Friday, February 10, 2017

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee

This week's "Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week" is the trailer for Norm's January appearance on Jerry Seinfeld's popular web series "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee." What is it? That's basically it. The show actually started as an extended car commercial type of deal. Then it became really popular. A deal was recently signed to begin streaming new season of the show on Netflix.

Seinfeld hangs out with a comedian and they talk about comedy. Sometimes they talk about cars. And they drink coffee. Simple premise, and the episodes are short enough to digest easily without investing a lot of time.

This is a good one. The highlight is when Seinfeld laughs way too hard at a Bill Cosby rape joke that Norm makes. And his Richard Nixon impression is great.

Here's the link to the full episode -

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: Norm's thoughts on Howard Stern

This week's edition of the Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week is from an appearance a few months back that Norm made on the podcast of Greg Fitzsimmons. I've listened to the full interview - it's a great look into a funny mind.

This clip has Greg and Norm looking into the change that Howard Stern has undergone over the years, as he's become a more mainstream personality. Norm is happy to see the changes, as he didn't like a lot of the raunchier parts of Stern's show - specifically the stuff he would do with lesbians and masturbation.

Norm discusses the transition that Stern has made into a great interviewer, and also gives his theory as to why sports journalists make for the best journalists. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Troubled Times

November 8, 2016 was a busy day for me. In addition to the Presidential election, it was also the local elections for the three mayors and town council offices in Page County, my home for the last year-plus. As a reporter at the county's newspaper, it was my job to cover all of that. 

The elections were on a Tuesday and the newspaper is printed on a Wednesday. So, my Tuesday night was spent trying to figure out who was the mayor of Luray, and whether or not the woman who had been a town employee in Stanley since 1969 would get another four years on the town council, among other issues.

I wound up not getting done with everything until around 1 a.m. and as I was walking down the street from the newspaper office to my apartment, I finally got my phone out and began checking up on the Presidential election. All I knew at that point was that we still didn't have a 45th President.

I'm not as liberal as people think I am. But, I believe in common sense and equal rights. For years, I would make the point to anybody who would listen that gay marriage would be our generation's civil right's movement. Our grandchildren will literally be shocked and dumbfounded that a man wasn't able to marry a man. I don't give myself a political label, but I will say that off the top of my head, I don't know if there has ever been a Republican candidate for any office that I've ever supported.

I remember the first political debate I ever got into. It was in the ninth grade and it was in the lead up to the 2000 Election. This kid named Andrew said in his thick southern accent, "Al Gore's gonna take our guns away." Right away, despite only being 14, I knew that was the stupidest thing I had ever heard in my life. The only thing stupider than that comment was the fact that in the nearly 17 years since, I have heard that exact statement repeated ad nauseum but only with a different Democratic candidate's name in place.

The first presidential election I voted in was 2004. I had been in high school for September 11, 2001 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The idea of a war was scary for somebody my age in a different way than somebody older or younger -- my peers were going to Iraq and Afghanistan. I voted for John Kerry for two reasons: he wanted to end the war, and he was not opposed to stem cell research.

To look ahead, I see why "Make America Great Again" worked for a lot of people. Back in 2008, I was looking for "Hope" and "Change." And I got that. A lot of people did. 

I remember the feeling of January 20, 2009. It was the first day of the spring semester of my fifth year of college. And it was such a feeling of positive vibes. I remember walking around campus with my girlfriend and every television was on the inauguration and everybody seemed so happy. 

I remember feeling opposite of that in 2016 as I stared at my phone in disbelief after learning that Donald Trump had acquired enough electoral votes to become the 45th President.

I think now about the young college kids who won't have that feeling of optimism as they see the new leader of America sworn in. 

Healthcare. Women's rights. LGBTQ rights. All of these and more are in trouble. There's a feeling of uncertainty in America. I hope that the new President isn't as much of a train wreck as all signs are pointing that it will be. I'm also hopeful that Trump can inspire a nation of young people to grow up and be the opposite of him and his beliefs.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Newspaper and Podcast Updates

I had a guy call me in my office recently. He was an older guy and asked about a picture I took that was on the front page of the newspaper. He asked if it was current. I told him yeah; I took that picture two days before it was printed. "So, it wasn't five years ago?" No, it wasn't. He thought a lady with her back to the camera was his deceased wife.

When I first started working here, I was given a timeline -- the first year will see me doing this, then the second year etc... It was an unofficial kind of thing; the first year will see me being confused, trying to understand how the town works, then year two will see me knowing more and having an opinion on things. As I begin my second year on the Page News and Courier staff, I see that being true.

I'm fully into covering a lot of things for the second time. When I first noticed it happening, I thought I would be burnt out on it. "This group is holding their annual late-november thing. Write about it for the second time." That's not too exciting. But, as I see some of my bigger stuff happening again - talking to the mayors in the three towns, for instance - I'm excited about that. Last January, I spoke to them about their 2015 and I knew nothing that I was talking about. "Ask them about X, Y, Z. Those were the big things that happened." Now, I know what the big things were and I can accurately speak about those.

I'm still trying to find the time to balance my personal and professional projects. My podcast about restaurant life; talking to servers and cooks and whatnot, is still slated for an early 2017 launch. I had talked to a few people close to me earlier in the year to see if that was an interesting idea. They all agreed that it was. I sat on it for a while, and then broached the subject in a Facebook post asking for opinions. I was very surprised to see a lot of positive feedback from both friends and casual acquaintances.

I still have ideas on how to better utilize my somewhat-dormant YouTube channel. I was working on a project with a partner in the early fall of 2015, but then that got put on hold when I got the job at the PNC and moved four hours away. I told a few people about it, and they seemed to like it. And, then I told a few others and they were a bit confused.

But, I've noticed that I'm not great at pitching things. Saying what I want to do and describing why it is awesome is something that I need to work on. I'm much better at showing a finished product and saying "See? Isn't it cool?"

Maybe that's a resolution for 2017: get better at pitches.

My YouTube idea was cool, and I can always go back to it. It will never not be relevant. So, you may hear more about that one day. But, the podcast is definitely something that I'm working on. There are a few titles for it in my head. I have a few people unofficially lined up to talk to, and I have a million more people that I want to chat with. It will be fun. I'll keep everybody posted on that.

Good stopping point for now. [insert thumbs up emoji]

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: fiddling around in John Glenn's ass

Timely video after last week's death of the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn. During a 2003 appearance on Conan O'Brien's show, Norm Macdonald began talking about his issues with TSA agents at airports. This was right after the heightened security measures following 9/11 were passed.

At that time, Glenn had been screened for a random check by the TSA while trying to board a flight. Norm makes a factual error, but the point is still there: "He walked on the goddamn moon! You think he would get a pass!" He didn't walk on the moon, but still, he was making a good point about how absurd it is that John Glenn needed to be searched as a potential flight risk.

The full interview is above, and they talk about other stuff, including his "hilarious" Star Trek impression and his apartment building's doorman's reaction to seeing it on SNL, looking at jokes about Norm's alleged Polish background, and the infamous Kitchener Leslie railroad hobo story.

The 30 seconds of the John Glenn interview is below.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Top 10 ECW Moments

Every so often, WWE goes through a wave of ECW nostalgia. Extreme Championship Wrestling was the small group that started as a small independent promotion in 1993 with a lot of buzz behind it and ultimately grew into a legit promotion with video games, a cable tv show, pay per views, merchandise. Above all else, they had a lot of influence on the wrestling industry. The famed "WWE Attitude Era" would not have happened had they not looked at ECW's "Extreme Revolution" and thought "why don't we do that?"

WWE recently aired a discussion of ECW on the WWE Network with Paul Heyman, Tazz, Tommy Dreamer, and the Dudleys. That was fun. Lots of neat stories, then some emotion at the end where they describe what ECW meant to them. Tommy Dreamer especially had an emotional moment. 

It coincided with the release of "The Top 50 Incidents in ECW History." This was originally supposed to be a DVD release, the third in the "OMG: Top 50 Moments" sets, after a WWE and WCW release. The problem with those sets was that they were played more for comedy. I watched the WWE set and didn't care for it. I saw the trailer for WCW's version and didn't care to check it out. So, I didn't have a lot of high hopes for this ECW one.

But, they have actually changed the format. It's not the happy-go-lucky version of the other two. It has a different title. And instead of releasing it on DVD it's a special feature on the WWE Network.

What we're going to do in this space is look over the Top 10 moments and see how we feel about them.

10) Sabu vs Terry Funk, Born To Be Wired ... This is honestly one of the grossest matches in wrestling history. There are bloodier matches. There are more violent matches. But this is the only match where I've seen one of the competitors rip his arm open on a piece of barbed wire, tape the wound shut while the match is still going on, then continue like no big deal. The ropes are replaced with barbed wire, and 50-year-old Terry Funk and Sabu proceed to rip each other to shreds during the match, culminating in the two of them having to be cut out of the barbed wire by the ring crew.

9) ECW invasion of WWE ... The wrestling world was a much different place in 1997. WWE was not at the top of the world like they had been through the 1980s and like they would be by the end of the 90s. They were the number two promotion behind WCW. And at one of their Philadelphia shows, where ECW is based out of, the WWE heard several loud "ECW" chants throughout the night. Vince McMahon got curious, and a brief working relationship was formed. It saw several ECW matches on WWE Monday Night Raw, as well as a great in-ring debate between Paul Heyman and Jerry Lawler. Lawler wound up making a few ECW appearances, dropping a match to Tommy Dreamer.

8) Brian Lee vs Tommy Dreamer Scaffold Match ... As a match, it was a cool brawl. Brian Lee is famous mostly for being the "Fake Undertaker" in the SummerSlam 1994. He was also in the nWo for a spell. But he had a small run in ECW. As a match, this was nothing special. But, as a moment to live on in highlight reels, it is crazy and amazing. The idea of a scaffold match is to fight atop the scaffold and throw your opponent off of it. This one is different in that there are like 15 tables stacked on top of each other in the entire ring. They're around 20 feet above the ring, and Lee winds up falling through four tables. Awesome visual, and a genuinely shocking moment.

7) Sandman canes Tommy Dreamer ... In the early 90s, there was a media storm over an American tourist who got in trouble in Singapore and his punishment was a public caning; the get smacked by a cane. Paul Heyman fed off that and created the "Singapore Caning Match" between Dreamer and Sandman, with the loser having to receive 10 smacks with the cane. Dreamer ultimately wound up being the heart and soul of ECW; the hero on the white horse who always did the right thing. But, in the beginning he wasn't respected by the hardcore ECW crowd. This match, and Dreamer taking his caning like a man, helped him earn that respect that is still there over 20 years later.

6) Ring collapses ... This was always a fun moment that made all of the early highlight reels. There was a tag team called Public Enemy. They liked to have fun and dance. At the end of their matches, they would bring some audience members into the ring to dance and it was always a fun moment. In this instance, the ring entirely filled with fans and they are all jumping around and dancing. The ring kind of moves for a second, then after another moment it entirely collapses and the probably 50-ish people all crash to the ground. There's a brief moment where everybody all looks around confused, then realizing that nobody is hurt they all start dancing again. Just a fun moment that is a great visual demonstration of how much the crowd enjoyed themselves in ECW.

5) Tazz vs Mike Awesome ... This is interesting from a historical perspective. Tazz had been a former, dominant ECW superstar; a world champion and beloved by the audience. In the fall of 1999, Tazz left and signed with WWE, ultimately debuting in early 2000. Mike Awesome had been a journeyman wrestler who had made a name for himself in Japan, but was getting his chance to be a star in America, on his second reign as ECW Champion. WCW came calling and convinced Awesome to leave while still ECW Champion, through a loophole in his contract. He showed up on WCW television and they acknowledged that he was the ECW champ. ECW and WCW worked out an agreement to let Awesome go back and lose the title. Paul Heyman called in a favor to WWE and they loaned him Tazz. So, in an ECW ring there was a WCW wrestler losing the ECW title to a WWE wrestler.

4) Sandman crucifixion ... Raven and Sandman had been in the middle of an intense feud. Raven decided that the next step would be for him to crucify Sandman publicly. The irony is that Sandman had been a carpenter before getting into wrestling and he actually constructed the cross. The two had a brawl, then Sandman's lifeless body was tied to a cross, with a "crown of thorns" aka pieces of barbed wire placed on his head. In interviews, everybody involved has basically said this was the one time ECW went too far. They didn't expect the backlash against using religion to further a wrestling program. Paul Heyman sent Raven back out to the ring to apologize, and he did. He has since remarked that his apology was insincere.

3) Shane Douglas throws down NWA title ... The National Wrestling Alliance is a governing body that looks over several regional promotions. The most popular in the 80s was the Mid-Atlantic promotion, whose top star was Ric Flair. The short story is that Mid-Atlantic became WCW. They initially used the NWA title, but eventually split with that group. They regrouped and in 1994 were looking to crown a champion in Shane Douglas, star of Eastern Championship Wrestling. He won the tournament final and with the NWA title in his hands, Douglas mentioned the prestige of the title and what it represented, then he named several famous NWA champions - Kerry Von Erich, Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Ric Flair, Rick Steamboat... "And they can all kiss my ass!" as he threw down the NWA title and grabbed his ECW championship. The promotion then changed its name to Extreme Championship Wrestling.

2) Lesbian kiss ... ECW wasn't just extreme in its in-ring action. The stories were extreme too. Part of the Raven vs Tommy Dreamer feud involved a lady named Beulah. It's multi-layered and went on for years, and was just very well told. Beulah started with Raven and ultimately ended up with Dreamer. Life imitating art, they actually got married and have twin daughters. It came out that Beulah had been cheating on Dreamer. He was crestfallen and asked "Who is he?" Shane Douglas, who had been egging it on, replied "Oh, it's not a 'he' at all!" to which a lady cleverly named Kimona Wanalaya yelled "It's me!" Beulah and Kimona then proceeded to make out in the ring. Dreamer then got on the microphone and said "I'll take 'em both, I'm hardcore," then left with both, implying... well, you know. In 1995 this was a very controversial moment and ECW got in a lot of trouble, getting dropped by several of their syndication partners.

1) The chairs ... This has gone down in history as one of the most famous moments in ECW history. What's the difference between ECW and WWE? Watch this clip. In 1994, Terry Funk and Cactus Jack (aka Mick Foley) were having a brawl with the Public Enemy. All four were in the ring and Cactus asks an audience member to throw him a chair. One does, then another follows suit, then within moments, there are literally over a hundred chairs being thrown into the ring. It's absolute insanity; such a dangerous moment in hindsight, but so cool to watch.

It's a fun 2.5 hour list with a lot of new interviews from the former ECW stars who lived through it. Do I agree with the list? It's all subjective. I would say Shane Douglas throwing down the NWA Championship should probably be at the top. That was shocking and had long-reaching ramifications. In terms of just *hushed gasp* shocking moment, maybe the crucifixion should be at the top.

There were a lot of moments that didn't make it, and I think that is mostly because WWE is a PG company trying to look at this TV-MA group. The special was rated TV-MA and a lot of language and blood and scantily-clad ladies made it onto the show. 

But, there's no mention of the Mass Transit incident. A 17-year-old dressed like a bus driver and going by Mass Transit lied about his age and got on the show, then was purposely cut by wrestler New Jack and created one of the most gruesome moments ever. Blood was shooting out of his forehead and it was insanity. Lawsuits were filed, and ultimately New Jack and ECW got off the hook, since Mass Transit allowed himself to be cut and knew of the dangers of doing that.

The fire incident isn't included. Cactus Jack wrapped a towel around a chair, doused it in kerosene, then lit it on fire and went to the ring. He swung the chair at Terry Funk, but the towel flew off and onto Funk. As they tried to get the towel off of him, it got thrown into the audience and around a couple audience members. Lawsuits were filed over that one.

The Bubba Ray Dudley in-ring interview from summer 1999 in Ohio isn't included. It was absolutely shocking in terms of what he said to audience members and how close a couple came to jumping the rail and trying to attack him. It was an awkward, uncomfortable moment that he really took too far.

All in all, it's a good list. A couple things missing. A few things out of place, in terms of ranking. But, if you love ECW, or just want to learn more about it, check out the list.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week: Norm Ruins The View

This week's "Norm Macdonald Clip of the Week" looks at Norm's disastrous late-2000 appearance on "The View." It's a disaster in the sense that Norm sabotages it on purpose. He's since said that was his intent; he just made up stuff to make them angry. And, it works.

This was during the contested Bush-Gore election, and Norm immediately talks about how much he likes Bush, noting that he wants to get the murderers out of the White House. The hosts are confused, prompting Norm to say "You know Bill Clinton killed a man, right?" Barbara Walters is shocked and immediately tries to change the subject, with Norm continuing to pressure her. "You mean, you never heard about that?"

While they're talking, a phone begins to ring. The hosts seem confused and ask if Norm has his phone with him. Norm suddenly realizes the ringing, pulls his phone out and asks if he should answer it. He mumbles "Hello?" before admitting "The producer thought it would be funny if I brought a phone out and pretended to talk." They cannot believe that he just admitted that they staged a prank during the interview. 

It's so awesome to see him just make them hate him.

One ironic note: they bring up Bill Cosby, and ask Norm for his story. It's likely the same hilarious story he once told on David Letterman's show, but Norm starts it by saying "Bill Cosby, now that's a man who has no accusations against him," referencing his Bill Clinton stunt from earlier. 

Comedy doesn't always have to feature laughs. Norm isn't telling jokes or playing along with any stunts, but he's hilarious here.

Check out Norm's new book. It's hilarious.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lost Page News & Courier Article

There are three major sections in the Page News and Courier. News, sports, and Local Life. It's a feature section. Whoever writes one those articles is decided on a rotating basis. My first one was back in November, when a local man's daughter who can't walk or speak helped choreograph a play. Sometimes it's feel-good stuff like that. I did one about the bike races in town and the controversy surrounding that. People really reacted to that one. Sometimes we cover parades, or do interviews with veterans about war stuff. Sometimes it's a little cheesy. Sometimes it's very cheesy.

I was assigned back in March or April of 2016 to cover an annual event in the town of Stanley - a local vineyard has sheep and they turn shearing them into an event. Yeah. Not exactly my idea of a good time, but to each their own.

One mantra has been metaphorically beaten into my head with these local life articles: tell a story. Make it something interesting and make people want to read it. The news aspect of that isn't too big - "We're shearing the sheep and making some blankets out of it."

So, I went and observed and talked to people and took pictures. It was really early in the morning, it was really cold out, and I was very much out of my element. 

As I was driving home, I was thinking to myself, "What is the story?" What could I get out of that event that was unique and offered something more interesting than just "Sheep were sheared." Then it hit me - I was the story.

An interesting, unique take that had never been done before in the newspaper would be a story about a man who had never been on a farm or touched a sheep to go there and experience everything that was happening.

I wrote it. I turned it in. And, it was rejected. I was given a compliment, though: "It's good, it's entertaining, and this is the direction that long-form narrative magazine writing is going. But, it's not what the Page News and Courier does."

So, it's below. 

* * *

I stare at my phone. I need more information. A sheep-shearing event? At Wisteria Farm and Vineyard? What happens? What is this? I call the number and hear the voice of Wisteria co-owner Sue Ishak on the other end. I need to get to the bottom of this. "I'm new to the area," I begin. "I'm going to be attending your event on Saturday and I'm curious about what exactly will be going on." All I know is that they'll be shearing sheep. 

"We're going to be shearing the sheep," Ishak said. 

I ponder how to probe further. I go for it. "Is anything else gonna happen?" 

"We'll have coffee and snacks," Ishak adds. 

Works for me. "Alright. I'll see you then." 

The next big question in my head: "There's a vineyard in Stanley?" I think about it and realize that I pass the Wisteria sign every time I drive into town. 

Saturday morning, I pull up to the vineyard. It's cold. It had snowed earlier that day, but nothing stuck to the ground. I can think of at least 12 things I would rather be doing right now - 10 of which involve laying in bed. My body gradually gets used to the temperature and I wind up enjoying myself, but that first moment of cold hitting me was misery.

I see a crowd of people and walk toward them, navigating my way through two gates. The first thing notice is the large amount of animal "pellets" under my feet. I stop, momentarily startled, as I see chickens. I have never been this close to farm animals before. One chicken approaches and stops before me, staring me down. I let him assert dominance as I break our stare and walk over to the sound of electric clippers. 

My eyes are darting between a man - Ashley Craun - holding down a sheep and making quick work of shaving off the wool, and a freshly-shorn sheep off to the side. I'm still taking in the surroundings as Sue Ishak walks toward me. We had never met in person before, but I guess when you show up holding a notepad and with a camera around your neck, people can figure out who you are. She extends her hand. "You must be," she says, pausing to remember my name. "Chip?" 

I am not Chip, but I am curious about how everything works here. She is happy to explain the process to me. She points out that most people do not even question where the wool in their sweaters comes from, and that this is a nice event for people to participate in and learn something. 

"This is one of those old skill sets that gets lost in modernization," Ishak says. "This is a dying art." 

She also assures me that it is usually a little warmer when they hold this event. 

"We've been doing this since we bought the sheep in 2001," Ishak says. "This has been a public event since we opened in 2009. This is good to let people be a part of it because they usually don't get to see things like this." 

I spy a husband and wife watching the shearing. Their two young children are running around chasing the chickens. I strike up a conversation with the wife, Consuelo Scott. 

"We came here for this," Scott says. "We live in Northern Virginia. We came out for some wine and a good experience." 

The two kids have left the chickens alone and wander over. Knowing people eat up adorable quotes from cute kids, I ask them what their favorite part of today has been. The boy, who cannot seem to keep his eyes on any one thing for more than a second, excitedly blurts out "watching movies in my dad's van!" as his mom rolls her eyes and smiles at me. "I won't use that one," I tell her. 

I lean down and ask little 8-year-old Marisol what is her favorite thing to watch here. Her face tilts to the left, lips pursed, as she contemplates it in her head. "My favorite part is when they shear the sheep and put it on the table." 

A large table is set off to the side. After the wool is removed from the sheep, it is brought to the table. It is all in one piece and looks like a large blanket. A group of six ladies is gathered around. I walk over and ask what they are doing. Sue tells me this is part of the cleaning process. "We shake it to remove any excess dirt, then we pull out the dung tags." She asks if I want to help. Realizing what a "dung tag" is, I politely decline. 

"It's a fun thing," Ishak says. "We have to do it anyway, we might as well make a party out of it." 

One lady making a party out of the event is Debbie Forrest. Between sharing stories about her new grandson and gleefully cracking jokes about her age, she explains to me why she is enjoying today so much. 

"This is up there with Christmas morning to me," Forrest said. "I like the whole process, and the history behind it. I love the feel, the smell of the wool. I like to spin it, and make things out of it. The process is close to my heart." 

She wants to see more people get involved with events of this nature, especially children. 

"This is good for the community to see because it will give them a better respect for natural resources and the process of farming," Forrest said.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Chris Slater interviews United States Senator Tim Kaine

Back in April, I had a pretty cool opportunity in front of me when I got to travel to Shenandoah National Park to attend a luncheon with United States Senator Tim Kaine as the guest speaker. The reason for the event was to celebrate 100 years of the National Park Service.

It was a fun event. I talked to his assistant lady; not sure what her actual job was. But she was the one telling him when and where to go. She was really cool. I'm assuming more of an assistant as opposed to somebody with some actual power because of how young she was.

I got a couple minutes with him outside after the event and talked to him about why the national parks are important. Yeah, I know, not the most riveting of conversations, but you've gotta take what you can get.

The ride back from the event was really nice. I took the long route (unintentionally) and spent the time reflecting on how far my life had come in such a short time. I thought about what I did - interview a US Senator for a newspaper article and what I had been doing before that, which was basically the opposite of that.

I didn't know much about Tim Kaine at the time. My editor was describing who he was and what he had done in Virginia before that, and then added "And, it's possible he might be our next Vice President."

I hadn't heard any rumors about who was the VP nominee of who at that point, and it still wasn't even 100 percent sure that Clinton was going to be the nominee... even though the mainstream media's effort to help her secure the nomination was in full swing. So, I wasn't too surprised a few months later when I heard his name announced.

I think it's kind of cool that I got to chat with him, no matter how inane the topic was, for a few minutes back before he became really popular and huge.