What happened this week? Well there was an earthquake in Idaho for one. Fun, haha! It happened like this: I was sitting on the armchair doing computer stuff when everything started rattling. My friend peered in from the kitchen where she was making soup to check if I was experiencing the same version of reality she was. (A common question these days.) The thing lasted long enough for us to have a full conversation about whether it was an earthquake or maybe just some trucks passing by, a whole bunch of trucks perhaps, and then having settled that question to debate the merits of ducking below the flimsy dining table. No merits, we decided, and crouched by an interior wall for another ten-odd seconds until it ended. Then we just sort of lay on the floor for a while—center of the room, away from the windows, just in case—me reading tweets about the thing (M6.5, epicenter a few hours northeast of us, second largest earthquake in Idaho history, broke the cross on a local church’s roof) while she checked in with various family members across the state (her pregnant cousin near the epicenter said it split open sheetrock in her house but otherwise no damage.) Once our fear of imminent aftershocks abated, we picked up the books it knocked over and repositioned my air mattress such that I no longer sleep with my head beneath a shelf with a heavy old lamp on top. (I did not get stuck in Iowa during a pandemic to get crushed in my sleep.) Then we resumed our rewatch of The Leftovers season two, where basically there is an earthquake every other episode? Timely show, highly recommend, especially if you’re itching to lose all capacity to distinguish between reality and fiction.
What else? Ah yes: Louis CK released a new special yesterday. It is titled Sincerely Louis CK, which is such a flagrant troll it makes me want to scream, although to be fair I already wanted that. He announced it in an email to his newsletter subscribers that was for some reason littered with weird capitalizations and punctuation errors, as though he dashed it out on his iPhone keyboard and didn’t bother to correct autocorrect:
I feel like there are two kinds of people in this world. One kind needs to laugh when things get shitty. In fact, the shittier things get, the more serious, the more dark the more terrifying, the more dangerous and dire anything is, the more important it is to laugh in The midst of it and often directly in its face.
These people believe it’s no coincidence that human beings have survived despite our fragile hairless bodies, through the most difficult of times And that we are the only species, besides ladybugs, Who laugh at life.
The other kind of people feel that it’s important to put aside laughter in times of difficulty and give serious And painful things the respect and the silence due to them. And to bow their heads to the tragic and to show kindness to people who are afraid and hurting by not making light of their fears or pain.
I don’t think that either one of these kinds of people is right over the other. I can only say that I belong to the first group.
I Love and respect many members of the latter group And I can’t stand many members Of my own.
Anyway, for those who need to laugh, I hope my new show will help.
For those of you that can’t laugh right now I just wish you all the peace you can grab in this shitty shitty time.
PS it’s not free or anything. I’m selling it on my website for 7.99
The only species beside ladybugs who laugh at life? My man what are you on right now! Jason Zinoman at the Times wrote yesterday that the special is a slightly shorter version of the hour CK’s been touring with. As that hour has already been much remarked upon, including by me, I have no interest in watching the thing. I will say however that I was very interested to read the Special Thanks section of the special’s credits (thank you to the reader who sent them). In addition to being a who’s who of who’s still friends with serial sex pest Louis CK, they are also littered with typos:
These are his openers, his friends, his defenders, the venue owners and promoters who gave him a stage, his girlfriend. One of them, Blair Berk, is Harvey Weinstein’s attorney. I don’t mention the typos as some gotcha but because they and the email give the distinct impression that this was all slapped together at the last minute. The joke everyone made yesterday was that of course CK would release a new special while everyone is stuck at home, and, well, it kinda does seem intentional! Obviously I can’t speak to the production of the actual material, but the rollout was so unpolished—and the price conspicuously higher than the $5 he charged for previously self-released material—that I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to conclude he was taking advantage of the moment. In any case the special is a big shining reminder that so much of the pro-Louis discourse is not just dishonest but totally nonsensical. How dare you try to deny this man his right to make a living! they say, as though all comedy is not gradually trending toward subscriber models where artists release content directly to consumers, and as though CK were not already doing that well before Patreon and Twitch entered the picture. The man has millions of diehard fans. He was always going to be able to make a living, and those of us who want him out of comedy never had any control over the matter. The only thing we can control is how acceptable it is to associate with the man and still participate in polite society.
In other news, a federal judge dismissed Aaron Glaser’s sex discrimination lawsuit against UCB, ruling that improv and standup shows are not educational activities as defined by Title IX. The same judge ruled in a previous dismissal of the case last year—before Glaser filed an amended complaint—that exposure and drink tickets do not constitute pay. There you have it: UCB shows aren’t an extension of its training program, and the opportunity to perform on its stages is not compensation. So says the Southern District Court of New York.
On the one hand, I think “how would my favorite sitcom dramatize this” is a supremely messed up way of processing an unfathomable tragedy whose scale has only begun to reveal itself. On the other hand, I cannot help but laugh out loud at Tina Fey’s pitch for a 30 Rock episode about coronavirus. Art………; it’s complicated.
Larry David thinks Woody Allen did nothing wrong. You didn’t hear it from me but a couple years ago Larry David also went to Al Franken’s “farewell” party for Hollywood pals and donors. We stan a supportive friend!
Here in Idaho I have been reading a great deal of writing about what life is like right now in New York City, where all my friends and gaming consoles and in-network healthcare providers and beloved Polish restaurants are. I very much enjoyed this essay by Aaron Timms—
We’re told this is temporary, a momentary suspension of normality, and in our hearts we sentimentalists all want to believe the streets will soon be filled once more with stoop dawdlers, grandmas pushing shopping carts, vested business bros with their phones on speaker, fleets of annoying schoolkids, boys and girls out on the prowl, the stench of weed and the cries of desire. (On second thought, let’s consign the business bros to the past.) But we all know the dream of a quick recovery is delusional, that our altered reality will last a year, maybe two. Even when it returns, normality will never be quite so normal again. It’s possible to hope we will come out of all this with a renewed sense of the beauty and value of public space, of the common places that bring us together to enjoy each other’s company rather than buy things. But that hope seems forlorn at a moment when we’re still feeling through the opening act of the crisis. To say this is a public health crisis, a political crisis, a crisis of capitalism, a crisis of the very way in which we manage crises: all of that has been obvious for weeks. What’s becoming clearer is that this is also a crisis of tactility, a crisis of mobility, both physical and economic, and that the many ways we’ve come to understand the city—as a place of unfettered exploration—may not survive it.
—and this one by Alex Press:
“Afterwardness” saturates the present. We didn’t know we were entering a new era until it arrived. What was once unthinkable — 30 percent unemployment — is now “projected.” Much of what came before feels irrevocably distant, or distorted; hazy. The past had a fog, and we didn’t even know it. Only now, amid the pandemic, is the fragility of our way of living blindingly obvious. We face the facts, and in doing so, we transform what came before. We can never go back.
The creators of Quibi, the $1.75 billion streaming service for people on the go, would like to reassure you that Quibi will nonetheless thrive in a world where people are no longer on the go, thanks to social media:
The distinguishing feature of the platform is a proprietary technology called Turnstyle, which allows a viewer to seamlessly shift a phone’s orientation from vertical (portrait) to horizontal (landscape). In the fullest use of the technology, shifting the orientation of the phone automatically changes the view. So the user can go from seeing the same screen a character in the film is seeing on a Ring Alarm security system to then seeing a prowler at the front door—and back again. Or the content can be watched straight through all in one perspective or the other. “I think this will be big on social media,” Whitman said, “because people will say, ‘Have you seen what Quibi can do?’”
This bizarre belief that consumers hunger for the ability to… shift perspective mid-scene?… reminds me of Comedy Central’s misplaced faith in David Spade as its next big late night host:
Spade has built himself a perch on Instagram, where he has 1.7 million followers and posts short, guerrilla-style comedy segments, making fun of people he observes on the streets or cars he sees in parking lots. These clips helped bring him to the renewed attention of Comedy Central and he started developing what would have been a weekly series for the network called “Verified,” a panel show that would mine social media for source material.
Comedy Central said its own market research showed that viewers still had a strong interest in Spade: “Not just familiarity, but affection and love and a desire to see him,” said Kent Alterman, the network’s president. “On the one hand it wasn’t surprising and on the other hand, it was like off the charts — it was just striking.”
Spade has hired the former “Chelsea Lately” executive producers Tom Brunelle and Brad Wollack to be the showrunners of “Lights Out.” They say that the new series will have an inherent advantage at its outset because it is being defined around a personality who is already familiar to viewers.
Here’s how that turned out:
The audience for Lights Out has not been soft since its debut in July 2019. The show typically drew less than half the audience of its Daily Show lead-in. Its digital and social properties also didn't rack up the same numbers as many other late-night programs (although Spade himself has a large following).
Gonna go ahead and suggest that maybe “what might be popular on social media” should not be the most important concern when it comes to making art!
Mary Ruefle, “Maria and the Halls of the Perish”:
She loved dandelions
but hated the circus.
She wanted to know where eggs
came from, really came from,
where came the body of the body
of the body they came from.
And when her heart made
that sad little oboe note
she wanted to know where
the mind came from,
and was as answerless
as if she sat in the middle
of a beginningless river.
The beginning of the universe
reminded her of the time
the toy factory blew up
and she found a little clown
on the shore, and then another,
until she was determined to find
them all, the whole shebang,
though she never did, and night
fell over the ocean, and eye-popping
children of all ages slept in a sleep
brimming with irresistible attractions,
giving them a taste of what
awaited them when they woke,
though it was nothing compared
to the massive arrays of adulthood.
One final thing I should have said months ago: if there is anything you want me to write about on this newsletter—any production you would like reviewed, any question you want answered, any issue you would like plumbed—I will gladly take your requests, and probably even indulge them. Let me know.