As I write this blog, I’m sitting in front of a poster for the new Tenacious D movie – Tenacious D – The Pick of Destiny. I’m heartbroken because I know I’ll hate this movie, just as I’m sure I’ll hate Borat, even though I love stanzas (or parts of stanzas) of the D’s music and I love the myspace clips I’ve seen of Borat. I feel this immense joy when Jack Black throws himself so fully into such pearls as “My Biznich is the Shitznit” or reminds us “this is not the greatest song in the world, it’s just a tribute.” Likewise, I want to marry Sacha Baron Cohen when he condemns himself in a fake press conference or tells a woman “I want to make a romance inside of you. Why not? I will like!” What I object to is the Lorne Michaelization of cinematic culture. This idea that you can take a thin premise for a sketch for which 5 minutes were barely justified and then turn it into a full length film because – well – you can get away with it so why not – this idea is anathema to me. Lots of my super* smart and cultured friends would agree with me but for different reasons. They’ve hated these guys from the start and feel like they have no redeeming value. I on the other hand believe in the talents of Sacha Baron Cohen, Jack Black and yes, even Will Ferrell. I light a candle every night for the lost soul of Ben Stiller and pray he will come back to us. All of these guys have the potential to create something memorable and magic that will go down in comic history, but they are either too lazy to do so or they have been co-opted by an industry that rewards mediocrity and shoves nails into the palms of true artists.
Last night I went to see two products of the Lorne Michaels Project for a New American Century. Two formerly famous women were performing works-in-progress versions of their “solo shows.” I have quotes around the last two words for a reason.
One of these women was part of a very famous comedic troupe and as such she has earned her place in the very thin history book that chronicles women in comedy. She is undeniably talented and funny. The other woman was….okay. The show should have been called Solopsisms of the Stars. Why they both thought that people should pay good money to hear them reminisce will forever be a mystery to me. This is what gives solo shows a bad name – people who think that to write a solo show, all you need is an interesting life and the rest will take care of itself. There were no characters in this show – just disembodied names (mostly famous) orbiting around a narcissistic sun. Hollywood seems at times to be a series of linked up echo chambers like semi-attached townhouses or an aural version of a house of mirrors. Everyone here is so busy trying to chase down fame – whatever that is – they have no time for self-reflection, introspection or time to look outside the limited perimeters of their own existence to see things from another angle other than the narrow aperture of their own experience.
I left the show tired and depressed, especially since I had attended the show with a very talented solo performer who has had to struggle for every bit of recognition she so richly deserves. I’ll plug her in future blogs that aren’t as negative as this one, but for now I’ll just say that it breaks my heart to see people who have something genuine and interesting and thought provoking and true to offer the world still having to struggle to get audience, especially when we’re talking about live performance. Sure Bach was posthumously redeemed even though his sons were more famous than he was during their lifetimes but he left sheet music. What does a live performer leave but a memory?
I have no solution for the concerns I’m voicing. We can’t go into people’s homes and insist that they expose their children to books, live music and theater, art galleries etc. We can’t limit their TV and internet time. Sure we could work for reform in schools as committed people have been doing for decades, but the reality is that lots of people are the product of our lousy public schools which unconsciously endeavor to kill creativity and critical thinking and they turn out great because they’ve been “inoculated” as my father-in-law used to say, at home.
The only hope I hold out is that one day the famous entertainers themselves will refuse to do shitty work. They’ll go on strike, burn Lorne Michaels in effigy, take an acting class, found the Church of Stephen Colbert, read a Sharon Olds poem. Robin Williams and Will Ferrel will read a script before they decide to do it and they will all change into their work clothes, get dirty, make mistakes then use their considerable talent and start the hard and serious work of creating something that matters.
In the meantime, I toil in obscurity and prepare to do a show for a microscopic crowd tonight knowing full well that what I have so much more to offer than these two women and that that will forever be my little secret – which I’m sending out into the blogosphere in the vain hope that by drawing attention to these issues, I can make a teeny tiny change in the world. Or maybe not. Back to work.