Lunchtable TV Talk: Burnistoun

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Watching the very Glasgow, very Scottish Burnistoun has been a bit spooky, as many of the sketches model near-exact conversations I have had, situations I have been in and linguistic bits I’ve noted. So many of the things I’ve long enjoyed and laughed at in everyday Scottish life, the Burnistoun sketches and their creators, Robert Florence and Iain Connell, have captured in comedic hyper-reality. It speaks for itself (or “itsel”, as the Glaswegians would say, because who needs the final “f”!). Just watch! Love love love.

(Makes me think of gone-Hollywood Gerard Butler and our discussions on how “Gerard” is pronounced GER-ard in Scotland and ger-ARD in the US)

(Hilarious take-off of TV historian-personality Neil Oliver, his dramatic delivery while the wind blows his flowing mane; something I’ve also long been having a laugh at.)

(Voice recognition lift in Scotland. Good luck with that!)

(Nae rolls! When all you wanted was a wee roll and sausage!)

(Kenny Rogers impersonators: “That’s the Kenny Rogers I’m gonna marry!” Actually, after all the work the real Kenny Rogers has had done, these impersonators look more like the real Kenny Rogers…)

Lunchtable TV Talk: Mom

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Mom is not at all something I would normally watch but it is hard to resist Allison Janney. Despite her small role in Masters of Sex, she was one of the enduring reasons that kept me watching because of her nuanced and often heartbreaking depiction. She was a force to be reckoned with in The West Wing in a character who evolved throughout and showed strength and vulnerability at every turn. I loved her smaller, earlier roles in films like Big Night and Primary Colors. And so, so many others. It does not matter what film it is – even the crappiest film is made better with her presence.

Mom is punctuated by bawdy, vulgar humor that is only funny half the time, and imagining Janney in this kind of role seemed difficult. But I watched, and I stuck around for her (and Mimi Kennedy).

The worst part is the ostensible “star” of the show: Anna Faris, who is beyond annoying as she overacts the shit out of every scene. A few times, mostly in the quieter moments of despair she feels, something good shines through. But mostly she is too much, and if the show were only her, it would be completely unwatchable.

That is about all there is to say about this show. Once in awhile someone says something uproarious. And once in awhile the show hits an emotional, almost touching note as it tries to navigate the storytelling challenges posed by portraying people in recovery – how do you make addiction funny? Or, then again, how can you not try to make addiction funny? In reality it’s as complicated as people are. And surprisingly, in many cases, Mom handles this balance well, in large part because of Janney and Kennedy.

The comedy of corporate life

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Actively comparing environments in which I have worked, I laughed out loud imagining inviting someone like Reggie Watts to perform for the corporate puppets. The polite smiling but not really understanding what’s going on. Corporate life provides its own brand of lunacy and crazy entertainment. We wouldn’t need a comedy genius like Watts, who would be misunderstood anyway. The average giant company is plump with self-congratulatory pomp and unintentional hilarity.

Why I Changed My Mind: Amy Schumer

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My change of heart in this case was not so much changing my mind about Amy Schumer herself or her comedy because, frankly, I had never really heard of her or her work. My instant dislike stemmed from the endless advertisements for her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, which appeared constantly in every single commercial break while streaming The Daily Show and The Colbert Report online. Is it Ms Schumer’s fault that 1. the ad nauseam ad campaign was overkill and turned people (namely me) off before they could even give her show a chance and 2. the ads Comedy Central makes for its stable of shows feature the most obnoxious bits and bobs, making the shows appear annoying and unwatchable, also before potential viewers could give them a chance? No. I had the same problem with another of the overkill ad campaigns propelled like an enemy sortie at the unsuspecting target when Comedy Central promoted the brilliant Broad City in exactly the same fashion. Granted ads are ads – they are so short that they can’t reflect a whole lot of the intelligent humor and depth that give these shows their cachet. But can’t the ads and those who make them dream up some way to make their shows seem less one-dimensional?

I thought Broad City looked dumb but gave it a chance – but Inside Amy Schumer got the shortest straw. I saw the ads, which made her look like a self-absorbed, vapid, sex-obsessed idiot playing stereotypes for laughs, and I immediately thought she and the show were anything but groundbreaking and inventive. Turns out, though, that while Schumer has written some skits in which she plays a self-absorbed, vapid, sex-obsessed (to a mad degree) character, her comedy swims in thrashingly funny but incisive commentary – deeply feminist, hypocrisy-poking/exposing, hyperbolic, sarcastic. I’ve been gasping and then laughing my way through both seasons of the show. It’s sometimes shocking in its sudden lack of political correctness (as most of the best comedy is), painful in its mix of humor – swinging between self-absorption and self-deprecation, much of it quite topical (see the skit about the combat video game in which the female video game character suffers and reports an assault and is faced by a screen reading “Character Assassination Complete”; not only is the idea behind the video game reminiscent of the recent controversies about sexual assault in the military with the reaction of the guy friend with whom Amy’s character is playing video games, telling her, “You obviously did something wrong – maybe you just shouldn’t play” a further level of commentary ) and most of it universal (see the “Stolen Years” jewelry collection ad, the ISP customer service freakout session skit, the superfluous nature of enormous penises bit in her standup act, all the skits about groups of female friends being competitively self-deprecating … and pretty much every skit and standup bit in the show)…

A handful of things were extra fabulous: Josh Charles’s appearance on an episode just after his shocking departure from The Good Wife – Schumer and Charles make glorious fun of the pomposity of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, which was absolutely necessary.

An offhand reference to the Operation Smile charity (which my company works with and sends volunteers to). Mentioning jokingly that TMZ maybe thought she was Paula Deen (which might not have made me spit my coffee out – in laughter – if I had not been lambasting Paula Deen a whole lot lately with my Firewall – check out Paula Deen “oiling up a bird” and deep-frying it with her Aunt Peggy, who has a very “Derek-esque“, vacant smile going on here).

Some of the over-the-top, possibly over-the-line humor – the “We’ve all been a little raped”/”grey area of rape” bit, the “AIDS/dealbreaker/gluten allergy” date – a bit gasp-worthy, then laugh-worthy and then thought-provoking. How many times have we all been on a date or in a situation where someone tells us something really uncomfortable and offered us an “out” but we still sit there, awkward, convincing ourselves that we’re okay with something that is really not okay with us or that makes us tongue-tied to the extent that, as Schumer blurts out, “I don’t know what I’m saying.” You might be able to say something eloquent and articulate and thoughtful if you’re not blindsided – but unprepared, how do you not stumble? “Is that a dealbreaker for you?”

“No, it’s great!”

Amy Schumer is a smart woman holding a mirror up to herself, to all of us, to society – willing to (like most good comedians) be vulnerable, embarrassed and embarrassing.

Pleased to have made her acquaintance.

At the Souk – pomegranate molasses

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I have previously written about the Souk Market in Charlottenberg in Sweden – a tiny town with a whole lot of very large supermarkets, mostly catering to Norwegians who cross the border to buy stuff in bulk. I had not been there in a while, but I planned to make a recipe that required pomegranate molasses (Persian pomegranate and lamb meatball soup).

Considering that I can’t find normal molasses most of the time, the idea that pomegranate molasses could be had (with multiple brand and container-sizer options) in the smallest of towns in rural Sweden seemed laughable. But having been to – and been overwhelmed by – the Souk Market before, I knew it represented my best chance. Imagine my delight when I found an entire section of the store filled with different kinds of molasses, including pomegranate as well as carob and grape, among others. Amazing.

pomegranate molasses from the Souk Market

pomegranate molasses from the Souk Market

Check out John Oliver‘s new gig on HBO – in the inaugural episode, he goes on a pomegranate-related tirade.

It’s Personal – Networking and Admitting Needs

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There are about five million articles out there about “how to network”, “how to build a network” and use networking to find a job. Most of these articles are generic and repeat the same things. I am not going to echo the repetition. You can get some fairly good insight from a veritable library of online resources. But I am thinking that the right way to network is a personal journey. Articles can provide pointers, but the building process is about finding the right ways and means for you as an individual. It’s not a prefab house, after all.

About networking, I can say from a personal perspective that when it comes to advancing my own career, I am not a person who is skilled at networking in the social and schmoozy sense. I have friends who are pros at this, making personal and genuine connections almost immediately, and I am in constant admiration. (I can turn on the schmooze in a professional setting when it is not for my own gain or self-advancement because then it is impersonal.) I have largely been a highly productive, behind-the-scenes doer who believes that the work product speaks for itself. But this is not really true. After many years, I believe that both the network and the built-up work reputation are important. (Not that that is a mystery or rocket science – it is just that I think maybe many people struggle because they rely too heavily on one or the other. I have known some who schmooze their way into situations in which they are way over their heads; I have been guilty of relying too much on the work and not being as driven by relationships as I could be.)

In the early days of my freelance experience, this was one of my biggest hurdles. I did not even have a personal, let alone professional, network because I was working in a new country. I knew no one. But little by little I met one person here, one person there, I awkwardly dropped hints about needing to find work, and eventually I had a flow of freelance jobs coming in and, mostly by word of mouth, had more clients popping up. This happened because I worked hard, fast and usually overdelivered. People remembered me, both when they needed work done and when others needed work done. There is a lot to be said for willingness and the inability to say no. Bottom line, though – when there are personal stakes and personal interest – or some form of a relationship – networking is at its most effective.

As the Lifehacker articles I point to explain, networking requires a personal and genuine approach. This means that networking is a two-way street. I have needed help, but more than that, have been first in line offering my help to others in their own professional pursuits. You’ve got to give to get – and being able and readily willing to reciprocate actually improves the networking channels. Everyone needs a way to get their foot in the door.

For me, as for most introverts, it is incredibly hard to admit to needing help or even to making the kinds of connections one could eventually turn to for help. Another Lifehacker article cites a New York Times piece that tells introverts to force themselves into in-person meetings and into small talk. Any introvert would react with something like, “What fresh hell is this?” It is also a bit too much like cold-call sales versus the kind of networking I would prefer to do – which is both based on my work performance and my own quiet, observational analysis of people and situations. I eventually prove my value this way. My approach to networking is the long-game approach.

Lately, though it has been many years in the making, this approach has really begun to bear fruit. At this point, people are coming to me without my having asked for help or having reached out at all. My network has become so strong and trusted that it spreads on its own.

The positives are adding up, and the first step was finally coming to a point where I could speak up for myself to say I needed help. When I needed it, help was there. It is not unlike the incredible difficulty of admitting a need for love, really. The whole concept of surrendering to some need that you cannot completely fill for yourself invites vulnerability.

In a slightly unrelated matter, of course admitting and facing what we really need can also be comical!

We accidentally played a clip from the Al Jazeera America channel that was threatening to get inappropriately in depth about foreign policy. Obviously Al Jazeera America is new here and don’t know how we do things.” (From The Daily Show on 11 February)

We need real information and news, but we have managed to fool ourselves into thinking that we need to know the salacious details of politicians’ personal lives. We are blind and never focusing on the right things. And how this relates to what I started writing about in the first place? Well, we live in an era that makes heavy use of comparatives – and I spend too much time comparing, particularly the present against the past. And where that’s led me, now, is the path toward figuring out how to get beyond all the wrong triggers, targets and foci to get to who, what and where I need to be. And of course, in keeping with the generous and reciprocal nature of real and valuable networking, helping other people get to their right places as well.

Tennis – “It All Feels the Same