Free Speech and Comedy History at the National Comedy Center’s Grand Opening

The grand opening of the National Comedy Center was held August 1-5 in Jamestown, a small town in western New York just a short drive from Pittsburgh. The event coincided with the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival. Block parties, live podcast tapings, comedy shows at a small club decorated as Ricky Ricardo’s Tropicana Room, and live concerts featuring Lily Tomlin and Amy Schumer were among the many events booked for the four-day celebration.

At any point during the long weekend, a festival goer could walk in to a small corner space called the Podcast Lounge and watch Judy Gold interview Laraine Newman for her podcast “Kill Me Now”, or see Kelly Carlin along with comedian Paul Provenza interview her very stoned and funny uncle Pat Carlin for the National Comedy Center’s official podcast. They could go to the tiny Tropicana Room late at night and watch comics do a “Set List Live” show of improvised stand-up. They could turn around on a random street corner and see George Shapiro, executive producer of Seinfeld and Andy Kaufman’s manager. They could see Bridget Everett headline Amy Schumer’s own show and end her set by sitting on a guy’s face.

photo by Steve Neilans, Marketing and Communications, National Comedy Center

At a panel discussion at the Robert H. Jackson Center entitled “Comedy and the First Amendment”, Lewis Black is getting laughs.

The topic is the obscenity trials of Lenny Bruce in the early 1960s. Bruce was arrested and charged with obscenity four times between 1961 and 1964 in San Francisco, West Hollywood, Chicago, and New York. The cops would go to Bruce’s gigs, jot down his jokes as he told them, and the prosecution would present that as evidence. As a result, juries heard Bruce’s jokes without context.

“Lenny gets nailed because the cop reads his jokes,” says Lewis Black. “Watch people do ‘comedy karaoke’ at the National Comedy Center and just destroy material. And these are people who love those comics. You got cops who arrested this guy and want him nailed, so they’re reading it bub-a-bah bub-a-bub.”

Illustrating his point, it’s just not as funny reading the above text as it is seeing Black perform it. The signature Lewis Black shouting, the pointing, the timing, the decades of experience as a comedic craftsman has the audience howling.

CNN’s Stephen Morrison moderated the panel which also featured First Amendment lawyer Paul Cambria, famous for representing Larry Flynt in the Hustler obscenity trial, and Lenny’s daughter Kitty Bruce, founder of the Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, which provides financial aid for treatment to those suffering from drug addiction.

Cambria spoke about the legal history of free speech:

“There are always those puritans that are in power, and they are the ones who are responsible for the oppression of free speech. They are the ‘holier-than-thous.’ For the average adult, [the attitude is] ‘I allow you to be different from me’. For us, that’s the essence of the First Amendment: difference. Does the average adult find this [media] acceptable for another adult? And if the answer is ‘Yes’, the law goes away. The law is pushed back. Let us be free, let us be adults, let us have differences of opinion.”

Kitty Bruce spoke about the harassment her father faced from the police and legal system, up to the time of his death at the age of 40.

“He gets convicted of three counts, and for each count he gets four months in the workhouse. And he’s fighting not to get locked up. During this time, he overdoses and he dies. In the same state that brought charges against him, in 2003, Governor Pataki pardoned my father. And that pardon is in the National Comedy Center. So he’s still talking, and he’s still here, and in the end, they still can’t shut him up.”

Because of boundary-pushers like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin (also arrested in 1972 and charged with obscenity after a performance in Milwaukee), comedians no longer face a prison sentence for dirty jokes, publishers can sell a book filled with poems referencing sex and not be arrested for it like Lawrence Ferlinghetti was for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1956, and American adults can watch porn on the internet that makes Hustler look like a ladies’ underwear ad from the 1800s.

The headliner of the four day event was the National Comedy Center itself, a 37,000-square-foot space made up of a newly constructed building connected to Jamestown’s old train station. The NCC experience is very high-tech and interactive, more like a Carnegie Science Center of comedy rather than a comedy “hall of fame”.

Kelly Carlin, who donated a massive amount of her father George Carlin’s stuff to the center and was deeply involved in its creation, was adamant about this point. “It is NOT a comedy hall of fame. UGH. It is called the National Comedy Center. We all hate the notion of hall of fame places.”

Comedy artifacts are on display, like Joan Rivers’ gown, Andy Kaufman’s Elvis jacket, and Rodney Dangerfield’s black bag full of set lists, but it’s also a place where visitors can understand the comedy craft while studying its history in over 50 engaging, interactive exhibits. We spent hours there and didn’t come close to seeing everything.

The George Carlin exhibit is the crown jewel of the center. It consists of thousands of his personal files, which he obsessively categorized and sub-categorized. Using a touch-screen, the visitor can see how Carlin’s legendary stand up shows were created from scratch, using newspaper clippings with paragraphs circled, ads cut out from magazines with hand-written comments, thoughts jotted down onto scraps of paper and placed into zip lock bags, then organized into file folders labeled with subjects such as “religion”, “America”, “race”, “filth” and “fart jokes”.

Other exhibits include:

–          The Hologram Theater, where the creepy e-ghost of Jim Gaffigan takes the visitor through his personal development as a stand up comic

–          Laugh Battle, where the object is to make your opponent laugh by telling a joke through a face recognition system that detects smiles

–          Benches with built in whoopee cushions that make loud fart noises through a speaker

–          A game where the object is hit the right sound effect at the right time while watching a scene from the Three Stooges

–          The aforementioned comedy karaoke, where you pick a joke from a famous comedian and read it from a teleprompter on stage (I picked Mitch Hedberg’s bit, “Dufrane party of two”, and bombed)

Another highlight is the Blue Room, dedicated to “blue” or vulgar comedy. After taking an elevator down a floor, visitors are greeted by a trigger warning to ward off young children and sensitive adults who might be permanently harmed. As the visitors enter through the doors, they are greeted by George Carlin’s infamous “seven dirty words”, very large and prominent and in many different languages. The Lenny Bruce exhibit is there where it belongs, as well as videos about Richard Pryor’s career, and little doors in a wall where, when opened, reveal dirty jokes and some of R. Crumb’s most pornographic work.

Fifty two years after Lenny Bruce’s death, entertainers can’t be arrested for blue comedy. They can only lose multi-million dollar contracts or their entire careers. Recently, movie producer James Gunn fired by Disney, the company that makes children’s movies with subliminal cartoon penises, after a fake outrage campaign orchestrated by a right wing Youtuber dug up old pedo jokes on his Twitter account. Helen Crimmins, the wife of the late comedy pioneer and anti-child porn crusader Barry Crimmins, defended Gunn, saying in an Instagram post “Barry would have fully supported James Gunn. He would have thought his jokes were terrible but he would have known they were exactly that; jokes.”

In 2011, Gilbert Gottfried was fired from a lucrative job as a duck for making jokes about the tsunami that hit Japan that year. As a result, long-time fans of Gottfried wondered, “Why did Aflac fire him for those jokes? Were they unaware of his previous material?”

Our bizarre, disorienting media culture blurs the line between entertainment and reality, between jokes and hate speech, between journalism and propaganda, between pushing the boundaries out to allow for more freedom of expression and pushing them back in to suppress voices that make the suppressors uncomfortable.

Now could be the perfect time for an education in comedy history and appreciation of comedy as an art form with a unique power to stitch societal wounds.

“The world needs to laugh,” says Kelly Carlin. “And most importantly, we need to learn to laugh together.”

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yo mick

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WPXI and KDKA run false reports about the Antwon Rose killing

“Sources” told WPXI  and KDKA on Friday that Antwon Rose Jr. was caught on video firing a weapon out of a moving vehicle shortly before he was shot in the back and killed by an East Pittsburgh police officer on Tuesday. “Sources” also told the two Pittsburgh area TV stations that firearm residue was found on his hands.

Those sources, according to statements made by the Allegheny County Police Department conducting the investigation into the 17 year old boy’s killing, turned out to be false.

So either the unnamed “sources” or the Allegheny County Police department were lying, obviously.

Logic would dictate that county police departments who are investigating a municipal police officer for a homicide would have no incentive to lie to protect the victim if he had committed a drive-by shooting a shortly before being killed.

But logic, apparently, doesn’t rile up the racist portion of the Western Pennsylvania viewer base.

The NBC affiliate owned by Cox Media, WPXI, tweeted out their first false report at 2:27pm, followed by retweets of retweets of the same story by individual reporters.

The CBS affiliate, KDKA, tweeted out their first false report at 2:51 pm.

At 3:23pm KDKA tweeted the false report again, this time acknowledging Allegheny County Police deny the report. Minutes later, at 3:31pm, yet another tweet, still hold on to the validity of the mysterious “sources”, apparently no one asking why the county police would lie.

At 3:47pm, Allegheny County District Attorney’s office tweeted this:

The full statement is here… It flatly denied the reports about Antwon Rose being the drive-by shooter, and also the report about residue being discovered on his hands at the scene, and further went on to reprimand to media for what was clearly “fake news” reporting.

We caution the media about providing irresponsible information from sources that are not verified. Once published, such false information can be widely spread. We share your interest in providing answers to the many questions in our community, and are working expeditiously to gather all of the available information and detail so that it can be reviewed, and answers provided. We are not releasing additional information at this time to protect the integrity of the investigation, and ask for your cooperation and understanding of what we require as police to complete the independent investigation of this incident.

Despite this, at 4:33pm KDKA reporter Jon Delano tweeted out a tease for his 5 o’clock report indicating that he’d run it as a “both sides” story. Then three minutes later, KDKA once AGAIN tweeted about the story WITHOUT MENTIONING THE STATEMENT FROM ALLEGHENY CO PD.

WPXI was more egregious. They kept their original tweet and retweets up, and never once on their Twitter account posted anything about the statement from Allegheny County. After multiple tweets asking why, I got the attention of reporter Aaron Martin.

In their 6 o’clock evening news David Johnson only referred to the statement in a two second throw away line about the DA denying the reports.

As I’m writing this I’m watching the 11 o’clock news on WPXI. After hours of virtually IGNORING the Allegheny County Police statement, and releasing false information to stoke the fires, they joined KDKA in their “both sides” nonsense, acknowledging the statement but also repeating their illogical reports from anonymous police sources. They even went as far as suggesting the statement was only released “tonight” when it was released at least at the same time or before the DA’s tweet at 3:47pm

 

The county, uncharacteristically kicking ass, was also pissed about local media coverage of Friday evening’s protests:

 

 

 

 

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This Week in Liberal Celebrities Inadvertently Helping Trump and the Right

Ron Perlman Posts Pic of Child He Thought Was Locked Up

The point is sound: The Trump administration and ICE are separating children of immigrants from their families on a deportation rampage. The children are being locked up in what amounts to prison camps. Here is actor Ron Perlman’s tweet about it:

The only problem is, this is a picture of a kid whose parents put him in that cage, voluntarily, as a part of a staged protest against Trump’s immigration policy. Here’s a picture of the same kid running around outside the cage from Snopes, who correctly labeled the above photo as “miscaptioned”:

When Twitter user “Colorado Alex” pointed out the mistake, this was Perlman’s response:

 

 

 

 

 

Why this is red meat for Trump and the Right: As of this writing, Perlman’s tweet received 6.2K retweets and 10K likes. All anyone on the right has to do is put the photo in context, and then use tell the lie, Trump’s deportation policies aren’t that bad at all! Hollywood liberals are taking pictures out of context to make it out to be worse than it is!

That’s an argument any dipshit who believed in “pizzagate” would be easily sold on. A more salient point is that our deportation policy under Obama was horrendous, illustrated by this report by the ACLU which detailed not only separation of parents from children, but sexual abuse by Border Control and ICE agents. Where were the Hollywood liberals then? they’ll ask, and they’ll be right.

It’s a Good Thing ™ that celebrities are shedding light on immigration rights. But they need to be careful to do so without playing into the narrative that they’re just using deportees and their children as tools to attack Trump.

 

Chelsea Clinton “You-Go-Girl”s a “Hater”

Some random guy who opened a Twitter account last month with 20 followers posted a meme that suggested Chelsea Clinton looks like Howdy Doody, so she retweeted him:

Richard now has 168 followers. I’m not sure how many people on the side of bullying compared her to Howdy Doody, but I am sure that I wouldn’t have been aware of anyone doing so if she hadn’t retweeted him.

Why this is red meat for the Right: Chelsea is using a social media version of a promotional tactic that her mother employed during the 2016 primary – the pied piper strategy. You promote terrible people on the other side, (in the Clinton campaign’s case, the idea was to “elevate” Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz) so you can appear intelligent and graceful and wonderful by comparison. As we saw in November 2016, the results of this are disastrous. In Chelsea’s case, she is demonstrating to nasty trolls who insult women that they can get attention from a celebrity by continuing to act like dicks. This undoubtedly promotes Chelsea, as we’ve seen with some feminist media critics who receive thousands of Patreon dollars and get on late night talk shows not because of their actual work, but because of online harassment. Promotional tactics like this make the playing field fertile for jerks like Trump, who understand how to play this game, and will win every time.

Rather than consistently engaging with oversized children, we need to have a constructive dialogue that’s not as sexy or beneficial to your personal brand in order to usher in a government of the people, represented by those really interested in public service. What we have now are politicians operating as a brand, both Democratic and Republican.

 

Robert De Niro says “Fuck Trump”

Robert De Niro went on the Tony Awards and said “Fuck Trump”. All the rich people in tuxedos and gowns cheered as he raised his fists.

Why this is red meat for Trump and the Right: Joe Berkowitz made the point better than I care to in an article in Fast Company

When De Niro has a chance to seize the world stage and make a statement about this biblical plague of an administration and all he can say is “Fuck Trump,” he gives those pundits an opening to ascribe him any motivation, or none at all.

His blanket criticism of Trump will only serve to briefly inflate the MAGA set’s certainty that Hollywood hates their hero for no reason… De Niro’s protest was an expression of raw anger that gave his ideological opponents exactly what they wanted, without even making them scramble to defend or at least mention the death toll in Puerto Rico or the children reportedly being kept in cages right now. It’s well-meaning but ultimately meaningless. It’s like playing Bernie Madoff in an HBO movie while some of the senators who supposedly share your progressive ideology vote to roll back financial regulations on Wall Street.

Robert De Niro is the kind of wealthy Democratic member of the Establishment who likes to show that he’s progressive but engages in horrible, damaging things with his money. Writing for The Intercept, Naomi Klein and Alleen Brown outline De Niro’s disaster capitalism, as he builds a resort on the island of Barbuda in the wake of Hurricane Irma.. using powerful people like Prime Minister Gaston Browne to pass “the Paradise Found Act, specially designed to approve De Niro’s project and bypass the Barbuda Land Act with its collective approval requirements.”

Klein and Brown write:

Up until the recent changes, land in Barbuda was held in common: It could not be bought or sold, and though developers could lease land for 50 years, their projects needed to win the consent of a majority of Barbudans. It was a rare example of participatory economic planning and successful land redistribution to freed slaves and their descendants.

But the Land Act was resented by foreign investors and wealthy Antiguans, and the latest push to alter the law first reared its head just days after Hurricane Irma roared through Barbuda.

We can’t rely on liberal millionaires to call out a system of power that they themselves benefit from. They’ll only call out individuals they don’t happen to like, or happen to be in the way of their own individual power. Their criticisms are, at best, well intended virtue signalling.

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Fuck Social Media! Join My Email list!

I’m starting a Once-a-Week-at-Most Olde Timey Email Newsletter. Current affairs, funny, deep thoughts, food, music. If I get 100 people on the list I’ll delete facebook. I’m tired of people telling me I’m one of the few reasons they check Facebook and twitter. Email me sloover76@gmail.com with “add me!” (i need your enthusiastic consent as indicated by the !) in the subject line

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Let’s start a food growers gang!

Let’s create a group. A gang. Let’s call it a gang because it sounds cooler…. a food production gang.  Making food, sharing it with each other.

The gang members wouldn’t have to share politics, you wouldn’t have to share religions, you wouldn’t have to share tastes in music. You would have to share mutual respect, and a reasonable amount of commitment, in order to share in producing food to benefit the gang. Everyone works a little bit to share a lot of food.

I like cooperating. Sesame Street sang songs about it, and my soft toddler brain became indoctrinated with muppet propaganda. I am now a full blown Sesamist.

But it also makes practical economic sense. With two people you get stuff done five times as fast as you would alone. And with 10 people you get stuff done 100 times as fast (I’m just making up numbers, it all depends on the task and how much you’ve been drinking).

And if all else fails, we’ll at least have some kick ass dinner parties.

Community Food Production Systems

From farmers markets, to community supported agriculture, to public vegetable gardens, to crop swaps, people are doing food stuff that requires a bunch of people to get together and participate.

I was a farmer for 7 years in North Carolina. The two markets I was a member of are 100% producer-owned, directly democratic corporations (I say producers because eventually bakers, crafters, etc were allowed in). There is a board of 5 producers elected at yearly required meetings, with rotating terms. There are monthly meetings all the producers were invited to attend, where they could give input on decisions made by the board about the by-laws. The by-laws contained things like dues payment and enforcement to make sure the members of the market were producing all the items they were selling within a 70-mile radius of the market. A few farmers started the market in the 1980s, and they, along with other farms and markets around the country, led to the explosion of the local food movement.

The reason I bring this up is to illustrate that a bunch of people can get together and produce food democratically, and on their terms, if they take the time to organize.

The other way our farm got income was from a system known as Community Supported Agriculture. Customers buy a share at the beginning of the year, and get a box of food of a certain size for a certain amount of weeks depending on what they paid. We did both veggie shares, and chicken shares. For 20 weeks during the year, we delivered boxes to the customers who invested.

Five Families with Vegetable Gardens… or maybe just an Oven?

One idea that can be expanded upon is to have, say, 5 families all grow vegetables throughout the growing season (spring, summer, and fall), or bake baked goods, to be shared equally. All the families would work in their own garden, but occasionally the gang members would get together as a group for bigger jobs in each garden.

A 5 family vegetable production gang would have an organizational meeting and plan the whole thing out. The idea would be for everyone to bring to the table something different, and enough for the other 4 families. All for one and one for all. All of the produce would be divided up equally and placed in boxes or tote bags. Then from there we could barter a little. Then everyone goes home with a weekly bag of food.

Crops fail, and entire gardens fail. If a family has nothing one week, they could bring baked goods or cook everyone a pot of something, and still go home with a box. This isn’t a group of people engaged in a business deal, it’s not a market, it’s a gang. We probably already know each other, or met each other through a mutual family, and we’re in this to help each other out and make the project work.

Meat is Yummy, but I say Keep it Vegan at First

The reason I would start off just doing vegetables, there’s about an equal amount of input, even if one garden is a little bigger than another. Another reason to keep it vegan is that vegans are into this kind of shit.

With meat products you run into problems. Meat products require lots of investment, and a lot more money than veggies. Inevitably the meat producer would be bringing a larger investment to the table. And it’s not easy to produce meat or even enough eggs for every family in a city (where we live). For 5 dozen eggs a week you’d have to have a flock of 12 young and healthy productive chickens. A flock only half that size is legal in most cities.

In order to offset conflicts, we don’t want one family producing so much that it would be cost prohibitive, even if they were generous and financially comfortable enough to do so.

However, we could decide all this at the planning meeting.

Shared Labor and Work Days

We could schedule days to all get together and help each other do big jobs, like set up the garden, plow or build raised beds, dig, plant, weed, plant some more, weed some more. We could knock that shit out in like 2 hours.

Think about how bad ass all of our gardens could be in our yards if you had like 10 people knocking it out on a Saturday.

Sharing in the Inputs

We have yards, we invest in our own gardens. But there are inputs we can share. Like tools and skills. Do you have a rototiller? I got me a chop saw. Can you drive without totaling a car? I can tell jokes. We can all throw in and do a bulk seed order and maybe get a price break. Maybe you have a discount at the Home Depot. When I was a farmer we used to do stuff like that with other farms to get a price break on fertilizer and seed potatoes.  We were a bunch of small farms who functioned as one big farm. The Food Gang would be doing that on a smaller scale. We’d be a bunch of backyard gardens working together to function as a small farm.

 Theme Song and Partying

We’d definitely have to have a theme song. And we’d also party. Oh, since we’re a gang we need a color, and an enemy color, so it would give us the right to fight anyone who wears the enemy color.

Tentative Five Family Food Gang Schedule

January Winter Planning Meeting

    • At least one member of each family gets together and decides who grows what and how much
    • Plan gardens and determine who can grow what
    • Schedule the rest of the season
    • Talk about bulk seed order/tool sharing
    • Talk about everything else

 

Late Winter/Early Spring Garden Prep Work Weekend/s

    • At least one member of each family (hopefully as many as possible) gets together and preps all five gardens. Ideally we’d have enough labor to prep all five gardens in 1 or 2 weekends
    • Raised bed building, plowing, digging, etc.
    • Planting transplants in a greenhouse, if we have one
Early Spring Outdoor Planting Work Day

    • we put first greenhouse transplant/seeds into the ground
Spring First Spring Harvest Produce Share (to be repeated weekly or bi weekly)

Spring party

Spring -> Summer Weekly Produce Share and Occasional Workdays

Summer party

Fall End of season meeting/party

 

The Sloover family may be able to join a project like this in 2019. Maybe you can form a gang this year. This is meant to be a very basic outline to get us talking about it. What do you think? Give me your ideas/issues/problems that might arise in the comments.

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