Archive for December, 2014

Why I Love Pro Wrestling Episode: Horrible Gimmicks

December 30, 2014

WILPW

I’m now back on track with watching sports entertainment and I am really enjoying it.  I am especially enjoying watching Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Dolph Ziggler and the Dust Brothers but there’s quite a bit of good stuff happening.  I really liked Survivor Series as I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.  Anyway, onto this edition of Why I Like/Hate Pro Wrestling.

Horrible Gimmicks

There has been a long history of performers who had horrible gimmicks.  Now, I could gripe about them (and believe me I do) but that doesn’t get any of us anywhere.  Eventually a bad gimmick will disappear and it’s a lot of fun to look back and shake my head at how stupid they were to even think they had a good idea.  Here are just a fraction of the black holes of creativity that I’m glad are gone.

Willow The Wisp

I admit it.  I used to be a pretty big Hardy Boyz fan in the nineties.  Not the mystery solving duo but the two brothers who were billed from the wrong Carolina.  The guys who jumped off of ladders and moved with a rugged kind of grace that was probably born from the connection that brothers have.  Unfortunately, as time went by the Hardys split up and both went through some really tough times.  Jeff Hardy became a huge drug enthusiast and got sloppy and lost a lot of his appeal.  It was probably during one of these binges that he came  up with Willow the Wisp.  At some point Jeff Hardy became known as an Artist with a capital A.  It always came off as both really pretentious and kind of rednecky.  Willow the Wisp was an idea where Jeff was trying way too hard and it ended up as a really annoying gimmick.  Everything about it just seemed stupid.  The promos looked like they were filmed behind Jeff’s trailer in the woods and he carried around an umbrella because it was “quirky”.

Eugene

So imagine you’re a multi-billion dollar corporation who regularly puts on television programming and live shows and your product has carried a social stigma off and on since its inception.  You would think that company would refrain from upsetting any special interest groups, wouldn’t you?  Well, you would be right but the WWE would neglect that good advice and instead they would help create Eugene, a crime against everyone who watched WWE programming at the time.  The storyline was that Eric Bischoff had a nephew and was somehow forced to let him wrestle.  His “nephew” was played by Nick Dinsmore who was allowed to fake being somewhere on the autism spectrum.  He played the worst stereotype of somebody who is “retarded” even though Dinsmore was not.  The worst part was that this was played as an inspirational story.  It made me embarrassed to be a fan.

Akeem the African Dream

In the history of the WWE (at this point it was the WWF), there have been plenty of moments where the company capitalized on race relations.  The Gang Wars of the 90’s, the Nation of Domination, Rodney Mack and so many other regrettable moments.  At least those examples made some sort of sense even if they weren’t exactly sensative to our nation’s already tense history with racial issues.  Let’s see if you follow the logic on this one and maybe you can see where logic left the building.  In the eighties there was a wrestler who went by One Man Gang.  Tough name, right?  He was a tough guy who came in to the ring and beat the crap out good guys.  While this is not an automatic recipe for success, it was a solid gimmick.  Now, the One Man Gang was white.  I only mention this because at some point they decided to perform an “African ritual” to infuse him with the spirit of Africa (or something) and renamed him Akeem the African Dream.  So, basically he operated in blackface without the blackface make up.  Awesome idea.

The Black Scorpion

It’s long been a popular practice to combine two great things that go together.  Reese’s candies definitely showed this to be true.  So why wouldn’t it be a success to combine two things that a lot of people like in the world of sports entertainment?  WCW decided to combine mystery and stage magic to create a villain worthy of facing Sting, a guy who had become a huge draw and needed a legit opponent.  A mysterious black-clad man suddenly appeared and threatened Sting.  Usually when a new character is revealed, they prove that they are a threat by beating a string of opponents or at least beating a bunch of people up.  What did they have Black Scorpion do?  They had him speak through a really hokey voice distortion device and he also performed pretty lame magic tricks.  The other big problem they ended up with was that they never properly planned who was under the mask.  It was supposed to be somebody from Sting’s past but that literally could be anybody in the company.  They came up with at least three possibilities and none of them were surprising or exciting and the gimmick ended with Ric Flair unmasking.  Boring.

Lord Tensai

Matt Bloom had been with the WWE for years as the unfortunately named Prince Albert and then A-Train.  He was a pretty good wrestler but wasn’t really used very well for a big man who had a fair amount of skill in the ring.  He was eventually let go probably because the company didn’t really have anything for him to do because they had made him lose too many matches.  So Bloom went to Japan and became a huge success as a monster heel and won more belts than he had probably even glimpsed during his time with the WWE.  From all reports, the Japanese fans bought into Bloom who had renamed himself Giant Bernard, a name that probably made sense in Japan.  With all this success, you’d think that his former employers would sit up and take notice.  Well, they did but they decided to screw it up.  They brought Bloom back in as Lord Tensai, a Japanese lord with fake face tattoos.  Yet again they decided to take a white performer and have him pretend to be a different race.  They could have just brought him in and talk up how much he learned in Japan but instead they pretend that we can’t tell who he is anymore.  After a couple months he turned from a credible threat into a joke and they abandoned the gimmick.

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Black Ops Elves

December 21, 2014

Holy crap it’s almost Christmas.  How time flies swifter than an arrow!  I attended another Pointless production and yet again it inspired a little story snippet.  I was so impressed with all of the world building my brother and Frank did that I was inspired to add a little expanded universe, Star Wars style. Also, another reminder to see any Pointless Theater production in Washington, DC or the surrounding area.

–     –      –

The plane rocked a little in the wind again but nobody grumbled.  We were all once rookies and, when we were new, our stomachs would have lurched with the sudden movement.  Now we had been at this business for a long time.  Of course, it only took a month or two to become a hardened warrior.  That was what we were.  Hardened warriors in service of the Claus family though we never had any contact with the big man himself.  In fact, it’s been six months since I had seen the North Pole.  I found that I didn’t even miss it even more.  They say that you can’t go home and that’s true especially if it doesn’t even feel like home anymore.  This cargo plane feels like home or whatever shelter we bed down in for the night.
My name is Cowan Tinsletree but they have come to call me Silent Night which seems to fit a lot better.  Most elves are born to work towards the making and distribution of presents.  When you’re a kid that’s exactly what you want to do the same as all of the other people you grew up with.  My gifts didn’t lend themself to making presents or any part of the usual elf business.  Whatever it was that the older elves saw, they predicted I would be a good soldier.  I never there was a North Pole Black Ops and now I was the best sniper in the squad, capable of hitting almost any target with projectile weapons.
The newest recruit had only been with us for 68 days but she actually fits in pretty well with the team.  didn’t fit in back home either.  Gwenevere Snowfuzz is the only goth elf I have ever met and boy did she grow up frustrated.  That frustration led to her firing, arrest and deportation out here to the world.  She broods a lot and keeps to herself but in the middle of some missions I swear I’ve seen her smile.  It’s not the friendliest smile but probably more than she got back home.  She prefers to keep things close and personal when it’s time to fight.  Her blades barely flash before a target drops.
Halo Startwinkle rarely talks and when he does, it’s barely more than a word or two.  His chief job was piloting the plane which he seemed to really like to do.  He got a kind of serene look on his face even if the plane was under heavy fire.  It was actually pretty inspiring to see somebody love their job so much.   In a pinch the guy could handle a weapon pretty well but he didn’t like to do it and, of course, he would never say why.
Harmony Ciderhearth is a very charming and handsome elf.  From what I hear, he was too charming as he may have gotten too close to the Clauses and sometimes when that happens you have to go.  There aren’t a lot of choices when you’re exiled from the poles but who knows why he chose this life.  I do know that he enjoys the missions a little too much.  I was born to do this but it’s not like I exactly want to but Harmony would pick this over just about anything, I think.  He is currently our expert on magic and is a strong practitioner of Christmas magic.  We couldn’t be as fast or stealthy as we are without the same magic that Santa and the rest of the elves use for more peaceful means.
The final member of the current squad actually got here before I did.  When I left the North Pole for good, the wound he left was still pretty fresh.  His name was not allowed to be spoken and severe penalties were still being given out for talking about him.  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sat in a corner of the cargo bay and puffed on a cigar, the lit end almost mimicking his glowing red nose.   I still don’t know what he did to deserve this punishment  but I’m glad he did it.  There is nobody I’d rather have at my back when the shit hit the fan.
Our mission this time was clear.  A laboratory in the human world was attempting something that none of us would have ever thought possible but they were too close to completing their task.  The Syro Corporation had somehow recovered the remains of the beloved Frosty the Snowman based on the townspeoples’ accounts of his last known whereabouts.  Our squad had actually been looking for his silk hat for a while now with no luck.  We hoped it had not fallen into the wrong hands.
Three days ago we got word that satellites had finally gotten a shot of the hat in transit to Syro Corp headquarters.  I had a feeling that if they tried to resurrect Frosty, the results would be catastrophically dangerous.  Our superiors must have shared my belief because here we were about to engage in a daring raid of their laboratories.  Operation Thumpity Thump consisted of three objectives.  First, the retrieval of Frosty’s remains so that a proper burial could be performed.  Second, the recovery or destruction of the silk hat so that this particular Christmas magic could never be used again.  Finally, we needed to destroy their hard drives.
I said a silent prayer as the cargo door opened and everybody but Rudolph and Halo grabbed a parachute.  We are the Elf Black Ops Squad and we were not here to be on the nice list.

My Top 11 Favorite Stand Up Comedians

December 3, 2014

1 Kumail Nanjiani

Kumail Nanjiani is consistently the comedian that makes me laugh the most.  The stand-up specials I’ve heard had me laughing like crazy.  His bits are so well-constructed that I did a whole routine of his and got somebody else laughing hard.  He’s the cohost of Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail and is a hilarious host.  He also hosts two podcasts and guests on Harmontown all the time and he’s just so much fun to listen to.  His humor comes from very personal experience and a lot of it is mixed strangely with horror.  Most of this comes from telling stories of his childhood in Pakistan which sounds pretty terrifying.

2 Patton Oswalt

I have laughed at Patton Oswalt until tears have run down my face and black spots have formed on the edge of my vision and I needed to stop to catch my breath.  He’s so good at forming relentless stories that hit you over and over again.  His comedy is really smart and I know he’s a big comic book nerd which puts us somewhat on the same wavelength.  I find myself nodding my head a lot when I listen to Patton Oswalt.  I’m taking that as a good sign.

3 Robin Williams

If you can get in the rhythm of his rapid-fire delivery, this is really great stand up to listen to.  Robin was all over the place all the time in a manic-yet-driven style.  Beyond the pop culture references and impressions and screaming he had a point and it always felt like the truth.  Robin Williams was nothing but honest with his fans even when he was talking about his greatest faults.  Behind that bouncy and bright grin there was always a bit of a realist there.  At least, that’s how I always saw it.

4 Amy Schumer (NSFW)

Talk about honest, Amy Schumer tends to push honest through R-Rated and into NC-17 while still being classy enough to take seriously.  My first exposure to her was her special Mostly Sex Stuff which was a very accurate title.  She’s definitely not safe for work but her bits and delivery are dead on.  She also has a show on Comedy Central which is very good even if I could never watch it with my family.

5 Steve Martin

Steve Martin is one of the first stand up comedians I ever became a fan of.  I will remain loyal to him for a long time, forever if he keeps behaving the way he is.  I realize that it may be unfair to put Steve Martin on this list since he was less of a stand up comedian and more of a performance artist.  Most of the comedians I like tell stories that are mostly true.  Steve Martin did everything but tell the truth.  He was a wacky cartoon character come to life and he brought that to every role even if he was playing the straight man.  Still, I could listen to Steve Martin albums forever.

6 Chris Hardwick

Chris Hardwick has been around forever (or at least since the nineties) but only lately has he became a juggernaut in the geek and comedy worlds.  Chris has honed his craft to a sharp edge but I’ve liked him as soon as I first heard him.  He’s a big enough nerd that he adopted The Nerdist as his brand and has taken that to the bank several times over.  He rubs elbows with every comedian that matters in the business and is funny enough to hang with all of them legitimately.  I’m genuinely happy to see him show up anywhere.

7 Eddie Izzard

When I first saw Eddie Izzard, probably pointed his way by Arthur or somebody way back when, my first thought was:  “Who is this guy in the dress and why is he wearing makeup and why is nobody mentioning it?”  My second question was: “Why haven’t I heard of this guy before now? He’s hilarious.”  Like Robin Williams, Eddie Izzard doesn’t stay in one place for long and jumps along lines of thoughts towards either a conclusion or sometimes just into the ether.  His comedy is surreal and imaginitive and his accent tops it off nicely.

8 Ellen Degeneres

Yeah, I know she’s not somebody you usually think about when you think about stand up comedy.  At least not in the last decade or so.  Still, Ellen has a simple way of setting up jokes that catch you off guard.  Most of her stuff keeps away from personal stories but instead focuses on the everyday stuff we all take for granted.  Thoughts we may have half-formed ourselves but let go of pretty quickly.  Those thoughts do deserve a look though, if only to laugh at how stupid we all can be.

9 Doug Benson

Doug Benson is probably the biggest stoner who has ever held down a job with any reliability.  Get ready for a lot of pot humor since it is his bread and butter but once you’ve accepted that, it gets better.  He has a tendency to giggle along with the crowd which should be annoying but ends up being infectious. His jokes also tend to take a lot of left turns out of nowhere so I end up being caught off guard and laughing harder.  A guy I thought was a one-note stoner comedian ended up being a fun listen.

10 Gabriel Iglesias

Gabriel Iglesias is another guy who looked one note when I first heard his stand up.  He talked alot about how he’s fat (not fat, Fluffy!).  Again, this should have gotten tiresome but the thing is, he was just so damned excited about it.  His enthusiasm flows through every single word he delivers.   He talks a lot about stuff that has really happened to him or at least close enough to seem real.   He has an interesting perspective culturally who lights up like a roman candle when he tells jokes.  If that makes any sense.

11 George Carlin

I have deep respect for George Carlin.   Though, to be honest, I didn’t like his earlier work.  The hippy, dippiness of his earlier work seemed too unfocused and to insubstantial.   He was playing characters instead of speaking from the heart.  In his latter work he never talked about himself too much but he spoke straight from the heart.  He dissected language, pointed out hypocrisy and proudly stated his opinions.  Sure it could come with heavy sarcasm and deadly cynicism but I always liked that.


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