Thursday, September 27, 2007

G.I. Joe On Location

Soooo...we were in Aspen for the HBO Comedy festival.

I won't make jokes about how white Aspen is (very) but being there was very cool because I got to do snowboarding for the first time (rocked).

What I'll say about the city is that if you're very rich, you're willing to build luxury resorts ANYWHERE, no matter how remote/cold/unreachable (we had to charter a scary bus to get there from Denver driven by a dude who was as surprised as we were that we didn't crash).

But since we were there, and once we'd finished our performances, we decided we should do some work.

Hence...Alpine.



To this day, I'm not sure where that accent came from. Also, notice that Alpine has 4 fingers (because if you played with GI Joes as we did growing up, you'd know that the fingers always break off).

Also, notice that we were professionals...because we were freezing our asses off.

It was cold
.

And I'm from Chicago so that's saying something.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Join Us On Facebook

Okay.

So...I'm MILDLY addicted to FACEBOOK (that Zuckerberg kid is gonna be rich)

we just started a new group.

"Fans of THE MESSAGE".

you can access it and join us on my facebook page.

see you on the other side.

HERE'S THE LINK: http://harvard.facebook.com/group.php?gid=19612626208

You Want a LOT For Those Socks

I was on my way to party a few nights ago when, at the last second, I decided I wanted something brand new to wear.

But, being 8:30pm, there were almost no stores between my place and the party that were open, with the exception of the American Apparel store on Hollywood Blvd.

So I ran up in there, hoping to find something that would fit my style. Alas, 'twas not to be. The ultra-brite colors and small fits were not my steez in the slightest.

The prices were not my steez either. $50 for shirts. $75 for hoodies. Dov Charney, the head of American Apparel, really knows how to turn a profit, which explains why his LA-based company has blown up in the past few years.

The man can sell cotton socks. But of course, he does it with ads that look like child porn (these are not images inspired by wholesome, Cinemax soft core).

In this sketch, we attempted to tap into not only American Apparel's ad campaign, but also the hipster culture that has sprung up in places like Williamsburg, New York and Silverlake, Los Angeles. We had also really wanted to do a sketch with Nika Williams as Tyra Banks (something we had been doing since our stage show).

Big props go to the actors and actresses in this sketch. Most of them were asked to do riskier, edgier stuff in this piece than in any previous or subsequent piece (there were many discussions Bashir and I had about "is this part going too far?")

And who knew Mike Cohen could act? The infamous creator of all our music did such a great job (after some inspired coaching from Bashir) with the character of Dov Charney that a debate broke out online on whether or not the guy under the disguise was Ben Stiller! That's some good company, Mike.

Enjoy, once again, this 100% cotton tale...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Welcome to Monday...now suffer.

In honor of Monday, everyone's favorite day of the week (except for Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, congrats on topping the list again, guys) I thought I'd post two sketches to help you get through this first work day.

The first was our parody of TO CATCH A PREDATOR.

There were millions of parodies out there but at the time our site was looking to build traffic.



Not a bad sketch, Henry Dittman, Chase Sprague and Thomas did some great improv. Also, it got Ursula out of her news uni and into a bathing suit (her idea...we think, maybe, I dunno.)

Youtube picked it up and featured it on their comedy page. So, for the record, the sketch did build traffic.

But it was the last time we did something just to build traffic...that's a bad standard to have if you pride yourself on being original.

(funny side note: I had a death in the family the MORNING before the cameras started rolling on this sketch. Nothing but good memories around this thing.)

Switching gears, the next sketch was an idea that probably should have stayed on the ground. We noticed EVERYONE throwing up hand signs at sporting events, in videos, etc. So we did a hand-sign primer.



Again, this thing built traffic. It hit 40k on Yahoo Video in a few short days. But we weren't excited about how it came out.

The moral of the story is, stick to your guns...and we did from then on...and we never sold out again...

...and then our site got dismantled.

ps - Diallo hates this sketch, so if you see him, tell him it's your absolute favorite. Just like, keep saying it over and over, and repeat some of the jokes. Then just laugh really loud. Please.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Civil Rights and Wrong

What better time to talk about our Coretta Scott King sketch than when the nation is focused on Louisiana's (Jena, LA in particulars) continued insistence that it's the year 1837 and not 2007.

Again, the sketch below is a look at unseen history. We wondered, "who did Coretta date BEFORE MLK". We just took it to it's logical extreme.



People asked if the Freebird character being played by a woman was some sort of statement.

No.

The actress, Nika Williams (you've seen her on MTV's Wild N' Out and other places) was in our stage group and at the time was helping us teach the "Freebird" character to a male actor. She understood the character inside and out.

Thing is, she was doing it so well, we just said to hell with it, and gave her the part. (Full Metal Jacket eat your heart out.)

She and Robin (who plays Coretta) used to draw howls when they did this one on stage. It translated better than most of our stage pieces and remains a fave due to the strong acting performances.

Also, please disregard the fact that, apparently, at "8pm" in Atlanta, it's usually as bright outside as it is at noon....Oh, and that Ikea made their first record shelf in 1953.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Sketches You Won't See Here

It occurred to me as I listened to Kanye West's new album (apologies to the 50 Cent fans) that a lot of rappers in the last few years have turned to the little known (in urban music anyway) French electronic outfit Daft Punk.

Kanye sampled them for "Stronger" and Busta Rhymes (via producer Swizz Beats) sampled them for his song "Touch It." Which inspired Bashir and I to do the same.

We shot a piece for our running series "What's Hot On The Block" called "Sampling Daft Punk." In it, we created an original "French gangster rap song" using a sample of the Daft Punk song "Short Circuit." Mike Cohen once again came through on the boards, engineering an instrumental beat that we then wrote lyrics for.

The piece was awesome. So where's the piece? Where's the nice, embedded YouTube box below, with the play button on it?

Sadly, they closed our site down and the raw footage was never edited. And that's the case for many pieces we wrote towards the end.

We did a commercial about a new credit card being issued by KFC. Never edited.

A piece called "Confederacy," on the inherent racism of the song Sweet Home Alabama and the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales. Never edited.

We shot pieces featuring friends of The Message Crescent Muhammad (re: the multi-cultural trend in hip hop video girls) and Wyatt Cenac (re: the Stop Snitchin' culture of hip hop).

We shot more episodes of the D.C. soap opera that you've never seen as well as the aforementioned Daft Punk-influenced music video. Plus a couple more I know I am forgetting. Maybe because I want to forget them ("North Beach Diet").

If we get the opportunity, we're going to edit and debut some, if not all, of these lost videos from The Message.

DJ Now, Ask Me How

I am (well, was) a HUGE fan of INCUBUS, especially Morning View.

But when Diallo and I would watch them live, or see the videos, we'd always be like...

"What's that DJ doing?" We just didn't see why dude was on stage. Except for some intermittent scratching and ambient percussion. And since Diallo's other job is as a DJ (you can see him every week in one of LA's biggest clubs...if you have the stomach to be trampled by a bunch of people wearing Armani Exchange and smoking American Spirit) he was particularly incensed that another DJ had figured out how to make a ton of money doing...well...not much. (looking in your direction DJ AM).

Yup, just like in Linkin Park and Sugar Ray...the DJ was getting over. All the stardom, a tenth of the work.

But since he "looked the part" of hip hop kid, he added flavor to a band that probably didn't need him.




Reaction to this sketch was strong. And strongly negative. Apparently, the DJ, DJ Kilmore is a VITAL member of the band and plays percussion and piano.

Ummm...whatever you say.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

American and Gangster

Diallo was briefly addicted to BET's AMERICAN GANGSTER.

Like, really addicted. Like we had to hear about it every day in the office...and at lunch...and on the elevator.

He threatened to quit THE MESSAGE unless we did a sketch based on the show. Like an NFL holdout. He didn't come to work for two weeks.

(I think that's what happened. Maybe? I dunno, I try not to pay attention whenever someone other than Karl Rove is speaking.)

At any rate we finally caved and did our Bush gangster parody. The only thing missing was an entire riff on Condi ("They called her Cut-Him-Low-Condi, cuz she was good with the knife") because we were inundated with Condilicious feedback and felt like we needed a break from her.

One day, we will release (read: upload) THE MISSING MESSAGE where we have all the stuff you guys never saw, the sketches we shot that weren't released and the sections of things that were funny but ran too long.



The good people at BET really liked this sketch and actually ran it on their show THE 5IVE. We've had a great relationship with them. Hands down, they're still the best way to have your material appear in black households.

In fact, my sisters had (appearently, to my surprise and sadness) never seen some of our stuff 'til it was on BET.

On a side note, Diallo and I always joke about which song is gonna finally drive us away from Hip Hop. We were raised on it, but lately it's been treating us like crap.

I may have my song.

Not Souljah Boy.

But that damn Will-I-Am/Fergie "I got it from my momma". Whenver that thing comes on, I want someone to shoot me in the face. Super talented blogger Byron Crawford (www.byroncrawford.com) called it months ago...but I didn't listen to him. Why didn't I listen to him.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fantasia Fans Unite!

Diallo and I often joke about the most hated sketch we ever put up.

Without a doubt...it's the one below.

We received more angry responses to Nefetari's TOUR DE FORCE as Fantasia reading from her book than anything we've ever posted.

This sketch grew from us watching (about 35 times) the Lifetime TV original movie Life Is Not A Fairytale starring Fantasia Barrino as herself (along with Kadeem Hardison in a breakout role as her angry Joe Jackson-esque dad, and Viola Davis whose tears flow with a majesty and grace all their own. She even screams "nooooooo" upon learning of Tasia-May's pregnancy...Oh, and Loretta Devine is in it for some reason). We won't mention the director cuz she's a VERY powerful woman in Hollywood...ummm...so let's just blame this mess on Kasi Lemmons who was CLEARLY NOWHERE NEAR THE SET when this monstrosity was being created.

It was, bar none, the most singularly poor and poorly acted (and over acted and poorly written and horrendously directed) thing Lifetime has ever done.

And, if you watch Lifetime...that's saying alot.

We had to do something.

This is a sketch in the long tradition of THE MESSAGE where you are sometimes seeing the second take. Our DP at the time kept laughing so we had to do things over and over.

We wrote a lot of jokes for this. But much of what follows is Nef's improv.



The hate mail from this sketch was diverse. It ranged from:

The gentle - "God will forgive you for attacking a fellow sister in Christ."

to

The angry - "Yall nigaz jest mad cuz fantazia have more money than you and if we see you on da streetz is ova beetch [sic]".

to

OUR FAVORITE - "this is niggers cooning for the white people who wrote this. ya'll some BITCH MADE MEDIA TOOLS".

"Bitch-made, media tools"...ahhh...let those words sink into your pores.

We loved that it was both street and savvy at the same time. And it became our motto.

It still can't beat the all time greatest response we ever got (to Condi).

"this was funny. For niggers".

Yay America!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Mario Van Peebles' Presents...

This was the video THE MESSAGE premiered with on our own site.

Dreamgirls was in theatres and on everyone's mind so wanted to do something with it.

Enter Mario Van Peebles.

Again, we didn't wanna do a parody of the film, but, utilizing our fan fiction toolbox, we created a history that no one knew existed (like the ATTACK OF THE CLONES animated movies that existed between the 2nd and 3rd Star Wars).

Creating history is a good way to build comedy (see Eddie Murphy as the fifth Beatle) .

We had such fun with this character (and the Improv from Diallo) that we ended up bringing him back time and again. We shot a ton more stuff in the theatre (acting and scenes from the movie) but they made the piece lose focus and had to be cut (murder your darlings, my writer friends)

Still and all "The Wise Old Janitor" was set to be a part of more sketches and movie parodies.

Also, Chrystee Pharris, LeShay Tomlinson and Robin were spot on in their improv and ad libs. Goes to show, you work with the right people and the sky's the limit.

(you might recognize Chrystee from PASSIONS and SCRUBS, and LeShay from R. Kelly's TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET and a lot of TV and commercials...Robin is homeless.)



Once the Oscar's came and Dreamgirls was only recognized for its performers and not the movie itself we had to bring Mario back.

He makes an appearance at the end of our Oscar round up we wrote hosted by Joy Leslie (who is on TV now...Return our calls, lady!)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Iraq Tango

This is a piece we laughed and laughed about for months before we ever started THE MESSAGE.

It was short and sweet.

We thought it would be funny if someone mistook the military alphabet for a more subliminal code. Particularly if that person were extra sensitive about race.

Our initial worry was that (especially in a time of war and "rah rah" patriotism) veterans would find the piece offensive; that they would think we were calling our soldiers racist.

But our producer Scott is an Iraq vet and he thought it was hilarious. Further, we actually got to shoot this at a national guard armory in California and the active duty reservists stood around and watched us shoot.

They were dying laughing the whole time. They had never thought of the military alphabet that way, and they loved it. According to Scott, they just liked being thought of in a light-hearted or funny way for once. They liked being the subject of comedy instead of being surrounded by serious people.

Their jobs are dangerous, so they appreciate a good laugh.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A letter from down under

Diallo and I always wondered about the image of blacks overseas given that our representation is subject to what the American networks sell and what the overseas networks buy.

Well, we have an answer.

It sucks. (FLAVOR OF LOVE...I'm looking in your direction)

In this letter from an Australian reader (who I'll just call The Aussie) he explains how THE MESSAGE positively informed his opinion of African Americans.

"Hi guys,

I stumbled across The Message a couple of weeks ago, and I check your website for updates every day now. Simply put, you guys are hilarious. Being from Australia, some of the more topical jokes go over my head, but even then I can appreciate your humour.

I guess one of the main things I like about The Message, apart from the wit, is that you obviously have very real - honest - political views, and you put them across in a lighthearted, satirical way, without taking yourselves too seriously. I might lack a bit of context in which to fully appreciate the politics, but I'm slowly gaining some perspective.

Your show, to me, is a shining example of the power of comedy to deliver an important message. Hence the name, I guess ;)

Most importantly, you've helped dispel some of the stereotypes that we in Australia are constantly bombarded with by the popular media. I've been lucky enough, as a sailor, to mix with many people of many different cultures, but unfortunately, apart from the occassional American sailor, I've not had the chance to get to know any African Americans; and it wasn't until I started watching your show that I really realised how skewed and cliched the popular representation of black people is over here.

Anyways, this is all a long-winded way for me to say that I love your show, and I really admire and appreciate what you do.

Thanks!
- THE AUSSIE
"

"skewed and cliched"

Damn. Out side of Oprah and Will Smith, people think we're just like Young Buck and 50 Cent (who's album I support, SCREW YOU KANYE WEST FROM MY HOMETOWN WHO'S MUSIC HAS A MESSAGE)...

hmmm....

Well...no need to change the world's opinion now...Let's keep that party rolling!

Below was our tribute to black history. Well our tribute to the concept of "Black History Month" in America. Twenty Eight Days of Tubman.

The way it's presented and taught in America is so symbolic its lost its relevance. There are no greater contextual discussions, no sense of the true meaning of what was done in the Civil Rights Movement and how extraordinary and difficult it was to stand up for something...ALONE. No discussion of how our thinkers, inventors and educators were made more astounding by the conditions in which they rose from the muck to become the best. No larger discussion of our current situation and how we can ALL thrive together again, be united in the cause of excellence again.

nah. nyet. non. la. no. nope.

Instead, it's always just series of images set to music. Kenny Burns, eat your heart out.

So we did our part.



Archibald "Panthro" Gibbons. African American hero.

Monday, September 10, 2007

KANYE versus 50 CENT (aka the new 9-11 Showdown)

TODAY'S GUEST BLOGGER: Rapper Lil No Flow

What up, blogosphere! The Message decided they wanted some celebrity guest bloggers (they on that Huffington Post sh*t), so naturally they came and got me, your boy Lil No Flow. As such, I'm making use of my neighbor's WiFi (and MacBook) to make a comment on the most pressing issue of the day, which is...

The economy? Please, we all makin' money. Health care? Whatever, there's nothing wrong with me that leaches can't cure.

Terrorism? Bullsh*t, terrorism isn't a threat, it's a tactic, as well as a construction by the corporate media and military-industrial complex in order to secure a permanent place in our governmental decision-makin'.

But I digress...

I want to talk about the real war - the one between the REAL rapper 50 Cent and Flashy Clothes McSmartyPants, also known as Kanye West.

Some might argue that this is just a silly non-fight between two black men who will both wake up richer on Wednesday morning regardless of who sells more records.

Nothing could be further from the truth. This is WAR!

If Kanye wins, it will mean the defeat of Thugged Out Hip Hop, i.e. the strain of hip hop that has been dominant in the musical genre since Tupac, Biggie and Pudgee Tha Fat Bastard. These were the legends and icons that paved the way for artists like me.

By the way, I remember being a teenager at Pudgee's first Atlanta show! It was at Magic City, a strip club conveniently located in the hood and near a jail. Now I don't know if Pudgee was even technically performing that night, but I DO know that, as a teenager, I was too young to be there. Still, it was exciting to think that one day I too could roll up into a club and throw hundreds of single dollar bills at women empowered enough to want to take their clothes off.

It was thanks to these Thug Trailblazers (I call them Jailblazers) that artists like me can now live lavishly, and not even have to rap if we don't feel like it. How you gonna let the public tell you as a rapper that you HAVE to rap? Forget that. We the millionaires, we make the rules. How about I play video games all day, buy fresh sneakers, wear jewelry and drive hot cars for a living? What do you have to say about that, shawty?! Yeah, I thought so.

Rappers like me won't have this power if Kanye wins. Because Kanye, for all his reputation as an egomaniac, has the ability to make songs using instruments, sample songs in a way that doesn't just jack the melody in the most obvious way, write lyrics that actually encourage listening instead of simply waiting for the chorus to kick in, and even has influences that reach beyond what he heard on the radio ten years ago.

And whereas 50 Cent named himself after a notorious drug dealer, Kanye uses the name he was born with. How dare he...

We must support 50 Cent. Thugs unite. There's never been a time when our careers were more on the line. And while you're in stores, please pick up my new record, Lil No Flow's "No More Verses." With bonus tracks also featuring JUST the hooks and ad-libs you've come to expect from the Master, L-N-Flow.

That's my time. Check out my classic video, as well as my "Making of Video" video.

MAKE IT BURN



BURNT: The Making of MAKE IT BURN



What it do. Lil No Fleezy. Out.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Playing Games with Obama's Name

Unless you've been under a rock for the past ten years, you know that certain news outlets finesse the truth.

Or just lie.

We had fun with that propensity in this sketch. Clearly it borrows from SNL's Mr. Subliminal (Nealon) but what makes it relevant is that in 2007 this type of thing still goes on.

Scratch that, this type of thing still goes on, and the public knows about it, and few people even bat an eye anymore. It's like watching the news has gone from an activity of information gathering to listening to ones crazy uncle. Some might be true, much isn't.




The was the first time we'd worked with Ursula. We knew we wanted to see what other talent we could find in the city but were surprised that not a lot of people could both sound newsy and handle the comedy. Urse did good...(aka Big Momma UT).

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Black Issues in Space

We could do sketches like this all day.

"Black Issues In Space" allowed us to let our inner-geeks out (inner?) and we didn't have to learn many lines (this scene was very loosely scripted).




The basic concept was that even in space, Black people will have some issues to get off the chest.

We were going to do a whole series of "Black Issues..." shows. Black Issues at The North Pole. Black Issues at the Bottom of the Ocean. Black Issues in the Middle of a Crossfire.

Nowhere is a bad "where" for a roundtable public access show.

When we had our stage show here in LA, we used to do a sketch called "Black Jedi." In it, Lando was a (not so righteous) member of the Jedi Council. Here, we played with that concept, as well as the inflammatory nature of FOX News' on-air promos ("Hillary Clinton dining with gay terrorists???").

A final note: It may seem like the message of this sketch is that Black people never transcend their racial identification. Not quite. In fact, by showing three black guys who clearly know their Star Wars and Sci-fi trivia, we hoped to show that, ultimately, Black people tend to have a lot more non-racial interests than we often get credit for.

R.I.P. - Octavia E. Butler and all the other great Science Fiction writers of color. Bashir and I hope to one day add to the genre's canon.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Barack Meet Diallo

Diallo does one helluva Barack Obama impression. It's actually sad how bad the impressions of him are that we've seen on television.

We decided to use this to our advantage in a way to show one could be funny without being vicious. The angle of the piece ties directly to the fact that people make assumptions about Barack and his "blackness", they have ideas about how he should be, and most of the time those ideas are terrible.



Robin, as usual, brought the funny. She's actually a trained journalist as well as an actress so she's able to maintain a sense of professionalism that made many of our viewers wonder how real pieces were that she was in.