Comedic Fragility

You might know Drew Carey from his 10+ years on The Price is Right. Or you might recognize his name from his big break, The Drew Carey Show, which aired from 1995 to 2004. For me, his name brings to mind the nostalgic improv comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway?

With great comedians like Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, and Ryan Stiles, Whose Line Is It Anyway? is an iconic American television show that aired in 1998 featuring Drew Carey as the host. The show experienced a reboot, which is still airing today, with Aisha Tyler as the host and starring the same comedic mainstays of Brady, Mochrie, and Stiles.

With fond memories of laughing through the night, I revisited some of the old episodes from the 90s recently, expecting hilarity and wistfulness. Instead, my most profound emotion was disgust. I usually can’t get through an episode without at least rolling my eyes and at worst, cursing at the screen. My main issue, to be honest, is Carey’s blatant homophobia (we’ll save the racism and misogyny in the show for another rant). During the 90s, it’s likely that few people found this problematic. Hopefully that’s not the case in this day and age as we see things with a lens of awareness that we didn’t have in the 90s.

I found it especially troubling considering Drew Carey’s previous relationship (and brief engagement) to celebrity sex therapist Amie Harwick (who tragically passed away in February 2020). You would think that he would be an open-minded or sexually liberated man. This is apparently not the case – at least when we look back at his former actions.

To be fair, the content I touch on is 20 years old, give or take (depending on the season). I’m not implying that Drew hasn’t – or couldn’t have – changed. He could be looking back at his behavior and self-reflecting and reaching the same conclusions I am right now. Or maybe he already has. Or, maybe he hasn’t. We won’t know unless he tells us.

And now you might be thinking – this was 20 years ago – why does it matter now? Trust me. It matters.

We can’t forget history. And yes, that’s exactly what this is. History doesn’t only exist in outdated textbooks and museums. The media that raised us is cultural history. In looking back we can learn valuable lessons and move forward. If we ignore it, we learn nothing.

So, yeah, this is a half-rant half-analysis about Drew Carey’s behavior on Whose Line Is It Anyway? and why it matters 20 years later. This is gonna be a long one, so you might want to take a seat and get comfortable.

If you’ve ever seen the show, you know that things can get out of hand quickly. If you haven’t, here’s the gist. The general format goes like this: Drew reads a card with a prompt. The comedians follow suit accordingly, improvising a comedic sketch. Sometimes these prompts are rather ridiculous like one that asks Colin to act as a dating contestant who is “having passionate secret affairs with Wayne and Ryan’s shoes but must decide between them.” See how things quickly rise to hilarity?

Working on an improv comedy show together, the comedians do their best to stimulate laughter – in the audience and their cohorts. For these guys, getting someone to break character is a huge comedic success. As a quick aside, the main comedians, Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady, and Ryan Stiles, have been working together in this sort of format since the British version of this game aired… which they all starred in before it was reconstituted for a US audience. Their history together presumably solidified a comedic relationship and also provided ample knowledge on how to make each other laugh.

Sometimes, the best ways to startle each other involve kissing, butt-grabbing, or even licking (the face, people, the face). Which in one extreme case was followed by a comedic show of Ryan swallowing an entire can of Altoids that in turn created hilarity when it just about set his mouth afire (well, they are the curiously strong mints).

All the performers have planted a smooch on each other at one time or another (especially Wayne Brady and Colin Mochrie).  And all the men on the show seem comfortable enough in their masculinity to touch or kiss another man without “jeopardizing” their sexuality or having their “manhood” called into question. That is, everyone except Drew Carey.

Drew often jumps into the final skit of the episode or manages to get pulled into the performers’ antics before the episode is through whether he wants to be or not. He tries to be a team player, but the fact is that he’s just not as funny or witty as the featured comedians. I think a part of this is that he doesn’t feel comfortable on stage – and it shows. Add to that, he seems to be an insecure man whose toxic masculinity prevents him from unlocking his potential.

Whenever Drew finds himself the target of a kiss or a touch of affection from another performer on Whose Line, his reaction is painfully predictable. He withdraws, and quickly. He literally runs away, and sometimes he removes himself from the skit entirely.

If all else fails, and he’s forced to lock lips with another comedian, he slaps his palm across the other man’s mouth, creating a barrier of “safety” for his lips. Clearly, the social stigma surrounding men kissing infiltrated Drew’s brain.

Okay, so you might say, he just doesn’t like being touched… but this behavior isn’t repeated with female guests or the women they pull from the audience. Just his male colleagues.

Time and again he’s shown that that it’s not just his expected participation that has him rattled. He becomes visibly uncomfortable watching the other comedians get cozy. And he feels the right to voice his discomfort freely.

In one scene, the actors form a sort of dogpile, and in the style of the Whose Line handbook for humor, it gets a bit sexualized. Wayne Brady climbs on top of guest Greg Proops and Drew almost loses it.

Attempting to disguise his disgust with humor (unsuccessfully, I might add), Drew tells Wayne, “the way you straddled Greg there, you almost gave me a heart attack. You guys had – his legs were wrapped around you.” And Wayne explains to him in return “it’s for the scene, dude,” as if it were a reoccurring point of contention between these costars.

Why is Drew so appalled at sexualized male relationships? And you might think well, maybe he’s just a family man, he wants to keep his shows clean. Well, he had no trouble with sexualizing his eccentric female nemesis Mimi Bobeck on The Drew Carey Show. His issue isn’t sexuality – it’s homosexuality. And that’s where the problem is.

Why, for so long, has it been an acceptable opinion that there is something inherently wrong about homosexuality?

And why does this opinion, in media, seem to present specifically towards male homosexuality? Female actresses and comedians aren’t similarly ridiculed as their male counterparts for same-sex affection.  Even in everyday life, it’s deemed more acceptable for women to hug, kiss, or generally touch each other. It means they show affection, give support, or display friendship.

Why is it that men giving each other physical affection causes a stir, turns heads, is labeled (with negative connotations) gay? Don’t get me wrong. I know we live in an increasingly progressive society, but we still have a long way to go. Members of the LGBTQ+ society experience more freedom in America now than ever. But they are also still deeply oppressed. And that’s why we need to talk about it. That’s why we need to talk about Drew Carey on Whose Line and why his comments, actions, and behavior reinforce toxic masculinity, heteronormativity, and homophobia.

What’s so wrong about being gay? What’s so wrong about being straight and kissing another man for improv comedy or any other reason, for that matter? For Drew, he probably can’t name it. It’s probably a feeling of disgust and discomfort in the pit of his stomach (or the depth of his psyche) that tells him: being gay is wrong.

He clearly believes that it’s wrong for other men, and it’s wrong for him. At least in these historical episodes of Whose Line.

News flash. Being gay is okay. In fact, it’s awesome. Being straight is okay. It’s awesome too. Being straight and resisting heteronormativity is necessary. We can’t let ourselves fall into these boxes – these cages – that have been built for us by society.

Relying on social ideas about what makes us a proper man or woman is futile. It makes us insecure in our identities. It forces us to judge others unjustly. If you care too much about not seeming gay, you’ll end up looking like Drew Carey: an unfunny homophobe.

If you want to resist heteronormativity, go your own way. Do what makes you happy. Show love and affection to the people who are important in your life (so long as they consent), regardless of their gender.

Analyze what you feel and why you feel it. If someone makes you uncomfortable because of their sexual preferences, behavior, or looks, think about what that says about YOUR values.

That goes for you too, Drew. I wish that you had overcome your insecurities a long time ago. Whose Line would have been better without your comedic fragility and homophobic commentary.

Shutting the Book on Bookstores

I have to share something devastating with you. You might want to sit down for this as you may be as shocked as I am.

The Barnes and Noble at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore has closed its doors for good. I know, right!? I can hardly imagine it. What used to be a multi-level oasis of pure happiness is now an empty building full of lost hopes and dreams.

photo credit: tripadvisor

photo credit: tripadvisor

photo credit: tripadvisor

No more new book smell. No more window shopping for little gifts and trinkets. No more reading in the aisles. No more meandering through row after row of the written word.

In experiencing this heartbreak, I wonder who else might be coping with the closure of their favorite store. Who else has lost a cherished brick and mortar place of business where they could physically purchase joy in the form of art, books, or other cultural goods?

We’re all aware that as our world shrinks down to the size of a laptop, we have become increasingly geared towards technology as online storefronts replace physical ones. Ecommerce is the big buzzword. Our lives, more and more, are lived through social media rather than tangible experiences.

So, are we, as a society, eschewing tangible books for mass-produced TikTok soundbites, YouTube beauty vlogs, and online shopping? Has Amazon finally killed the bookstore? And are we going to hold Jeff Bezos accountable?

Or can the death of the bookstore be attributed to the increasing availability and convenience of ebooks and audiobooks? Did technology like the Kindle usher in the slow demise of books as we know them?

Over the last twenty years or so, I have seen bookstore after bookstore close down. At first, it was the small, independent shops… between the big box stores and Amazon, they just didn’t stand a chance. Now, apparently, even the big chains are feeling the heat of our melting society. It’s disheartening, truly. I think of the 1998 film, You’ve Got Mail, where Meg Ryan plays a boutique bookstore owner. Her little shop struggles against the competition of the corporate Fox Books company and ultimately, her bookstore fails. Barnes and Noble is like the Fox Books of the real world. The irony that we’ve come full circle in this scenario is not lost on me.

Speaking of You’ve Got Mail.  Meg Ryan’s character falls in love with the owner of the company that ruined her beloved business. What’s that about anyway?? Even if he is Tom Hanks, I just don’t get it. It’s a good movie, but that resentment should feel more realistic. And it would read more like a tragedy than a romance.

Online shopping was already a huge business.  As we continue our lives through the pandemic, more and more people turn to Amazon and other ecommerce stores for their shopping. While some small bookstores remain afloat, will they be able to survive?

Bookstores, as you might have guessed, are one of my favorite places. They live and breathe creativity. The paper, the stories, the shelves, are all embedded into the very fabric of that magical place. It would be such a shame to know them only as a memory.

 

Do Not Disturb

Have you ever noticed that people are usually content to sit quietly and leave you in peace – until you have headphones in. Suddenly, your earbuds are like a beacon to those around you, begging for them to interrupt your music or podcast session for pointless conversation.

Perhaps you’ve encountered a similar scenario: you’re on the bus or waiting for public transport and decide to relax, unwind, let the sweet sounds of music carry you away while you wait. You close your eyes as you listen. You’ve just settled into the rhythm; your stress levels have started to decline when you feel that dreaded sensation – the annoying tap-tap-tap of a stranger’s finger on your shoulder. You open your eyes and see the stranger peering at you, uncomfortably close to your face, and gesturing for you to remove the blessed buds from your ears. You try to mask the annoyance on your face, maybe even swallow a bit of rage as you oblige, and force a polite, “Yes?”

“What stop is this?” They ask. Your eyes slide up to the sign directly above their heads, and you inwardly sigh as you reiterate the same information that is clearly stated mere feet away from their line of vision. As they nod at you, you gingerly place your earbuds back in place and desperately try to find the feeling of peace you just had.

Maybe the scenario has been slightly different, but we’ve all been there, right? At one time or another, we’ve all been enjoying our fleeting moments of solitude only to be interrupted by some well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) stranger who simply must speak to you. My favorite is when they make a big deal about interrupting you just to ask “whatcha listening to?”

And ladies, I’m sure we can all appreciate those times when a not-so-gentleman beside us has relentlessly tapped our shoulder in what can only be described as a concerted effort to annoy us into removing our headphones, only to try out his best one-liner, usually of the negging variety.  I have yet to meet a woman who fell in love on the 7:05 train to Newark. Especially when the unwanted suitor just interrupted Agatha Christie.

Or, you’re at work, just trying your best to get through a hectic day without becoming a headline or needing bail money. You’re there in the break room, you’re obviously at lunch, and you’re trying to get in a few chapters of that audiobook you just started and lo and behold… in comes the coworker with boundary issues.

Why is it that as soon as you put on headphones, you’re suddenly much more popular than you were five minutes ago sans headphones?  I mean, it’s like you’re wearing a sign that says, hey, interrupt me, no, please go ahead, I’m not doing anything at all here like listening to a book or letting the music calm my frayed nerves or really, anything at all important… I mean, honestly, I’ve been waiting here impatiently for someone to notice that I have my headphones in, so really, go ahead. Interrupt me.   

Sometimes I have to wonder, are these people actually that eager for human interaction that they would force themselves into your world of earbud bliss? Or do they find some enjoyment in seeing your stunned face as they yank you out of your reverie?

Let the masses hear my plea: if you see someone with headphones in, whether they’re on the bus, in the break room at work, or walking through the park, for the love of all things good and holy…

DO NOT DISTURB.

The People of Zoom

Ah, the world of Zoom. It is as mysterious as it is straightforward. An app I had never before used in my life has now become a word I use on a daily basis. And, as it goes in all aspects of life, Zoom features the good, the bad, and the… interesting.

I have to say, Zoom is a great platform for remote meetings, webinars, and training. It’s also become a useful and unexpected tool for keeping in touch with family and friends. We see people on the screen who we’ve just chatted with over the phone, who we used to see every day in the office, and who we wish we could catch up with over face-to-face coffee.

And for some reason, the remote platform of video-calls seems to accentuate all the quirks in our friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. In the closed environment of the office, where we used to spend seemingly countless hours, we got to know our co-workers as the ones who were loud-chewers, frequent break-takers, or early birds.

With Zoom, we get to know our co-workers in a more personal way from the comfort of our — and their — homes. Just as typing from behind a screen provides some level of anonymity, a meeting via Zoom seems to give the participants a certain level of comfort that allows eccentricities to shine.

There’s always the one who uses the quintessential Zoom feature of an artificial background. And companies (like Disney, Fox, and Nintendo to name a few) cater to these green screen loving individuals with custom Zoom backgrounds from iconic movies, video games, and TV shows. Now you know who in the office is a die-hard Game of Thrones, Bob’s Burgers, or Frozen fan.

There are the ones who fall asleep. The one who left their mic on and is snoring audibly to an unappreciative audience. The one who wakes up *gracefully*.

There are the foodies. The one who eats chips (again, with the mic on). The messy one. If you thought loud chewers in the office were annoying, try listening to it on surround-sound. Oh, and there’s no looking away from the view either when their camera is set six inches from their face. Lovely.

There’s the one who takes the floor and talks the whole meeting even though they’re not the scheduled presenter. The one who arrives with a 500-page PowerPoint, ready to share every last excruciating detail.

And then, there are the yellers. Just today, I had a Zoom meeting. Suddenly, one attendee turned away from their camera to yell at someone the rest of us couldn’t see. They yelled “I’M ON THE PHONE!” to the person who was apparently trying to talk to them, as well as our entire meeting. We’re all still sporting headaches from the ungodly volume of their voice.

Yelling on Zoom calls should be outlawed. And for that matter, being the loud talker on the remote session is not a desirable trait. One loud member, and everyone has to turn down the volume on the whole meeting.

But is it better to be silent than loud? There’s always that one person who keeps their mic and camera off, leaving the rest of us wondering if they’re even attending the meeting at all. Are they paying attention… or off playing golf? We may never know.

Maybe they’re too embarrassed to reveal that they — like many other people — didn’t bother to get dressed for work again. In the beginning, as we navigated the world of remote work, we kept up with our professional, business-casual digs. Now, we’re lucky to see brushed hair and shaved faces.

As time goes on, more and more People of Zoom decide that it’s adequate to show up in pajamas or gym clothes with bed head, sweaty clothes, and unruly facial hair. I mean, hey, they showed up, right? And at least we can’t smell them through our computers.

While the People of Zoom show their peculiarities in full swing, providing cringe-worthy views and disagreeable noises, the Pets of Zoom are something I always look forward to.

The true VIP of any meeting is the cat or dog that wanders into view. Feline friends who feel the need to sit directly on the keyboard or dangerously close to the camera are a wonderful distraction for observers, and in my book, furry friends are always welcome — in the office or the Zoom call. No matter what the call is about, a good doggo or floofy cat makes everything better. If Zoom were exclusively for watching pets, I might feel a bit differently about the whole thing.

During this pandemic, so many of us have turned to Zoom as a safe way to socialize and continue our lives and our work. It’s a great tool, and I am thankful for it. But I still have an aversion to office meetings.

Whether we hold them in the office or remotely over Zoom, meetings can — and should — be done via email. It saves time, energy, and patience.

 

Life With No Regrets

I know I’ve mentioned my book club a few times, but much like my family, they offer so much material! The other day, a member asked a question that I personally had a very hard time answering. Other members were ready with a quick retort – most in the affirmative, which, once again, left me shaking my head… since you know, it’s a book group.  I know you’re frothing at the bit to hear the question, so here you go. They asked, “What books do you regret reading?” I know, right!?

I felt as though they might as well ask, “What air do you regret breathing?” I was, however, in the minority. Apparently, people regret reading quite a bit.

Now, you might be thinking of those heavy books, the ones that stick with you for life. And I mean emotionally weighty—not those insanely thick, must-have-on-you-at-all-times textbooks we got in school. I mean the ones that you carry in your heart. The ones that put you in a bad way if you think too much about them. The ones where you learn about the harsh realities of the real world.

The ones where the dog dies.

Even though these books don’t make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, they have value. They teach us something. Maybe we learned about the atrocities of WWII; the holocaust, the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the Japanese concentration camps in America. As horrific as it is to accept, we learned something about humanity in all this history.

Or maybe the heavy book taking up space in your heart is fiction. Maybe the main character, the little girl you were rooting for, the girl burdened with unimaginable pain and sadness, the girl who shows compassion and strength, the girl who feels so real, dies at the end of the book. And you are heartbroken. And you are so moved by this, you are sobbing and letting tears run down your face and onto the pages. Reading can transport us into worlds where we are free to feel and express our emotions — good and bad.

How can you regret anything that makes you feel? Makes you learn. Makes you open your mind. Makes you grow.

Now you might think, “Well, what about a book you hated? One that was just bad.” Ahhh, but that wasn’t the question. This was a question of regrets. Bad writing is bad writing, but even then, regret reading? I don’t think so.

Reading, no matter what it might be, helps us to engage critically with ideas. Reading informs us in so many ways—not just by presenting facts like those heavy textbooks from a soon-to-be bygone era. It helps us to practice forming our own opinions. It gives us the gift of expanding our language, our imaginations, and even our aspirations.

No matter what the book is about, who it is written by, or what genre it falls in, reading a book is like taking a walk. By the end, you’re somewhere else. And even if we didn’t enjoy the journey, we saw something new.

So, instead of having an answer in my book club discussion, I only had another question: Can you really regret reading a book?

Living Under False Pretenses

Yeah, I know I’ve been remiss in writing this week. No, I didn’t drop off the face of the earth. It’s just been a very chaotic week at work which unfortunately sapped my will to live motivation and energy. I was very much looking forward to the weekend. My plans included participating in a complicated pretense wherein I would convince myself that I lived somewhere with a cool ocean breeze flowing through the window and no-one in their right mind starts the day before noon.

As it turns out, the neighbors upstairs… you remember them? Well, apparently, they had contracted with a couple of sketchy guys in a dilapidated non-branded work van to lay carpet in every room of their condo and, as you might expect, their day – and mine, as it turns out – started at 7:30 a.m.  To be honest, I was surprised, because from the daily noise level upstairs, I would have thought they had hardwood floors throughout. Who knew someone could be as loud as they are on carpet!?

The inconsideration conveyed by their early start time on a Saturday morning was exceeded only by the sheer volume of their carpet-laying enterprise.  I will be the first one to admit that I don’t have the expertise it takes to put in carpet… but, I’ve had carpet replaced in a home and I’ve been present when others have done so as well – including in an industrial situation, and while I realize it’s not the quietest task around, it shouldn’t sound like … well, whatever the hell they were doing upstairs all day today. Did I mention they started at 7:30 a.m.?

At first, it sounded like they were felling trees and processing the lumber. No, really. Halfway through the day I got on laughing fit, you know, as you do when you’re slowly going insane, and my daughter grew concerned, figuring today was finally the day her mother snapped. The staple gun was fun though, as was whatever the hell they were using to stamp down the carpet. It sounded, and felt, like they were dropping a 200-pound weight over and over and over and over, but that doesn’t make sense does it? Seriously though, if a small earthquake had hit today, we would’ve been none the wiser in my humble abode. At one point, I started making coffee because I honestly thought they were going to come through the floor for an impromptu visit and I wanted to be prepared to entertain guests. And then, annoyed by their own racket, they opted for music… which had to be played at concert-right-up-by-the-stage levels because, you know, all the other noise they had going on. They finished up and hauled out of here around 3:30 p.m.

At no point in time today did a cool ocean breeze flow through my window, and the day did not start at noon as apparently no-one in their right mind could be found.  But we have rum. Oh yes, we have rum. Not nearly as much as we had when the day started though.

Oh well. As Scarlet said, “After all, tomorrow is another day.”