Monthly Archives: November 2016

Inside Jokes



Until 2005, there was a joke called “The Aristocrats” which was only shared among comedians at private parties and while waiting to go on stage at comedy clubs.  Why?  Because it was thought too off-color and crude to perform in public.  Wikipedia describes the content as follows.

The joke involves a person pitching an act to a talent agent. Typically the first line is, “A man walks into a talent agent’s office.” The man then describes the act. From this point, up to (but not including) the punchline, the teller of the joke is expected to ad-lib the most shocking act they can possibly imagine. This often involves elements of incest, group sex, graphic violence, defecation, coprophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, child sexual abuse, and various other taboo behaviors.

The joke ends with the agent, shocked but often impressed, asking “And what do you call the act?” The punchline of the joke is then given: “‘The Aristocrats'”.

Then in August 2005, Mighty Cheese Productions released an 88 minute documentary during which 75+ comedians share their version of the gag or comment on why they consider it a classic.  The film was directed by Penn Jillete and Paul Provenza.  It is dedicated to Johnny Carson, who often said it was his favorite joke.

Many consider the ultimate version to be the one delivered by Gilbert Gottfried at the Friar Club’s roast of Hugh Hefner.  It lasted nine and a half minutes and pushed the envelope of political incorrectness and tasteless detail.

“The Aristocrats” reminds me of another inside joke told only in the back rooms of Washington, DC and many state capitals.  I believe the time has come to share this private humor with a broader audience.

A man and his entourage walk into the offices of a national political consultant to audition a new act.

  • The star of the act begins by falsely claiming the newly elected president of the United States is not born in America and therefore is not legally qualified to be chief executive.
  • The entourage responds with discredited allegations of rampant voter fraud.  To address their concern, they gut the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and adopt new voting procedures which suppress turnout, primarily against already underrepresented demographic groups.
  • Specific members of the entourage try and block the president’s healthcare initiative even though it is based on a similar program championed by another member of their elite cadre.
  • The entourage next spends four years and $6.8 million investigating the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya in which four Americans died.  They seem unconcerned this is more than was spent by the 9/11 Commission investigating the attacks in which 2,977 Americans perished.
  • Displeased with the entourage’s inability to de-legitimatize the sitting president, the star announces his own campaign for the oval office.
  • He opens his campaign by calling most undocumented immigrants murderers and rapists, contrary to available crime data.
  • He calls for a ban on all Muslims entering the country in violation of the Bill of Rights.
  • He suggests women who seek abortions should be punished, but quickly recants when the most right-wing, religious members of his entourage question his judgment.
  • He states an honored veteran who was held as a prisoner of war should not be considered a hero.
  • He accepts an unearned Purple Heart and jokes about how  this is much easier than the traditional method of obtaining the medal.
  • He criticizes a Gold Star family who suggests he does not understand the contributions and sacrifices Muslim-Americans make.
  • After 18 months of charging his opponent with conflicts of interests, the star refuses to disclose information which might present his own questionable financial entanglements.  The entourage refuses to press the issue or investigate.
  • Claiming his opponent misused her family foundation for personal gain, the star pays penalties for self-dealing by his own foundation.
  • While referring to his opponent as “corrupt,” the star refuses to  acknowledge any guilt in defrauding “students” at his unsanctioned “university.”  He later settles the class action law suit with a $25 million payment to the plaintiffs.
  • Despite calling for his opponent’s incarceration for use of a private email server, the star adds General David Petraeus as a potential nominee for secretary of state, despite the General’s resignation as CIA director and misdemeanor conviction for mishandling classified information
  • The entourage, which swears it is the guardian of the Constitution, remains silent as their star proposes penalties directed at the press and political activists contrary to protections in the First Amendment.
  • In a final act of political cowardice, members of the entourage who called the star unfit for the presidency and a con-man, curry his favor in hopes of appointments to key positions in his administration.

At the end of their performance, the star and entourage take a bow.  The consultant, shocked but impressed, says, “That’s AMAZING! And what do you call the act?”  In unison the star and his entourage respond, “The Republicans.”

It is the dark humor and despicable nature of “The Aristocrats” which captured audiences who viewed the documentary.  Sadly, the same could be said of this sequel.  If only it were just a politically incorrect and tasteless joke.

For what it’s worth.


When You Don’t Have Friends



Much is being made about the lack of government experience among several of  Donald Trump’s cabinet selections and White House staff.  Ironically, I believe that should be the least of the president-elect’s concerns. In “Donald Trump’s Cabinet Is On Track To Be the Least Experienced in Modern History” (Huffington Post, November 24, 2016),  former Bill Clinton policy advisor William Galston states:

My assumption is that unless people are really stupid, if they want to move an agenda, then they will pick senior deputies who know how to move agendas through the machinery of government.

Galston compares the situation to that of the CEO of a company hiring a chief operating officer and a chief financial officer who are familiar with the “nuts and bolts” of the operation.

What Trump should find more disquieting is their lack of experience with him personally.  Compare the current situation with the past two administrations.  Regardless of what you think of their presidencies, both George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s inner circles included individuals with whom they had long-term relationships. For example, Karl Rove became part of Bush’s “entourage” during the 43rd president’s unsuccessful campaign for congressman in 1973.  In other words, by the time Rove joined the Bush White House as senior adviser, he and the president had known each other for 27 years. Likewise, David Axelrod first met Obama in 1992 and served as an unofficial adviser to the future president when he served in the Illinois legislature and as U.S. Senator.  They had a friendship which spanned two decades before Axelrod moved into his West Wing office.

Why is this important?  Think about people you turn to for advice and counsel on critical issues in your life and work.  While there may be dozens of individuals with knowledge and experience, I know my first choice is someone with whom I also have a personal relationship.  Why?  Because that individual is interested in more than just the technical aspects of the issue or problem.  They also take into account the impact of any decision on me.  I know I’m getting great advice when someone says, “There may be a legal justification for this option, but can you live with it?  You need to think about your reputation and values.”

In contrast, Steve Bannon, who will hold the same White House position as Rove and Axelrod, joined the Trump campaign on August 17, 2016.  To wit, by the time Bannon officially becomes a West Wing occupant, he and the president will have had a personal and professional relationship spanning less than six months.  Similarly, Trump and his new chief of staff Reince Prebus lack any previous personal or professional rapport.  Go down the list of appointments to date.  What is the common thread?  Most, if not all, are known, not for their past friendship or association with Trump, but for their position on specific policy issues (e.g., education secretary Betsy DeVos and school choice).

Therefore, if I were the incoming president, here’s what would keep me up at night.  Are my appointees more interested in their own agendas than they are in my success?  Something you don’t have to even consider if your associates are long-time friends as well.

For what it’s worth.


The “Anti-Nixon”?


As a political science major in 1969, I was intrigued by Joe McGinniss’ The Selling of the President 1968 which chronicled how marketers packaged and sold the “new Nixon” to the American public. Their task was not an easy one.  A bitter, angry Richard Nixon had temporarily departed the political scene in 1962 following his defeat to Edmund G. Brown for governor of California with the admonition, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around any more.”

Perhaps, the best description of the “new Nixon” of 1968 is contained in a December 1967 editorial in the Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard following a speech at the University of Oregon.

(Attendees) said they found him more relaxed, more given to easy humor, less testy than the drawn, tired figure who debated Jack Kennedy or the angry politician who conceded his California defeat with such ill grace. They noted he pitched his talk to youth, urging the predominantly college audience to get involved in causes bigger than themselves.

What many of us did not understand at the time was the extent to which the candidate himself was the unintentional target of the media blitz designed to reshape his image.  In light of Watergate, dirty tricks, the enemies list and resignation, one might argue he did not pay sufficient attention to the message.  Despite the personality flaws which led to his political demise, his policies were very much in tune with the portraiture inked during the 1968 campaign.  For example, instead of the rampant anti-communist, Nixon opened the door to a new era of American-Chinese relations.  In 1960, he ran on a platform of states rights.  As president he expanded the reach of the federal government, creating the Environmental Protection Agency and supporting passage of Title IX which guaranteed equal funding for girls’ athletics at educational institutions.

Sadly, we will never be the beneficiaries of a similar chronicle of the 2016 election as McGinniss died of prostate cancer at the age of 71 in March 2014.  Having read many of his other books including Fatal Vision about the Jeffrey MacDonald murder case and The Last Brother: The Rise and Fall of Teddy Kennedy, I appreciated McGinniss’ ability to point out how ironic life can be.  Therefore, I would expect no less in the forever missing Selling of the President 2016.

Would McGinniss have described Donald Trump as the “anti-Nixon?”  While Nixon’s handlers urged him to be more measured and less threatening in 1968, Trump’s resurgence in the polls began when campaign strategists encouraged their candidate to be the untethered, politically incorrect firebrand for whom disaffected voters yearned. Family and associates tell us this is not the “real Trump.”  None of this matters.  Like Nixon, the real questions are, “Did the president-elect buy his own sales pitch?  Will he govern in accordance with the persona he sold to voters during the campaign?”  Or as he hinted in an interview Tuesday with the editorial staff of the New York Times, was this all just an act? Only time will tell.

For what it’s worth.


Fake to Faux to Fact


Being a counter-intuitive thinker is fun.  When you reject conventional wisdom and look for alternative explanations in every aspect of life, you begin seeing the world as it might be, not just how others want you to see it.  People who take themselves too seriously often fail the counter-intuitive thinking test.

One such person is Kathy Griffin, someone whose humor I thoroughly enjoy.  She has made a pretty good living sharing her encounters with the rich (e.g. Steve Wozniak) and famous (e.g. Barbara Walters) which she has now parlayed into a new book titled Celebrity Run-Ins. During her current book tour, Griffin shared an excerpt in which she is seated next to Woody Allen at a dinner sponsored by AOL.  She describes the evening as “uncomfortable,” pointing to the following Allen comments as the reason for her assessment of the situation.

  • He introduced his wife Soon-Yi as his “child bride.”
  • He claimed he has watched every episode of Hannah Montana starring Miley Cyrus, whom Allen hired to appear in his forthcoming Amazon TV series, “Crisis in Six Scenes.”
  • He says, “And now I have to watch my friend Bill Cosby get railroaded.”

It did not take long for the mainstream media to jump on the story as evidenced by the following headlines.

  • Woody Allen alledgedly told Kathy Griffin he had to watch Bill  Cosby ‘get railroaded,’ called wife Soon-Yi Previn his ‘child bride’ (NY Daily News)
  • Woody Allen Is Creepier Than You Imagined (Esquire)
  • Kathy Griffin’s ‘Jaw-Dropping’ Story About Woody Allen Will Shock You (Huffington Post)

For heaven’s sake, IT WAS WOODY ALLEN, the person who, among other things, has said:

  • If only God would give me a clear sign!  Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.
  • I don’t believe in the after life, although I am bringing a change of underwear.
  • My luck is getting worse and worse.  Last night, for instance, I was mugged by a Quaker.
  • I had a terrible education.  I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers.
  • In California, they don’t throw their garbage away — they make it into TV shows.

Instead of viewing the encounter as “shocking,” Griffin could just as easily referred to the experience as “the time I got punked by Woody Allen.”  Knowing she is always seeking new material for her one-woman shows, I have little doubt Allen decided, “Oh, I’ll give her something to talk about.”  The tell-tale clue is Allen’s reference to Bill Cosby.  If you Google the term “Woody Allen Bill Cosby friendship” there are 453,000 hits.  There is just one problem.  Not a single one suggests any level of amity between the two.   There is not even one example of a joint appearance.  Virtually every post which includes both names focuses on how differently the two celebrities have been treated following disclosure of alleged sexual deviancy.

Griffin’s possibly being the fall-gal for Allen’s impishness is nothing new. A song in Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical film All That Jazz titled “Everything Old Is New Again,” reminded me of a similar prank I observed many years ago.  While attending a George McGovern fundraiser in 1972, some of the guests were discussing the impact of  R. Sargeant Shriver replacing Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton as the vice-presidential nominee.  Eagleton had recently resigned from the ticket after confirming he had been treated on multiple occasions, including shock therapy, for depression and stress.

A friend of mine Jim Savarese broke into the conversation and informed the group, “You know, his closest friends don’t call him Sarge, they call him ‘Bob’.” Not a month later, at another McGovern rally, I heard someone repeat this manufactured falsehood.  Jim’s prank had gone viral.

Are we just gullible?  Is it some desire to be “in the know?”  Or to be part of the “in crowd?”  For whatever reason, we seem to increasingly accept gossip as gospel.  In the case of a waggish celebrity or what one should call a Kennedy in-law, it is hard not to appreciate the humor intended.  But when fake stories become faux news and then are spread as fact,  we start living in a world of deception and unfounded reality which have real consequences.  Laughter may be the best medicine, but disinformation seems to be a growing epidemic.

As the media continues to assess what everyone got wrong during the past year, a mirror would be a good place to start.

For what it’s worth.


Did They REALLY Say That? Part II


Welcome back.  The second installment is based on quotes ranked 51 through 100 by the American Film Institute.

#52  You had me at “hello.”  (Jerry Maguire, 1996)  The alt-right movement explains when they knew they had a champion in Donald Trump.

#53  One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.  How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.  (Animal Crackers, 1930)  Eric Trump tells dad about his latest African safari.

#55  La-dee-da, la-dee-da.  (Annie Hall, 1977)  Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson lays out his drug policy.

#58  Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.  (The Godfather II, 1974)  Hillary Clinton explains why she will be holding joint rallies with Bernie Sanders.

#59  As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.  (Gone With the Wind, 1939)  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie inspects the galley on Trump’s private plane.

#60  Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!  (Sons of the Desert, 1933)  New inscription on the Statue of Liberty.

#61  Say “hello” to my little friend!  (Scarface, 1983)  Favorite pick-up line used by Anthony Wiener, Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Guliani, et. al.

#62  What a dump.  (Beyond the Forest, 1949)  Donald and Melania’s first impression of the White House.

#65  Elementary, my dear Watson.  (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1939)  When asked about their level of education by IBM’s automated pollster, the most common answer among Trump voters.

#66  Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape.  (Planet of the Apes, 1968)  Picked up on a “hot” microphone in the dressing room at the Miss Universe contest.

#69  They’re here.  (Poltergeist, 1982)  Secret Service informs President Obama the Trumps have arrived for their meeting two days after the election.

#70  Is it safe?  (Marathon Man, 1976)  What Clinton voters asked on the morning of November 9 while peeking through the slightly ajar doors of their homes and dormitories.

#71  Wait a minute, wait a minute.  You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.  (The Jazz Singer, 1927)  Trump’s response to reporters’ questions following his claim that Mexico is sending rapists and murderers to the United States.

#73  Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico.  (Little Caesar, 1930)   Press questions whether president-elect Trump will repeal racketeering laws in addition to the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank.

#76  Hasta la vista, baby.  (Terminator 2: Judgment day, 1991)  Heading on INS notification to birthright children of undocumented Mexican immigrants.

#77  Soylent Green is people!  (Soylent Green, 1973)   Soylent, Inc. lawyer argues his client should have the same rights as other corporations under Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

#79  Surely you can’t be serious….I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.  (Airplane!, 1980)  Trump tells newly appointed chief of staff Reince Priebus he’s not joking about the border wall and Mexico paying for it.

#81  Hello, gorgeous.  (Funny Girl,  1968)  Trump’s first words each morning as he looks in the mirror.

#82  Toga! Toga!  (National Lampoon’s Animal House, 1978)  Gary Johnson’s answer to the question, “What order from the commander of the Japanese air force signaled the beginning of the attack on Pearl Harbor?”

#86  Attica!  Attica!  (Dog Day Afternoon, 1975)   The uppermost story of a Mexican-American’s casa where deportation forces will look for undocumented immigrants.

#96  Snap out of it!  (Moonstruck, 1987)   College students awaken roommates from alcohol and drug-induced stupors which include flashbacks to a world in which 2016 is still in the future.

#99  I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!  (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)  WikiLeaks and the Russians inform the Trump campaign that Hillary and Bill have a new canine pet.

#100  I’m the king of the world!  (Titanic, 1997)  Opening line of Trump’s inauguration address.

For what it’s worth.