Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is in its Sixth Season free online. The concept is that Jerry calls up a famous comedian, asks them to come out for coffee with him, and treats them to a ride in a sports car he has picked out for them personally. He tells us a lot about the car and then explains why the car is a symbol of the person he’s about to hang out with. The show, without meaning to be, has become an example of comedy’s shift: Jerry is the face of my father’s generation of comedy. If you, like me, are now watching the entirety of Seinfeld on Hulu, you’re probably discovering the origin of jokes told, retold, and satirized for a generation. He’s a legend; that’s obvious. Although, I think to watch Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is to see Seinfeld’s cluelessness regarding the change in the genre he captained for so long. He’s famous for observational humor, which he does impeccably, but to watch Comedians is to watch Seinfeld oblivious to the genre he influenced that has long changed into something he doesn’t recognize.

Comedians is awkward, and this is nice sometimes, but there are times when I feel bad for Jerry. He’s putting himself into a car with another comedian, and the insights they catch are sometimes priceless, like the very first episode with Larry David, the producer of Seinfeld: the two are friends; they’re clearly like-minded. They have the same ideas about what comedy is–about what’s funny. They keep each other laughing during the entire outing. There are others, like the episode with Ricky Gervais, in which the two are clearly going in different directions. Seinfeld with his pithy dad-jokes; his famous one-liners, and Gervais with extremely dry and characteristically British humor, saying things like, “We’re going to bloody die in this car” without laughing at all, or signaling that he thinks he’s being funny. Jerry might laugh a bit awkwardly at this, waiting for Gervais to break. When Gervais doesn’t, sometimes the camera cuts. There are hits and misses throughout the series, and if you can put up with Seinfeld’s discomfort, the misses are often more poignant than the hits.

The misses are great because we, who know Jerry Seinfeld, are watching him navigate the rapidly changing world of comedy. It’s remarkable, for instance, that the first season contains 12 men, not including Seinfeld, and not one single woman. This production decision, intentional or not, reinforces the show’s old (tired) world belief that women aren’t funny. While the genre kissed that notion goodbye years ago (with the exception of that one jerk everyone’s got in their Twitter timeline), this show seems blissfully ignorant of the fact that you can’t get away with that kind of thing anymore. To release a season of comedy interviews with 13 men (12 of them white) and 0 women is to miss a very heavy half of the genre. They’re waving a huge red flag that says “We’re 10 years behind!” The only disservice they’re doing is to themselves; comedy fans now have access to the brilliance of Fey/Poehler, Wiig/McCarthy, McKinnon/Bryant/Strong, etc., etc., a few clicks away on Hulu, not to mention other fringe comedy outlets like Weird Twitter and Youtube that are not dictated by the iron fist of Saturday Night Live.

Someone must have clued the producer of Comedians in on this after the first season, because their half-hearted effort to make up for the first all-male season includes what looks an awful lot like a token woman or two in the next five seasons. Scrolling through the list, you’ll definitely recognize the women, although a lot of the men are lesser known: Tina Fey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer. They’re no-brainers. I don’t see much effort to dig deep. Like Seinfeld’s cars, the comedians he picks seem to be chosen with a taste for the classics.

The show is really enjoyable and most of the guests are hilarious regardless of their chemistry with Seinfeld. The irony may be in Seinfeld’s introduction to each show: his explanation of all the features of the classic car he and his guest will be touring in. I can’t imagine a more old-world gimmick for a show about comedy than a tour of a classic car. It’s nice to see Jerry care about Corvettes and BMWs because we love Jerry, but that’s a niche interest. That’s an interest my dad– even my grandfather and his friends might talk about. It’s a show of wealth, age, and male domain. It’s good that Seinfeld’s doing his old-car, all-man thing if that’s what comedy means to him, but it’s also refreshing to see this show as a dramatically ironic reminisce of a time that’s gone.

Better Call Saul, Lilyhammer, Hillary Clinton

Let’s Chit and Chat about pop culture according to my humble opinion.

 

The Good:

 

Let’s start with the obvious: AMC’s Better Call Saul is not surprising anyone with its quick wit and dramatic plot. We saw and loved that writing in Breaking Bad. BCS surprised me in surpassing Breaking Bad with its intimate character insights and consistent sense of humor that doesn’t stunt or lighten the drama. Jimmy, the main character of BCS (Bob Odenkirk) is a less conflicted but not less interesting protagonist than Walter White was. I find BCS a refreshing experience because, god forbid, I actually like the main character. It’s a bit more classic of a show formula–an underdog working up in the world, but his moral compass combined with his tendency to wind up in the underworld is enough to keep the show more than interesting. Every episode of the first season was stand-alone satisfying even though the show taunts you with tantalizing cliff hangers in the last five minutes of almost every episode the way Breaking Bad used to. The show’s not yet airing on American Netflix (one of the only Netflixual perks of living in Britain, trust me). Although we see returning characters from Breaking Bad (notably the alternate story line in BCS, Mike Ehrmantraut’s), the show immediately takes on a pace of its own. It doesn’t rely on Breaking Bad the way I expected it to. I don’t hesitate to say that after the first season, in my book, Better Call Saul surpasses its predecessor.

 

The Bad:

 

As much as I appreciated Netflix’s original series Lilyhammer at first, the novelty of an American mobster moving to Norway wore off fast as stereotypes and formula took over the show. The third season only gets worse as the show fails to acknowledge Johnny’s (played by Steven Van Zandt) hypocrisy. His hypermasculinity in a Scandinavian country was also pretty funny in the first season but just becomes painful as he makes woman after woman into objects of his conquest for power of a Norwegian town. He intervenes with muscle when a Muslim man won’t shake a woman’s hand (he’s supposed to be the hero for feminism in this scenario, apparently) but the show fails to acknowledge his hypocrisy as the owner of a strip bar who hires his waitresses out as sex workers and overlooks their physical abuse by patrons. The show’s occasional chuckle isn’t worth my constant cringe. Is racism and sexism still where we are in comedy? What year is it? I would complain that the few women in the show have no character depth, but the men don’t either.

 

The Ugly:

 

The ugliest thing happening in my sphere lately are people’s ridiculous reactions to Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency. How often are we going to talk about her husband? How much are we going to talk about the Lewinsky scandal? How many times am I going to hear what color she should dye her hair or what color suit looks better on her? Please, someone tell me this is just a short phase people are going through and that I won’t have to hear this kind of garbage for the next year and a half? Why am I hearing, “I know she’s a woman, but I actually disagree on her foreign policies.” Let me help y’all by correcting that sentence: “I actually disagree on her foreign policies.” It’s as simple as that! You don’t need to apologize for criticizing her and you don’t need to feel any specific way because she is a woman. The most feminist thing to do is treat Hillary Clinton consistently with the way you treat every other politician. Isn’t this obvious?? Again, someone enlighten me with the year. So, I guess if you insist on critiquing her fashion sense, please spend the same amount of time doing this to Scott Walker. Or better, spare us.

New Adventures: Finding Good Coffee in London

It’s been about a year since the last blog post went up, and hopefully I’m going to switch gears here a bit. College graduation happened in May at which I said teary goodbyes to my remarkable professors and some great friends at USF—it has to be a testament to the impact my English professors have had on me that I’m reading David Foster Wallace’s whopping, thousand-paged Infinite Jest simply for kicks and am loving every minute of it. Now I’m preparing for my next adventure: a year volunteering overseas with an incredible organization called L’Arche International.

 

I discovered L’Arche after reading a book by Henri Nouwen about his experience working with the organization in Canada (the book is called Adam). Basically, L’Arche grows communities with people who have special needs by creating group homes where people with and without special needs can live together in supportive partnership. Many of the group homes have about four people who have special needs and four people who do not. They are grouped in a community environment and asked to help each other live the best lives they can—whatever that means for each individual. Many of the residents of the homes work their own job or go to school, some help in the community garden, and others live a more relaxed pace with support from the assistants. My community will be in a neighborhood called Lambeth in London. I chose this organization because of its philosophies of mutuality (not as much a caretaking situation as it is an actually authentic house of family-like fellowship), its policies on spiritual lives (supportive but not forceful or required), and its ratio of people with special needs to people without special needs (often 1:1, which is basically unheard of). One of my favorite things about L’Arche is that it celebrates excessively. I’m talking about all-day birthday parties, singing and dancing and cake (Do they have cake in England?).

 

I chose this specific community in Lambeth, London (the organization has communities all over the world) for several reasons: One, I speak the language (mostly…), Two, I hope to use the location as a chance to really immerse myself in both a big-city setting and in another culture, and Three, I hope to use the location as a platform for a bit of no-pressure, weekend-trip-or-two, European travel.

 

I chose the field because I feel most myself when I am with people who have special needs. I feel like I am with family. I love the honesty and the pace of life and I feel authentically valued for everything I am, no exceptions. I am excited for the trip and the travel, yes, but I am much more excited to meet the people who I will live with for the next year and for the things I hope to learn from them. Pardon the cliché, but I really mean that, because there are so many things about living in London that I have no idea how to manage. First of all, apparently people don’t drink coffee there. I’m going to need a lot of help navigating that whole fiasco, and I’ll need the people in my house’s help to find a place that will sell/make me coffee. I’m also fairly directionally challenged, and the people living in my house will have experience with the transportation systems and with the city in general. I am truly looking forward to the opportunities to open myself up to learning from them.

 

Here's a side-note, I got to see the pope at the vatican a few weeks ago. :)

Here’s a side-note, I got to see the pope at the vatican a few weeks ago!

I think the best things happen when I let experiences change me, and that’s what I want from this. No-expectation, ready-for-anything, encountering and experiencing openly.

 

A lot of the specifics of what my time will involve are still fuzzy, but I hope to keep everyone informed as much as I can as I get over there, move in, and start training. I’d love feedback from anyone about your experiences in this field or in this country, from what I should pack to what I should do while I’m there. I’d love any contacts you’d like to share with me. I’d even love to complain together about how tough it is to navigate the visa system (seriously…). Thanks for sticking with me, all of you! I leave on July 15th, and until then you’ll find me in Sioux City, Iowa, reading Foster Wallace and watching Travel with Rick Steves until I drop.

The F Word As A Tool of Empowerment

From an early age, I knew “feminist” was a bad word. Flirty boys in middle school youth group would tell me tired old “woman jokes” to get a reaction, but to prove that I was cool and easy-going I told the boys that kind of thing didn’t bother me. And it really didn’t. “I’m like, the opposite of a feminist,” I would tell them proudly, “none of that makes me mad.” It didn’t—I had great, kind men and strong women in my life, and my adolescent heart just didn’t see a need for the likes of the F word.

But nothing will bring out your inner feminist like college. I started to meet guys—for the first time in my life—that didn’t respect who I was as a person. They treated me with indifference (a well-known goodie two-shoes at the time, and already dating someone) as they fixated on the very single “party girls.” I would walk into a fellow freshman’s room to see his conspicuous poster of girls in swimsuits and my sense of worth would immediately shrink. As a theology major, I participated in classroom debates about “The Woman’s Issue” as male classmates reassured me that the Bible was very clear on the concept of women in leadership, but that children’s ministry was there for the taking! I met with a seminary recruiter who told me with sincere kindness that he thought I would be successful in ministry despite my gender. As all this built up, I overheard someone say in a coffee shop that “all feminism means is that you support equal rights for women. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, it doesn’t matter if you wear makeup or not, whether you are married or single. It doesn’t even matter if you choose to label yourself as such.” I didn’t believe the guy. I looked up the dictionary definition of feminism, dictionary-trusting English major that I am. He was right.

I had never considered myself a feminist before—feminists were mean and angry and boys didn’t like them. I was hurt though. I was hurt by the way I had been treated and the way other women had been treated. My mother had been refused a “breadwinner” bonus in the catholic high school that she taught physics because women aren’t supposed to be breadwinners. I was a little embarrassed to be a woman and I was angry that I was embarrassed. Periods are disgusting, the shape of breasts should be covered up, and just about every insult I heard every day could be unraveled to basically mean “woman.” My eyes were suddenly opened to the secret messages the world had been hurling at me since I was born. Chances are, no woman will make it to the cover of Sports Illustrated unless she’s wearing a bikini. Because what a woman does matters less than what she looks like. I listened to the nation’s endless obsession with the appearances of Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton. “Your worth,” the world said, “is in how much men like you. And men like [insert bikini model’s name]. Try as hard as you can to become her.” Suddenly, all the time I spent shaving my legs, putting on make-up, toning my abs, smiling when I didn’t feel like it, shopping for push-up bras…they were all just ways I could make myself more appealing to men. A male friend tweeted, “Yoga pants should have a weight limit.” The world said, “Work hard to make their worlds more aesthetically pleasing.”

So I guess, instead of explaining the extent of my frustrations when someone asked me, I found it easier to say, “I’m a feminist.” The word packed a punch and I liked that. It made people a little uncomfortable. Those of you on a coast or in a big city that think I’m exaggerating, I dare you to drop by any town in South Dakota, engage in conversation with someone in a public place, and drop the F bomb in regards to your beliefs. Chances are they’ll treat you like you proclaimed your loyalty to the anarchist revolution. In my experience, the conversation will either end or get so condescending that you’ll have to excuse yourself.

A male friend once questioned my use of the word: “It’s so violent. I mean, right or wrong it just has the connotation that women want to overpower men.” I was very cautious in asserting myself in this matter (and most matters, honestly). I didn’t want to seem to aggressive or mean. I wanted him to still like me. “I guess ‘equalist’ does the concept justice,” I said, and I used “equalist” for a while.

I explained my transition from “feminist” to “equalist” to a professor once in a coffee shop. She is a well-known diva, a fighter, and I’ve never seen her apologize. She ruffles feathers here because she simply does what she wants. She’s got opinions and she’s not afraid of her own voice. I explained, “maybe the cause would get farther if we gave up the F word…it rubs so many people the wrong way.” She chuckled a little and told me without hesitation, “Never apologize for the F word.”

And I stopped apologizing. The word makes some people uncomfortable, but if I’ve learned anything about words from writing, it’s that weak ones don’t do anything. No one remembers them and they don’t change anyone’s mind. If the word “feminist” is a little strong, so am I.

How can we heal the disconnect between the Evangelical Church and the Gay Community?

One of the things that keeps the Church and the gay community from reconciling is a lack of listening. Hands down, the question I get asked most often by people who think homosexuality is a sin is, “How can you accuse the church of not loving gay people? Plenty of churches love gay people—they just do not accept their behavior. Wouldn’t it be less loving to allow them to behave however they want, in contradiction to the Bible?” This is a deep black hole of a question, but in my humble opinion it demonstrates a lack of listening to the majority of the gay community. The church is continuing to look at homosexuality as a behavior—and a behavior that goes against several (very debatable) passages in the Bible. The old adage to “love the sinner, hate the sin” comes to mind. It suggests that the Church is fully capable of loving a person completely while we acknowledge and root out the “sin” in her or his life (This is not even getting into the question of whether their sin is the Church’s business to root out in the first place). The problem with all of this is that it lacks the other half of dialogue.

The majority of the gay community insists again and again that their sexual orientation is not simply a behavior—that is a part of their identity in the same way that being straight is a part of someone’s identity. If sin is something that separates a person from God, which is a whole separate black hole of a debate in itself, than isn’t testimony from the gay community valuable? Why is the church dismissing it in their insistence that homosexuality is a behavior and that it is sinful? If the gay Christian community says, “We are gay—it is a part of our identity and not simply a behavior—it is not separating us from God or alienating us from other people, and we could not fight it without lying to ourselves,” what should the Church’s reaction be?

Before I was let go from camp, my friend Jeremy was let go from the same camp for being gay. He had been working at camp for several years in successful leadership, but that fall he had come out, and camp’s reaction was to inform him that he was very welcome to visit but was not welcome to work there. I sat in on a meeting as Jeremy tried to explain to the administration that he is the same person doing the same ministry—that he has actually grown closer to God as he has become more honest about his true identity—and that he felt embraced by God rather than convicted. The administration’s response was to shrug with sympathetic eyes as they quoted Scripture. I’d be willing to bet this sort of interaction happens a lot.

Scripture is a mystery, and a few times every century people come to the consensus that they were interpreting it incorrectly all along, and that the policy of say, not allowing women to be teachers, is actually just some bad theology that could be interpreted in a different way to keep the Church from becoming the oppressor. I dare the Church to throw away your easy answers and take a little risk when you converse with someone who is gay. Open your mind to the possibility that they could be telling the whole, complete truth about their identity and their orientation. Right now, the common interpretation of Scripture does not match the testimonies of thousands of intelligent, spiritual individuals. This is something that’s only going to be solved with both parties listening with real open hearts and empathy. Are we strong enough to listen?

The Least Political Zimmerman Article You’ll Read All Week

I followed the Zimmerman trial half-heartedly (mostly because I do not trust the media to relay legal information to me without holes) and started to engage in the conversation as soon as the verdict was released. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of both Martin and Zimmerman supporters. I have my own opinions on the trial and the verdict, but they’re all being voiced more eloquently than I could voice them. Now, though, the trial is over, and what we’re left with is a public outcry to fix an array of uncovered injustices in our country. In my humble opinion, even if you find yourself whole-heartedly convinced that Zimmerman was in the right, you have one very clear-cut responsibility now that the trial is over: to listen.

No matter how you feel about the outcome of the trial, the wisest thing to do now whatever our race, whatever our religion, whatever our political leaning, is to listen to the specific frustrations and complaints that have been stirred up by this trial. Gun laws, yes; Stand Your Ground laws, yes. But especially race. The past generations have had their racial issues right in front of their faces: undeniable. But we’ve gotten pretty good at thinking we’re past racial bias and past discrimination. Certain well-known radio talk show hosts want you to dismiss the protesters and their outrage as false victims wishing to gain undeserved attention, but I am convinced that, trial aside, outrage about protecting racial minorities and identifying our biases can only contribute positively to our society, should they remain peaceful. Some facets will insist that this trial had nothing to do with race, and we all have opinions regarding that, but I’m saying that we need to move beyond the specifics of the trial and to the issues that the trial has brought to our society’s surface. Even if you are under the impression that race has had nothing to do with this trial, it’s in our focus now, and if you care to be in open dialogue with the thinkers of this nation, you’re going to want to be open to some hard questions about racial identity.

The most prudent critical thinkers will listen to protesters, even casual protesters in arenas like social media, when they tell us that they identify with Martin because they have been profiled or discriminated against. The wisest among us will trust the outraged when they tell us their personal experiences—experiences that are valuable and that indicate a necessary change in our thinking and our behavior. There is a reason why this case has stirred up so much emotional depth: race is complicated, it’s deep in our hearts, and it cross-cuts into our very identities and families. It’s not an easy or simple topic. Right now the hardest thing to do, but something the wise will manage, is to put down offensive rhetoric and be someone who is open to receiving the change this trial will surely bring to our nation, our neighborhoods, and our history books. We have an opportunity to learn from people who have passion for good reasons—we have the opportunity to give the benefit of the doubt and listen.

How James Dobson Convinced me to Keep Prayer Out of Schools

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Somewhere in the turbulence of high school, I found myself at a rally to protect traditional marriage. The rally was led by the (in)famous James Dobson, leader of Focus on the Family and well-known advocate of “traditional marriage.” It consisted of Dobson bellowing a very convicted and passionate speech about how we must protect our children from a future America that will throw God away and ignore his commands. The event center full of people cheered with wild but Midwest-polite fury. I was there willingly, having not yet committed myself to the burning questions that destroyed my religious foundations and rebuilt them unconventionally. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I think Dobson and his supporters are pretty straight-up wrong about how they interpret marriage, but I vividly remember something else he said that has had me confused for years. In the midst of Dobson’s pleas to “remember God” during these trying and confusing times, he prompted the crowd—“We want prayer in schools again!!” and the crowd would cheer uncontrollably; “We want the name of God on our nation’s currency!” Again, people clapping and screaming; “we want the religion of our fathers in this country again! We want to be one! Nation! Under! God!” and people are just going insane. But even then, I was confused, and I guess I still am. So here I am to ask a few questions about this agenda.

There is a strong demand by traditional Christians to involve their religion in the politics and government of the United States. It really only starts with legislating morality like bans on gay marriage, but it also includes things like demanding prayer in public schools, erecting religious statues on state grounds (the famous Texas courthouse) and basically protecting the religious rhetoric that seeps into all politics (don’t get me started on presidential speeches) and essentially denies the worth of the other religions and lack of religions that live and thrive in this country. And I truly cannot understand why. How could keeping “In God We Trust” on our currency help anyone to actually know God? Has it ever? Because in my experience, pushy Christianity does exactly that: pushes. A prayer at a public school graduation only makes people that don’t pray uncomfortable and unwelcome. Which church agendas strive to make visitors uncomfortable and unwelcome? It seems to me like we’re letting our sentimentality get the best of us here. Isn’t it kind of like when a high school football team refuses to change its name from the “Fighting Chiefs” because “it’s always been like that?” The team is choosing to hurt a group of people with a violent label rather than take a few steps to change their name. I’m already anticipating the “This is a Christian Nation!” plea, but there is already more than enough great writing disputing that fact that I will not waste keystrokes on it.

Perhaps these people have historical interests in pushing intrusive religion. That’s fine with me, but they should be passionate historians, not passionate Christians.

What if Christians went out of their way to learn about other religions and whole-heartedly respect them—without the intent to evangelize? What if they listened when atheists talked about the reasons they don’t believe? What if we took scientific questions seriously? Could we shed our reputation as pushy truth-deniers? Or will we strive to maintain our very comfortable and politically powerful spot in the supposed majority? 

 Christians should put everyone else’s comfort ahead of their own. They should be willing to duck into a corner to pray with their families; to put themselves out for the sake of the group. That would be a cool reputation to have—I think one that Jesus (and Gandhi) would approve of.