The Nitty Gritty

But more than all of those I am an entertainer. I carry around a ukulele with me for the same reason a gangster carries a gun; better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Stage or sidewalk, Your Pal Pete shows are just where they happen.
Currently, I'm working on a musical, RagnaPOP(or she's got the bomb), set to premiere at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. I'm also working on music, comedy, and musical comedy; for kids and/or adults.
The fruit of these projects will be available on this site, so check back regularly!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Popular Wishes (and why it would suck if they came true)

The "Kids Don't Understand" post I've done over the last couple of days were written for submission to a comedy website (not The Onion) who, it turns out, has already run a similar story(and had used Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy as examples). So I might do a couple more, but not right now. Instead, I'm doing this one about wishes.

The list of differences between animal brains and humans isn't as long as we would like to believe. But we can fantasize and even if animals could, would -a dog for instance-imagine things like Gods and interstellar travel or a slab of bacon to call their own? But we can dream of realities that can go for impossible to possible with merely a "wish". But most stories that deal with people who are granted their wishes never end with the person living happily ever after, instead they at the mercy of the literal meanings of their own words; often with tragic or ironic results. There was an X-Files episode that dealt with this phenomena with many common wishes that I would be using if the episode never existed. One guy that wanted to be invisible, only to get run over by a truck. With all of the traffic accidents and pedestrian collisions that happen when we can SEE each other, this could have only have gone badly. Moulder wishes for world peace to end up being the only person on Earth, since that is seemingly the only way this could occur. If I had some opportunities to have a wish come true i would have to get back to the wish granting entity until I was able to affix all the necessary qualifiers and conditions to the wish to avoid such a fate.

1. I wish I could fly!
That would be cool: This wish is definitely a personal favorite of mine; I fly in many dreams and it seems pretty awesome. With as much trouble as it is to get from point A to point B with all the transportation methods that are available, why not just fly to where you need to?
Why it would suck: For one, you'd freeze your ass off, two, how fast do you think you can fly before your clothes disintegrate? The image of Superman flying over Metropolis with Lois Lane makes for a great movie scene, but the whipping wind and lack of oxygen that you'd have the higher you got, the harder it may be to stay alive. Unless you put those concerns in your wish.

And while you're at it, make sure you wish for a good GPS system. If you've ever flown cross country in a plane and looked down mid flight, did you ever have any real idea where you where you are?

2.I wish I could live forever!
That would be cool: You could see and/or participate every phase of human history through every twist and turn that fate sends it's way. Besides that, you could jump out of a plane without a parachute or other things that people only want to do when they're feeling suicidal.
Why it would suck: Do you have any idea how long FOREVER is? Imagine a really, really, really, really, really, really long time, and that is less than a drop in the temporal bucket. To out live every single person who'll ever live and witness however the universe ends, with what will probably be billions and billions of years of boredom in between. Good luck with that!

3. I wish I could travel through time!
That would be cool: Another personal favorite, I'd love to be able to go back and witness the pivotal events of history or forward to see if we ever get flying cars or several hundred other things that we could have never forseen.
Why it would suck: Forget all of the time paradoxes that occur in any of the movies or shows- although they wouldn't forget you- think of all the bacteria and viruses that are harmless to everyone in that time (future or past) but would be lethal to you as a temporary visitor. Besides, there are very few points in history were some yuck-a-puck could just pop out of nowhere, say, "Where's Jesus/Napoleon/JFK at?" and be welcomed with open arms.

4. I wish I was famous!
That would be cool: Do I really need to say why?
Why that would suck: You'd have to be pretty clear with the qualifications for this wish. Do you want to be Charles Manson famous? Do you want to be Britney famous, where people are following you waiting for you to do something stupid so millions can see it on TMZ?

5. I wish I was rich!
Hey, me too! I was going to write something about where this money may come from and economics and all that, but being broke sucks! Still and all, some of the most unhappy people I have ever known have also been the most wealthy. Which brings me to...

6. I wish I was happy!
That would be cool: That is really the most basic wish, isn't it? Most other wishes seem to just be roundabout way to be happy. That's think that wealth or fame (or flight) will bring.
Why it would suck: What is happiness anyway? Could you be home and toothless and happy, too? Do you want to be that kind of happy? Happiness can be different for everyone, if you wanted to be charitable and wish for happiness for everyone then we would have to live in their own matrix-like world with their own version to live through, since we've all known people whose joy seems to be derived from making other people miserable. In fact, in the Matrix movie itself they mentioned creating a Utopian simulation world that the humans couldn't accept so they made more of the joy and pain world that we're more used to. After all, what is the sweet without the bitter?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Kids Don't Understand Steve Martin

The second of a multi-part series.

2. Steve Martin
You don't understand: Starting off as a successful comedy writer for the Smothers Brothers and Sonny and Cher, it was Steve Martin's absurdist stand-up act that catapulted him to stardom in the late-70's. He was one of the first rock star comedians; his albums went platinum and he could fill amphitheaters with fans wearing his trademark arrow-through-the-head and shouting back "EXCUUUUSSSE ME!" and other catch phrases like they were singing along with "Freebird".

Here's a taste:

His first movies and numerous Saturday Night Live apperances captured a lot of the same type of humor- I call high/low brow, basically dumb comedy made by smart people- that has been enormously influential. Steve Martin displayed both a smart, fresh approach to the stale medium of stand-up and a gift for physical comedy better than nearly anyone before or since.

What went wrong: His own sense of self. The end could have come circa 1981, when he quit stand-up and tried to "get serious" with his bomb movie musical Pennies From Heaven in 1981, but he bounced back with more zany Carl Reiner-directed comedies like Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and The Man With Two Brains, then more nuanced turns in Roxanne and Parenthood. Where thing really went wrong was the slow but sure separation of his high brow (writing Picasso at the Lapin Agile and for the New Yorker) and low brow (except Bowfinger, every comedy movie he's made in at least a decade) tendencies. Neither is very funny, although only one is suppose to be. However, over the years he has given us enough good material and performances that when we see him in, say, The Pink Panther 2, we're still more likely to go, "That's a shame" instead of, "It figures".

How The Kids Know Him: His low-brow efforts prove to still pull it in at the box office, although he seems to get the white-guy versions of the hit-in-the-nuts type characters that Eddie Murphy plays. The kind of roles that go to Eugene Levy if they don't have Steve Martin money (or to Albert Brooks if they can't afford Levy). At least he hasn't had to wear a fat suit. Yet.

Where you can learn: The Jerk. I saw this and Blazing Saddles(which Martin had nothing to do with)recently and was amazed at how well they've aged. The humor is as broad as Meet The Spartans, but much funnier decades later, which, I realize isn't saying much, I've seen funnier bowls of Alpha-Bits. You should find out for yourself. When I start making money, I'm going to pick up his memoir of his stand-up days, Born Standing Up.

This clip kinda tells the tale, but the end(the best part) has been cut out.

The Kids Don't Understand Eddie Murphy

This is the first of a series of articles that I'm writing for eventual submission for a certain website. I wanted to blog it first.
Life is long and things change. Seeing the career paths of some of the biggest stars and greatest artists of my younger days careened down paths that are odd, ill advised and downright bizarre, especially considering their early promise. These folks are still famous mind you, but... you don't understand!
1. Eddie Murphy
You don't understand: Before he became the first break-out star of the second era of Saturday Night Live, he was an underutilized "featured" player during the disasterous 1980-81 tenure of producer Jean Doumanian. Her replacement, Dick Ebersol, didn't make the same mistake and took the cast's suggestion to make Murphy a regular cast member. From then until his departure in early 1984, it became the de-facto "Eddie Murphy Show" almost single-handedly save the show from cancellation with his singular talent. The show relied on him to the point when Nick Nolte cancelled an SNL apperance, they simply had Eddie go up and do stand-up. And he killed, as he always did.

From his comedy albums to his HBO specials, he was a almost supernaturally gifted comedian with easy charisma to spare. He made sure that when he made his inevitable move to movies that he wrote his own dialog, even making complete and utter crap like The Golden Child minor classics to his many fans. There seemed to be nothing keeping him from being as major star as long as he wanted to be.

What went wrong?: Harlem Nights. It was probably the most can't-miss formula you could imagine at the time: Eddie Murphy stars, writes and directs three generations of comedy legends (His idol Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx); how can they go wrong? Alphabetically or in order of importance? Pryor's sleepwalking performance, the ugly script too reliant on profanity and misogyny? The tone is set in the first scene when Murphy's character as a child shoots a guy in the head; the shootings outnumber the laughs and are much more memorable. Instead of bouncing back, he just digged the hole deeper with lazy sequels from his do-no-wrong past like Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours or crap that he didn't even try to save, like Boomerang or Vampire In Brooklyn.

How the kids know him: Starring in movies where he either gets hit in the nuts, wears a fat suit, or both. Any career juice he might have gained for his Oscar-nominated turn in Dreamgirls dried up quickly with his new-low follow-up Norbit.
The Onion posted a picture of Murphy in his fat-suited performance of Norbit's wife Rasputia with the caption "Eddie Murphy get paid $20 million to fuck himself." They were right in more ways than one.

If you want to learn: get anything, ANYTHING you can from his pre-Harlem Nights days, with the exception of Best Defense. Murphy's shoehorned role as a "Strategic Guest Star" was way too little to save this "alleged" comedy starring another once great comic actor going through his own decline, Dudley Moore.

Tomorrow: Steve Martin

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Writer's Block: The Movie!

As if moving to Arizona wasn't enough, I've been hit by a major league case of writer's block. Even with the Surviving Retail blog- where I've pretty much written everything already- I've still been a bit too paralyzed to post. All is not lost, I've just made a video about it.

Check it out and share it with a friend if you like it; if you don't, share it with an enemy!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

RIP Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger's death has completely taken me by surprise. It becomes standard when someone dies to lionize them with praise and regard that they wouldn't think of heaping while there were alive. But I honestly believe that a amazing talent has been cut down in their prime. He's been in his share of clunkers, but it hasn't been his fault (The Brothers Grimm comes to mind). His performance in Brokeback Mountain - in a lesser actor's hands- could have been been one-dimensionally stoic; making it merely the "gay cowboy" movie that people who didn't see it thought it was. But the river of passion and regret that ran underneath Ledger's performance of Ennis made the heartbreak of the last scene completely real. This was a man at war with himself, putting himself emotionally and geographically far away from the people that loved him. Not until he sees his lover and friend's bloody shirt does he truly realize the price he's had to pay for his isolation. It's one of the most powerfully emotional scenes I have ever seen.

I'm sure that he is going to be amazing as the Joker, but I know he had many more great roles ahead of him. My heart goes out to his family and young daughter.

Friday, January 18, 2008

More Videos!

I'm busy packing to move to Arizona tomorrow, so no regular post, but I wanted to share these videos:

Inside the Writer's Strike (NSFW)

Larry Craig denying involvement in a gay sex scandal. 2007? No,1982

Amazing Actor Rip Torn attacks Norman Mailer with a hammer. This was for a movie that Mailer was directing but everybody involved broke in to the scene to save Mailer including his wife and kids.(nsfw)

Update: There were some other videos that I almost forgot
Orson Wells drunk doing a wine commercial

Alex Trebek after dark(nsfw)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Your Pal's Movie Previews

Cloverfield -A multi-million dollar monster movie that looks like a home movie! Bring the Dramamine!

Rambo- John Rambo fights his most formidable opponent yet: The AARP!

First Sunday- Ice Cube (Friday,Next Friday, Friday After Next) bravely tackles another day of the week!

One Missed Call- Terror goes to voicemail!

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale- The fantasy epic with the elements missing from all the other ones: Burt Reynolds, Ray Liotta, and any quality whatsoever.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Finding God At Ben's Chili Bowl

I am soon to leave DC again, by necessity. I'm moving to Phoenix, good part: I'm going to be closer to my family for the first time in a long time. Bad part: almost everything else, although it is beautiful this time of year. I've tried to take in the sites of the district the past couple of days and the weather could not have been better for January. It saddens me how I've taken such little advantage of the fabulous FREE museums in the District after living here for 10 years.

But this isn't about that, this is about a trip I made to the World Famous Ben's Chili Bowl on U street a little while before. As I prepared to dig my fork into a steaming order of chili cheese fries, I felt a presence I can only describe as divine, I looked up to see the mouth on a one of the many pictures of Bill Cosby move.
"Hello, Peter."
I answered hesitantly, "Yes?"
The picture of the Coz said, "This is God."
"Really?" I was willing to play along, "What's the meaning of life, then?", I said in a manner that suggested my doubt.
God said, "You people and your 'meaning of life', I shouldn't be surprised so many people ask, but I still am."
(I would like to say at this point that- as strong as the feeling might be to read it that way- the voice of God sounded nothing like Bill Cosby. He actually sounded more like Woody Allen.)
God said, "O.K., fine. Look in front of you"
And I did, I looked at the beautiful mess before me; molten cheese and chili topping, slowly sliding around the perfectly brown tips of the fries jutting in every direction.
"That, my friend, is the meaning of life."
"Really ?", I said, through my second forkful of gelatinous heaven. It was so good it actually made the claim make a lot of sense.
"In a way, it is. Does that make you feel joy?"
"Oh, yeah," I said, rounding the fries for a fifth time.
"Humans can think and reason and sometimes they do it straight into unhappiness, but they don't have to. They can seek and find joy, if they choose to; you just walked in here and got your fries of joy. Throughly unhealthy fries are fine once and a while, but if you eat them everyday and eventually your heart will freakin' explode." God stopped as I chuckled at the Lord's slight funny into choking up a greasy, starchy blockage, then The Almighty continued slyly, "or you'll choke to death."
I was starting to get what he meant.
God continued, "There is all kinds of joy on this Earth and Chili Cheese Fries are an easy joy, but many easy joys can hurt you in the long run. Hard joys like a good career or happy family are good and fine, but they take so much WORK! And if you follow someone else's version of joy, you'll probably lose your own and you'll do all that work for nothing."
"So what should I do?" I asked.
"You just asked about the meaning of life, and I answered you, smart guy. If you're honest with yourself and what you want out of life, you'll know. Just grab all the joy you can, but just be careful what kind."
"And if I don't?"
And God said, with a flourish, "Well, the world will always need burger-flippers!"

I wouldn't say that God made these past few days so beautiful so I'd have the chance to see The Bill Of Rights and Prince's guitar in the best possible weather, I just got whatever joy I could gather while the getting was good.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Get Britney Help!

This is the post I thought I'd never have to write. I may love pop culture, but I don't think much of the current purveyors of it. When I make this kind of plea, I can't say that I've been shielding myself against her antics. I think honesty is important in every relationship and if Britney needs to be honest with herself than we need to be honest with ourselves. I'd love to say I haven't kept at least one eye open on her career, it would be impossible for me to not to, with all the dizzying highs and puzzling lows.

Britney has famously sung that, "I'm not that innocent," but I never thought she was. I got the same first impression that many of us did: The "Baby, Hit Me One More Time" video, with the soon-to-be iconic schoolgirl outfit. It was a flip on the old script;"The men don't know but the little girls understand", became, "The little girls might not know, but the skeevy men understand." I couldn't have foreseen the multiple beaver flashes or a bald Brit attacking a car with an umbrella but still, it didn't seem to me like Britney was going crazy, Britney was just going Britney! With the latest, we need to stop gawking and/or snickering and get Britney some help!

Whenever you see one of those "when animals attack" videos there sometimes comes a point where you have to say, "Why doesn't the guy put down the camera and try to get that moose off of that guy?" We're kind of at the "Put down the camera" point with Britney, everyone that has been getting paid to facilitate and chronicle the train wreck now needs to put out the fire it's caused before the kids get hurt.

There is more at stake. What if-God forbid- she dies? Is her destiny to become martyred as the American Princess Di in our age of diminished expectations? We have to do something, and by "we" I mean,"somebody else but me"; I'm merely a humble blogger, after all. But, I'll be seeing our progress on What Would Tyler Durden Do, don't worry.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Problem with Passion

At some point over the last few months I saw all six Star Wars movies. Not in any order or with my full attention, but no matter; I've seen them all enough times in the past, especially the original trilogy.

It drove home a point that I'd thought about since I first saw Episode III. Not that Harrison Ford held the whole original trilogy together in a way that Ewan McGregor could have if the stories of the newer trilogy weren't so convoluted and silly, but that it made a pretty good case for the dark side. I actually wrote a parody Episode VIII blog post a little while ago that addressed some of my problems with it.

The system of government of the old republic in Episodes I to III was obviously irrevocably broken where absolutely nothing could get done and someone as ignorant on interplanetary affairs as Jar Jar could have the power to affect galactic policy. With a clone army and a planet obliterating space station, the planetary systems fell into line like second graders being threatened with no recess. The Empire may have been oppressive and cruel, but at least they made the spaceships run on time. This is by no means an endorsement of oppressive governments, please hear me out.

Enter the rebellion, people from all over the galaxy united under their passionate hatred of the Empire. Their goal is simple to see, if not simple to reach: destroy the leaders of the Empire and their mechanizations of doom. With cunning and, um, walking teddy bears, they finally do it and the galaxy rejoices. (yea.)

Now what? Do they reform the same impotent system that caused the Empire to rise in the first place? How do they deal with the people who actually preferred the Empire and was more than willing to give up their civil liberties for the order and security that it provided? Happy endings don't require that these questions be answered, so we can safely assume that everything is gonna work out fine.

That's the problem with passion in the real world, it doesn't need ideas or reason to exist, but it is awfully powerful nonetheless. I believe that things like Anarchist organizations exist solely because real anarchy is a goal that can never be reached, structured societies exist because societies want them. This is true even among Anarchists, they have meetings and leaders, don't they? This might be being simplistic, but they're the ones calling themselves Anarchists.

Trying to make a point using Star Wars as a metaphor might be awfully nerdy, but it was impossible for me to illustrate this point from just one example from the real world; there are just too many. I think right now it applies to the Democratic Party, just like it did for the Republican party in 2000.

Passion is what an underdog has that the "overdog" often lacks, the rocket fuel for their rise against the status quo. But the Overdog has had to do the actual job that the Underdog wants and passion-as it sometimes does- gets in the way of responsibility. The underdog fights the good fight with both loyal and hesitant supporters. But after the fight is over, promises made are expected to be kept and the bill for all that passion comes due. That is the problem with passion, it can motivate you to try to solve a problem, but not necessarily in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

My Time in Iowa.

With all the furor leading up to the Iowa Caucus tomorrow, I haven't felt compelled to talk about the months I spent in Iowa in 2007 finishing my book. Two common reactions that I fielded from people around DC after telling them my plans were:"Are you going to the writer's conference out there?" or "You're going to be right in the thick of it when the Caucuses roll around!" Politics and higher learning are such a huge part of being in the District, so it's not surprising that's where the mind goes. But honestly, if I wanted to be in the thick of politics, why wouldn't I stay living where I can take a short Metro ride and be right in front of the White House?

First off, let me tell you about Iowa, (or Shenandoah, where I was). The people were nice and the community is strong and I've never been in a town that is as deserted on Sundays. From it's greenest greens to the knocked-up women, it's an undeniably fertile place and you will NEVER have better corn or pork than in Iowa. Anyone that's had either will agree.

But, oh lordy, it is white! It is nothing less than completely amazing to me that Obama is doing so well there. There are far more black people on the dais at an Iowa Barack Obama rally than I saw in the whole five months I lived there.

I know it's not fair of a dilettante such as I to speak of the perceived bias that voters in Iowa may have against someone named Barack Hussein Obama, much less a black man with that name. But I spent much of my first 26 years in Southern Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland and I have been made intimately aware of the biases there, and Delaware is the freaking UN compared to Iowa.

Barack Obama- be it the man or the rhetoric- has already done the impossible, in my opinion.