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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

    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.

    January 14, 2013


    for a while i have been looking for some just and eloquent way to express my disconcerted opinion about the tenuous relationship between violence in art and violence in life that some people are trying to make the argument for in the aftermath, and continuing disasters, that are senseless shootings of innocent people. turns out, stanley kubrick had already perfectly articulated such feelings in an interview with noted french critic michel ciment at the time of the release of “a clockwork orange.” because of course. you can read the full interview here but i excerpted the relevant passage for your convenience:

    “There has always been vio­lence in art. There is vio­lence in the Bible, vio­lence in Homer, vio­lence in Shake­speare, and many psy­chi­a­trists believe that it serves as a cathar­sis rather than a model. I think the ques­tion of whether there has been an increase in screen vio­lence and, if so, what effect this has had, is to a very great extent a media-defined issue. I know there are well-intentioned peo­ple who sin­cere­ly believe that films and TV con­tribute to vio­lence, but almost all of the offi­cial stud­ies of this ques­tion have con­clud­ed that there is no evi­dence to sup­port this view. At the same time, I think the media tend to exploit the issue because it allows them to dis­play and dis­cuss the so-called harm­ful things from a lofty posi­tion of moral supe­ri­or­i­ty.

    But the peo­ple who com­mit vio­lent crime are not ordi­nary peo­ple who are trans­formed into vicious thugs by the wrong diet of films or TV. Rather, it is a fact that vio­lent crime is invari­ably com­mit­ted by peo­ple with a long record of anti-social behav­iour, or by the unex­pect­ed blos­som­ing of a psy­chopath who is described after­ward as hav­ing been ‘…such a nice, quiet boy,’ but whose entire life, it is later real­ized, has been lead­ing him inex­orably to the ter­ri­ble moment, and who would have found the final osten­si­ble rea­son for his action if not in one thing then in anoth­er. In both instances immense­ly com­pli­cat­ed social, eco­nom­ic and psy­cho­log­i­cal forces are involved in the indi­vid­ual’s crim­i­nal behav­iour.

    The sim­plis­tic notion that films and TV can trans­form an oth­er­wise inno­cent and good per­son into a crim­i­nal has strong over­tones of the Salem witch tri­als. This notion is fur­ther encour­aged by the crim­i­nals and their lawyers who hope for mit­i­ga­tion through this excuse. I am also sur­prised at the extreme­ly illog­i­cal dis­tinc­tion that is so often drawn between harm­ful vio­lence and the so-called harm­less vio­lence of, say, “Tom and Jerry” car­toons or James Bond movies, where often sadis­tic vio­lence is pre­sent­ed as unadul­ter­at­ed fun. I has­ten to say, I don’t think that they con­tribute to vio­lence either. Films and TV are also con­ve­nient whip­ping boys for politi­cians because they allow them to look away from the social and eco­nom­ic caus­es of crime, about which they are either unwill­ing or unable to do anything.”

    that last point about the difference between “harm­ful vio­lence and the so-called harm­less vio­lence” is what gets me the most as the line seems to me as thin as carpaccio. so used are we to “everyday violence” that we wouldn’t dream of blaming it, would we? only the new and improved violence should be considered for censorship, that of gaspard noé (nsfw) or the used (nsfw) fitting the bill nicely when that of volkswagen or disney are too common to be anything but accepted and acceptable. shall we then eliminate it all? keep it all albeit overseen by a select few who guard the rest of us from exposure to “the hard stuff?” and if so, who?… there are no satisfying answers to these questions, only the study of the past and opinions of the students of that past. per mr. kubrick, i conclude what they do, that the argument is mere distraction.

    have as peaceful a week as possible.

    May 24, 2010

    oped-new7please don’t expect me to deal with anything of any depth today. last night was the lost finale and my head is still spinning from all the confusion… i won’t go into detail out of respect for those with the still-unplayed 2.5 dvr hours but i am still wrestling with the capping of a 6-year investment. i was really quite happy with the first 2 hours and 20 minutes, minus the incredible frequency of commercial time but then, out of nowhere, nothing. nothing, no explanation but a pseudo-religious version of surprise, it was all a dream! i think the problem, as usual, was not what did transpire, or didn’t, on the island and the real world but probably with our expectation of a grand metaphysical explanation of life itself. from the characters’ names to scribbled mythology peppered throughout the show and what seemed like a clear understanding of the many fickle theories of the universe, we thinkers all believed there to be an opportunity for the finale to have been a roadmap to assembling all these philosophical nuggets into a dramatized brief history of time. we, i, wanted it this way. this was to be the show for us smart people who would sigh impatiently at “the others” who couldn’t understand the socratic and egyptian references because they didn’t care to augment their education with some library time in favor of passing out drunk on golf courses. this was to be a clever-yet-populous payoff to the various hints dropped 6-seasons long about the manners with which we humans so poorly deal with the ideal of redemption, a weakness more than made up for by every movie and television show which simply ask us to believe in order to attain it. this should not have been the solution here, and it seems to have been. and we are let down. beautiful? yes. emotional? absolutely. meaningful? meh.

    still, this show provided my friends and i with the best excuse to get together and cook dinner every wednesday night for the past 6 years, give or take; a gift i cannot feel underwhelmed by or unthankful for. sure, call it whatever you like to take advantage of what ended up feeling like teen adventure stories to intensify friendship but it worked like a drink from stream. whereas it may have taken iCaling, phonecalls, babysitters and no-shows, a weekly date during which we often forgot to turn on the tv, was exactly the right prescription for those who, like us, turn to the family we choose, unlike that which was assigned to us, for comfort and love. perhaps the function of any tribal ritual, be it the beheading of chickens or charlie sheen comedies, is simply to assemble and not necessarily critique. simply, we provide our own opportunities not to feel alone and make up worlds in order to survive the apparent pointlessness. we create the stories of us that make the most sense based on our context, education, experience and enthusiasm. we fill the hours, years, decades with systems of our making which matter little in the end. we spend a lot of time wondering why when we should be asking who. our weekly diners were all who, no why.

    come to think of it, maybe this is what last night’s episode was about… maybe. on that note, let me wish you and yours a perfectly stable week!

    March 10, 2010

    i agree wholeheartedly with the pundit-born opinion that the daily show and colbert report do the job that most actual journalists do not perform anymore, question authority. when you engage in such risky behavior on either side of the political debate, you run the risk to, from time to time, run into someone you can’t outgiggle. this happened to jon stewart last night with his guest, marc thiessen. the above is what aired on the teevee and you can see the rest of the interview here for part 2 and here for part 3. the point is that, usually, it is rather easy for stewart to dismiss other’s ideas with calm logic peppered with humor because most people are his intellectual subordinates. he, much like those in his class, delight in using the simplest arguments because they are usually balanced. his example at the end of part 3 during which he states that just because one cause results in one consequence does not a standard make because the future is unforeseeable is correct. but the rebuttal from thiessen, “but it worked” (torture, that time) also seems reasonable. i think that what stewart never got to is the culture of fearmongering that makes a simple guy with an opinion like thiessen subtitle his book “how the cia kept america safe and how barack obama is inviting the next attack.” that’s uncalled for in my opinion! but that point never got made. and it is a pity because now, fox will welcome him as a martyr whom stewart tried, but couldn’t, skewer. and more meaningless words will be thrown in to debase one or the other which advances no conversation on torture, terrorism or the safety of the the american public. it happens…

    so unbelievably preponderant have green screen visual effects become that they have found their way into the most mundane of settings, like ugly betty! amazing that it would cost less to film someone coming out of a building and bumping into a bus stop in a virtual studio than on a new york street. well, as long as i don’t see it, and i don’t, why should i care…

    January 21, 2010

    michael-figurinemy 3 year-old daughter has become quite the naked performance artist when it comes to the hits of the king of pop. which makes for marvelous content to be unveiled at her 13th birthday party. so when i saw, in the same morning, this thriller figurine, complete with what seems to be pre-pubescent whiskers, and the fact that the grammies were going to air a mj tribute in 3D!, i thought “wow, we’re in for the long haul, better start trying to like beat it for realz now…”

    January 12, 2010

    lost-mapfast approaching, and thankfully not cock-blocked by some dude wanting to tell us how strong the state of his union is, the last season of lost. handily recapped in 8:15 and mapped out for our completist pleasure, this is sure to be the show that makes abc finally ask the musical question, where do we go from here?…

    October 23, 2009

    it’s so hard to talk about the power of storytelling in advertising, marketing or even product design these days. as much as it was an ear-catching novelty in the days when we started the apartment design store (a whole 10 years ago!) it has now become a joke for designers and their planners to repeat to all the clients who need to hear something meaningful. it’s even harder to convey the idea of story telling in a visual way, which is the trophy to win when actually able to fulfill that promise. like here for french cable channel canal+. beautiful and witty work.

    October 14, 2009

    gracefor as long as i can remember, people have been telling me to give battlestar galactica a shot, that’s it’s not sub-space soap opera stuff, that it actually is some of the best political commentary out there. sure. but can you really trust a show from the people who thought this was good idea? ok, maybe a temporary lapse in judgment. then i hear that these people populate the show with some robots of some kind. i’m willing to listen, i’m not an idiot…