Posts Tagged ‘Jon Stewart’

Monday Medley

What we read while assigning baseball allegiances to past assassins…

  • If we were to begin a series of old, esoteric interviews, this one from the Paris Review of Jorge Luis Borges would be a good starting point. Learn, among other things, what Borges’ favorite fabricated English word is. Unfortunately, while discussing the origin of character names, he does not bring up our resident sports revolutionary.

Monday Medley

What we read while joining the ACC…

  • We don’t need to tell you Vin Scully is awesome, even if we find his call of Koufax’s perfect game a tad overwrought, Here, Vin  remembers his greatest calls, many of which include the original audio.

The War for Late Night: Smiling Politely Towards Disaster

Anyone who picks up Bill Carter’s new book about last January’s late night TV debacle—The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy—looking for a villain is destined to be disappointed. This is not for lack of effort. The book is impressively comprehensive about NBC’s decision to move Jay Leno from The Tonight Show to primetime and back again and the disaster that followed. Carter gives detailed histories of and various perspectives on all the major players involved—Leno, Conan, Jeff Zucker, David Letterman, Jeff Gaspin, etc.—but in the end nobody comes off as an evil monster responsible for the train wreck. Instead, we get a fascinating example of how a bunch of people all acting with the best intentions can lead to the worst possible outcome.

“If they’d come in and shot everybody—I mean, it would have been people murdered. But at least it would have been a two-day story. I mean, yes, NBC could not have handled it worse, from 2004 onward.” —Jay Leno Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read on our $200 million-per-day Indian vacation…

  • Why are Publius, Rick Reilly, and Bill Simmons discussed in the same article? Find out!

Monday Medley

What we read while taking our talents to South Beach…

Tristram Shandy and Narrative Limitations

“O ye powers! (for powers ye are, and great ones, too)—which enable mortal man to tell a story worth the hearing—that kindly shew him, where he is to begin it—and where he is to end it—what he is to put into it—and what he is to leave out—how much of it he is to cast into a shade—and whereabouts he is to throw his light!-—-Ye, who preside over this vast empire of biographical freebooters, and see how many scrapes and plunges your subjects hourly fall into;—will you do one thing?

“I beg and beseech you (in case you will do nothing better for us) that wherever in any part of your dominoes it so falls out, that three several roads meet in one point, as they have done just here—that at least you set up a guide-post in the centre of them, in ere charity, to direct an uncertain devil which of the three he is to take.”

There is a trend in academia to take perfectly good nouns and adjectives, add on –ize, and make them horrible verbs. Take one women’s studies class, and you’ll talk of fetishizing and corporealizing, phallicizing and derealizing, racializing and effeminizing.

There is one term that emerges from this type of bastardized vocabulary that we hear more than anything else: to narrativize.

To narrativize is, as you may suspect, to make something a narrative. Implicit in this definition is the idea that anything can be melded into a narrative, and we as humans tend to narrativize quite a bit. We apply narratives to our own lives (I do this because that happened to me in the past), to history (the first lines of Barack Obama’s keynote address in 2004 established his own personal narrative, and he explicitly said that his “story is part of the larger American story”), to news (while appearing on The O’Reilly Factor, Jon Stewart constantly referred to Fox News’ “narrative”), and to all the aspects of our culture (whether it’s as simple as expecting a certain “arc” out of television shows or an “evolution” from bands). A lot of religion can be explained by the human compulsion to narrativize.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with narratives, with stories that fit and perhaps elucidate events. After all, stories with clear cause-and-effect relationships (the grasshopper was starving because he didn’t work hard) teach us the clearest lessons and are the easiest to remember.

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Aught Lang Syne: The Funniest Comedians of the Decade

Comedy is a broad subject. It’s not confined to any one medium, genre, style, or format. It’s hard to define and almost impossible to quantify. But here at NPI, we take comedy very seriously. The comedy of the Aughts in particular will always have an important role in shaping our senses of humor. So today we present a list, in no particular order, of people who helped to truly shape the comedy of the decade. This is not a list of people who were funny once or twice, but people with a body of work that is both rich and impressive. This means that a lot of people had to be cut. Great stand-up comics (Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari), some hilarious supporting comic actors (Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman), and even some groundbreaking comic teams (Flight of the Conchords, Stella), couldn’t make the list. And that’s because the following individuals/groups reached a level of success, both in terms of popularity and quality, that helped define the comedy of the decade.

The cast of Arrested Development

Arrested Development has the funniest ensemble cast in the history of comedic television, and it’s way ahead of whatever’s at #2. Tim has already extolled the virtues of Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, but the fact is that the main character is about the sixth-funniest cast member on the show. Michael Cera gave a breakout performance for three years as George Michael, completely selling every awkward quirk of the character, including (and especially) his love for his cousin. David Cross played Tobias’ obliviousness and physical awkwardness to perfection, conveying every sexual inadequacy and illicit implication (“She said ‘single,’ right?”). Will Arnett made a magician named Gob come off as arrogant, creepy, and sympathetic. Portia Di Rossi played Lindsay’s self-righteousness and laziness as mutually coexisting. Jeffrey Tambor, as the family patriarch, managed to make the character so memorable that they had to keep him as a regular, even though he was supposed to remain a guest after the pilot. Tony Hale’s Buster, Jessica Walter’s Lucille, and Alia Shawkat’s Maeby, rounded out the cast, ensuring the show didn’t have a single weakness. Even guest stars, like Henry Winkler, Ed Begley, Jr., and John Michael Higgins, manage to turn their characters into memorable comic stars.

Most important, though, was the way the cast interacted. Plenty, if not all, great comedies have breakout characters and star performers, but few entire casts have had the chemistry that this cast had. Exchanges between Michael and his son, for example, are so great not just because of the dialogue and each character’s eccentricities, but because of the interplay between the two characters. Their ability to talk over each other, fill in each other’s awkward gaps, and respond nonverbally to the other’s lines are as funny as anything in the script. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Decade in Nonfiction, Part I

Last week, NPI gave an overview of fiction (in two parts!) of the Aughts. Yesterday, Josh pointed out the popular economics trend in this decade’s nonfiction. Today, Josh and John are going over (in two parts!) what they believe are the biggest nonfiction books of the Aughts.

America: The Book – Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writers

I bought this book for a good friend at a surprise birthday party in high school, as did another friend of mine unbeknownst to me. My copy was not kept since I didn’t write a note inside mine. I considered frowning. But, this situation nonetheless demonstrated the book’s appeal.  America: The Book is funny and representative of the politically satirical form of comedy that Stewart engendered in the Aughts through The Daily Show. The book is filled with little tidbits like: “Were you Aware? Cloture is something all Senators seek when a piece of beloved legislation dies.” There are also asides written by Stephen Colbert and Ed Helms. But, America: The Book is insightful as well as humorous; if a scholar in a future decade wanted to understand the American political climate in the early 2000s, this is one book he should examine, particularly the chapter on The Future of Democracy.

–Josh

The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It - Paul Collier

In this book, development economist (and a former lecturer of mine) Paul Collier looks at the most impoverished countries in the world (home to about one billion individuals) and asks why they are experiencing so little growth. Explanations seem to occur in fours in the Aughts; there are four development traps that each of these countries typically suffer from: the conflict trap, the natural resource trap, landlocked with bad neighbors, and bad governance, particularly in small countries. While many of Collier’s suggestions are difficult to implement, the most promising is that trade policy needs to lower trade barriers for the Bottom Billion, giving preferential access to their exports. Another important highlight of this book is his attack on the misguided policies of NGOs and other charitable organizations. Ultimately, Collier popularized and integrated his important and informative empirical studies into one of the Aughts’ best development nonfiction books of the decade.

–Josh

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Stewart! Kristol! It’s Health Care Debate 2009 on Comedy Central!

tdskristolThis video has been makings its way around the old internets recently, like so many of Jon Stewart’s interviews do these days. It features William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, discussing his issues with Obama’s health care plan in a responsible, reasoned manner…and I mean that in most sarcastic way possible.

Kristol is, of course, spewing conservative talking points and Stewart, as he often does, get him to stumble a little over them. The real knock-out line that liberals have seized on is Kristol’s admission that the military deserves better health care than average American citizens do. Since military health care is public, Stewart twists this into an admission that government-run health care is better than private health care.

I don’t like Bill Kristol and I don’t think he handles himself well here, but I think he is kind of right. First of all, of course the government insures soldiers. That goes along with America’s (ridiculous) employer-provided health care system, since soldiers, like elected officials (who also have a government-run plan), are government employees. Rather than paying for a private insurer the Defense Department runs the Military Health Service itself. Continue reading

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