the table. We don’t need the table to find the trans comic who’s least offensive to them and kind of learn his name. It will still perpetuate a system that privileges and protects the perspective of straight cis men. The table is the problem. Burn the table down.

This may be the best analysis of the power structure in comedy. The infrastructure of comedy is built around being part of a closed system that’s difficult to gain entry. It doesn’t hold the alt-right and white supremacy accountable and spends excessive energy punishing or abusing those who question their inability to hold it accountable. It has nothing to do with being funny or joke writing. It has to do with power.

The problem with all of this is that you can’t burn the table down. If it’s not the Comedy Cellar table, it will be a green room, email thread, or hell, Discord server. Whatever future form comedy takes, there will still be an abuse of power.

It’s important to remember what this power struggle is about throughout it all: the ability to be successful in delivering dirty jokes and generic observations about Tinder and sandwiches.

I know this because I’ve seen it at all levels of comedy, not just the most successful level. In a decade of comedy, my life has been primarily in unpaid comedy shows at semi-prominent comedy theaters in New York and Los Angeles. Many people who ended up having enormously successful careers got their start at UCB, the PIT or iO West (RIP to all those theaters, btw). None ever achieved financial success at those theaters themselves.

I’ve been in several feuds in the comedy world. There are too many to get into now, with too many moving parts. Here’s a fun one from last year. When UCB NY closed its doors at the beginning of the pandemic, a Facebook group called the “UCB Bad Memory Box” started. Members of the New York UCB community came in to reflect upon the dirt they acquired during their years associated with the theater. To quote my friend, a seasoned veteran of the free comedy theater circuit and with his own share of dirt on several of those theaters, “nothing I’ve ever been involved in has been anywhere near the level of what I saw in that UCBNY group.”

I was in that group for all of three hours. I got kicked out of the group by a moderator, who messaged me accusing me of leaking posts outside the group to my sketch team. Never mind that that categorically wasn’t true. Never mind that this person had a reputation as a leaker themselves. This person was an admin of that Facebook group. And this person wanted to control the power of the people in it.

Not only did this person call out people for potentially leaking in their private Facebook group, they later retaliated against a member of the group in a separate thread, months later, with wildly inappropriate and manfuctured accusations of saying offensive things. This accusation and the incident they used to justify it had absolutely no basis in reality whatsoever, and it was more or less quickly dismissed by the comedy community at large.

I’m being intentionally vague here. If this seems petty and pathetic, you’re right. The important thing to remember here is that none of this Facebook group drama story has anything to do with comedy. It doesn’t even have anything to do with success in the comedy industry. It has to do with maintaining the power to be a moderator of a Facebook group full of comedians.

When this person saw their authority as moderator of the Facebook group being challenged (to be clear, it wasn’t), they tried to dish out real-world consequences in the comedy community.  All over a Facebook group sharing memories about a community of unpaid comedians at a comedy club in the basement of a comedy club under a supermarket in Chelsea. The stakes could not have been lower, yet the abuse of power maintained the same structure.

This incident, and countless others like it, have taught me that power in comedy is not defined by a seat at the table at a comedy club. It’s not about being able to control who posts what in a Facebook group. It’s not about a writing job or being passed at a comedy club, or getting in the good graces of a producer. It’s not even about capitalism’s power over comedy because really, no one who’s ever wanted success in a capitalist system would, in their right mind, go into comedy.

It’s about power, pure and simple. While there’s a lot of good that can be done with power, there’s arguably no morality to the pursuit of power in and of itself. It’s why although marginalized voices desperately need power, the people who tend to seek it, even in traditionally marginalized groups, tend to care very little about morality and more about maintaining the power they’ve already acquired. Power is the punchline, not the setup. This is a human thing that’s impossible to fix. At the very least, it’s possible to anticipate.