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Today's Political Comment

I get the feeling the Internet has just about exhausted itself over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. One thing I hadn't seen 'til now though is an annotated copy of the law itself, presented in a non-partisan atmosphere.

A bit more partisan — though apparently accurate — is this piece that debunks the claim that Indiana's version of "religious freedom" act is really no different from many others out there. On the other hand, I'm not sure there's anyone out there who objects to the Indiana law but is in favor of the others.

Reading various discussions and tirades, I see a lot of people who are angry at those who say the Indiana law makes discrimination against gays legal. Well, I think it does…but they ought to direct some of their ire at Governor Mike Pence. He goes on TV. Again and again, he's asked if this law makes discrimination against gays legal. Again and again, he obviously refuses to answer. What else are people going to think?

Today on Stu's Show!

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The late Don DeFore was one of those actors who was in absolutely everything, in part because he made the difficult transition from being a leading man to being a good comic actor. I knew him first as the latter, starring in the popular sitcom of the sixties, Hazel. Before that, he was a regular on Ozzie and Harriet and before that, he racked up an impressive list of film credits including The Human Comedy, A Guy Named Joe, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, It Happened on 5th Avenue, My Friend Irma and even She's Working Her Way Through College. Today on Stu's Show, your enthusiastic host Stu Shostak welcomes two of Don DeFore's children, Ron DeFore and Dawn DeFore Burdine to talk about their illustrious father.

Stu's Show can be heard live (almost) every Wednesday at the Stu's Show website and you can listen for free there. Webcasts start at 4 PM Pacific Time, 7 PM Eastern and other times in other climes. They run a minimum of two hours and sometimes go way, way longer. Whenever a show ends, it's available soon after for downloading from the Archives on that site. Downloads are a measly 99 cents each and you can get four shows for the price of three. And that's no April Fool's Day joke.

Wednesday Morning

Header cartoon aside, there will be no April Fool's Day jokes on this blog today.

I just fixed the link on the previous item. It now actually takes you to the article mentioned, which I thought would be a nice touch.

Looks like RadioShack has received a last minute reprieve from the governor…or actually from a judge in bankruptcy court. Perhaps the new owners can morph the stores into something more successful. I hope it will occur to them to try hiring employees who know something and paying them well enough that they'll stick around.

I'm thinking this whole mess over "religious rights" in Indiana shows us how far we've come in terms of L.G.B.T. rights in this country. Few if any of the politicians who ever want to get elected or re-elected and who are defending the law are saying, "Yeah, it discriminates against gays and we think that's good." Governor Pence instead has had to come out and say he wants legislation "…that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone."

He won't go so far as to come out for statewide anti-discrimination protections for L.G.B.T. Hoosiers. After all, he still wants the Republican nomination for president. But not all that long ago, the argument would have been that businesses should be able to kick out gay couples who want to buy wedding cakes…and now the folks who believe that have pretty much been driven into the closet.

This morning, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who was expected to sign a bill similar to Indiana's, has said he wants modifications in it. Here's how I think that roughly translates…

Listen, I need to sign an anti-gay bill because my base will be furious with me if I don't. But too many people will be pissed at me if I sign an anti-gay bill so I need an anti-gay bill that I can argue isn't one.

This kind of thing may work but not for much longer.

Go Read It!

Tom Ruprecht, who used to write for David Letterman and now writes for Larry Wilmore, has some anecdotes about his days with Dave.

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  • I seem to be the only person who writes about comedy on the web who has no idea what kind of a Daily Show host Trevor Noah will be.

Today's Video Link

On April Fool's Day of 1957, the BBC broadcast this video, which has been called the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on TV viewers. I don't know if whoever said that considered some of the shows I worked on which were advertised as comedies…but what the BBC did was truly impressive, given how many viewers apparently didn't get that it was a prank.

I wrote here the other day that I think most pranks are infantile and an awful lot are just nasty. The exceptions would be those that don't hurt or embarrass anyone and which have a bit of wit about them. This one would qualify…

Going Fast…

It looks like it's final. The Sportsmen's Lodge out in the Valley, which I wrote about here, will lose its banquet and meeting facilities in a few months when they're torn down to make way for a shopping center. I can't even imagine how many Bar Mitzvah receptions, weddings, memorial services, business meetings, coming-out parties, lectures, fund-raising dinners, social gatherings and such were held on those soon-to-be-extinct premises.

Here are some photos of bygone days. You'll notice some people going trout fishing in the bodies of water on the grounds there. That was a long time ago. I wish they'd had trout the last twenty-or-so years there. I could have brought along my Popeil Pocket Fisherman® and been spared eating the Play-Doh Tri-Tip and the Silly Putty Potatoes.

Tom Koch, R.I.P.

It's been a bad month for the Usual Gang of Idiots. Tom Koch, who wrote for MAD for close to forty years died March 22 at his home in Laguna Woods, California. If that alone doesn't impress you he was a great comedy writer, try this: He was also one of the primary writers for the great radio comedians, Bob and Ray.

Koch wrote an estimated 3,000 comedy spots for Bob and Ray, mailing them in from his home in Indiana. Only rarely was a submission of his not used. Said, "Everything he did was funny. He was a gold mine of funny thoughts and exactly what we needed to punctuate what we had already been doing."

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In 1957, MAD was trying to lure readers with articles "written by" top humorists of the day — Ernie Kovacs, Henry Morgan, Stan Freberg, etc. With one or two exceptions, MAD just secured the right to adapt existing material performed by these folks. Bob and Ray were also featured and their short routines, illustrated for MAD by Mort Drucker, fit in better than any of them. Most of these routines were written by Koch (pronounced "Cook," by the way) and he got involved with their adaptation to magazine form. Al Feldstein, who was then the editor there, was short on writers and he suggested Koch could also contribute on his own to MAD. Koch began doing so and his presence in MAD long outlasted that of Bob and Ray.

He wrote over 300 pages for the publication and several paperback books, his most memorable piece being "43-Man Squamish," which appeared in a 1965 issue. He was reportedly as proud of that as he was for all the work he did in television for Pat Paulsen, George Gobel, Jonathan Winters and so many others. He even wrote for situation comedies including Petticoat Junction, My Living Doll and My Mother, The Car.

Koch rarely socialized with the rest of the MAD family and many of its other contributors either didn't know him or didn't know him well. They all respected his work though and envied his very clever mind and sense o' humor. I sure liked what he did.

Today's Video Link

It's Cookie Monster. Just watch it…

Recommended Reading

Here's Amanda Marcotte with one of the best pieces I've read about how the term "religious freedom" in this country is coming to denote some sort of right to force your religion on others.

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  • Indiana to "clarify" that law designed to permit discrimination against gays does not really permit discrimination against gays.

Neither Obnoxious Nor Disliked

Here we have an interview with one of my favorite actors, William Daniels. I am most interested in his remembrances of the musical 1776, which I regard as one of the ten-or-so (maybe five-or-so) best musicals ever written. And it's amazing that I feel that way because I don't feel most of the songs in it are very good yet I still think the show's terrific.

The article can't cover all that Daniels has done and one of the things it doesn't mention is his role on The Nancy Walker Show, a 1976 situation comedy that lasted 13 weeks and then disappeared forever. It was one of the first jobs for the then-new writing team of Mark Evanier and Dennis Palumbo and we disappeared before the series did, along with the producer who'd hired us and other folks involved in what was not a happy experience for anyone, viewers included.

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Dennis and I figured out the problem early, which is not to say we were in a position to solve it. Nancy Walker was popular because of her role as Rhoda Morganstern's mother and she probably should have stayed with that character and done a spin-off on CBS. ABC offered more money and the chance to star in a series with her name in the title so she took that offer.

It still might have worked if they'd teamed her up with a simpatico producer but at the time, ABC owed Norman Lear a series and someone erred by giving him The Nancy Walker Show. Nancy wanted to do a show with physical comedy and a fast pace and zany characters — something more like Laverne & Shirley, whereas Mr. Lear was then interested in issues and current affairs.

He didn't want to do the kind of show she wanted to do and she didn't want to do the kind of show he wanted to do. So they compromised and did a series that neither of them wanted to do. If you saw it — and the odds are you didn't — you probably sensed that no one really knew what the show was about. We were in the writing room and no one in there did.

I mention this because William Daniels played her husband. I never met him but he was enormously professional and no matter how weak his lines were, he always managed to find something funny (or at least, interesting) to do with them. That was quite an accomplishment because, as one of the producers told us, Mr. Daniels hated the show he was in. The showrunners — the series had two and they were running in opposite directions — couldn't please him because they were spending all their time trying unsuccessfully to please Nancy.

It was all quite the mess but Daniels managed somehow to look good in it…or at least to not be noticed, which is often preferable. He really is one of our great actors.

Go Read It!

Our pal Floyd Norman thinks Disney ought to finally release Song of the South on home video and in other venues. Floyd is right.

At the same time, I wish people advocating for its resurrection would not spin this as censorship or some kind of Orwellian control. This Disney organization does own the movie and they have the right to decide — as I presume they have — that the film has a low potential for profits and a high potential for grief and outrage. To get them to let it out of the Disney Vault, they have to be convinced it will gross more and be protested less. Floyd's essay is the kind of thing that could help achieve the latter.

Roger Slifer, R.I.P.

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Roger Slifer passed away this morning. Roger was another good person I knew in Indiana, though I doubt he was even aware of the current controversy.

He was born (in 1954) and died in Morristown, Indiana. He loved comic books and in the late sixties and early seventies, contributed to amateur publications. This led to professional publications in the mid-seventies, writing for Marvel comics and later moving into editorial work there. As far as I could tell, he was unanimously liked and respected. In the eighties, he moved over to DC, working in both the editorial and sales divisions. He didn't have as much time to write as he would have liked but did manage to co-create and script the popular comic, Lobo.

Roger was a tireless advocate for creators' rights and it was squabbles on that topic eventually drove him away from the New York comic book industry. He relocated in Los Angeles where he began writing animation and becoming a producer of many shows including G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem and the Holograms and Bucky O'Hare.

Now, here's where the story gets real sad…

On June 23, 2012, Roger was walking near his home in Santa Monica when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver. Roger suffered several broken bones but the tragic injury was to his head. He spent months in a coma and when he did finally emerge from it, he was unable to speak and only barely aware of his surroundings. He spent more than a year in hospitals and nursing homes in L.A. before his sister Connie, who cared so well for him, moved him back to care facilities in Indiana.

He is said to have been making slow progress and was able to nod and utter a few words in recent months. This morning, he was having trouble breathing and an ambulance was called…but he died before reaching the hospital.

It's so horrible what happened to Roger. It's horrible when that kind of thing happens to anyone but it seems especially wrong that it happened to someone as good as Roger Slifer. He was a man of talent and integrity. The world could use a lot more like him.

Indiana's Calling…

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I feel bad in one way about all this dumping on Indiana. I've been to the state many times, mainly to Indianapolis and Muncie, and I have quite a few good friends there. Then again, they are all decent, smart folks and I'm pretty sure they're all outraged and embarrassed by this so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act." One even wrote me, "I'm sorry our governor likes to pander to the worst and richest people in our state."

You know, at a time when more and more Americans identify with no particular religion, I have to wonder if this controversy will hasten that decline further. During the scandal about the Catholic church protecting pedophile priests, a lot of people decided that religion — and not just Catholicism — was a racket unconcerned with true morality or the fundamental teachings that are preached. The religious leaders who clearly seem to be in it for the bucks also drive people away. Seeing religion used as the justification for discrimination ought to make a few more think it's not for them.

Anyway, I don't want to write a whole lot more about this but a few people wrote me to "agree" with me that the Indiana law was the exact same thing Barack Obama had signed, the same thing Bill Clinton had signed, etc. Actually, I said it was "like" these other laws which, of course, those men no longer support. Here's Garrett Epps to explain why it's not the exact same law.