On Sunday, my pal Jeff Abraham and I drove out to Glendora, which is about an hour's drive from my area, to see a fun matinee event. It was called The Jonathan Winters Show but it was really a variety show featuring four acts, the last of which was Jonathan. It took place at the Haugh Performing Arts Center on the campus of Citrus College but it did not draw a college audience. Matter of fact, though I'm pushing sixty (as in "end of this week"), I felt like I was among the younger attendees.
First up was our host for the afternoon, comedian Pete Barbutti, an old friend of mine who's among the funniest people I've ever seen on a stage. And if you have any sense of how many funny people I've seen on stage, you know that's high praise. Pete lives and often works in Vegas and he's one of the best storytellers I've ever encountered: One of those guys who's worked with everyone in show business and has an anecdote about every last one of 'em. I'll post a couple of Pete clips here in the next few days. If you don't remember him from this eighty thousand appearances with Johnny Carson, you'll see what I mean.
Following Pete was a singing impressionist named Paul Boland who I'd always heard good things about but had never had the chance to see. The guy's pretty darn good. He has sharp material and a way of ingratiating himself with the audience as himself…a skill many impressionists lack. You know, if you come out on stage and mimic superstar after superstar, it's real easy for you as yourself to be the least interesting person on that stage. The audience loved him and not just because he does a great Dean Martin. Anyway, Boland sure lived up to his reputation.
The third act was The Golddiggers — six of the ladies who graced The Dean Martin Show (speaking of Dean…) and toured Asia with Bob Hope. They've come out of retirement — and in most cases, motherhood — with a nostalgia-based act that the audience also loved. They still look pretty good and sing pretty good. Back in my later teen years, I had the kind of crush you get at that age on a couple of those ladies so it was with conflicting emotions that I see them today. I have a feeling I'm not the only male in my age that feels that way…but they do know how to entertain.
Finally to close the show, there was Jonathan. He's 86 and recovering from a broken shoulder so he was confined to a chair with Barbutti acting as his straight man. They gave Jonathan a variety of hats and a few premises and he took off from there, weaving and winging it as only he can. He was very funny but for the life of me, I can't quote a thing he said and make it sound like anything. There's always been something in his rhythm and the odd connections he makes from one concept to the next…something unique and brilliant. I don't think there's a more respected comedian alive today. (Tim Conway, who's no slouch in the comedy department, was in the audience to see him.)
Jeff and I went backstage after the show and it was especially noteworthy to see Tim greet Jonathan, who hadn't known he was out front and seemed flattered by the presence of the other great comedian from Ohio. They bantered a bit and everyone posed for photos with everyone else and talked about going home to watch the Oscars. Jeff and I hung out with Pete for a while and it was just a very nice, pleasant afternoon. I'm not writing this so much for you folks but so that I can remember what a good time I had. It's so nice to see people who do what they do well. And nice to see an audience enjoy themselves as much as that one did.
Every year, the Internet seems to erupt with the sentiment that we've just seen the worst Academy Awards ceremony ever. I'm never sure what folks are expecting.
It's an awards show. 70% of it is giving awards and most of that is stuff like Best Cinematographer which is never going to be entertaining no matter how it's staged or scripted. I'm not saying those folks don't deserve their place in the spotlight because they do. In fact, there's a sense in which those are most important awards since they're the life-changers. Meryl Streep's third Oscar is not going to enhance her clout or the respect she receives. It may not even make her any more "in demand." But that unknown guy up there thanking everyone for some tech award…you may well be looking at the best moment of his life and the one that alters things for the better.
Some years, because of what's out there and what's nominated and what wins, the awards aren't all that exciting and there's nothing the telecast's producers can do to change things. When you look back at the truly memorable moments of these shows, most of them are things that were beyond the producers' control — someone crying, someone saying something outrageous, someone doing one-handed push-ups. Not stuff that can be controlled.
As for the entertainment-type elements, I thought the Christopher Guest piece was funny but not much else was. What the whole show needed was something unpredictable. I love Billy Crystal but I think I love him less as an Oscar host than in any other role he fills…and less and less each time he does it. The man had lost his capacity in that job to surprise. Did anyone not know we were going to get the opening montage with him in all the current movies? The opening medley of song parodies? The plug for his next movie disguised as a joke about plugging his next movie? Him doing Sammy Davis? And all those little remarks that flow from the premise that the most important thing about the event was that he was back hosting it again? This year, it felt like an impersonator doing Billy Crystal.
He was a great host in the past. If he does it again — and I bet he will, though maybe not for a few more years — he needs to offer us something we haven't seen before and we care about. Because depending on how the nominators nominate and how the voters vote, it can be a pretty hard show to drag across the finish line.
- They have too many categories at the Oscars. "Best Performance by a Supporter in a Supporting Role?" Please. #
- Never mind banning Sacha Baron Cohen from the Oscars. Call the SWAT Team to get Joan Rivers away from the red carpet. #
- I'm going to watch the Oscars until some winner thanks his/her agent. I'm guessing the first award. #
Last night around 11:20, I posted a message here wishing Abe Vigoda a happy 91st birthday. I guess something about Abe upsets WordPress software because the system went kablooey and though I posted it once, that item wound up appearing about 200 times on this site before I got in and stopped things.
In doing repair work, I seem to have wiped out most of yesterday's postings…or maybe Abe did. Or something. Anyway, they were suddenly gone. I had some but not all of them backed-up and I've restored those, not necessarily in the right sequence. If anyone out there has a capture of this webpage for yesterday or some sort of download into an RSS reader, could you drop me a line and send me what you have? (I'm sure Abe screwed up some RSS feeds.) Thanks. And I don't know what I'm doing up at this hour, either. I'm going to bed now…
As mentioned back here, my partner Sergio Aragonés is on his first-ever hiatus from work due to some back problems that landed him for a time in the hospital. He's home now and getting better with each passing day and everyone involved seems happy with his recovery.
But he has more recovering to do and then there's catching-up on all the work he had to put off. So he reluctantly has to cancel some convention appearances. He won't, for example, be at WonderCon, which is down in Anaheim in March. This will not stop us however from having a rousing game of Quick Draw! there. On Friday at 2 PM, we'll be quick-drawing with Scott Shaw!, Mike Kazaleh and Disney Legend Floyd Norman plus a load of surprise participants, some of whom will be surprised to find out they're participating. (I'm hosting four other panels at the con. Details will be along soon.)
Sergio has also had to cancel on the Boston Comic Con, which is April 21-22. He regrets not being there for it especially because they're having a MAD reunion with Al Feldstein, Al Jaffee and Paul Coker. Ought be great even without Sergio on the premises.
We hope no further cancelling will be necessary. I'll let you know if it is but I don't think it will be. I'll also keep you updated on the rescheduling of issues #2-4 of the Groo/Conan mini-series. #1 will be out in April as planned.
The current issue of Playboy has a good interview with Paul Krugman, who has a pretty good track record at predicting where the economy's heading and explaining why. He's a liberal, of course, but I don't recall his opposite number in the conservative ranks (whoever that might be) being as critical of George W. Bush as Krugman is of Obama.
To read it online, you may need to be wary of pictures of women who are not properly attired. If you'd like to take that risk, click here.