Poe Dameron Greets The New Year

I have two simple resolutions for 2018.

The first is to find a better way to greet other humans.

“How are you?” is obviously flawed. At this point in our shared human reality, “How are you?” is a question that should only be asked by a professional therapist at the beginning of a four hour long counseling session.

So I’m playing with these alternatives:
“Hello, I’m aware of everything going on in your life because you posted it on Instagram. Are there any interesting stories behind that photo of you eating ice cream at sunset?”

And it always has to be that whole thing. Even if the person hasn’t posted a photo of themselves eating ice cream at sunset. In fact, it might be a more interesting conversation if they haven’t.

Another option is greeting people by saying:
“Hello, could you please tell me one good thing that is happening in your life, because while I comprehend there are also bad things, I cannot cope with them at this time. I apologize for my emotional weakness.”

That’s honest but a little bit of a bummer, so the final option I’m playing with is just changing “Hello. How are you?” to the nice, simple:
“Hello. How am I?”

“I mean, you’ve seen my Instagram photos. How am I doing? Am I okay?”

That might put a little too much pressure on the other person, but we would probably learn a lot about ourselves.

So new greetings are resolution number one.

My other resolution is to just find JOY wherever I can.

One of the things that has brought me joy, for almost my entire life, is a very stupid thing: Star Wars action figures. Little pieces of environmentally unfriendly plastic molded to look vaguely like some actors in a movie about cutting people’s arms off with laser swords.

Honestly, I’m pretty okay with action figures bringing me joy but I have the instinct to make fun of it to get ahead of other people’s derision.

One thing that comes up every time there’s a new Star Wars movie is some guy comes along and makes the bold declaration that “the new Star Wars movie is just a big toy commercial.”

To which, the answer is yes, of fucking course, yes it is. New Star Wars movies and their toys are meant to make money. They are not some vicious capitalist attack on that charitable non-profit George Lucas set up in 1977.

They have always been movies designed to make money and one of the ways they make money is toys. But the only reason people buy the toys is because they are inspired by the story. Or you know the art.

So if you want to make the “it’s just to sell toys argument”, I kindly invite you to go to the Louvre museum in Paris and tell it to the Mona Lisa bobbleheads. Art inspires commerce.

I plan to yell all of that at anyone who gives me a side-eye when I buy eight Porg pillows at Target tomorrow.

And yes the Porgs are cute, but I don’t need cute to buy Star Wars action figures. I once bought two Bacta Tank Luke Skywalker action figures. This is an action figure of Luke Skywalker from the Empire Strikes Back when he is floating in a big vat of transparent fluid. This action figure is basically Mark Hamill in a diaper and I bought TWO of them.
Star Wars does not NEED cute to sell action figures, dammit.

Anyway, back to JOY.

Around the same time this fall, two major news stories broke. One was about escalating tensions with North Korea raising the possibility of total nuclear annihilation and the other was that Toys R’ Us was declaring bankruptcy.

My immediate emotional reaction to both of those things was: “I could have done more to stop this.”

So the next day I went to Toys R’ Us. And I picked out a Toys R’ Us exclusive action figure of Poe Dameron, the dashing starpilot played by Oscar Isaac.

Now I enjoy the character of Poe Dameron very much. He has his flaws, but he is always positive and supportive and greets almost everyone by saying, “Hey, buddy! You’re doing great!” which might be how I start greeting people in 2018.

But I don’t have many Poe Dameron action figures for one simple reason: They repeatedly fail to capture the aesthetic glory that is Oscar Isaac’s face.

Almost every Poe Dameron action figure looks like it was sculpted out of butter and left out in the sun.

They look like Poe Dameron’s bitter twin brother who wants revenge after his botched plastic surgery.

I am not even religious person, but honestly it feels like the plastic itself is saying, “No. That man’s face is a work of art crafted by the GODS and it would be an insult for us to even attempt to recreate it.” Like the molds literally broke themselves.

But, still, I wanted to help Toys R’ Us so I picked out a pretty good Poe Dameron. This one looked like it was sculpted by the woman in Spain who tried to fix the fresco of Jesus and accidentally painted a monkey face. It was beautiful in its intentions.

So I took my Monkey Face Poe to the cash register. A 17 year old kid dragged my Poe across the scanner. And then something strange happened. The kid looked me in the eyes and said something I’ve never had anyone say to me in decades of buying action figures. The kid said, “Would you like to pay $2.99 extra for a warranty?”

Suddenly, I was not a young-at-heart person buying a fun toy, I was a jaded old consumer and I found myself saying, “Uhh, a warranty for what?”

And the 17 old kid said, “I don’t know. I guess in case it doesn’t work?”

My mind raced. How can an action figure not work?

I’m not even going to take it out of the package.

Was my Poe Dameron not going to give me uplifting speeches? Was it going to fail to sexually arouse people when I posted pictures of it on Instagram? How could an action figure of ugly Poe Dameron FAIL ME?

The kid brought me out of my ponderings by saying, “Look, my checkout screen is just telling me to ask if you want a warranty. I guess we offer them on all Toys R’ Us Exclusives.”

I snapped back to reality and realized the kid was not the weird one in this situation. He was doing his job. I was the fully grown adult grumbling about getting nickeled and dimed on my Poe Dameron action figure.

So I smiled and said no thanks and walked away. I walked away, LIKE AN IDIOT.

As soon as I got out into the parking lot, I realized the truth. I know why I buy action figures. I don’t play with them like I did when I was a kid. I put them up around my apartment and as I walk past them, and without even realizing it, I think about the character, I think about the story, I think about all the birthdays and holidays that were made better because someone I love gave me an action figure.

In other words, every time I walk past them I feel a tiny but profound burst of joy.

Toys R’ Us had basically offered me a warranty on JOY.

And I had said NO.

How amazing would that be if I could call up Toy R’ Us and say, “Yeah, today I walked past my action figure of ugly Poe Dameron and I did not feel a burst of joy, but I do have a $3 warranty for JOY. Please send me some replacement joy IMMEDIATELY.”

It was a good reminder to me to be open, to be friendly, and to find joy any place you can.

So I’m going to try to spend every day in 2018 by getting up, walking past weird Poe Dameron and imagining him saying to me, “Hey Buddy, you’re doing great!”

Thanks, weird Poe.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to support my work, you can check out Patreon here or the Star Wars podcast I co-host ForceCenter.

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An Obvious Thing That Needs To Be Said

There are Nazis walking the streets of America wearing the hat and slogan of the President of the United States. Make America Great Again.

The President and various pundits are trying to diffuse or distract from this by saying, “Well, there are strong opinions on both sides. ALL violence is wrong. I thought liberals were open minded and inclusive.”

I believe in keeping an open mind and listening. I try my best (and often fail) to do that, but I try.

But, to me, the point of listening to someone else’s perspective is to truly understand what they believe and what they want.

We’ve heard what White Supremacists and Nazis want. They want to believe they are superior.

They want to believe they have a right to subjugate people who are different. They mistakenly perceive that equality for all will somehow hurt them and rob them of their identity.

I listened, I understood, and now I disagree and say no. There’s nothing in the Nazi viewpoint that I can meet halfway.

I believe in free speech. Nazis can say what they want. And then we get to respond. Freedom of speech is not freedom of consequence.

It feels very odd to me to post things like this because saying NAZIS ARE BAD AND I DISAGREE WITH THEM seems like saying “the sky is blue” or “A lot of people like Star Wars.” It should just be a given.

But we’re at a point in our history, that it’s not. There are plenty of people who quietly hold these beliefs. So I think it’s important to loudly, repeatedly condemn the beliefs of Nazis and White Supremacists.

I think it’s important to not give them any rhetorical wiggle room. If you march down a public street holding a Nazi flag or NEXT to someone who is holding a Nazi flag, you are unambiguously declaring your ideology. If you defend that ideology as just another perspective or even “economic anxiety,” you are siding with White Supremacy.

And I believe Nazi ideology has not, does not, and will never “make America great.”

Anyway, tl; dr: NAZIS ARE BAD. PRESIDENTS WHO WON’T SAY NAZIS ARE BAD ARE BAD. WE NEED TO KEEP SAYING IT.

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The Politics of Shutting Up

This is a post about politics. I hope it’s calm and rational.

After the horrific shooting(s), many politicians and pundits kept saying they hoped this would help people on social media tone down the rhetoric. I’m all for stating your opinion with clarity, calmness, and understanding. Sometimes, as a comedian, I want to punch harder to make my point, but I try to state my perspective and opinion clearly and respectfully, in general.

That said, all the statements about toning down the partisan attacks really bother me. People kept saying things along the lines of we should all be in this together instead of attacking people over policy differences. And we need to remember we’re all humans and not get so heated over politics. Those are great sentiments, but to me, there is something dark lurking under them.

I feel this is a way of silencing people with legitimate concerns and beliefs and getting them to go along with the status quo.

Politics and policies are not some outside thing to being a human. They should not be a taboo topic to bring up at the dinner table. They’re the process by which we make decisions that impact every tiny part of our lives. They represent huge differences in philosophical approaches to how humans should co-exist in a society.

Politics shouldn’t be a dirty word. They shouldn’t be something that gets swept under the carpet. They should be discussed regularly and with conviction. It’s not always fun. I would rather talk to you about Batman than debate with you about politics. But it’s necessary. It’s our responsibility as part of a society.

For example, I am opposed to the GOP healthcare bill. That is not “just politics.” I believe the bill will cause people I know, and someday probably myself, to choose between poverty and death. That is something I think we should talk about. When your life is actually at risk, you might get a little heated.

I understand the shooting in Virginia is awful. If the response from many politicians is that it makes some of them come together with a renewed sense of bi-partisanship, that’s a great thing to come out of a horrible tragedy.

But it alarms me to see the primary reaction to this tragedy be: Citizens on social media should tone it down.

Here is a strong political opinion stated without anger or venom to any specific ideology: I would like our politicians to do something about gun violence. I’m not making a fiery argument about exactly what. I just want every politician who is concerned with the “tenor of social media” to also acknowledge America has a massive problem with gun violence. And then start discussing it. Do the actual work of politics: Exchange views, debate, compromise, write legislation. If it doesn’t work, start over.

I’ll do my best to keep a calm, reasonable tone and an open mind. But I won’t be told to be quiet by politicians who will not admit there is an obvious problem that needs their attention.

Now I need to go write some jokes about Batman.

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Join The Resistance

Speeches are meant to inspire. Donald Trump’s inaugural speech inspired me to resist Trump. His anger, his incompetence, his vision of America, his weird too-long tie fashion. All of it.

I’m glad the inauguration is over. I’m glad the peaceful transition of power has happened.

I believe we can hold multiple perspectives. I respect the office of the President. I have no respect for our new President.

I will not wait and see what he does, because he’s already repeatedly demonstrated who he is.

He thrives on ugly conflict, he blatantly lies with astounding regularity, he is at best guilty of laughing about sexual assault and quite possibly guilty of the actions themselves. He is riddled with conflicts of interest, he’s nominated a cabinet designed to tear apart the departments they’re supposed to lead, and he and/or his staff are currently under investigation for colluding with a foreign power.

Over the years, I’ve tried to be relatively gentle about politics as I make my way through my life and career as a weird little comedy person. I value being open-minded and hearing other perspectives.

I’ve been open-minded. I’ve heard Trump’s perspective and I reject it.

I think it’s important to speak and act. And I think it’s all valuable. Petitions, protests, marches, calling legislators, sharing legitimate news, making jokes, and even posting dumb pop culture memes.

I value the right of self-expression. I’m a comedy guy who likes pop culture. We tell stories not just for entertainment but for inspiration on how to approach the challenges of the real world.

For my personal self-expression, this Star Wars sticker on my calendar represents my plans for 2017.

I hope for the best, I attempt to remain positive, keep a sense of humor, listen to the voices of the people most threatened by the actions of the new administration, and when necessary, join the resistance.

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Two Different Ideas

I have to get back to comedy. Like, literally, I have a show to finish preparing. The world rolls on and so does my promoting.

I love comedy because a joke is smashing two disparate ideas together. For example, this is both another dumb navel-gazing blog post by a ridiculously privileged white guy AND it’s me expressing my fundamental right of freedom of speech. Comedy!

But, for me, right now, this is about separating disparate ideas. Based on the election of Trump, we know that a lot of Americans feel unheard. Voting for Trump was the way they felt they could be heard.

People who are sick of elites truly believe a billionaire who refuses to pay personal taxes is the best choice. Comedy!

People who think Washington doesn’t work elected a man who has no idea how Washington works. Comedy!

We could have had the most qualified candidate ever who also happens to be a woman. Instead we have the least qualified candidate ever who also happens to be a serial sexual predator. Comedy? Tragedy? Terror?

A lot of us are wrestling with how to react to Trump’s victory. Should we be angry? Should we lash out? Should we take the high road and try to be understanding?

This is the best I can come up with for myself right now:
I want to be capable of holding two different ideas.

I will respect the office of the Presidency.
I will not respect the person holding that office if they continue to advocate racist, sexist, and xenophobic thoughts and actions.

I can be empathetic to people who voted for Trump.
I can not respect the idea of turning away immigrants, repealing health insurance people depend on to literally stay alive, threatening marriage equality, denying climate change, and on and on.

I can respect people who disagree with me.
I can’t and won’t respect some of their ideas and opinions.

I can support an honorable, peaceful transition of power.
I can’t support normalizing some of the most hateful views espoused by the incoming leader.

I will try to resist hyperbole and overreaction.
I will also continue to speak up, make jokes, post on social media, and use my free speech to say no to hateful rhetoric and policies that are, without hyperbole, very similar to Hitler.

In my opinion, Trump and the current version of the Republican Party put some of the fundamental beliefs of America, including but not limited to the idea that we are all equal, in grave risk.
I will try not to give in to anger, but I will FIGHT.

Now I’m going to try to write some jokes.

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Burn in Hell: A Ghostbusters Movie Review

GhostbustersReview

Movies! I like them! I spend a lot of time thinking about them! Sometimes I talk to friends about them without recording it for a podcast and it seems like a WASTE. So I’m going to make an effort to post more reviews like this one of Captain America Civil War. The reviews will be broken down into SEVEN categories: My Twitter Review, Why I Saw This Movie, Big Theme, Favorite Things, Questionable Things, Favorite Lines, and What This Film Inspires Me To Do. SPOILER LEVEL: There are only mild spoilers! Let’s do this!

MY TWITTER REVIEW:

WHY I SAW THIS MOVIE:

Like a lot of people, I’m a fan of the original Ghostbusters. I remember next to nothing about the sequel, and I really like the episode of the cartoon where they just straight-up fight CTHULHU. Or as they call the unspeakable monster, Cathulhu.

I’m also a big fan of horror comedy in general. Both horror and comedy function on tension and sudden surprise–but with the different goals of screaming or laughing. It’s fun to see them mashed-up in an attempt to create the perfect audience noise of a laugh-scream. I’m also delighted by the contrast of truly terrifying malevolent creatures going up against nature’s idiots: comedians.

The original Ghostbusters took the old “monsters plus idiots” formula of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and pushed it in a new direction by making the comedy idiots pro-actively chase the monsters.

The new Ghostbusters movie felt like another step in the evolution of the genre: horrible monsters versus comedian idiots who are (gasp) LADIES!

Sadly, the monsters they faced were not just in the movie, but lurking on YouTube and Twitter and the subbiest of sub-reddits across the internet.

I was (and am) thrilled with the casting of the new movie. I think equality is important for the sake of equality, but I also think new voices and perspectives make our art and entertainment fresher and more interesting. I think breaking down gender barriers is good for everyone. I personally don’t want to be defined solely by a stereotypical masculine archetype any more than I think women should be confined to specific, outdated feminine stereotypes. I don’t think anyone anywhere on the gender spectrum should be limited in what roles they can play in the story of our culture. More on that below.

I genuinely enjoyed the movie as a movie. (Even though I thought there were a lot of plot issues and missed opportunities, I laughed the entire time and walked out of the theater very happy.) But I also think Ghostbusters is an important step forward culturally, artistically, and I hope, financially. If this review can sway even one person to go see the movie, it will be worth my time. Ghostbusters had a great opening weekend, but since it got locked out of China, its ultimate undebatable financial success still depends on its second and third weekends in theaters. There’s a lot of distraction between Star Trek and San Diego Comic-Con and whatever the hell is happening at the Republican National Convention, but if you want to see a variety of people and voices in the theater I hope you go bust some sexists’ predictions and see the movie in theaters.

BIG THEME:

I thought the movie had two strangely complimentary themes: Friendship and F**k the haters.

I enjoyed that the movie built its foundation on the bonds of friendship between the Ghostbusters. Initially, between Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates but building between all of the central characters–Jillian Holtzmann, Patty Tolan, and even big, dumb, beautiful, and beloved (by me) Kevin. The emphasis on friendship and shared experience made you care about the characters instead of just making them puzzle pieces to act out a plot or what passes for a plot in a lot of modern comedies i.e. getting diarrhea. Mostly importantly to me, it allowed a lot more of the comedy to come from character moments.

A lot of that friendship was forged by facing down haters. The haters took many forms: Bosses, the government, ghosts, pale guys, YouTube commenters, etc. Outside of a few specific and pointed lines (“ain’t no bitches gonna bust no ghosts” was a great line), it felt very universal. I think the best storytelling is reaching the universal through the very specific. Most of us are not brilliant, well educated, hilarious women who fight ghosts professionally, but life is challenging for all of us. We all have days where we feel like the forward movement in our lives is blocked by a different asshole with each step. For every step, a new asshole. (It’s not a saying, but it should be.) For me, the movie was an incredibly cathartic experience of seeing four very specific characters overcoming that very universal feeling.

FAVORITE THINGS:

Actual jokes:
I feel like a lot of modern comedies just point the camera at a funny person and let them make faces, weird noises, and generally improvise. It’s very broad comedy because it’s not grounded in the character or the moment. It’s just throwing potential trailer moments at a demographic and hoping they stick. I think a huge part of Deadpool‘s surprise success was that it was full of specific, structured, well delivered JOKES. From the initial trailers, I was terrified that Ghostbusters would just point the camera at Melissa McCarthy and make her do “bits.” Instead, there were a ton of specific thoughtful combinations of words and ideas that formed actual humor jokes based on the characters and the situations. I’m sad that that feels novel, but thrilled about how much I laughed because this comedy movie had actual jokes.

Kristen Wiig:
Kate McKinnon and her character Holtzmann deserve every syllable of praise typed or spoken and a million more. Leslie Jones and Melissa McCarthy were both great, but for my personal comedy taste, I thought Kristen Wiig was amazing. I’m a big fan of what I’ll call “leading person comedy.” The kind of character who is not intrinsically the zany one, but a character who does the heavy lifting on holding up the plot and the heart of the thing but still manages to be super funny. Wiig’s performance might not be as memorable when you first walk out of the theater, but she walked a fine line of being vulnerable, relatable, tough, and consistently hilarious.

Chris Hemsworth:
Nowhere near as important as four women in lead comedy roles in a reboot of a beloved previously all-male man all the time men film BUT it was great to see Chris Hemsworth who is normally a great, big stud play a great, big idiot. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s great to see stereotypes of all kinds played with and I want to live in a world where our biggest action heroes can also be beloved comedy idiots.

Everything at the metal concert:
I have always loved the inherent weirdness of heavy metal and this scene mocked and celebrated the weirdness of worshipping demons and being super precious about your chord progression at the same time. Also, for me, one of the most successful mash-ups of horror and comedy in the movie.

It wasn’t just a movie, it was an EVENT.
I was lucky to see the movie on Friday the 15th, opening night, 8 pm in the Dome at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood with several hundred people. Granted, this is an ideal time and place to see a movie if you want to get a super excited, communal experience. There were many lines I didn’t hear because there was too much laughter, there were cheers for the main characters and all the cameos of the classic actors, screams of delight in moments of the heroes’ victory, there were other noises that might have been moans of sexual awakening, there were honest quiet moments where a few jokes didn’t land. I think I moaned in comedy joy at Kevin’s glasses. But it was more than just an audience enjoying a movie. It felt like an explosion of joy at experiencing something truly DIFFERENT. I’m thrilled that I got to have that experience and I think it makes seeing the movie in theaters rather than waiting for Blu Ray or streaming worth it.

QUESTIONABLE THINGS:

Bill Murray’s role:
I was bummed by Bill Murray’s role in the movie. Not really the role, but the execution. I like the idea of Bill Murray playing the pompous, establishment character who exists to shake his head disapprovingly and doubt the “inferiors” around him. It’s the kind of character Bill Murray usually attacked with comedy in his younger days. So it’s a neat idea that Bill Murray basically plays his own anti-archetype. But unlike most of the movie, he didn’t have many jokes to work with. The character wasn’t fun to hate. He just bummed me out. Which might have worked if he was used as a foil to get some great comedy out of our new heroes, but the whole scene felt flat. I think it would’ve been an amazing feat to use Bill Murray as the ultimate asshole and even make the audience FURIOUS but he was just a truly unlikeable character and then he was gone. All the other cameos felt like celebrations and this was literally and figuratively throwing Bill Murray out the window.

Villain’s Scheme and Ghost Rules
I’m glad that the plot was new and not the very Lovecraftian summoning of a great old one from the 1984 Ghostbusters. I liked the idea that the villain was a “pale, sad one” who wanted to get power for himself but I thought that idea was underdeveloped. The movie had great moments celebrating how much our heroes value knowledge. I would’ve loved a scene where the heroes laid out the rules of the ghostly realm and its interaction with the mortal plane a little bit more clearly. I think that would have upped our investment in the story even more. The fact that his plan stopped and started a bit too much in the second act also undermined the huge amount of forward energy the audience seemed to feel every time our heroes had a victory.

Mysterious Editing
Without going into too many details, I felt like there were some weird choices in the editing. It felt like bits of logic were maybe left on the cutting room floor. And one big scene that seemed to have moved from the movie itself into the credits for time. It’s rare that I look forward to the extended version of a movie on Blu Ray, but I think and hope there’s a longer cut of the movie which flows better in the second half and doesn’t skip any beats in the relationship of the awesome characters.

So those are some fairly major critiques, but they didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the movie. To me, it’s so successful as a comedy and as a vehicle for new voices that those thrills far outweigh some of the typical big budget summer movie and reboot problems.

FAVORITE LINES:

“Face bidet”- Garret

Why: This was the first joke-joke in the movie and I was thrilled to hear an actual joke (and a funny one) right off the bat. Also, my wife and I have both worked in historic mansions and museums over the years and this joke nailed that vibe. Talk to me about Humphrey Man-Lifts someday.

“One? Two? Is it one?” – Holtzmann

Why: I love the subversion of escalation. It’s also the kind of almost Marx Brothers-esque word play you don’t hear in comedies as often.

“Okay, room full of nightmares” -Patty

Why: This line is the perfect mash-up of horror and comedy. It comes from that character’s voice but represents a relatable human reaction to confronting something horrific.

“Burn in hell.” -Erin

Why: I loved Kristen Wiig’s delivery. It felt like these weren’t the words she meant to say in reaction to being quoted a monthly rent, but she couldn’t stop herself from letting the sub-text become text.

“Mike Hat.” -Kevin

Why: I loved Kevin’s whole interview scene. All of his absurd jokes were delivered dead pan and made even funnier by the Ghostbusters reaction. It was particularly fun to see Melissa McCarthy stare at big, dumb Kevin like he’s an idiot.

Holtzmann licking the weapon she designed – Holtzmann

Why: It’s not a line, but it sums up a lot of her weirdness, her energy, her forward momentum. It’s strange and specific and makes sense for her character. It also feels iconic. Twenty or thirty years from now when there’s a reboot of this Ghostbusters movie, it’s going to be the thing the new heroes do to nod to the classic 2016 Ghostbusters.

WHAT THE MOVIE INSPIRED ME TO DO:

Write more comedy and horror mash-ups myself, keep supporting different voices in art and entertainment to the best of my ability, and look into purchasing a face bidet.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoy this article, feel free to share it on the social medias. If you want to help make more articles like this possible, you can support me on Patreon.

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Stuff I Did and Stuff I’m Doing May 2016

Hello, kind humans who are reading this!

I’m trying to post the occasional update on creative stuff I’ve been doing and upcoming shows!

Creative stuffs I’ve been up to!

I’m having a lot of fun being a contributing writer for RiffTrax. Basically, I get assigned a chunk of the movie and write the jokes for that chunk. In the past few months, I worked on a short starring a pedantic talking dog called The Value of Teamwork and an obscure little indie film called The Force Awakens.

I also made a new comedy video called Adult Storytime, featuring artwork by Alex Robinson, the co-host of the great podcast Star Wars Minute. If it goes well, I might make more. You can watch it right here!

I’ve been doing a lot of Star Wars talking! I was thrilled to be a guest on Collider Jedi Council, a very popular YouTube show and podcast covering all things Star Wars.

My own Star Wars podcast feed that I run with Screen Junkies’ producer Ken Napzok and awesome indie artist Jennifer Landa is going strong. We’re putting on a minimum of two episodes a week. You can check out our latest episode involving Ewoks and fire right here!

Finally, Obsessed is continuing to grow thanks to all the listeners and the kind support of my Patreon backers!  We’re just wrapping up our fourth month of weekly episodes. Your support is great, Feral Audio (the podcast network Obsessed is on) has a lot of big plans, but I still want to grow the podcast more. If you enjoy an episode, please SHOUT IT TO TO THE DIGITAL ROOFTOPS! A personal tweet or post with a link to a specific episode helps us out massively! This month’s topics were Your Mom, Hamilton, Snapchat, and the X-Men. You can catch up on them all here!

I’ve also got some exciting writing projects brewing in Hollywoodland. Hopefully, there will be more to report there soon!

Shows!

This Monday, May 30th I’m doing a live recording of Obsessed podast about selfies with Angela Webber of the The Doubleclicks and Molly Lewis. Full info is here.

Then, back in LA on Friday June 3rd, it’s my new monthly comedy game show with Hal Lublin called HEADCAN(N)ON! This month’s guests are J. Elvis Weinstein, Allegra Ringo, Allie Goertz, and Wil Wheaton. You can get tickets here!

Stand-up in LA! I’ve been doing more sets here in Los Angeles. In March, I did my first set on The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail and on June 7th, I’ll be on Put Your Hands Together with Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher. Tickets for that show will be available soon here!

On June 22nd, I’m visiting San Francisco for a double-bill of a new stand-up show I’m working on (called Joseph Scrimshaw Versus Reality) and another live Obsessed podcast. This one’s about NETFLIX with special guests Rebecca Watson and Bonnie Burton. Sadly, you can’t stream the show from your home, but you can get tickets here!

Then over the Fourth of July weekend, I’ll be back home in Minnesota to be a Guest of Honor at the great convention CONvergence. They’re always on top of their game so my whole schedule is already available here.

That’s it for now! Thank you so much for your time and your support!

Obsessively,

Joseph

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I Can Do This All Day (A Captain America: Civil War Review)

CapReview

Movies! I like them! I spend a lot of time thinking about them! Sometimes I talk to friends about them without recording it for a podcast and it seems like a WASTE. So I’m going to make an effort to post more reviews. The reviews will be broken down into SEVEN categories: My Twitter Review, Why I Saw This Movie, Big Theme, Favorite Things, Questionable Things, Favorite Lines, and What This Film Inspires Me To Do. SPOILER WARNING:This is full of spoilers. Let’s do this!

TWITTER REVIEW:

WHY I SAW THIS MOVIE:

I’ll see just about any superhero movie. I will definitely see all Marvel movies. I WOULD RUN SEVEN MARATHONS AND FIGHT A BEAR TO SEE A CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE.

I’m #TeamCap. I’ve always been a big fan of the character in the comics and I think Chris Evans’ portrayal and the team’s take on Cap is one of the best superhero characters ever committed to celluloid digital film stuff.

If anyone ever tells you characters can’t be interesting if they’re fundamentally good, shake your head, hold up a copy of your Captain America: The Winter Soldier Blu-Ray, stand up tall, and say, “No. You’re wrong.”

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Steve Rogers has retained his consistent motivation: he just wants to do what he believes is right. He doesn’t feel comfortable unless he’s actively working toward a greater good. But he’s never been boring because he’s always had conflicts both external and internal. He’s struggled to know who to trust. He’s struggled to keep his individuality within organizations. He’s struggled to translate his values to different time periods and different conflicts. He’s questioned the morality of not wanting a family life, but instead wanting to be a soldier.

The movies have told that story extremely well through the exterior conflicts of the plots and through Chris Evans’ amazing performance. There’s always something going on in his eyes. There’s always a weight on his shoulders. Cap doesn’t blindly believe he’s right. He gives every decision a lot of thought. Not a lot of BROODING. A lot of thought. He’s not perfect. He just truly wants to be his best and is always striving for it. He’s a great role model.

Also, his shield is awesome and I cheer when he hits people with it in cool ways. I’m not a good person, but I’m STRIVING.

Also, there’s this:

BIG THEME:

There are a lot of ideas floating around in Captain America: Civil War about vengeance, leadership, hidden agendas, loyalty, fear, guilt, sarcasm as a viable tool of self-expression, but the big idea that wove everything together for me was borrowed from young Spider-Man himself:

With great power, comes great responsibility.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie was Tony Stark (who is also great and Robert Downey, Jr. deserves a lifetime achievement award for kickstarting the MCU) recruiting young, impressionable Spider-Man. When Tony asks Peter Parker why he does it, he gives a little speech that is a concerted rephrasing of his catchphrase. I think we probably would have just heard that phrase if it hadn’t been pummeled into the ground by the previous 872 Spider-Man films released in the last decade or so.

I’m paraphrasing because I can’t find the quote online, but young Spidey basically says it seems irresponsible to have these powers and not try to use them for the good of others. There’s a great response from Tony Stark. A little flinch. As if it pains him to hear this young, relatively innocent person basically reiterate Cap’s fundamental argument even as Tony is recruiting him away from Cap’s side.

The other reason “with great power comes great responsibility” stood out to me as the central theme is that every character in the movie would vehemently agree with the statement. They just disagree about how best to take responsibility. The film might ultimately be weighted toward Cap’s perspective, but everyone, even down to the “bad guy”, Zemo, is trying to take responsibility.

FAVORITE THINGS:

There are plenty of other reviews that do a great job of marching straight through the plot and (so far) I’ve only seen the film once so I’m just going to share the big things that popped for me on the first viewing.

Layers of motivation:
The movie built on everything the MCU has done so far. Every character was well motivated AND they were motivated based on who they fundamentally are, the events we as an audience have witnessed them going through, and their devotion to more ephemeral ideologies. Cap has consistently been let down by organizations he trusts. Those organizations have often told him specifically NOT TO ACT. Going back to his first film, when the government and the army wanted him to just dress up and sell war bonds. He never would have become the Cap we know and love if he hadn’t disobeyed the institution, rescued Bucky, and exposed the full threat of the Red Skull.

Tony is driven mostly by guilt. But just as Cap has the personal motivation of protecting Bucky, Tony has not only Rhodey’s injuries, but the elegantly constructed simmering jealousy and sense of competition with Steve Rogers spurred on by his late father.

Black Widow’s loyalties are divided. She’s also fundamentally motivated by guilt, but she’s also a spy who adapts to the situation. When it becomes clear that the fight is no longer about the Sokovia Accords specifically she helps Cap get away and continue on his mission.

Ant-Man hero worships Cap and we’re even reminded that he’s got no problem working on the wrong side of the law.

I could go on and on. I’m a little bummed that characters being well-motivated is so rare that it’s this exciting to me, but there you go.

Plot scale:
Even though this was one of the biggest, punchiest superhero movies ever made, the world was only at stake on a rhetorical level. I loved that there was a traditional antagonist in Zemo, but I loved that no one was trying to blow up the world or even Cleveland. It created variety and was a good reminder that HIGH STAKES can just be something that’s very, very important to the characters personally.

So few misunderstandings:
I also really liked that while Zemo manipulated events he never really “tricked” our heroes. Apologies to people who loved Batman v Superman, but one of the reasons I didn’t like the movie is that–even though the characters did have some ideological differences–by the time they were punching each other it was a misunderstanding. As soon as Batman knew the Martha-truth everything changed.

Zemo manipulated events, he stoked the fire, but the fundamental personal and ideological differences between Cap and Iron Man were already boiling under the surface.

I also like that Zemo didn’t just lure our heroes to fight in a cool bunker without any logic behind it. Part of his plot was to get to Siberia and MURDER THE OTHER SUPER SOLDIERS. (Which made for a great subversion of normal superhero movie third acts: They have to fight FIVE SUPER SOLDIERS–Whoops, no. There’s an upsetting home video.) Like everyone in the movie, Zemo’s trying to take responsibility and use his power to make sure there aren’t more Winter Soldiers running around. Yes, it’s an awfully MURDERY, VENGEANCE-TINGED responsibility, but he believes he’s making the world safer.

Big-ass location titles:
I loved the big location titles. It was a great stylistic break from the location typing out in the bottom corner of the screen like a spy dossier. It also reinforced that this was a global story. It stretches the superhero genre to be like James Bond or Indiana Jones. Superhero movies can be about zipping across earth. Not everyone needs to be locked in their one visually appropriate city they need to save.

Iron Man 3 clean-up:
I enjoyed Iron Man 3 but I’ve always been bothered by the disconnect between Tony blowing it all up (literally and figuratively) and then being right back in the mix and even wanting to create more weapons in Age of Ultron. Tony’s simple elegant line about not being able to give up the superhero game clarified his ideology and made a connecting point between Tony and Steve Rogers: They want to do good, but it’s not just altruistic, it’s a little selfish. At this point, they don’t know how to not be superheroes.

Secret identities are back, baby!
I loved Peter Parker’s intense concern about Aunt May not finding out about his Spider-Shenanigans. Also, the concern about his mask riding up at the end of the airport fight. The MCU has handled the lack of secret identities well, from the kick-ass ending of the very first Iron Man movie all the way to Black Widow emailing everyone all the secrets in The Winter Soldier. But as a comic book fan I’ve missed some of the nuance and conflicts of secret identities. The fact that Spidey really cares makes me feel like this is going to be reintroduced and maybe become a norm for heroes going forward in reaction to the Sokovia Accords.

And finally, fuck it, let’s go crazy:
It felt like this was the movie where the MCU felt truly comfortable in the reality they’ve built within their universe that they can take the risk of truly being COMIC BOOK MOVIES. Specifically, Black Panther and Spider-Man’s costumes being much closer to their comic book origins and not worrying about BUT IT HAS TO BE CHUNKY ARMOR OR SUPER-TEXTURED OR WE’LL LOSE OUR GRITTY, REAL WORLD CRED. Also, Giant-Man.

QUESTIONABLE THINGS:

Young Tony:
I loved seeing the technology–both in the world of the movie and our real, human world–that made Robert Downey, Jr. young. But there was still a little bit of the uncanny valley to it. It’s cool to see the technology, but it weirds me out a little in a “with great power, comes great responsibility” way.

What are you doing, Vision?
I’m going to push my geek glasses way up my nose and say I was distracted by Vision not having more of an impact in the big fight at the airport. He’s definitely one of the most powerful members of #TeamIronMan so he could have turned the tide of the battle more. I appreciate that he took a few specific actions at the end of the fight, but I think a few shots of him just hanging back and observing during the early part of the fight would have gone a long way.

FAVORITE LINES:

“Tell me, Captain, do you know where Thor and Banner are right now? ‘Cause you can bet if I misplaced a couple of 30 megaton warheads, there’d be consequences.” – General Thaddeus Thunderbolt Ross

Why: I love that it sounds like a strong argument until you realize he’s taking all humanity and agency away from Thor and the Hulk by comparing them to non-sentient weapons.

“Protection? Is that how you see this? This is protection? It’s internment, Tony. Come on, she’s A KID!” – Captain America

Why: With the one word “internment” we’re reminded that Cap has the perspective of multiple generations and that his reasons to distrust humans within organizations goes way back. Tony was playing on old patriotism with those FDR pens. The word “internment” was a nice f you to that tact.

“I don’t know how many fights you’ve been in, but there’s not usually this much talking.” – The Falcon

Why: I want Spider-Man to never stop talking during fights so I took this as a great promise of things to come.

“Manchurian Candidate, you’re killing me. We’re on a truce. Put the gun down.” -Iron Man

Why: I love the movie Manchurian Candidate and I love the snark of Stark.

“I can do this all day.” -Captain America

Why: See the #TeamCap paragraph above.

“Uggghhhhaaa.” -Captain America preventing a fucking HELICOPTER from taking off.

Why: Come on.

WHAT THE MOVIE INSPIRED ME TO DO:

I try to do a few exercises every day. Just a few push-ups. I don’t expect to ever be ripped, I just want to be healthy enough to live a long time and see every Captain America movie.

It’s hard to stay motivated. But Cap does a great job of cutting through the noise and the BS to what is right.

“Come on, son,” I hear Cap say. “Just do your push-ups.”

Thanks, Cap.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoy this article, feel free to share it on the social medias. If you want to help make more articles like this possible, you can support me on Patreon.

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A Certain Point of View

ACertainPointOfView

Today is May, 4th. Also known as Star Wars Day because of the dumb pun “may the fourth be with you.” I hate puns. But I love Star Wars more so I’m thrilled to embrace the celebration. And, clearly, I’m not alone in my love of that brilliant, weird, dark, goofy galaxy far, far away.

But, of course, when something makes a lot of people happy on the internet, it pisses other people off. During the build-up to The Force Awakens, I read a Telegraph article with the clickbaity title “Star Wars fans: for God’s sake, get a grip, it’s only a movie.” The article was the typical vitriol arguing that liking Star Wars was fine, but why would grown adults cry about it?

I understand the perspective. I have always loved Star Wars both sincerely and ironically. On my Star Wars themed comedy album Rebel Scum (recorded before the release of The Force Awakens) I defined Star Wars like this:

“It’s a series of movies, books, video games, etc. that tells the story of a bunch of space wizards who keep cutting each other’s hands off with laser swords. It’s been a dominant force in our culture for almost forty years even though we all pretty much agree only one of the movies is actually good.”

That sounds dismissive, but I mean that as a compliment. From the day of its release, Star Wars has been more than a movie. It’s a phenomenon. Star Wars is like a huge plate of nachos. Ultimately, the movies themselves are like the chips. They’re solid and delicious but they are a delivery system for cheese, guacamole, salsa, memories, relationships, old friends long gone, etc.

Last year, right after the trailer was released for The Force Awakens, I went to the Star Wars Celebration convention in Anaheim, California. I’ve attended a lot of conventions. When I first approached the convention center, I was uneasy. I was concerned it would feel like San Diego Comic-Con. I was afraid it would be hot and packed, filled with people who are having fun, but are also desperate to get the next thing: an autograph, an exclusive action figure, a spot in a panel, a toilet stall to themselves so they can figure out how to urinate through their Steampunk Boba Fett costume.

My concerns were almost immediately assuaged.

Seconds after I walked into the convention center I saw my favorite cosplay I’ve ever seen. I immediately asked the person if I could take their picture. I’ve never done that before.

The cosplay was this: a person dressed as the action figure version of a character known as Hammerhead.

Here’s a little background on Hammerhead. He was one of the most bizarre and truly alien aliens featured in the Cantina scene of A New Hope.

He was one of the four “cantina creatures” made into action figures by Kenner. Because this was the wild halcyon days of movie tie-in merchandise, Kenner just used the film’s loose production names for characters as the names of the action figures.

As a result, a lot of the original Star Wars action figures have names that now sound like horrible slurs: Hammerhead, Walrus Man, Prune Face, etc.

Of course, the character once known as Hammerhead has been fleshed out a bit in all the expanded fiction since then. He’s an Ithorian named Momaw Nadon. He was actually the High Priest of Tafanda Bay on his home planet of Ithor, but he was banished after revealing agricultural secrets to the Empire in a desperate attempt to save his planet’s jungle from being decimated by turbolasers. So, he ended up on Tatooine, day-drinking in Chalmun’s Cantina while listening to Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes play some good old jizz-wailing music. (All of this can be verified on Wookieepedia.)

But we didn’t know or care about any of that back in the day. He was just a super freakish, super cool brown alien with long fingers and big feet wearing a blue onesie that looked strangely similar to James Bond’s terrycloth bathrobe from Goldfinger.

And we loved him. He was technically my brother’s action figure so while I got to play with him, I never truly owned Hammerhead. I just coveted him.

I still remember the day my brother bought him. We were moving across the country from Minnesota to Oregon. We stopped at a Children’s Palace toy store along the way. Our parents said we were behaving well on the cross country trip so we could each buy an action figure. We decided to both get cantina creatures. My brother picked out Hammerhead and I got Walrus Man.

We played with those action figures for years. One day, we decided to simulate an action packed battle between all the bounty hunters and day-drinking Cantina scum. We set up our figures all across our room and took turns firing at one another’s characters by shooting rubber bands to blast them off their perch.

My brother had knocked over most of my figures, but Bossk was still standing. The reptilian bounty hunter aimed his laser rifle carefully and took a shot at Hammerhead who was perched high on the top post of our bunk beds.

The rubber band blaster bolt grazed Hammerhead’s arm. He spun around and he teetered for a moment then suddenly toppled over, his weird alien legs kicking in the air.

As a comedian and a fan of comedy, I can say, in that moment, Hammerhead performed one of the best pratfalls I’ve ever seen.

My brother and I laughed and laughed and then retrieved Hammerhead from the pillow we’d placed beneath the bed to break his fall.

Many years later, I walked into the Anaheim Convention Center, and saw that action figure walking around.

Within five seconds of seeing the Hammerhead Action Figure cosplayer, all of those memories flooded into my head. All of the ridiculously detailed Star Wars factoids, the smell of the plastic, the details on his blaster, the image of those brown alien legs flailing in comedic majesty and falling off my bunk bed.

All of it.

So while I understand how absolutely ridiculous Star Wars is, the one thing I can never agree with is that it’s just a movie.

So, thanks, wonderful weird human who decided to dress up as an action figure of a character with two seconds of screen time in a decades-old movie and walk around a convention center spreading joy.

You made me very happy and I’m sure you made Momaw Nadon proud.

May the Force be with you, Hammerhead.

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A version of this article was originally published on the great Alice Lee’s essay site The Yearbook Office. Thanks, Alice! If you’d like to hear more of Joseph’s thoughts on Star Wars, you can check out his podcast Force Center and follow him on twitter.

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To Done List March 2016

Hello, kind people who are reading this!

I’m going to try to update my blog every month with the creative stuff I’ve been doing so it’s all in one place.

Last month, I started to release my comedy podcast, Obsessed, once a week, every Thursday. Recent episodes include Jordan Morris on NOFX, Matt Belknap, Riley Silverman, & Clarke Wolfe on THE FORCE AWAKENS, Allie Goertz & Will Weldon on TINDER, and Mike Black on ACTION FIGURES. You can catch up on past episodes and subscribe to the podcast here!

I’m also releasing a once-a-month-bonus, patrons only episode. The first episode is a lively discussion of SPOILERS with screenwriter, Josh A. Cagan. You can get access to that episode and help Obsessed continue to grow by pledging a buck or two a month on Patreon.

I wrote another episode of James Urbaniak’s great comedy podcast, Getting On With James Urbaniak and it got a great review on The AV Club’s podmass. You can listen to the episode here and read the review here.

I also wrote an essay about the comedy theory behind Munchkin for this book celebrating the popular card game. There’s even a new Munchkin card based on my essay. It’s available now on Amazon!

I’ve been doing some writing for RiffTrax, too. Two of the shorts I co-wrote are available now. Tremble before the might of The Litter Monster and learn more than you would ever want to know about The Shapes We Live With.

I was recently a guest at the big Doctor Who convention in Los Angeles, Gallifrey One. I got the chance to be on my friend comic book writer, novelist, and Doctor Who TV show scribe, Paul Cornell’s great podcast, The Cornell Collective. Hear me say funny, weird, and deeply emotional things about Doctor Who here.

I’ve also been hosting a series of Star Wars podcast with my friend and Screen Junkies’ producer, Ken Napzok. It’s multiple shows all under the umbrella of Force Center. You can check out the podcast feed here.

Ken and I have also been nominated as hosts for the Star Wars podcast awards so you can vote for us here!

Finally, I’ve got a bunch of shows coming up in Los Angeles and I’ll be at Wizard World in Las Vegas in March. PLUS, my pal, Hal Lublin and I are putting together a new comedy game show that will debut at Nerdist Showroom on Friday, April 1st. More info soon. You can always find show info right here on my live shows page!

Thanks for your reading time!

Obsessively,
Joseph

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