Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Showbiz Show 10/20/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed "Only The Brave," "Goodbye Christopher Robin," and "Mark Felt," as well as other movie/showbiz stuff.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 10/20/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes trivia categories about Snowy Showbiz, People Not As Rich As Bill Gates, and This Day In History.

Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News®


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a cake for a cop, a fishy ATM, and a check mark on a bucket list. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, October 20, 2017

On My Friday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today 3-6pm CT.

In the first hour, I'll talk with Alan Jacobs, author of "How To Think: A Survival Guide For A World At Odds."

In the second hour, Max and I will review new movies "Only The Brave," "Mark Felt," and "Goodbye Christopher Robin," along with other showbiz stuff.

In the third hour, I'll test your topical trivia knowledge with my Harris Challenge, and then share a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®.

Listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Now You're Just Fucking With Us

No one has ever, or will ever, called me "fashionable," and that's fine with me. I know nothing about fashion, and don't want to. I couldn't care less what the latest trends are in clothing. But every year once in awhile I'll see a photo of some new outfit a designer has presented to the world and think, "who in their right mind would wear that?"

Here's the latest example, as displayed today at Tokyo Fashion Week by a Japanese brand named Thibaut...

[photo by Splash News]

It's one thing to convince customers to buy distressed jeans with holes already in them or (to pick an example from last year) to market jeans with transparent knees -- but it's a whole other thing to come out with a pair of jeans that is nothing more than seams and a waist. Technically, I suppose, the empress has something on, but it just barely qualifies as clothes.

It occurs to me that, rather than paying what I'm sure is a ridiculously inflated price for this nonsense, you could probably make your own pair of thong jeans with any good pair of scissors.

But the only time you can wear them is on Extremely Casual Friday.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bob Schieffer, "Overload"


Here's my conversation with Bob Schieffer, longtime CBS news anchor/reporter/analyst, about his new book, "Overload: Finding The Truth In Today's Deluge Of News." Among the questions I asked him:
  • Is our current situation proof that more information doesn’t equal better information?
  • Do you consider this a national security issue?
  • Do you know any reporter who made up a story and kept their job?
  • How did you handle it on "Face The Nation" when politicians lied straight to your face?
  • How bad do you believe Russia's role is in the creation and distribution of bogus news stories?
  • What do you think of Trump's attacks on the press?
  • Why can’t the media ignore Trump's tweets as if they were just the kind of nonsense your drunk uncle says at Thanksgiving?
  • Does it bother you that cable news outlets spend all day with panels of pundits, rather than reporting?
  • Is it the responsibility of Facebook and Twitter to reduce the distribution of bogus stories?
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/16/17


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a fajita thief, a couple in a Porta-Potty, and a man in a ski mask. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Worth A Link

Can you guess what state a woman who claims she was abducted by aliens is running for Congress from?

On My Monday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today 3-6pm CT. Among my guests will be Bob Schieffer, talking about his book, "Overload: Finding The Truth In Today's Deluge Of News." Listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Movie Review: "Marshall"


When it comes to playing real people on the big screen, Chadwick Boseman is three for three. He captured the stoic nature of Jackie Robinson in "42," unleashed the funk power of James Brown in "Get On Up," and now portrays Thurgood Marshall, a towering figure in American legal history, in "Marshall."

Unlike "Get On Up," "Marshall" doesn't try to tell the full story of the civil rights lawyer who became America's first black Supreme Court justice. Nor does it focus on the big cases he argued before that court, including the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board Of Education case that desegregated schools. Instead, the movie focuses on a case from early in his career, in 1941, when he was the only litigating attorney for the NAACP, which sent him to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to defend a black man charged with the rape and attempted murder of a wealthy white woman.

Because Marshall had not been admitted to the bar in Connecticut, he enlisted the help of a local attorney, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who didn't practice criminal law but agreed to make the introduction of Marshall to the court. But when the judge (James Cromwell) insisted that he remain quiet in the courtroom while Friedman acted as the criminal defense lawyer, Marshall had to figure out a way to make the case as a silent partner. Well, partner isn't the right word, because it was clear that Marshall was the lead lawyer with much more experience and legal savvy. As for Friedman, he was rightly wary of the publicity the case would bring because, even though this was Connecticut, there were still enough racists and anti-Semites around to make trouble for both of them.

"Marshall" has echoes of "To Kill A Mockingbird" in its white-woman-black-man sexual assault charge, and in the way it doesn't shy away from the racial hatred just outside the courthouse doors while the drama plays out inside. Veteran director/producer Reginald Hudlin gets good chemistry out of Boseman and Gad as the unlikely legal team. Gad manages to sublimate his silliness as Friedman, and Cromwell is as solid as ever as the judge. Sterling K. Brown is very good as Joseph Spell, the chauffeur and butler charged with the horrible crimes, and Kate Hudson does some of her best work in years as the woman who accuses him.

But the movie belongs to Boseman, who imbues Marshall with cockiness, fearlessness, and intelligence to create a strong portrait of a man who spent his life fighting for the underdog. My only small complaint is that the script takes time away from the legal proceedings to show us some of Marshall's personal life, which does nothing to further the story.

Still, I liked "Marshall" enough to give it an 8 out of 10.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Movie Review: "The Foreigner"


I went to a movie theater the other night and saw two movies with the same title, "The Foreigner." One of them is a Jackie Chan revenge movie, as he tries to find the men who planted a bomb that killed his innocent teenage daughter while she was shopping for a prom dress. The other movie called "The Foreigner" stars Pierce Brosnan as a former IRA member who is now an Irish Deputy Minister, trying to unravel a mystery about a group of killers who call themselves "The Authentic IRA."

Each of these plots would probably have made a pretty good movie on their own. The problem is that they're mashed together into one confusing story that might have Chan listed first above the title -- because that will help "The Foreigner" do huge box office in China, where much of the movie's financing came from because he's still that nation's #1 movie star -- but doesn't give him much to do. He has a few exciting action sequences that prove he can still fight and move at age 63, but I'd bet that he's now using a double for a lot of the shots rather than doing all his own stunts, as he used to. Aside from those few scenes, Chan doesn't have much more to do than sit there and look morose, the way a lot of fathers would after losing their young daughter, or use his special skills to track down his prey. If you go expecting lots of action and amazing stunts with Chan taking on Brosnan, you may leave the theater underwhelmed.

As for the second-billed Brosnan, he projects power without lifting a single fist, commanding every scene he's in. With an Irish accent dripping from his lips, he plays the Deputy Minister as a true politician -- saying whatever it takes to get information and reaction from everyone he talks to. We're not quite sure what his motives are, but they're clearly not as innocent as he wants us to believe from the get-go. While Chan works his end of the plot mostly alone, Brosnan is constantly surrounded by stereotypical characters straddling the good guy/bad guy line.

Director Martin Campbell is an action-movie pro, having worked with Brosnan on the 1995 Bond movie, "Goldeneye," as well as his successor Daniel Craig a decade later on "Casino Royale." So is writer David Marconi, who worked on "Live Free Or Die Hard" and "Enemy Of The State."

I just wish that they'd split "The Foreigner" into two tales told separately by opening up the Brosnan story in one and letting Jackie Chan do more of his thing in the other. The mash-up we get instead is okay, but not as good as it could have been.

I give "The Foreigner" a 5 out of 10.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Alan Sepinwall, "Breaking Bad 101"


Last year, I talked with critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz about “TV: The Book,” in which they ranked the greatest TV shows of all time. Deservedly, “Breaking Bad” was near the top, and now Alan has published “Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion.”

It’s full of the episode recaps he wrote during the five years the show aired on AMC, plus some insight from showrunner Vince Gilligan, stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Anna Gunn, and many others. If you’ve never seen "Breaking Bad," you can read each chapter after watching the corresponding episode (or after binge-watching a bunch of them). If you’ve already watched the whole series, Alan’s recaps will not only remind you of what you watched, but also fill in some holes of things you missed.

In our conversation we touched on:
  • What Vince Gilligan told him about the pace of the show and its attention to detail;
  • How the look of the show influenced those that followed;
  • The backlash against Skyler White and the actress who played her, Anna Gunn;
  • How Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman was going to be killed off in the first season;
  • How the show's writers had to improvise new plot lines and characters as they went;
  • Whether Walter White was a hero or a villain;
  • The brilliance of Giancarlo Esposito's Gus Fring.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Previously on Harris Online...

Showbiz Show 10/13/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I discussed the impact of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault, harassment, and rape charges on the women who were his victims and the movies still in the pipeline from his company. Then we reviewed "Marshall," "Happy Death Day," "The Foreigner," and other movie/showbiz stuff.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 10/13/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes trivia categories about The Supreme Court, the TV Academy Hall Of Fame, and Things That Happened On Friday The 13th.

Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/13/17


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a foamy fill-up, a time-traveling drunk, and a guy who Googled "how to rob a bank." Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

On My Friday Radio Show


I'll be back on KTRS today 3-6pm CT.

In the first hour, I'll talk with Alan Sepinwall about his book, "Breaking Bad 101: The Complete Critical Companion."

In the second hour, Max and I will review the new movies "Marshall," "Happy Death Day," and "The Foreigner," plus other showbiz stuff.

In the third hour, you'll have a chance to play my topical trivia game The Harris Challenge, and I'll have a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®, too.

Listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Best Thing I've Read Today


Paul Gertner is a wonderful magician who has appeared on Penn and Teller's "Fool Us" TV show twice. He fooled them the first time with a card trick, and when he went back for a second shot a few months ago, he worked up a new twist on the classic cups-and-balls routine, as you can see above.

After watching that, take a look at his blog post, in which he explains his battle with the network's legal department over using a beer can on the air, and how many hours of design and rehearsal went into the final performance of the trick, which he had proposed even though he didn't know how to do it yet!
The idea of pitching a magic trick and then having to figure out a method was something that is part of my creative process. I don’t do it all the time… but when working with companies on trade shows or sales meetings over the last 40+ years it was not uncommon to pitch an idea that did not yet exist. There have been many times that I’ve hung up the phone and turned to my wife Kathy and said: “Well they like the idea… it’s a GO!” And she would say: “So how are you going to do it?” And I would say: “I’m not exactly sure… I got to work that part out.” Most memorable was the time I told a client that sold fork lift trucks that I could cut a woman in half while she was lifted 25 feet in the air on two forklifts in the exhibit hall in McCormick Place in Chicago. Of course, the more difficult conversation was telling Kathy that I wanted her to be the woman who got cut in half while high in the air. Kathy agreed… we did it at quite a few shows… and it was a huge success.
Read Paul Gertner's full behind-the-scenes story here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Road Trip: #VegasStrong

Some friends were surprised to hear that I went to Las Vegas this weekend, only a week after the massacre at Mandalay Bay.

They asked if I was worried and had considered cancelling the trip, but I told them no, there was no reason to do so. That would be like refusing to fly anywhere after a recent plane crash. Yes, the shooter had killed almost five dozen people and wounded ten times that, but he was dead and there was no threat of a follow-up.

Before leaving St. Louis, a couple of family members told me to “be careful.” I pointed out that no amount of caution would protect me from a madman who was planning to kill at random. I’m sure that most of the people at the country music festival were being careful last Sunday night — I wanted to say “all of the people were being careful,” but you and I both know that there are irresponsible idiots everywhere, but even their actions had nothing to do with the bullets flying.

The bottom line is that no extra measure of preparation was necessary for my Vegas trip — just the usual, including: don’t count your money in public; don’t try to bluff a guy who always calls; and don’t play the new roulette wheel at the Venetian that has not just zero and double zero, but an extra space labeled “S” (because triple zero wouldn’t look good, I suppose), giving the house an additional 2.5% edge. That last one would never be a problem for me because I don’t play roulette anywhere, and I refuse to give Venetian owner Sheldon Adelson even a penny of my money.

If tourists have stayed away from Vegas for the last week or so, I couldn’t tell. The sidewalks were packed, the poker tables were as full as they usually are this time of year, and the lines to get into the nightclubs were ridiculously long. I am not patron of those clubs because I don’t drink, I hate loud pounding music, and the average customer is less than half my age, which would essentially make me invisible to the other attendees. But it’s hard not to notice when you’re walking through a casino and pass hundreds of twenty-somethings, all hoping to get into a club so they can overpay for drinks and not be able to hear a single word anyone says.

Over the weekend, I never went near Mandalay Bay nor the site of the concert/massacre, but there were signs up and down the strip with the hashtag #VegasStrong. One of my Lyft drivers told me that, in addition to the first responders and medical personnel going above and beyond last Sunday, a lot of local mental health professionals have been offering counseling since then — not just for the victims and their families, but anyone who had been at the show or was affected by it. That’s what I’d rather think about, keeping the humanity of the helpers in my thoughts, rather than allowing something horrible that happened in the past tense make me worried in the present and future tense.

Now that my trip is over, I’m happy to report that, as expected, nothing went wrong other than a few bad football bets (speaking of things I should be more careful about!).

Monday, October 09, 2017

Movie Review: "The Mountain Between Us"


Idris Elba and Kate Winslet just want to get home. She has to get to her wedding the next day in New York, while he has to operate on a patient in Baltimore. However, they're stuck at an airport in Idaho, where a snowstorm has grounded all commercial flights. Desperate to get out of there, he agrees to go along with her in chartering a private plane to Denver, where they might be able to catch another flight east.

Unfortunately, the charter pilot, Beau Bridges, has a stroke in mid-air and the plane crashes in the snow-covered Rockies. He's dead, leaving only Kate, Idris, and Beau's dog to survive and find a way to civilization. Fortunately, Idris is a surgeon, so he can take care of both Kate and the dog when they are wounded. She's a photojournalist, so she can, um, let's just say she's up for an adventure. As for the dog, well, you don't think the filmmakers are going to let a dog die on a mountain, do you?

The scenery is beautiful -- kudos to the location scouts who found the untouched wilderness where the movie was shot -- but Idris and Kate don't have much chemistry, an essential element in what is basically a two-hander story of love and survival. Worse, nothing happens in "The Mountain Between Us" that you won't see coming a mile away, even without one of Kate's telephoto lenses.

I give "The Mountain Between Us" a 4 out of 10.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

About Harvey Weinstein

As I started my KTRS show Friday, the NY Times exposé of Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long record of sexual harassment was uppermost on my mind. I was particularly galled by the statement he sent to the newspaper after it published the story. It seemed like he was offering less an apology than a justification, an excuse for his behavior.

So, I opened my mouth and began to speak about it, with a dose of NFL star Cam Newton’s misogyny thrown in, as well. Here’s how it sounded.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Showbiz Show 10/6/17


This week on the showbiz segment of my show, Max and I reviewed Kate Winslet and Idris Elba in "The Mountain Between Us," Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in "Blade Runner 2049," and other movie/showbiz stuff.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Harris Challenge 10/6/17

This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on! -- includes trivia categories about Tom Petty, Sci-Fi Remakes, and This Week In History.

Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Harris Challenges? Click here.

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/6/17


This collection of Knuckleheads In The News® stories includes a weird smell in a school, a woman's unique necklace, and some serious robot abuse. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Kathryn Miles, “Quakeland”


Here’s my conversation with Kathryn Miles, author of “Quakeland: On The Road To America’s Next Devastating Earthquake.”

I asked her if we’ve gotten any better at predicting earthquakes, which American cities are most at risk, and whether our infrastructure can handle a big quake. We also discussed the skepticism of midwesterners who remember the panic created by Iben Browning’s failed warnings about the New Madrid fault a quarter-century ago.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

About That Punishment Music

I have received several emails from listeners asking for more details on the punishment music I used during the Harris Challenge on my Friday KTRS show.

It's from an NBC primetime special that aired on September 20, 1981, called "Get High On Yourself." It was produced by Hollywood studio executive Robert Evans (whose story was told so wonderfully in the documentary "The Kid Stays In The Picture") as part of his community service plea bargain after being busted buying $19,000 worth of cocaine.

Yeah, no jail time, just go produce a cheesy TV show and we'll be good. That's what's known as Rich Hollywood White Guy Justice.

Anyway, Evans put up $400,000 of his own money for the special, and culled big names from his Rolodex to do the show, including a "We Are The World" type musical number that was supposed to teach kids to stay away from drugs. The roster of then-famous folks who appeared included Paul Newman, Julius Erving, Muhammad Ali, Cathy Lee Crosby, Henry Winkler, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, Kate Jackson, Magic Johnson, Kristy McNichol, Robby Benson, Scott Baio, Herve Villechaize, Mark Hamill, and John Davidson. As you watch it, you'll notice that several of the stars (Paul Newman in particular) must have dubbed their voices later so they could be heard amidst the crowd of people in the studio -- not that it helps.

The song was written by Steve Karmen, who was otherwise best known for composing the "I Love New York" commercial jingle. I'm sure he'd much prefer to be remembered for that than this. Caveat: this may become an ear worm you can't get out of your head...you've been warned!

Of course, as you know, the special was so convincing that America never had a problem with drugs again after it aired. I doubt the same was true for some of the stars you're about to see...

Movie Review: "American Made"


Barry Seal was a TWA pilot when he was recruited by the CIA to fly reconnaissance missions over Central America to photograph suspected communist rebels. Then he got involved with Manuel Noriega in Panama and the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia. Pretty soon, he's not only on the radar of the CIA, but of the DEA, the ATF, the Louisiana State Police, and the sheriff of a small town in Arkansas.

All of this gets pretty hard to follow in "American Made," with Tom Cruise as Seal, but the plot points don't matter after awhile. Seal is just a pilot who will do whatever it takes to make money, from anyone, even when he starts running out of places to hide all the cash he's being handed by the various people he's working for.

Cruise is good in the role, probably the best one he's had in several years. But if you expect this to be an action movie like his "Mission Impossible" or "Jack Reacher" series, you're going to be disappointed -- there's not one extended fight sequence in the whole movie.

"American Made" was directed by Doug Liman, whose work I first noticed in 1996's Jon Favreau/Vince Vaughan classic, "Swingers." He also did "The Bourne Identity," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," and "Edge of Tomorrow," which starred Cruise, too. There's an interesting connection between "American Made" and part of the story it tells. Liman's father, Arthur Liman, was chief counsel to the Senate committee that investigated the Iran-contra scandal in 1987, which involved one Barry Seal and introduced the world to a Marine Lieutenant Colonel named Oliver North. That scandal, and North, and then-president Ronald Reagan, are all part of the plot of the movie.

The best performance in "American Made" comes not from Cruise but from Domhnall Gleason, who played Monty Schafer, which may or may not have been the real name of the CIA officer who devised this whole scheme in the first place. Gleason plays him very straight but with a slight smirk on his face, as if even Schafer can't believe everything he's getting away with pushing Seal to do while denying everything.

I'm curious why this movie, which was shot in 2015, wasn't released until now. I suspect that the filmmakers didn't feel they explained the story well enough, so they went back and added some VHS-style video footage in which Seal narrates parts of his story. Unfortunately, that doesn't help much, so when you walk out of the theater, you'll have as much trouble keeping track of what happened as I did.

I give "American Made" a 7.5 out of 10.


Wednesday, October 04, 2017

I'm Just Asking

Suppose for a moment we are already at the point that self-driving cars are standard on our roads and the overwhelming majority of Americans use them to get around.

Now imagine that one day, some of those self-driving cars (not all, but some) went haywire and killed five dozen people while injuring ten times as many.

Do you think Congress would immediately have hearings on the use of autonomous vehicles and rush to pass legislation about how to make them safer and less likely to end human lives?

Movie Review: "Battle Of The Sexes"


In 1973, Bobby Riggs was a 55-year-old hustler has-been who had won Wimbledon in his youth but couldn't stand being out of the spotlight. So, he challenged Billie Jean King (then the #1 women's tennis player in the world) to play him for a $35,000 payday. King declined, but when she was then beaten and replaced at the #1 spot by Margaret Court, Riggs challenged the new champion instead, and Court accepted -- and lost, badly.

This allowed Riggs to go around making even more male chauvinist comments, like how women only belonged in the kitchen and the bedroom. Seeing an even bigger opportunity to make money and increase his fame, Riggs challenged King again, this time for $100,000 and -- even though she thought the Court debacle had hurt the women's movement -- she finally relented. The result was the most-watched tennis match in history. Ninety million people saw the spectacle, broadcast in primetime on ABC from the Houston Astrodome, with Howard Cosell doing the play-by-play and a circus-like atmosphere in the big build-up.

That's the heart of the movie "Battle Of The Sexes," which has really good performances by Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, plus a supporting cast that includes Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, and Alan Cumming. It also includes Cosell's original audio track from 1973, which was filled with all sorts of misogynistic lines like referring to King as "the little lady."

The movie, directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, who made "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Ruby Sparks," shows just how much discrimination women faced in that era and how important King was in advancing the fight for equality -- and encouraging other women to do the same. The sexism, which was then routine, practically drips off the screen every time Pullman's character opens his mouth. I'd like to say that times have changed, but we still live in an era when men can still get away with saying shockingly offensive things about women with very little consequence.

My only objection to "Battle Of The Sexes" is that it spends too much time on King's discovery that she's a lesbian as she gets involved with a hairdresser played by Andrea Riseborough. While that's a very important part of King's life, it's over-emphasized in "Battle Of The Sexes" to the detriment of the rest of the story. I worry it may end up being a turnoff to some potential viewers, particularly those who want to take their young daughters to see and learn about one of the most important female figures in professional sports. That's not to say that King's life choices were wrong, I'm just talking about the context of the movie, which could have been tightened up from its two hour running time by cutting or shortening many of those sequences.

This is not the first time that famous tennis match has been dramatized on screen. In a 2001 TV movie, Holly Hunter stole the show as King vs. the always-solid Ron Silver as Riggs -- but it's a story worth telling again for a new generation, especially when it's this well done.

I give "Battle Of The Sexes" an 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Tripp Whetsell On The History Of The Improv


Long before there was a Funny Bone or a Helium Comedy Club or the Comedy Store or the Comic Strip or Yuk Yuk’s, there was a place in Hell’s Kitchen in New York called The Improv.

It was started by Budd Friedman, who I met a couple of years ago when I was in LA and my friend Mark Evanier took me to a meeting of Yarmy’s Army, a group of veteran comedians that at one point included Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Shelley Berman, Don Knotts, Gary Owens, Ronnie Schell, Howard Morris, and many others. The night I was there, I met Jack Riley (Mr. Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show), Chuck McCann who does voice work for more cartoons that I can list, Thom Sharp who did those classic man-on-the-street commercials in St. Louis for Southwest Bank, and Pat Harrington who was Schneider on the original One Day At A Time (I wrote about that evening here).

Budd was there, too. I only talked with him for a few minutes, but told him I’d like to have him on my show some day. He said he’d be happy to when he finished the book he was working on about the history of the Improv. Well, now that book is out, but unfortunately Budd had a stroke earlier this year and can’t do my show, but his co-author Tripp Whetsell is here to talk about it.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Caitlin Doughty, "From Here To Eternity"


A couple of years ago, I read Caitlin Doughty's book, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” in which she’d graduated from college with a degree in medieval history and took a job at a crematory, which led to all sorts of odd encounters and bodies of every shape and size. That led her to become a licensed mortician, which led to her new book, "From Here To Eternity," in which she travels the world to see how other countries and cultures handle the end of life.

Here's my conversation with her about why she wanted to take this journey, why she feels funerals in the US have become impersonal, the arguments for cremation vs. burial, what she thinks of those Bodies exhibits, and what she wants done with her body when she dies.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Knuckleheads In The News® 10/2/17


It's been a while since I dedicated Knuckleheads In The News® to only stories from Florida, but they've been piling up on my desktop, so here they come! Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Want more Knuckleheads In The News®Click here.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Movie Review: "Brad's Status"


I'm not a Ben Stiller fan. I can't stand the characters he's played in "Zoolander," "Dodgeball," and the "Meet The Parents" movies. Those over-the-top scenery-chewing roles turn me off, no matter how many times he keeps playing them. But finally, he's done something different.

In "Brad's Status," Stiller plays the title character, a guy who runs a non-profit in Sacramento and has a pretty good middle-class life. His wife (Jenna Fischer) works for the state government and his son Troy (Austin Abrams) is a high school senior with good grades. But Brad is racked with jealousy over the success of the guys he went to school with. Jason (Luke Wilson) runs a successful hedge-fund, complete with a private jet and a beautiful wife. Craig (Michael Sheen) used to work in the White House, wrote a best-selling book, and is in-demand as a TV pundit. Nick (Mike White) is a movie director so famous his house was featured in an architectural magazine. Billy (Jemaine Clement) made a fortune in tech and now lives on a beach in Hawaii with two hot young women.

As Brad takes his son to visit colleges in the Boston area, he wonders where he went wrong. Why doesn't he have a private jet, or even an airline club card that lets him board the plane first? Why did he go to Tufts when it looks like his son might get into Harvard? How did he get left behind in the social hierarchy? Yes, he's suffering from a severe case of white male privilege, but can't stop wondering how it's fair that his friends have so much more than he does.

Stiller embodies this persona perfectly, and has a wonderful scene with an actress named Shazi Raja, who I think we'll see a lot more of after this performance. She plays a Harvard undergrad who knew Troy in high school and meets both son and father over drinks, where Brad is taken with how smart and funny she is. There's no romance there -- in fact, Brad's only thoughts are "why didn't I meet someone like this when I was in college? -- but after he pours out his angst to her, she doesn't give him the reaction he expects.

That dialogue was written by Mike White, who not only appears in the movie, but also wrote and directed it. White was also responsible for "School Of Rock," the hit Jack Black movie that became both a TV series and a Broadway musical, as well one of Jennifer Aniston's best movies, "The Good Girl." You may have also seen White traveling the world with his father on "The Amazing Race."

In "Brad's Status," White keeps the camera tight on Stiller in some scenes so we can see every nuance of anxiety on his face. In others, he pulls back just enough to show us the relationship Brad has with his son, his wife, and the other people in his world. All of it gives us some perspective on his life, and perhaps, ours.

Considering I haven't liked Ben Stiller since "Flirting With Disaster" more than 20 years ago, I'm surprised to find him in a movie that will probably be on my Best Of 2017 list.

I give "Brad's Status" a 9 out of 10.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Monty Hall, "Let's Make A Deal"


When I heard that Monty Hall, who co-created and hosted the classic TV game show, "Let's Make A Deal," died yesterday at age 96, I dove into my audio archives to find this conversation I had with him on August 30, 2001. At the time, the Game Show Network was beginning to air reruns of his show, and it wasn't too long before CBS brought it back to life with new host Wayne Brady.

I remember this as a really fun interview, in which I asked Monty about the genesis of the show, the zonk prizes, announcer Jay Stewart, prize lady Carol Merrill, and the thousands of people who lined up in crazy costumes to try to get into the "Let's Make A Deal" audience so they could get Monty's attention and a few minutes of air time. Nowadays, that seems almost quaint, with everyone having the ability to be on camera and get exposure online anytime they want.

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He is also the only game show host I know of who is associated with a classic probability question -- it came be known as The Monty Hall Problem -- which became famous when a reader wrote to "Parade" columnist Marilyn vos Savant in 1990:
Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say Number 1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say Number 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door Number 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice? 
As vos Savant explained, the answer is yes, you should always switch. If you want to know why, read this Wikipedia page.