NBC’s Rigged Game

by John Papa on January 22, 2015

NBC has the Super Bowl this year. What can I say? It likes its cheaters.

NBC has the Super Bowl this year. What can I say? It likes cheating.

“Of course the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you–if you don’t play, you can’t win.”
-Robert Heinlein

Several months ago, I was one of many aspiring comedic writers across the country to participate in a contest called “NBC Playground.” In theory, it sounded fantastic: NBC wanted to give a shot to, in their own words, “(Writers) beyond the traditional talent labs of film schools and NY/LA comedy clubs.” To those of us who, for whatever reason, aren’t able to pursue our comedy dreams in NY or LA, the contest seemed like manna from the gods: Finally, someone in power wasn’t willing to assume that every person with a sense of humor flocked to these cities at age 18 like a salmon returning home to spawn. To say the least, it was refreshing.

Though I figured the odds of being selected as a finalist for the competition were slim, I still gave it a shot, submitting both a filmed pitch for a sitcom I came up with along with a video that showed a performance of some previously written work. Let me pause to say here that, for a contest so hellbent on seeking “grassroots” talent, not many people have the time or means to film professionally lit and edited footage using a camera that costs several thousand dollars. I make my own hours and have a friend who put a lot of money into video equipment so he could film himself performing puppetry. This bears repeating: I was able to enter contest that ostensibly sought the comedy of folks from all walks of life only because I’m unwed and childless in my 30s (giving me the hours needed to script, film and edit said footage), create my own work schedule and have a puppet-crazed friend who happens to own a wealth of expensive camera and lighting equipment. Yes, what a wide swath of Americana my story typifies.

NBC posted the list of its ten finalists for the Playground contest last week. Tell me if you can spot a problem:

Click the photo for a larger image if you have blind little mole eyes like me.

Click the photo for a larger image if you have blind little mole eyes like I do.

For a grassroots initiative seeking voices from outside the usual NY/LA scene, that’s a lot of folks from NY and LA. But hey, maybe they’re just regular people who happen to live in those cities yet have totally normal jobs. I mean, I can’t get mad if a hilarious dude who happens to work construction for a living in Brooklyn finally got his big break, right? So let’s see what everyday people outside of the NY/LA comedy scene managed to get their big break via this contest.

First up, we have Jeff Galante. Who, apparently, is not a trash collector at all, but a teacher at the Groundlings School. You know, that unknown theater troop that counts Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Will Forte, Kathy Griffin, Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow, Jon Lovitz, Melissa McCarthy, Chris Parnell, Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wig among its alums. I know what we’re all thinking: Will that place ever get a break?

Next up is Tyler Hall, who hails from NYC, meaning that at least he can’t be part of the LA-based Groundlings. No, instead, Tyler is a sketch writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade. That world-renowned theater has only produced Adam McKay, Amy Poehler and Horatio Sanz among its most-famous graduates. Compared to The Groundlings, they’re practically a farm team.

And it goes on. Melissa Hunter is an actress associated with Above Average, the online video wing of Broadway Video, responsible for little-known NBC programs like Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers. Avery Lee is a Second City Graduate, while his writing partner, Bobby Richards, is still actively part of it. Second City, as you might know, was the source of nearly all of SNL’s early talent, boasting the likes of John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Eugene Levy, Shelly Long, Jim Belushi (nobody’s perfect) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus among its ranks. Kassia Miller is with the UCB and Jameel Saleem currently writes for ABC.

I’m not indicting the talents of those selected as finalists: I’m sure they’re all as capable as anyone else selected by NBC to work with it over the years. My only question, though, is this: Why was it necessary to sell a load of goods about wanting to see what the rest of the country had to offer comedically when your selections came from the same sources you’ve used over the past several decades?

I would imagine anyone not affiliated with a comedy theater who entered this contest feels a bit like a Rooney Rule interviewee right about now. For those of you that don’t know, the Rooney Rule in professional football mandates that a minority candidate be interviewed for any open head coaching position in the league. Which sounds nice in theory, but, in practice, translates to a black guy who knows he isn’t getting the job being flown out to whatever team has to interview him to satisfy the rule, going through a completely cursory interview and then being flown home before they pick the white guy that the entire league knew they wanted to hire a week ago.

Why did NBC feel the need to Rooney Rule the comedic talent of this country? In order to compete in this contest, the average person would have had to devote giant swaths of their scant free time or even skip work to find the hours necessary to produce the contest-necessitated material. Not to mention filming said material would have required the rental of expensive film equipment as well as the hiring of individuals trained to use it. Then, after all of that, you’re looking at the purchasing of expensive video editing software or the rental of that equipment as well. I cannot reiterate what a time-and-money-consuming effort all of this is. Had I gone through all that only to learn I had no chance of winning to begin with, I would have been livid. The irony is that this would all make for a really funny sitcom episode, but, because I don’t have five years of Groundlings training under my belt, NBC would never let me write it for them.

Think what NBC did was unfair? Tweet any of the fine comedic talent pictured here and let them know using the #NBCPlayground hashtag. And also shoot a Tweet to Jennifer Salke (@JSalke), the person in charge of this farce.

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The titties that sank talk radio.

The titties that sank talk radio.

My friend and former co-worker Othello reminisce about our days working at WJFK (now 106.7 The Fan thanks to Nipplegate). Seeing as we were both peons for the majority of our time at the station, there are no great tales about chicks rimming us for concert tickets or anything fun like that, but it’s still an entertaining walk down memory lane for anyone who has the slightest interest in radio. Othello also confesses the depths of his horrible fast food addiction much to my delight, and we wind up with a discussion of why visiting Japan would be awesome and why we are both hooked on the show Black Mirror.

Click here to listen to this episode using your browser. Click here to listen using the much nicer iTunes player (and subscribe to the show to help our ranking). And mobile users click here to listen via the Stitcher app. (You can subscribe there as well and never miss an episode.)

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First of all, kudos to me on keeping the material on this site timely: Dissecting a soft-rock hit from 1982 is something the Tinder generation is going to eat up with a spoon.

I listen to a weird swath of music. That wasn’t said in a hipster, “they’re bands you probably haven’t heard of” manner, either: They’re all bands you’ve heard of and would be ashamed to listen to. You know what I’ve been rocking on my phone lately? Rick James and Peter Cetera. Anyone who stole my phone and went through my tracks would guess I look something like this.

Which brings me to a song that Cetera sang: Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” You know it, or at least you’ve heard it when your third DUI conviction forced your mom to drive you to work in her car, meaning she got to pick the radio station. It’s a beautiful song. I’m not afraid to admit that. This is one of those “it’s so unmasculine that it’s masculine to admit you enjoy it” paradoxes, like confessing to a love of Grease or being pegged.

What most people don’t know about “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”, though, is that it has a coda of sorts that is cropped from the version played on the radio. A bit of a jazzy jam by the name of “Get Away” that was tagged on to the end of the song by the rest of Chicago to reaffirm its horn-laden history even as Peter Cetera dragged them into an easy listening-limbo from which they were never to emerge again.

Why do I mention it? Because it’s maybe the most out-of-place, mood-spoiling monstrosity I’ve ever seen grafted onto a creation. A woman opening this man’s shirt moments before having sex with him would think to herself, “Oh, he just has a baby mutant spurting from his chest. Thank god it’s nothing jarring, like that horrible horn enema Chicago staple-gunned onto ‘Hard to Say I’m Sorry,’ because that really would have spoiled the mood.”

Go ahead, listen to the song. That’s a song you get a slow, deep, unironic fuck on to. Those reverb-laden drums that kick in at 1:30? They say, “ball her to our tempo. Go ahead. She’s gonna recognize what you’re doing and she’s going to LOVE IT.” The electric guitar that kicks in at 3:00? A song’s subtle way of saying “no time for love, Dr. Jones! Time to cum so we can catch Letterman’s monologue!”

And then it all goes horribly wrong. Suddenly, a wall of horns assaults the listener alongside what sounds like a cat running back and forth across the keys of a piano. If “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” is an elegant swan of a lovemaking session, “Get Away” is farting while inside your partner as you pump your fist in the air and repeatedly scream your mother’s first name in her face.

So the next time you’re out for the evening with a woman and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” comes on the radio, you can turn to her and knowledgeably declare, “Did you know that there is a whole other part to this song that they never play on the radio?” And she’ll reply, “Whatever you want to talk about, man: It’s your hour.”

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The only thing differentiating this photo from my life is I have a slightly better hairline and our furniture isn't covered in plastic (because my mom uses fabric covers instead).

The only things differentiating this photo from the reality of my life right now are that I have a slightly better hairline and our furniture isn’t covered in plastic (because my mom uses fabric covers instead).

An icy tumble has left my mom infirm, meaning I’ve become her 24/7 caretaker until she’s healed up. Hear all about mother’s descent into old ladyhood, my co-host Howard debating whether or not I’m trustworthy enough to be used as his best man in his upcoming wedding and a scientist’s discovery of a foolproof way of making people fall madly in love with you (it doesn’t even require you to have money in the bank or a penis large enough to land aircraft on!). How did we manage to fit all of that content into one hour? Well, the secret is doing so much coke before the show that you’ll hear our voices and think we’re John Moschitta selling Micro Machines.

Click here to listen to this episode using your browser. Click here to listen using the much nicer iTunes player (and subscribe to the show to help our ranking). And mobile users click here to listen via the Stitcher app. (You can subscribe there as well and never miss an episode.)

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The older you get, the more your New Year's Eve celebrations go from raucous bacchanalia to drunken fights with significant others just waiting to happen.

The older you get, the more your New Year’s Eve celebrations go from raucous bacchanalia to drunken fights with significant others just waiting to happen.

New Year’s Eve, more than any holiday, is a barometer of your age. When young, you can’t wait to go out and find some wild shit to get into. Now, I want nothing more than to be asleep before the ball drop because, Christ, I’ve already seen it happen 20 times. Hear about my lame New Year’s Eve, Howard’s slightly less lame New Year’s Eve, why partying with single girls on NYE stinks (despite what you might think about it being as easy as fishing with dynamite to score on them), my weekend of pink eye and how a botched dye job has me looking like Saddam Hussein (but at least it’s a young, sexy Saddam Hussein). Don’t forget to share the show on social media if you like it: That’s how we increase our audience by two listeners per year!

Click here to listen to this episode using your browser. Click here to listen using the much nicer iTunes player (and subscribe to the show to help our ranking). And mobile users click here to listen via the Stitcher app. (You can subscribe there as well and never miss an episode.)

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Jewish Christmas — Papa’s Basement #433

by John Papa on December 30, 2014

Jewish Christmas

Howard celebrates a Jewish Christmas with his girlfriend while John is left to find the Christmas spirit anywhere he can this year in an attempt to recapture the magic of his childhood. A listener tells us how a previous guest on our show saved her life. And a trip to Victoria’s Secret gets a little awkward.

Click here to listen to this episode using your browser. Click here to listen using the much nicer iTunes player (and subscribe to the show to help our ranking). And mobile users click here to listen via the Stitcher app. (You can subscribe there as well and never miss an episode.)

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Sony Pulls The Interview — Papa’s Basement #432

by John Papa on December 23, 2014

This, clearly, is not a photo of Sony pulling The Interview. The second part of the episode gets into a Chilean radio station that let a listener win tickets by eating a DJ's ass. God bless Latin America.

This, clearly, is not a photo of Sony pulling The Interview. The second part of the episode gets into a Chilean radio station that let a listener win tickets by eating a DJ’s ass. God bless Latin America.

We discuss Sony pulling The Interview from its Christmas Day theatrical release and why people would have bitched about it one way or another, a Chilean DJ who got a listener to eat his ass for concert tickets, and a childhood friend comes in studio to discuss our tremendously attractive first grade teacher.

Click here to listen to this episode using your browser. Click here to listen using the much nicer iTunes player (and subscribe to the show to help our ranking). And mobile users click here to listen via the Stitcher app. (You can subscribe there as well and never miss an episode.)

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This cartoon is actually a semi-accurate representation of what Doctor Steve looks like, except he doesn't have eyebrows like an Armenian grandfather in real life.

This cartoon is actually a semi-accurate representation of what Doctor Steve looks like, except he doesn’t have eyebrows like an Armenian grandfather in real life.

If you have SiriusXM, then you may be familiar with Doctor Steve and his wonderful, irreverent and uncensored medical show Weird Medicine. I’ve been a fan for a long time, so it was a real treat for me to get the guy on air for an amazing half-hour during which he talks about achieving a career as a broadcaster while working as a doctor, why he’s obsessed with the new season of Homeland and why a smelly vagina is like a dirty litter box. That last bit is what he closes with, and it might be the biggest laugh I’ve had in a long time. Give the episode a listen, and please subscribe to Doctor Steve’s Weird Medicine on iTunes and say hello to him on Twitter, where you can bug him with whatever embarrassing medical questions you may have.

Click here to listen to this episode using your browser. Click here to listen using the much nicer iTunes player (and subscribe to the show to help our ranking). And mobile users click here to listen via the Stitcher app. (You can subscribe there as well and never miss an episode.)

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Bill Cosby: Racist Rapist — Papa’s Basement #430

by John Papa on December 16, 2014

"Ah, the smell of non-consensual vaginal secretions."

“Ah, the smell of non-consensual vaginal secretions.”

I am joined by the co-hosts of the Big Brown & Burnsie Show, the aptly named Big Brown and Burnsie, for a mash-up episode that covers the politics of farting in bed with a spouse and why the gifts given at Christmas by significant others are doomed to get much, much worse as the years pass by.

We also end the show with a debate about whether it’s more offensive to the black community that Bill Cosby (allegedly) raped a bunch of women or that all the women he raped where white. Seriously, look it up. It’s a pattern of prey the strength of which ol’ brunette-slayer Ted Bundy would have been proud of. Couldn’t he have found a nice sister to rape, like Cicely Tyson or Eartha Kitt? Shame on him.

Click here to listen to this episode using your browser. Click here to listen using the much nicer iTunes player (and subscribe to the show to help our ranking). And mobile users click here to listen via the Stitcher app. (You can subscribe there as well and never miss an episode.)

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High School Ruined Me — Papa’s Basement #429

by John Papa on December 12, 2014

Hint to kids who want to achieve: Don't let your goal in high school be "become John Bender."

Hint to kids who want to achieve: Don’t let your goal in high school be “become John Bender.”

Whenever high school comes up on the show, I characterize it as a mostly good time. Because, well, it was. But it wasn’t all sunshine and backyard Heinekens stolen from your friend’s parents’ fridge. Today, I delve into the crappy aspects of my high school experience. If you’ve ever gone through high school (since I’m not big in the six-year-old demo, I’ll assume most of you listening have), you’ll relate. Think of it as Serial minus the murder. And the quality of storytelling. And without sponsors. Fine, don’t compare us in any way with Serial. It just serves to make us look worse.

Click here to listen to this episode using your browser. Click here to listen using the much nicer iTunes player (and subscribe to the show to help our ranking). And mobile users click here to listen via the Stitcher app. (You can subscribe there as well and never miss an episode.)

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