If you like trivia, check out my other site, THE HARRIS CHALLENGE, and play every weekday!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lew's Been De-Googled

Lew Irwin has been publishing a showbiz-information report called Studio Briefing daily since 1992, -- first by fax, and then online (including a prime spot on IMDb.com) -- but he's been forced to shut it down over a dispute with Google. And they won't even tell him what he did wrong or how to fix it. Instead, they've de-listed him, taken away his AdSense account, and won't let him buy AdWords. Details here.

Lew is still offering Studio Briefing by e-mail, but I hope he can clear things up soon to get his website and syndication deal back on track.

Update 6:22pm: Lew e-mails, "It's just the SB blog that I've had to shut down."

Camera Crashers

The White House gate crashers story is just another symptom of an All-American disease -- the desire to be on television. The Salahis were desperate to get on a reality show, much like Richard Heene (Balloon Boy's father) and his family. They craved attention and wanted to be famous, even if it meant being infamous.

They are far from alone in suffering from this illness. At any sporting event, whenever a television camera is aimed at the stands, the fans go crazy, trying to get noticed by someone they know who might be watching. Local news reporters are familiar with the phenomenon of bystanders jumping into the frame and waving their arms, thrilled to have their electronic images transmitted somewhere, anywhere. Families that have just suffered the loss of a loved one or other tragedy gladly open their door and allow TV cameras in to record their grief.

In this decade, the ability to be on camera has become markedly easier, thanks to the simplification of camcorder technology -- just turn your cell phone around, push a button, and you're on video! -- and the ability to post footage online (YouTube, Facebook, and myriad other sites). My niece, who just visited for Thanksgiving, has been playing around with iMovie software and can, essentially, create her own TV show and make it available to the world instantly.

As for Michaele Salahi, more allegations are painting her as not just a media whore, but a liar, too. She claims to have been a Redskins cheerleader and a Victoria's Secret model, but both of those organizations deny it. She supposedly spent 7 hours at a hair salon on the day of the White House State Dinner. I may not have much hair (my haircuts average about 7 minutes), but I don't think it took 7 hours for Joe Biden to get a full set of hair plugs.

The Bravo crew that was following her for "Real Housewives of DC" must have known something was up. Upon hearing that the Salahis were invited to the State Dinner, any decent TV producer would want to get a shot of the official invitation, with the nice calligraphy and the names of the President and First Lady. Even the hairdresser at the salon asked to see it, but when Michaele pretended to look for it in her pocketbook, then claimed she must have left it in the car, it didn't even raise a red flag for the production staff. It seems they vet their reality show cast members as well as the Secret Service checks out White House guests.

Now we hear that the Salahis are shopping their story, for a price. Don't be surprised to see television outlets line up to offer something, because TV loves nothing more than people who want to be on TV.

Up first, America's toughest interviewer, Mr. Larry King -- the man who upset our previous reigning media whore, Carrie Prejean, by asking a simple question. Note to anyone desperate for attention: if you can't knock Larry King's softballs out of the park, you don't deserve the camera time.

What's interesting is that the vast majority of people who do get on TV reality shows -- a recent estimate put that number at over 1,000 a year! -- never really achieve a level of fame beyond those fleeting electrons. Can you name the person who came in 7th on "American Idol," or 9th on "Survivor," or the one who actually gained weight on "Biggest Loser"? Probably not, but perhaps that doesn't matter, because they've met their goal.

They were on TV.

High-Tech Nanny-Needers

Proving yet again that there's a subset of Americans who refuse to accept personal responsibility for their own lives, there's a new service that turns off your cell phone when you drive. As Sam Grobart reports in the NY Times, the service uses the phone's GPS sensors to determine whether you're at driving speeds, and then disables your cellphone until you stop the car.

The rest of us who are on the road are glad that you know you can't handle the phone-and-car combo, but the fact that you need a third-party to monitor your use of technology is shameful -- particularly when all you have to do is turn the phone off.

Other high-tech gadgets these Please-Nanny-Me's can choose from this holiday season:

FatStopper. An embedded chip-and-GPS system keeps tabs on your body weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and location. If you attempt to eat at White Castle or The Cheesecake Factory, the chip releases a drug that immediately puts you to sleep, disallowing the infusion of food you shouldn't consume. Also works at the beach if you try to go swimming less than an hour after eating.

BadBreathalyzer. Worn over your own teeth, this device monitors the aromas created in your mouth and, when a pre-set level is exceeded, secretes a fresh minty taste into your palate and tongue to keep you from offending anyone after that onion bagel you had for breakfast.

AgendaBlinders. A service that monitors everything you watch and listen to, and automatically mutes the TV or radio if you might hear an opinion you disagree with. Can be set for specific media personalities (Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Adam Lambert).

ForwardReverser. Software that automatically deletes any e-mail you try to send that contains chain mail, bad jokes, urban legends, or anything else that has already been forwarded to you and everyone else online.

BeerGlassesShunt. Another embedded chip, this one monitors your alcohol intake and the time of day. If you've achieved a pre-determined BAC and it's after 2am (or whenever last call is in your municipality), the chip causes you to sweat profusely, thus guaranteeing you won't even consider hooking up with someone similarly drunk and desperate.

PrevenTweet. A plug-in for your Twitter account that prevents you from posting tweets that no one else cares about or should ever see, like "Going to the store to buy milk" or "Beginning my weekly belly button de-linting" or "I want to have Larry King's child."

Moot Reminders

Every time I fly and hear the flight attendant telling passengers how to operate a seat belt, I wonder how low the stupidity bar has been set in this country.

Then, this weekend, when I filled my gas tank, I noticed a new sign with instructions on using the nozzle: "Insert and compress, tilt, pump." What are the chances someone who doesn't already know how to operate the mechanism would understand what "insert and compress" means?

It's like that reminder on an envelope to "affix stamp here." If you're not aware of the fact that you have to put a stamp on your mail, it seems unlikely you'll know the definition of "affix."

Meanwhile, somewhere in America, a driver is standing next to his car after inserting, compressing, tilting, and pumping. He's bewildered at what to do next because there's no sign telling him to put the nozzle back in the pump and give someone else a turn.

Beatles 3000

History doesn't always get details right, with more errors and omissions as time goes on. For example, here's a look back at The Beatles from the perspective of 1,000 years from now...

[thanks to Michelle Nicotera for the link]

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cosmetic Changes

I've made a few minor changes to this blog:

  • Easier navigation. Updates on where I'll be on the radio next are always in the upper right-hand corner, and links to the most popular parts of this site are now at the top. You can sign up for my newsletter quickly using the box on the right.
  • No more ads. I couldn't control the ads Google placed on this site, and found recently that there were too many products I was embarrassed to be associated with, even at arm's length.
  • No more Twitter feed redundancy. I'd love to have you follow me on Twitter, but it seemed redundant to have my Tweets appear here, too.
  • No more comments. In the last few months, I've been inundated with comment spam and many submissions I had to moderate out of existence. You're still welcome to e-mail me -- that's how most of you stay in touch with me anyway -- and I might post some of those.

Oral Histories

The day after Thanksgiving wasn't just Black Friday. It was also the National Day Of Listening, an effort to get families to preserve a little bit of their history. The organizers suggest setting aside an hour to record a conversation with someone important to you -- a family member, a teacher, a friend, etc.

Though we've passed the designated day, the idea works any time. I recommend it because I've done it.

About 20 years ago, long before the advent of the Flip camera and other easy-to-use camcorders, I rented some video equipment (camera, lights, microphones) and set them up in my parents' living room. Then I had my mother and father sit on the couch and talk about their remarkable lives.

We started in their early years -- where they grew up, what they did as children, what their neighborhoods were like, where they went to school, and who their friends were. Then my father talked about his time in the Army in World War II, and my mother opened up about what life was like for single women back home with so few men around.

We recorded ten hours over two days as they told stories about how they met, the jobs they'd had, the places they'd traveled to, their mutual love of music and movies, the social movements they'd been part of, and what it was like to raise me and my brother.

I'm particularly glad I undertook the project because my father got sick a few years later and began a long, slow descent that eventually took his life. He knew his granddaughter for her first three years, but she never really got to know the man he was. I'm happy that my mother is still around and that they have a warm, close relationship, but those recorded hours of insight into my parents will help to keep their memories alive for her -- and for me -- for many years to come.

I urge you to do the same with your parents while they're still around.

Another Old Dog

In response to my post about Robin Williams and Steve Martin, Scott Hardie e-mails:

If we're debating who has suffered a bigger fall from once-revered comedy superstar to unfunny hack who churns out nothing but groaners, I'd like to nominate Eddie Murphy. He made Shrek and Dreamgirls, but he has also spent this decade making The Nutty Professor II, Dr. Doolittle 2, Showtime, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, I Spy, Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion, Shrek 2, Norbit, Shrek the Third, Meet Dave, and Imagine That. I can't help but think that if the edgy young Murphy from the eighties could time-travel forward and see any of these movies, he would be deeply ashamed of his older self.
You're absolutely right, Scott. Murphy is another prime example. It's not that these guys can't do good work, it's that they seem incapable of waiting for material that's up to their talent.

Old Dogs Need New Tricks

With this weekend's opening of "Old Dogs," a Robin Williams-John Travolta movie whose trailer makes it look as unfunny as any I've ever seen/avoided in the past, I began wondering which comedic genius is responsible for more bad movies in the last decade, Williams or Steve Martin?

These two have been in the comedy pantheon since they became megastars in the 1970s. Every time they show up on Letterman or in other venues to promote a movie, the audience goes crazy for them. But that celebrity love is based on their work from long ago, not anything of quality that they've done recently. There's nothing wrong with that TV adulation -- both of them know how to be great, money-in-the-bank guests -- but their recent ability to choose movie projects is questionable, at best.

Steve Martin's list of good films in the last ten years contains exactly one title: "Shopgirl." Fortunately, his list of bad films isn't that long, either, with just a couple of lousy originals ("Novocaine" and "Bringing Down The House"), but too many why-bother remakes, from "The Out-Of-Towners" to both "Pink Panther" movies and a couple of "Cheaper By The Dozen" retreads, too.

All that work has kept him rich and famous, but it's too bad he can't find more scripts like he did in the 1990s with "The Spanish Prisoner" and "Leap of Faith" and "LA Story." His output in the decade before that was even better, with classics like "Planes Trains & Automobiles," "All of Me," and "Roxanne" helping cement his reputation as one of our biggest and best comedy movie stars.

Martin has a new movie due in a couple of weeks called "It's Complicated," in which he co-stars with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. It looks promising, but for next year he's already committed to yet another unnecessary remake: "Topper."


When you think of Robin Williams' movies, you may think of "Good Will Hunting," "Good Morning Vietnam," "The Birdcage," or "Dead Poets Society." But he did all of those in the 20th century.

Since the beginning of this century, he's had small roles in decent films like "August Rush" and the two "Night At The Museum" movies. Otherwise, Williams' resume includes lots of stinkers: "Old Dogs," "World's Greatest Dad," "License To Wed," "Man Of The Year," "RV," "The Night Listener," "The Big White," "House of D," "The Final Cut," "Insomnia," "Death to Smoochy," "One Hour Photo," "Bicentennial Man," and "Jakob The Liar."

Williams has just finished his most successful project in recent years, a standup tour that was filmed for an upcoming HBO special called "Weapons of Self-Destruction." Sounds like a good title for the pile of scripts he's chosen to make movies from, because he wins the bad-movie battle, hands down.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Walken Family Reunion

Take a break from all those family members you're spending the holiday with, and join the Walken Family Reunion (notice how Christopher Walken actually does the worst imitation of himself!)...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Final Table #43: Listener E-Mail

Today on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked about his adventures in New York with Joe Cada, the 2009 WSOP Main Event champion, from backstage at the Letterman show to front row at WWE Raw, and more.

Then we brought in The Poker Coach, Joe McGowan, to answer e-mails about why Phil Ivey folded pocket jacks at the WSOP Final Table, how much Darvin Moon passed up in endorsement deals, whether a listener did the right thing by moving all-in with king-jack on the button towards the end of a tournament, and how to play hands when it comes down to just the small blind vs. the big blind.

Lastly, in case you're already thinking ahead to your plans for next summer, we talked about what's planned for the 2010 World Series Of Poker, which will begin May 28th and include several more $1,000 buy-in events, a new $25,000 six-handed no limit hold'em event, and a new $50,000 "Player's World Championship," which replaces the high-stakes HORSE championship.

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

More Tony Hendra on George Carlin

After my conversation with Tony Hendra yesterday on KIRO/Seattle about George Carlin (listen here), I invited him to join me again today on WHAS/Louisville to talk some more about his friend's autobiography, "Last Words."

This time, we went over different topics, including how Carlin's drug use affected his work and marriage, why he was often unhappy with his performances, how he honed his act and developed new material, and why Carlin made so many appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" despite his rebellious counterculture image and attitude.

Together these interviews will give you some insight into one of America's legendary comedians from a fellow funny man who knew him well. Hendra and I also talked a third time on KTRS/St. Louis and delved into even more Carlin topics.

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


Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt had a mega-bestseller a few years ago called "Freakonomics," so naturally they were asked to do a sequel. "SuperFreakonomics" has just hit the book shelves, and Dubner joined me to talk about it.

We discussed their controversial conclusions regarding climate change and the recent questions about e-mails between scientists regarding global warming and how they affect the debate. We also talked about how they followed up their earlier piece on the economics of drug dealers with a new section on prostitutes and pimps (how do you go about gathering that data, anyway?).

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

Previously on Harris Online...

Trick Play

Here's a neat trick play pulled off by Bethel College this weekend. The quarterback (Garrett Hiebert) takes the snap, fakes a toss to the running back, and then flips it backwards over his head to the tight end (Joel Maple) for a touchdown...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tony Hendra, George Carlin "Last Words"

Tony Hendra has a pretty good comedy resume. He was the original editor of National Lampoon, helped create their seminal stage show "Lemmings," did standup for several years in the 1960s, and co-starred in "This Is Spinal Tap" as Ian Faith, the band's cricket-bat-wielding manager.

Hendra was also a very close friend of George Carlin, and from 1993 to 2008, the two of them got together often to work on what would eventually become Carlin's autobiography. After Carlin's death in June, 2008, Hendra took it upon himself to complete that project, which has just been published as "Last Words."

I talked with Hendra today about his friendship with Carlin, how the two of them morphed from the kind of straight-laced comedians who made multiple appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" into counterculture rebels who helped change the world of comedy for a new generation. We also discussed how Carlin viewed other comedians as competitors -- particularly Sam Kinison -- and how that influenced his work. And Hendra explained why, when Carlin was being arrested at Summerfest in Milwaukee for doing his infamous "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television" routine, the impending indecency bust was the least of his concerns on stage that night.

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

Note: I continued my conversation with Tony the next day on WHAS/Louisville, where we touched on completely different topics from George's life. You can listen to that interview here.

We followed that up with another conversation on KTRS/St. Louis, with even more topics we hadn't gotten to before. Listen to that interview here.

Ken Auletta, "Googled"

Ken Auletta has been writing about media for many years, and joined me today on KIRO/Seattle to talk about his latest book, "Googled: The End Of The World As We Know It." Among the topics we covered:
  • why Google thinks of itself not as an internet venture, but as a media company, even though it doesn't create any content;
  • the news today that Rupert Murdoch wants to team with Microsoft and block Google from linking to any of his news sites as the first step towards creating a pay-for-news paradigm;
  • where Google has failed, and where it's still playing catch-up
  • the relationship between founders Larry Paige and Sergei Brin, and what they think of competitors like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs;
  • why Google fears Twitter and Facebook.
Listen, then buy the book, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

David Sirota

Columnist and author David Sirota joined me on KIRO/Seattle today to talk about President Obama's imminent decision on Afghanistan -- whether he'll send more troops, what the mission is for our forces in that nation now, and whether we can afford to be at war during a recession.

We also talked about the health care reform package which will be debated in the US Senate next week, from the Democrats' struggles to keep their own party in line to whether the public option is still alive.

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

World's Scariest Path

Here's a video that will make you hold your breath for a couple of seconds.

It's a walk along El Camino Del Rey in the El Chorro region of Spain. The walkway was built over 80 years ago, and is in serious disrepair. That's not a good thing considering it's along the edge of a gorge, where one slip of your foot would send you hurtling down the rocks to your death -- and there's no guardrail. That doesn't stop some ballsy hikers from walking the path, both for the scenery and the adventure.

I can't embed the video, but you can see it here.

[thanks to Jon Michelson for the link]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kernels That Kill

The food police at CSPI -- who previously tried to get us to stop eating Chinese food, lasagna, and other delicious meals, while their diet seems to consist entirely of lentils and scallions -- have a new report on how bad movie theater popcorn is for you. They claim that, because it's cooked in coconut oil, the popcorn contains way too much fat, even without the 10W40 derivative the concession stand laughingly refers to as "butter."

So what? It's not like we're at a movie theater all that often anymore. With more and more Americans watching movies at home -- where we don't have to endure endless commercials and previews, the snacks are cheaper, and you can pause when you have to go to the bathroom -- we only go out to a movie a few times a year. And if we want to splurge while we're there and have a few hundred extra calories, where's the harm? It's not like we're scarfing it down daily.

Besides, when theaters did try to offer air-popped popcorn as an alternative a few years ago, they saw their concession sales drop because people want an unhealthy snack at the movies. Try putting a bag of dried apricots in there next to the M&Ms and SnoCaps and see which sells more. Then, leave us alone in our temporary debauchery.

Germ Warfare

The Wall Street Journal is now America's most-read newspaper, so when they put a story on the front page, it must really be important, like today's headline: "Nothing To Sneeze At: Doctors' Neckties Seen As Flu Risk." It says that several hospital are considering banning neckties because they are so rarely cleaned, despite dangling "perilously close to sneeze level." The British Medical Association has already gotten rid of its requirement that doctors wear ties, and the AMA is considering following suit.

Frankly, I don't care whether my doctor wears a tie, as long as he sees me within five minutes of my arrival in the office and doesn't make me spend 45 minutes sitting on crinkly exam table paper.

But if you do away with the tie, what about the lab coat? How often does that get washed? Doesn't it go on a hook at the end of the day, then get worn again the next morning, full of whatever germs it previously encountered? And how about that shirt the doctor put on this morning and wore while she kissed her microbe-ridden children goodbye?

This is a slippery slope that ends up with a naked physician forced to take a "Silkwood" shower before seeing every patient (note to esoteric movie-reference fans: if you prefer a more Dennis-Miller-ish analogy, replace "Silkwood" with "The Andromeda Strain").

What The Hell Is Wrong With People?

A cop in Arkansas has been suspended for using a stun gun on a 10-year-old girl. When he got to the house, the girl's mother complained to the officer that her daughter wouldn't take a shower. The girl was on the ground crying and kicking and screaming. The mother explained that her daughter wouldn't do what she was told, so the policeman should use his Taser. He did, then put the girl in handcuffs and drove her to the police station.

Is that what we're doing now with unruly kids? Calling the cops and having them stunned and arrested? The child had not broken any laws, although she was charged with disorderly conduct. I repeat: the girl was charged with a crime. I'm sure that will improve her relationship with Mom a whole lot.

Old Jewish Man River

On the set of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" in the 1970s, here's producer Stan Daniels doing a little something for the studio audience. It's the song "Old Man River" from the musical "Showboat," as it would sound if it were sung by an old Jewish man instead of an African-American dock worker...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bad Day Made Worse By Pirates

I was out late last night having a losing session of poker, but had to get up early this morning because the exterminator was due at 8am. I rolled out of bed groggily after five hours sleep at 7:30am. Naturally, the exterminator didn't show until 8:50am, so the day wasn't off to a good start.

After she was done, I spent the morning doing business, paying bills, answering e-mails, posting a podcast, etc. All the while the overhead fan in my office was making a whining/grating noise it had never made before, but which most adults can instantly identify as Yet Another Thing I'm Going To Have To Fix Or Replace.

By noon, I had some errands to run, including a stop at the post office to mail some packages. There were several people in the lobby when I walked in, so I took a number from the dispenser. I was customer #78. I looked up at the display in the corner, which said they were currently serving #61. Let's see, seventeen to go, probably two minutes apiece, I'm gonna be waiting for half an hour. Ruling from the judge in my head: these packages don't have to go out today.

I did the rest of my errands, stopped again to answer a couple of phone calls and e-mails, then decided to grab a quick lunch. I was in the mood for a burrito, so I hit the drive-thru at Taco Bell. The clerk was nice and efficient as she took my money and handed me my food and I drove away. It wasn't until I was up the street a few blocks that I realized I hadn't gotten my beverage -- my fault, I drove away too fast. So I circled around, saw the drive-thru was full of cars, went inside, and she handed me my drink.

Now, with a couple of hours to kill, I headed for a nearby AMC Gigaplex to see "Pirate Radio." It's been a long time since anyone did a decent movie with radio at the center of the plot, and I'd been eager to see it since I'd heard about it earlier this year, when it was still called "The Boat That Rocked."

As I always do, I went to the automated ticket dispenser, which refused to accept any of the credit cards in my wallet. Okay, fine, I'd get my ticket from the human behind the bulletproof shield in the lobby. In front of me, I found five people who may be listed by Guinness as The Slowest Humans On Earth. To make matters worse, the ticket clerk was at least their equal. He had apparently never dispensed a ticket before, as it took ten minutes (!!) to get mine.

Still, I figured this was no problem, because all I was missing was the "pre-show entertainment," an industry euphemism for lousy commercials and coming attractions that give away the entire plot of the movie they're promoting. As the clerk handed me my ticket, he said, "Theater 7, down the hall and to your left."

I followed his instructions and went down the hall and to my left into Theater 7. The pre-show was still going on. And on. And on. This was taking much longer than I'd ever seen before. Finally, the actual movie began -- and it was the wrong movie. In Theater 7, they were showing "Amelia." My movie, "Pirate Radio," was showing in Theater 2, and had started about ten minutes ago.

As a lifelong movie lover, I have a thing about joining a movie in progress -- I hate it. Like Woody Allen in "Annie Hall," I have refused to set foot in the theater if the movie has already begun, because I want to see the thing from the beginning. So I had a dilemma: either I go into Theater 2 and pick up "Pirate Radio" several minutes into the plot, or I go back to the same ticket clerk and try to get a refund. I immediately ruled out the latter option, because I didn't want my head to explode.

I settled into my seat among the dozen or so others (there isn't a large crowd there on Wednesday afternoons) to enjoy the wacky antics of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, and the rest of the pirates who broadcast rock and roll radio into the UK in the 1960s once the music had been banned from the land-based BBC outlets by the government. I'd hoped the movie would shed some light on how they -- like the real-life radio pirates at Radio Caroline and others -- had exploited international waters to create a hugely popular outlet for a musical form that was exploding worldwide.

Unfortunately, the movie is light on that story, and has a low degree of radio realism. The jocks come off as arrogant poseurs, who may love the music they're playing but never explain why -- not a good thing in a verbal medium. Instead, in more than one scene, the DJs express their enthusiasm for rock and roll by dancing around the studio as the music plays. I've been in the radio business for over 30 years, and I've never seen a DJ dance around the studio. Yes, there's been excitement and joy and fun, but no dancing.

Kenneth Branagh plays a clownish government official, and must have been told by director Richard Curtis to chew all the scenery he could. Meanwhile, Curtis concentrates far too much on the personal lives and sexual exploits of the men on board, one of which leads to a major rift between two of the jocks, who settle their disagreement in a ridiculous manner. It's the kind of abrupt plot turn that signals a screenwriter who threw his hands up in the air and typed, "Then they looked at each other and decided to just be friends instead of rivals."

That's surprising, because Curtis, who wrote and directed "Pirate Radio," was responsible for the terrific screenplays for "Notting Hill," "About A Boy," "Love Actually," "Four Weddings and a Funeral," and "Bridget Jones' Diary." Unfortunately, his script here falls far below the standard he set with those movies.

Maybe the automated dispenser was right not to sell me that ticket.

What lessons did I take away from My Bad Day that I can share with you?

  1. Don't see "Pirate Radio," but rent one of those other Richard Curtis movies instead.
  2. Don't go to the post office at lunchtime if you're in a hurry.
  3. Don't leave the drive-thru window until you make sure you have everything you ordered.
  4. Don't enter the theater until you check the ticket to make sure it's showing the movie you want to see.
  5. Did I mention you shouldn't see "Pirate Radio"?

Final Table #42: Joe Cada, WSOP Champion

This week on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked with Joe Cada, who last week became the youngest-ever World Series Of Poker Main Event champion, when he outlasted the rest of the November Nine.

We talked about how he played several hands, what was going through his mind as he made the decisions, how lucky he was to come from behind in so many hands, and how he's already using some of the $8.5 million to help his parents through some tough times. Since we often get e-mails from listeners who want to know about poker players who have backers buying them in to all sorts of tournaments, we talked with Joe about how he made the deal with his backers, whose bet on him will net them 50% of those winnings.

For about a month, we've mentioned that Dennis was going to play on the best poker show on TV, "High Stakes Poker." That moment finally came Thursday, when he sat down to some very tough competition, including Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, Barry Greenstein, Daniel Negreanu, and Patrick Antonius. Dennis can't reveal what happened, but on our show he did talk about the atmosphere, how much money was in play, new "HSP" hostess Kara Scott, and more.

He also talked about being snagged at the last minute to fill in for another player who had stormed off the set of "Poker After Dark," and his deep run this weekend in the Heartland Poker Tour event in St. Louis. We squeezed all that, plus Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan, into a one hour show.

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

Rock Slide

What I want to know is why the person with the camera just happened to stop at this point and start taping, moments before the hillside fell down...

[thanks to Jon Michelson for the link]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Recommendation

I'm always intrigued by interesting people talking about how they do what they do for a living. So is Mike Sacks, who had conversations with 21 comedy writers to learn about how they create, which he has compiled in "And Here's The Kicker."

Buck Henry talked about "The Graduate" and his multiple appearances on "Saturday Night Live." Harold Ramis talked about "SCTV" and "Caddyshack." Merrill Markoe talked about her years with David Letterman. Marshall Brickman discussed his years with Woody Allen. Sacks also got Robert Smigel, Larry Gelbart, Dick Cavett, Larry Wilmore, Dave Barry, and Stephen Merchant to open up about their profession and offer some advice for those who may want to follow in their paths.

Some of these stories have been told before, but many are new, and there's some depth to the discussions that I hadn't seen previously. Good stuff.

Heywood Banks

Heywood Banks, the comedian/singer/songwriter, was in the studio with me again this week on KTRS/St. Louis. As usual, we had no specific topic agenda other than promoting his comedy club appearance, so the discussion ranged from cryogenics to why he doesn't use Twitter to an HBO Young Comedians Special he appeared on in 1988 (which has recently resurfaced on the cable channel, with Paul Rodriguez, Cathy Ladman, and Richard Jeni). Heywood also performed his songs "The One I Love," "Big Butter Jesus," and a couple of new tunes, including one in the emerging musical style of Country-Hawaiian.

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

Heywood's CDs are available here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pigeon Impossible

From filmmaker Lucas Martell, an animated short about a rookie secret agent faced with a problem seldom covered in basic training: what to do when a curious pigeon gets trapped inside your multi-million dollar, government-issued nuclear briefcase...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Clinton Tapes

Today on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked with author Taylor Branch, who had 79 confidential conversations with President Bill Clinton during his two terms of office from 1993 to 2001. Those discussions, done contemporaneously as the President wrestled with the issues of the time, helped Clinton when he wrote his autobiography a few years ago. Now he has allowed Branch to compile them into his new book, "The Clinton Tapes."

I asked Branch why Clinton kept these tapes so secret for so long, whether he was worried about them being subpoenaed, and whether there were limitations on what they discussed. Our topics today included:
  • Did Clinton feel he played a role in Al Gore losing the election in 2000?
  • Did Boris Yeltsin really run out onto Pennsylvania Avenue in his underwear, drunk and looking for pizza?
  • How did Clinton react on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing?
  • What did Clinton tell him about Osama Bin Laden in the years before 9/11/01?
  • Was he frank about his affair with Monica Lewinsky?
  • Did Clinton blame the Supreme Court for allowing the Paula Jones deposition to proceed by claiming it wouldn't be a distraction for the White House?
  • How was Clinton's relationship with the press?
Listen, then buy the book, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Dave, Ridley, Peter, and the Sword

Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson were back with me today on KTRS/St. Louis to promote "Peter and the Sword of Mercy," the fourth book in their trilogy (!) of incredibly popular Peter Pan prequels.

They told stories about the appearance of a giant snake at one of their book signings, the questions they get from the kids who read their books, how they got advice from Roy Disney on sea-faring vessels, and much more.

I've had the pleasure of interview Dave and Ridley separately and together for their various projects through the years, and they never fail to come through as guests. I've also emceed several of their book signing events, where they charm the crowd of both adults and children, all of whom leave with a smile on their face and a book in their hands. They are class acts.

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

Unscientific America

How do you describe a country where 46% of the population believes the Earth is less than 10,000 years old? Chris Mooney calls it "Unscientific America."

He joined me today on KTRS/St. Louis to talk about this nation's scientific illiteracy, and how it threatens our future. We discussed the politicians and others who use that lack of scientific understanding to promote fear and forward their agenda, from the anti-vaxxers to the climate change deniers. and the media outlets that insist on presenting both sides of an issue that doesn't have valid arguments on both sides.

Listen, then buy Mooney's book, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Jon Stewart, Media Watchdog

Monday night, Sean Hannity did a segment on his Fox News show about the weekend rally by some right-wingers in Washington (led by whackjob congresswoman Michelle Bachmann).

Tuesday night, Jon Stewart did a segment about Hannity's segment, showing that, in order to make it look like the crowd was larger than it really was, the Fox News crew had re-used video of another rally that took place in DC two months ago.

Wednesday night, Sean Hannity ended his show by admitting that Stewart was right, claiming the use of that old video was "inadvertent."

Bullshit. This wasn't a simple mistake. It was FNC continuing to do whatever they can to pump up their anti-Obama agenda and make it seem like huge numbers of Americans agree with them. And yet again, it was "The Daily Show" that called them out on it. Jon Stewart and his colleagues do a better job of fact-checking the media than the media do on the actual news.

As Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch wrote,

Jon Stewart understood something that many high-ranking traditional media editors still, sadly, do not understand. That this kind of thing matters. A lot. For Fox News, which has stepped up its partisan cheerleading for the right wing since Barack Obama became president, size -- of anti-administration protests, that is -- matter. And when they run misleading footage to make a conservative rally appear to be much, much better attended than it really was, that accomplishes several things. It fires up the right-wing base -- the people that GOP wants to get rowdy at town hall meetings or flood congressional phone lines. And the bogus report also pressures wavering lawmakers, especially those centrist Democrats looking for any excuse not to support health care reform. Using doctored footage to make a point is not news. It's propaganda, and in America that makes it a serious matter, indeed.

TSA Backs Down

In April, I talked with Steve Bierfeldt, a Ron Paul staffer who was stopped and questioned by TSA agents at Lambert Airport because he was carrying a metal box with $4,700 in cash inside. The agents overstepped their authority, verbally abused him and didn't know the law (it's not illegal to travel with that amount of money -- if it was, no one would fly to Las Vegas!). The TSA agents also didn't know that Steve was recording the whole encounter on his iPhone (we played the audio as part of the interview, which you can listen to here).

Afterwards, Steve sued the TSA for unlawful detention and other issues with help from the ACLU. This week, in response to that litigation, the TSA revised its rules and reminded agents that carrying large amounts of cash is not against the law. Hopefully, it also gave them some lessons in our other constitutional rights.

Comedians on Carlin

As promotion for the new George Carlin autobiography, "Last Words" (which he worked on for 15 years with Tony Hendra, who I'll interview in a couple of weeks -- details to come), here are some thoughts on the late comedian from Richard Belzer, Jeffrey Ross, Susie Essman, and others...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Movie You Might Not Know

"You better watch your ass, Cobb, or these guys will shoot it off."
Westerns were pretty much dead in 1985 when Lawrence Kasdan resurrected the genre with "Silverado," which I'm adding to my Movies You Might Not Know list.

Kasdan had proven his prowess as a screenwriter with "Raiders Of The Lost Ark," "Body Heat," "Empire Strikes Back," "Return of the Jedi," and "The Big Chill." He knew the classic western formula -- a group of good guys helps protect innocent people being persecuted by an evil powermonger and his cruel associates -- and rounded up a stellar cast for "Silverado," including Danny Glover, Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Rosanna Arquette, Jeff Goldblum, Jeff Fahey, Linda Hunt, and an impossibly young newcomer named Kevin Costner.

There are gunfights galore, morality plays, a cattle stampede, lots of scenic vistas, and two of the best bad-sheriffs ever in Brian Dennehy and John Cleese (!). You wouldn't want to spend two days in the town of "Silverado," but Kasdan makes these two hours worth your time.

Final Table #41: WSOP Finale + Annie Duke

This week on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked about the finale of the World Series Of Poker Main Event, which played out this weekend and aired last night on ESPN.

Dennis was there, along with poker pro Annie Duke, who joined us to give you a first-person reaction to the long hours of play and the astounding turn of events that led to Joe Cada defeating Darvin Moon heads-up to become the youngest world champion ever. Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan also watched all the final table action at The Rio, and offered his observations about tells and strategic errors he spotted in several players.

We talked about some of the dubious plays that both Moon and Cada made, as well as how much of a factor luck was in how the final table played out -- more than any other event I've ever seen -- and whether all of this will be good for poker in both the short and long term. With Saturday's session lasting seventeen-and-a-half-hours to get from nine players down to two, and then the heads-up battle starting so late on Monday night, we discussed whether it's fair to older players (which these days means over 30) to have to compete in these marathons against younger opponents who have much more stamina.

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


Want to drive your car without having to be inside? Yes, there's an app for that!

Researchers at a university in Berlin, Germany, developed it. Next, they'll work on a single touch-screen button that will turn this car right around if you kids in the back seat won't stop fighting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Button

A clever parody of the new movie "The Box," in which Frank Langella tells Cameron Diaz that, if she pushes a button, she'll get a million dollars, but a random person will die...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Tiffany & Maria, Post-Amazing Race

Six weeks ago, before this season of "The Amazing Race" started, I talked with Tiffany Michelle and Maria Ho, the professional poker players who made up one of the teams. They made it halfway through the field before being eliminated last Sunday, so they joined me yesterday on KTRS/St. Louis for a followup.

We talked about the tasks they couldn't finish on their final leg of the race and the conditions that made it so hard on them as the only all-female team and why they initially hadn't told the other teams they played poker for a living (preferring instead to claim they worked for a homeless charity in Los Angeles).

We also discussed how a member of another team (Mika) had blown it by refusing to go down a water slide in the previous episode. You'd think that anyone who had ever watched the show would know the sort of challenges they'd face, and either be strong enough to overcome their fear of heights or refuse to go on the show in the first place. Because of that mistake, Mika and Canaan came in last and were eliminated.

Tiffany and Maria went on "The Amazing Race" instead of entering this year's main event of the World Series of Poker -- where they had been the last woman standing in 2008 and 2007, respectively -- a decision they don't regret. But with the final table of the 2009 WSOP about to play out this weekend, I asked for their prediction, and they both think Phil Ivey will win it (for the record, I'm picking Eric Buchman).

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

To hear the conversation I had with Tiffany and Maria before the season started, click here.

Friday, November 06, 2009

TV No-No's

Chicago Tribune TV critic Maureen Ryan has begun to compile a List of Things TV Is Never Allowed to Do Again, Ever. She starts with:

  • No one is ever allowed to write a scene in which things go very badly and then characters say, "That went well."
  • No one is ever allowed to write a scene in which an African-American or Hispanic police lieutenant says, "Detective, you're out of line!"
  • No one is ever allowed to create a show in which Hispanic characters are only maids and gardeners. Come on!
  • No one is ever allowed to create a show in which the lead male character gets all the funny/charming lines and the lead female character is humorless and uptight. Not. Amusing. Ever.
  • No writer is allowed to let characters start talking about an interesting and complex issue or situation, and then end the scene abruptly with one character saying, "It's complicated." Yes, I know that. I'm not dumb. How about plumbing those complexities instead of tossing out those two words and having characters brood at each other for a second, then cut to commercial?
  • No one is allowed to create a show involving anyone named Gosselin.
  • No show is allowed to tease, very strongly, that two characters are attracted to each other and may get together and use that chemistry to get tons of press coverage from that relationship and then ... never actually get the characters together or get them together so late in the show's run that it's entirely unsatisfying. Call this the Rule of Gilmore.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

End Of The World

The movie "2012" premieres in a couple of weeks, with a plot based on doomsday predictions and Mayan calendars, and special effects wizards once again destroying the White House and other iconic sites as everything crumbles around us (isn't it amazing how all those building were back up on their foundations just five years after the same director, Roland Emmerich, laid waste to them in "The Day After Tomorrow"?).

Yesterday on KTRS/St. Louis, I talked with Ben Radford (editor of Skeptical Inquirer and columnist for LiveScience.com), who has compiled a list of similar ludicrous end-of-world predictions throughout history, from the Heaven's Gate cult suicides to a chicken that allegedly laid eggs with the words "Christ Is Coming" on them.

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

Radford has more here.

Cow Films

I've only been on Twitter (as "paulharrisshow") for about six months, but recently discovered some very funny stuff there. I don't know who starts it, but someone comes up with an idea for everyone to contribute to, and within minutes, there are hundreds of responses posted.

For instance, yesterday, someone came up with the concept of Cow Films and posted it with a hashtag (#cowfilms), which you then add to your own entries or can search for to see a long list of everyone else's. If it's not apparent, Cow Films are well-known movie titles that have been turned into cattle-related puns. The first one I saw was posted by Jon Favreau (of "Swingers" and "Iron Man"), who posted "Rambovine," "Moolander," and "Kindergarten Calf."

Almost instantly, the Twitterverse was at work, coming up with:

Apocalypse Cow
Bridget Jones' Dairy
Grazing Arizona
Die An Udder Day
No Pasture For Old Cows
There Will Be Cud
Return of the Ribeye
The Man Who Moo Too Much
The Pelican Beef
To Sirloin With Love
Steer Trek
There's Something About Dairy
Seven Brides For Seven Udders
Steak The Money and Run
Full Leather Jacket
One Moo Over A Cuckoo's Nest
Sergeant Milko
The Bull Monty
That Thing You Moo
Beauty And The Beef
A Streetcow Named Desire
Cattleship Potemkin
Steaks On A Plane
Good Will Milking
Bonnie and Hide
Heifer Can Wait
Waking Ned Bovine
The Day The Herd Stood Still
Monty Python and the Holstein Grail
Lars and the Veal Girl
Cat On A Hot Tin Hoof

More are being added every minute, as you can see here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Restaurant No-No's

Bruce Buschel has compiled a list of 100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do. My favorite: Do not interrupt a conversation. For any reason. Especially not to recite specials. Wait for the right moment.

Killed By Wacky Radio

You may remember the story of Jennifer Strange, the woman who participated in a "Hold Your Wee For A Wii" contest on a radio station in Sacramento and ended up dying from drinking too much water. It was another wacky morning radio stunt that went wrong. Last week, a jury ordered Entercom, owner of the radio station, to pay $16.6 million in restitution to Strange's family.

Though he was not part of the story and did not work at this particular station, longtime morning radio guy Bruce Maiman -- who knows a little about this contest because he did it on the air over a decade ago -- has written an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee in which he explains why he's saddened by the story:

It's not just the death of a mother of three children.

I'm saddened that we even had to go to court.

I'm saddened that Entercom Communications, the parent company of KDND, The End (107.9 FM) chose to fight this matter in court rather than admit its degree of culpability and immediately make significant financial amends to the family, which might've been, in the minds of some, far more equitable than the almost $16.6 million awarded in the lawsuit.

I'm saddened that lawyers pretending outrage while seeing dollar signs threatened lawsuits before aggrieved family members even had a chance to mourn. I'm saddened that we needed lawyers at all when a proper recourse was patently obvious.
The whole piece is here.

The Great Ballantine

Mark Evanier has written a nice obit for his friend Carl Ballantine, the comedy magician/actor who has died at age 92. Ballantine's magic was bad on purpose and jam-packed with funny lines. I've seen it countless times and it always put a smile on my face. Unfortunately, there's no great video of Ballantine onstage, so this will have to suffice in giving you an idea what his act was like...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Final Table #40: Phil Hellmuth

This week on my poker radio show, The Final Table, Dennis Phillips and I talked with Phil Hellmuth, owner of 11 World Series Of Poker bracelets, who is coaching Jeff Shulman in his attempt to win the final table of the 2009 WSOP Main Event this weekend.

Hellmuth revealed the methods he's using to help Shulman, what he thinks his friend Phil Ivey's strategy will be, and his thoughts about the other members of the November Nine.

Dennis also asked Hellmuth for advice on playing "High Stakes Poker," which they both will be part of in at least one session next week, and I asked him whether players at the table ever have a piece -- a percentage -- of each other, which could make things awkward. And we discussed Hellmuth's criticism of Harrah's moving into the online poker business.

Then Dennis and I talked with Joe "The Poker Coach" McGowan for more analysis and all of our predictions of who will win the main event finale. Dennis and Joe will be in Las Vegas for all of the final table action, and will report on it from there for our show next Tuesday.

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

Beatles For Dummies

It's election day, and that can mean only one thing -- it's time for ten Hungarian ventriloquists and their dummies to do a creepy version of a Beatles song...

Monday, November 02, 2009

Nanny Of The Month

From myriad politicians who think they know how to run your life better than you do and don't believe in personal responsibility, here's the October winner...