Joan Rivers, 1933-2014

JOAN RIVERS, from her TV show, The Joan Rivers Show, 1969.As most of you have heard, Joan Rivers died yesterday at 81.  The LA Times featured a really warm, funny, and feminist take on her career by fellow comedian Kathy Griffin, who considered Rivers a friend and mentor:

Stand-up is not a gig in which you say, “It isn’t rocket science.” It’s harder than rocket science. And like rocket science probably was for ages, comedy was not woman’s work when Joan was coming up in the 1960s. A woman could know she was funny, but to make a living out of it? At that time, there was Phyllis Diller, Moms Mabley, Totie Fields, and that was about it.

Right on, because if you want to become a rocket scientist, there’s an established way to do this:  college, graduate school, and a system of professional mentors.  It’s not easy, but there is a pretty clear path.  If you want to be a comedian, especially a female comedian, there’s not an established path, and there were and still are very few mentors.  

It makes sense that Griffin was drawn to Rivers as a mentor, because they both mock beauty standards for women in show business by meeting them but also revealing and deconstructing them at the same time:  the jokes about all of the work and time it took, about age, and about plastic surgery, and the obsession with body fat–their own and other people’s.  Griffin does a tremendous job of capturing Rivers’s ambition and generosity in just a few paragraphs: Continue reading

“Steamboat Willie” is completely whack, shows potential in the classroom.

Inspired by a recent viewing of Spongebob Squarepants that featured a fake “early Spongebob” cartoon that was clearly a reference to “Steamboat Willie,” I dialed up “Steamboat Willie” on the YouTube and discovered that this cartoon is completely insane and loaded with animal cruelty.  Now, I am not one to get all up in your grill about cruelty to animated creatures, but seriously–this thing is whack:

 


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Happy Labor Day!

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After driving all over L.A. and Orange Counties yesterday to visit friends, I’m taking it easy today.  Here’s a cool Labor Day poster, especially for those of us who work for government.  Enough of the attacks on public sector employees and the small subset of us who are still unionized!  Solidarity forever.

Here’s something I heard while driving around what Southern Californians apparently call “the Southland.”  (Maybe it’s just because I’m an American historian and a professional Yankee by birth, inclination, and residence, but I’d never call anyplace I live “the Southland.”  Just sayin’.): a hilarous segment from Latino USA:  “The Worst Latino.”  Well worth a hearing for anyone who’s ever felt like an inferior member of an ethnic group, political movement, religion, or whatever.  It’s all about interest group boundaries, and how they define us and bring us together as well as potentially alienate us. Continue reading

Bicentennial of the invasion and burning of Washington

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“The Taking of the City of Washington in America,” depicting the burning of the city on August 24, 1814

Joel Achenbach offers a lively narrative review of the War of 1812 and the invasion and burning of Washington, D.C. in the Washington Post today, the two-hundredth anniversary of the attack.  He spends an unaccountable number of column inches on the Battle of Bladensburg (?), but has some funny and touching stories towards the end about President James and First Lady Dolly Madison wandering around separately in nearby Virginia and Maryland for the first few days after the invasion and destruction of the President’s House, hoping to find some sympathetic locals to take them in. Continue reading