Wednesday, October 31, 2007

They hate us...They really, really hate us

I try not to get emotionally involved in the news anymore. It's too painful and I get too mad.

Plus, after President Bush installed a known racist named Charles Pickering on the federal bench during a congressional recess since said racist couldn't be confirmed otherwise...

...a recess brought on by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday...

...I got so damn mad I couldn't eat.

(and I LOVE to eat, I'm from Chicago, that's how we get down.)

So I try to keep a neutral emotional connection to the days events.

But they just let Genarlow Wilson free and it caused me a torrent of emotion. All I could think was...

"damn, they locked that boy up for two years. TWO YEARS of his life. And not the crappy years at the end. But those good, exciting ones at the beginning of a life. All for doing something that guys in high school do all the time...

...Damn, they hate US."

And you know who "they" and "us" are.

Trying to put a positive spin on things, one can say that he has gained focus and integrity for his two lost years. That his hiatus from the world gave him a fresh perspective on what's important. That now, a life that could have gone awry, will surely be well spent.

To that I say...GO TO HELL.

It's always US that have to learn the lesson, see the bright side, be strong, work twice as hard, and develop strength from the experience.

I'm tired of it.

You bring us to this country against our will, work us to death for four centuries, then grudgingly allow us droplets of human rights, then torture and kill and marginalize and under-educate us, then make us live in horrid conditions, then complain when we try to have just a little something in the way of equality and rectification, chide us for underachieving when we've only had access en masse to quality education for about 41 years, but shoot us 41 times for holding up our wallet...

and let us DROWN TO DEATH on live television...

but more than anything...you HATE us.

Really hate us.

So much so that, even in 2007, they beat us on camera, and hang nooses on our doors, trot out those of us who represent the WORST we have to offer (Rodney King or Clarence Thomas, pick your poison), and divide us against ourselves with money.

AND SURE, many of us PLAY RIGHT ALONG. (Vick, OJ, Flavor Flav, the cast of The Watermelon Heist)...many of us play right along for money.

AND SURE, those of us meant to succeed will succeed no matter the obstacles and never complain a day. Never point the finger. Just focus on the present and what it takes to succeed. (Winfrey, Jordan, Obama)*

I applaud them. I worship them. I emulate them every chance I get.

But our average is still low as hell.

And much is due to a simple fact:

1. They hate us to DEATH. Literally.

Really, FOR WHAT AGAIN?

What did we ever do?

Seriously, I need someone to send me a lengthy explanation on what we did.

I'm in the dark.

(expletive deleted!)

Still and all...glad this boy is free.




*please don't notice that my examples of excellence all live in Chicago.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

BET Awards/Iraqi Vacation

In light of continued blogging about the Jena 6 appearing at the BET Hip Hop Awards, I thought it would be cool if we reposted our coverage of their annual BET Awards show.

How times change. Viacom has had all BET-related posts pulled from YouTube ("reported copyright infringement"). Truly tragic if you did not get to watch it.

Instead, with Bashir on a weekend vacation/adventure in NYC, it seemed only right to repost this gem from not too long ago.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Shout Out to T-Pain

This video has been a YouTube fave of mine for a while.

With T-Pain all over the radio these days, it's oddly fun to come across a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.




I admit, I am a sucker for old audio equipment.
Be sure to watch the 1:51 mark.

Hip Hop Paralegal Advice for T.I.

Looks like T.I. may beat those current gun charges he's facing in Georgia with just a slap on the wrist.

Why does Hip Hop continue to court the Courts with all its free time?
Do rappers and the penal system have to go hand in hand?

'Twould seem so, which is why this piece (which would have been the first of many) sought to tackle news items concerning hip hop artists and their troubles with the law.

Needless to say, we would have had an endless supply of material.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Great Minds... (maybe?)

So just as I'm complaining about our Oops sketch, our composer Mike Cohen sends me the video below.



If it's good enough for SNL...?

Then again, all these types of sketches are following the "classic" Kicked In The Nuts from a few years back.



When we did our "stupid violent" sketch we had been watching tons of VH1 and couldn't believe that it was once a place that showed videos...

...Sade videos. Lots of them. And some Boys II Men too.

All this smoke reminds me of something

California is on fire.

You smell it in the air, you see it on the horizon. One imagines that, in a more distant past, the dark clouds on our skyline might be seen as an omen.

But not now. In LA, nothing has really changed.

If you live in the hills to the north, south or west of the city your life has been uprooted and burned.

But in the big bowl that is Los Angeles, the air is smoky yet mostly unnoticed.

I bring it up because it reminds me of 9-11.

In the immediate aftermath of that horrendous day, when the dust settled, we waited for our lives to change.

Some did.

If you or a loved one were military, if you lived in lower Manhattan or worked at the Pentagon, if you had a home in certain parts of Afganistan or Iraq...your life was forever changed.

But for the rest of us, life didn't change that much.

It wasn't like World War II. Sure, everyone gave blood, producing a glut in New York. But outside of that, there was no great sacrifice. Despite the fact that we were ready to pitch in...none was called for.

The President told us to go shopping. (Remember that? Wasn't that crazy? Did you go?)

The world was on fire, there was smoke in the air...but America, outside of rah-rah jingo-ism for political gain, was mostly unchanged. And people were, in the end, happy they didn't have to do anything. They got to go shopping. They got to NOT change a damn bit.

How'd that turn out for us?

(shoot, this is supposed to be a comedy site...uh...okay)

Diallo and I were watching Airplane the other day and talking about how much we loved the comedy of Zucker/Abrams/Zucker, the team that made the film.

Here's a scene from The Naked Gun another one of our adolescent favorites.



It's hard to do a comedy like this nowadays because the joke set ups are deliberate rather than "wacky". But this thing stands up.

Still and all, my favorite comedy film of all time is Blazing Saddles co-written by Mel Brooks & Richard Pryor. I can't believe how much I still laugh at that movie.

I'd love to hear what people's fave comedies are. Diallo and I are writing a comedy movie now and we hope to add to the rich tradition of American comedies.

Monday, October 22, 2007

They Still Got Love

The Message is gonna be featured on the website VEOH on the 25th. Someone over there sent me an email to that effect.

It's funny because Diallo and I are very focused on the next incarnation of our work (more on that in the next few weeks) but we still get contacted all the time by people who haven't seen THE MESSAGE, love it, and wonder where it's been all their lives.

In other news, and in case you didn't see it, Bill Maher had to "escort" some people from the group 911-Truth out of his studio.



This struck me for two reasons.

1) It reminded me that the more work you do, the less you're able to satisfy everyone. We did a sketch called RACE FLAG. Most responses were positive. We had a lot of conservative sites and people who LOVED IT. We had some other people* who thought we had diminished the cause of legitimate redress of racial wrong. Then we had people who GOT it..i.e. they realized it was just funny.

2) The other thing this video did was further prove just HOW difficult it will be for a Democratic president. I'm fairly positive that, despite the fact that they are FREAKING CRAZY, the 911-truth people have politics that are probably not conservative (maybe, but I doubt it).

Yet, they don't picket in front of the White House...instead they attack someone trying to hold our President's feet to the fire.

One thing I respect about Republicans is that they do a good job of having the the CRAZY elements of their party stay OUT OF THE LIMELIGHT until after elections.

Their INSANE peeps understand the bigger picture.

Lefties, not so much.

I already feel sorry for Hillary Clinton.

Then again, you NEVER know what might go down. She might not win. Obama might pull it out. Rudy might sneak on through. Kucinich might...nah.

*(notice I don't use the word "folk" in my writing as a substitute for the word "people".

The President inserted this word into the modern vernacular to seem more down-to-earth from his first debates through 2002, which I noticed because, in Chicago, "folk" or "folks" refer to the Gangster Disciple street gang.

HOWEVER since Bush started using it you hear it everywhere. It makes you sound less detached from the common "folk", it sounds earthy like "folk-music" and "folksy" and it's a complete Rove-ian sham that EVERYONE parrots from pundits to rock stars to imbue humility on their person.

Sorry for the lesson in political wordsmanship, but that word drives me a little crazy whenever I hear it.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Jay-Z's Neighbor and American Gangster

Don't get me wrong. I will be in line to see American Gangster the first day.

But it depresses me to see Denzel playing more villains these days (give a man an Oscar and I guess that's what happens).

Personally, I'd love to see an actor like Jamie play a villain more often, but not Denzel. The black community has an intrinsic respect for the man (with films like Glory and Malcolm X) and he is undoubtedly going to do a phenomenal job, as always, bringing a criminal and a hustler to life.

As if Hip Hop weren't doing that in our collective ears 24 hours a day.

As I get older, I feel more and more that there is a certain segment of the black (specifically male) population that is highly impressionable and vulnerable to this kind of imagery, moreso than I was growing up, having two parents and a stable environment.

I wasn't inundated with constant tales of hustling, pushing weight, and HURTING the community for personal gain the way that teenagers are today. Because if you listen to Hip Hop these days, with rare exception, it's ONLY about selling drugs, buying guns (T.I.), and generally wrecking havoc on the community with NO sense of uplifting the community (even Superfly had a message at the end of the day - Young Jeezy, not so much).

If we had NWA, we also had Tribe. There was balance then that is lacking today.

The glorification of crime and the lifestyle that comes with it (sexism, materialism, narcissism, and, of course, violence against others) is in my opinion the most alarming trend in black culture. And the fact that it goes so unregulated and so unchallenged is astounding.

So we'll see quite arguably our finest African American actor bring to life Frank Lucas, the New York hustler who flooded the streets of that city with death. And I guarantee you, like The Godfather and Scarface and the Sopranos, it will inadvertantly glorify the lifestyle. It almost has to, because in movies, the rise to power and coping with power are always longer than the fall from power (typical movies have a rising action and drama for 2/3 to 3/4 of their running time - the fall only comes at the end).

Our brain tells us that the wild ride is worth the relatively brief fall-off. I don't think I have to say why that isn't how things play out in real life.

Jay-Z is much the same way. I love Jay (and Jeezy and T.I. and all them cats in terms of making music), but let's face it. After hearing just a few songs off of Jay's new album (to be released in conjunction with American Gangster), it is clear he has gone back to the same ol' drug script. Talk of "cooking it in pots," when that is the one drug blacks know all too well savaged and ravaged our communities throughout the 80s and continues to.

Where is the sense of civic duty to the community? Thugs should be scorned, not praised.

That's why we today post a sketch where someone is mad at Jigga (for a much more innocent reason).

As much as I would consider myself a Jay-Z fan, sometimes I want to react like his fictional neighbor, shake my fist and say, "Jigga!" Out of anger and frustration that he and most mainstream Hip Hop artists don't think about the community that put them on top.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The one that got away

Happy Wednesday!

Just wanted to let you guys know that we are working on some new material which we can't wait to share with you.

This morning it was my profound duty to post a sketch we call "that which shall not be discussed". It was a piece we used to do in our stage show that KILLED.

Then we shot it, and, er, uh, hmmm...(oh boy.)

I had every intention of posting it when I awoke.

But I can't. It's too heartbreaking. (Hint: Disco. Fans of The Message will probably be able to figure it out.) We spent hours on that damn thing. And this web page has been a joy to work on and I didn't wanna spoil it.

Still and all I wanted to leave you with something funny this morning.

Phil Hartmann was the best. Enjoy.



Phil also co-wrote Diallo's favorite movie (hint: Tim Burton).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Because you can never have enough enemies

1. ON LUPE FIASCO

Seriously, people, stop worshiping artists. Grow the hell up. One of my all time favorite movies is Bullets Over Broadway by Woody Allen...a man who, according to Mos Def ..."molested and married his step daughter."

Movie is still the great, though the man who made it leaves MUCH to be desired as a human being.

So I like Lupe Fiasco's music. I disagree with his statements about A Tribe Called Quest. But his music is still fire. Plus, there's a ton of back-packing MC types...who worship Tribe, and can't rap worth a damn.

I love Tribe, grew up on them. But it's not Lupe's job to love them to. If I have a problem with the fact that he doesn't...that's MY problem.

(Diallo might disagree with this, so I'm only speaking for me.)

2. ON R. KELLY

He's a genius.

When you look at the prolific nature of his work; the over a decade of hits in a TOUGH music market that values one-hit wonders more than anything; his ability to write hits in the face of OVERWHELMING legal/personal crisis, his ability to write hits that tap into the zeitgeist of "what's hot" year after year...(try asking his contemporaries from 1992 to write a hit today, you'd be ashamed at what you heard.)...he's a genius.

Trapped In The Closet is a damn good musical. Is it silly? Sure. So is Cats. Actually, I would argue that Trapped is WAY more cohesive and pointed than Cats is. I've seen Cats. I've performed some of the songs in concert. Cats is retarded.

Before you give me crap, consider I've been doing theatre since I was 12 and have been in about a hundred productions and dozens of musicals. I know theatre. Trapped is VERY good theatre.



(G E N I U S)

3. ON THIS SKETCH BELOW

It...just...didn't...work.



Dammit.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

And now for a word from Uncle Ben

We enjoyed the company of the people we worked with at ThisJustIn.

Well, there was that one time they wrote vaguely racist comments on the message board outside our office...

But hate crimes were few and far between, because in general, we had love for those around us.

Including Mike Berman, who was our site's Webmaster (master? hmmm, sounds like more vague racism). He sat right outside our office for most of the time we were at ThisJustIn.

One day, he sent us a link to an article announcing the information you find in the sketch below. Seemed like something right up our alley.



Lovable Uncle Ben as a fiery member of the Nation of Islam?

This piece was personal to Bashir, as some people who know his family back in Chicago remarked that his characterization of Uncle Ben comes across as a mirror image of his real life father.

Also, note our Producer Scott stealing the show in the background again.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ghetto Passes and Fails

I finally made it back from my tour of the south.
(Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky)

All in all, a great trip.

Interestingly enough, I was in a hotel room in Atlanta (which Delta got me since they canceled my flight...I now HATE Delta airlines, their extremely unhelpful staff and the entire Atlanta-Hartsfield/Jackson airport of which I saw EVERY DAMN TERMINAL running around to wait standby on full flights. An airport which has ONE...despite being the BUSIEST AIRPORT IN THE WORLD, HAS ONE DAMN security checkpoint for EVERYONE who enters as opposed to the dozens at every other airport in the sane world... GO TO HELL ALL OF YOU!!!)...

...sorry, I got away from the point.

So...I was unable to sleep so I clicked on the tube and ended up on E! News...

...and LO AND BEHOLD our own Robin Thede was on there doing some red carpet reporting.

Congrats to Robin.

Below is one of the segments we did with her in which we issued dubious ghetto passes for behavior. We were always looking for ways to talk about black celebrity since our bread and butter was satire.

This was our way to do that in a segment that ultimately meant..."shame on all of us".



We had another one of these puppies in the can that you never saw...it was a Michael Vick-a-palooza.

Maybe one day...

Friday, October 5, 2007

Zamunda (A Facebook Reminder)

So both Bashir and I have taken the Facebook quiz on COMING TO AMERICA trivia. You should too, and compare your scores to ours.

Which should serve as a reminder to join the Fans of The Message Network on Facebook. And add me and Bashir as friends if you should so like.

Coming to America.

Did this movie mean as much to you and your families as it did to me and mine? So many expressions have entered the American lexicon as a result of this film, not to mention some of the best comedy seen ANYwhere.

Enjoy once more our honest take on what we see as some of the obvious (and disturbing) questions inadvertently raised by the way life was depicted in Zamunda.



Derrick Ashong deserves props for coming through and helping us all speak with an "African ac-cent."

ADDENDUM!

(ask and you shall receive)



(just love this scene.)

THIS is how you make a statement

Allow me to lead you away from the main road...

Lupe's killin' it.

In answer to sluggish sales of his critically acclaimed debut Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor, the artist released the single below.

Hip Hop radio is currently dominated with stupidity. Being children of hip hop, Diallo and I have a personal stake in it. There has always been pointless hip hop (looking in your direction Fu Shnickens) but now, more than ever, there is little variety.

Lupe's flow below, however, is another example in a long line excellent songs that challenge the status quo (The Roots "What They Do" comes to mind).

The strength of this piece is that, unlike Read a Book, Lupe doesn't directly attack the intellectually lazy elements in the genre. While that would have been a bold tactic, lambasting the entire world of hip hop creates a weakness in your own argument since there are JUST ENOUGH intelligent rappers to make you seem rash.

Instead, he says: "No matter what the industry demands, I REFUSE to change."

So he's not putting the industry on blast, or the fans, but standing firm in his beliefs...

...which, OF COURSE, puts the industry and the fans on blast.

Just a solid effort.



Am I biased because I'm from Chicago?

Hell yes.

The song is still fire.

(ps: Lupe fans, what the hell does "FNF" mean?)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Live from the south, ya'll!

Birmingham, Alabama.

I can't say enough about the place.

Our composer Mike Cohen is an amateur chef and a finalist for a southern cooking contest. They sent him two tickets to come to Birmingham.

So, he figured, hey, who better to wander the streets of this sleepy antebellum-esque burgh than a sarcastic Jew and an uppity Negro.

Having watched hours and hours of Civil Rights era footage I expected to be attacked by German Shepherds and beaten upon exiting the plane. Right there in the terminal, by the luggage carousel. I was ready.

But it didn't happen, instead, we were inundated with hour after hour of blond bouffants and big smiling faces saying "Ya'll".

Like, they say it all the time, for no reason.

"Good morning, ya'll."

"Who wants sweet Tea, ya'll?"

"What's it like in LA, Bashir...uh...Ya'll."

It's a crazy "ya'll-a-palooza" down here.

Outside of the racism I haven't seen but am SURE is everywhere around me, two other things got my attention:

(a) EVERYONE working in this hotel is black...except for the cleaning staff, who is all MEXICAN.

(viva la revolucion, ya'll?)

and

(b) the people down here speak of Atlanta the way most Americans talk about New York.

"Atlanta, phew, big city, too fast for me, crazy people screaming and yelling and running over each other."

(Word?)

Plus our cabby complained about all the "traffic" on Birmingham's main road. There were about 7 other cars on the road. And since I live in LA, where we have REAL traffic (you can be born, have a life, and die an old man while waiting on the 405 freeway), I laughed a hearty laugh at his slow Southern ways. Then we fought.

Also I was sprayed with a fire hose.

(painful)

ANYway, Diallo let me post from the road so I decided to go with MC Rove. This was the fastest thing we've ever done and it got a ton of hits.

We all saw the footage of him "rapping" at the White House Correspondents' dinner, an event where journalists yuck it up with a White House that won't let them do their job and inform the American people.

Good times.



Alright, I gotta go.

I'm on a "tour" in a few minutes of the beautiful woods around here. A place of thick lush greenery, full of hanging willows and effusive flowers...

...where black people RAN FOR THEIR GODDAMN LIVES NIGHT AFTER NIGHT IN SHEER PERIL!

I won't bring that up if the tour guide asks if we have any questions.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Soul Boat: The Movie

I was in the record store last night when I felt a tap on the shoulder. Our Director of Photography, Andrew Sachs, lives in the neighborhood near the store and had seen me browsing in the Dirty South section (What can I say? I'm from Atlanta and the Dirty South is in me).

We started talking about working on some stuff in the future because Bashir and I liked working with all of our DPs - Andrew, Hunter and Aaron. These guys knew how to work on big sets.

And our piece Soul Boat, was a big set (shout to Aaron).

We shot in hallways, conference rooms, inside the boat, outside the boat. Over the course of two days. And with so much production budget on the line, we had to get most things shot quick and fast and perfect on the first or second take.

But it was big concept too. How do we shoot a piece that is critical of the typical urban movie without it becoming one of those movies? In other words, how do we transcend that which we were targeting?

It wasn't easy, and we still debate whether we handled the material as deftly as we could have. But for what it's worth, many people tell us this piece is their favorite. So enjoy The Message's take on those movies you tend to see in the Black Cinema section of Blockbuster. Soul Boat.




Before leaving this one, a big shout out to Craig Bowers for reprising the K. Rellz character for us (he isn't an actor by trade, so we were always happy to get him). And also our buddy Marquis who did a bang up job as the Gay Character, improvising his way to a scene-stealing monologue that had everyone on set choking back laughter.
And friend of The Message Tyler Spiers, for playing the villainous studio exec.

Why We Post

In the comment section of the post below, one "anonymous" commenter wrote the following:

"Ok, flopping through memory lane is good and all....but some of us are looking for some new material. I am pretty sure before HBO pulled the plug there was somethings in motion. So....ummmm...yeah....why dont we see some new stuff ...please

October 2, 2007 3:38 PM"


I wanted to address this as I am sure there are other people who are hoping for the same thing.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have some material that we shot that was never posted as it was unedited at the time we left HBO. Though there are some issues out of our control as far as editing and posting those pieces, they will, in time, be posted.

Until that time, we set up this website for two purposes. The first was to simply repost the work that we had done at HBO with some additional commentary of how these pieces came together.

The second purpose of the site was to give a new home to that community of viewers who feel, as we do, that something had to change in the field of urban comedy. That there are fresh voices out there, fresh perspectives, and that these perspectives need to be given a chance to flourish. Also, we see our team of writers, actors and actresses as a New Wave in urban comedy, and in comedy in general.

We can't wait to bring you the new. We also want those who joined us late to see what they may have missed. In the end, we WILL be giving you both the old and the new, and more than you can ever expect, before you know it.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Armstrong and Fitzgerald

HAPPY MONDAY!

I'm leaving for Alabama and Kentucky for the next week. That's right, I'm going down south. I assume that whole racial unrest/hating blacks thing has been cleared up by now so it should be a productive trip.

...but I'll be leaving my contact information with several of you JUST IN CASE. (help)

Moving on...this is another piece that originated on stage. You can usually tell the stage pieces but the fact that the camera work tends to be more basic.

We love this piece because it gave us a chance to do some historical comedy, a rare opportunity. There are some characterizations I could watch all day, and Diallo and Angie as Louis and Ella is up there with the best.



Diallo got his degree in history so he relishes the chance to do older characters and is always amazing us with is historical tidbits...

(or boring us depending on what time of day it was and whether you wanted to hear an exhaustive history of French/Indo-Chinese relations vis-a-vis the rice trade in the 1950's)...

Angie didn't get a degree. She dropped out of college and worked as a shoe shine girl in Oklahoma til she saved enough money for a bus ride to California...at least I think that's what happened.