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    May 18, 2015

    dave grammy

    I’m starting to think Letterman’s booker is not going to call…

    I was 19 years old when I got off the proverbial boat from my native France, landing in the port of New York City in order to attend Parsons’ School of Design‘s Photography program, which I would quit after just one session so as to move my images around to NYU’s Tisch School of The Arts in the Film department. In between those dark rooms and even darker rooms, I would come to learn most of what a rosey-cheeked French boy would have to in order to fit in with these American teenagers from my context: getting used to bagels, Kools and tightly fitting baseball caps but above all, television…

    See, I wasn’t exactly a friend-magnet back then, with one notable exception, and spent a LOT of time alone, walking and observing the streets, getting used to the subtleties of paying for sex in the meatpacking district and staying up late upon my return in front of the colorful glowing tube to watch what this marvelous culture, of which I only heretofore knew about in terms of Miles Davis and Converse All-Stars, had to offer. That is when, after a painfully long lead-in addiction to Arsenio Hall, I was introduced in September of 1989 to the gift that was, and is, Mr. David Letterman. This was the first show I saw:

    Of course, I didn’t understand most of his references, mine being mostly cigarette and beret-driven, but to start any form of televised entertainment with a list of the Top Ten numbers between One and Ten blew my mind. I don’t want to say literally blew my mind but close enough. Every single number he read had me in bewildered stitches, and not just because the bit was that funny but because I couldn’t believe this was actually being televised! The fact that it wasn’t really a joke at all, something that can perhaps be said about the whole run of the show, rather simply a compendium of disparate characters, circumstances and words never before put together, was the incredible thing about it. As I sat through that show, devouring another American success story with a glass of whole milk and almost every night of the last 26 years, give or take a vacation, I have been in awe of this man’s pioneering spirit in the arena of buffoonery. He didn’t seem to simply want to amuse us, he needed to amuse himself, and the confidence required to do that in front of people was astounding to me, unknown really, especially in a man who seemed to seek no other form of fame than that lent by that daily hour, and even-so, reluctantly.

    As a film student, I was starting to think of people who did things I liked or loved as other, people like Orson Welles, John Williams or Gordon Willis, whether legends or craftsmen, they seemed untouchable. Not so with Dave. First of all, Dave… What kind of an on-screen name is that for someone I should aspire to be! But that was never his pitch, never his aim. He seemed much more excited in setting a table, summoning people he thought interesting to it and then invited us in, on equal footing with anyone in his chair. That’s why when he made fun of Madonna…

    we were with him. When Cher called him an asshole…

    we were with him. And, most significantly to me in my young years, when Sandra Bernhard manically flirted on the air…

    my lord, was I WITH him! And of course when, quite a few Septembers later, the lights came up on Dave without an opening credit sequence…

    we were with him all the way, now and forever, like Cats. And when Ted Kopple interviewed him about that moment…

    that “I’m not sure” is heartbreaking… Perhaps because we felt as he did, not sure of anything, really, anymore.

    We knew then, as we know now, that Dave is not only a simple clown dipping his be-Alka-Seltzered body into a human-sized cylinder of water, but a thoughtful man, one who might even pass his own test of being able to take a cross country road trip with and come out better on the other end. When I watched him, I didn’t just seek mindless amusement, those who did would soon switch to Leno, I wanted to see my own strange perspectives, my own creativity, my own shamelessness, somehow represented before a national audience, as if to say “did you see Dave last night? That’s how I feel all the time!” Surely not as articulate, witty or humble as his, our generation’s muddled vision had finally found its champion, even better because he desired to represent no one but himself. Dave pointed the way, my whole American life, 26 years running, to a perspective of existence that included, nay demanded, irony, a quality able to remove ourselves from the misery we all feel and into a temporary state of discerning spectatorship, enabled by those before he, from Twain to Carlin, to laugh at everything. For that perspective, I and millions of us owe him an ENORMOUS debt of gratitude. Without that perspective, borrowed and then torn from the pages of another gap-toothed hero in Mad Magazine and thrown on television, there is no Funny or Die, there is no Tim and Eric, there is no Kimmy Schmidt. He provided a safe doorway to subversion.

    Through him, I was introduced to Bill Murray, to Steve Martin, to Andy Kaufman and Regis Philbin. Thanks to him, I felt welcomed into the American psyche. Thanks to him, I grew up to accept weirdness as a pro, not a con. Which is why I was thankfully ready to subsequently accept Larry David, Garry Shandling and Jon Stewart into my life. He upped the quality of my viewership from mere passive occupation to an almost active form of craft, that which demands knowledge and understanding in its audience, without which The Wire might just have been a show about a wire.

    As I moved to Italy a couple of years ago and only able to watch snippets on the YouTube which present only the highlights chosen by the staff, I miss the segments in which Dave truly shines, the in-between moments, the non-sequiturs, the silences, the mistakes, the times in which Dave dares put his discomfort on display, even at the more mainstream 11:30 hour, because being a host is being human, being a host is not what he does, it’s who he is. And all my adult life I dreamt that I might do something good enough, popular enough or odd enough to warrant my phone to ring with an invitation to that chair and a guest at his party, I would have loved to look him in the eye and said:

    Thank you Dave for giving us more than a voice but a language with which to speak, thank you for being even a reluctant patron-saint to the man and woman child in all of us, we will forever be grateful.

    dave smile

    January 7, 2015

    This is not a weapon of mass destruction

    As a boy raised in France in the seventies and eighties, I cannot appropriately describe the influence of humoristic dissension on my life and that of all my friends, family and contemporaries because it is too great to blog about, too important for me to merely talk about, rather something I would like to represent, someday, to the best of my meager abilities, as I live to design a life of some worth. France has always known a thing or two about rebellion and it has, as long as I have been alive, been wise enough to put down the pitchforks and guillotines in favor of pens and pencils. As a jeune, I used to enjoy the wild antics of Edika and Gotlib in Fluide Glacial, the vulgarisms of Vuillemin and his “sales blagues” in L’Echo Des Savanes which eventually led to the outrageous behavior of one Professeur Choron, creator of the self-defined as Stupid and Mean Hara-Kiri, the magazine whose staff, after closure because of a joke at General Charles De Gaulle’s expense, decided to go mainstream-ish by creating Charlie Hebdo, the magazine senselessly and brutally terrorized today in Paris.

    A lot of people have rightly talked already about the attack perpetrated on freedom of expression today but I would like to go further and propose that freedom of expression is but a concept, one that cannot be assailed that easily. What is more essential to my mind is how said freedom is practiced and by whom. Those people, those cartoonists assassinated today, Cabu, Wolinsky, Charb and Tignous were the ones who took it upon themselves to apply the freedom given to them and risked their lives doing so. THEY, and all the journalists and humorists throughout the world like them who stick their necks out for us, are the real defenders of what we ALL take for granted and brandish with feckless pride when we want to feel part of a greater good.

    It is they and their peers who show us what courage is for, speaking truth to comfort all the while fearful of undeniable consequences, it is they who push through, with both wisdom and wit, in order to give all of us some perspective to agree or disagree with, it is they who contribute to our humanity the most, by allowing us to laugh at it.

    And they paid the ultimate price at the hand murderous weirdos who are offended by drawings…

    I am horrified and incredibly sad tonight as I can think of no way to adequately turn the page on this tragedy. All I can think about is the freedom we are told we are born with but cannot feel until we practice it. I shall go back to the drawing board. Merçi du rappel les amis.

    From my daughter tonight

    November 24, 2014


    Walking as I ususally do on a Monday afternoon, gingerly up from Via Peschiere Vechie in my adopted town of Bologna where I had just picked up my weekly supply of cheese and thinly-sliced salumi, as per my Italian head-of-household job description, I felt a strange sensation wash over me as I approached the car, where Gina was waiting. I turned around and could have sworn I was seeing the city fold back on top of me, inception-style. I felt SO dizzy, I nearly fell over. As I got into the car and told my loving wife, the world kept turning faster and faster. Not enough sugar in my system? Impossible. Walking too fast in the cold? I don’t see how. The freaky think is that I felt no pain, anywhere. Prone as I am to Ophthalmic Migraines, which blur my vision for an hour before slamming into a pounding headache that can last for twelve, I am used to my eyes fucking with my head but this was different… Coincidentally, we were picking up the kids from school at that time and bringing our youngest (Leeloo, 8) to a nearby public hospital for an ecography long-scheduled to check on stomach pains she’d been having and when we arrived, after a few minutes of sinewy roads, I was not feeling well at all and had to lie down over multiple chairs in the waiting room, trying to breathe through what was increasingly becoming an episode of sorts. As Gina and the kids went into their test room, I attempted not to panic, which is really hard to do when you’re hyper-ventilating in a hospital. A few seconds later, I felt a hand grabbing my arm, which was covering my eyes, and saw two doctors, furrowed-browed, bending over me and asking if I was ok. I was not ok and they could see it, apparently. They called emergency personnel.

    Now, all this is happening in Italian, not my mother tongue and which I have only really so far properly acquired the all-important vocabularies of food and bathroom usage so a lot of what is going on, notwithstanding the increasingly whirling black hole my brain seems intent on taking me through, does not compute. I know that I went on a short ambulance ride, from one side of the hospital to another I suppose, to find myself alone, my family still in the test room, and in a wheelchair, trying to describe my symptoms to a busy triage nurse: “Gira la testa!” “Vertigino” “Non posso vederre qualcosa!”(Head spinning! Vertigo! I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!) were some of my UN translator-grade gems I believe. They wrote it all down and just when I thought I was in good hands, irony of all ironies, I could feel my body completely tensing up. That is something I had never felt before and do not want to ever feel again, a tension so acute that it forced my hands into lobster claw shapes, which I could not control! Panic? Yeah, Panic. The nurse had turned her back to enter my data and was unaware of what was happening until I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Gina and the kids just entering the building, looking frantically left and right for me, and I yelled GINAAAAA! She saw me with my hands up and rushed over. At this point, I thought I was having a stroke as my entire body was stiff and my arms were stuck up in the air. She called the nurse who gave me oxygen and explained that I was having a tachycardia attack, which tends to force the body into this shape. Great. Thankfully, after a few minutes, I calmed down enough… for the vomiting to begin. Fantastic.

    I will gloss over the next few hours of visual tests, vomiting, cat scan, vomiting, blood vessel-searching, vomiting, neurological exercises, vomiting… I was finally told to shut my eyes for the foreseeable future and that I would be kept at the hospital for a few days under observation…


    At this point, I could no longer see where I was or where I was going. Since I had been woozy since the school pickup, I didn’t even really know where in town, if in town, this hospital was and I found it really confusing to not even be able to imagine where, just even so that I could have something concrete to think about. I was transferred from wheelchair to wheelbed and taken somewhere, a room? A hallway? I had no idea. It was full of people certainly, old people screaming in Italian. Competent nurses, I suppose, tended to me, fit me with an I.V. but all I could imagine was the hospital in Born On The Fourth Of July where Ron Kovic (lil’ Tommy Cruise) is transferred after coming back and finds a leaky, rat-infested slum in which you are taken care of when there’s time. I do not recommend this imagery if you ever find yourself sight-less in a foreign hospital.


    The next three days were a complete blur (see what I did there? Ugh, I’m tired…) The whole pee-in-a-bucket/vomit-in-another cycle was a truly wonderful experience but the best part was really at night when my roommates decided to scream for the nurses at the top of their lungs for no apparent reason. “AIUTO! SIGNORA!!” was the chorus I was treated to nightly, from who knows how many members in this choir, I still had NO idea where I was! Of course, Gina came to see me during visiting hours and that was great help, especially when she brought the kids a couple of days later. From what they would tell me, with an eye mask on, a scruffy and pale face and sunken demeanor in my reclined bed, I did not look so fresh. So they both started crying on my bed as if this was to be the last time they would see their papa… I reassured them that I just had a bad headache and that there was nothing to worry about. Then my son asked:

    Is this how God punishes atheists?

    I let out such a loud laugh, my first since the whole thing began, that he saw that I was ok. I told him that no, it was just an inflammation in the eighth nerve behind my ear canal, not divine punishment. And although I am slightly disappointed that my attempt at secular upbringing has obviously failed, I was indeed told that I have Vestibular Neuritis, an infection of the aforementioned nerve which can supress one’s sense of equilibrium within a few minutes, as it did me. Just stunning. I was told that with proper treatment and diligent rehabilitation, I would be back to normal in about a month.

    So I stayed in there, Gina brought me some headphones and I discovered, and easily got up to date with, Serial, slowly took off my mask and even, on the last day, got reacquainted with solid foods. Italian hospital food, I must tell you, even though I only had the strength to take a bite or two, was fucking DELICIOUS. Risotto? Grana mashed potatoes?! Made me want to live again!


    Finally, on Friday and after an extensive new battery of tests, they told me that I could do at home anything they were doing here and that I could go if I wanted. I wanted. Now armed with brand new emergency room vocabulary, I slowly and carefully packed my bag, waiting for Gina to pick me up. I asked for whatever checkout papers I needed so that she could review them before signing and paying and after about two hours, they came. Except, no bill, just prescriptions… Yup, five days in the hospital, tests, food, even a cat scan, all for zero dollars. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to whether this burden borne by the government, and most certainly dragging it down, is worth the ease of care but I must say, when you’re caught in the middle, it’s hard to argue with it.

    I cannot even explain the roller coaster that was the ride back home but I have now returned, still dizzy and scheduling an MRI for tomorrow so that I am absolutely sure that there is no neurological damage but I am told the extreme symptoms should subdue this week to transition into a milder version for the next two and finally disappear by the end of December. You might have noticed that perhaps my spelling, syntax or grammar is not quite up to snuff and now you know why… All in all, this should be no biggie and I will be back delivering cured meats and macerated grapes to my stomach soon, God willing…

    April 4, 2014

    i arrived in new york city in september 1989 from france with little idea about what america would be like; more importantly, with no idea how i might fit into this “grand experiment.” little did i know that over a decade before my unboarding from AF008, a man had made it onto the airwaves who would cushion the cultural blow i was about to receive, that man, i and millions of others would welcome into their living rooms, dens and beds, we would simply call Dave.

    my nightly routine back then was to settle in front of my tv at 11:30 with a box full of entenmann’s cookies (which by the way were not labeled “original recipe” back then because they were the original recipe!) and a carton of whole milk, something unheard of in my native land, to woof along arsenio hall as he introduced mariah carey to an unsuspecting world. that’s right, i woofed. and i am not ashamed. but the real reason was to keep me well fed and awake for the main event at 12:30, way past my bedtime… i was literally on the edge of my seat when waiting for bill wendel‘s special nightly intro or, better yet, the rare cold open…

    seemingly so removed from himself to really enjoy or take his job too seriously, Dave was a man of my time, enjoying the kind of wit and self-awareness i had heretofore only seen the Pythons display in order to elevate droning bbc interviews. see, on top of this post, what he was doing with steve martin in 1980? that is something seth meyer’s kids will never be able to come up with and deliver in such a skillful manner whenever it is they take over late night… but it wasn’t just the funnies, it was the comfort he filled his room with and by extension, ours. he had always said he played to the studio audience first so that we wouldn’t feel the pressure of being entertained but rather look in on something special happening somewhere else. and if the recent tragedy of reality television invading our screens morning till night is anything to go by, we LOVE peeking into something special happening somewhere else.

    by the time his first guest appeared, with cookie crumb all over myself and spit-taking milk, he had me wrapped around his little finger and could take me anywhere. from jack hannah to larry “bud” melman, from thrill cams to the roof from which all manners of explosions would take place, he introduced me to the rules and regulations of a country whose humor would be soon like his, witty, clever, dry and, perhaps above all, honest in the moment. they may have been introduced to the american public in other places but Dave introduced me to bill murray, to jerry seinfeld, to steve martin, to crispin glover, to bill hicks, to frank zappa, to harvey pekar, to george carlin, to andy kaufman and to, yes, jay leno. and through those people and their interaction with Dave, i learned how americans behave, what made them laugh, what gave them pause, what made them angry.

    it is often said that we here in america somewhat take our cues about how to feel about certain events in the world from public figures on television, to see what they, arguably more expressive about their feelings than we are, think about something before we form an opinion of our own. certainly, it was true on september 19th 2001 when dave came back on the air to sum up how we all felt, lost, disoriented and confused yet resolved to go on. if the funny man could be that thoughtful, we could be too…

    but i have to leave some stories out for when he actually dies so let me stop there. he was there from the time i landed till now and, like most habits, good and bad, he will be hard to shake.

    April 16, 2013


    can there ever be peace? can we ever get along? is it possible for israeli not to go after palestinians, for north koreans not to go after south koreans, for taliban not to go after who is not like them, for us not to go after who we don’t approve of? sadly, probably not before pepsi stops going after coke… everyday, as near as we may live next to others, we don’t really live with them, we cohabitate. it seems that we merely tolerate the presence of other life forms and mostly think about how we can stand on their shoulders in order to appear a little bit taller. whether we choose to eat them, display them in zoos, or try to go after their position, which we believe should have been granted to us, always we seem not to desire to exist together but to win. and win what? success? money? a v.i.p. seat in whatever you call heaven? i know our social contract wasn’t signed long ago but should we not have learned by now that toleration, at the very least, must lead the way to understanding? but that seems to be a tough request, whether the “other” cuts us off on the highway or represents different patriotic ideals.

    to achieve any form of peace, we must try interaction and leave reaction to the birds, we must try empathy and leave apathy to vultures, we must try because if we don’t, there will soon be none of us left. we must try because if we don’t, every generation, as it has for the past five thousand years, will sadly continue to have to explain to their children that our species does not learn from its mistakes. if we consider ourselves superior, let’s start acting superior, by learning humility, by being the bigger man, by embracing ourselves. pepsi, your move…

    December 17, 2012


    imagining the unimaginable as a parent is thinking about not having to get your child ready for school on a sleepy monday morning through no lazyness of your own but because their lives were snatched away by a madman. as scolded as my wife and i routinely get by our kids’ teachers for so rarely getting them to school on time, i have to admit that today, we feel little to no qualms about dressing, feeding and squeezing them slowly and for a bit longer, emailed late-note be damned. to think that 20 sets of parents have to break the routine of hurrying their children along as they brush their teeth, pick out outfits and serve bowls of cereals this morning… my heart breaks as my tears muddle my shirt imagining that which i cannot, going on living without which has giving meaning to my last 10 years on this earth.

    mourning is not enough, action must be taken to care about those for whom life feels too hard to bear before they snatch another life. i have nothing more profound to say on the matter, no prescription, no advice to soothe even my mind, so sad i feel… let’s find a way back this week, together please.

    November 16, 2012

    the otherworldly juxtaposition of bossanova and the “iron dome” missile interception system in this clip from an israeli wedding is blowing my mind. and that’s very close to not being a metaphor… it is friday, the day we’re supposed to thank a lord of some sort for having allowed us to “survive” a work week presumably filled with “torture” such as returning that phone call to management, dealing with ann or working the extra hours necessary to do the job reasonably well, you know, torture. i’m sure that’s how both sides of gaza are thinking about their friday right now, i’m sure. a spark has been stricken, let’s hope the wind, or prevailing minds, put it out.