Thursday, August 28, 2014

Best SNL Cast Member Bracket

This coming season will be Saturday Night Live's 40th.  For all its ups and downs, to me, SNL still remains the pinnacle of sketch comedy, for writers and actors.

I began watching SNL religiously in the fall of 1989.  As a WWF fan, I was trying to tape Saturday Night's Main Event one November night, and I woke up the next morning to find my VHS tape did not contain that Red Rooster/Brooklyn Brawler match-up I was eagerly anticipating, but rather, well-crafted sketch comedy.  This was the era of Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Nora Dunn, Jon Lovitz, Victoria Jackson, Kevin Nealon, and Dennis Miller –- in my opinion, the strongest SNL cast, top to bottom.  The next show was John Goodman's first time hosting, and to this day, it's probably my favorite SNL episode ever.  From then on, I was hooked.  I think I taped just about every SNL until I went to college in 1996.

In honor of SNL's 40th anniversary, Grantland has been running a series of articles about SNL and has had the "Battle for the Best SNL Cast Member" bracket.  (Thanks to The Weez for sending me the link.)  It is a 64-person, NCAA tournament-style bracket with SNL cast members broken down into four "regions" for different time periods:  
(1) the 1975-1985 "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" region; 
(2) the 1986-1994 "Lorne's Return" region; 
(3) the 1995-2004 "More Cowbell" region; and 
(4) the 2005-2014 "Digital Kids" region.  

Within each region, cast members from that era are seeded 1-16, and the public has voted on each round on successive days starting last week.  Unfortunately, I didn't know about this until two days ago, so I have only voted on the quarterfinals forward.  Currently, voting is open for the finals, which pits Phil Hartman against Will Ferrell.

This was a really tough bracket, and I disagree with the way some of the voting came out, but I'm just one man, and I guess that's why they have voting.  But if it were up to me, here is how my voting would have gone from the Sweet 16 forward.  My voting is based solely on the person's contributions to SNL, and not any other endeavors they might have had before or after their tenure on SNL (i.e., movies, TV shows, overdoses, etc.).

1975-1985 Bracket
Sweet 16
I think I would have come out the exact same way in the Sweet 16 as the voting turned out.  The toughest matchup for me would have been 4-seed Dan Aykroyd vs. 5-seed Chevy Chase, but I'd have to go with Aykroyd if we're looking at SNL only, since Aykroyd was on the show three years longer than Chase.

(1) Eddie Murphy vs. (4) Dan Aykroyd.  This is another really tough matchup, but I'd take Murphy in a close one.
(2) John Belushi vs. (3) Bill Murray.  Another really close one, but I think Murray had more range than Belushi on the show, so I'd take Murray.

Elite 8
(1) Eddie Murphy vs. (3) Bill Murray.  I would take Murphy over Murray in a nail biter.  Murphy had such memorable characters (Mr. Robinson, Gumby, James Brown), and I think his tenure on SNL was slightly better than Murray's.

Sweet 16
This is probably the best overall region.  I would probably have had the same Sweet 16 in this region as the online voters did.

(1) Dana Carvey vs. (4) Chris Farley.  The online voters took Farley, but I would take Carvey by a wide margin.  He was hilarious and had as much range of characters as anyone in SNL's history.
(2) Phil Hartman vs. (3) Mike Myers.  This would be close, but I would take Myers.  Hartman was on the show longer, but Myers had more star power and better characters.

Elite 8
(1) Dana Carvey vs. (2) Mike Myers.  Both of these guys are in the top 5 SNL cast members ever, in my opinion.  I would give the slight edge to Carvey.

Sweet 16
I will start by saying that Darrell Hammond is grossly underseeded at a 9-seed.  He was the longest-tenured SNL cast member ever, and his Bill Clinton is so good that he has hung out with Bill Clinton.  I would have put him at a 4- or 5-seed, but I guess I'll play by their rules.  Like the previous two regions, I would have had the same Sweet 16 as the online voters.

(1) Will Farrell vs. (4) Jimmy Fallon.  Ferrell in a landslide.
(2) Amy Poehler vs. (3) Tina Fey.  At first, this seems like an obvious Fey victory, but on second thought, I'm not so sure.  Fey was head writer (which is awesome) and Weekend Update anchor, but if I'm judging based solely on acting, then I'd go with Poehler because she did Weekend Update and was a cast member.  It's a toss-up, but I guess I'd give Fey the slight advantage.

Elite 8
(1) Will Ferrell vs. (3) Tina Fey.  Ferrell in a landslide.

Sweet 16
They probably don't deserve their own quarter of the bracket, but again, this is how Grantland set it up, so that's how it's gonna be.  I would have a slightly different Sweet 16, taking Fred Armisen over Jason Sudeikis because I think Armisen is funnier.

(1) Kristen Wiig vs. (5) Fred Armisen.  I'd go with Wiig.
(2) Andy Samberg vs. (3) Bill Hader.  I'm going with Samberg because he brought SNL into the 21st Century with the digital shorts.

Elite 8
(1) Kristen Wiig vs. (2) Andy Samberg.  Again, I'm going with Samberg.  I like Wiig and think she's funny, but Samberg added a lot of value to the show with those digital shorts.

Final Four
(1) Eddie Murphy vs. (1) Dana Carvey.  I'd take Carvey all day.  Both of these guys were hysterical on SNL, but Carvey was there longer and was essentially the face of SNL for the late '80s and early '90s.
(1) Will Ferrell vs. (2) Andy Samberg.  Ferrell in a landslide.

(1) Dana Carvey vs. (1) Will Ferrell.  This one is a tough matchup, and I think both guys have solid arguments.  Both were hilarious on SNL and both were kind of the linchpins for their respective eras.  I've gone back and forth on this, but since there can't be a tie, I'd go with Carvey in a very close one.

What do you guys think?  Who is your favorite SNL cast member?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Retro Video of the Week: "I'll Make Love To You" by Boyz II Men

This Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Boyz II Men's sophomore album, II.  To call this album huge would be an understatement.  When looking at the success of the group's debut album, CooleyHighHarmony -- which went up to #3 on Billboard's album charts and spawned four Top 3 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 -- any group would be hard-pressed to top that kind of success, but Boyz II Men did just that with II.  

The album has gone platinum 12 times in the US, and it topped the Billboard album charts on four separate occasions between September 1994 and March 1995.  It contained two #1 hits. "I'll Make Love To You" was replaced at #1 by "On Bended Knee," putting Boyz II Men in the company of Elvis Presley and The Beatles as the only musical acts to replace themselves at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.  On top of the two #1 songs, it also featured a #2 ("Water Runs Dry"), a #21 ("Thank You"), and a #56 ("Vibin'").

If that wasn't enough, "I'll Make Love To You" spent 14 weeks at #1 (starting today in 1994), tying Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" for the longest run at #1 at that time and making Boyz II Men the first group to have two songs that stayed at #1 for ten or more weeks ("End of the Road" was their previous one, coming in at a paltry 13 weeks at #1).  Interesting tidbit:  they broke their own record a little over a year later when their collaboration with Mariah Carey, "One Sweet Day," stayed at #1 for 16 weeks and was later given the honor of the #1 song of the '90s on Billboard's End-of-Decade chart.  

My favorite song off the album is probably "Thank You," but I had to go with "I'll Make Love To You" as my video selection.  This brings up various awkward memories of slow dancing at high school dances, but it's a classic slow jam and, well, it is Hump Day.  So, get out there and make some love, people, but dammit, wear a rubber or at least make sure both of you are disease-free and one of you is sterile.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday Top Ten: Awkward Baby Photos

Between work, parenting, and practicing for dance team tryouts, I have been too busy this week to write my own Tuesday Top Ten.  Thankfully, someone posted an article on Facebook called "The 30 Most Horribly Awkward Baby Photos In The History Of Baby Photos."  The title speaks for itself, and the photos are hysterical.  I'm not sure who compiles these things or where they find them, but whoever does deserves some sort of internet Emmy award for Best Compilation of Awkward Baby Photos.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Retro Video of the Week: "I Wanna Be Somebody" by W.A.S.P.

This past Sunday marked the 30th anniversary of the release of W.A.S.P.'s self-title debut album.  For those of you not familiar with W.A.S.P., they were an LA-based hair band that added elements of shock rock to their stage show, from lead singer Blackie Lawless's cod piece with a saw blade to scantily clad women tied to torture devices to throwing raw meat into the audience.  Perhaps they are best known for their entry on the PRMC's "Filthy Fifteen," a song called "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" that was controversial enough that W.A.S.P.'s record label made them pull it off of their first album to prevent the album from being banned in certain stores in the U.S.  Incidentally, it's a pretty awesome song that happens to serve as my ringtone right now and is very appropriate to play at high decibel levels in your car with all the windows rolled down, particularly as you enter Telluride, Colorado.  However, it doesn't have a true music video attached to it -- only a live video of the song from a 1984 show in London.  Thus, I decided to go with another song (one that was actually allowed to be included on their debut album), "I Wanna Be Somebody."  Other than "Animal," this is probably their most famous song.  It didn't chart or anything, but it was named by VH1 as the Number 84 Greatest Hard Rock Song of all-time, so suck on that, Billboard.  In addition, it's a pretty fantastic hard rock song in its own right with a message that everyone can relate to.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday Top Ten: Ice Bucket Challenge Fails

If you have been anywhere close to a TV, computer, or mobile device in the last week or two, you know that the internet (particularly Facebook) is inundated with videos of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, I find it strange that you would be on the internet reading this post, but have no idea about the Ice Bucket Challenge.  Nonetheless, thanks.  I appreciate your loyalty and ability to compartmentalize your internet viewing.  The Ice Bucket Challenge goes like this:
1.  A person takes a video of him- or herself dumping a bucket of ice water on his or her head in the name of Lou Gehrig's Disease.
2.  The person then challenges three friends to do the same thing within 24 hours.  
3.  Those three people are then supposed to do the same thing (i.e., recording themselves doing the challenge and then challenging three others to do it).  
4.  If you get challenged and do it, you're also supposed to donate $50 to ALS research, and if you don't do the challenge, you're supposed to donate $100.  

It's essentially a pyramid scheme for a really good cause.  Some people have complained about it, since, God forbid, their Facebook feeds, for once, are not consumed by ill-informed political rants, pictures of friends' cats, and George Takei reposts.  Personally, I think it's an ingenious and humorous way to raise money, and it has clearly worked, since it has raised over $13 million for the ALS Association in the last few weeks.  Some of my friends have also found more creative ways to do the challenge, such as: dumping a bucket of ice water over his head while dressed in a suit and standing in the middle of Michigan Avenue; belly flopping into a kiddie pool filled with ice water; and taking a shot of Jack while dressed in a Buzz Lightyear suit before dumping a bucket of ice water on his head.

Of course, with any internet video sensation, there will be failure.  Leave it to Buzzfeed to find and compile said failure in a post entitled "22 People Who Have Definitely Not Taken the Ice Bucket Challenge" (thanks to Gregerson for the link).  There are some pretty funny ones in there.  I especially liked #17, #18, #19, and #21.  If we learn anything from this, it's that you should never let someone with a heavy bucket of ice water stand directly above you, particularly if they are leaning the bucket on a railing of some sort.  Most disturbing, however, is the percentage of these videos filmed in portrait orientation and not landscape.  Dear God, people, turn your phones sideways when you film videos.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Retro Video of the Week: "Key Largo" by Bertie Higgins and "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin

With the passing of two film legends, Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams, the past two days, I can't think of two more appropriate Retro Videos of the Week than "Key Largo" by Bertie Higgins and "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin.

Higgins's 1981 soft rock hit was inspired by Bacall and Humphrey Bogart's 1948 film of the same name, and of course contains the memorable chorus that starts out, "We had it all / Just like Bogie and Bacall."  The song was Higgins's only Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, making it all the way up to #8 in early 1982.  It also came in at #75 on VH1's "100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the '80s" countdown a few years ago.  

As for Williams, there aren't many songs from the MTV era that I really associate with his movies, other than the Elliot Smith songs from Good Will Hunting, which really didn't seem like they would be in good taste, given the whole suicide thing.  Then I remembered he was in the video for "Don't Worry, Be Happy."  The irony of the song title is not lost on me, given what we now know about Williams's battles with depression.  You never want someone to take his own life, but it's especially sad when it's someone as hilarious as Williams and someone who was apparently one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.  The song hit #1 on the Billboard charts for two weeks in 1988, becoming the first a cappella song to reach #1, and was also on VH1's "100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the '80s," landing at #31.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tuesday Top Ten: Lollapalooza 2014

Another year, another great time at Lollapalooza.  Last weekend (8/1-8/3) marked the tenth year Lollapalooza has been in Grant Park here in Chicago, and it was my tenth Lollapalooza overall and ninth in the last ten years.  Also, this year was a special one, as Lolla and I had our twentieth anniversary.  Sure, she didn't bring me the Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, or George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars, but Eminem, Outkast, Arctic Monkeys, and Kings of Leon were suitable fill-ins.

Before getting into the nitty gritty of the weekend, I have to take a minute of your time to give a shout-out to my lovely wife.  Jester -– who will now be known as Saint Jesterio the Magnificent –- attained canonization by virtue of the three miracles she performed this weekend:  (1) taking all three of our kids to Cincinnati to visit her sister Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon, thereby allowing me to go to Lolla without the usual "I'm home with the kids and you're going to Lolla all three days, you rat-dicked son of a bitch.  If you get home so much a second after midnight, I will literally cut you tonight while you sleep, so enjoy those 16 ounce Bud Lights and alternative rock and roll bands." text messages; (2) while in Cincy, she got our three kids and her sister's two kids (all five kids between the ages of 4 months and 4.5 years) to nap at all the same time; and (3) on the car ride back to Chicago, she did not lose her cool when our middle child, the ever-mouthy almost-3-year-old Lollipop, told Jester, "I don't need a fucking nap."

But I digress.  Little more than an hour after Saint Jesterio the Magnificent left Thursday night, I headed to Schuba's for what is called a Lollapalooza "after show," even though technically it was before Lolla started.  The band was J. Roddy Walston & The Business, and if you haven't seen them before, do it.  They are one of my favorite newer bands, and in the six or seven times I've seen them, they have never put on a bad show.  Opening for them was a band called Pujol from Nashville, Tennessee, not to be confused with Albert Pujols from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  They were pretty good too, although they were not playing Lolla –- not this year, anyway.  And yeah, that's called foreshadowing.

Here are a couple shots of Pujol, J. Roddy, and The Business, as well as the first verse of "Brave Man's Death," which I record every time I see J. Roddy Walston & The Business so that I can send it to a friend of mine who also likes the band and rub it in that I'm here and he's not.

Friday morning, I dropped Harley off at the kennel because who needs the responsibility of a dog when your wife and kids are already gone?  I was waiting for my brother-in-law Will to show up, but his arrival from Indiana via motorcar was delayed, so unfortunately, I missed a couple of the earlier bands on Friday who I wanted to see.  No worries, though.  Over the next three days, I saw dozens of bands, walked 26 miles, drank 15 liters of water, and witnessed one arrest for public urination.

Here are some observations.
  • It's a marathon, not a sprint.  Friday at about 2 p.m., as Will and I were walking to Grant Park, we passed a Corner Bakery with some outdoor seating.  A girl who appeared to be somewhere between 16 and 19 was lying with her head down on a table while she splattered vomit on Corner Bakery's otherwise pristine sidewalk.  Her friends didn't seem terribly concerned and vowed to give her water and take her back to the hotel.  So you –- or probably your parents -- spent $250 (at least) on a 3-day pass, probably just as much on a hotel room, and potentially much more on a flight, and you didn't make it two hours into Lollapalooza without getting so fucked up that you're puking and unable to hold your head up.  Thanks, mom and dad!
  • High-waisted shorts are out of control. Seriously, women, this is not a good look.  Stop.  Just please stop.  Unless, of course, you like shorts that make your ass look like the broadside of a barn, no matter how small your ass might actually be.
  • EDM:  still horrible.
  • Teenagers and poppers who listen to EDM:  still annoying.
  • I saw that one hipster with the floppy hair and gigantic beard.
  • Security was a bit tighter this year than in years' past, which meant longer delays getting in.  I don't really need a dick pat by a guy who can't spell his own name, but takes his job way too seriously.  Moooon river!
  • As the father of two girls, I can tell all you females out there that your dad doesn't want you flashing your vag while you squat to pee in front of several thousand strangers.
  • It rained for a good chunk of Sunday, but fear not, I didn't lose my flip flops this time.

Okay, now to the music.  Here are the bands and artists for which I saw or heard at least two of their songs:
Friday:  J. Roddy Walston & The Business; Hozier; Johnnyswim; Warpaint; Portugal. The Man; Chvrches; Broken Bells; Lykke Li; Eminem; Arctic Monkeys
Saturday:  Benjamin Booker; Vance Joy; Parquet Courts; So So Glos; Kate Nash; The Last Internationale; John Butler Trio; Fitz & The Tantrums; Manchester Orchestra; Nas; Foster the People; OutKast
Sunday:  Kongos; Space Capone; Bleachers; White Denim; Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue; Cage the Elephant; Glen Hansard; The Avett Brothers; Young the Giant; Kings of Leon

Here are my ten favorite performances from the weekend:

10 (tie).  Eminem
He was great, although I only stayed for the first half of his show because he was playing at the same time as Arctic Monkeys, so I wanted to see the second half of their set.  As I was leaving, Rihanna made a guest appearance, so that was something that the kids can hang their hats on.

10 (tie).  Benjamin Booker
He opened up for Jack White a couple weeks ago, but I got there too late to see his set.  Thankfully, he played Lolla a week later.  For some reason, I thought he was a blues guy, but it's definitely more garage rock and punk.  I really liked what I heard, although he unfortunately was having some issues with his guitar, so the show was a little disjointed.

9.  The Last Internationale
These guys have their debut album coming out soon, produced by Tom Morello.  Their drummer is none other than Rage's drummer, Brad Wilk, and the band is, as you might imagine, a little politically charged.  No matter your politics, their music was good.  I did think it was funny when the guitarist proclaimed that "all political prisoners" should be freed and that we need to "put the people on top" in jails.  That seems like a bad idea.

8.  Space Capone
These guys were kind of a '70s funk and disco outfit, with a horn section and a guy that just plays tambourine and sings back up.  I want his job.  Anyway, they were really entertaining, and the music was great for making love or just standing under a tree in the rain on a Sunday afternoon.  I would definitely check them out again when they come to town.

7.  J. Roddy Walston & The Business
They would probably be higher on this list had I not seen them the night before in a venue that holds a few hundred people, as opposed to an outdoor festival with tens of thousands of people.  Nonetheless, they were still awesome.  Here is the first verse of "Brave Man's Death."  And yes, I sent this to my buddy the day after sending the video of the same song the night before to him.

6.  Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
This was another pleasant surprise.  We saw the second half of their set, and I wish I would have been there for all of it.  I'm not even sure how to describe their music –- maybe a combination of rock, funk, soul, and jazz.  They rocked, and Trombone Shorty not only plays a hell of a trombone, but also a hell of a trumpet.  The highlight was when they covered "Brain Stew" by Green Day:

5.  Fitz & The Tantrums
I have liked these guys since I first heard them, and their stage show matches the energy of their songs.  They definitely seemed right at home in front of a giant crowd, as well, and were pretty much running around the whole show.  In addition to their own songs, they had a pretty good cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," which I did not record.  I would definitely see them again.

4.  The Avett Brothers
Apparently, I underestimated the Avett Brothers' ability to rock out.  I always thought they were a little more mellow than what their performance showed.  They kicked ass, which was needed because it was Sunday afternoon, and the rain had been coming down for a couple hours at that point.  Here's an excerpt of their last song, which was a cover of Harry Belafonte's "Jump in the Line":

3.  So So Glos
These guys played at noon on Friday, so I missed their regular show, which I was pretty bummed about.  Then, on Saturday afternoon, we happened to be walking by this little promotional tent sponsored by Toyota and Spin off to the side in a thicket of trees, and there was a sign saying the So So Glos were going to be playing at this tent at approximately the exact same time we were there.  So, we walked right in as the band was warming up and taking requests from the crowd.  They then played for 15 ear-bleeding minutes to about 50 people, and it was awesome, even if I couldn't hear anything after I left.

2.  Cage the Elephant
There must be something about Cage the Elephant and rain at Lollapalooza because they were performing a few years ago when dark clouds came rolling in and it poured, resulting in me losing my flip flops trying to walk through mud.  This year, they played during the middle of the rain, but that didn't stop them from delivering a hell of a performance.  Lead singer Matt Shultz did a fair bit of crowd surfing, turning his white pants brown with what I hope was just mud.

1.  OutKast
Hands down, this was the highlight of this year's Lollapalooza. I've never seen OutKast before, so that in itself was exciting for me, but they also put on a great show.  Here's an excerpt of "Hey Ya!":

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Retro Video of the Week: "2 Minutes to Midnight" by Iron Maiden

Saturday marks the 30th anniversary of the start of Iron Maiden's World Slavery Tour, to support their 1984 album Powerslave.  The tour is significant because it started in Poland, soon thereafter going to Hungary and Yugoslavia, thus making Iron Maiden the first Western band to take a full stage show behind the Iron Curtain.  Nowadays, it's a little insane to think that there was so much censorship and culture control in the USSR and Eastern Europe that it wasn't until 1984 that an outside band was allowed to tour the Eastern Bloc.  Of course, if there was one band that could break through the Iron Curtain, it was Iron Maiden.  To honor their historic invasion of the Eastern Bloc, here is the video for "2 Minutes to Midnight" off of the Powerslave album.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Tuesday Top Ten: Things I Hoped Do Today, But Didn't

10.  Get the band back together.
9.  Feed your finger tips to the wolverines.
8.  The Hustle.
7.  Somehow figure out a way so that when you read the words "The Hustle" in the previous sentence, "The Hustle" would immediately start playing, but then stop as soon as you moved to the next sentence.
6.  Use the phrase "Uriah Heep, good call" organically in a conversation.
5.  Get you a toe.  With nail polish.
4.  Boil the wolverines.
3.  Finally get even with the Tattaglias for what they did to Sonny.
2.  Upload my videos from Lollapalooza to YouTube.
1.  Write a Tuesday Top Ten about Lollapalooza that included videos I uploaded to YouTube.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Midwestern Eavesdropping

Twentysomething guy about to leave a bar and bike home: "You're so wasted right now.  I'm fine though.  I could put a freight train in reverse just fine."
Eavesdropper: The Loose-Lipped Lithuanian

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Midwestern Eavesdropping

Guy at concert, to friends: "Bob Weir is coming here in two weeks."
Thirtysomething female: "The guy that paints trees?"
--Highland Park, IL, Ravinia
Eavesdropper: Apollo Creed