Monthly archives: February 2007
Santo and Buck
In the continuing series of having top Juiceblog readers offer up baseball pieces, making a return appearance is my friend, Ken Schultz. The Chicago-based comedian is probably the closest thing to what a sabermetrically-inclined standup would be like. What do I mean by that? Ken is a cerebral cynic, with a body appearance that screams "I've never lifted weights." While most of my readers would find him a witty conversationalist, superficial women (AKA most hot chicks) would think him to be socially awkward. With an introduction like that no wonder some of you have decided not to take advantage of writing a piece for the Juiceblog.
At the age of five, Ken learned about the game of baseball from his father who also passed on a lifelong devotion to the Chicago Cubs. Proving once again that the Cubs are congenital. Ken attended Kenyon College where he majored in English and Drama. After graduating, he was surprised to learn that his degree did not lead to offers from any Fortune 500 company. So instead Ken headed into the lucrative world of telling dirty jokes to drunks in bars. He is known to break into a smile at the mere mention of the names "Ted Williams" or "Ryne Sandberg."
By Ken Schultz
One year ago, the Baseball Hall of Fame's specially appointed committee on the Negro Leagues announced the results of their one time only election. Seventeen people were inducted into the Hall but the ballot's most familiar name, Buck O'Neil, was not one of them. This resulted in much wailing and gnashing of teeth from the baseball writing community, whose main argument seemed to go like this:
"How could you not elect Buck?! He's...adorable!"
While technically true, such arguments did little to advance O'Neil's Hall of Fame cause. During this year's Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Awards Dinner, host Robert Wuhl attempted to make Buck's case by shouting "Shame on the Hall of Fame!" approximately 167 times. It prompted the predictable applause break but again gave nothing in terms of an actual argument for his induction. Sadly, Buck O'Neil's Hall of Fame backers seem to think that this line of debate should be enough to get their man enshrined:
O'Neil Advocate: Buck O'Neil belongs in the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps to their amazement, this reasoning has not moved the Hall to reconsider. Now, I too believe that Buck O'Neil should be in Baseball's Hall of Fame. But I also believe all the shouting and name calling obscures the fact that there is a very logical and compelling argument that makes his case.
Buck O'Neil's career in baseball can essentially be broken down into four categories: Negro League player, Negro League manager, Major League coach & scout, and ambassador of the game. In three of these categories, he performed at a truly Hall of Fame-caliber level. Unfortunately, the one category in which he was not quite up to par with his fellow Hall of Famers was as a player. O'Neil admitted as much himself in his autobiography, I Was Right on Time:
"Some folks are saying maybe I belong in the Hall, too. But I'm honest with myself about it. If people say it, it's probably because of the Ken Burns series, not because they saw me play ball. The truth is, I don't belong; I was a very good ballplayer, but very good ballplayers don't belong in the Hall of Fame. Great ballplayers do."
O'Neil isn't being modest, he's being honest. His career was very good. He won a Negro American League batting title in 1946 with a .353 average and was elected to four East-West All Star Games. His career average of .288 included four seasons above the .300 mark.
In other words, Buck O'Neil was a consistently reliable hitter who every so often would put together an outstanding year. Something of a Mark Grace figure. And as much as I liked Mark Grace as a player, he was not a Hall of Famer. (Unless a special committee elects Grace as a pioneer in the field of slumpbusters. Which I think we all agree would make for the least viewable Cooperstown exhibit ever.) I would be willing to guess that those on the Committee who did not vote for O'Neil looked at his stats and worried that a ballot cast for him would be done more based on sentiment than on achievement.
However, this is where Buck O'Neil's second career comes into play. As a manager, O'Neil led his Kansas City Monarchs to Negro American League pennants in 1948, '50, '51, and '53. That's right: four league championships in six years. Suddenly in terms of comparables, O'Neil moves out of the Mark Grace category and into the company of a Joe Torre. And Joe Torre most certainly belongs in Cooperstown.
Some may dismiss these titles because they were earned after Jackie Robinson had broken the major league color barrier. However, at the time O'Neil won his final pennant in 1953, only eight of sixteen major league teams had integrated their rosters. (And the Cubs and Athletics barely qualified as "integrated," having only just begun using black players in September of '53.) Furthermore, anyone who knows baseball history knows that even the integrated teams of the early fifties weren't employing more than a handful of black players. While the Negro Leagues were no longer showcasing the Mays, Robinsons, and Campanellas of the world, their caliber of play was still pretty high. The four pennants Buck O'Neil won as a manager are legitimate.
Unfortunately, here Buck runs into another problem: the Hall of Fame has not found a place for Negro League managers. Everyone in the Hall of Fame under the Negro Leagues category either falls under the classification of player or executive. For some reason that I am unaware of, the outstanding achievements of Negro League managers like Buck O'Neil have been completely overlooked by the Hall.
So in order to further make his case, let's consider the next phase of Buck O'Neil's career. O'Neil moved on to a position in Major League Baseball and continued to perform his job at a Hall of Fame level. In 1956, he was hired as a scout for the Cubs and was the man responsible for evaluating and signing Lou Brock. Which, given the delightful trade of 1964, only goes to prove he was smarter than every single member of the Cubs' front office. (I simply state this for the record and not to make his Hall of Fame case. If being smarter than the Cubs' front office qualified one for Cooperstown, then the Hall of Fame needs to honor Marge Schott's dogs.)
Furthermore, when Billy Williams had quit baseball during his first year in the minor leagues, the Cubs turned to Buck O'Neil to talk him into putting the uniform back on and giving the game another shot. In other words, as a scout, O'Neil was responsible for starting the career of one Hall of Famer and keeping another from quitting the game entirely. And to top it off, in 1962 O'Neil became a trailblazer when the Cubs named him the first African American coach in baseball history. These are not minor notes in a career, these are achievements that, when added to his already sizable impact on the game, add up to the Hall of Fame.
Again though, precedent does O'Neil no favors, as the Hall does not honor scouts or coaches at any level. So it's at this point that an examination of Buck O'Neil's most visible role should have made his election a done deal. Because with the death of Satchel Paige in 1982, Buck O'Neil became the most important Negro Leagues figure of the past twenty five years. No one else even comes close.
As a member of the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee, he was the lone voice of authority championing the election of former Negro Leaguers in the 1980s and '90s. As honorary chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, he provided a very necessary public face that helped generate interest and needed funding to get the project off the ground. His continued association with the Museum over the years gave it an air of important historic legitimacy.
And most importantly, he stole the show in Ken Burns's epic Baseball documentary back in 1994, opening thousands of eyes to the history of the Negro Leagues for the first time. With the many speaking engagements and interviews that the Burns movie generated, Buck O'Neil did more than anyone else to keep the story of the Negro Leagues alive. And given how important that story is to understanding how baseball reflects and impacts American culture, that makes Buck O'Neil one of the most significant figures in the history of the game.
And happily, now there is precedent that supports O'Neil's candidacy. In 2006, the Negro Leagues Committee elected Sol White, a turn-of-the-century player. According to his Hall of Fame bio, White's most important contribution to the game was...
"In 1907 he authored Sol White's Official Base Ball Guide, the earliest-known work on the topic, and a critical piece of African-American baseball history."
In other words, Sol White is a Hall of Famer because he kept the story of 19th century black players alive. Based on what he was able to do over the past 25 years alone, Buck O'Neil is a Hall of Famer. When you add in everything else he accomplished in the game, his case should have been a slam dunk. And even though I think the world of the dignity with which he carried himself throughout his life, that does not enter one bit into this argument. Based solely on what he did for the good of baseball, Buck O'Neil should be enshrined in Cooperstown. And a special election to reconsider his case would be entirely justified.
The Sad Decline of The Sporting News
Before the internet provided us the opportunity to just click to a team's local beat writer and even before USA Today came along giving a little bit of info on each team on a daily basis, the place most baseball junkies went to have their fix satiated was The Sporting News. Until USA Today came along, one of the most important features to the sabermetrically-inclined was the listing of box scores for every game played the week before. While The Sporting News covered football and basketball, its main focus was baseball.
I have subscribed to the magazine now for 30 years and I can remember the excitement I would have looking into my mailbox on Friday, looking forward to reading what the new issue would offer. I used to get them all, Sports Illustrated, Sport, and Inside Sports, but The Sporting News was my favorite because it focused so strongly on Major League Baseball.
Of course, with the advent of ESPN, USA Today, and especially the internet, The Sporting News was going to have to change its formula to service its readers. By hiring top-notch writers like Mike DeCourcy (college basketball), Tom Dienhart (college football), and Dan Pompeii (NFL) to cover each sport, The Sporting News gives an excellent overview of these respective sports.
The best baseball writer at breaking big stories about the game over the past 5 years has been Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal was a must-read at The Sporting News and kept much of the magazine's reputation as a major source for baseball information intact. Last year, Rosenthal left TSN for Fox Sports. I'm sure that the money he was offered to do a mix of TV, radio, and website reporting for Fox made it impossible for The Sporting News to compete, but they needed to bring in someone who could be on the level of a DeCourcy or a Pompeii.
I'm not here to slam Rosenthal's replacement, but The Sporting News needs to at least supplement him with another writer. If they wanted to get some increased interest at their website, they would hire someone like Joe Sheehan, who does such a great job of covering the game at Baseball Prospectus. Just by hiring one of the good baseball columnists at one of the major dailies would at least help. With Foxsports.com having Rosenthal and Sports Illustrated with a bevy of good baseball writers led by Tom Verducci, The Sporting News has become a baseball afterthought.
The Sporting News is still something I read in depth every week, because of the great writers who I have mentioned above. Sadly though, I only give a cursory glance to TSN's baseball coverage, as I go to other places for that. I'm sure it has left Alfred Spink rolling in his grave.
Please Explain: Anna Nicole Smith
Let me begin by mentioning that I realize this seems a bit too easy on the surface. Why I felt I couldn't ignore the topic any longer isbecause the media won't allow me to ignore it. Now, I'm not one of those people who blame everything on the media. The media serves up what the audience wants and the ratings for the Anna Nicole-big top (circus, not bra) are through the roof. The Extra's and ET's are getting numbers superior to anything they have had in years. It makes you want to go see Lee Greenwood on one of his right-wing pander-fests, just to belt out I'm Proud to Be an American....
I have tried to be consistent on the deaths of celebrities who put their lives at risk. In the past I've written about how I wasn't filled with sympathy for the likes of Dale Earnhardt and Steve Irwin dying because of the way they lived life dangerously. Anna Nicole Smith has seemed more "medicated" the past few years than even Courtney Love, so it's hard for me to get all that worked up over her passing.
Now I do feel sympathy for the baby that Anna Nicole brought into this world, but there are actual responsible mothers all over the world who pass away from this earth and their children will have to do without the millions left to care for them that Dannielynn has. It was tragic that Smith's son died recently, but from the couple of times I saw her filmed train wreck/reality show on E!, the son seemed to hate being part of that monstrosity, but had to acquiesce to the whims of his nut-job mother.
Where the PLEASE EXPLAIN concept comes in is why is it so many people are still so riveted to the story, even after being 2 weeks past her death? While Anna Nicole might have idolized Marilyn Monroe, let's not commission Elton John to write a revision of "Candle in the Wind" about her, because there is no "Some Like It Hot" or "The Seven-Year Itch" on Smith's acting resume.
I have to admit I never got the initial appeal of Anna Nicole, be it Playboy or for Guess Jeans. She always conveyed an artificial, somewhat empty appearance which her peroxide-hair and silicone-breasts amplified. There was an innocence to Marilyn Monroe, but despite the small-town Texas story that was propagated by Vickie Lynn Hogan, the real Anna Nicole Smith was just some stripper-bimbo who used her looks to manipulate her way up the ladder.
Marilyn Monroe married legendary men like Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, while having affairs with John and Bobby Kennedy. Look at the different men claiming they could be the father of Anna Nicole's baby. Not exactly the same quality of choice.
Anna Nicole was a woman who was willing to allow a man with all the sex-appeal of the Simpsons' Mr. Burns to run his 90 year-old arthritic paws all over her. She allowed a man with breath that smelled like a mix of Fixodent and death to kiss her lips, as he happened to be a billionaire. I have no interest in celebrating the life of someone who could marry solely for money.
After 9/11, the days of Chandra Levy and Monica Lewinsky was thought to be behind us. How long did that last, a month? It has only gotten worse, with judges acting like buffoons, because they think it might land them a syndicated TV show in the future. Isn't it time for us to re-focus our thoughts on the important issues of the day like the US involvement in Iraq or the looming Social Security crisis?
I know I've paid little attention to the Anna Nicole Smith-saga, as I'm spending my time feeding my brain on more intellectual pursuits. Now I have to get back to the life and times of one Britney Jean Spears. Let me throw out a suggestion on Spears next single, as I think this fits her new profile.
It's been 7 Hours and 15 Days
Breaking Down XM vs Sirius and Their Potential Merger
As an early proponent of Satellite Radio (bought XM the first week it came out), I'm very interested in how the potential merger between the 2 providers will shake out. After having XM for all this time, I purchased a Sirius radio right at the end of 2006. I spend an inordinate amount of time in my car driving to comedy gigs, so I figured that I would get Sirius as well.
Just like how some people love Chevy over Ford, because their first car was a Corvette, I've touted XM. While performing at the DC IMPROV, I met both guys who run the XM comedy channel (Great guys) and was even given a tour of the XM compound. I'm not a fan of the term "state of the art", but there is no better way to describe the XM studios. I've always thought that XM had the superior business model, as Sirius has incurred major debt trying to catch up with the advance start that XM had over them from beginning nearly a year earlier.
While I'm still not sure I'm a fan of the way Sirius conducted their financial business by throwing money at talent like Jim Hendry during free-agency, after being a subscriber for the past 2 months I can tell you it's a superior product. The amount of original programming is much greater on Sirius, with the 2 Howard Stern channels anchoring everything. XM's big move was to sign Oprah to her own channel, which would be a good move, except Winfrey is an infrequent guest on it, instead programming the channel with her friends like Gayle King.
Howard Stern is the greatest radio personality in the medium's history, but since the new millennium on terrestrial radio, he had been emasculated by new FCC restrictions. While still not at his peak levels of the mid-90's (Billy West days), Stern has recaptured much of his energy. With so much time to fill on his 2 channels, he has hired news reporters who break stories and do recaps on all things Stern, which makes for a great meta-comedy experience.
While many outside of the major east and west coast markets think of him being just the sleaze merchant from his Howard Stern E! Channel show, his radio show has always been more than that. The thing that I've always appreciated most about Stern is the way he goofs on celebrities during interviews or when commenting on the news. While Stern's major celebrity guest list isn't as strong since many now ignore him because his listener-ship has dwindled, the show has made up for that by focusing more on the freaks that work on his staff or have become attached from being members of his wack pack.
Sirius has hired many other original talents to host shows on their numerous talk channels. A big surprise to me has been how well-done the Playboy radio channel is put-together. Legendary porn actresses Ginger Lynn and Christy Canyon host a daily show on the channel, where they interact with callers and themselves, discussing most subjects with a candor that would make even Charlie Sheen blush. Another porn actress, Kylie Ireland, does a similar show and is also very good on the mic. It's nice to be able to turn to a station which can provide you with enough inspiration that you feel you can drive sans-hands. Now when is the last time you felt that way when listening to Oldies 104.5?
Both satellite providers give you great options for commercial-free, diverse music channels. Take a click and you will run the gamut from bluegrass, hair metal, techno, punk, blues, alternative or most anything else you would ever want to hear. I don't know if it's because of the particular unit I get the music from, but the Sirius (S50) has a better sound quality than the XM (MyFi).
When it comes to news, XM and Sirius both have similar options, as they have run audio feeds of cable networks such as CNN and Headline News, Fox News, CNBC, Bloomberg, and C-Span. One trump card that XM had was they carried the great MSNBC, but dropped it for reasons unknown to me in September 2006. Outside of listening to C-Span every Sunday to hear the replays of the Sunday Talk programs (Meet the Press, This Week, Face the Nation, etc.), I don't listen to these news channels much, as I'm an MSNBC fan. Still, when there is a major news event happening, it's nice to be able to go to one of these providers, instead of going to your local AM affiliate.
One other plus for Sirius is they have 2 national feeds from NPR. Both have right-wing and left-wing political talk radio channels, but I've personally fallen away from the genre. Air America was a concept that seemed to be desperately needed, but the poor production quality of its broadcasts, plus all the behind the scenes financial f-ups has left it a bit of joke. With Al Franken's departure, it's hard to see how Air America going to stay afloat, unless a voice like Jon Stewart or Bill Maher steps in to bring a high-profile talent to the lineup. Not a likely scenario.
Sports are a big selling point in purchasing satellite radio, with Sirius controlling most of the major events. Sirius is home for the NFL, NBA, NASCAR, and many college sports. XM basically hangs it cap on MLB and the ACC, Big 10, and Pac-10. While the NFL is the glamour name, on radio, baseball is the far superior product, plus it's a godsend to cable subscribing out-of-towners who will now suffer with Direct TV owning the MLB season-pass. Production-wise, Sirius' NFL network talk programs sound superior to the XM's MLB offerings. Like most everything on Sirius, their sports channels seem better thought out.
At this point, the only thing that keeps me with XM is the baseball package and the best radio show on the planet, the Ron and Fez show. Host Ron Bennington is as good of a performer as I've ever heard on radio. Bennington uses his uncensored opportunities provided by satellite radio to bring realism to the discussion. Bennington uses profanity in a natural way, bringing a young DeNiro attitude to talk radio. Add to this that he is well-versed on almost every subject that comes his way, plus he has remarkable comedy timing and I can't wait to listen to him every day.
It will be very interesting to see if the merger is allowed to happen between the 2 satellite companies. Considering they have enough different programming between the 2 of them, I can see why I would like to have them merge into one product, but I'm also concerned about how a monopoly generally means a company is less motivated to improve. In the short-term, I think both XM and Sirius will be adversely affected, as consumers will (justifiably) be apprehensive to buy a new radio when they don't know if it will be the new Betamax by next year. I would suggest if you don't need the baseball package, buy Sirius. Make sure to check out NYC's Free FM internet simulcast of Ron and Fez between 6-9 PM to find out what great talk radio is like.
Where Have All the Great Outfielders Gone?
In the latest issue of Sporting News, they rate the top team outfield groups. Each team correspondent for TSN has a vote and the best NL outfield is the Atlanta Braves. You know, the team with a rightfielder (Francouer) sporting a .293 OBP and a leftfielder (Langerhaus) who meekly slugged at a .378 clip. While Andrew Jones is still a top-notch player and their defense is excellent, it's hard to imagine the National League ever having a weaker "best" outfield.
If you think that TSN must have screwed up in their rankings, it's hard to say they are flat-out wrong, as the NL really hurts when it comes to this position. The New York Mets have a potentially strong hitting group, as long as Beltran, Alou, and Green stay healthy, but considering it's not the year 2002, there are few guarantees of this happening.
The American League is not a whole lot better. The Yankees group of Matsui, Damon, and Abreu are very impressive hitters, but are not a plus in the field. When you add in Cabrera to this unit, though, they do rate as the best overall outfield in MLB. TSN I think blows it with their second rated AL group, as the Tigers unit (Monroe, Granderson, Ordonez) are solid players, but I question if they won't all slip some in 2007. The Angels (Anderson, Matthews, Guerrero) and Red Sox (Ramirez, Crisp, and Drew) have larger upsides, but both teams's must be concerned, like the Mets, about the significant injury risks their outfield's have.
Another thing that becomes apparent when looking at the starting outfields is how few of them have players hitting their prime years. The only quality outfield groups that will start the year with all of their members under the age of 30 are the Devil Rays (Crawford, Baldelli, Young) and Braves. The Blue Jays just miss fitting into this group, as Reed Johnson recently turned 30. It could argued that Toronto might be the best overall outfield, as their defense is top-notch and Wells and Rios should continue to improve.
On TSN's individual list, the Top 5 AL outfielders are Sizemore, Wells, Crawford, Guerrero, and Suzuki. TSN's NL list is Beltran, Jones, Bay, Soriano, and Lee. While all are good players, it just shows how much the game has transitioned, as it would be hard to rate any of them, besides maybe Beltran, as one of the Top 10 players in the game. No position on the diamond has been more impacted by the exodus of better athletes choosing instead to play basketball or football over baseball.
I welcome anyone to do the research and point out any year where the outfield position was weaker than where it is going into 2007. I'm doing a bit of talking out of my ass here, but sometimes like Ace Ventura, great success can come from this activity.
Scott's Top 10 Overall Team Outfields
A Brief History of Stand-Up Comedy, Plus a Plea for Originality
Up until the late 70's, stand-up comedy mainly was performed in night clubs based in resorts and casinos. A fair segment of the comics were typlified by Milton Berle, who proudly admitted that he was a joke thief. Jokes were almost like musical standards, with many of the top comics putting their own spin on them. Berle was loved so much that he became like a member of the family to TV audiences who referred to him as Uncle Miltie. Stand-up comedy at the time was based on one-liners and "joke jokes." (these are also referred to as street jokes. The jokes you will hear at work or have forwarded to you in an email.)
An evolution began to happen in the 60's, as comics like Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl challenged societal conventions with their material. George Carlin and Robert Klein were influential in evolving stand-up even more during the 70's. Richard Pryor, who did mix in some "joke jokes" in his routine, when playing the character Mudbone, eventually joined these comics in turning the art form on it's head. Pryor brought his own personal tragedy into the equation to make for some of the dyamic performances ever presented on a comedy stage.
By the 1980's, comedy clubs were popping up all over the country, as demand was ahead of supply when it came to top-notch stand-up comics. The comics who did have unique acts, like Leno, Seinfeld, Richard Lewis, Paul Reiser, Roseanne Barr, etc. transitioned into sitcom stars. There was a real feedling frenzy, with Networks offering high dollar development deals to comedians, if they were ready or not. The success of the previous mentioned and other comics like Tim Allen and Drew Carey made the Big 4 believe that stand-up comics were good bets to create success in the medium. (This feeding frenzy is comparable to what was happening in the Seattle Grunge scene, with Music companies throwing money at everything, hoping to catch the next high riser.)
While I wouldn't say these comics were much better than a lot of the acts today, they did leave a hole in the business, as they were the best of the "observational", more middle of the road comics. Ray Romano was one of the last of these comics and my guess is that "Everybody Loves Raymond" will be the final sitcom of its type to achieve large success. The quality comics that were left were mainly edgier, in your face acts or stand-ups who embraced more surreal-based material. This is still how it pretty much is today in the business. These are my 2 favorite styles of stand-up comedy, but are hard to transition into a family-style sitcom.
Sorry for those of you that weren't interested in my short histoty of stand-up comedy, but I feel a little background is needed. Stand-up comedy is an entertainment art-form that I wouldn't recommend to anyone wanting a stable lifestyle. I would hazard a guess and say that fewer than 200 people in this country make more than $50,000 dollars a year simply performing stand-up. The comedy boom is over and the booking agents are in the power position when it comes to neogotiating, except for a select few major draws. Unlike music, where some emo group can put out some derivative drivel and wind up on the cover of numerous magazines and late-night talk shows, many really creative and intelligent stand-ups are lucky if they can consistently get bar gigs which will pay them enough to stay ahead of their creditors. Unlike other "artists" who can apply for government and private grants to supplement their efforts, stand-up comedy is disrespected by most of the creative community, seen as something not much above professional wrestling or community theater.
I'm not going to claim I don't have some bitterness over how my profession is perceived, but since I went into the business with few blinders to what I would be facing, I try not to complain about what I do. I like my job most days and I'm happy that each night I can go up in front of a live audience and share my own original thoughts, while making a pretty decent living doing it. (It took me 10 years to get that "decent living" point.) Even the nights when I'm in a less than optimal situation, dealing with bad lighting and sound equipment or having to conduct an assault on some drunken heckler, I know there will be some moment of adrenaline that will rush through me that I couldn't get at almost any other profession.
So with this bit of background, let me address the idea that using other people's material should be condoned. In no way should it be accepted. There will be times when parallel construction will happen, but when the blatant stealing happens that was outlined in the previous post, everyone aware of it needs to stand-up and denounce it. The idea of actually giving credit to the person you are ripping it off of, like you are footnoting it in a book, is a ridiculous concept. First off, it would wreck the momentum of the comic, as stand-up is about presenting a show that comes from you. Add to this that performing stand-up comedy was just about your skills as an entertainer, the profession would solely be made up of actors. These are called one-man(or woman) plays.
Let me finish by mentioning that I sadly was nervous about posting my original piece on the subject, as I know some management types in the entertainment field have little interest in who is original and who is a plagiarist. The main focus is don't get in the way of the financial gravy train. Since most of my Hollywood dreams are pretty much over I figured I should at least use my little soapbox here to enlighten a few more. I really admire Joe Rogan for his stance on this subject, if he is financially set for life or not. I'm just a guy who mainly headlines Triple A comedy clubs. I recieve great marks after most of my performances, but I can draw very few people to see me. There are very few comics who can. My hope is that if enough people become aware of the duplicity that goes on, some of these comedy thieves will stop their theft and actually spend some of their ill-gotten riches on writers who can craft some originality back into their shows.
Thieves in the Temple of Stand-Up Comedy: Rogan versus Mencia
One of the great videos circulating on Youtube is a confrontation between comics Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia at the Comedy Store. If you were unaware, Mencia is one of an infamous few in the biz who are known for stealing other comics material. Unlike music, where covering other people's originals is cool, in stand-up comedy you are considered a pariah if you lift from someone in the profession. Where in the music world you make money off a song if someone performs something of yours, there is no such set-up in stand-up. Nothing is worse than when a celebrity comedian like Mencia steals your material, because when they perform it on TV, all of a sudden people think you are no longer the original writer.
(NOTE: The video has been pulled off a Youtube, but you can go to this site on myspace, where the it will load very slowly. Bonus is you get some insight on the event from Joe Rogan.)
Similar to Bob Saget, Rogan is known for hosting a bad TV show, but his stand-up act couldn't be farther away from his TV persona. Don't judge him from his Fear Factor days, as if you catch Rogan at a theatre or club, you will see some great social commentary delivered with a hypnotic presence. Since Rogan has become rich off of doing Fear Factor (and News Radio), he doesn't have to worry like most comedians about pissing off the wrong person. He has been a one-man wrecking crew taking on big-name comics like Mencia, Dane Cook, and Dennis Leary, who have all done large chunks of material written by other acts.
Mencia, Cook, and Leary are 3 of the most charismatic performers I have ever seen on-stage. I've referred to Leary as being the Creed of comedy, as he could take other people's stuff (see Bill Hicks) and make it more theatrical. Pearl Jam and Hicks are the ones who deserve the acclaim, but the posers knew how to take their brilliance and package it to a larger audience.
Dane Cook has coopted a few of Louis CK's bits into his standup. Until this most recent Mencia/Rogan duel, the side-by-side CK/Cook performances had been the biggest stand-up comedy expose' making the internet rounds. Cook has a rock and roll look and style that Louis CK doesn't, which means a lot to opening films for 16 year-old myspace kids. Guess who has a higher profile?
Even though Carlos Mencia's real first name is Ned and he is part German/part Honduran, it hasn't stopped him from cultivating an image as Mexican-American's most "authentic" comedic voice. Interestingly, the other comedian who could be classified as the current holder of this title, George Lopez, has confronted Mencia as well
I think Mencia, Cook, and Leary could have been successful comics without relying on others material, but the incredible drug of killing with an audience made them take a short-cut. Many comics that I have a ton of respect for have held on to the coattails of these comics, refusing to turn their backs on these material lifters. They have done this because they know most of the Hollywood decision-makers could care less about originality, only who can sell a product. Rogan has F-YOU money and also the truth on his side. In the world of Youtube and Myspace, video is instantly available to expose the evils of the false prophets. Just ask Michael Richards.
I should note that there are topics that lend themselves for parallel thought. I've been doing a smart-ass job interview bit for 15 years now. It is based on actual job interviews I did when I was in the corporate world and it's something I'm known for in the biz. I've heard through the grapevine that a couple other comics do similar themed material in their show, though not done interactive like myself. I've not seen or heard what they do specifically, but from what I know about these comics, they are both quality acts that are known as being original thinkers. As I said, parallel construction of material can happen, which I believe has happened in this case. Fortunately, none of the other 2 comics who have a similar concept in their act have reached the levels of the 3 I listed above. If that did happen, I would have to reconsider doing the bit, despite it being a key element of my show.
It is really hard to create 15 minutes of material which will work with most audiences, let alone an hour that headlining acts need. This is why there are so few comics who can perform successfully in all regions of the US. To perform large chunks of someone else's material is pathetic, but with the successes that performers like the ones I have listed above have had, it only increases the chances that others will try to follow this short-cut to success.
In my career, I've demonstrated that I can succeed in all sections of the country. As good of a performer as I think I am, Leary, Cook, and Mencia are all better than me on-stage. I will say though, that if I would have been willing to lift great material from others, I might have been able to be a bigger name in the biz. I'm not so self-absorbed to think that there aren't many other comics who couldn't say the same. Kind of like a baseball player who refused to use steroids, we can question if we couldn't have raised our performance, if we had been willing to cut corners. No matter what profession you choose, you have to make decisions on ethical standards that will guide you. I admire Rogan for his dogged pursuit of the truth.
Please Explain: Deal or No Deal
This week's topic might seem like an easy one, but let me mention this if you are unaware. Deal or No Deal is one of the Top 10 rated TV shows in the US. I decided tonight to see what all the fuss was about.
If you haven't seen the show, Deal or No Deal features a bevy of supermodels who hold suitcases with varying amounts of money in them. The hot babes are all dressed alike, kind of like Vanna White meets Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love video vixens.
I'm not going to get into the details of the program, but it takes the least amount of intelligence and skill of any game show I've ever seen. Deal or No Deal makes PLINKO seem like Jeopardy. I understood much of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire mania, as it was a game which tested intelligence, while at the same time incorporating strategy. Deal or No Deal has all the depth of thought of a Howie Mandel standup comedy routine. After just one show, I can tell you No Dealio for me.
Please Explain Deal or No Deal.
Catch Scott in Detroit and St. Louis
Over the next 2 weeks, I'm doing my World Series city comedy tour. Currently, I'm in the Detroit area and will be finishing up my weekend at Chaplin's Comedy Club located in Clinton Township.
Next week, I will be in the St. Louis area performing at the Comedy Forum in St. Peters, MO. If you are in the area, drop me an email as I should be able to get some comp tickets.
Another Midwest city show coming up will have me in the Twin Cities on March 10th doing my thing at the Minnesota Comedy Club. (Maplewood)
I've been doing a lot of corporate comedy events lately, so if your company is looking for someone to prepare a special show for some event going on, I can be reached at email@example.com. Click here for my corporate website
(SARCASM ALERT) I'm currently negotiating with Dave Matthews to open for him on his summer tour. Keep your fingers crossed for me, as my talents as the ultimate Jam Band stand-up comic could finally be discovered!
Please Explain: Will Smith
I admire versatility. Many actors want to be comedians, many comedians want to be musicians, many musicians want to be actors. Will Smtih is one of the few who has had success in all 3 fields. His clean-cut looks and having just enough "Gumbel" in him to be non-threatening to Cracker-ass-Crackers, has helped him sell-out to all audiences. It would seem like everybody loves Will Smith.
I can't stand him.
He initially came on the scene with partner Jazzy Jeff doing some parent-friendly rapping. Even the cartoon feline MC Skat Kat in Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attact" had more grit. When "Gettin' Jiggy with it" is the edgiest thing you have ever foisted on the World's ears, someone should take away your license to rap. (Little known fact that rappers have to pass a test and purchase a certificate allowing them to freestyle.)
Smith next went to TV starring in his own sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Acting like a D-grade version of Eddie Murphy, The Fresh Prince was on the air for 6 FREAKING YEARS. Pretty amazing when you break down the show and realize it made Blossom seem clever in comparison.
Finally we come to Smith's film career. He has been one of the Top 20 box office draws over the past 10 years. Starring in crapfests like Independence Day, Bad Boys, and Wild, Wild West, Will Smith has somehow brought in large audiences to see these lousy pictures. I appreciate that he looked a lot like Ali in that biopic, but he lacked the soul to play one of America's greatest figures. What about Men in Black? It was decent, but watch it again and I think you will realize that it was overhyped and doesn't hold up well, even though it came out less than 10 years ago.
His best acting performance was his first, playing a gay con man in the 1993 film, Six Degrees of Seperation. I'm not surprised that the only artistic endeavor I've ever liked Will Smith in was when he was playing a con man. I never feel he gives a genuine performance.
Please Explain why I'm wrong about Will Smith.
NFL Season Recap
Taking a quick recap of the NFL Season, let me start with my pre-season picks. I hit on 8 of 12 playoff teams, missing on Baltimore, Dallas, and the 2 biggest surprises in the NFL, the Jets and Saints. I chose the Colts to beat the Giants in the Super Bowl. Considering that many had the Dolphins or Steelers versus the Panthers, I would put my pre-season picks up against any of the experts.
Here were a few of my specific thoughts going into the season.
I've never been a Culpepper fan and as crazy as it sounds, I think they would be just as good with Joey Harrington behind center. (clairvoyant?)
The Jets might be the worst team in the NFL. (well, maybe not so much)
The best division in the AFC, there is not much difference between the top 3 squads. It will be interesting to see how Jake Plummer plays knowing that the Broncos have their QB of the future (Cutler) waiting on the bench. The past 2 seasons, Drew Brees did well in the same situation and now we will see if Rivers can succeed. The 2 best running backs in the NFL, LT and Larry Johnson will keep both of their teams in the playoff chase. The Chiefs will be better on defense, with the addition of a healthy Ty Law and a head coach who understands ball control. Schottenheimer has struggled in the playoffs, but his teams can never be counted out in the regular season. The Raiders replaced one NFL failed coach, with another one, Art Shell.
(T)his is the year (Eli) Manning becomes the best QB in the division. (oops)
I think the loss of offensive coordinator Payton will cause problems. Bledsoe is no longer a quality signal caller. (not bad)
Considering that the Falcons new quarterback coach oversaw backup Matt Schaub at Virginia, he would be a better fit for the team than Vick. Yeah, you heard that right. Bad situation as how can you bench your star? (lingering problem)
At this point, Griese is a better QB than Grossman, so expect a QB controversy. (lingering problem)
While the Cards are being hyped, I have a hard time seeing how one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL is going to protect the most immobile QB, Kurt Warner. (nailed)
The Super Bowl turned out pretty much the way I thought it would, as the Colts were a far superior team. The only thing that kept the Bears in the game was the opening kickoff TD, which gave them a chance to play with the lead. The Colts exposed what I had been talking about for awhile, which is without Tommie Harris and Mike Brown, the Bears defense is no better than average.
Have seen a couple people compare the Colts to the baseball Cardinals. You know, flawed champs who got hot at the right time. The Colts were one of the Top 4 teams in the NFL all season. They played in the far superior conference, the AFC. The Cardinals were barely a .500 squad, who had the worst record in a historically bad National League. Outside of finally winning a championship after having being better in past years, the Colts and Cardinals have little in common.
Quite possibly my best prediction of the football season was touting Prince. His Super Bowl show was one of the most memorable live music performances in TV history. While the constant downpour he played in took away some of the dance moves he would generally deliver, the weather did create a scenic look like his own version of U-2 at Red Rocks. Who else besides Prince could augment his Purple Rain classics with snippets of Proud Mary, Best of You, and All Along the Watchtower? How would you like to have to follow that one next year?
Guest Reader Submission: What Type of Fan Are You?
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I'm looking to incorporate Toaster readers into adding to the baseball content here at the Juiceblog. I was sent a few ideas and a couple of them you will see over the next couple months. The offer still stands, so if you have an idea for a baseball piece, send it my way. Now onto the first reader submission piece.
David Arnott is 23 years old, and was born, raised, and now lives in San Francisco. He was an English Literature major and Journalism minor at New York University, where he co-hosted and produced The Cheap Seats, the sports talk show on WNYU. After graduating from NYU, David earned his MA in Education from UC Santa Cruz. Currently, he is working his way up the radio industry ladder and writes Sportszilla and the Jabber Jocks with several friends. He is fond of pointing out that he has loved baseball for longer than anything or anybody other than his parents.
by David Arnott
I've come to dislike a good number of sports fans. Occasionally, I feel odd about it, because I'm a fan of the San Francisco Giants, 49ers, and Golden State Warriors. I understand why people are loyal to an organization and its players: I own plenty of Giants paraphernalia, I go to lots of Giants games, and I root hard for them to win because it seems to validate me in some way when the team from my hometown kicks ass. But I can't bring myself to hate other organizations and fan bases the way that is celebrated and seemingly expected in modern sports culture. I wonder if I'm just an anomaly, or if people stopped to analyze why they like and dislike certain teams and players, would those people change their attitudes to be more like mine?
To play amateur psychologist/sociologist, my Bay Area upbringing probably has something to do with the disdain I feel whenever I come across someone who supports his team unconditionally and who can't stand rival teams or their players. It's true that a lot of San Franciscans actively like the A's as a second team, which people in other regions find incomprehensible. I went to college in New York City, so I have many friends who are Mets or Yankees fans, and they can't imagine feeling proud of the other team succeeding, as I do when the A's win. I have a Yankees fan friend who was apoplectic when he found out his unborn nephew was going to be raised a Mets fan, a situation that, if transferred to Giants-A's fandom, might cause some mild consternation and gentle kidding, but, for most folks here, wouldn't inspire ranting and raving about it, as my friend did for a full inning at a game in Yankee Stadium.
Even the Giants' ancient rivals, the Dodgers, fail to spark hatred. My three favorite players in my childhood were Will Clark, Benito Santiago, and... Mike Scioscia. What can I say? Will Clark had the best game face and prettiest swing ever, Benito threw to second base from his knees, and I thought Scioscia was the toughest SOB in baseball. When I was three years old, my parents took me to Los Angeles for Disneyland and then Dodger Stadium to see the Giants play, and they ended up buying me a plastic Dodgers helmet. When we got home, I wrote the number 14 on it and pretended to be Scioscia blocking the plate. You may think I didn't know any better, but what, specifically, is wrong with liking a Dodger player and being a Giants fan?
When I told this story to a friend who's a Mets fan, he paused, then said the only Yankee he's ever respected was Derek Jeter, and he still likes making fun of him. Put Jeter in a Mets uniform from the start, and my friend would have worshipped him. Put Jeter in a Pirates uniform, and the grudging respect would have been easily accorded respect, but would still have fallen short of outright admiration. He couldn't explain why Jeter's Yankeeness precludes admiration. Why shouldn't we enjoy or dislike a player for who he is, regardless of which team he's on?
The way I spin my view on sports, baseball especially, is that I love the game more than I can love any particular team. Sure, I've got a keen attachment to the Giants, but am I really missing anything by not-supporting the Dodgers in the same manner I don't support, say, the Orioles?
In the old days, I suppose a lot of the animosity directed at players and teams by fans was made easier by the lack of information. The further away from players and teams we are, the easier it is to take more extreme positions. For further confirmation, look at any flame war; because we're not face-to-face, people feel safer writing things they wouldn't say in person. On the other side of the coin, if familiarity breeds warmer feelings for a team and its players, then there is no reason to despise other teams since we're in the internet era.
When I read baseball news, I have multiple sources of information for every team at my fingertips, as opposed to the old paradigm in which the local newspaper beat writer would have provided all my baseball information. Instead of being limited to knowing my home team's players as relayed by one outlet, I can get acquainted with, and work up raging sports-crushes on, guys in other cities, such as Adam Dunn, and I can feed my curiosity and develop opinions on the league as a whole.
Let's use the Reds as an example: Because I take this approach to fandom, I feel frustrated along with Reds fans that Wayne Krivsky is in charge. I was perturbed that after Sean Casey was traded, Dunn wasn't moved to first base to make room in the outfield for Pena in left, Griffey in center, Kearns in right, and Denorfia as the callup after Griffey's expected injury. I was appalled that they signed Tony Womack to play second base when Ryan Freel was on the roster, but I was also pleased to see Brandon Phillips finally succeed when given the chance. I don't actively follow the Reds; I actively follow baseball. The same goes for every other team. As an internet-only news browser, I take pleasure in reading about my Giants first, but also checking in on every other team, from the Devil Rays to the Dodgers. Force me to take the more limited mode of information consumption, filtered through a stifling home team lens, and I think my experience as a fan would be severely degraded.
I'm not saying we shouldn't have villains. I have a most hated player in MLB, but that he's my most hated has nothing to do with whether or not he screwed my team: Joe McEwing offended my baseball sensibilities by stepping twenty feet out of the batter's box after every pitch, employing a really annoying style of practice swing, and he sucked, to boot. I dislike players because of who they are and what they do. I don't dislike players because of the laundry on their backs. I don't dislike teams because they're not my team. And I can't stand fans whose fandom stems primarily from those last two motivations.
Societal Critic at Large: Scott Long
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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