Did Joan Rivers Win?

In the course of writing a couple of Joan Rivers things for Yahoo!—here’s one thing, and here’s another— I wondered: If Joan Rivers vs. Johnny Carson was a war, did Joan Rivers, who without a doubt lost the late-night TV battle in the 1980s, win?

It’s not an easy question. It may even be an impossible question. It raises too many other questions, chiefly what’s winning? Is winning Carson dying without deigning to talk to Rivers after she left NBC to launch a rival show for Fox? Is winning Carson going down in obit history as the “king of late night?” Is winning Carson walking away from the spotlight and staying away? Is winning Rivers outliving Carson? Is winning Rivers outworking Carson?  Is winning Rivers going out more pop-culturally relevant than Carson was when he passed?

In the end, what’s the difference? In the end, they both died. (And if the unsinkable Rivers can’t out make it out of here alive, then, sorry, folks, it’s official: We are all doomed.) In the end, there’s more sadness, I think, to Carson’s story than to Rivers’ even though Rivers’ certainly was not a laff-riot itself. But maybe just as an audience’s applause seemed to fill Rivers’ tank, maybe alone time fueled Carson’s. Maybe they both went out doing what they needed and wanted to do. Maybe they both won.

(But just between you and me, it feels, in this moment at least, that Rivers didn’t lose.)

P.S.: The above clip is a radio interview Rivers conducted this past winter with Carson’s former attorney and confidante, Henry Bushkin. It is a remarkable document of the Carson-Rivers years as told by two of the ultimate insiders. It’s also a remarkable testament to what a great interviewer Rivers was.

This Will Always Be My Robin Williams Memory

UPDATE (8-12-14): Looking at the young Robin Williams‘ early (earliest?) televised standup, and finding Robin Williams’ fully formed comic persona. He was Mearth. As a performer, he was born a grown man. (For Yahoo!)


It’s Christmas 1978. I’m 11 years old. I’m in the May Company at Eagle Rock Plaza. I’m lobbying my mother to buy me Mork from Ork-style rainbow suspenders for Christmas.

Why We Hate Teen Idols, But Especially Justin Bieber

So, if you stick around after Saturday’s minor-league baseball game between the Augusta GreenJackets and South Carolina’s own Charleston RiverDogs, you’ll be treated to the on-field destruction of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus merchandise. In fact, if you pitch in Bieber and Cyrus merchandise for the post-game bonfire, you’ll receive $1 ticket vouchers by your RiverDogs hosts.

The event is called Disco Demolition 2: You Better Belieb It, and it’s the unofficial sequel to the Chicago White Sox’s infamous Disco Demolition Night-cum-riot of 1979.

The White Sox promotion at Comiskey Park was ostensibly about America striking back at an oversaturated music form, and, for real, when Ethel Merman‘s making a dance track out of “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” things have gotten out of hand. But there might have been something bigger and deeper going on, too: Disco backlash, as embodied by Disco Demolition Night, has been interpreted as a particular kind of American striking back at the gay and black artists who popularized the music. The question now is: What to make of the Bieber and Cyrus backlash?

The RiverDogs say it’s about Bieber’s “numerous run-ins with the law,” Cyrus’ “controversial performances” and both artists’ music.

“Disco Demolition 2 is dedicated to the eradication of their dread musical disease,” Dave Echols, the team’s general manager, says on the team’s Website.

Not said, and maybe not even consciously understood is that it’s also dedicated to the proposition that we hate our teen idols.

Teen idols are heroes to tween and teen girls, and what do they know? Clearly, not as much as tween and teen boys who hero-worship, say, 19-year-old baseball phenoms or MMA fighters.

The bottom line: It’s not that we don’t respect Bieber (especially Bieber), although we don’t (and his recent inability to make no news other than bad news doesn’t help), it’s that we don’t respect his fan base.

Which sounds an awful like how the first Disco Demolition Night came to be.

Why I Am Not the Village People

For the first leg of my journey, that for the sake of clarity (and SEO purposes) will be plainly called “My Summer of Learning to Play Every Song on the Village People’s Go West Because I Promised My Father (35 Years Ago) I Would,” I learned how to play the first song on the Village People’s Go West.

“In the Navy” was simple enough to semi-master, especially on the guitar (meaning, especially the way I play the guitar). What was hard was playing the song in front of a live audience. It was so hard, in fact, that I didn’t do it. My micro-, two-song set at an open mic last week did not include “In the Navy.”

I could say that I didn’t think I could pull off the song lyrically. I could say that my attempt to hide the verses (with their lines about “learn[ing] science and technology”) within a “Beyond the Sea” mashup didn’t work. But what it comes down to is I couldn’t commit to the song as it was meant to be sung: heartily, and with great enthusiasm.

And so the first leg of my journey produced its first lesson: I am not the Village People.

My Summer Project: Unbreaking the Broken Village People Promise

VillagegowestThirty-five years ago this summer, my father bought me the Village People‘s Go West. It was the first album that could be called my album; it was the first album that I wanted to be called my album. I was 11, and I was desperate to start my record collection with this disc. I was so desperate that there, in the aisles of  Wherehouse Records in Los Angeles’ Westwood Village, I promised that, in exchange for a copy of Go West, I would learn to play every song on Go West. On the accordion.

That did it; my father was sold. I got the album. I did not, however, learn to play any song from Go West on the accordion or on any other instrument, although I eventually did publicly perform “Y.M.C.A.” on acoustic guitar (something which is neither here nor there as it relates to my Village People promise since  “Y.M.C.A.” was from the group’s 1978 album, Cruisin‘, and not from 1979’s Go West.)

In any case, a promise is a promise, and 35 years behind schedule or no, I have decided my summer project this summer will be to learn to play every song from Go West. On the accordion. Or sometimes on the ukelele.

And while my father never got to hear my non-ironic cover of “Manhattan Woman”—he died 10 years ago from causes unrelated to my unfulfilled Village People promise—you can if you stay tuned here for my occasional updates and videos.

Go west, won’t you?

Why Ann B. Davis Was the Center Square on “The Brady Bunch”

When The Brady Bunch premiered in the fall of 1969, viewers knew Robert Reed as a dramatic actor (The Defenders) and Florence Henderson as a stage and variety-TV performer. That left Ann B. Davis as the ringer, as the sign to audiences that, yes, The Brady Bunch was a comedy, and that, yes, zingers would be delivered, and not only would they be delivered, but they’d be delivered by a pro, a two-time Emmy-winning vet, in fact, best known at the time for a series that’s hardly known at all today, The Bob Cummings Show.

Davis died Sunday. She was 88. She was the center square because she was the comedy in the situation.