Early on when I started posting under the Category "Skit Happens" (AKA: From the Slush Pile) I was posting stuff that that been submitted somewhere but didn't get chosen. Post-pandemic (if we are, in fact, post-it) I've been writing sketches and have had few, if any, places to submit them. I don't know why I'm still writing them. It's like the idea pops into my head and I get such a rush from the act of creating, I want to get it down on paper, I need to. These things are burning holes in my hard drive and I have to put them out there somewhere and I have a blog. So...
As I posted else where, thanks to cable and streaming, topical pop-culture is no longer limited to recent entertainment. SNL has gotten deep into the habit of doing parodies of classic movies. In fact, they've done a number of "Sound of Music" bits in the last few years (I think it kicked off with NBC doing Sound of Music: Live). Add to that the fact that while working at home, I have on a music station (which I can't play at the office). One of the channels is for stage and screen songs. A lot of Sound of Music numbers get played, and that certainly triggered the idea for this sketch. What if the song "My Favorite Things" was, as one of the kids says, a bit on the nose?
I woke up the other morning flashing back to my younger days, to my “performing career.” Not sure what triggered it.
You ought to know that my family is full of hams and attention seekers. I realized now that the idea of performing always tugged at me. I would watch the comedians on TV and the classic old movies and they called to me in some manner. But I was stranded on the island of Staten, long before it became the comedy powerhouse it is today. Back then I had no mentors, no guide posts, no teammates. There were things I would attempt, things that were shots in the dark.
I remember when I was 6 or so, my young uncles, only a few years older than me, putting on their version of “The Soupy Sales Show” for the family and some neighborhood kids. They cribbed the jokes, gags, puppets, props and puns from the show and acted it all out in the family room. I remember this very well. So, obviously, things could be done...
After years of hearing the fuss over "Schitt's Creek," I finally started watching it on Netflix. And my first reaction? It's good, but what is the fuss all about? Then I started to think; it's an old-style situation comedy and I had to readjust my viewing style for it. Or it got better in season two.
The premise is a rich family loses its fortune due to a shady financial advisor, but is left with one asset. We've seen this set-up before, "Moonlighting," or "Arrested Development:" it's a reverse "Beverly Hillbillies." In this case the asset is a small, goofy town. This privileged family is forced to live in a seedy motel and figure things out. Here's the thing; everyone is wacky. There are no straight-men. The rich family are comedically inept while dealing with real life. They are the fish out of water but the water here is tainted by quirky. The mayor is Chris Elliot, for instance. Characters have to take turns being bedeviled by another character's idiosyncrasies. As I stated, it's a traditional sit-com. There's little serialization. Each character gets a A, B or C-plot line. It wasn't until season two we could start feeling empathy for anyone as some of them started to have actual feelings or found an inner nobility.
One episode, Levy is the sensible, playing straight for Bob, the odd owner of Bob's garage. Other episodes he does something wrong and is reluctant to admit his mistake, feigning innocence, becoming the jerky idiot. A lot of the comedy is "cringe comedy," the kind which really reached its zenith with the character of Michael Scott in "The Office." It's not my favorite style of comedy, because watching someone get embarrassed and then embarrassed some more can be hard to watch.
As I reached the later seasons I was still enjoying it, but, again, I'm not sure why social media was going so ga-ga for it, as great as it is to see Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hare go through their paces. It is interesting to see Dan Levy before he became a TV commercial icon. The stakes start to rise a bit as the family gets slightly more competent. The town characters now roast Eugene Levy every chance they get (they even had a episode where the town held a roast for Bob and it became the town roasting Eugene about how bad he is at roasting people). Dan Levy's character, David, got a boyfriend, who becomes a true stoic straight man, much like Bob Newhart (although he looks like a young Dave Foley). He gets to watch "David" be incredibly self-absorbed and then gets to pop David's balloon; This takes some of the heavy lifting from the character Stevie Budd, the clerk at the motel who was the first to befriend David.
Weirdly, it's Stevie's character that has a true arc in the show as she goes from near-goth Gen-X mocker of the Rose family, to accepting them to loving them and partners up with them. The Rose daughter, Alexia, gets to mature, make a sacrifice for love while mapping out a career and David...he gets a boyfriend.
O'Hare has the wildest swings. She's an actress who was recently let go from her soap opera. She's bummed at being stuck in town, yet runs for city council. She gets a movie gig for a terrible movie and somehow saves it. She gets her old TV job back, yet still can't get out of town fast enough yet stops long enough to hug her choir group.
As it goes on, each character gets a chance to to the right thing for someone else, but being Schitt's Creek, it usually gets undercut by someone's idiocy.
All in all , I enjoyed it and pulled for these guys while also wishing they would sit down and shut up.
While on Netflix, I stumbled upon a show called "Virgin River." I saw the trailer and thought, "Hey, my wife might like this" (Especially after enduring the Downton/Portofino binges). It had a theme that has pulled us in before; city person leaves the big city to get a job in a small town. The premise worked for "Northern Exposure," "Everwood," "Bless This Mess," "Little House on the Prairie," and "Green Acres." And they all have issues.
We watched the first three seasons not knowing anything about the show, or even how old it was. Turns out it was recent and just as we finished season 3, it was announced season 4 would be up in a few days.
The show can be charming because it takes place in a small town. But, good heavens, nothing goes right for these people; Infidelity. Heartache. Vile Americans. Blackmail. Child theft and lies. And instead of fascists, (Like Hotel Portofino) it has abusive spouses and drug dealers. The show exists to see how much more the leads can bear. It does have a slightly quirky side but no tiny cakes or scones. The actress Annette O'Toole steals the first two seasons as the decidedly opinionated mayor. Weirdly, the whole "mayor" thing gets lost. As does O'Toole, who missed season 3 due to COVID restrictions and was reduced to a couple of ZOOM calls. And other things seem to slip into the background as different stories crop up. Other stories that seemed to need to slip into the background suddenly loom large. Every time someone picks up a phone it's BAD NEWS.
My wife liked the show because everyone in it is from her Hallmark movies. But I don't know if we'll be revisiting the old episodes as we await the new seasons.
Early on when I started posting under the Category "Skit Happens" (AKA: From the Slush Pile) I was posting stuff that that been submitted somewhere but didn't get chosen. Post-pandemic (if we are, in fact, post-it) I've been writing sketches and have had few, if any, places to submit them. I don't know why I'm still writing them. It's like the idea pops into my head and I get such a rush from the act of creating, I want to get it down on paper, I need to. These things are burning holes in my thumb drive and I have to put them out there somewhere and I have a blog. So, we'll be playing around on here, I suppose.
I recently went through a musical comedy phase, writing parodies of a couple of musicals. The Rain in Spain idea I actually jotted down a while ago, and with the pandemic and working from home, got to flesh it out a bit. And I mean a little bit. It's just about two pages. It's practically a black-out. Without feeling like I was going to send it to TMI: Hollywood, I didn't push myself to expand it out much. I wrote for the three main characters, got to the twist and bailed. It's still cute, though.
Rain in Spain
Okay, been in the middle of a couple of binges.
During the pandemic, my wife discovered "Downton Abbey." A friend told her about it. It turned out to be one of those shows where she said "How did I not know about this show?" I was aware of it, thanks to Saturday Night Live parodies, but I hadn't actually seen it. So, now we were off to find it. I had to sign up for PBS streaming. Then it dropped off there and popped up on Netflix. Oh, and then there was a movie, so I had to sign up for HBO to see that. And when she wanted to see it again later on during the pandemic? Peacock. Then the new movie came out and that's on Amazon Prime. Oy.
Then the wife got wind of a show called "Poldark." This was 18th England, so more than 100 years before Downton. Every show we now watch is judged to be BC or AD (Before Crowley or After Downton). This was a rough show, because it takes a former nobleman and then just proceeds to pile on him with more and more ill luck and misfortunate. And a running opponent (villain) who is obsessed with defeating Poldark in the...mining business? Oh, an people stand on a lot of sea cliffs gazing out onto the ocean. It's a real theme with this show.
We made it through the whole series, but probably will not watch again (unlike "Downton Abbey" or "Grey's Anatomy" which she keeps on re-watching). It's just all a downer.
Then she discovers a new British show, "Hotel Portofino." Again, on PBS. It's a new show, but I had to go to the website to catch the first few chapters. It takes place around the same time as "Downton Abbey" era, the 1920s, only it takes place in Italy. It's a hotel run by British, so they can be all brim and proper in the scandalous country of Italy. Which is now run by fascists.
Here are my problems with it: a) it's tone is decidedly dour. Infidelity. Heartache. Vile Americans. PTSD. Blackmail. Art theft and forgery. Oh, and fascists. Downton Abbey had all that too, but there was a lightness to it, and the family was essentially decent. And they had small cakes and scones. Yes, Downton would have a sex scandal, but then they'd have a "caper episode" where the family had to retrieve a stolen royal letter from a ne'er-do-well. b) the fascists. I mean, the owners of the hotel are being blackmailed and extorted by the petty fascist mayor and his goons. Sure, they may seem to outwit him, but, this is Italy in the 1920s. You know the fascists are going to win and keep winning until 1945, so it's hard to feel any relieve if the Count gets the mayor to tear up the trumped-up health code violations.
We completed the season and now wait to see if there's a season two.
Occasionally, I'll churn out a prose piece, an essay, a news parody, a list of stuff. Sometimes I'll be forced to turn them into a sketch or something, trying to get the bit out there if I couldn't get it published somewhere. I've an stuff printed in the Staten Island Advance, the NY Post, Themestream (the self-publishing of the early internet), and the occasional humor site like Modern Humorist or The Big Jewel.
Some of those things have folded. Some reject my work. Some don't respond. There's some second tier humor sites that have accepted my pieces, but I don't know anyone who reads them. So, if I'm going to publish things on obscure internet sites, why not just put it on my blog? So, here it is, a look into writing and show biz:
Early on when I started posting under the Category "Skit Happens" I was posting stuff that that been submitted somewhere but didn't get chosen. Post-pandemic (if we are, in fact, post-it) I've been writing sketches and have had few, if any, places to submit them to. I don't know why I'm still writing them. It's like the idea pops into my head and I get such a rush from the act of creating, I want to get it down on paper, I need to. There are a lot of "short play festivals" out there these days that accept "plays" that are under 10 minutes, so it seems like I might have an outlet for the sketches, but sometimes I get very insecure about my material. Are they really plays? They're comedy skits. I feel like I'm setting myself up for rejection, you know? But it's something I have to try. It's not like I haven't submitted to festivals like that before.
In the mean time, these things are burning holes in my thumb drive and I have to put them out there somewhere and I have a blog. So, we'll be playing around on here, I suppose.
I noticed something in the last few years on SNL; topical isn't always topical. Yes, they have the political cold openings and Weekend Update, but when SNL started, they would do movie parodies of then newly-released movies and then a lot of Boomer-related things (and guests) from early TV. The latest generation of writers, thanks to cable TV and streaming, have a much broader and deeper field to harvest. I think I first realized it with Bill Hader and his various Vincent Price holiday shows. I can't believe for a minute that the audience would know who Vincent Price, Liberace, James Mason and others were, but maybe they did, thanks to Nick-at-Night or TVland. They do parodies now of decades-old Disney cartoons. They set up movie send-ups from the 1940s and 1950s. They can do a sketch about anything (as long as it is funny).
The Wizarding World movies (formerly know as "Harry Potter movies") are still in the public mind thanks to the books, movie prequels, Broadway shows, cable TV showings and theme-park rides. And if in the presence of any of these things, a sketch idea can pop up still. We still watch the movies whenever they play on TV (usually once a month on one cable station or another) and, if I'm paying attention, something new will appear to me: An odd piece of logic, a plot gap, a continuity issue or a background character I hadn't noticed. Or the various characters names. How did no one figure out Professor Lupin was a a werewolf? How do you name your kid Malfoy and not know he'll be evil? Or why would any kid WANT to be placed in a school called "Slytherin?" Well, this seems like something the Sorting Hat would have a hand in...
The Sorting Hat
While we still figure out how things are shaking out for small theaters post-pandemic (even harder to figure out since we aren't post-pandemic, really) TMI: Hollywood is still shuttered. In the mean time, I was looking for something in my files and came upon this-a Stranger Things parody from April 2018. Domino's Pizza had just started a ad campaign that they would deliver pizza ANYWHERE; to beaches and parks and so many other places.
I honestly don't remember if it worked out for them or if they even still do it. Meanwhile, Stranger Things had just come out and it was a massive hit. So, what was more natural then to have them deliver to the Upside-Down?
I had totally forgotten about this sketch. I re-read it and not to toot my own horn, it's pretty good. Now, you have to remember, TMI: Hollywood had a huge cast. It was strange to me that they didn't break the troupe up into groups to handle sketches with casts of 4 or 5. Instead, they insisted on sketches with big casts. And they had to have some heft to them, beyond just five pages. This sketch checked both boxes there, was topical and in the news (which was the format of TMI, it had to be a news item).
The parody is very much in a Mad/Cracked magazine manner. There's a lot going on and I think each cast member got a moment, both big and small. Frankly, I read this and I can't remember where some of the bits of business came from; the escalating tip, the Minotaur poop reference and the call-back to it. My brain amazes me sometimes.
Since Stranger Things is back on the radar with a record-breaking season 4 (spoiler alert: it's just a big build up to Season 5), I present:
Hey! I wrote a Stranger Things song parody!
My Stranger Things
(to the tune of "My Favorite Things.")
Dungeons and dragons and
whispers from ceilings
Bright, flashing lightening and de-mented feelings.
Mutated black bats that kill with their wings
These are a few of my Stranger Things…
Mad psychic powers and fierce Demogorgons
Secret mind projects and all kinds of jargon.
Kids named with numbers and major mood swings.
These are a few of my Stranger Things…
Then my nose just bleeds
I simply remember my Stranger Things,
And then destruction proceeds.
Children go missing in dimensional portals
Soviet agents and lethal immortals
Drifting black snow stuff and Christmas light strings
These are a few of my Stranger Things.
Then the mall explodes
I simply remember
my Stranger Things
And binge all the episodes
From 1999 to 2004-ish, I was one of the contributing writers for Garrison Keillor's renowned radio show "A Prairie Home Companion." I learned a lot of things there, mostly how to spell 'prairie." It was a solid gig and I'm proud of my work there. But, like any other job, there were...things...
Honestly, I don't recall the circumstances of this piece. I looked back in my journals and apparently I was being crushed by work. I don't remember writing it but it's definitely something I wrote. GK was fond of listings his staff of writers at the end of each show. Except they were all fictional names; Sandy Beach, Bob Wire, etc. Rarely did he mention any actual writers. After having such a cold streak regarding my submissions, and this being the last show, I apparently decided I needed to parody the situation. So I start as a standard PHC commercial segue, have that go awry, then call out the writer. There's some back and forth and I slip in a SFX comedy bit while I'm at it. I can't imagine why I thought they would go for it, They didn't. I must have felt better after writing it. I felt better after reading it just now.
Freelance writer, still hacking away.