Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis Mondays and Fridays, 3-6pm CT

Monday, December 09, 2002

Wireless Wonders

We went to see “Ocean’s Eleven” this weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

It’s as good as the original was bad -– that is to say, very. While my wife got the bonus of looking at the attractive men on screen (George Clooney and Brad Pitt), I was happy just to be caught up in the cleverness of the scam unfolding in the plot.

I’ve always been a sucker for movies about great con games or heists. From the best ever -- “The Sting” -- right up to the two from earlier this year, “Heist” and “The Score,” I get a kick out of seeing the elaborate process of the thievery being plotted and then executed. Steven Soderbergh does a masterful job of showing us that process in “Ocean’s Eleven.”

As much as I admired the movie, there’s one thing that bugs me.

All of the con men are hooked up with earpieces through which they can hear each other and their hacker/electronics whiz, Livingston. To pull off the heist, a couple of the characters go several stories underground. They travel down an elevator shaft and then through some subterranean corridors but -- I’m not ruining the movie for you, I promise -- they don’t seem to have any trouble staying in audio contact with Livingston. Neither do other characters, who are scattered all over the place, both inside and outside the target building.

Why does this bug me?

Because last week, I was driving down a major interstate highway, talking on my cell phone to a friend, when the connection got fuzzy and then dropped off completely. After reconnecting, we talked for a few more minutes before it happened again. So I called him back a third time. This time, we didn’t lose the cell connection, but his cordless phone was low on power, and we got cut off yet again.

My point is two-fold. First, how come this never happens in the movies? I’ve actually tried to use my cell phone inside the Bellagio –- the centerpiece casino in “Ocean’s Eleven” -– and couldn’t get a call out. But for Pretty Boy Clooney and his colleagues, no problem.

Secondly, why is it, in 2001, when I can get a crystal clear television picture bounced off a satellite in orbit directly to a 20" dish on the side of my house, that we can’t get wireless communications to stay connected for more than a few minutes at a time? And don’t tell me it must be my phone or my service, because I’m not using The Cup And String Company here. I’m talking about a major carrier, and a major roadway, near a major American city. Besides, I know I’m not alone in this complaint.

What makes it more frustrating is that I can vividly recall two episodes in which I was blown away by the marvels of wireless communication.

One was when I was driving to work early one morning to do my show and my cell phone rang. Since it was 4:30am, it could only mean one of two things, and neither of them was good news. Either my wife was calling to tell me something was wrong at home, or my co-host’s car had broken down and he needed a lift.

Fortunately, it was neither. Instead, it was my friend Russell calling to say hello. Russell happens to live in Sydney, Australia, and with the time difference, the end of his work day coincided with the beginning of mine. I was amazed that he had gotten me, but I wasn’t prepared for what he told me next.

He wasn’t in Sydney. In fact, he wasn’t even in Australia. He was in South Africa on business. He had just landed at the Johannesburg airport, was making the two-hour drive to his client’s office, and since he had some time to kill, decided to give me a try on his cell phone, hoping to catch me on my drive to work.

Think about that. He had taken his cell phone from Australia to South Africa, and had used it in his moving rental car to call me on my cell phone in my moving car, halfway around the world!

How the hell did the call get through? How did it find me? I know there’s probably a simple technical explanation -- keep in mind that I’m still baffled by how I can sit in a studio and talk into a microphone and it somehow comes out of the speaker of your radio -- but come on, you gotta admit that’s astounding.

The other occasion took place several years ago when, thanks to my big-shot brother, my wife and I were lucky enough to be invited to a special tour of the White House at Christmastime. Okay, it was special, if you consider that there were approximately 8,000 other people with federal employee connections who coincidentally were also afforded this privilege at the time. Still, even though I had been on the grounds twice before, getting to go inside the White House on something other than the usual tourist tour was impressive -– to me, at least.

Anyway, we were working our way through the various displays (“how much of my taxes went for that ten foot wide gingerbread house?”) when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I glanced around, and was greeted by the steely gaze of a very serious looking guy who asked me my name. I told him, and he introduced himself as a lieutenant in the United States Secret Service. Gulp! He then smiled and said he’s a big fan of my show, and would I like to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House?

It took almost a full second before I blurted out, “Sure!” So he took us -– my wife, my brother, and me -– through a hallway to the official White House Guest Office, down to the Roosevelt Room, the Cabinet Room, and we even got to view The Oval Office (don’t worry, the Marine guard at the door kept his eye on us the whole time).

Along the way, he filled us in on the history of this, the story behind that, and so on. We also went into the Press Room, which was empty, and took some photos at that famous podium with the White House logo behind us on the blue curtain that you’ve seen so many times on television.

Yes, it was pretty damned cool.

When we were through, I wrote down Secret Service Guy’s name and made a mental note to send him as much free stuff from my show as I could scrounge together. As we walked out to my car, I told my wife and brother that this was going to be the entire topic of discussion the next morning.

Then I thought of something. Maybe Secret Service Guy didn’t want everyone to know that he was giving Radio Guy this private tour. I certainly didn’t want to get him in trouble. After all, he had just done me a tremendous favor -- and besides, he was armed.

In my car, I picked up my cell phone and called the main White House number and asked for Secret Service Guy by name. In two seconds, I was connected to someone else in his office, and I again asked to speak to him. There was a click, then a pause, and then I heard him answer and identify himself.

I asked if he would mind me talking about the visit and VIP treatment on my show and he said he didn’t mind at all. But he asked that I not use his name, for security reasons. I said I understood completely -- after all, the Service is Secret! -- and again thanked him profusely.

While we were talking, I could hear a string quartet performing in the background. I remembered that they had been playing in the area in which the lieutenant had first tapped me on the shoulder.

That’s when it dawned on me.

He wasn’t in his office. And he wasn’t on the phone.

Here I was, driving along through the District Of Columbia, talking into my cell phone with a guy inside the White House who was hearing me through his earpiece and talking to me through the microphone in his sleeve!

My mind raced: Isn’t technology unbelievable? Is this the coolest call I’ve ever made? Can you believe that I’m.....hello? Hello? HELLO?

Yep. As we turned the corner, the cell phone connection dropped.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Snow Day In The City

St. Louis was in disaster mode today. The city -- no, the entire area -- was gripped with panic, when we were suddenly attacked by an enemy that strikes fear into the hearts of the majority.

It snowed.

The first snow of the season. By unofficial measurement in my backyard, the accumulation was well over an inch. Maybe two. Call it four or five in the outlying areas. Bottom line, while other parts of the country were being hit pretty hard, we weren’t exactly experiencing a blizzard.

Immediately, my fellow citizens let go of their natural instincts and decided that they no longer knew how to drive. Roads were backed up for miles. Sure, there were some accidents, some sliding on slick surfaces (and some unnecessary alliteration), but in many instances, it wasn't collisions or hazardous conditions that slowed down traffic. It was simply the anxious overuse of the brake pedal instead of the gas pedal. If you listened carefully, you could hear thousands of frustrated drivers shouting at the slowpokes, "Go! Go already! It's only a little bit of moisture! Drive! Go!"

Half-hour commutes were turned into morning-long adventures. Once the destination was reached, there had to be a discussion of each person's hellish drive. At this point, the common complaint was heard again and again: "People here do not know how to drive!"

I've heard that same grievance in every city I've ever lived in or visited -- and I've been to more than half of our fifty states. No matter where you go, the locals will always complain about the bad driving abilities of the other locals. Of course, no one ever steps forward and says, "You know what? I'm not a very good driver, and I'm even worse when the weather gets messy. I don't even know why they gave me a license. I'm an accident waiting to happen. From now on, blame me."

Another effect of snow is what it does to television newsrooms. They go into hyper-overdrive, with all the standard "team coverage" clichés covered. Here's one reporter at the Department of Transportation garage, where the plows are ready to roll. Here's another reporter at the giant salt and sand pile, where the trucks are loading and spreading. Here's a third reporter at DOT headquarters, where the supervisor is confident his troops can get the job done (as if they’d admit, "We’re completely unprepared! We don't have any gas for the vehicles, and I forgot to order sand and salt this year. You’re on your own, folks!")

Here's the weather crew, enjoying yet another adrenaline rush day thanks to all the expanded airtime they're receiving while explaining the difference between air temperature and ground temperature and pointing out snowfall amounts in sixteen different locations on the map. Here's the station's consumer affairs reporter informing us that snow shovel sales are up considerably today. Here's the health reporter reminding viewers to be careful while shoveling, and not to over-do it (never mind that most viewers will be able to clean their driveways with a broom). Here's the traffic reporter, standing in front of an electronic road map that's so covered with red arrows and other symbols that you can't even tell which street is which.

Here's a reporter live on an overpass showing us how highway traffic has slowed to a crawl. Here's still another reporter -- standing right next to the previous reporter -- telling us how several side streets are backed up because TV live trucks are taking up the entire right lane on the overpasses for live shots.

The snow panic equation wouldn't be complete without the supermarket rush. What is it about snowflakes that makes so many people develop such an intense need for milk, bread, and toilet paper -- especially when the snow is only going to fall for a single day, followed by sunshine and warmer temperatures? I could see the need to stock up if we were under the siege of your average Buffalo, New York, snowstorm in which we can't even leave our houses for a week. But we're talking about a couple of inches. You'll get there tomorrow. In the meantime, scrounge around your kitchen for some ramen noodles, a pickle, and a glass of water -- it won't kill you!

Hearing and watching the way this town -- like so many other towns across the country -- reacted to this rather mild version of a storm today, I thought about all those disaster movies. No, not the ones about winning a free cruise on the SS Norwalk Virus. I mean the ones in which some American city is about to be attacked by some madman with a nuclear device, or an asteroid is going to hit nearby and cause calamitous damage for hundreds of square miles, or Eddie Murphy is shooting scenes for "I Spy on Pluto Nash."

In every one of those movies, they always try to save millions of lives by evacuating the big city. I'm here to tell you: forget it! Can't be done. If we can't even make it down the highway safely through two inches of snow, we're never going to get out of town should a bona fide catastrophe occur.

If and when the time comes, I'm not going to try to get out of town. My family and I will sit in the living room and watch the whole thing on CNN. At least we'll be close to the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets, where we'll make due with some orange juice, a can of peas, and a box of saltines.

That'll be better than being on the highway, surrounded by cars going nowhere, with drivers yelling, "Drive! Let's go! It's only a little bit of radiation! Go!!"

Sunday, November 17, 2002

You Voted For What?

You know that I don't get into political analysis. So I'm not going to waste my time and yours with a long-winded column about Tuesday's election. But I do have to bring up two points, which I haven't seen or heard mentioned anywhere else.

One has to do with the results of the Congressional race in one section of Ohio.

James Traficant was thrown out of the House of Representatives in July for ethics violations -- and when Congress says you're unethical, that's really saying something. He was also tossed into a federal prison, where he's serving eight years after being convicted of bribery and racketeering. However, since the law doesn't prohibit a felon from running for Congress, even while he's in the slammer (!), he was a candidate in Tuesday's election.

No, he didn't win. In fact, he came in a distant third. But he did get 15% of the vote. That works out to more than 27,000 people. Twenty-seven thousand people who thought their best choice for Congress this year would be a convicted felon whose home address is a cell number. He'd be a good choice to represent their best interests. A man for whom "homeland security" now comes down to whether the guy next to him in the prison laundry is carrying a shiv.

Weirder still is that Traficant had a campaign headquarters -- not in the prison -- where about 40 people gathered to watch the returns and cheer him on that evening. Maybe they were hoping for Traficant to get a come-from-behind surge. Although, since he's in prison, that's probably not a phrase he wants to hear.

That tells you one of two things. Either the people in that part of Ohio are downright loopy (and the fact that they had voted for Traficant several times before was already evidence of that), or it's the ultimate public proclamation on politicians: why vote for a possible crook when you can vote for a convicted one?

But on the question of bizarre balloting, nothing beats the question of cockfighting.

If you had asked me -- or most Americans, for that matter -- whether cockfighting was still legal anywhere in the US at this point in our history, I would have bet that it wasn't. I would have been dead wrong.

After what the state's largest newspaper termed "years of emotional and legal wrangling on both sides," the fine people of Oklahoma voted Tuesday on Question 687, which asked whether cockfighting should be banned in their state.

The answer was yes, and the margin of victory -- 130,000 votes -- could be considered resounding. What's troubling, however, is that over 438,000 Oklahomans voted "no." In other words, they were in favor of cockfighting!!

One of the opponents of the measure said that he wanted to keep it legal, because cockfighting has long been a part of the state's culture. Now there's something you don't see very often -- someone using the words "cockfighting" and "culture" in the same sentence, let alone in the same legal argument!

I suppose there may be a logical explanation for that many people coming out in favor of cockfighting. It's possible they were in a hurry and didn't read the whole question -- thus never seeing the "fighting" suffix.

The people of Oklahoma and Ohio probably think that California is the land of oddballs. But until the Golden State elects Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder as its Senators, the title rests in one of the "O" states. So, Oregon, whatcha got?

Thursday, November 14, 2002

The Lie About Love and Marriage

Several young women at work (all under 30) were raving about the Jennifer Lopez interview with Diane Sawyer, in which J-Lo expressed her overwhelming love for Ben Affleck. She showed off her engagement ring and gushed about how romantic he is and how deep their passion runs.

As they described the show, all I could think was, This sort of thing on television is dangerous.

Millions of young American women watched that show and no doubt wished they could find a relationship as perfect as J-Lo and Ben's. They see her spewing lines like, "I am such a kind of artist in that way, you know...where it's just like, you know, the idea of love and fairy tales and romance and all that." In other words, she's in love with the idea of being in love.

Sorry, Jennifer, but that's not what marriage is about.

That's not a good basis for a long-term relationship. That's the sort of nonsense that gets you and lots of other young women in trouble. That's why your only anniversaries have been the paper ones, and the paper has been your divorce decree both times.

Take it from me, with the perspective of 19 years with my wife.

Love, romance, and passion are not the most important things in a marriage. At least not the kind you're talking about. I'm not saying that you don't need those elements, but you can't base a lifetime partnership on them.

No one ever steps forward in the media to expose this lie, perhaps because it's not sexy to bring up the more important concepts of compatibility, support, and the simple matter of just being able to put up with another person day in and day out.

You want to know what love is -- the kind of love that makes a marriage work?

It's the times you get into an argument with your spouse over something minor that annoys both of you, and one of you ends the discussion with "fine, we'll do it your way" -- and you can both accept that and go on with your lives.

It's coming home to find that your spouse has gone to the store and bought a box of Mallomars and not finished them all in one sitting so that there are a few left for you.

It's the time your spouse is snoring so loudly that it's measured on the Richter scale, but instead of giving them yet another shove, you just get up and go sleep in the guest room or on the couch.

It's not complaining when one of you loses your job and you have to eat cheese sandwiches for dinner every night because you can't afford to go out to dinner for awhile.

It's going to different movies at the same time because you don't want to be dragged into seeing "Jackass" any more than he wants to be forced to sit through "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood."

It's hearing your spouse say, "I have to get out of this house and be alone for awhile," and being relieved because you feel the same way -- and that's okay with both of you.

It was the night I held my wife's hair back as she threw up into the toilet with morning sickness in the first trimester of her pregnancy. There was more love between us in that bathroom than Jennifer and Ben can ever know.

Of course, they can't relate to most of those, because they don't live in the real world. They're rich and have assistants to handle the most mundane tasks. But I'm not just talking about money.

This is about her fairy tale world of adoration, worship, infatuation, and lust. She gets that from her fans (appearing semi-nude in public tends to bring that out in some people) and so it has become her reality. It's about as real as soap operas, which are another source of false inspiration to too many young women, and it can retard their ability to comprehend those things that go into a truly successful long-term liaison.

I'd like to see the expression on J-Lo's face the first time she watches Ben cut his toenails, and one of them goes flying in her direction. Or when he comes home from a workout and leaves his sweat-soaked t-shirt and underwear on the bedroom floor. Or when she sees him dressed for a night on the town and has to suppress the urge to ask, "You're not wearing THAT, are you?"

Remember a couple of years ago, when Julia Roberts was spewing the same sort of nonsense in every interview she did? At the time, she was dating Benjamin Bratt, and had to tell the whole world how wonderful he was, with all the dreamy, tender things he did for her, how he made her feel so special, blah blah blah. The first time I saw her babbling on about it, I knew the relationship was doomed.

Those are the hallmarks of dating, not marriage. All guys do those romantic things at the beginning, but we can't possibly keep that up year after year, or we'd die. Neither can women -- particularly after kids enter the scene.

Lopez told Sawyer that she's "smothered" with Affleck's heat (where did she learn that being "smothered" was a good thing?). What she hasn't grasped is that a good long-term relationship is like grilling a good steak. Yes, you need heat to make it perfect, but if you keep that heat on too long, you ruin it.

It's a matter of expectations. Spend your life looking for an eternally roaring fire, and you're going to get burned. Instead, set your expectations -- and that flame -- on low, and you'll be amazed how much more fun simmering is than smothering.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

The Ultimate Negative Campaign

Is it just me, or have politicians' campaign ads become even more negative this year than ever before? It's gotten to the point where they don't even bother to tell you what they stand for. Whatever positive message they hoped to imbue has long since been abandoned for a full-scale attack strategy.

Here in Missouri, the commercials in the Senate race are the worst I've ever seen. The listener/viewer is left with nothing but an intense dislike of everyone involved, which will probably lead to even lower voter turnout. Yet the candidates and their staffs don't seem to realize that their viciousness is turning so many people off. They always have that nasty tone in the voiceover, too, provided by either that deep-voiced sarcastic guy or the harsh, accusatory woman.

I wonder how far they think they can go down this vitriolic path. I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility that they'd go so far as to run commercials like the following (if you prefer, insert the name of your favorite weasel candidates):

"Jim Talent's campaign commercials contain numerous falsehoods about Jean Carnahan, and he knows it. We don't want to say Jim Talent is a liar, but we do know that his pants are on fire. Vote for Jean Carnahan."

"Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash and Jean Carnahan took his job in the US Senate. Now, Paul Wellstone has died in a plane crash and Jean Carnahan's asking you to send her to the US Senate again. Is it a coincidence? Vote for Jim Talent."

"Jim Talent once kicked a puppy. Right in its side. And he didn't even say he was sorry. Vote for Jean Carnahan."

"Jean Carnahan just bought herself a new pair of shoes. But she has plenty of shoes in her closet already. If she does that with her own money, imagine what she'd do with yours. Vote for Jim Talent."

"You know those annoying telemarketing calls you always seem to get at dinnertime? Jim Talent is the one making those calls. Vote for Jean Carnahan."

"Surveys show that half the population of Missouri never wears a dress. But Jean Carnahan does. Vote for Jim Talent."

"On Halloween last year, Jim Talent gave trick-or-treaters a handful of lint, and the year before he handed out bags of rocks. Jean Carnahan would never do that. She always gives the kids candy and a crisp new $10 bill. Vote for Jean Carnahan."

"Jim Talent's father died, and Jean Carnahan didn't even go to his funeral. She probably wouldn't go to your father's funeral, either. Is that the kind of person you want in the US Senate? Vote for Jim Talent."

"Jim Talent says he's concerned about the needs of every man and every woman in the state of Missouri. But we hear that he always leaves the toilet seat up. Ladies, is that the kind of Senator you want? Vote for someone who always leaves the seat down. Vote for Jean Carnahan."

"Leadership is tough, just like football. If you were picking a team in difficult times like this, would you pick the girl? Vote for a guy. Vote for Jim Talent."

"Jim Talent once tried to bake a cake, but it tasted like crap. Vote for Jean Carnahan."

"Jean Carnahan told me that she hates you. Are you still going to give her your vote? Vote for Jim Talent."

Ugh! Now, here's an early projection, based on the results of exclusive HarrisOnline.com exit polls -- with none of the precincts caring at all, 100% of the population wishes each and every one of these political worms would just shut up and go away.

Friday, October 25, 2002

Not So Expert After All

It was not the best week for TV pundits and "expert profilers."

In all the hours filled on all the telecasts dedicated to the sniper story, not one of them predicted that the DC sniper might turn out to be two black men driving a blue 1990 Chevy Caprice.

None of their analysis led them to a converted Muslim ex-military man. Not one of them said, "it's likely that we're looking for a homeless drifter who lives in his car with a teenage boy he's not related to."

Still, the media, particularly the 24-hour news channels, won't hesitate to call on those same "experts" next time we have a similar story. Never mind that their speculation couldn't have been more off-base. Never mind that the same faces showed up in the same places repeatedly (yes, I'm talking about you, Bo Dietl, who I saw on all three news channels within a two-hour span one day this week!).

What matters is that they were able to fill air time. You'll notice that none of them has been invited to explain why they were so completely wrong, but perhaps it explains why so many are "former profilers" and "former detectives."

The low point was when Fox's Rita Cosby contacted David Berkowitz (a/k/a The Son Of Sam) for insight into what might be going on in the sniper's mind. She's obviously watched "Silence Of The Lambs" once too often, and thought Berkowitz would be her Hannibal-like intuitive genius. Of course, he offered nothing more than blather, which she -- and several newspapers that quoted her story -- reported with a straight face.

I take that back. There was something even lower.

It was another amazing assertion from Sylvia Browne. She's one of those people who claims psychic ability, but has never proven anything more than a talent to sucker people into believing that she has a supernatural gift of some kind. Among the suckers are Larry King and Montel Williams, who have wasted far too much airtime giving her free publicity without holding her claims up to the light of reason.

Take a look at this transcript of a chat session on msn.com last night (10/24), in which Sylvia was no doubt promoting something or other:

Digital Dish Diva says:
Not to start off on bad note but we have so many people asking about the men who were caught this morning. Are they the snipers?

Sylvia Browne says:
Yes, they are. I can't say much about it, but I did work on this case.

Unbelievable, isn't she? Yet I don't seem to recall her going on the record before the arrests with any kind of prediction about who the suspect might be, do you? While we're on the subject, why didn't John Edward or James Van Praagh use their self-proclaimed powers to find out from any of the murder victims who had "passed over" something about the circumstances of their death that might have helped the investigators?

My other favorite part of Sylvia's chat, while unrelated to the sniper story, was this, which began with a question from someone online:

I'd like some help for my sister if it is possible. Someone is INVADING her privacy and she just wants it to stop.

To which Sylvia replies, and I quote:

I would get a PI on this and call anything that has to do with communications like the FTC. It's a man and a woman bugging her. Have the PI sweep the place for bugs.

The people at the FTC will be surprised to get that call, since the Federal Trade Commission has nothing to do with communications. She might have meant the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, but they also would have absolutely no jurisdiction over an invasion-of-privacy matter -- unless it took place on a TV or radio broadcast.

Ah, but why bother with accuracy when you're just throwing random darts and you don't care where they land?

My point is that too many people are allowed to escape accountability, while being given far too much free access to cameras, microphones, and newsprint. Blame must be placed on those who make baseless claims they can not prove -- but even more blame must be placed on the media outlets that allow them to promulgate.

While I'm at it, I still haven't heard a cogent explanation of why you would want to catch a duck in a noose. I've never heard a single duck hunter say, "Quick, Charlie, I see one, get the rope!" But I bet I can find four people on TV to tell me what kind of duck it is -- and a psychic who can read its mind.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Graham Nash

Classic rock legend Graham Nash was back on my show today to serve as the lifeline for the Harris Challenge, talked about working with Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, and explained how he wrote one of his hit songs. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!


Graham has made several appearances on my show through the years, including on the final day of the CSNY2K tour (4/19/00), when we talked about how he discovered music on the radio as a young boy, how he first met Joni Mitchell, and what his very personal song "Someday Soon" is about. Listen to that conversation here.

You can also read a transcript of our conversation on May 22, 1997 -- and then check out the transcript of my interview with Henry Diltz, the classic rock photographer who did the cover photo for the first CSN album.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Catherine Crier

The Court TV personality, a former judge and district attorney in Texas, was on my show today to explain what's wrong with the American legal system and how to repair it, from judges to lawyers to politicians to frivolous lawsuits and more. We also talked about her book, "The Case Against Lawyers."

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, September 30, 2002

Loudmouths At The Barbershop

A couple of activists have been mouthing off recently about the movie "Barbershop."

The movie is a hit at the box office, and deserves to be, for one simple reason: it's entertaining. But, in what has become their standard operating procedure, these big-mouth activists saw the movie's success and were determined to grab some of its spotlight and aim it at themselves. So they cooked up a controversy about some of the things said by Eddie, the character played by Cedric The Entertainer.

I've gotten to know Cedric in the last year, and I like him. The first time I saw him was in the "Original Kings Of Comedy" movie, in which he was the best of the quartet of comedians. He is, in a single word, funny. Then, he wrote a book called "Grown-Ass Man," and when he was in town, came on my show to promote it. The book was funny, he was a great guest, and we developed a nice rapport. Next, he got a primetime slot for his variety show on Fox, which debuted a couple of weeks ago, and it's a hit -- because it's funny. He called in one day to promote it, and again, he was funny. Then, "Barbershop" hit the big screen, and his character is -- guess what? Funny!

I keep using that word because "funny" is an important concept. It's a concept that these activists have lost touch with. Their sense of humor has been surgically removed, and replaced by an agenda.

These activists -- notice how I refuse to say their names, a direct response to their incredible desire to have their names said as often as possible -- are up in arms over Eddie's comments about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Naturally, none of them have actually seen the movie. That's the way it always is when loudmouths launch a protest. To them, it doesn't matter what the context was, it doesn't matter that other characters lambasted Eddie for what he said, it doesn't matter that the whole point of the scene is that, in the barbershop, anyone can say anything about anything and provoke a heated discussion.

That's important. The plot of the movie is not about damning Parks and King for their extraordinary achievements. These are just a couple of lines Eddie says during one scene, which are immediately followed by howls of protest from everyone else in the barbershop.

None of that matters to the loudmouths because this isn't really about the movie, or Cedric, or star Ice Cube, or the producers, writers, or directors. This is about the activists and their agenda, which states that there are certain things that are so sacred that no one can ever joke about them. Way up on that list, they claim, are Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King. Never mind that Eddie is just as outrageous commenting about Rodney King and OJ Simpson, because even Alan Dershowitz isn't going to stand up and complain about that!

I contend that the state of comedy in a nation as advanced as the USA has reached a point where we can joke about anything. If you need proof, check to see which show has brought in the biggest crowds in Broadway history over the last couple of years. It's "The Producers," the Mel Brooks farce with a funny Nazi and his play, "Springtime for Hitler." Talk about your untouchable comedic subjects, how about the thugs responsible for The Holocaust?

Not so incidentally, the dialogue in "Barbershop" includes, by my count, as least ten uses of the "N-word." But there hasn't been a peep about that, because the activists only get upset when Quentin Tarantino dares use the word in a script.

Ironically, this is the first hit movie in a long time made by and starring a long list of African-Americans. Rather than rejoice in the achievement, the activists chose to undercut it. What message does that send to the movie studios about future mostly-black projects? It would be a shame if future filmmakers had to be ultra-sensitive about this sort of thing or risk a boycott from the loudmouths. These are the same activists who wanted Hollywood to start employing more blacks -- apparently they must only be black moviemakers who would never offend the holy loudmouths.

What's most bothersome about this is that the activists in question are themselves a couple of punchlines -- their prior activities have put them squarely in the crosshairs of plenty of comedians, both black and white -- and yet, they still manage to garner media attention for blatant spotlight-stealing stunts such as this.

That's why the producers of the movie should have ignored them and never apologized. But to their credit, the filmmakers (and their studio, MGM) have steadfastly refused to bow to the activists' demand that the scene in question be removed from the video and DVD versions of the movie.

Best of all, they've announced plans for a sequel. I hope it includes a scene in which Eddie spouts off about these activists.

In the meantime, I hope more people will go see "Barbershop." Not just because it's highly entertaining, but to help shove its success right down the throats of the loudmouths.

That would be funny. Sometimes, that's all that counts.

Friday, September 13, 2002

Robert Schimmel

Comedian Robert Schimmel was on my show today with more amazing stories from his life, like the stunning request he got from his daughter, his trouble-making appearance on "Hollywood Squares," and the encounter between his mother and a porn star. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!


Previously on Harris Online...

Sunday, July 21, 2002

In Their World, They're Normal

I lost the office pool.

I thought Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton would only stay married for 2 years, but they made it all the way to 26 months before she filed the divorce papers. You’re as disappointed as I am, I’m sure.

We all knew it would come to this. The clues were so easy, but in case you missed them, I’ll recap. In the world of Show Business, these are the steps you take for a guaranteed failed marriage:

1) Following four previous failures, this was Billy Bob’s fifth round of “till death do us part” vows. When does the Lemon Law kick in?

2) He wrote a song about her. This is known as the "Billy Joel Just The Way You Are" rule, although we don’t have any reports of Billy Bob dating Christie Brinkley yet.

3) They each carried the other’s blood in a vial worn on a necklace. While handy for cross-typing in an emergency triage situation, this is generally viewed as much more weird than romantic.

4) They went the double-tattoo route. Her name was carved into his skin, and vice versa.

What happens to those tattoos now? Time to call Charlie Sheen, whose new wife Denise Richards demanded he have all of his markings undone by laser -- a job akin to resurfacing I-70.

Or perhaps call Pamela Anderson. When she finally got rid of Tommy Lee, she had the "Tommy" tattoo changed to read "Mommy." A simple enough solution.

But what do you do when the tattoo says "Billy Bob"? Have it changed to "Silly Slob"? Angelina could just have the word "Sucks" added, I suppose. Her flesh would scream to the world, "Billy Bob Sucks!"

That doesn’t work when he does it for her name, does it? The result would sound like ad copy promoting "Tomb Raider II."

According to Us magazine, Angelina says motherhood drove Billy Bob away. They adopted a Cambodian kid a few months ago, and Billy Bob promptly celebrated fatherhood by going on the road to promote his country album, "Private Radio" (I’m no expert on country music, but has that album gotten airplay anywhere? I’m guessing no, and that his live gigs probably draw the same crowd that shows up to see Keanu Reeves’ band open for Bruce Willis in concert.)

Now that Angelina’s single, she’s probably looking for another man in her life, and I have a suggestion. Based on her previous selection, I have chosen a guy who is also a little bit outside the mainstream and, similarly, looks like trouble from a mile away.

His name is James Traficant. He’s a nine-term US Congressman from northeastern Ohio -- but not for long. This isn’t a term limits problem. It’s much more than that.

Traficant is on the verge of becoming only the second member to be expelled from Congress in the last hundred years. To paraphrase "The Odd Couple," that request will come from his colleagues, the House Ethics Committee (which is, incidentally, a permanent entry in the Oxymoron Encyclopedia).

The Congressman has always been a quote machine. The press loved printing and poking fun at his bombastic remarks, and he willingly returned fire, saying "many of them are so dumb they could throw themselves at the ground and miss."

Traficant is being made to walk the plank because he was convicted in April in federal court on ten counts of racketeering and other nastiness, and faces more than seven years in prison. He’s appealing the ruling, and refuses to resign from Congress. So they’re going to kick him out.

The other day, in front of the committee considering his expulsion, Traficant, acting as his own attorney, blasted away again: "Disregard all the opposing counsel has said. They’re delusionary. I think they had something funny for lunch. I think they should be handcuffed, chained to a fence, and flogged. And if they lie again, I’m going to go over there and kick them in the crotch."

The man has a way with words, reminiscent of Lincoln at Gettysburg. You should have seen his original draft, which began, “I know you are, but what am I?”

After several full minutes of deliberation, the committee tore itself away from a roomful of cash-wielding lobbyists to find Traficant guilty of ethics violations, tax evasion, bribery, fraud, and bad manners.

BAD MANNERS??? They must have thrown that one in just for spite.

Why stop there? With a little more investigation, they might have discovered that he didn’t always rewind video rentals, tipped less than 15%, never flushed the toilet in the House bathroom, twice sang the National Anthem off-key, and once took forty-two cents from a convenience store’s "take-a-penny" cup.

Once you have those other raps against you, do you even care about manners? Not if you’re Traficant, who has always been a drag-from-the-room-kicking-and-screaming kind of guy.

The only remaining question is what he’s going to do about that tattoo on his arm with the word "Congress" surrounded by a big heart.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Fit To Be Tied And Frozen

Memo to Bud Selig: Could you possibly do a worse job with the image of baseball than you now do? It’s hard to imagine how. Face it, Bud, the sport formerly known as America’s Pastime is now in a worse public relations position than the Catholic Church.

Is it possible that you and the others who run your sport are the only ones who don’t know that, as the newspaper headline pointed out, there’s no tying in baseball?

Don’t give me this garbage about running out of players. When you called off the game, there were still nine players in the lineup for each team. The pitchers were tired? Bring one back from earlier in the game -- maybe someone like Oakland’s Barry Zito, who only threw three pitches before being yanked. I know that’s against the rules, but so is ending the game in a tie!

Oh, and nice job naming the MVP Award after Ted Williams and then not giving out the award! Ted would be steamed -- if he weren’t already frozen. Maybe your real tribute to him was seeing him put into suspended animation and deciding to do the same with the game.

Memo to John Henry Williams: I’m not sure I understand the appeal of this whole freezing-father concept. If and when you finally do thaw out your pop (or do you prefer “popsicle”?), won’t he come back as the ill man in his seventies he was before he died -- but with freezer burn? And if the idea is to preserve him so that you can sell his DNA, I’d suggest a simple question each potential buyer ask: if your father’s DNA was so spectacular that it made him such a great guy, how come you, his biological offspring ostensibly carrying some of that same DNA, don’t seem to have any of those positive attributes?

Memo to the unfrozen Williams, a/k/a Venus and Serena: You were great at Wimbledon. Yes, if you were white, you would be on the cover of every magazine in America and be the biggest poster girls in sports since Brandi Chastain showed the world her sports bra.

Ooops, didn’t mean to play the race card there. That’s reserved for our next contestant.

Memo to Michael Jackson: You know you’re out there on the gangplank by yourself when Al Sharpton backs off from your comments as too extreme. That's as rare an occurrence as Sammy Sosa buying dinner for Rick Reilly.

Mikey, if you’re looking for the reason your last album didn’t sell as well as you wanted it to, don’t blame Sony. Blame yourself, for not recognizing that the American public does not flock to buy new albums by men who wear bright red lipstick.

Here’s another factor you overlooked -- the album sucked. Fact is, the musical state-of-the-art has simply passed you by, making your newest contributions irrelevant. If you need help understanding this, consult with your one-time buddy Paul McCartney, who hasn’t produced a memorable song in over two decades, and his album sales reflect that. Those of us in the real world aren’t shedding a single tear for you musical multi-millionaires, any more than we do for athletes who won’t play their All-Star Game out of a tie because they’re tired and don’t want to make the effort.

In other words, suck it up. Otherwise, your DNA won’t be worth a dollar to your kids.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Steve Fossett's Hot Air

So, Steve Fossett has made it around the world in a balloon. Whoopee!

I can’t remember when something was getting so much hype from the media while so few people cared. I certainly don’t.

Now that he’s accomplished this circumnavigation by balloon, what good will it do mankind? What do we, as humans, do with whatever technology it is that helped him make it around the globe? Is there a dire need for great advances in balloon science that we’re not aware of? Are scientists jumping up and down, happy to see yet another natural obstacle overcome, leading us to a breakthrough of any sort?

I doubt it.

If there’s anything positive to take from Fossett being successful after five failed attempts, it’s that we no longer have to hear about him trying to achieve his feat.

Fossett’s flight reminds me of those guys who decide to battle the elements as they row a boat solo across the Atlantic. Or the chef who creates the world’s biggest burrito. I suppose they can be proud of their personal achievement, but I can’t imagine why anyone else would even bother taking notice. Except perhaps for Richard Branson, another guy with too much money and this odd ballooning hobby.

It’s not that I have anything against hot air balloons. My wife and I once took a very nice ride in one. It didn’t remotely resemble the high-tech version Fossett used, but it was a lot of fun. We took off at dawn, just as the fog was lifting. Standing in the basket, we were amazed at how easily the basket lifted us off the ground. The pilot took us up several hundred feet by pulling on a cord attached to the burners a couple of feet above our heads. They shot giant flames upward to heat the air inside the balloon, which made us rise. Then, suddenly, he shut them off, and the air was incredibly still. It was that eerie, early morning quiet you can only hear out in the country before the world wakes up.

As we drifted over the treetops, the pilot pointed down at a cow standing in a pasture. He told us to keep our eyes on it as he blasted the burner for just a moment to keep us aloft. The sudden noise of the roaring flame made the cow jump and look around. It had no way of knowing that the sound was coming from above, and I remember wondering what was going through the cow’s mind at that point. Must’ve confused the hell out of her. I’m no animal behaviorist, but I doubt that cows have very much sense of the vertical.

We were up for the better part of an hour, and then the pilot, with the help of his partner in a chase van below, began looking for a place to land. Spotting a field that looked big enough, he began our descent as gravity did its job. He warned us that this was the roughest part of ballooning, and he wasn’t kidding. The ground started coming up awfully quickly. The pilot told us to lean way back in the basket so the whole thing wouldn’t tip over when we hit. It almost did, anyway. Suffice it to say that hot air balloons don’t come to a nice, quiet stop on a dime. We bumped and dragged along the ground for a couple dozen yards before friction overcame inertia and we ground to a halt.

Once the pilot had made sure that we were okay, he asked, “They don’t tell you about that when you sign up, do they?” We replied, “No, they sure don’t” as we laughed it off. It was that nervous kind of laugh you make when you realize you just had a brush with possible injury -- like when you go to change lanes on the highway and at the last second glance over and realize there’s a car already in that lane and you would have hit it if you hadn’t swerved back into your own lane.

That’s the real reason the media paid so much attention to Fossett’s adventure. There was always a chance Fossett would die before reaching the finish line -- either by crashing into the ocean, or being shot down over Afghanistan by celebrants at a wedding party. The threat of death is always a more dramatic story. It’s why we remember Apollo 13, but not Apollo 14.

Those, by the way, were real milestones of aviation. But let’s not elevate Steve Fossett to the level of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Chuck Yeager, Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong. Somehow, I don’t see the great pioneers of future flight advances looking to this one for guidance in achieving their breakthroughs.

Unless they really want to scare the hell out of a lot of cows.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

The Boyfriend Barbecue

The wildfires in Colorado and Arizona have been getting a lot of print and TV time, mostly because fire has always made for good pictures. In the meantime, news analysts galore have been examining every aspect of the Terry Barton story.

Except for one – the story of the Boyfriend Barbecue.

Barton, a US Forest Service employee, first she told authorities that she’d been on patrol, smelled smoke, and discovered the fire. When they didn’t believe that, she changed her story and said that she had been on patrol when she came upon a campfire ring and decided to burn a letter from her estranged husband. Somehow, the flames spread to the dry brush, and eventually burned 135,000 acres in the biggest wildfire in Colorado history.

For a couple of days, no one questioned this story, because it seemed so plausible -- she was just having a Boyfriend Barbecue and it got out of hand.

Ask any woman about this and she’ll tell you that Barton’s “Accidental Arsonist” claim is completely plausible . In fact, it’s reminiscent of a “Friends” episode in which Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe have a Boyfriend Barbecue in their apartment that got so out of control that some hunky firefighters had to show up to douse their flames, wink wink.

But what if Terry had been a man instead of a woman? No one would have believed it, because no man would ever do such a thing. There’s no such thing as a Girlfriend Barbecue. And that’s because men don’t have the kindling.

Ladies, your feelings may be hurt by the painful fact I will share with you now (please note that in so doing, I’m violating at least three articles of the Code Of Men, but the truth must be told): Men don’t carry around letters from their girlfriends or wives.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a current relationship, an ex-relationship, an estrangement, whatever. We just don’t.

I know you’ve given us all those loving cards through the years, for our birthdays, anniversaries, Father’s Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Arbor Day, etc. Or maybe you sat down with your personal stationery and poured your heart out in deep, heart-wrenching romantic phrases, determined to express your everlasting love for your man.

Here’s what happened when you gave it to him. He opened it, he read it, he truly appreciated the sentiment. Then, when you weren’t looking, he threw it away.

It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t share the warm sentiment, or that he loves you any less than you love him. It’s just that he can have those feelings without needing the physical reminder in his pocket at all times.

Women, on the other hand, will keep every scribble they’ve gotten from their man from the first moment they met until their last day together – and even then, most of it won’t find the trash can. It could be something as simple as “Honey, I put gas in your car this morning. Jim and I are going to the game. We’ll get something to eat there. See you later!” Still, that goes into the collection. Shows he cares. She’ll treasure it forever.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. It’s just that we’re made differently, and we handle correspondence differently.

If Terry were a man who had received an upsetting note from his estranged wife, odds are that he’d call her a name (most likely starting with a B), rip it to shreds, and toss it in the wastebasket. End of note. Not the end of the emotion, but the paperwork wouldn’t survive.

Hypothetically, what might happen if he did keep the letter to read again later, as the real-life Terry maintains she did?

The scenario would begin with him on the toilet -- because that’s where we do most of our reading -- and it would end with him wrapping his bloody foot in a towel and going to buy a new mirror.

Why? Because the note from his estranged wife would undoubtedly be several pages (the longer it is, the more unsettling it is). So, when he tried to flush the torn pieces of the lengthy letter, they would clog up the toilet. The water would overflow onto the floor. He’d grab the plunger and try to get the thing to flush, but he’d lose his balance on the wet, slippery floor, falling hard on his butt. In frustration, he’d fling the plunger across the bathroom, where it would break the mirror over the sink, sending glass flying everywhere. When he stood up, those sharp yet reflective shards would get stuck in the bottom of his foot as if he was John McClane at the Nakatomi building. The blood would flow, as would a succession of curse words not heard since Richard Pryor’s early concert movies. Once he staunched the hemorrhaging from his appendage, cleaned up the mess in the bathroom, and it was all said and done, he’d still be back at the same place he would have been if he had just thrown the damn missive out in the first place.

And that is why men don’t carry notes from their women. It’s safer that way.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Life As A Soccer Dad

We haven’t exactly caught World Cup Fever in our house.

To be exact, we haven’t watched a single second of a single game. In other words, we’re like the vast majority of Americans -- we don’t have anything against soccer, it’s just that it never grabbed our attention.

I’m to blame, I suppose. While I’m not a sports nut, I do love the NFL, I can stand some baseball, hockey, and basketball, and I’m more than happy to see Mike Tyson get his brains beat in by Lennox Lewis.

About the only point in recent history that soccer was on my radar was when the US Women won that championship a few years ago, and Brandi Chastain stripped to her sports bra. I’m not a soccer fan, but I am a guy.

The other time I paid any attention to soccer was when my daughter was playing the game and I found myself suddenly in the role of Soccer Dad.

We bought a soccer ball and a small net, and I showed her the few moves I remembered from kicking the ball around in gym class several decades ago. My advice primarily consisted of, “Remember, don’t use your hands” and “Okay, it’s in the street, I’ll get it.”

After a few practices with the team, it was apparent that there were three or four girls who had a natural ability to play the game. They could dribble the ball up the field, pass it to somewhere within the vicinity of a teammate, get back on defense, and even do a sideline throw-in.

My daughter was not one of them. She was a member of the other group, roughly a dozen girls -- the rest of the team -- who were more interested in making sure the ball touched them as infrequently as possible.

At their first game, we could see that most of the teams in their league had about the same skill spread as ours. So the game consisted of a pack of girls moving up and down the field together, all within a 10 foot radius of the ball, no matter where it went. Many of them didn’t even have an idea where the ball was, but they saw the group moving, so they followed.

Some of these girls knew no fear. They’d kick away at the ball, determined to get it going in the right direction, and not afraid to trade shin shots to accomplish their goal. Again, I’m not describing my daughter here. She was part of that vast majority whose contact with the ball was more an accident of inertia than anything else.

Still, she was having a great time. What’s not to like about running around outside for an hour on a grassy field on a sunny day? She and her teammates were oblivious to what position they were supposed to play, the rare occasions when someone scored or a penalty was called, or pretty much anything else involving the structure of the game.

This went on every week for a couple of months. As a Soccer Dad, I did my part, sitting on the sidelines, having fun watching her have fun, shouting my encouragement whenever the Pack Of Pele’s moved within earshot. I saw that as my role.

Most of the other Soccer Parents, however, saw their role as Technical Advisors to the game. They consistently shouted advice to the girls, messages that alternated between “Somebody get the ball!” and “Kick it!” with an occasional “Pass it!” thrown in for good measure. I found myself wishing that just one of the players would come over to the sideline and ask these spectator/coaches if they were kidding.

By halfway through the season, I had developed some respect for the men who had volunteered to be coaches. They had schooled the girls in some of the basics, and had even managed to get my daughter to kick the ball on purpose once or twice. The team wasn’t going to any championships, but they were playing marginally better than when they had started.

In these days of Sports Parent Rage, you have to have a thick skin to be a coach. You never know when some adult is going to snap and attack you, either verbally or physically. We didn’t have any scenarios nearly as intense as the famous Hockey Dad incident, but there was one unpleasant occasion.

I watched at least two Soccer Moms loudly expressing their displeasure over how the head coach wasn’t giving their daughters enough time on the field -- as if their 7-year-olds were destined to be the next Mia Hamm. Somehow, the coach took it all in stride, insuring the Moms that everyone would get a chance; that at this level, the girls were just learning the fundamentals, and that winning was not of paramount importance.

The Moms were far from mollified, but the coach turned away from them and returned his attention to the game on the field. That’s when he shouted to the girls the best advice of the whole season: “Okay, everybody, stop talking and watch the game!”

Or maybe he meant that for the Soccer Moms.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Reciting The Pledge

It’s extremely rare that you’ll see me praise a politician, but then again maybe Jesse Ventura still doesn’t qualify as a politician, even though he’s been a Governor for awhile. Either way, here’s to Jesse for taking a bold stand last week in vetoing a bill sent to him by the Minnesota legislature.

Jesse vetoed The Pledge of Allegiance. No, he didn’t ban it, but he did veto a bill that would have made it mandatory for schools to require students to recite The Pledge every week.

Never one to mince words, Jesse explained, “I believe patriotism comes from the heart. Patriotism is voluntary. It is a feeling of loyalty and allegiance that is the result of knowledge and belief. A patriot shows their patriotism through their actions, by their choice. All of us should have free choice when it comes to patriotic displays.”

What he didn’t point out is that this sort of bill is nothing more than the worst kind of political grandstanding. All it does is allow politicians to do their lowest pandering in an attempt to paint any opponent who dares vote against it as unpatriotic and anti-American.

My daughter has to say The Pledge every morning, along with all the kids in her school. Does it hurt them? No. It wouldn’t hurt them to sing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” either, nor would it serve a practical purpose, so why do it?

You don’t make kids more patriotic by having them say The Pledge every day or even every week. When you do that, it becomes a rote recitation that loses its meaning. If you had to do it when you were in school, think back to what was going through your mind at the time. Once the novelty wears off, kids mumble their way through it, as bored as can be, resenting having to do it.

If The Pledge is so important, why would you want to engender those feelings towards it? On the other hand, if you reserve The Pledge for occasional and truly special circumstances, its message rings with unmistakable clarity.

Nowhere else in the educational process do we force children to stand up and repeat the same lessons they’ve learned over and over, year in and year out, from elementary school to middle school to high school. We don’t do that with the times tables, or verb conjugation, or penmanship practice. Yet somehow, students manage to learn, memorize, and retain those important concepts and many others, too.

If the idea is to try to imbue our children with reasons to be patriotic, that’s fine. But you don’t do that by making them habitually drone The Pledge.

Teach them what the words in The Pledge mean, what they stand for, what we as a people stand for. Teach them the reasons why this American experiment in democracy is the greatest system on the planet. Teach them the vitality of the concepts in the Constitution. Teach them to value the importance of the liberties laid out in the Bill of Rights. Above all, teach them how, as a nation, we’re still striving to live up to that last line, “with liberty and justice for all.”

Ask yourself this: do you love America any less because you didn’t say The Pledge Of Allegiance this morning?

My Vacation Soap Opera

You haven't seen a column from me for a few weeks because I've been off on my summer vacation. Or, as it’s come to be known, My Annual Search For Regular Hotel Soap.

Whoever was in charge of the hotels and motels account for Procter & Gamble must have retired a few years ago, because you can no longer find good old Ivory soap anyplace you stay overnight.

What you end up with are varying degrees of fancy soap. You know they're fancy because they're no longer rectangular, and they're not wrapped in paper. Instead, they're wrapped in some vacuum-sealed post-space-age clear plastic film that is tighter than the lips of a Secret Service agent watching Dick Cheney down a Wendy’s double with cheese.

Since you need that soap, you dig at it with your fingernails, leaving some nice pockmarks whose design resembles Tranquility Base. Once you have it open, you immediately sense an un-soap like aroma. Why, that would be the essence of vanilla that’s been added, which means you’ll now smell like a candle for the rest of your trip.

There are alternatives, and you’ll find them in the little collection of bottles that housekeeping has left for you on the sink counter or in the shower.

Maybe you’re the kind of person who wants to cover up that vanilla scent with something more reminiscent of a tangerine. Well, the Citrus Body Wash is for you. Then rub on a little Almond Moisturizing Lotion because, of course, the almond is the most moist of all nuts. Top yourself off with the Juniper Conditioning Shampoo and you’ve completed a veritable fragrance smorgasbord.

Perhaps you prefer your soap a little rougher. That’s when you use the soap with the brown chunks in it -- excuse me, I mean the Oatmeal Cleansing Bar, which sounds like an all-you-can-eat restaurant that serves only laxatives. Personally, I don’t want oatmeal in my soap anymore than I want soap in my oatmeal. If you have to take a breakfast product and use it in the bathroom, I’d suggest a medicine cabinet Pop-Tart dispenser.

Not all of your hotel hygiene options are that exotic. Sometimes you get something with a generic name like Bath And Shower Gel. Which is good, because who has room to pack both their Bath Gel and their Shower Gel? Thankfully, someone has merged the two technologies, and we’re all cleaner for their efforts.

The same people must make the contents of the other bottle, the one labeled Shampoo Hair And Body. This is a marvelous product for me -- even though I don’t have that much hair left on my head, I can use this stuff to keep my arm and leg hair looking lustrous and shiny. Next time you see me in short sleeves, please comment on my glow.

Shampoo bottles often lists the ingredients, including all the Latin chemical names. There must be some consumer somewhere in the world who needs that information: "My doctor tells me I’m not getting enough sodium laureth sulfate on my scalp." Ingredient number one in all shampoo is water, but one hotel shampoo I used on this trip wanted to seem more exotic than the others. They don’t want you to think they would stoop so low as to manufacture a product that is the most readily available natural resource in the world. So they list the first ingredient as "agua." I’m sure it came from an exotic Iberian spring named "El Faucet."

Once you emerge from the shower, it’s time to get dry, so you reach for your soft, fluffy, ultra-absorbent hotel towel. Unfortunately, there is no such thing. No matter how much you paid for that room, you’re still going to end up dragging some thin white rag with the texture of fine sandpaper across your body. Hotels certainly do this because people stole all of their good towels, although that’s always been a mystery to me, because people still steal the crappy towels. Are you telling me that you can afford to rent a room for the night, but you can’t afford to buy a towel for your own house?

The thing that gets me the most is that hotels are notorious for putting the towel rack right in the shower. This makes no sense. Do you store your dry towels in a nice damp spot at home? If so, you must store your Charmin in the toilet tank.

Maybe they should wrap them in that protective soap plastic. Nah, they’d be stolen even more, because that would make them "fancy."

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Dick Clark's TV Junk

As I was looking around for something to watch on TV the other night, I came upon a rerun of “The $10,000 Pyramid” on the Game Show Network. It had just begun, and since I had always enjoyed the show, I watched it to the end. In doing so, two thoughts occurred to me.

First, I couldn’t believe I was actually rooting for the contestant playing with “celebrity partner” Teresa Ganzel, whose only other minor claims to fame –- as far as I can tell -– were being on the TV series “The Duck Factory” with Jack Gilford and Jim Carrey, and replacing Carol Wayne as the busty female sidekick whenever Johnny Carson did his Art Fern bit.

Secondly, I realized that “Pyramid” was the only thing I ever liked Dick Clark for.

I know, it’s considered un-American to dislike Dick Clark, but the guy just bugs me. No, it’s not the “Oldest Teenager” routine. It’s the fact that he’s so blatantly phony.

His best-known ongoing product is “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve,” which for a couple of decades has been the highest rated conduit to the ball drop in Times Square. I give him credit for still being there every year, sure, but the show is terrible. Maybe it just seems under-ambitious to me, or maybe it’s just that I like broadcasts with a little more edge, a little more risk-taking. I’m not suggesting that Johnny Knoxville ride the ball down the pole, but the simple fact that everything on that show is pre-recorded other than Dick’s segments is indicative of his play-it-safe modus operandi. Worse, he pretends that the other segments weren’t actually taped in Hollywood days or weeks ahead of time -- the Hollywood crew of People Desperate To Be On Television is faking it, badly -- as if everyone were simultaneously ringing in the New Year (let’s not even get into the Time Zone difference).

That’s the phoniness I’m talking about, and it extends to all of his projects.

Take Dick’s other Most Celebrated Show, “American Bandstand.” ABC just aired his 50th Anniversary extravaganza, which did nothing but prove that “Bandstand” was always about as hip as Donny Osmond (an argument reinforced by the fact that Barry Manilow sang the theme song).

Worse, all the performers on “Bandstand” lip-synced their songs! Sometimes you could see that the guitars weren’t plugged in – this was before wireless instruments were invented – and the drummers looked like they had been told “don’t let your drumstick actually touch the drum head.” I would burst out laughing whenever a song faded out, because it wasn’t live, it was the record!

Perhaps the reason that “Pyramid” still looked good to me is that it came from Bob Stewart Productions, not dick clark productions (that’s not a typo – he pretentiously insists that the company name be in all small letters, as if he’s the e.e. cummings of television).

The most vital job at “dcp” must be that of the videotape editor, because that’s the person who has to take all of Dick’s pieces and put them together into a coherent show. Take a look at the “Bloopers” series he produced. Remember how a bloopers clip montage would end, and Dick and Ed McMahon would be sitting on their stools pointing and laughing as if they were watching along with the audience? They weren’t! All Dick and Ed had to do was record their parts, get them right in a couple of takes, and then the editor would splice it all together in post-production. Since the speaking parts rarely took more than ten minutes, that meant that Dick could pre-tape his parts for five or six shows in a single hour. Forget that it looked bogus to the home viewers!

Shows that have the “dcp” stamp on them aren’t just phony, they also have the appearance of shameless ripoffs. Speaking of Ed McMahon, his show “Star Search” was cloned by Dick to become “Your Big Break.” Long after The Grammys were established, Dick started The American Music Awards, which are nothing more than a popularity contest -- like The People’s Choice Awards, the results are based on polling, rather than merit.

After “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” became a phenomenon a couple of years ago, it was Clark who rushed his ripoff onto the air. Remember the first time you saw “Greed”? Chuck Woolery wasn't the problem, but the set, the lighting, and the pounding music were flagrantly counterfeited from the instant classic original that Regis was hosting.

Earlier this year, Dick did it again, allegedly taking the concept of ABC’s “The Chair” and pumping it full of hot air to create “The Chamber.” There’s debate about who copied whom, but the truth is that, although neither one deserved to be on the air, the Dick Clark version was much lamer and more excessive.

Clark is also the one who elevated The Golden Globes to the exalted status they now unduly receive -- winning one is about as important as winning the MTV Rock ‘n’ Jock softball game, and yet the hype is unbelievable.

Ever hear of another show Dick’s involved in, entitled “The Other Half”? Here’s how the show is promoted on its website: “The Other Half is unique among daytime TV talk shows for women. This new, one-hour show features an engaging and revealing look at a variety of topics important to women including relationships, finance, health and fitness, sex and parenting.”

Unique, huh? A unique copy, maybe, since it’s the exact same concept Barbara Walters developed for “The View,” but with four guys! Dick is one of the foursome, along with Danny Bonaduce -- the man who never met a camera he didn’t mug for -- and two other guys you’ve never heard of (it doesn’t matter, because they’re horrible). In St. Louis, “The Other Half” truly is unique among daytime TV shows, in that it runs in the middle of the night.

Speaking of Bonaduce, he brings us to Dick’s latest foray into revolutionary primetime brilliance: “Celebrity Boxing.” You may recall the debut special, in which Bonaduce pounded Barry “Greg Brady” Williams, Tonya Harding smacked Paula Jones all over the ring, and Todd Bridges knocked the word out of Vanilla Ice. That Parade Of Has-Beens was a big enough hit that Fox asked Dick to dig deeper into the barrel of tabloid vermin for another round, which airs this Wednesday night. This time, the quality will really show when Joey Buttafuoco fights Joanie Laurer, who used to wrestle as Chyna and stepped into this muck pile when original combatant John Wayne Bobbitt had to be replaced because he faces new abuse charges after using his wife as a punching bag. Clark and the sleaze-mongerers at Fox didn’t seem to mind that Bobbitt was convicted twice before on abuse charges.

Also on the bill, extra-tall Manute Bol fights extra-wide William “The Refrigerator” Perry, the guy who played TV’s Screech fights the guy who played TV’s Horshack, and -– wait for it -– Olga Korbut (yes, the 1972 Soviet Olympic Pixie has crawled out from under some rock to embarrass herself on television) takes on Darva Conger.

You remember Darva, the blond from “Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire.” She’s the one who desperately wanted fame and fortune, right up until the moment that fame and fortune meant spending more than three seconds with Rick Rockwell. Then she claimed she never did it for publicity and just wanted to be left alone. The way she proved her Garbo-esque desire was by making repeated appearances on “Larry King Live” and then doing a nude layout and publicity tour for Playboy. Apparently that wasn’t enough privacy for Darva, so she’s going to be on “Celebrity Boxing.”

The irony is that if Dick Clark were to begin a new version of “The Pyramid” today, all of his celebrity boxers would be answers in the category “People You Wouldn’t Want As Your Partner If You Were Playing The Pyramid.”

Somewhere, Andy Warhol’s watch has stopped. And we have Dick Clark to thank for it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Ken Lay School of Economics

The University of Missouri finds itself stuck in an embarrassing ethical quagmire, thanks to that paragon of economic ethics, Kenneth Lay.

You remember Lay, the man who drove the Enron engine down the road to financial ruin -– ruin, that is, for everyone at the low end of the pyramid. Kenny Boy and his executive colleagues engineered for themselves a nice soft landing -- right onto the heap of investors, shareholders, and employees who unknowingly were part of that giant sham operation. Not to mention the inflated energy prices the utility customers of California suffered thanks to Enron’s business practices. You have to go back to Guccione's "Caligula" to find so many people getting screwed by one Lay.

Now, Ken Lay has donated $1.2 million to Mizzou to endow a Chair in International Economics that will bear his name.

The school must realize that this money came from those dubious -- and possibly criminal -- economic parlor tricks. Therefore, in the name of ethics, the University Of Missouri must give this tainted money back and refuse to name a prestigious spot on its faculty after Lay.

Lay's contribution makes him a “very distinguished benefactor” at Mizzou (remember when "distinguished" meant more than "the check cleared"?). That's why there's a giant portrait of Kenny Boy in the Mizzou student counseling center. What’s that for, to inspire students to lower their personal scruples?

The school is conducting a search for a professor who would fill the Lay Chair. Several dozen people have applied for the job, apparently having no compunction about co-mingling their name with Lay’s.

There are economics professors at Mizzou who see nothing wrong with accepting this financial windfall and naming the chair after Sir Enron. Some have called him a creative and innovative business leader, which makes you wonder exactly what’s being taught in their economics classes. Then again, this is the University where Kenny not only got his undergraduate degree, but his master’s, too -- they must be doing something right!

I’ve checked the curriculum that would be discussed in the classroom of the Kenneth L. Lay Professor of International Economics. The syllabus highlights include:
• How To Get Around Conflict Of Interest Rules
• Screwing Employees Out Of Their Retirement Money
• How To Hide Debts In Off Shore Accounts
• Inflating Profits, Propping Up The Stock Price, Cashing Out
• Your Most Vital Accounting Procedure: Shredding

Once the University gives the money back to Lay, he can use the cash to dab away the tears his wife, Linda, must still be spouting. Remember her proclamation on “The Today Show” that they were so broke they might have to sell some of their ten homes? It got so bad for the Lays that, on one trip to their resort home in Aspen, Linda was forced to actually talk to someone whose personal worth didn’t have two commas in it. Oh, the agony!

The supporters of the Lay endowment argue that he hasn’t been convicted of anything, as if that makes him Mr. Morality. OJ Simpson wasn’t convicted, either. Would they accept an endowment for an OJ Simpson Chair In Criminal Justice? OJ could personally conduct the search for the Real Professor.

The fact is that Lay’s business actions were highly questionable at best, but -- yet again -- money talks and morality walks. Principles and integrity go out the window when a huge check comes in.

So, what’s next at the University of Missouri?

• The Leona Helmsley Chair in Hotel Management.
• The Jeffrey Dahmer Foundation Chair in Nutritional Studies.
• The Father Geoghan Chair in Pediatric Studies.
• The Mike Tyson Chair in Sports Psychology (okay, Abnormal Psychology).

Since when did higher education come with such low standards?

Sunday, April 28, 2002

Beat Me In St. Louis

A listener named Jimmy, who attended the "Beat Me In St. Louis" S & M convention, called my show today to explain his alternative lifestyle, in which he dominates his submissive wife. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

I Am Ozzy Osbourne

I came home last night from playing a couple of sets of tennis, and I was sore. A nice hot shower cleaned me off, but my middle-aged body was still aching. I went down to the kitchen, where I shuffled across the floor to the refrigerator looking for something to eat while mumbling something to myself.

That’s when it hit me. I’m Ozzy Osbourne. And you may be Ozzy, too.

Watching “The Osbournes” on MTV every week, I’m struck by how relatable this guy’s life is. Sure, he’s a rock star burned out by too many chemicals, too much booze, and too many years on the road. But that’s not where I see him as a mirror of the middle-aged American male.

Ozzy has many of the same problems many of us do. His body isn't exactly in tip-top shape, so he seems to be moving in slow-motion. He’s clearly not in charge of his own house. His two teenagers constantly present him with problems he’d rather not deal with, but which all parents eventually face, from tattoos to drugs to sex to loser friends. He’s sick of having to clean up the droppings from the various family dogs, which his kids should do, but don’t. He goes to throw something away in the kitchen trash, and whoever emptied the last bag didn’t replace it with a new one, so he has to go find one and put it in himself. He wants to watch a DVD, but the newfangled remote control system that his son has set up is so convoluted that he can’t get it to work.

This might seem like the makings of truly mundane television, but like “Seinfeld” before it, “The Osbournes” is about all the boring daily things that we all have to deal with. The difference is that what we’re watching really happened, unscripted -- and it’s very cleverly put together in post-production. It’s also the highest-rated series in MTV history, drawing over six million viewers a week!

The clear head of the household is Ozzy’s wife, Sharon. I had the pleasure of meeting both of them about 20 years ago when I interviewed Ozzy on my show (yes, he really does have “O-Z-Z-Y” tattooed on his knuckles). Sharon stood off to the side, overseeing everything.

Quick sidebar: during that interview, Ozzy’s speech wasn’t as slurred or obscenity laced as it is now, but from the look in his eyes, he was fairly, um, glazed. I asked him if he would be screaming the famous opening line of “Crazy Train” that night in concert, and he replied that he would. I asked him if he could demonstrate it for my audience right then and there, but he demurred, explaining that “I’ve not got my preparatory materials handy.” Sharon turned to him and said, “Don’t tell people that!!”

It was clear then and it’s clear now that she runs both his professional and personal lives, and he’d be lost without her. On the MTV show, rarely do more than a few minutes go by without Ozzy being confounded by something, followed by his shouting “SHARON!!!” so she can come in and take charge of whatever the problem is. These scenes hit home with American men because our lives are just like that. If you doubt me, try this little test. Ask any husband to tell you where five common items are in their house. For example, let’s go with a spare three-way light bulb, a cookie cutter, a vacuum cleaner replacement bag, a heating pad, and a spare roll of masking tape. I’ll bet you that, if he’s lucky, the guy can only find two or three (most likely by trial and error) without having to ask his wife. Of course, she can take you directly to all of them, because she is Sharon!

Totally relatable in my house, as another anecdote from My Life As Ozzy illustrates.

My wife went out with some friends when I came home last night. So, after getting our daughter in bed and having something to eat, I plopped myself in the living room to watch some TV. Naturally, the phone rang, and when I answered it, a man said, “Mr. Harris, I’m from the landscaping contractor. Your wife called to get an estimate on doing something with your patio. Can I talk to you about this?”

I had to tell the guy that, no, we couldn’t talk about it, because I didn’t know what he was talking about. Didn’t even know we were thinking of doing anything with the patio. In my mind, as long as the patio remains parallel with the earth’s crust, there’s not much we should do with it. Apparently, someone else in my family felt otherwise. “SHARON?!?!?!”

On the other hand, when it comes time to set the PVR to record something (e.g. “The Osbournes”) it’s her turn to shout for me. That’s when I do my Ozzy shuffle into the living room and get it done.

ALL ABOARD!!!!!!

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

George Lopez

Harris: About 6 or 7 years ago, I heard a comedy CD by a guy by the name of George Lopez. I hadn’t heard of George before that, but he was coming through town to work at the local comedy club, and I listened to the CD and laughed a lot. I said, “Okay, this guy has gotta come in and we’ve gotta hang on the air and have fun.” So I called him and he came in, and we got to be friendly, and then I asked him a few months later if he would perform at a big benefit I was putting together for Children’s Hospital. He said, “You need me? I’m there.” And he came and he absolutely killed that night. Then we kinda stayed in touch by email, and he was performing in Vegas on a weekend that I was there and I went to see him and he did a completely different act and killed there, too. Every time I’ve seen George advancing his career, I have felt happy that, here’s a guy I know, and he’s doing really well. Then he did a show in Los Angeles and became the first Latino to be the primary guy on an English speaking morning show in this country. Now he has his own primetime TV show on ABC. Here’s George Lopez!

Lopez: Oh my God. What an introduction, and I did it all with a 2.2 grade point average. How’s that?

Harris: I’m proud of you!

Lopez: Thanks, Paul. One of the great things -- and one of the ways I promote this show is through the radio, and getting to the viewers and the people who listen and doing it that way, almost like a politician would, like a whistle stop tour.

Harris: Well, because you know the power of radio, having done it yourself.

Lopez: Absolutely. And it’s great when you do interviews with -- I mean, all the interviews are special -- but when you do one with a guy that you’ve known for maybe 10 years, it’s the best, really.

Harris: Explain what the TV show is about.

Lopez: The premise is it’s a working class guy who works in an airplane parts factory who’s just been promoted from 15 years on the line. He’s the first guy to ever be promoted to manager, and all the guys at work think that the party’s just starting. And he takes the responsibility really heavy, and he’s got this mother that he works with who’s overbearing. She raised him herself and she still treats him like he’s 9 years old. And I have a wife who’s beautiful and I have two kids and I’m trying to incorporate myself into their lives, but it’s hard for me, because I got unresolved childhood issues. You know, it’d make a great piece for “Dateline NBC” but we turned it into a sitcom.

Harris: Good! And is your character named George Lopez?

Lopez: Absolutely! One of the hardest things with TV is deciding what to call the show. We didn’t want to call it “Mijo in the Middle” or “La Familia.” And Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts already burned “The Mexican.” So Bruce Helford, who created “Drew Carey” said, “Do you object to calling it ‘George Lopez’ and making it about your life?” And I said, “You know what? If I can become a better person out of this, then I’m fine.”

Harris: How does Sandra Bullock play a part in this? She’s the executive producer of the show, right?

Lopez: She was the one who really took me from day one. She was thinking about doing a show involving a Latino family and -- very few people know this, I think I’ve only said this once before -- the original concept of the show that she had heard a writer pitch to her, was a Latino “Beverly Hillbillies.” And I wasn’t happy about that, but I took the meeting just to meet Sandra.

Harris: Well, of course! Why not?

Lopez: Because the Latino “Beverly Hillbillies” is one away from opening the show with me scratching a lottery ticket and jumping up and down. So I figured, I’m not gonna rock the boat, I’ll meet her. l wanted her to see my stand-up. From the night that she saw my stand-up which was around August of 2000 -- and it was really about the family and the dysfunction and the love and everywhere I wanted to go they told me I had already been, and grownups thinking you were poor when they were just stingy, and all of these things that were not unique to me, but universal in all cultures -- she wanted to make the show about that, so the Latino “Beverly Hillbillies” went out the window.

Harris: When they call you and say somebody wants to talk to you about a TV show, you’re already excited. And then when they say, “It’s Sandra Bullock,” you answer, “What time do I have to be there?”

Lopez: Oh, absolutely. I remember one time, the truth, I was in Austin, Texas, and she lives in Austin, and there was talk she might come to the show. This was even before I met her, and literally, I was so nervous, I -- you know when you’re in Little League and there’s one out left and you go, “Don’t hit the ball to me!” I didn’t want her to come, and I thought, “I hope she doesn’t show up.” I just couldn’t take it, I couldn’t take it!

Harris: How did the network react to this? Because there haven’t been a lot of Latino TV shows.

Lopez: There are two curses. There’s the curse of the “Seinfeld” cast that they’ve all had to overcome, Jason Alexander, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, and Michael Richards. I have the curse of “Aka Pablo” over my shoulder.

Harris: Was that the Paul Rodriguez show?

Lopez: Eighteen years ago was the last show, and everybody I talk to, that’s all they want to talk about. That and the ghost of “Chico and the Man.” But this showis just about a regular guy trying to raise a family. I told everybody, “Look, we’re just a regular family with good tans.”

Harris: As a kid growing up, what did you think of “Chico and the Man?” You’re a Latino yourself, and here’s a guy on TV making it into a vaudeville act.

Lopez: You gotta remember, Paul, at that time, in 1973, Archie Bunker was the most beloved character on TV, and he was worse than Freddie Prinze and Jack Albertson put together.

Harris: Well, that’s true, but did you say to yourself, ”Okay, they finally put a Latino on TV and he’s THIS guy?”

Lopez: I didn’t have a problem with him not being what he said he was. I was just happy to see somebody who looked like me. I just loved the fact that he spoke English, and then he’d switch to that “Lookin’ good!” At that time, I’d never seen anybody that was young, that looked Latino. Up until then we had Jose Jimenez which was a Russian guy, Bill Dana, playing, an ignorant Mexican guy. And don’t forget that before the Taco Bell dog, there was the Frito Bandito, who was giving erasers away in a potato chip bag! I was happy to have that! I used to go to the market and try to steal the erasers out of the potato chip bag!

Harris: We keep saying “Latino” because you prefer that to “Hispanic,” don’t you?

Lopez: I’m not really a fan of “Hispanic” because it contains the word “panic.” I don’t want to be identified with a word that could promote fear. If “caucasian” was “caca-casion,” I don’t think anybody would be checking that box.

Harris: You’re absolutely right! So anyway, you go to the network and you and Bruce Helford, the producer, pitch this show. Did they say to you, “We want to make it more Latino, we want to make it less Latino, we’re afraid of Latino,” what? How did you get it on?

Lopez: No. Sandra Bullock and Bruce Helford have the same attorney. Bruce Helford, for the people who don’t know him, created “Drew Carey.” And he worked on “Roseanne,” he won a Peabody Award for “Roseanne.”

Harris: Okay.

Lopez: ABC was great because they had taken heat from the press about not having any Latinos on the channel, much like NBC and CBS. So, ABC was the only place we went to and they’ve been great since day one. They’ve never asked me to either become more Mexican or become less. I don’t know how I could be less, but the tone and the direction that we originally planned out for the show is the one that we stick to and they’ve never said anything otherwise.

Harris: There’s an item in a Knight-Ridder newspaper article that claims that ABC wanted you to make the kitchen look more authentic by putting a tortilla maker on the kitchen stove.

Lopez: Yeah, that’s true.

Harris: So they ARE trying to make it more Latino!

Lopez: Well, that was kind of in a passing. By the time it got to me, it was like laundering money. The person who said it, you couldn’t trace it back to.

Harris: But somebody said it.

Lopez: It was almost an off-hand comment. I said, “Wait a minute! Is this person saying what I think they’re saying?” And they said, “George, there’s nothing in the kitchen that would depict that this would be a Mexican family.” And I said, “Like what?” And they said, “Like how do you make tortillas?” And I said, “Yo, I don’t make ‘em!” But I think they expected me to say, “Well, I go to the back yard and I pull a rock out of the driveway and we grind our own corn!” Like they expected some little fat woman with her hair in pigtails to be makin’ it in the back yard!

Harris: Yeah! And I don’t see one tamale on the show! What’s wrong with you? This could be a much more Mexican show!

Lopez: So the legitimacy that we wanted frightened some people and they would say things like that. I had to fight with them about my clothes. I always wear my shirts untucked because I like the way it looks untucked! But to some people, “Well, it’s menacing.” I asked them, “How can a shirt untucked be menacing?”

Harris: Ray Romano always has his shirt untucked on his show.

Lopez: You know I’m a guy trying to hide my waist. It’s flattering, not menacing!

Harris: And by the way, how about the fact that you have a Mexican family, doesn’t that tell people it’s a Mexican family?

Lopez: That’s what I told them. I said, “How about paying attention to the people sitting at the table?” We did a “Good Day Live,” a national Fox show, and I told Steve Edwards, who’s the host, that I have fun with my Latino culture. I’m not that politically correct because I’m a comedian. I said, “Not only will we have Latinos on TV, but we’ll have the best manicured lawn in the history of television!” I said, “I’m out there with a lawn blower two hours before I even have to get in makeup!”

Harris: As the star of the show, do you get to pick your co-stars? You said you have a beautiful wife on the show. Did you get to audition women?

Lopez: Paul, I’ve been married 8 ½ years, and there was this woman -- let me look out the window and see if my wife is here -- there were two women who were the finalists. One was the gelato girl on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” the one that Brad Garrett, Bobby, fell in love with when he went to Italy. She’s just breathtaking. And there was this woman Constance Marie from “American Family,” who’s a friend of my wife’s. And I actually liked the other one better because she was tall and, let me tell you,
unbelievable. For the peace of the show, so I wouldn’t have to stay in the Starlit Motel in Burbank, we had to go with Constance, but she turned out to be great.

Harris: I understand. If it comes down to the incredible looking woman and the friend of your wife...

Lopez: Let me tell you, Standards & Practices at ABC have nothing on my wife! She is much tougher than any Standards & Practices guy that’s working in television, believe me.

Harris: I’m sure. Now we’ve been talking about how tough it was to get a show like this on the air. It’s been eighteen years since the last sitcom with a Latino in the lead. Other than this help from Bruce Helford and Sandra Bullock, have you found in your career that being Latino has been a real impediment to you getting where you want to go?

Lopez: I don’t think it’s an impediment to the work as much as to the quality of the work. What kind of road do you want to take? You know me well enough to know that I would never take any demeaning parts or even drug dealers and criminals and murderers and that kind of stuff that routinely gets written with Latinos in mind. I turned down just a slew of those parts hoping that there was even a slim chance I could do something else, something real. Because it’s almost impossible to get a television show on the air regardless of whatever color you are. The fact that I have these people behind me, it’s almost a reward for holding out for the right thing.

Harris: You and I talked about this on the air at length one day. All they were saying to you was, “We have this part, it’s in somebody else’s show and he’s a drug dealer or he’s a pimp, and so we wrote it as a Latino guy.” Why don’t you write the lead guy as a Latino guy and make the pimp or the drug dealer a white guy? They exist, too.

Lopez: Absolutely! One time on the “Cosby” show, the one that was on CBS a couple of years ago, originally the part of the son-in-law was a Latino character named Hector. And I read for it, and for one weekend I thought I was gonna co-star with Bill Cosby. But Cosby rewrote it and made the guy black. So even Bill Cosby, who is Mr. TV and Mr. Father, even he was gun shy.

Harris: Now, with this attractive woman who’s playing your co-star, the friend of your wife, are you two going to have scenes where you’re kissing and making out?

Lopez: Paul, she’s a vegetarian. And vegetarians, they have this breath that no one else has.

Harris: What do you mean?

Lopez: They eat hummus and broccoli and vegetables. Let me tell you, it’s a nasty breath. Don’t ever trust the vegetarians, man! Go with the carnivores.

Harris: But George, you have your own show. Get some mints on the set!

Lopez: Not even a mint could cut through that funk! It stays in them or, I don’t know what it does. It comes out of their pores, but they stink!

Harris: So, your show will not be rivaling Univision and Galavision for the sweatiest Latinos on TV?

Lopez: No, no!

Harris: But you know what I mean about those channels, don’t you?

Lopez: Absolutely.

Harris: Every time I turn them on I think to myself, “Are there no Latinos with air conditioning?”

Lopez: Well, they can’t run the cameras and the air at the same time. It shorts out! They gotta choose one or the other!

Harris: Hey good luck with the show, man. I’m happy for you, I hope it runs a long, long time. But don’t forget the guys who knew you when!

Lopez: Thank you, Paul!

Copyright 2002, Paul Harris.